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Maine marriage campaign optimistic going into referendum

Polls indicate majority of voters would support ballot measure to allow same-sex marriage.

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Yes on 1, same sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade
Maine, same sex marriage, Sanford, Washington Blade, gay news

A Mainers United for Marriage volunteer speaks with likely voters in Sanford (Photo courtesy of Mainers United for Marriage)

SCARBOROUGH, Maine – Portland resident Ellen Ward never thought she would find herself speaking with fellow voters in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The self-described introvert changed her mind, however, in 2009 when she listened to gays and lesbians and others testify in support of a same-sex marriage bill during a legislative hearing in Augusta, the state capital.

“They were leading very what most people call normal lives and just wanted to be able to affirm their love and commitment in the same way that other people got too,” Ward told the Washington Blade as she canvassed a suburban Portland neighborhood in the rain on Thursday afternoon. “And I was just really impressed with people standing up and testifying about that and churches testifying about that.”

Nearly three years after Maine voters repealed the state’s same-sex marriage law that then-Gov. John Baldacci signed, supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians remain confident that a ballot question that would allow them to tie the knot will pass.

“What’s so unique about Maine is because we’re the first state to ever go on the offensive and bring the issue directly to the voters; we’ve been able to dictate our own timeline,” Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, the group supporting Question 1, told the Blade during an interview at his Portland office on Friday. “There was never a ticking clock. Every time this has come up before when it’s defensive it’s always in the current — something happens, a precipitating action, a court case, a legislative victory whatever. Our opponents then do something to undermine that or write something into the constitution or whatever. And now we’re on their turf. Now we’re playing defense on their side of the field.”

Voters in 2009 repealed the same-sex marriage law by a 53-47 percent margin. McTighe, a former Human Rights Campaign staffer who has worked on marriage efforts in Massachusetts and in other New England states for MassEquality and the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, described the 2012 campaign in Maine as a “night and day kind of difference” from that run ahead of the 2009 referendum.

“It’s always been designed from the ground up as a campaign for voters,” he said. “We didn’t have to worry about the legislature. We weren’t thinking about a court case or anything like that. Right from the beginning we’ve tried to figure out who are the voters we need to be talking to, let’s employ some of the most sophisticated modeling and tactics that have ever been applied to the marriage movement, let’s bring in the best people, the best consultants, the best field organizers, the best team and put together a plan and a model to figure out who we need to talk to.”

Voter: Same-sex marriage “doesn’t really affect me”

Maine is one of four states with either a same-sex marriage referendum or a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman on the ballot next month. The Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition in January submitted more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in order to bring the issue before voters.

Yes on 1, same sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Polls indicate a majority of Maine voters would support a ballot measure to allow same-sex marriage. (Photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A Portland Press Herald poll conducted between Sept. 12-16 shows Question 1 leads by a 57-36 percent margin. A Public Policy Polling survey late last month indicates 52 percent of likely voters support the ballot measure, compared to 44 percent who oppose it and four percent who remain undecided.

Several Scarborough residents with whom Ward spoke said they would support Question 1.

“I’ll probably vote for it,” said one teenager who turns 18 on Nov. 1. He told Ward that he also works with a lesbian. “It doesn’t really affect me. I’m not really 100 percent for it, but I have nothing against it. Not to put it the wrong way but I really don’t care. Do whatever you want. If anything it’ll be better for the economy.”

A woman who lives on a nearby cul-de-sac told Ward that she plans to vote against the ballot question.

“I personally don’t have a problem with you getting together, but I’m not in favor of calling it marriage,” she said. “It’s a sacrament. To redefine marriage, I would vote no.”

Ward conceded the woman’s position against marriage rights for same-sex couples was “discouraging.” She did acknowledge, however, that she feels that her support of basic rights for gays and lesbians was encouraging.

“People have come a long way on that issue, certainly than even 20 years ago,” said Ward, who recalled a telephone conversation she had a couple of months ago with a 90-year-old woman who marched against racial segregation in the 1960s. She initially said she opposed nuptials for gays and lesbians, but Ward said she suddenly changed her mind when she realized the parallels between the civil rights and same-sex marriage movements. “I just feel there are so many people that we talk to these days who are completely supportive.”

Marriage remains “personal” for voters

Six Mainers United for Marriage ads continue to air on local television stations. These include one that features four generations of a family from the Downeast town of Machias and another that spotlights firefighters who support nuptials for gays and lesbians. Protect Marriage Maine, the group opposing Question 1, debuted their first two television ads on Monday.

“You have to make this about the voter themselves. You need to give them a personal reason to connect with the gay people that they know in their lives, to think about this issue in a way that they haven’t thought of before,” said McTighe, who is also a firefighter in the southern coastal Maine town of York. He applauded President Obama for supporting marriage rights for same-sex couples, but stressed the issue remains what he described as a deeply personal one for each potential voter. “You don’t just change your mind because somebody else did. You have to change your mind because somebody made it personal to you. Somebody showed you what is at stake. And also gave you an opportunity to have your questions and concerns addressed. That’s why the grassroots approach has been so unique, to be able to go out and have door-to-door with everyone in our persuadable universe, those people we identified early on.”

