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Gay advocate a leading voice on gun control

Glaze serves as director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns

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Mark Glaze, Rabin Group, gay news, Washington Blade
Mark Glaze, Rabin Group, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Glaze is leading the charge on gun control as director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Following a wave of horrific gun violence across the country, the nation is engaged in intense debate over gun control as President Obama on Wednesday issued a series of proposals to address the issue. One advocate who’s no stranger to working on behalf of the LGBT community is among those leading the call for action on gun control.

Mark Glaze, 42, has a variety of issues in his portfolio as a principal of the D.C.-based political affairs firm the Raben Group, including campaign finance reform, government ethics as well as LGBT issues — but also serves as director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the largest gun violence prevention group in the country.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Glaze, who’s gay, said the country is “at a tipping point” in the wake of shootings like the one last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six school officials were killed, and is ready to embrace the kinds of protections that “we get the chance to pass once in a generation.”

“The mass shootings are happening more and more rapidly, and they’re becoming more and more deadly,” Glaze said. “The Newtown shooting was the second biggest mass shooting in U.S. history after Virginia Tech in 2007. And, you know, the kids who were shot and murdered were my son’s age, and it was right before Christmas. So, I think that combination of things has just got the public and the president ready to say, ‘Enough is enough, let’s finally get this right.'”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been in the spotlight in recent weeks amid intense media interest in gun control. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg serves as co-chair of the group along with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. More than 800 mayors are members of the coalition, and this week, the organization passed one million grassroots supporters.

As for Glaze himself, he’s been widely featured in the mainstream media lately, including in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press and Politico. He’s also set for appearances on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” the PBS Newshour and an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Glaze, who in 2010 was hired by the Human Rights Campaign to push for Senate legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” enters the gun control debate after robust work on LGBT issues — an area of focus that he said he still continues to pursue. Glaze has assisted in work for Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, an organization co-chaired by Bloomberg.

Glaze also has personal experience with guns and hunted when he was young. Growing up in the ranching town of Parlin, Colo., Glaze’s father was a gun dealer and he was raised in a house that was attached to a general store selling guns.

“My dad is like most gun dealers,” Glaze said. “He thinks that law-abiding people should have to take background checks, so everybody should have to take background checks. And gun dealers don’t like that guns get a terrible reputation because unlicensed sellers are handing guns out to people with criminal records. It gives the entire industry a bad name.”

Obama unveils gun control proposals

On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled in the South Court Auditorium of the White House a package of proposals developed by Vice President Joseph Biden’s task force to reduce gun violence, including an assault weapons ban, a measure to ban high-capacity magazine clips, and an effort to close loopholes in the country’s background check system.

“And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality,” Obama said. “Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

Joining Obama as he unveiled the proposal were Biden as well as children from around the country who wrote him letters in the wake of the Newtown tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents. Afterward, Obama signed 23 executive orders to address gun violence.

Glaze said he and other members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns met twice with administration officials — including one meeting that was attended by Biden himself — to lay out the case for gun control.

For Glaze, passing legislation that will close the loophole that currently allows individuals to buy guns without background checks from unlicensed private sellers will be a priority among other initiatives Obama enumerated as part of his proposals.

“Only licensed gun dealers have to give background checks, but almost 50 percent of gun sales in any given year are conducted by unlicensed private sellers,” Glaze said. “They do it online, at gun shows or out of the trunk of a car — and federal law doesn’t require those sellers to give background checks. So, it’s like creating two lines at the airport: one for people who want to go through security and get a background check, the other for people who feel they don’t need to pass a background check.”

In the Newtown tragedy, Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster XM-15 to shoot his victims. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said she will introduce legislation to ban the sale and possession of assault weapons, while Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is planning a less sweeping proposal to ban the sale of magazine clips.

While Mayors Against Illegal Guns supports such proposals, Glaze said those weapons account for a small percentage of gun violence despite media attention to these shootings.

“Basically the assault weapons ban is important, but only two to 10 percent of firearms fatalities in any given year are connected to assault rifles,” Glaze said. “Thirty-three people are murdered with guns in the United States every day, and the majority of those murders were committed with handguns.”

Glaze also emphasized the potential for President Obama to take executive action to allow for greater enforcement of gun control laws already on the books. One such action — which was not taken among the 23 executive orders signed by Obama on Wednesday — would be for Obama to instruct the Justice Department to increase prosecution of dangerous people who are declined when they try to buy a gun at a licensed dealer.

“In 2009, 71,000 people who were prohibited gun purchasers — because they were felons, they were seriously mentally ill, they were domestic abusers — tried to buy guns by licensed dealers and were blocked,” Glaze said. “That’s a felony, trying to buy a gun when you’re a prohibited purchaser. But only 44 of those people were prosecuted. … Many of those people go on to buy guns somewhere else from an unlicensed dealer, where they don’t have to get a background check, and then they go on to commit crimes.”

Glaze also called on President Obama to make a recess appointment if Congress won’t take action to confirm a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — a position that has been vacant for six years. President Obama on Wednesday tapped B. Todd Jones to head the bureau. He’s been acting director since August 2011 while maintaining his position as U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota.

“It’s hard to imagine the Department of Homeland Security, or a Fortune 500 company, not have a CEO for six years,” Glaze said. “And the agency suffers as a result. The president should get it done himself if the Senate can’t do it.”

NRA scoffs at proposals

Resistance to Obama’s proposals has already emerged from the powerful National Rifle Association.

After the remarks in which Obama unveiled his proposals, the NRA issued a statement criticizing the approach the administration was taking on gun violence.

“We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America’s most valuable asset – our children,” the organization said. “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation.  Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

But Glaze dismissed the impact of the NRA, saying despite its money the group doesn’t have as much influence over lawmakers as some might think, noting the dismal performance of congressional candidates the organization backed on Election Day.

“The idea that the NRA can take away a congressman’s seat just because they support background checks is just a myth,” Glaze said. “It’s a very popular myth around Washington, but it’s a myth. If you look at how well the NRA has performed in the last five or six election cycles, the number of races where their participation made a dispositive impact can be counted on one hand.”

Glaze said the NRA had a “horrible year” in 2012 because it spent more money than ever before in a presidential election to defeat a president “who they say is trying to destroy the Second Amendment” and invested more than $100,000 in seven Senate races, while six of their candidates lost.

Despite his past work on LGBT issues and own identity as gay man, Glaze said he doesn’t think LGBT people are more inclined to support gun control efforts because concern is spread over a variety of demographics.

“Basically, every demographic — men, women, African-American, Hispanics, LGBT people — are all in basically the same place on gun issues,” Glaze said. “Basically, despite the politics that you hear in the media and see in Washington, there’s a broad consensus among real people on this issue for the first time in a generation.”

Glaze said he has no idea whether other LGBT organizations will get involved, although he noted that the Bohnett Foundation has been contributing funds to the effort, and gay Rep. David Cicilline has introduced his own legislation that would close the firesale loophole — in addition to being one of the founding members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns while still mayor of Providence, R.I.

Robert Raben, who’s also gay and head of the Raben Group, said Glaze’s role as principal at the organization gives him “the flexibility to spend all of his time on this signature and crucial effort” and to draw on its resources “as the campaign itself changes from messaging to organizing to legislative advocacy.”

“We are unbelievably proud of Mark’s leadership; he has enormous responsibility and meets it well, with vision and delivery,” Raben said. “That he is an openly gay man helping lead such an important effort is a tribute to his professionalism, and how the country and its understanding of our talent has changed.”

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  1. Thomas Nesbitt

    January 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    thank you Mark Glaze for helping make you country and ours safer!

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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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National

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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