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Newsom: Supreme Court defeat would trigger new ballot measure

Calif.’s lieutenant guv speaks out on Prop 8, Barney Frank and more

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Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by Michael Key Washington Blade
Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom by Michael Key Washington Blade

On the same day the Supreme Court hard oral arguments in a case challenging his state’s gay marriage ban, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke at length about Prop 8, Barney Frank and more in an interview. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage would prompt the California Legislature to place a pro-marriage equality referendum on the ballot in 2014.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, after attending the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the Prop 8 case, Newsom said he is confident the court will strike down Prop 8. He said he’s hopeful but less confident that the high court will issue a broader decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

But Newsom predicted that a “worst case scenario” ruling upholding Prop 8 would trigger an immediate backlash in the LGBT community in California and among the state’s pro-marriage equality lawmakers. This would lead to placing a Prop 8 repeal measure on the ballot, most likely in the 2014 election cycle, he said.

“I don’t know if I want to use the word shock because that’s a little hyperbolic,” he said in describing the reaction to a decision leaving Prop 8 in place. “But that backlash would immediately precipitate a ballot measure that most likely in this case…the legislature would put that on the ballot,” he said.

“It would require two-thirds of the legislature. There is two-thirds of the legislature now that supports marriage equality,” he said.

“So you wouldn’t even have to get the signatures,” Newsom added. “And I think that would immediately happen. And we would put on a campaign to end all campaigns. And we would win quite handily in 2014.”

Newsom told the Blade he has no regrets over his highly controversial decision in 2004 to use his authority as San Francisco mayor to direct the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples before any court or state governmental body gave the go-ahead for such marriages.

In February 2004 Newsom himself performed the first of the city-authorized same-sex nuptials in a City Hall ceremony that drew national and international press coverage. The couple joined in marriage in that ceremony was longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lion and Del Martin, who were in their 80s.

“[T]hat one couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, became 4,036 additional couples from 46 states,” Newsom said, noting that other same-sex couples came to San Francisco from eight countries to get married.

“And it wasn’t just the couples,” he said. “What was so profound about that in February 2004 were the mothers and fathers and the brothers and sisters and the grandparents and grandkids that all assembled there – tens of thousands of people celebrating life, celebrating love, celebrating marriage.”

Less than a year later, however, gay marriage opponents succeeded in obtaining a court ruling barring Newsom and San Francisco authorities from performing same-sex marriages. The ruling also declared all of the same-sex marriages performed by the city as invalid.

Critics of Newsom’s decision to authorize the marriages, including then-U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s gay, blamed Newsom for playing into the hands of anti-gay groups seeking to ban same-sex marriage through state constitutional amendments.

Close to a dozen such amendments passed through ballot measures that year, and some political pundits said the ballot measures helped Republican George W. Bush win the 2004 presidential election by drawing conservative voters to the polls in larger than usual numbers.

Newsom and LGBT activists who supported his decision to authorize the San Francisco marriages say the action boosted efforts to challenge California’s ban on same-sex marriage in the state courts. In early 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the state’s constitution, opening the way for same-sex couples to marry throughout the state.

But voters overturned the court’s decision in November 2008 when they approved Proposition 8. Subsequent court challenges to Prop 8 resulted in it coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in Tuesday’s oral arguments.

Newsom said he was troubled by the criticism he received, especially criticism form Frank, who he says he deeply respects as an LGBT rights advocate.

“So I respectfully disagree with him,” Newsom told the Blade. “And I think there’s thousands and thousands of people who came to San Francisco who would respectfully disagree with him.”

According to Newsom, his and his city’s decision to permit same-sex marriages led to marriage equality advances in subsequent years.

“I think it required shaking things up a little bit because I think just waiting around for the courts…we could take 30 years, 40 years,” he said. “And I think in many ways what we did certainly inspired the California Supreme Court.”

 

Following is a transcript of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s interview with the Washington Blade:

Washington Blade: What were your thoughts on how the arguments went on Tuesday as you observed them in the Supreme Court chambers?

Gavin Newsom:  It’s a humbling experience any time you listen to oral arguments at the Supreme Court because in most every instance history is being made. And to see this arc over the last nine, 10 years and to see the progress that’s been made, public opinion shifting and knowing what’s at stake for California and Californians but also for the country in its prospects on marriage equality, it was a pretty wonderful experience.

 

Blade: Did you have a sense of which direction the justices may go?

Newsom: We all come in with our preconceived biases. I’ve long felt that the narrow decision was most likely, although I confess that I got caught up in the spirit of the times in the last two months, hoping perhaps the issue and the arguments persuade a broader, national conversation.