Mainers United for Marriage reported to the state Commission on Ethics and Election Practices late on Friday that it has raised slightly more than $3.35 million so far this year, compared with the $429,794.32 that Protect Marriage Maine has pulled in. McTighe told the Blade that he would like to raise another $750,000 to $1 million “to keep pace with” the amount of airtime that the National Organization for Marriage has reserved on the state’s television stations in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

“Now is sort of the crunch time,” he said. “We’ve been prepping for his. We’ve been planning for this so now we feel like we’re prepared for everything. When they come out with one attack, we’ve got plan A. When they come out with a different attack, we’ve got plan B. We can pull it as needed. We can execute as we need to, as long as we have the resources.”

McTighe said another challenge that the campaign faces of potential complacency.

“Because we are doing really well in the polls and because people are seeing all this great stuff and people love our TV ads and all this other stuff and we’re getting all this great earned media, it’s almost too easy for people to say, well they don’t need my help. They don’t me to volunteer. They don’t need me to donate. They don’t need me to write a check. They’ve got 57 percent in the polls. Well I don’t care as much now,” he said. “But the fact is we’ve never won before. Whether that 57 percent is solid or soft or who knows, we’ll see, but we’ve never won. Until we win, we should just assume that our opponents will dump whatever resources they need. We should just assume that they will stop at nothing. And we should assume that no lead is safe until we can actually win and hold one for just once, at least once. Then we can start saying okay well is a point where you’re safe. We’re just not there yet. We’re not there in any of the states.”

In spite of these potential hurdles, McTighe remains optimistic that Mainers United for Marriage will be able to successfully respond to Question 1 opponents’ ads and statements against nuptials for gays and lesbians during the final weeks of the campaign.

“We feel extremely well positioned to deal with anything they throw our way because we’ve had two and a half years to prepare for everything,” he said. “That is what’s so unique about Maine.”

Ward agreed.

“People have had a lot more chance to think about this,” she said, noting the passage of same-sex marriage laws in New York and other states since the 2009 vote. “It’s very much on people’s minds and people are talking about it now. It’s not so unheard of. I think people are just kind of more getting used to the idea and saying, oh, I have people in my family that this [impacts] or I have neighbors and I think they’re very nice people and wow, you know they want to get married. A lot of people had never thought of that before. I think part of it is people are getting used to the idea. And people who are already on board are saying of course, of course this matters. And more and more they want to see this happen. It just seems a no brainer to them.”

Maine, same sex marriage, Brunswick, Washington Blade, gay news

A Mainers United for Marriage volunteer speaks with a likely voter in Brunswick (Photo courtesy of Mainers United for Marriage)

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National

Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor, transgender spouse indicted for passing information to Russia

Jamie Lee Henry first active-duty Army officer to come out as trans

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Jamie Lee Henry and their spouse Anna Gabrielian (Photos from social media)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment of a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, with conspiracy and for the disclosure of individually identifiable health information related to their efforts to assist Russia in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in a press release stated Anna Gabrielian, 36, and her spouse, Jamie Lee Henry, 39, both of Rockville, Md., both of whom had secret clearances, were attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government.

Gabrielian and Henry met with an individual they believed to be associated with the Russian government, but who was, in fact, an Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent.

Court documents indicate Gabrielian told the FBI agent posing as a Russian operative that she had previously reached out to the Russian Embassy by email and phone, offering Russia her and her spouses’ assistance.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gabrielian told the FBI agent that, although Henry knew of Gabrielian’s interaction with the Russian Embassy, she never mentioned Henry’s name to the Russian Embassy.

In the narrative released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian met with the FBI at a hotel in Baltimore. During that meeting, Gabrielian told the FBI she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail. 

She proposed potential cover stories for her meeting with the “Russians” and stressed the need for “plausible deniability” in the event she was confronted by American authorities. Gabrielian also told the FBI that, as a military officer, Henry was currently a more important source for Russia than she was, because they had more helpful information, including how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions and information about previous training provided by the U.S. military to Ukrainian military personnel. 

Henry identifies as a “transgender military physician” on their Twitter account.

Henry received public attention in 2015 after becoming the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as trans.

Henry was at one point a member of SPARTA, the nation’s largest nonprofit representing actively-serving trans U.S. servicemembers. A spokesperson for SPARTA, in an emailed statement commenting on the announcement of the arrest and indictment of Henry and their spouse told the Washington Blade:

“Transgender people are as diverse as the societies to which they belong. One’s gender identity neither increases nor decreases a propensity towards alleged criminal activity.”

As stated in the indictment, Gabrielian is an anesthesiologist and worked at Medical Institution 1 in Baltimore.  

Henry, a major in the U.S. Army who held a secret-level security clearance, is Gabrielian’s spouse and a doctor. During the time of the alleged conspiracy, Henry worked as a staff internist stationed at Fort Bragg, the home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Womack Army Medical Center.

Gabrielian was scheduled to have initial appearance at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan A. Hurson. Henry is also expected to have an initial appearance today, although a time has not yet been set.

Full statement from SPARTA:

“SPARTA, a non-profit advocacy organization representing transgender Service members in the United States, is saddened to learn of the arrest and indictment of Jamie Lee Henry, an officer in the U.S. Army and a medical doctor.

SPARTA has long advocated for the inclusion and total equity for transgender persons throughout the United States uniformed services. Today, thousands are serving honorably and authentically at home stations worldwide.

The actions alleged in the indictment do not reflect Henry’s identity as transgender. Their alleged actions are those of an individual and should not be taken as a representation of transgender people broadly or transgender members of the military specifically.

All people in the United States are entitled to the same rights, including due process and the presumption of innocence in this case. SPARTA does not condone any actions alleged in the indictment and expects the process to play out fairly and equitably as it would for anyone accused of a crime.”

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