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Discharged service members among first to marry in Wash.

Cammermeyer planning to wed as new law takes effect

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Grethe Cammermeyer (left) and Margaret Witt will be among the first to marry their partners in Washington State. (Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

A number of those who will be among the first to enter into same-sex marriages in Washington State are high-profile gay service members discharged for their sexual orientation who say the legalization of same-sex marriage represents the next step forward for LGBT rights.

In Washington, where voters legalized marriage equality on Election Day by a 54 percent majority via a measure known as Referendum 74, same-sex couples were set to be able to obtain marriage licenses on Thursday. The three-day waiting period in the state means gay couples that obtain licenses on that day will be able to legally marry beginning Sunday.

Washington is the first of three states — which includes Maine and Maryland — where voters legalized same-sex marriage at the ballot on Election Day to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses and legally wed.

Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, who in 1992 was discharged from the Washington National Guard under the military’s gay ban in the years before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is set to marry her partner of 24 years, Diane Divelbess, in their Langley, Wash., home on Sunday after obtaining a marriage license from the clerk’s office in Island County.

For Cammermeyer, the ability to marry in Washington represents the next step in advancing LGBT rights following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and she said the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is in her sights. That ban on the federal recognition of same-sex partners precludes gay service members from obtaining health and pension benefits for their partners.

“I think, for me, it was a 20-year battle to overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Cammermeyer said. “That felt like a vindication of those who started to change the policy and was truly monumental for me on a personal level. What you realize is that once you get done with one hurdle, there is another one right ahead of you, and that now is marriage equality. Because until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, those serving in the military now who happen to be gay service members who have family still are treated as second-class citizens and their families have no standing.”

Cammermeyer, 70, and Divelbess, 77, said they’ve invited other same-sex couples into their home to marry on the same day and are expecting 10 couples to wed during their own individual ceremonies. It’ll be the third ceremony for Cammermeyer and Divelbess: the couple previously wed in Oregon in 2004, when marriage licenses were briefly offered to same-sex couples in Multnomah County for unions that were later nullified, and again in a religious ceremony in Washington State.

Divelbess said she’s already felt she’s like been married to Cammermeyer for years following their religious ceremony and expressed excitement that religious organizations that want to legally marry same-sex couples in Washington can now do so under the law.

“When we were married in 2004, all you heard was the voices of the churches that were unhappy with gay marriage,” Divelbess said. “The public was never aware of the churches who wanted their ceremony recognized as being legal by the state. I’m thrilled that now we’re going to have a legal status accepted as well as the spiritual commitment.”

Another couple planning to wed had a similar involvement in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Maj. Margaret Witt, an Air Force nurse who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2007, and her partner of nine years, Laurie Johnson, intend to be the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Spokane. They’ll marry on Dec. 15 in a small ceremony officiated by James Lobsenz, Witt’s attorney from her ACLU case against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” known as Witt v. Air Force.

Witt said the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington State is “absolutely thrilling and surreal all at the same time,” but, like Cammermeyer, she said it demonstrates the battle for gay service members must continue and DOMA must be lifted from the books.

“The work is definitely not done because now we can serve our country openly, but the marriages still aren’t recognized by the military or the federal government,” Witt said. “That’s kind of painful for those that are willing to serve their country and have been willing to serve their country for so long.”

The Defense Department could offer limited partner benefits to gay service members even with DOMA on the books — including joint duty assignments, issuance of IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through administrative change. The Pentagon has said since the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September 2011 that it’s been looking into these benefits, but hasn’t yet enacted them.

The couple has been talking about marriage for years, but Witt took the opportunity to make things final during a speech at an ACLU dinner on Nov. 15 where she received a civil libertarian award. Following her speech at an ACLU dinner, the couples joined onstage amid applause and tears in the audience and Witt announced her proposal to Johnson.

Witt, 48, said she decided to propose to Johnson, 54, at the dinner in part because of the ACLU’s effort as part of the campaign to win marriage equality at the ballot in Washington.

“I just thought it was really perfect to share it with the ACLU, not only for what they did for me, but all that they did for marriage, and I wanted them to see that in real life,” Witt said.

‘An overwhelming sense of joy’

These military couples are among the estimated 19,000 same-sex couples who will be able to legally marry in Washington State amid anticipation an increased number of couples will flock to the clerk’s office when same-sex marriage becomes available in the state.

County auditors’ offices have updated their forms and their websites to prepare for these same-sex couples. On Thursday, King and Thurston counties were set to open at midnight, Pierce at 6:30 a.m. and Clark and Island counties at 8 a.m.

Anne Levinson, one of Washington’s first lesbian public officials and strategic adviser to the Approve Referendum 74 campaign, said she’s hearing from couples across the state that intend to marry and many of them have been waiting for the opportunity for decades.

“There is an overwhelming sense of excitement and joy, among the couples themselves, but also from friends, neighbors and colleagues,” Levinson said. “What makes it even more special is that we have seen an amazing outpouring of support all across the state, from county auditors working with us on how they will issue licenses, from judges and clergy helping make sure ceremonies are all set, from businesses offering to help however they can.”

A retired municipal judge, Levinson said on Sunday she intends to officiate some of the first weddings in Seattle on the stage of its grand concert hall as the Seattle Men’s Chorus and the Seattle Women’s Chorus perform.

Other same-sex couples that intend to be among the first to marry in California are noteworthy, but not for their participating in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal efforts.

Paul Harris (right) manages marriage licenses at the clerk’s office and is now able to receive one for him and his partner, Jamer Griener (photo courtesy Griener)

One such couple living in Camas, Wash., is James Griener, 58, and Paul Harris, 64, whose wedding is noteworthy because Harris is the manager of marriage license and recording for Clark County. After delivering marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples for 17 years, he’ll finally be able to obtain one of his own.

Harris said he’s surprised that same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington because marriage equality had been defeated previously in every state where it’s come up for a vote.

“To me, it’s a great surprise because I never thought it would happen,” Harris said. “Since I have been responsible for issuing marriage licenses for 17 years, it makes me feel great to be able to get one of my own.”

Griener and Harris were set to claim their marriage license on Thursday and were planning a small wedding in their home on Wednesday — 12/12/12.

The couple, who’ve been together for 39 years after in meeting in New York in 1973, has many differences between them. Harris was born and raised in Brooklyn, while Griener was raised in Southeast Oregon on a ranch.

Griener said the upcoming ceremony makes more permanent their union and builds off a previous wedding they had in Multnomah County in 2004 that was later nullified.

“We’re very pleased that the legislature of Washington passed same-gender marriage, the governor signed it and even though it was challenged and put on a referendum, the majority of Washington citizens voted in favor,” Griener said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing, and everyone knows, a long time coming.”

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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