That clearly didn’t happen in the courtroom at least. It certainly happened in the briefs, but not in the courtroom in terms of the oral arguments. So I left with that as a caveat of disappointment but realizing an hour or so later, reflecting on it, that it went as well as I could ever have hoped a few months ago.

And I feel stronger now that the likelihood of Prop 8 being struck down has grounded itself in the oral arguments either on standing, which everyone seemed to be coveting. It was interesting, the focus on that, or on the limited, narrow question of the Ninth Circuit.

 

Blade: Are you sensing the court may rule on the narrow issue of allowing same-sex marriages in California but not in other states?

Newsom: Yeah, I think it’s more likely than not. I want to be surprised and I desperately want to be wrong because I think this is a fundamental civil right. It’s a constitutional right. And it should be afforded every American, not just Californians. And so I really do hope I’m wrong. But based on the passing reference, ironically, from [Justice Antonin] Scalia – the notion of 50 states being impacted by this decision – I walked away feeling that’s less likely. Again, I hope I’m wrong.

 

Blade: Are you basing that also on what some of the more liberal and progressive justices were saying?

Newsom: Yeah. Even [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor’s own comments – I was sort of struck by that. I hope people were playing devil’s advocate, and that’s often the case with this court. So perhaps that was a reflection of that point of view or at least that kind of Socratic engagement with the attorneys.

But you know, this idea that you can let states decide the rights of a minority is preposterous to me. I mean, it just flies in the face of our history. If you submit the rights of a minority to the whims of the majority you’ll get what we’ve historically gotten. And that’s oppression of the minority rights. And I just don’t accept it.

 

Blade: You have been involved with this from the outset or at least since 2004. Could you say a little about what you were thinking when you shook up a lot of people by having San Francisco perform same-sex marriages at that time before any court declared they were legal? Weren’t you the first to perform one of those marriages for a lesbian couple at City Hall?

Newsom: I guess I was, certainly from an elective office. So there’s no doubt about that. You know, it’s interesting. We wanted to put a human face on it, period. And you know what? Frankly, that was the one thing – if there was anything that sat with me [on Tuesday] it was how little we talked about the human element here at the [U.S. Supreme] court. And I understand that. My father is a judge. This is a courtroom. There are legal briefs. But with the exception of [Justice Anthony] Kennedy, who brought up children into the courtroom, which I thought was significant and telling. I thought it was an important take away in terms of where Kennedy may be.

You know, what we did in 2004 was I didn’t want to listen to President Bush out there on the campaign trail supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage…

But that one couple, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, became 4,036 additional couples from 46 states. It was truly nationalized. It was not a local issue in San Francisco – 46 states and eight countries – and it wasn’t just the couples. What was so profound about that in February 2004 were the mothers and fathers and the brothers and sisters and grandparents and grandkids that all assembled there — tens of thousands of people celebrating life, celebrating love, celebrating marriage.

And it deepened my connection to not only the issue but to the community and my passion for equal rights. And I was struck by how many of my fellow Democrats ran, didn’t walk, from the issue in 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8. And only until recently have we seen a cascade of leadership which is fabulous, from [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo and [Maryland Governor Martin] O’Malley to the president himself and others elected who are showing courage now. And I’m humbled by that now. But I’m frustrated a bit that it took even this long because we were having a lot of private conversations, and they weren’t disclosing publicly. There’s nothing worse than politicians saying one thing privately and doing another thing publicly.

 

Blade: Are you saying they were saying they supported marriage equality privately but not publicly?

Newsom: Yeah – in most cases. And they were just worried about their political career. I get that. But you know what? I like the politicians that are worried about the people they claim to represent more than they do their own political future. That’s sort of my argument on this assault weapons discussion right now. It kind of gets me a little angry – that people are worried more about their own elections than the faces of those kids in Newtown.

 

Blade: Then Congressman Barney Frank was among those that said your decision to perform same-sex marriages as mayor of San Francisco led to the passage of the state ballot measures banning same-sex marriage and raised the threat of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage passing in Congress.

Newsom: You know, I’m not going to – he’s gone out of his way to say that over and over again. And I’ll continue to go out of my way to celebrate his leadership in terms of LGBT rights. I don’t even belong in the same room as he in terms of what he’s done for the community. So I respectfully disagree with him. And I think a lot of people do. And I think there’s thousands and thousands of couples who came to San Francisco who would respectfully disagree with him.

