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9 races to watch as gays run for Congress

Baldwin seeks to become first openly gay senator

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Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade
Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D—Wisc.) is in a tight race against her state’s former governor, Tommy Thompson, for the state’s seat in the U.S. Senate. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A record number of openly gay candidates running for Congress will face their critical test on Tuesday as many — including U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin — are seeing polls tighten as Election Day approaches.

HOW DO BARACK OBAMA AND MITT ROMNEY COMPARE ON LGBT ISSUES? 

A total of nine openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates are seeking office in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. With the retirement of gay Rep. Barney Frank, openly LGBT representation in Congress will look very different after next week.

Baldwin’s race is the most high-profile among these candidates because she’d be the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate and the outcome of the race against Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson may determine which party controls the chamber after the election.

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said all eyes will be on the race because — following the spike in polls that Baldwin enjoyed after her speech at the Democratic National Convention — the contest has become increasingly high-profile and competitive due to spending from outside conservative groups.

“I know groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity — also the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce] — I think the total amount is about $13 million they have spent on ads attacking Tammy,” Dison said. “That has caused the race to get very close.”

N.H. MARRIAGE EQUALITY AT STAKE IN GUBERNATORIAL RACE

For her part, Baldwin made public on Oct. 30 her closing TV ad showing workers and families as well as footage of her campaigning with former President Bill Clinton.

“One big difference between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson is that she stood up to the special interests, and he’s stood up for them,” Clinton says in a voice over. “If you put people first, it works better than trickle-down economics.”

Another race that will be closely watched is Massachusetts’ 9th congressional district — where gay Republican challenger Richard Tisei seems poised to beat Democratic incumbent Rep. John Tierney.

WHERE ARE YOU WATCHING ELECTION NIGHT?

New York’s 18th congressional district is another race of interest to the LGBT community. Gay Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth, who has a pro-LGBT record in Congress and the backing of gay conservative groups.

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Maloney said the LGBT community should rally behind him because Hayworth has aligned herself with conservative groups.

“Tea Party Congresswoman Nan Hayworth doesn’t believe that my family is equal to hers or that members of the LGBT community deserve equal protection under the law,” Maloney said. “I think folks around the country, LGBT and otherwise, are tired of this extreme ideology.”

9 gay candidates to watch this election day

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

REP. TAMMY BALDWIN

Race: U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin

Opponent: Republican former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson

Significance: Baldwin, a Democrat, would be first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.

Polls: 10/28 Rasmussen Reports — Thompson 48, Baldwin, 47; 10/22 Mason-Dixon — Baldwin 47, Thompson, 45.

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei campaign)

RICHARD TISEI

Race: U.S. House seat in Massachusetts, District 6

Opponent: Incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. John Tierney

Significance: Tisei would be the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress as a non-incumbent and the only out Republican serving on Capitol Hill.

Polls: 10/1 Boston Globe — Tisei 37, Tierney 31.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

REP. DAVID CICILLINE

Race: U.S. House seat in Rhode Island, District 1

Opponent: Republican challenger Brendan Doherty

Significance: Cicilline, a Democrat, is pursuing his first re-election effort since becoming the fourth sitting openly gay member of Congress in 2010.

Polls: 10/10 Brown University — Cicilline 46, Doherty 40.

U.S. House candidate Sean Patrick Maloney

Sean Patrick Maloney (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SEAN PATRICK MALONEY

Race: U.S. House seat in New York, District 18

Opponent: Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth

Significance: Maloney, a Democrat, would be the first openly gay member of Congress from New York State.

Polls: 10/19 Siena College — Hayworth 49, Maloney 42.

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Mark Pocan (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MARK POCAN

Race: U.S. House seat in Wisconsin, District 2

Opponent: Republican candidate Chad Lee

Significance: Pocan would replace Baldwin in the U.S. House.

Polls: The district is widely considered a Democratic safe seat and Pocan is expected to win.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

REP. JARED POLIS

Race: U.S. House seat in Colorado, District 2

Opponent: Republican challenger Susan Hall

Significance: Polis is set to become the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House.

Polls: The district is widely considered a Democratic safe seat and Polis is expected to win re-election.

Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona, Washington Blade, gay news

Kyrsten Sinema (Photo courtesy of Sinema campaign)

KYRSTEN SINEMA

Race: U.S. House seat in Arizona, District 9

Opponent: Republican candidate Vernon Parker

Significance: Sinema, a Democrat, would be the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress.

Polls: 10/16 Summit Consulting Group —Parker 44, Sinema 42.

Mark Takano, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Takano (Photo courtesy of Takano campaign)

MARK TAKANO

Race: U.S. House seat in California, District 41

Opponent: Republican candidate John Tavaglione

Significance: Takano, a Japanese-American Democrat, would be the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress.

Polls: 8/21 EMC Research — Takano 42, Tavaglione 38

GAY DELAWARE STATE SENATE CANDIDATES POISED TO MAKE HISTORY

Nicole LeFavour, Washington Blade, gay news

Nicole LeFavour (Photo courtesy of LeFavour campaign)

NICOLE LEFAVOUR

Race: U.S. House seat in Idaho, District 2

Opponent: Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson

Significance: LeFavour, a Democrat, isn’t endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Polls: The district is widely considered a Republican safe seat and Simpson is expected to win.

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District of Columbia

New D.C. gay bar Crush set to open April 19

An ‘all-inclusive entertainment haven,’ with dance floor, roof deck

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Crush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s newest gay bar called Crush is scheduled to open for business at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in a spacious, two-story building with a dance floor and roof deck at 2007 14th St., N.W. in one of the city’s bustling nightlife areas.

