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4 marriage ballot fights and 4 big wins

Advocates confident of sweep in Md., Maine, Minn., Wash. battles

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Question 6, Maryland, gay marriage, anti-gay, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade
Question 6, Maryland, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Question 6 supporters and opponents placed signs outside a polling place at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore on Nov. 6. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Advocacy groups across the country on Tuesday celebrated the passage of two state same-sex marriage referenda and the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned nuptials for gays and lesbians in another.

Maryland voters supported Question 6 by a 52-48 percent margin, while Maine’s Question 1 that will allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in the state passed with 52 percent of the vote. Washington’s Referendum 74 that would uphold the state’s same-sex marriage law remains ahead by a 52-48 percent margin with what Washington United for Marriage estimates as 60 percent of the ballots counted as of deadline.

Minnesotans narrowly defeated a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman by a 51-48 percent margin.

“Years from now we’ll remember this Election Day as the most important and the most historic in the history of the LGBT movement,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a video message. He noted HRC contributed $20 million over the last two years to the four statewide same-sex marriage campaigns. “We’ve won a landslide victory at the ballot box. We’ve secured the first ever electoral victory for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota. And we’re optimistic about the results still to come in Washington state.”

Freedom to Marry gave $4.6 million to the four statewide same-sex marriage campaigns. It helped raise another $2.4 million to support public education campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, categorized the election results to the Washington Blade as “irrefutable momentum in favor of the freedom to marry” that will give “enormous confidence” to lawmakers and others to support nuptials for gays and lesbians. Casey Pick of Log Cabin Republicans further described the election results as a “turning point.”

“It is something the nation will take notice of,” she told the Blade from Maine where she had been working with Mainers United for Marriage in support of Question 1 for the last two weeks. “Never again will opponents of marriage equality be able to say that every time the people vote on the issue they favor marriage as one man and one woman because that’s no longer true.”

LGBT advocates in other states where voters did not consider same-sex marriage ballot measures also noted the historic results.

“For all of the families in Maine and Maryland, where voters upheld the rights of same-sex couples to wed, MassEquality is pleased that they will soon experience what we have celebrated for eight years now in Massachusetts: families that are stronger and communities that are healthier because LGBTQ individuals and their families are treated with dignity and fairness,” said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, in a statement. She noted nearly 20,000 gay and lesbian couples have married in Massachusetts since the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage law took effect in May 2004. “Our rights should never be determined by a majority vote. But the wins in Maine and Maryland, as well as the defeat of a proposed anti-marriage Constitutional amendment in Minnesota, are definitive proof that there is a growing majority in America that supports our rights, and that equality wins, including at the ballot box.”

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov also noted the historic election results after Maine’s Question 1 passed.

“The ballot box victory is the latest evidence that the tide has turned and that momentum is on the side of full LGBT equality,” he said. “We now have a president who ran on support for marriage equality, a Democratic Party that included a marriage plank in the party platform, seven states, including Maine, and also the District of Columbia where same-sex couples can marry.”

Minneapolis resident Kirsten Olson and her partner of 18 years, Karen Hogan, a librarian at Quatrefoil Library in nearby St. Paul, waited for the Amendment 1 results at home. She awoke both Hogan and their 11-year-old daughter around 1:45 a.m. when she finally heard the proposal had failed.

“Public radio went to the victory speech that I didn’t think I would hear uttered,” said Olson as she became emotional. “It was just completely surreal and then on Minnesota Public Radio they were also talking about how the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate have both gone Democratic and that our governor, Mark Dayton, had on his agenda to legalize same-sex marriage. So in the span of 12 hours we went from the very real possibility of a constitutional amendment to a very real possibility of legalization.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted after President Obama endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples in May found 53 percent of Americans supported nuptials for gays and lesbians, compared to only 36 percent in 2006. Even among social conservatives, the issue seems to have less resonance.

Only 19 percent of those who took part in a straw poll at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee conference in D.C. in February cited the promotion of “traditional values” as the most important issue going into the election. Only one percent who took part in the 2011 CPAC straw poll said stopping same-sex marriage was their top priority.

“Obviously we are very disappointed in losing four tough election battles by narrow margins,” said National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown in a statement.