And I think it required shaking things up a little bit because I think just waiting around for the courts – one off here, one off here – we could take 30 years, 40 years. And I think in many ways what we did certainly inspired the California Supreme Court [to declare same-sex marriages legal]. So I would hope that Congressman Frank sees that. But he’s long expressed his condemnation of what I did and continues to do so for whatever reason.

 

Blade: On the other hand, Evan Wolfson, head of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, has said pushing for marriage equality, even if it leads to setbacks, changes the hearts and minds of the public and leads to advances in the long run.

Newsom: Yeah – and I’ve talked to – and this sounds preposterous – but I’ve had the privilege of talking to people overseas that said this had an impact on their decision-making in Europe and their leadership there when they saw the human face and they saw those images. So I’m with Evan. I’ve long admired Evan. And you’re not kidding. He was out there in the early ‘90s. So he’s one of my heroes and one of the heroes of the movement. But there are many. I just left Rob Reiner. He was a huge supporter of what we did in 2004 and, of course, sponsored so much of the good work that Ted Olsen just did and is doing and Boies and Chad Griffin. It’s just incredible. Our own city attorney, Dennis Herrera, he put together a great team — Theresa Stuart. There’s so many champions and heroes in the fight. And I respect Barney Frank, but he wasn’t in the courtroom today and a lot of folks were, and they deserved to be and I respect their advocacy.

 

Blade: Now that you’re in a statewide office as lieutenant governor, do you have a sense of what kind of repercussions there might be in California and the nation as a whole if the Supreme Court rules either for or against marriage equality?  What about the people of the eastern part of California, who seem to be so different politically than the people of San Francisco or L.A.?

Newsom: You’re not kidding. I’ll be out there tomorrow. I’ll be in the Modesto Central Valley area at 1 o’clock tomorrow. The old frame of California used to be north and south. And you just hit it on the head. It’s increasingly now coastal-inland-east-west.  The politics is radically different in the central part of the state.

I think most pundits, and they may, in hindsight, dismiss this assertion. But I’ll tell you that I can point to almost every pundit in California that said I could never get elected statewide in California because of my support of same-sex marriage. And we proved them wrong. Though candidly, I didn’t know they would be wrong. I thought it was questionable as well.

In some parts of our state they’re particularly conservative. So there will be repercussions, absolutely. But you now see – and I never read the polls in 2004 because if I did I never would have done what I did because it was partly unpopular even in San Francisco.

The polls today are two to one in favor of marriage equality in California – two to one in the recent polls. So I think the repercussions will be negligible at best.

Across the country, you know this. You write about this. You guys have been at this forever. This is not even Republican-Democrat any more. It’s generational and it’s overwhelming. You cannot deny the generational component. So these guys are holding on – the opponents – they’re just holding on. I don’t want to say this is the last gasp because I think some states will hold on for a much longer time unless the courts intervene.

But this is a tsunami, a generational tsunami that 80 percent of 30-year-olds or younger [support marriage equality]. This court – I hope they – they’re human beings. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this. If I’m a relatively young judge like [Chief Justice John] Roberts, why do you want to be on the wrong side of history when it comes to a civil right?

 

Blade: Will you be going to the DOMA case tomorrow?

Newsom: I wish I could. I’ve got to head back to my events in the Central Valley. But I feel confident. The good news about DOMA is it kind of hits these guys on both sides of the ideological aisle. From a federal perspective, this is federalism and states’ rights on the right. And then on the left we can make similar arguments that we made today. I feel a little more confident on DOMA, though I feel equally confident in both cases. Although, again, I think it’s going to be a narrow decision on Prop 8 and then a repeal of DOMA outright.

 

Blade: If Proposition 8 were to somehow go back to the voters are you optimistic that it wouldn’t pass and marriage equality would prevail?

Newsom: To be candid with you, the backlash would exist there. I think there would be an intense response if the [Supreme Court] overturned the Ninth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals in California that ruled against Prop 8]. I don’t know if I want to use the word shock because that’s a little hyperbolic. But that backlash would immediately precipitate a ballot [measure] that most likely in this case – and this is one of the interesting facts of California right now – I think the legislature would put that on the ballot. It would require two-thirds of the legislature. There is two-thirds of the legislature now that supports marriage equality. So you wouldn’t even have to get signatures. And I think that would immediately happen.

And we would put on a campaign to end all campaigns. And we would win quite handily in 2014. So eventually even in the worst case scenario we would win at the ballot box, I believe. But the impact of that, I think, would be intensely felt across the country.

And I think, frankly, if I were opposed to marriage equality I’d be more worried about that because I think the backlash would inspire, with intensity, aggressive movements to overturn not just Prop 8 in California but all across the country in those 31 constitutional restricted states, etc.

