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Baldwin makes history with Wisconsin Senate victory

First openly gay member of the Senate

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Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin has won her race for the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin in a historic first for the LGBT community. She becomes the first openly gay person to serve in the Senate.

With 77 percent of precincts reporting, Baldwin was leading former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, 51-46 percent.

“I am honored, and humbled, and grateful,” Baldwin said in election night remarks. ” And I am ready to get to work.  Ready to stand with President Barack Obama.  Ready to fight for Wisconsin’s middle class!”

Early polls showed Thompson with a slight lead over Baldwin shortly after Thompson won the GOP nomination in a primary in August. By the middle of September, polls showed Baldwin in the lead, but the size of her lead narrowed by late October, with some pollsters saying the two candidates were in a statistical tie going into Tuesday’s election.

Baldwin’s quest to become the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator captured the attention of the LGBT people across the country, many of whom contributed money to Baldwin’s campaign.

She also received backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other Democratic leaning groups, including labor unions and environmental organizations.

In 1998, Baldwin became the first openly gay non-incumbent to win election to the U.S. House when she won her race for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District in which the state capital of Madison is located.

In her seven terms in Congress, Baldwin became known as one of the strongest advocates of LGBT rights in the House as well as one of the strongest champions of progressive causes and policies.

Thompson, whose supporters describe him as a moderate, served as governor of Wisconsin between 1987 and 2001. He served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005.  He became a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 but dropped out of the race before the start of the primaries.

Thompson has said he personally opposes same-sex marriage and supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and a woman. But he has said he doesn’t favor a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality and favors leaving same-sex marriage decisions to the states.

He has said he opposes workplace discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation but has not said whether he would support federal legislation to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

Although Wisconsin members of the gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans are supporting Thompson, the national Log Cabin organization, which endorsed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for president, didn’t endorse Thompson.

“We endorsed candidates that engaged with us and asked for our endorsement,” said Log Cabin president R. Clarke Cooper, who noted that the group endorsed just four U.S. Senate candidates this year.

The outcome of Tuesday’s Senate election in Wisconsin marked the end of a bruising campaign, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says may have broken a national record for the most negative TV ads of any U.S. Senate campaign in the state and possibly in the nation.

The Journal Sentinel reports that both Baldwin and Thompson appear to have lashed out at each other with equal force, with some independent observers saying some of the ads from both sides included misleading information.

None of the Thompson attack ads appear to have singled out Baldwin based on her sexual orientation.

However, in at least one instance, a Thompson campaign official sent an email to the news media in early September, one day before Baldwin spoke before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., highlighting Baldwin’s appearance at an LGBT Pride festival in Madison several years earlier.

The email, sent by Thompson campaign staffer Brian Nemoir, included an attached YouTube video showing Baldwin waiving her arms while dancing on a stage with the popular Wisconsin rock band V05. Some of the band members were dressed in Wonder Woman costumes as the band played the theme song for the Wonder Woman TV series.

Nemoir stated in his email that Baldwin was scheduled to discuss “heartland values” in her Democratic Convention speech.

“Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy,” he said in the email.

Baldwin supporters called the email a form of gay baiting, saying it was an attempt to question Baldwin’s values because she appeared at an LGBT Pride event. A Thompson campaign spokesperson said Nemoir was acting as an individual and not on behalf of the campaign when he sent the email and video.

While the Thompson campaign’s negative TV ads steered clear of Baldwin’s sexual orientation, they sought to portray her as an ultra liberal politician out of touch with the needs of the state and the country.

One ad pointed to Baldwin’s longstanding support for a single payer health insurance system, quoting her as saying several years ago that the single payer system she supported is a “government takeover of medicine.” Another ad noted that Baldwin voted four times against economic sanctions for Iran, criticizing her judgment on a key foreign policy issue.

Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Wisconsin, Washington Blade

U.S. Senate Candidate Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Baldwin responded to the health insurance attack by saying she voted for and continues to support the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health insurance reform measure that Congress passed two years ago. She said her support for a single payer system was “moot” since the Obama measure is about to be implemented.

She said she voted against sanctions for Iran at a time when she was hopeful that dissident groups in Iran would overturn Iran’s government and establish a true democratic system. She said she began voting for sanctions after determining that the opposition forces didn’t have the strength to change the government.

A Thompson campaign attack ad that drew expressions of outrage from Baldwin’s campaign and its supporters showed video footage of the devastation of the World Trade Center in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and denounced Baldwin for voting against a 2006 House resolution honoring victims of the attacks.

Baldwin said she voted for at least four other 9/11 resolutions honoring victims of the terrorist attacks but voted against the 2006 resolution because it included other provisions on unrelated issues with which she disagreed.

In her own TV ads, Baldwin fired back at Thompson, citing reports by New York firefighters saying the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which Thompson headed at the time of the 9/11 attacks, was slow in responding to firefighters’ calls for assistance for their illnesses believed to be caused by the fumes and contaminated dust that engulfed them while responding to the World Trade Center disaster.

Another Baldwin ad criticized Thompson for profiting from the 9/11 tragedy when he became president of a private medical related company that obtained an $11 million federal government contract to assist victims of the attack. Thompson joined the company after leaving his post as HHS Secretary.

A separate Baldwin ad attacked Thompson for having personal investments in companies that do business with Iran. Thompson said the investments were in stock, which he said he immediately sold when he learned the companies that issued the stock had investments linked to Iran.

“In one of the most phenomenally negative years ever, the Wisconsin Senate race stands out this fall as perhaps the most negative race in the entire country,” the Journal Sentinel quoted Ken Goldstein, a political scientist and observer of Wisconsin politics, as saying.

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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