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Anti-gay group targets National Cathedral over gay marriage

Ralph Reed organizes petition drive to stop Cathedral from receiving historic preservation grants

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Washington National Cathedral, gay news, Washington Blade
Washington National Cathedral, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington National Cathedral (Public domain photo by Carol M. Highsmith)

An organization started by religious right figure Ralph Reed is circulating an online petition demanding that the federal government halt all “current or future” funds for the Washington National Cathedral because of its recent decision to perform same-sex weddings.

In a statement released on Friday, the Faith and Freedom Coalition noted that in recent years the National Cathedral has received a $700,000 grant from the National Park Service’s “Save America’s Treasure’s” program, which funds efforts to preserve and maintain historic buildings.

“With this policy change, taxpayers are being asked to subsidize gay marriage ceremonies for a church that can readily access millions of their own,” the group said in its statement.

“We believe the definition of ‘marriage’ to be the union of one man to one woman,” the statement says. “If the National Cathedral wants to continue to receive taxpayer funding from Congress, they should respect Congressional action like the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages and providing federal benefits to married same-sex couples. But the law doesn’t prohibit the government from providing historic preservation funds for churches that support or perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

The National Cathedral, an Episcopal church, announced on Jan. 8 that it would welcome same-sex weddings on its premises effective immediately.

The action is considered significant because the National Cathedral is the second largest church in the United States and often hosts religious ceremonies of national significance such as presidential inaugural prayer services and state funerals for U.S. presidents and members of Congress.

“Our response would be that we certainly are not going to be deterred by the petition,” said Richard Weinberg, a spokesperson for the National Cathedral, in commenting on the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s call for denying the Cathedral federal funds

He said the Cathedral views as “totally separate” the issue of receiving a one-time federal grant for historic preservation of the Cathedral’s building and its position on same-sex marriage.

“The issue of marriage equality at least within the Episcopal Church is more or less is a settled issue,” Weinberg said. “So we’re actually exercising our First Amendment rights to function from a pastoral-sacramental standpoint and to perform the same-sex ceremonies that we plan to perform.”

He said the $700,000 grant from the National Park Service was awarded in May 2011. The cathedral continues to raise private funds from members and supporters for building maintenance and preservation work, including ongoing efforts to repair damage caused by the August 2011 earthquake that hit the D.C. area, Weinberg said.

People for the American Way, a liberal political advocacy group that supports LGBT rights, issued a statement saying Faith and Freedom Coalition’s call for cutting off federal funds for a church appears to contradict its longstanding calls for the government to support religious institutions.

“[T]he same FFC which believes Obama is waging a ‘war on religion’ and trampling on ‘religious liberty’ wants the government to cut off its grants to a church due to its opposition to marriagae equality,” said People for the American Way spokesperson Brian Tashman.

“For more than 30 years, the Episcopal Church has prayed and studied to discern the evidence of God’s blessing in the lives of same-sex couples,” said Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, or director, in a statement last month.

“It is now only fitting that the National Cathedral follow suit,” he said. “We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God – and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation.”

Reed served from 1984 to 1997 as executive director of the Christian Coalition, a conservative Christian political organization created by Virginia televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson. The Christian Coalition emerged as one of the nation’s most outspoken groups opposing LGBT rights. Reed left the organization under a cloud after the Federal Election Commission began an investigation of alleged campaign funding irregularities.

He founded Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2006 after working as a political consultant in Georgia.

In arguing for a ban on federal funds for the National Cathedral, FFC says the cathedral should be able to obtain all the money it needs from the Episcopal Church, which the group describes as “one of the richest denominations in the United States.”

“Why is a church with untold billions in assets asking American taxpayers to fund their church?” the group asks in its statement promoting its petition. “We demand an immediate suspension of any current or future federal funds to this institution until such time that it ceases the practice of homosexual ‘marriage’ certification.”

Weinberg said the National Cathedral operates as a privately owned, independent entity.

“The Episcopal Church does not own it,” he said. “So it was built entirely through the support of generous donors across the country, and that’s how it has been maintained for its 107 year history now.”

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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