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Wolfson’s comments on Md. marriage campaign ‘a big fat lie’

Freedom to Marry blasted for taking credit for Election Day victory

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Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry
Evan Wolfson

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson’s post-Election Day comments about the role his organization played in the pro-Question 6 campaign raised more than a few eyebrows among Maryland’s same-sex marriage advocates.

“We took the lead on raising early money for three of the four states and left others to do the same in Maryland,” he told the Baltimore Sun in an article published on Nov. 10. “When it became clear that others had not stepped up, Freedom to Marry stepped up again. We always thought Maryland could do it.”

One advocate familiar with the Maryland campaign, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, blasted Wolfson’s remarks.

“That quote was a big fat lie,” the source said. “Evan did everything within his power to make fundraising for the Maryland campaign difficult if not impossible. He was constantly speaking to national donors telling them that the Maryland campaign couldn’t win. So for him to now recreate history is the height of hypocrisy.”

Freedom to Marry said in a Nov. 7 press release it had contributed $7 million to the four statewide marriage campaigns during this election cycle. This figure includes $4.6 million in cash and in-kind contributions and $2.4 million that funded public education efforts.

A campaign finance report filed with Maine election officials on Oct. 24 indicates the Freedom to Marry Maine PAC gave $1,201,104.84 in cash and $34,645.19 in in-kind donations to the pro-Question 1 campaign. Freedom to Marry Minnesota PAC donated $866,406.56 in cash and $26,838.51 in-kind donations to the campaign opposed to a state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, according to an Oct. 24 campaign finance report.

A series of “National Engagement Parties” that took place in D.C., New York, San Francisco and other cities across the country last month raised $500,000 for the statewide marriage campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

Freedom to Marry initially declined to join the coalition of groups defending Maryland’s same-sex law, but it formed a political action committee in September that allowed it to contribute to the pro-Question 6 effort.

A campaign finance report filed with Maryland election officials on Oct. 13 indicates the Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC gave $30,000 to the NAACP National Voter Fund for Question 6. Josh Levin, campaign manager of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, acknowledged to the Washington Blade during a post-election interview the $70,000 Freedom to Marry contributed in the final days of the campaign allowed a radio ad highlighting President Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples to air.

The Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $1.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the pro-Question 6 campaign.

“Certainly we had been in touch with them all year and I was glad that they did decide to come in and make some contributions at the end,” Levin said when asked about Freedom to Marry’s contributions to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. “There are folks over there who have been working on this issue for a long time, but I think what we realized early on was that we were going to have to chart our own path here in Maryland and we were going to have to raise much of the money in-state, which we did.

“And I think we realized too that the message that Freedom to Marry was using and that they used successfully in the other three states was not quite the right one for Maryland. And I think the results bear that out. We focused on doing our research and we had a team of folks who really knew Maryland, but who also had been working on marriage and equality issues for a long time, but who also knew Maryland. And I think because of that we were able to come up with a strategy that worked here. I’m very glad that we did because we saw it resonate.”

Gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) echoed Levin’s remarks. He noted to the Blade that Freedom to Marry contributed “about 2 percent of the resources that we had.”

“It’s fortunate HRC was willing to say this is something worth engaging in and funding,” said Madaleno. “I was surprised to see Evan’s quotes in the Sun and can only hope that it was — something was lost in the interview process. While I think Freedom to Marry can claim credit for helping us be in the position to win all four states, I don’t think they can be in a position to claim credit for the win in Maryland, not certainly like HRC.”

Wolfson sought to clarify his comments in a letter-to-the-editor he submitted to the Baltimore Sun on Nov. 12.

“I regret some unintended implications in my quotes in Saturday’s story regarding the freedom to marry win in Maryland,” he wrote.

Wolfson told the Blade in a statement on Tuesday that Freedom to Marry “invested $200,000 in the 2011-2012 push to win marriage in Maryland, building on years of support and engagement over several rounds.” He added his organization is “proud to have contributed in big ways and small, public and unsung, as part of what we all did right to move Maryland to the right side of history.”

