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Md. campaign features undocumented LGBT students

At the intersection of immigrant, gay rights movements

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Ivette Roman, DREAM act, dreamers, immigration, equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality Maryland
DREAM act, dreamers, immigration, equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality Maryland

Edwin (photo courtesy of Equality Maryland)

Gay Silver Spring resident Edwin came to the United States from Guatemala in 2004 when he was 14. His family initially told him after he came out at 19 that he was going to go to hell because of his sexual orientation. Edwin, now 22, only recently disclosed his undocumented status after a friend criticized President Obama’s immigration policy.

“I was never asked to come to the U.S.,” Edwin, who declined to provide his last name, told the Washington Blade during an interview last month. “It was my mom’s decision. I was 14. I couldn’t say yes or no. Knowing you’re in the community but you’re different; it made me seem like I’m less than everybody else.”

Edwin is among those profiled in the Familia es Familia Maryland campaign that Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland formally launched in August to garner additional support for laws that provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and marriage rights for same-sex couples ahead of Election Day.

A Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies poll last month shows that 58 percent of Maryland voters would vote for the Dream Act in Question 4, compared with 34 percent who oppose it. The same survey finds that 51 percent of Marylanders would vote for the same-sex marriage law in Question 6, compared to 43 percent who said they oppose it.

JJ from Panamá, who asked the Blade not to use his real name because his parents are Pentecostal ministers, came out to his family last year because he said it “became harder and harder to hide who he is.” He also testified in support of the Dream Act in Annapolis before Maryland lawmakers passed it in 2011.

“Being from Montgomery County, it’s never been an issue to come out as undocumented,” JJ told the Blade before filming a pro-Question 4 ad at CASA de Maryland’s Langley Park headquarters. “It’s something everybody knew. When I was doing advocacy around it, everybody was really proud of me and know that I’ve started doing this.”

J.J., DREAM act, dreamers, immigration, equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality Maryland

JJ (photo courtesy of Equality Maryland)

Silver Spring resident Ivette Roman, who came to the United States from Perú with her brother when she was 10, said during the August press conference at which Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland officially launched the Familia es Familia Maryland initiative that her immigration status prevents her from receiving financial aid to attend college. She told the Blade that her friends and family remain proud of her activism on both issues, even though she said her mother did not speak to her for months after she came out to her as a lesbian.

“Some of them kind of moved away — they are kind of ashamed about the way that I am,” said Roman, 20. “My mother has been very supportive. She’s been with me on everything I’ve done.”

Equality Maryland is among the handful of statewide LGBT advocacy groups that have partnered with immigrant rights organizations on immigration-related issues.

“Equality Maryland is pleased with the responses we are getting from the LGBT communities on our work with these LGBT youth and the issues impacting them,” said Carrie Evans, the group’s executive director. “People recognize these youth as part of our community in need of support.”

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, again stressed to the Blade that his group remains committed to ensuring marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state.

“CASA de Maryland’s work in support of marriage equality flows from values and love,” he said. “As an organization with a mission that seeks to create a more just society by building power and improving the quality of life in low-income immigrant communities, we believe that a more just society includes mutual respect for all human rights, including equality for LGBT communities.  And, we do this work out of love for our Latino LGBT brothers and sisters in our families, among our members and staff, and in our communities.”

The intersection of these two issues was the subject of a Sept. 25 panel that Torres moderated during the fifth annual National Immigrant Integration Conference in Baltimore.

Michael Crawford, director of online programs at Freedom to Marry, noted that the plight of bi-national same-sex couples “really connects the immigration and LGBTQ movements and serves as a really stark example of how the Defense of Marriage Act hurts families.” Former Equality North Carolina executive director Ian Palmquist, who is now the director of regional and program support at the Equality Federation, stressed what he described as the need to engage the women’s and other progressive social movements in the fight for LGBT equality.

“Different organizations have gone in different directions with that,” he said, referring to Equality Utah’s work with the Mormon Church to support Salt Lake City’s gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that took effect in 2010. Palmquist further noted the New York Republicans who supported their state’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last year. “It’s something that we all are constantly re-evaluating and trying to figure out how we are going to be true to our values and also how to develop all the programs that we need to win.”

Ivette Roman, DREAM act, dreamers, immigration, equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality Maryland

Ivette Roman (photo courtesy of Equality Maryland)

Back in Montgomery County, Roman remains optimistic that Maryland voters will support both the Dream Act and the state’s same-sex marriage law on Nov. 6.

“I’m very positive about it,” she said. “People who are against it [the Dream Act and same-sex marriage] are going to change their minds once they hear the stories about it. Living as a lesbian and undocumented has been very hard for me to achieve my goals. I know there’s many others who are afraid. I’m just trying to help them out because I know how it feels.”

Edwin shared a similar perspective.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a large group of people who support the Dream Act. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass,” he said. “I think people realize we shouldn’t decide who we should be married to. It should be up to us.”

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D.C. area LGBTQ bars, eateries receive $100K COVID-19 relief grant

Pitchers, League of Her Own received NGLCC, Grubhub funds

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indoor dining, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. LGBTQ sports bar Pitchers and League of Her Own, its adjoining lesbian bar, are among the nation’s first LGBTQ bars that serve food as well as alcoholic beverages to receive a $100,000 COVID-19 relief grant under a $2 million Community Impact Grant Program.

The program, aimed at supporting LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-allied small businesses struggling from the pandemic, was launched in September as a joint project of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which goes by the initials NGLCC, and the global online food delivery company Grubhub.

In a Tuesday announcement, NGLCC and Grubhub said Pitchers and League of Her Own, which operate as one business in adjoining buildings in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, are among the first three recipients of $100,000 grants under the Community Impact Grant Program. The other two recipients are FOODE + Mercantile of Fredericksburg, Va., and Café Gabriela of Oakland, Calif.

“Following this initial round of recipients, more grants will be issued in late 2021 and early 2022,” the announcement by the two groups says. In an earlier announcement, the groups said the application period for the grants program took place from September through Oct. 12, and the grants would range in amounts from $5,000 to $100,000.

“The impact of COVID-19 has been debilitating for countless restaurant and bar owners, including the many LGBTQ+-owned restaurants across the country who have persisted through lockdowns, operational changes and labor supply shortages,” said NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson. “We’re grateful to have partnered with Grubhub to offer real lifelines to support businesses throughout the nation,” Nelson said.

“Building community in a fun and safe place has been our mission since the very beginning,” said David Perruzza, the owner of Pitchers and League of Her Own. “We’re relieved and thankful for these funds, and are looking forward to more stable days ahead,” Perruzza said.

“As a trans masculine and queer immigrant person of color, I’ve worked hard and put all my love and energy into building a beautiful and welcoming space in Café Gabriela,” said owner Penny Baldado. “I’ve remained resilient through COVID, and this grant is the injection of funds that we need to continue along our journey to full recovery,” Baldado said.

The statement announcing the first three grant recipient says funds for the $2 million grant program were generated by Grubhub’s “Donate the Change” program of which NGLCC became a partner in June. Grubhub says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub “to round out their order and donate the difference” to the charitable fund.

“COVID has turned the restaurant industry on its head the last 18 months, and at Grubhub, we’ve been working hard every day to support our restaurant partners across the country,” said Amy Healy, Grubhub’s vice president of government relations. “As the world starts to return to a new normal, we’re proud to partner with the NGLCC and provide these grants to LGBTQ+-owned and LGBTQ+ ally-owned restaurants across the country that are pillars of their communities.”

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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