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Fresno activists wage lonely battle to oust congressman

California’s newly drawn 22nd District ‘safe’ for anti-gay GOP incumbent



Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) received a ‘0’ rating on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard. (public domain photo)

Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series profiling congressional districts in which the incumbent is not supportive of LGBT rights. The articles seek to assess the chances of electing a supportive candidate to help advance pro-LGBT bills that have been stalled in Congress. Visit for the first installment on Maryland’s 6th District.

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is one of 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from California who received a “0” rating on LGBT issues from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2010 Congressional Scorecard, which has a rating scale of 0 to 100.

Nunes and most of the other U.S. House members with a 0 rating in the state — all Republicans — represent districts inside or bordering on California’s Central Valley, a vast rural and agricultural region in the interior and eastern part of the state.

The region has traditionally elected conservative Republicans to Congress and to the California Legislature.

“The rabid homophobes come from rabid, red homophobic districts,” said Mark Leno, a gay State Senator from San Francisco and longtime LGBT rights advocate. “They’re going to get re-elected. So to waste time, energy and resources in those districts is just that, a waste,” Leno told the Blade.

“You have to look at party registration where it’s most possible for a Democrat to win, and that’s what the Democrats are doing,” he said.

The newly redrawn district includes precincts that voted overwhelmingly for Sen. John McCain in 2008, leading many observers to label the seat “safe” for Nunes.

But gay activist Jason Scott, a resident of Clovis, Calif., a small city that borders on the much larger City of Fresno, said he’s troubled that the national Democratic Party and national LGBT organizations appear to have written off the 22nd Congressional District and other Central Valley districts.

Scott is one of the organizers of Gay Fresno, an online LGBT news and resource service that covers Fresno and nearby cities and towns in the Central Valley region. Although he agrees that Nunes is likely to win re-election this year, Scott told the Blade residents of Nunes’ 22nd District have changed their views on LGBT issues in recent years.

“I don’t feel like the people he represents have the identical mindset that he does on gay rights,” Scott said.

Lesbian activist Robin McGehee, a Fresno resident who teaches communications at the College of the Sequoias in nearby Visalia, expressed a similar view. McGehee is co-founder of the national LGBT direct action group GetEqual and one of the lead organizers of the 2009 National March on Washington for LGBT Equality.

“It would be great if more of our state-based organizations and even national organizations were putting boots on the ground and resources in these congressional districts,” she said. “I think we can swing the vote because Nunes is really not liked as well as what would be expected in a farming community like this.”

McGehee added, “There are lots of liberal Democrats that are here. Nunes is the one who’s gotten all the resources. That’s the reason he’s been in that seat as long as he has.”

Nunes has voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that prohibited gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. According to the HRC Congressional Scorecard, Nunes has declined to back all of the LGBT supportive bills pending in Congress, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which calls for banning private sector employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

He also opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage and has declined to support or co-sponsor legislation to repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

Jack Langer, director of communications for Nunes’ congressional office in Washington, said he would make inquires to determine if Nunes has changed his position on LGBT issues since the release of the HRC Scorecard in October 2010. Langer didn’t get back with a response by Wednesday afternoon.

HRC is scheduled to release an updated version of its Congressional Scorecard in October. People familiar with Nunes’ voting record and positions have said he doesn’t appear to have changed his views on LGBT issues.

Scott of Gay Fresno said he wrote a letter to Nunes’ office urging him to take a more supportive posture on LGBT-related issues. He said the response he received was a terse refusal to back any of the bills or positions he inquired about.

“I was surprised that the response I received went further than the Republican talking points you would expect from a member of Congress,” Scott said. “It looked like it came from one of the anti-gay groups.”

Scott said he knows of no local LGBT political advocacy groups in Nunes’ district or in any locations within the Central Valley. While the statewide group Equality California gets involved in some issues in the region, for the most part LGBT people in the region have been left to fend for themselves, Scott said.

He and McGehee said an effective advocacy campaign for LGBT equality, especially through TV ads, could have resulted in far more votes in the Central Valley against Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure approved by California voters that bans same-sex marriage in the state constitution. McGehee said the No on 8 campaign had little or no presence in the Central Valley other than to provide campaign signs.

“I think voter education is an important part of this,” Scott said, adding that a concerted effort by national and state advocacy groups to promote LGBT rights in the region would significantly boost the chances for electing pro-LGBT candidates to Congress and state offices in the Central Valley region.