NOM contributed more than $5.5 million to oppose same-sex marriage referenda in Maine, Maryland and Washington and support Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban nuptials for gays and lesbians. Brown conceded supporters and opponents of these respective ballot measures outspent those who opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples by at least a four-to-one margin.

He also downplayed the idea the election results are what he described as a “changing point in how Americans view gay marriage.”

“Though we are disappointed over these losses, we remain faithful to our mission and committed to the cause of preserving marriage as God designed it,” said Brown. “Marriage is a true and just cause, and we will never abandon the field of battle just because we experienced a setback. There is much work to do, and we begin that process now.”

Wolfson dismissed the remarks.

“It’s been clear for some time that they lost the argument,” he told the Blade. “All they have is scare tactics, diversions and some raw power in being able to throw money and mobilize some people — a dwindling number. They’re going to keep at it. That’s where their livelihood is. They know they’re losing. They know they’re on the wrong side of history. The opposition will continue, but we are winning.”

Pick said she feels the election results send a message to GOP lawmakers who continue to oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Log Cabin Republicans have been saying for a long time that the tide is turning on this issue,” she said. “For our party it is incumbent upon us to recognize that inclusion is the way of the future. And to be victorious and to win future elections with voters who are taking their place as the majority of the populace today, marriage equality has to be a part of that formula.”

Back in Maryland, there was a palpable sense among those awaiting the Question 6 results at a Baltimore concert hall the Free State was about to make history as the first state to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot.

Lesbian state Del. Heather Mizeur told the Blade before Marylanders for Marriage Equality announced the referendum had passed she feels Obama’s support of same-sex marriage had a tremendous impact in Maryland.

“While we already felt very confident where we were headed in this campaign, he stood up and did something no president has ever done for our community and help make it okay for all of our allies to be comfortable with being public about what their position was about equality,” she said. “We started to see the numbers very strongly in our direction after he came out in favor of it. And that’s why we’re hoping for a double win tonight and celebrating our marriage equality and also sending this courageous president back for another four year term.”

Olson said most of her friends, family and neighbors understand Minnesota voters made history by striking down the proposed amendment.

“People totally understand that, totally feel that,” she said. “There are obviously 49 percent of the population — or 48 percent I guess is what it finally came out to be who think otherwise, but they’re not 50 percent plus one.

Shaun Knittel, executive director of the pro-Referendum 74 group Social Outreach Seattle, told the Blade he feels this sense of history prompted a lot of young first-time voters to go to the polls and support the law.

“Nov. 6, 2012, is going to be a historic day for the gay community, the LGBTQ community because this is the time we stopped the bigots,” he said. “It’s the first time it has happened in this way and it was such a big statement. It wasn’t just one state or one group that just seemingly got lucky. It was four states involved in this.”

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Rehoboth Beach

Selling Rehoboth: Lee Ann Wilkinson wins prestigious real estate award

Longtime agent on beach prices, her LGBTQ allyship, and more

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Lee Ann Wilkinson doesn’t see real estate prices coming down anytime soon at the beach. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Longtime Delaware real estate leader Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway recently celebrated a major industry award after being named No. 1 in total sales volume for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Network. Wilkinson, a Blade contributor, centers much of her work in the coastal communities of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. We caught up with her to discuss her long career in real estate, her LGBTQ allyship, and more.

Washington Blade: I learned your parents were in real estate, and you began working with them early on in your career. Did you initially intend to follow in their footsteps? 

Lee Ann Wilkinson: Not really. I majored in art. When I got out of college I couldn’t really find a job. So, my parents said, “You need to come work for us.”

Blade: I understand that as an art history major turned writer. Speaking of that: I know you have written some pieces for the Blade, about real estate trends, and the like. How do you pick your topics for these articles? 

Wilkinson:  People always want to know about real estate. Whether buying a first home, second home, a home to invest or retire in. It amazes even me how much interest there is. And it’s not just people looking to buy a $7 million home on beachfront property. It’s people looking to get something in budget for their family.

Blade: I know you have a lot of work in Rehoboth, the Delaware Valley’s historically gay beachside community. Was there ever a time you were NOT selling property to – I guess it was fair to say 40 years ago – mostly gay men? 

