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Black clergy back Md. same-sex marriage law

Al Sharpton and others spoke at downtown D.C. press conference

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Rev. Delman Coates, Rev. Al Sharpton, clergy united for marriage equality

Rev. Delman Coates (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of prominent black clergy today urged Maryland voters to support the state’s same-sex marriage law in the November referendum.

“As pastors and clergy leaders, we are here today to declare our unequivocal support for Maryland’s Civil Marriage Protection Act and to dispel the myth that all African American pastors are fundamentally opposed to the idea of marriage equality,” said Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the 8,000 member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., during a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. “For too long the issue of equal treatment under the law for gay and lesbian couples has been mired in a theological debate between those on the one hand who oppose same-sex marriage based upon their religious beliefs, and those on the other who affirm it based upon theirs. And while this is a legitimate discussion for people of faith to have, the appropriate arena that conversation is the house of worship, the seminary, the Bible study or some other religious setting.”

Rev. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., echoed Coates. He noted during the press conference that many of his congregants live in Maryland — specifically Prince George’s County.

“I will impress upon my membership to vote yes on this issue on the Nov. 6 ballot referendum simply because this act is civil, not religious,” Wesley said. “In no way [does] it [infringe] upon our religious freedom as an institution to define marriage as we would, to perform the rite of marriage according to our doctrinal believes nor in the same way does it infringe upon the state to protect the civil liberties of all its residents.”

Rev. Christine Wiley of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in D.C.; joined Rev. Brad Braxton of Open Church and Rev. S. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore; Rev. Frederick Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas; Rev. Otis Moss, III, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; Rev. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and others at the press conference.

Reverend Dr. Christine Wiley, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ

Rev. Christine Wiley (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, applauded Coates and other black clergy for their support of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

“This is not an issue about gay or straight,” said Sharpton at the press conference. “This is an issue about civil rights and to take a position to limit the civil rights of anyone is to take a position to limit the civil rights of everyone. You cannot be a part-time civil rights activist. You cannot be for civil rights for African Americans, but not for gays and lesbians.”

This announcement comes less than two months before Marylanders will vote in the referendum on the same-sex marriage law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed in March.

A Hart Research Associates survey conducted in late July found that 44 percent of black Marylanders would support Question 6, compared to 45 percent who would oppose it. A Public Policy Polling survey in May found that 55 percent of the state’s black voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Benjamin Jealous, president of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is among the prominent black leaders who have backed Question 6. Same-sex marriage advocates and others have noted that both President Obama’s support of nuptials for gays and lesbians and the NAACP Board of Directors’ resolution in support of the issue have had what they describe as a positive impact on public opinion among black voters.

Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s Branch of the NAACP, appeared in a new web ad earlier this week in support of Question 6. The civil rights organization’s Maryland State Conference and Baltimore affiliates have also backed same-sex marriage, while other black supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians appeared in a separate web ad that Marylanders for Marriage Equality released in July. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville remains one of the most prominent Question 6 opponents.

Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group defending the state’s same-sex marriage law, conceded in a fundraising pitch to supporters on Thursday that his group has only been able to purchase a week’s worth of television air time “in some places so far.” This admission comes on the heels of what he described as the “four weeks of commercial time on TV stations across Maryland” that Question 6 opponents have already bought.

“Our opponents are smart, well-funded and willing to play on the politics of race and fear in order to win,” wrote Levin in the e-mail that stresses Marylanders for Marriage Equality needs to raise $500,000 over the next two weeks to counter these ads. “And we know from past experience in other states that if we let them have the airwaves to themselves, we will lose.”

Sharpton noted to the Washington Blade during the press conference that he appeared in an ad ahead of the same-sex marriage bill’s passage in February.

“One thing I’ve never been accused of being is bashful,” he said when asked if Marylanders for Marriage Equality had asked him to appear in a pro-Question 6 spot. “I’ll do whatever because I see this as a civil rights issue.”

“This is a full court press,” Coates said. “In the remaining days and weeks leading up to Nov. 6, there are a variety of strategies that we can do and engage in across the state to educate further persons, to educate Marylanders about what this is about and what it is not. This is a full-court press and we’re creating strategies.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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