“And whatever the occasional disagreements, we owe a huge debt of thanks to the local leaders and families, campaign manager Josh Levin and his team, Gov. [Martin] O’Malley and key lawmakers, Equality Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, the NAACP, Republicans and Democrats, and the many, many volunteers and voices who joined in making the case to voters that led to victory in Maryland alongside our movement’s wins in other states,” said Wolfson.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Peter Rosenstein

    November 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

    It was very clear that Evan Wolfson and Freedom to Marry didn’t think that Maryland was worth investing in until late in the game. I blogged about it as did many others as they sat on the sidelines. I appreciate that as things looked up for Maryland they joined the fight. But this is not one they can take credit for. But the reality is that these fights belong to the entire community not any one organization and Maryland was clearly a community win.

  2. Steve Gorman

    November 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I echo Peter Rosenstein’s comment regarding where credit for victory lies. That said, I am friendly with one of FTM’s board members who is an outstanding ally to our community and I expressed my dismay at Wolfson’s insular attitude. I reminded the FTM board member of the Iowa win where the self declared LGBT leaders initially scoffed at the news of Iowa’s readiness for equality. We all know that It took an ally to kick that door down. After the Maryland win, my self congratulatory message to the board member was to tell Wolfson that regardless of the odds, “never not do that ever again or his own job will end”. We rise together or we fall together.

  3. Dee

    November 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Two things are clear: One, FTM and Evan are heroes. We would not have won in 3 of the 4 states without them, simple as that. Two, they made a bad call on Maryland.

    What is unclear is why the initial call not to get involved in MD persisted even after the polling improved by the summer. By the summer and thereafter, MD’s polling was very encouraging, and was certainly better than MN’s polling. At that point, it would have made sense to rethink FTM’s initial decision. Moreover, even after they did get involved, they tried to stay away from the main PAC and instead help the NAACP’s PAC. This suggests that this is all a result of some sort of turf war or tiff between HRC and FTM. It would be good to just get it out and stop with the endless spinning on both sides. But whether they decide to be forthcoming or not, whatever caused this rift in MD should never happen again. We easily could have lost MD as the result of this. Don’t repeat it.

  4. Larry Esser

    November 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    When the MD marriage rights law was first put to referendum, it really seemed, even to some of us who have been activists for a long time in the state, that Evan Wolfson was right to see great odds against us winning a popular vote here. We’ve seen firsthand the desperate and hateful determination of those against us to do everything possible to deny us our rights in the courts, legislature, and ballot box. None of us should claim now that “we knew it all along” that we would win…we didn’t. The real credit belongs to those who knew this but kept right on going anyway. People like Josh Levin and many others who took up the battle and never wavered, they will always be our heroes.

  5. Jason J.

    November 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Great ending point (Dee November 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm)

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Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality

Va. gubernatorial candidate says issue ‘legally acceptable’ in state

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(Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state.

“I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018.

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign. The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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D.C. school board calls for LGBTQ-inclusive teaching standards

Sweeping resolution proposing content in curricula approved unanimously

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Gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang.

The D.C. State Board of Education voted unanimously on Oct. 20 to approve a resolution calling for LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards for the city’s public schools that “reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The two-page resolution, which was introduced by gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang, who represents Ward 2, cites national research showing that students who have access to LGBTQ+ curricula in their schools “are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school.”

The resolution states that research also shows that multicultural education, including the teaching of LGBTQ topics, “helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have long considered the local D.C. government through its mayor and City Council to be highly supportive of the LGBTQ community. But Chang and other supporters of the resolution approved by the board Wednesday night say their research shows that D.C. public schools, while supportive of LGBTQ students, are far behind the school systems in several other states in the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in school curricula.

As an example, supporters of the resolution point out that curriculum standards for social studies classes in the D.C. school system include only one mention of LGBTQ people in a teaching section related to victims of the Holocaust.   

Unlike most other cities and states, under current D.C. law, the school system is controlled by the mayor through the D.C. Department of Education, which is headed by a Deputy Mayor for Education and who, in turn and in consultation with the mayor, appoints a State Superintendent of Education who oversees the day-to-day operations of the schools.

Under a change in the education statute approved by the D.C. Council and signed by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007, the school board, which was renamed the State Board of Education, became a mostly advisory body on education matters with some statutory authority to approve education standards on which school curricula are based.

