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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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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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Transgender rights group’s Los Angeles office receives bomb threat

[email protected] Coalition evacuated

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(Public domain photo)

A bomb threat was phoned in Wednesday afternoon to the Wilshire Boulevard Koreatown offices of the [email protected] Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the non-profit organization told the Los Angeles Blade.

According to Salcedo, an unidentified male caller told the staff person who answered at approximately 3 p.m., while delivering the threat said; “You’re all going to die.” The staff immediately evacuated everyone from their offices and then contacted the Los Angeles Police Department for assistance.

Officers, specialists and detectives from the Rampart Division of the LAPD responded and swept the building. A spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that the incident is under active investigation but would make no further comment.

On a Facebook post immediately after the incident the non-profit wrote; “To ensure the safety of our clients and staff members, we ask that you please NOT come to our office.”

In a follow-up post, Salcedo notified the organization and its clientele that the LAPD had given the all-clear and that their offices would resume normal operations Thursday at 9:00 a.m. PT.

“Thank you for your messages and concern for our staff and community,” Salcedo said.

“No amount of threats can stop us from our commitment to the TGI community,” she added.

The [email protected] Coalition was founded in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex (TGI) immigrant women in Los Angeles as a grassroots response to address the specific needs of TGI Latino immigrants who live in the U.S.

Since then, the agency has become a nationally recognized organization with representation in 10 different states across the U.S. and provides direct services to TGI individuals in Los Angeles.

In 2015, the [email protected] Coalition identified the urgent need to provide direct services to empower TGI people in response to structural, institutional, and interpersonal violence, and the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness was born.

Since then, the organization has secured funding from the state and local government sources as well as several private foundations and organizations to provide direct services to all TGI individuals in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition’s primary focus is to change the landscape of access to services for TGI people and provide access to comprehensive resource and services that will improve the quality of life of TGI people.

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