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Ayanbadejo ‘excited’ to speak at Supreme Court

Ravens linebacker became a public face of Maryland marriage campaign

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Brendon Ayanbadejo, Question 6, Maryland, election 2012, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Brendon Ayanbadejo, Baltimore Ravens, gay news, Washington Blade

Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is an ally and vocal LGBT advocate. (Photo by Thibous via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo on Monday said he is “excited” to speak in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“I’ve gone out to the polls and passed out fliers and done stuff like that, but I’ve never spoken in front of a courthouse or in any type of rally ever before,” he told the Washington Blade during an extended interview. “This is sort of uncharted territory for me. I’m kind of the most unlikely of people to do so where everyone else will be some sort of activist or is some way involved in politics. I’m just a concerned citizen.”

Ayanbadejo, who will speak alongside D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and others outside the Supreme Court before the justices hear oral arguments in a case that challenges California’s Proposition 8, in 2009 became the first professional athlete to endorse marriage rights for same-sex couples. He also became one of the most public faces of last year’s campaign in support of the referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

State Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) told team owner Steve Bisciotti that Ayanbadejo “should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base” last August after he donated two Ravens tickets as part of a Marylanders for Marriage Equality fundraiser.

The Ravens and Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings are among those who defended Ayanbadejo. A Maryland legislative committee last month concluded Burns violated the General Assembly’s ethics rules when he wrote to Bisciotti on official stationary.

“I’m pretty proud to pay taxes and be in Maryland and be in a state that’s paving the way that’s really trailblazing and changing people’s minds and opinions and attitudes toward LGBT equality,” Ayanbadejo said.

Ayanbadejo, whose father is Nigerian and mother is of Irish descent, added he feels highlighting the fact his parents and other interracial couples could not legally marry in some states before the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down such bans in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision is an effective argument within the current debate.

“In Loving v. Virginia we were fighting for interracial marriage and now we’re fighting for LGBT marriage or same-sex marriage,” he said. “The overlying issue is government trying to dictate who we should love and the Constitution clearly that states everyone is created equal and has equal protections under the law, but clearly they don’t.”

Ayanbadejo conceded he has received some criticism over this comparison, but not from communities of color.

“This is a civil rights issue; this is a human rights issue,” he said. “There’s been much opposition to that, but I still firmly believe in my stance that it is an equal rights issue. People are entitled to their opinions, but it’s the fact of the matter that people are not treated equally and that’s something you can’t argue about. Equality is not somebody’s opinion. It’s your right as an American citizen.”

Ayanbadejo fights anti-LGBT stigma in sports

Ayanbadejo, who filed a brief in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples with the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case with Kluwe, is working with Athlete Ally to fight homophobia and transphobia in sports.

He told the Blade most of his Ravens teammates either “flat out agree with me” on nuptials for gays and lesbians or claim the word marriage cannot be used to describe same-sex unions because of what the Bible says.

Ayanbadejo said these attitudes have begun to shift.

“We’re definitely changing the tide, even in the locker room,” he said. “We’re just a little bit behind.”

Ayanbadejo is friends with gay former professional football player Wade Davis. He said he is also trying to reach out to former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Kwame Harris whose sexual orientation became known after he allegedly attacked his ex-boyfriend last August.

“If you’re in the locker room and can be yourself not only will you play better, but you’ll also be a better person and better in the community,” Ayanbadejo said as he discussed his work with Athlete Ally. “You’ll be able to flourish more so.”

He further described gay Olympian Greg Louganis, whom he watched on television when he was a child, as an additional role model.

“I’ll never forget Greg Louganis diving and getting excited and winning his gold medal and later coming out on ‘Oprah,’” Ayanbadejo said, noting the two men have become friends. “I didn’t know him when I was younger, but I knew his fight and everything that he had gone through. And now to be friends with him as an adult, he was definitely was a role model for me as a younger child.”

Ayanbadejo has tickets to go inside the Supreme Court, but his nearly 2-year-old son is having heart surgery in a couple of weeks so he is going to return home almost immediately after tomorrow’s rally.

He told the Blade he plans to remain involved in the LGBT rights movement once the justices issue their rulings in the two cases.

“Even though it’s advocacy work I just consider myself a concerned citizen and i’m going to uphold the Constitution and make sure America’s accountable to treat everybody equal,” Ayanbadejo said. “Eventually my work will subside in this area and everybody will vote toward acceptance and the laws change. It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight.”

He added he remains particularly proud of his work around marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland.

“My legacy will always be there,” Ayanbadejo said, reflecting once again on his broader advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. “It is something that I will always carry with me and I’ll always cherish the work I’ve done for the LGBT community. Right now we’re at a tipping point where we’re gaining the momentum, but we still have a long way to go.”

Martin O'Malley, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Question 6, Maryland, election 2012, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley outside Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore on Nov. 6. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

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] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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