Thus, the resolution approved by the board on Wednesday “advises” and “recommends” that the State Superintendent of Education develop school curricula, guidance for teachers, and school-based leaders and staff “in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms.”

The resolution concludes by recommending that the State Superintendent of Education conduct a survey of students within two years after the Oct. 20 adoption of the resolution “to establish baseline data and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.”

Chang and other members of the State Board of Education noted at the Oct. 20 meeting, which was virtual, that Will Beckerman, who graduated this year from D.C.’s School Without Walls High School, played an important role in conducting the research used to prepare the LGBTQ standards resolution and helped in the drafting of the resolution.

Chang noted that much of the background information used to draft the resolution came from Beckerman’s senior year school research paper and advocacy project that focuses on the topic of LGBTQ-inclusive education.

In comments supporting the resolution, Chang also spoke about how the very limited LGBTQ content he encountered during his high school days helped him accept himself as a gay youth.

“As a student myself, I don’t remember a single mention of any LGBTQ people in any of my classwork until I read Thomas Mann in my senior year in high school,” Chang said. “And in Death in Venice, this Nobel Prize winner touches upon his struggles with homosexuality but never actually names it explicitly,” Chang told fellow board members.

“And I remember holding on to this novella despite the self-hatred that’s woven throughout this story because it was the first time that I saw this aspect of my identity reflected in my class work,” he said. “My hope – and I think this hope comes true with this resolution tonight – is that future generations of LGBTQ students have more opportunities to see themselves reflected in their class work and to feel less isolated by their class work than I did growing up.”

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will endorse the school system changes proposed by the resolution approved by the State Board of Education.

The full text of the resolution follows:

State Board of Education Resolution

On LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards

SR21-7

WHEREAS, the 2019 District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students make up 15.9 percent of high school students in the District and transgender students make up1.9 percent of District high school students;

WHEREAS, in the District, these students, in comparison to their heterosexual peers, experience double the rate of bullying on school property, report higher rates of being removed from class for disciplinary reasons, and are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal ideation;

WHEREAS, national data shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are significantly more likely to receive grades of D or F than their heterosexual peers and were more likely to be truant;

WHEREAS, consistent research suggests that students with LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula in their schools are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school—and this safety leads students to report higher attendance, higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging in the school community, and higher educational aspirations;

WHEREAS, research shows that multicultural education helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities ; 

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education recognizes the need to have revised social studies standards that create “windows and mirrors” so students see themselves and people like them reflected in the content of standards and curriculum, as well as having the opportunity to learn about diverse people, cultures, places, and experiences unlike themselves—explicitly noting that the current standards emphasize the lives of presidents and other figures who held/hold power and under-represent or lack representation of people and groups like those identifying as LGBTQ+, and their respective histories;

WHEREAS, in the State Board of Education’s review and revision of the social studies standards, the State Board called upon the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to “seek standards writers who reflect the demographics and experiences of District students and of the communities they are writing about” sharing a list of examples that included writers identifying as LGBTQ+;

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education is committed to ensuring students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be engaged global citizens in a diverse democratic society; and,

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education has a commitment to promote equity, introduce policies to reduce disparities between students, and create safe school environments for all students.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, upon the next revision of any District of Columbia state education standards, the State Board of Education should adapt standards, when appropriate, that reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to provide guidance to teachers and school-based leaders and staff on creating inclusive lessons in science and English language arts (ELA) classes that align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core ELA standards, respectively;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) implement professional development for teachers and school-based leaders and staff to aid them in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms, such that that the professional development includes: workshops for local education agencies (LEAs) and teachers to draft curriculum related to LGBTQ+ topics in their subject areas, lessons on use of inclusive language in the classroom, lessons on ensuring LGBTQ+ students’ safety and confidentiality while maintaining respect for their name and pronouns, and mandatory diversity training related to the LGBTQ+ community; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) survey students within two (2) years of adoption of this resolution to establish baseline date and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.

https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/2019%20DC%20YRBS%20Report.pdf

Brikett, Michelle et al. “Sexual-orientation disparities in school: the meditational role of indicators of victimization in achievement and truancy because of feeling unsafe.” American Journal of Public Health vol. 104, 6 (2014): 1124-8. doi: 10.2105/AJHP.2013.301785

Kosciw, Joseph G., et al. “The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” GLSEN, GLSEN, 2020, glsen.org.

