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Same-sex couples seek Va. marriage licenses

Campaign for Southern Equality’s “We Do” campaign ended with march to D.C.

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marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Misha Gibson, Ivy Hill, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade
marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Alyssa Weaver, Mike McVicker, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; D.C. residents Alyssa Weaver and Mike McVicker, who are from South Carolina, apply for a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than a dozen same-sex couples from across the South gathered outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Thursday to apply for marriage licenses.

Gays and lesbians from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and North and South Carolina submitted applications to Arlington Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson in the complex’s plaza. A constitutional amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006 defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the commonwealth, but those who participated in the action described their decision to take part as symbolic.

“We’re here to resist the unjust laws that label us as second class citizens and to call for full equality on the federal level,” Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., told the Washington Blade after she filled out a marriage license in the complex plaza.

She and her partner of more than two years, Misha Gibson, recently became engaged.

“I’m here today to request a marriage license and knowingly being denied, but doing that to make sure that people know that we’re equal,” Gibson said. “I’m doing it to fight for my civil rights.”

Beth Schissel and Sally White of Atlanta joined four other same-sex couples who tried to apply for marriage licenses in Decatur, Ga., earlier this month.

White, who lived in Richmond for 30 years, joked with the Blade after Ferguson declined to issue them a marriage license she traveled to Virginia with her partner as a way to celebrate her birthday on Saturday.

“I’m a pediatric ER doctor,” Schissel said with tears in her eyes. “I take care of your children and take care of the sick and injured and I served my country. I went to the Air Force Academy and I served my country on active duty and yet I can’t have all the rights that are afforded me under that word marriage under federal law. So it’s a slap in the face type of feeling and it hits you deep in your core.”

The Arlington protest was the last in a series of actions organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality to highlight a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South and to urge the federal government to extend full equality to LGBT Americans.

The “We Do” campaign kicked-off in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Jan. 2 when five gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses. Others followed suit in Mobile, Ala., Morristown, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and three North Carolina cities before traveling to Virginia.

“We all live here in the South and we’re Southern folks,” Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, who is also an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ in Asheville, N.C., told the Blade in an interview earlier this month. “This is where we live and we’re working with LGBT folks in small towns and cities across the region who are ready to stand up for equality — federal equality in new ways.”

She stressed her group’s approach to highlight the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples below the Mason-Dixon Line reflects a broader strategy.

“We do feel like because this is the region where discriminatory laws are most deeply enshrined in state law, it creates a really powerful and unique opportunity to revisit those laws by using peaceful, direct action,” Beach-Ferrara said. “What we’re doing with the ‘We Do’ campaign is folks are taking action in their local communities to resist these state laws, to show what happens when they’re actually enforced. They’re typically invisible because they’re so rarely enforced, if at all. And so the general public is sort of insulated from the reality that we live with day in and day out as LGBT folks in the South, which is these laws exist, but when they’re actually enacted and enforced there’s an opportunity to talk about what that actually means and how that hurts real people and real families.”

Matt Griffin and Raymie Wolfe of Morristown, Tenn., who have been together for more than seven years, sought a marriage license in their hometown on Jan. 9.

Wolfe told the Blade before he and his partner tried to obtain a Virginia marriage license that they were “met with good humor” when they tried to do the same in Tennessee. He noted the clerk said it was the first time a gay couple had ever applied for a marriage license in the town — she did reaffirm the Tennessee does not recognize nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“What we wanted to do was kind of illustrate for people and ourselves what happens when we do that,” Wolfe said. “That’s kind of unprecedented. That was my hometown. It’s where I grew up and as a gay kid there, I kind never imagined that i would be going to a courthouse with a partner and applying for a marriage license.”

Same-sex couples gathered in Arlington three days after a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted against a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. North Carolina voters last May approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman by a 61-39 percent margin, while Minnesota voters on Election Day rejected a similar proposal.

The upcoming oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 also weighed on the minds of the same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses and those who witnessed them do so.

“I’m very sympathetic to what the people who came before me today are trying to do and I am happy that there’s other jurisdictions where they can go to have their marriage licenses processed,” Ferguson, who is a former member of the Arlington Board of Supervisors, told the Blade. “There’s a Supreme Court decision coming up and so that will add some clarity to a lot of these peoples’ marriages, which is what they were looking for.”

Tim Young and Mark Maxwell of Winston-Salem, N.C., legally married at the Jefferson Memorial after they and other same-sex couples who had sought Virginia marriage licenses marched from Arlington to the nation’s capital.

“We live our lives in a way where we are not denied anything and we are open to being prosperous and successful,” Young, who has been with Maxwell for 20 years and raised four boys with him, said. “We’ve educated ourselves. We run a business so we pay taxes in that state and we give our money to that state, but we don’t have the same rights as other people and we believe in equity and equality.”