Leno, the gay state senator, points to a plan developed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that strategically targets eight congressional districts in California that are held by Republicans or are vacant due to redistricting.

The plan, dubbed “Red to Blue 2012,”calls for sending money and logistical support to the Democratic candidates running in those districts from the National Democratic Party and Democratic contributors from across the country.

One of the targeted races is in the newly created 41st District in the Los Angeles area, where gay Democrat Mark Takano is said to have a good chance of winning in an area with a solid Democratic majority. Takano is receiving logistical and financial support under the Red to Blue campaign.

Another district targeted is the redrawn 36th in the Palm Springs area, which is held by Republican Mary Bono Mack. The Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Bono Mack in 2010 but have yet to do so this year, according to an endorsement list on the group’s website.

Bono Mack received a rating of 53 on the HRC Scorecard in 2010, the highest rating of any Republican in the state.

The newly drawn 22nd Congressional District where Devin Nunes is running for re-election to his sixth term in office is not one of the districts targeted in the Red to Blue 2012 campaign. The Red to Blue 2012 campaign is targeting just three of the 14 California districts where the GOP incumbent had a 0 HRC Scorecard rating. The three targeted districts are not in the Central Valley region.

Nunes is being challenged by Democrat Otto Lee, a Chinese-American businessman and U.S. Navy veteran who served in the first Gulf War and later, as a commander in the Navy Reserves, was recalled to active duty during the Iraq war.

Lee is a former city council member and former mayor of Sunnyvale, Calif., in the state’s Silicon Valley area, which is located more than 100 miles away from the 22nd Congressional District. The fact that he and his family moved to the district earlier this year has prompted Nunes supporters to call him a carpetbagger.

Brandon Fisk, an official with the Fresno County Democratic Party Central Committee, said voters would likely view Lee’s experience as an accomplished businessman, Navy Reserves commander, and “public servant” in Sunnyvale as an asset that will help him better serve as a congressman in the Fresno area.

“Nobody called him a carpetbagger when he served in Iraq,” Fisk said.

Scott and McGehee said that although Lee has not mentioned LGBT issues in his campaign speeches he has made it known in the district that he would be supportive on LGBT issues in Congress. Scott said the Lee campaign reserved space to set up a booth at an LGBT Pride festival scheduled for Saturday in Visalia.

Although Congress in the past three-and-a-half years has passed legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and to approve a hate crimes law that allows the federal government to prosecute hate crimes against LGBT people, all other LGBT supportive bills have remained stalled in committee.

Some LGBT advocates have said they are especially troubled over the inability of the Democrats to arrange for the passage of ENDA when they controlled both the House and Senate in 2009 and 2010. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have said Democratic supporters, who far outnumbered Republicans committed to backing ENDA, had the votes to pass the bill itself but not to defeat one or more hostile amendments expected to be introduced by opponents of the bill.

Frank said a head count taken by House Democratic leaders found that supporters would fall short by a dozen or more votes in an effort to defeat an amendment calling for banning transgender people from certain jobs such as schoolteachers.

It was due to that uncertainty that Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders chose not to bring up ENDA for a vote at the time, according to Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill.

Most political observers say ENDA and most other LGBT bills would have little or no chance of passing in the next two years if Republicans retain control of the House. Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s leaders say they are hopeful that Democrats will win the 25 House seats they need to regain control of the House in the November election.

McGehee and other LGBT advocates, however, say if Democrats win a majority in the House, nearly all of the new members making up their majority will likely be from swing districts with many conservative, Republican leaning voters. Unless advocacy groups and the Democrats do the outreach work needed to change the hearts and minds of voters on LGBT issues in places like California’s Central Valley, Democrats may not be able to garner the votes needed to pass ENDA and other gay bills, the advocates say.

“Could we do more about this?” asked gay California Assemblyman and former San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano. “Absolutely,” he said.

Ammiano said he was hopeful that the growing number of LGBT supportive members of the state legislature and in county and municipal offices throughout the state would serve as a “farm team” for future LGBT friendly members of Congress.

LGBT advocates note that while California has the distinction of having 14 congressional districts with anti-LGBT incumbents, the largest number of U.S. House members with a 0 HRC rating of any state, California also has the most members of Congress with a perfect 100 HRC rating — 21 House members and both U.S. senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“California certainly is a progressive state and is becoming ever bluer every year,” said Leno.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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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



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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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday



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.

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

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age



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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