Camicia, Steven P. Critical Democratic Education and LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum: Opportunities and Constraints. Routledge Focus, 2016.

Camicia, Steven P. “Prejudice Reduction through Multicultural Education: Connecting Multiple Literatures.” Social Studies Research and Practice, vol. 2, no. 2, 2007, pp. 219–227.

socstrpr.org/files/Vol%25202/Issue%25202%2520-%2520Summer%25202007/Action%2520Research/2.2.6.pdf

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Nellie’s agrees to $5,000 fine, 7-day license suspension over brawl

Penalty prompted by security guard dragging Black woman down stairs

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Nellie’s must pay a fine and face a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 brawl in which a Black woman was dragged down the stairs. (Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday, Oct 20, approved a compromise agreement it reached with Nellie’s Sports Bar that calls for the U Street, N.W. gay bar to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 incident in which a Black woman was dragged down a flight of stars by a Nellie’s security guard during a brawl between Nellie’s customers.

The agreement calls for a license suspension of 24 days with 17 days to be suspended and seven days to be served “so long as the Respondent does not commit any violations within (1) year from the date of this Order,” the ABC Board declared in a three-page order confirming the agreement.  

The order states that the license suspension will be served from Dec. 20-26 of this year. It also states that Nellie’s must pay the fine within 120 days from the date of the order. If the fine is not paid during that time “its license shall be immediately suspended until all amounts owed are paid.”

As a final stipulation of the agreement, the ABC Board states that Nellie’s must file a “legally compliant security plan” within 10 calendar days of the Oct. 20 order.

The security plan requirement stems from an earlier finding by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration related to the June 13 incident that Nellie’s was in violation of several provisions of the city’s liquor law, including a provision that a security plan that meets the standards of the city’s liquor regulations is in place.

An ABRA investigation of the June 13 incident found, among other things, that “multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct.”

The action by the Nellie’s security guard, which took place during the city’s LGBTQ Pride weekend, was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone. The video went viral on social media, prompting a series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter advocates.

Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what had happened and develop plans for reopening as a safe space for all members of the community. It reopened 35 days later, with protesters continuing to assemble outside the bar for several more weeks.

 When the five-member ABC Board on Oct. 20 held a roll call vote to approve what is officially called an Offer-In-Compromise or OIC agreement with Nellie’s that includes the fine, license suspension, and other provisions, gay ABC Board member Edward Grandis voted against the agreement, becoming the only member to do so.

A video recording of the virtual ABC Board meeting available through YouTube shows that Grandis expressed general support for the decision by both the board and Nellie’s to reach a compromise agreement. But he said he objects to the license suspension requirement.

“In this particular regard, when the facts and the testimony indicate that the licensee on its own initiative without any knowledge, at least in the testimony, of prompting from the government or MPD or any party, to itself close for 35 days during – generally – the pandemic when so many companies lost their companies and their employees lost their jobs and the neighborhoods lost their establishments, I really believe that this particular situation shows that the licensee took this event seriously and accordingly in a manner that hopefully will prevent it from happening again or have better security measures to avoid this type of situation in the future,” Grandis told his fellow board members.

“And I just wanted the record to show I’m supportive of the OIC generally, but I don’t believe it was constructed in a way that indicates what this licensee has done since that incident,” Grandis said.

Nellie’s owner, Douglas Schantz, and Nellie’s attorney, Andrew Klein, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Klein, who spoke at the ABC Board hearing on Wednesday, said in response to a question by Grandis that Nellie’s reluctantly agreed to the fine and license suspension, which he called “excessive,” among other things, because Schantz wants to put the matter behind him and to “heal” and “move on” with the community.

The ABC Board’s action came one day after the Washington City Paper announced that Nellie’s Sports Bar finished in second place among its readers in its annual Best of D.C. contest for the category of “Best Gay Bar/Club/Lounge.”

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