Beach-Ferrara noted her group made a deliberate decision to end their latest campaign in D.C.

“It’s in a lot of ways a small, intimate group, but of folks who traveled on a journey that’s symbolic in a lot of ways in the sense that if you live in the South, you need to travel to Washington, D.C., before you can be recognized as an equal citizen,” she said. “The journey folks have taken sort of helps to illustrate the legal realities that LGBT folks live with, which is you are a second class citizen until you reach the Washington border.”

Marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Misha Gibson, Ivy Hill, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., fills out a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted on D.C. street by attackers shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

Police list Aug. 7 incident in Shaw as suspected hate crime

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Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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District of Columbia

Lesbian activist assaulted with barstool at D.C. lounge

Police say victim’s claim of anti-gay hate crime under investigation

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Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was attacked in a local bar. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police say they are actively investigating an Aug. 3 incident in which lesbian activist and Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was hit three times in the head with the metal legs of a barstool swung by a man yelling anti-gay names at her.

A police report says the incident took place at the Player’s Lounge, a restaurant and bar at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E., in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood shortly before and after midnight on Aug. 3 and 4.   

Ford, who witnesses say was covered in blood when she stepped outside the restaurant after other patrons intervened, was taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital for treatment of a head and scalp injury that required multiple stitches. 

Ford and an employee at Player’s Lounge said the man who allegedly committed the assault is a regular customer at the restaurant but is known to people only by his nickname of Black. A police spokesperson said that as of Monday no arrest had been made in the case but that it remains under “active investigation” by a detective with the department’s Seventh District in Southeast.

A police report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as an assault with a dangerous weapon, but it does not classify the incident as a hate crime.

“There is no indication at this time that this incident was motivated by hate/bias,” said D.C. police spokesperson Alaina Gertz in response to a question by the Blade about the police report. “Should further interviews with the complainant reveal information that suggests that this should be a hate crime, the report can be amended with the new information,” Gertz said.

“Anyone who has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” Gertz said in an email message. “The Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a violent crime committed in the District of Columbia,” she said.

Ford told the Blade she believes she made it clear to the police officers who spoke with her at the scene of the incident that the man who assaulted her called her anti-gay names, including “dyke bitch.” In a video of herself talking about the incident that she posted on Facebook Ford refers to the assault against her as a “gay-bashing.”

The police report says officers arrived on the scene while Ford was being treated by paramedics with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

“Victim 1 stated that she was talking to a friend of hers at the location when another person who frequents the location interjected himself and began to curse at Victim 1,” the police reports states. “The verbal altercation escalated, and Victim 1 stated Suspect 1 began to assault her with a bar stool,” the police report continues. “Other patrons at the bar broke up the altercation and Suspect 1 fled,” according to the report.

It adds, “Witness 1 corroborated Victim 1’s story and stated that Suspect 1 frequents the area but doesn’t know his name, only his nickname.”

Ford told the Blade the incident began while she and three or four Player’s Lounge customers were engaged in a conversation about local community issues, including the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said that, among other things, she expressed her strongly held opinion that the violence interruption program was not working and was a “joke.”

It was around that time, she said, that the man who assaulted her approached the group and interjected himself into the conversation and indicated that he was interested in possibly becoming one of the violence interrupter program volunteers or participants. Ford said the man, who appeared to be over six feet tall, began referring to women as “bitches” and hurled other curse words.

“So, we’re all going like, what?” Ford said of her and the others’ reaction to the man’s comments. At that point, most of those she was speaking with left the restaurant because it was close to its 11 p.m. closing time.

“And I’m like, who are you talking to?” Ford said she recalls asking the man. According to Ford, he responded by repeatedly reciting the words “dyke bitch” in a hostile way.

“At that point I immediately knew he was talking to me because I’m the only openly lesbian person in that space that frequents there regularly and who was in that room,” Ford told the Blade.

She said she questioned the man’s motives, including whether he could become a violence interrupter, and the two began to argue back and forth until, according to Ford, he walked up to her and stood almost shoulder to shoulder next to her.

“He continues to call me all kinds of homophobic slurs,” Ford said. “He calls me all kinds of bitches and continues to encourage the bar staff to get me to shut up before he shoots me and whatever else he will do to bring my death,” Ford said.

“Before I know it, he has picked up this barstool and hit me in the head,” said Ford. “He takes a second barstool and proceeds to hit me again,” she said, adding that he hit her a third time in the head with one of the barstools, each time with the metal legs of the stool.

Ford said she has learned that the man who assaulted her has told people she spit on him, which he considered to be an assault by her against him. Ford called that allegation a lie, saying she absolutely did not spit on the man.