Wilkinson: Ha, I grew up coming down for the summer until my family moved here full-time from Norristown, outside of Philly. We had businesses and family in Rehoboth. I think Rehoboth has always been gay-friendly. We never thought about it. My grandfather had a house in Rehoboth before I was born. The gay population was always welcome.

Blade: Do you have a connection to the LGBTQ community beyond real estate? 

Wilkinson: Absolutely. One of my closest friends is a guy I went to college with at the University of Delaware, Joey. You know, Joey was maybe my first gay friend. In fact, we all went to the Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Rehoboth. We have gay family members, so I have never thought that much about it being anything different.

Blade: I know you recently won a prestigious award with Berkshire Hathaway and were surprised to come in first place. Why?

Wilkinson: For the past 20 years or so we have been in the top 10. We started doing these national things with Berkshire Hathaway. To get in the top 10 was amazing to me especially going up against states like Florida, New Jersey, not to mention San Francisco or Bay Area agents. I just never thought we’d get to the number one spot. My only issue is — where to go now?

Blade: Where do you make your primary residence? Is that Lewes? Do you see the president on occasion? 

Wilkinson: I haven’t seen him at the beach. But he’s on the bike trail a lot. He pops up having breakfast. He goes to Mass at St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth on Saturday evening. But I’m often too busy with work on weekends to catch sight of him.

Blade: Having been in the industry 40 years, how do you find ways to get excited about your work? 

Wilkinson: I really am passionate about it. I really love a challenge. That’s part of the appeal for this job. I always like matching people with things. I really liked getting people the right bathing suits years ago. Selling, it’s just something I’m good at. I would get customers walking outta’ the store with three or four bathing suits when they only wanted one. 

Blade: Are you considering retiring in the next few years? Or will you always be associated with the industry on some level. Maybe as a mentor or silent partner? 

Wilkinson: Oh, no, I’ll always be involved. Three of my four daughters work for me. I am not retiring anytime soon. And if I did, they would be here to continue it on, and I am sure I’d weigh in.

Blade: So, this is very much a family legacy?

Wilkinson: Yeah. My parents are 87 and 91 now. Some 20 years ago mom predicted we’d see an increase in prices, people moving here, etc. I don’t know how she predicted it but mom is right.

Blade: Any current trends you’re noticing? 

Wilkinson: This cycle of people moving here, and prices increasing, and all the building happening. People think the prices are going to come down, but I don’t see that happening.

Blade: Tell me about that. Are the new building ventures changing the faces of Rehoboth and Lewes? After not visiting the Jersey Shore for over a decade I’ve been going the past few summers to my cousin’s place in Cape May. It’s a trailer on a nicely maintained campground and it’s what she can afford. And, there’s so much building happening there.

Wilkinson: Right? It’s about finding a second home you can afford. And, in terms of building projects, the good thing about Rehoboth and Lewes is they are strict on what you can and can’t build downtown. They aren’t going to tear down homes to build multi-family condos, not yet anyway. In Spring Lake, you are seeing townhomes. So, building is happening and we have some condos, but it’s great to not see “overbuilding” happening in these historically smaller cities.

To learn more about Ms. Wilkinson, or property in Sussex County, DE be sure to look for articles she publishes in the Blade and visit the Lee Ann Wilkinson Group website.

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Local

Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights

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Diego Garcia Blum

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 Diego Garcia Blum on his new position as director, Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program, at the Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This new program will expand research and training on safeguarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. It will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals globally. The vision is to establish the Carr Center as a key international nexus for LGBTQI+ human rights policy, training, ideas, and dialogue

 “The heart of this program is empowering and supporting the brave LGBTQI+ activists working in challenging and often perilous environments,” Garcia Blum said. “Through our training and high-impact research, we aim to supercharge their efforts.”

Prior to this, he has had a varied and impressive career. Recently he served as a Social Change Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. He worked with the Human Rights Campaign, serving on its Board of Governors. Prior to that, he worked as a nuclear engineer at Orano, a French company. It is described as a global leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services, from mining to dismantling, conversion, enrichment, recycling, logistics and engineering. He has won many awards for his work and education. The Innovation CORE award at Orano; The Dean Joseph Weil Leadership Award, University of Florida; Most Outstanding Master in Public Policy Student – Ellen Raphael Award, Harvard Kennedy School. 

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