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Supporters camp out for 3 days awaiting marriage cases

Undaunted by snow forecast, some determined to see Supreme Court in action

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Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade
Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade

A line formed at the Supreme Court on Saturday in anticipation of oral arguments in the marriage cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Three days before justices will hear oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8, supporters of marriage equality were already lined up before the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to ensure they’ll have a seat for the historic event.

Jeffrey DeSoto, a gay 33-year-old computer programmer from New York, stood cross-legged in line next to his sign reading: “I AM A 2ND CLASS CITIZEN: NOH8.” Near him was his sleeping bag, air mattress, blanket and solar cell to charge his cell phone.

“New York State does have marriage equality, but I would want marriage equality across the entire country,” DeSoto said. “That’s an outside outcome to this, but it is there, so I definitely would want to have been at the case where that happens.”

Jordan Haedtler, a straight 24-year-old resident of Oakland, Calif., said he’s closely watched the Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, from its beginnings and attended oral arguments in the case when they were before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I’m kind of a public policy and politics junkie,” Haedtler said. “I’ve been to several oral arguments in other cases as well, but this case holds a lot of importance for me because I really think that gay rights and marriage equality are one of the main civil rights issues of our time.”

As of Saturday afternoon, about 15 people were camped out outside the building awaiting entry to Tuesday’s hearing. Wearing coats and hats to keep warm in a lingering winter cold, those in line occupied themselves with journal writing, conversation and newspaper reading to pass the time.

For DeSoto, simply coming early on Tuesday morning wasn’t enough. He arrived Friday afternoon to wait in line before the Supreme Court with days remaining before the arguments for an assurance he would have access to the courtroom.

“Actually, I did a little research,” DeSoto said. “I found the names of people who waited in line for the Affordable Care Act, and then I found them on Facebook and messaged a couple of them. One girl messaged me back, and I asked her how far in advance she had come. I think she said four days, so I pretty much tried to match that.”

DeSoto said those waiting in line have a “good amount of camaraderie.” As if living in a commune on the sidewalk of First Street, he said they’re offering food to each other and keeping an eye on each other’s possessions as they wait.

Among them are a gay couple seeking a ruling in favor of their marriage rights; college students with an affinity for legal cases and equality issues; a group of older black men at the front of the line played a game of dominoes to pass the time.

Tyrone Henderson, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. resident Tyrone Henderson supports marriage equality. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Tyrone Henderson, a 48-year-old D.C. resident, talked about his personal support for marriage equality as he glanced over the Metro section of the Washington Post.

“I think people should have the choice of what they want to do,” Henderson said. “You should be able to be with who you want to be with instead of trying to predict who you should be with. I figure you should have the choice whether you want to marry a man or a woman.”

Each of the people in line was a supporter of marriage equality. No opponents of marriage rights for gay couples were waiting outside and braving the chilly weather to attend the arguments. There was one protester who was wearing a sandwich sign, but he was speaking out against the Obama administration’s extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists overseas by drone attack.

DeSoto said he was heckled by a passer-by who deemed marriage rights for gay couples an unimportant issue.

“I did have one person come by — a heckler, a dissident, whatever,” DeSoto said. “He didn’t like my sign. He pretty much said marriage equality was not a serious issue and that we’re all throwing a hissy fit.”

Those in line were also undaunted by weather reports indicating that they would be snowed upon as they awaited a place in the courtroom. Differing forecasts ranged from cold rain to a few inches of snow on Sunday and Monday.

Dariann Powers, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade

Darienn Powers came from New York to watch the Prop 8 oral arguments. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Darienn Powers, a 19-year-old straight student from the State University of New York at New Paltz, said she came early in the morning on Saturday prepared in the event of inclement weather.

“I’ve heard that it might be snowing,” Powers said. “I’m wearing my rubberized rain boots, so my feet will be dry, and I have an umbrella. Otherwise, I’m just taking it as it comes.”

A common theme among those waiting in line was a plan to stay for oral arguments for Prop 8 on Tuesday, but leave without attending the arguments on Wednesday for the Defense of Marriage Act. The reasoning — aside from the need to return to work — was the belief the Prop 8 proceedings were more historic than the DOMA case.

Still, that didn’t take away from the historic nature of what they’d be able to see on the first day of oral arguments on marriage equality.

Dexter Smith, a gay junior political science major at Georgia State University, said he expects an intense experience on that day for those on both sides of the marriage equality movement.

“I think it’s going to be packed,” Smith said. “You’re going to have protesters out here. People saying crazy things; you already having people saying crazy things. It’s going to be crazy, and I just want to be here to be in the thick of things.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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