When the Blade contacted Player’s Lounge for comment, a man who answered the phone arranged for Teresa “Auntie” Smith, one of the longtime employees who was present at the time of the incident, to speak with the Blade. Smith said while she was getting ready to close the restaurant she saw and heard what sounded like a heated argument between Ford and the man known as Black, but she said she was busy doing something in another part of the room and did not see the assault take place.

But she said both Ford and Black, whom she has known for a long time from their role as regular customers, were each saying “very mean things” that she had not heard either of them say before. Among other things, she said she heard Ford say to Black that he engaged in “oral sex with other men.”

When asked about Smith’s claim that she raised the issue of oral sex with Black, Ford said, “Yes, after he called me a dyke bitch I most certainly did.” Ford added, “It sounds like she’s saying that I deserved to be hit with a barstool. Nothing a woman says to a man that is yelling and encroaching on her personal space justifies hitting her in the head three times with a weapon,” Ford said.

“We at Players had a very sad incident on Wednesday night,” the restaurant said in an Aug. 5 post on its Facebook page about the assault case. “We are mostly family here and we look out for each other. We are so sorry for what happened and hope she will be ok,” the message says. “We are still trying to sort out the details of what happened, but we know that no one here would support gay bashing or any type of violence.”

Phil Pannell, a longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist, said he has organized LGBTQ community events at Player’s Lounge, saying it has the reputation of being an LGBTQ-friendly establishment for many years. He told the Blade that he was surprised upon learning of the assault against Ford because he was unaware of that type of incident ever having occurred at Player’s Lounge.

Ford, among other things, serves as executive director of the Future Foundation, a Ward 8-based community organization that provides services to local teenagers and their families. The organization’s website says one of its programs, called LGBTQ+ You, has provided a “safe space” drop-in facility for LGBTQ youth living in the city’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods.

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Maryland

AIDS Action Baltimore to honor John Waters at 35th anniversary commemoration

Honorees to include John Waters and Pat Moran

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John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

AIDS Action Baltimore will mark 35 years of service next month by paying tribute to six people who have helped keep it in operation, including filmmaker John Waters and his friend and movie industry colleague Pat Moran.

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration, planned for Sept.18, is a cocktail reception and brunch that’s also a fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which was started in 1987 to fight HIV/AIDS and provide a safety net for people living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing a financial emergency.

“John has supported us from the beginning,” said Lynda Dee, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “All of his movie premieres benefitted AIDS Action Baltimore. Without his help, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Waters has directed 16 movies and written 10 books, and he was named in June to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based in Baltimore, he has two museum exhibits coming up, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from his personal collection that he’s donating to the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the museum from Nov. 20, 2022, to April 16, 2023, and “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.

Moran is a three-time Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked closely with Waters and others on films and television shows made in Baltimore. She is one of three co-founders of AIDS Action Baltimore, along with Dee and Garey Lambert, who passed away in 1987.

Waters said he’s pleased to support AIDS Action Baltimore. 

“I’m really happy to be involved,” he said. “Pat was one of the first people that started it. I’ve been a supporter always just because I believe I’m lucky I didn’t die of it. Plain and simple. I give money as a superstition that I won’t ever get it. And Lynda Dee is a tireless AIDS warrior. The gay community owes her great, great credit … It’s an organization in Baltimore that has kept many, many people alive … I’m just honored to help them in any way I can.”

Other honorees include:

Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Hopkins Center for AIDS Research;

Carla Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, and an internationally recognized expert for those living with HIV disease;

Debbie Rock, a disco singer-turned-HIV activist who is the founding CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, a non-profit that provides a range of services for children, families and individuals in Baltimore affected by poverty, addiction, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, including day care and respite care for children with HIV/AIDS; and

Carlton Smith, a community health worker with the state of Maryland, founder of the Center for Black Equity, and chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, which provides medical care and support services for people with HIV in Baltimore. 

Since 1987, AIDS Action Baltimore has helped more than 8,750 people, distributing $3.145 million in assistance for items such as rent and utilities. It also has a number of programs to fight HIV, from town hall meetings to testing assistance to prevention campaigns, including outreach efforts to at-risk populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31,676 people aged 13 and older were living in Maryland with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2020, and an estimated 3,559 people in Maryland were living with undiagnosed HIV at the end of 2019.

Dee wrote in June that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for AIDS Action Baltimore to provide the services it does.

“COVID-19 is eating a large percentage of U. S. Health and Human Services funding,” she wrote she in an open letter to friends of the organization. “We are in danger of losing all our hard-won treatment and prevention gains. Because of COVID-19, it is much harder to obtain the money we need to fight HIV.” 

That’s why AIDS Action Baltimore holds events such as the one next month, she added: “We are still doing our best to help ourselves.” 

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration will be held at the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St.) in Baltimore, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,750 for a table of 10. They’re available at aidsactionbaltimore.org or by calling 410-437-AIDS. 

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