A statement released by co-owners Stephen Rutgers and Mark Rutstein earlier this year says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

Rutgers said the opening comes one day after Crush received final approval of its liquor license that was transferred from the Owl Room, a bar that operated in the same building before closing Dec. 31 of last year. The official opening also comes three days after Crush hosted a pre-opening reception for family, friends, and community members on Tuesday, April 16.

Among those attending, Rutgers said, were officials with several prominent local LGBTQ organizations, including officials with the DC Center for the LGBTQ Community, which is located across the street from Crush in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building. Also attending were Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Salah Czapary, director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture.  

Rutgers said Crush plans to hold a grand opening event in a few weeks after he, Rutstein and the bar’s employees become settled into their newly opened operations.

“Step into a venue where inclusivity isn’t just a promise but a vibrant reality,” a statement posted on the Crush website says. “Imagine an all-inclusive entertainment haven where diversity isn’t just celebrated, it’s embraced as the very heartbeat of our venue,” the statement says. “Welcome to a place where love knows no bounds, and the only color or preference that matters is the vibrant tapestry of humanity itself. Welcome to Crush.”

The website says Crush will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. It will be closed on Mondays.

Crush is located less than two blocks from the U Street Metro station.

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Michigan

Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass

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Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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District of Columbia

Reenactment of first gay rights picket at White House draws interest of tourists

LGBTQ activists carry signs from historic 1965 protest

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About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a picket line in front of the White House April 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a circular picket line in front of the White House Wednesday afternoon, April 17, carrying signs calling for an end to discrimination against “homosexuals” in a reenactment of the first gay rights protest at the White House that took place 59 years earlier on April 17, 1965.

Crowds of tourists looked on with interest as the activists walked back and forth in silence in front of the White House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue. Like the 1965 event, several of the men were dressed in suits and ties and the women in dresses in keeping with a 1960s era dress code policy for protests of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights group that organized the 1965 event.

Wednesday’s reenactment was organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, which made it clear that the event was not intended as a protest against President Joe Biden and his administration, which the group praised as a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I think this was an amazing event,” said Vincent Slatt, the Rainbow History Project official who led efforts to put on the event. “We had twice as many that we had hoped for that came today,” he said.

“It was so great to see a reenactment and so great to see how far we’ve come,” Slatt said. “And also, the acknowledgement of what else we still need to do.”

Slatt said participants in the event who were not carrying picket signs handed out literature explaining the purpose of the event.

A flier handed out by participants noted that among the demands of the protesters at the 1965 event were to end the ban on homosexuals from working in the federal government, an end to the ban on gays serving in the military, an end to the denial of security clearances for gays, and an end of the government’s refusal to meet with the LGBTQ community. 

“The other thing that I think is really, really moving is some of the gay staff inside the White House found out this was happening and came out to greet us,” Slatt said. He noted that this highlighted how much has changed since 1965, when then President Lyndon Johnson’s White House refused to respond to a letter sent to Johnson from the Mattachine Society explaining its grievances. 

“So now to have gay people in the White House coming out to give us their respects and to say hello was especially meaningful to us,” Slatt said. “That was not expected today.”

Among those walking the picket line was longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Paul Kuntzler, who is the only known surviving person who was among the White House picketers at the April 1965 event. Kuntzler said he proudly carried a newly printed version of the sign at Wednesday’s reenactment event that he carried during the 1965 protest. It stated, “Fifteen Million Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment.”  

Also participating in the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Bowles presented Slatt with a proclamation issued by Bowser declaring April 17, 2024, Mattachine Society Day in Washington, D.C.

“Whereas, on April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society of Washington courageously held the nation’s inaugural picket for gay rights, a seminal moment in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQIA+ equality in the United States, marking the genesis of public demonstrations advocating for those rights and paving the way for Pride Marches and Pride celebrations worldwide,” the proclamation states.

About 30 minutes after the reenactment event began, uniformed Secret Service agents informed Slatt that due to a security issue the picketers would have to move off the sidewalk in front of the White House and resume the picketing across the street on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park. When asked by the Washington Blade what the security issue was about, one of the Secret Service officers said he did not have any further details other than that his superiors informed him that the White House sidewalk would have to be temporarily cleared of all people.

Participants in the event quickly resumed their picket line on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park for another 30 minutes or so in keeping with the 1965 picketing event, which lasted for one hour, from 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m., according to Rainbow  History Project’s research into the 1965 event.

Although the LGBTQ picketers continued their procession in silence, a separate protest in Lafayette Park a short distance from the LGBTQ picketers included speakers shouting through amplified speakers. The protest was against the government of Saudi Arabia and organized by a Muslim group called Al Baqee Organization.

A statement released by the Rainbow History Project says the reenactment event, among other things, was a tribute to D.C.-area lesbian rights advocate Lilli Vincenz, who participated in the 1965 White House picketing, and D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in the early 1960s and was the lead organizer of the 1965 White House protest. Kameny died in 2011 and Vincenz died in 2023.

The picket signs carried by participants in the reenactment event, which were reproduced from the 1965 event, had these messages:

• “DISCRIMINATION Against Homosexuals is as immoral as Discrimination Against Negroes and Jews;”

• “Government Should Combat Prejudice NOT PROMOTE IT”

• “White House Refuses Replies to Our Letters, AFRAID OF US?

• “HOMOSEXUALS Died for their Country, Too”

• “First Class Citizenship for HOMOSEXUALS”

• “Sexual Preference is Irrelevant to Employment”

• “Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment”

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