 

Blade: Marriage equality advocate Robin Tyler of L.A. told us this week that she feels Prop 8 helped the LGBT cause and marriage equality because it energized and activated the LGBT community like never before and helped bring on the recent successes in passing same-sex marriage laws in several states. Do you agree with that assessment?

Newsom: I agree with that generally. I’ll never forget. I was so intimately involved in that. My image was used against our campaign or against our efforts. And whether we like it or not, it was a painful thing. The backdrop was we were celebrating Obama’s win at the same time we were lamenting Prop 8’s victory.

And people were stunned in many ways. We saw it coming in the last two weeks of the campaign when the polls started to shift. So some of us on the inside weren’t as surprised. But I think the general consensus was one of shock. And it really did galvanize people to say, you know what? If California can legally grant same-sex marriage and in California see them take it away, my gosh, we’ve got to wake up every state and get organized with great intensity. So I think she’s right.

I think you saw a lot of great work done across the country that built up the momentum in New York and Maryland and got us where we were in Maine and Washington State and, of course, all the other legislative victories on civil unions. But you’re right, it was painful. And guys like Congressman Frank could say, ‘Look, I told you so’ after the blowback with all those state constitutional amendments. But that’s the nature of the right struggle, good days and bad days.

And now we’re leaning into history in a very positive way and I hope and like to think it’s much faster than it would have been if we just sat back passively and waited our time and got permission. Some people argue we all need permission. David Boies also needed permission to do what they did. And I’m glad they didn’t wait. I’m glad they did what they did. And I’m glad we did what we did. So good people can disagree and history will judge.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Jon May

    March 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Barney Frank needs to disappear into retirement. Gavin Newsom is the ally I would choose to fight for my rights.

  2. Lanorexic

    March 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I see this issue very clearly. The rights of the gay and lesbian community to marry is spelled out in the Bill of Rights. There is no ambiguity. But there are bigots that can’t stand to see progress in society especially for a group they love to discriminate against.

    Barney Frank is just too old to understand that world has changed and he stepped aside as a result. The “norm” has to be shaken up/out as Gavin Newsom said. If it isn’t the status quo is accepted until the end of time.

    If the SCOTUS refuses to take a stand we have to really shake things up! I for one refuse to watch my rights get flushed down the commode so the SCOTUS can cover their asses. The world will change drastically if a positive judgement isn’t made.

  3. Tom Henning

    March 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    We tried this in 2000, but were opposed by the entire gay community leadership that was afraid of a loss at the polls. Gavin Newsome is correct in saying that now it would be an easy win at the ballot box. http://www.sfweekly.com/1999-12-29/news/beautiful-dreamers/

  4. Rene Micheo

    March 31, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Gracias Mr. Gavin Newsom

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National

N.C. lieutenant governor compares gays to cow feces, maggots

“If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said

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North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (Blade file photo)

WINSTON-SALEM – Speaking to parishioners at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem last Sunday, November 14, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson attacked the LGBTQ+ community in remarks caught on the church’s livestreaming video on YouTube.

Robinson said in his sermon that he questioned the “purpose” of being gay; said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples; and that he didn’t want to explain to his grandchildren why two men are kissing if they see that on television the Charlotte Observer reported.

The state’s Republican Lt. Governor then went on to compare being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies, who he said all serve a purpose in God’s creation. “If homosexuality is of God, what purpose does it serve? What does it make? What does it create? It creates nothing,” Robinson said.

Democratic lawmakers expressed their outrage on Twitter:

According to the Observer, “The video was distributed Friday by a pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A protest rally was held Friday in front of Robinson’s office, but organizers also read the names of transgender people who have been killed.

This man’s theology and religious practices are not only flawed and a perversion of the Christian tenets; he places countless people at risk of violent attacks and even murder every time he opens his mouth,” said Vance Haywood, senior pastor at St. John’s, in a statement.

Robinson is expected to run for the governor’s chair in 2024. In another video of the sermon captured the Lt. Governor ranting in transphobic terms his opinion of the Trans community:

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (Twitter Video)

Video of remarks made by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson courtesy of the Charlotte Observer.

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LGBTQ elder care facilities open nationwide, but discrimination persists

Advocates say seniors face challenges despite groundbreaking advances

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The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing facility opened this week in Los Angeles. (Blade file photo)

Marsha Wetzel, an out lesbian, shared her life with her partner of 30 years, Judith Kahn, at the couple’s home in Illinois until Kahn died in 2013 of colon cancer.

As is the case with some same-sex couples who never married, Kahn’s family took legal possession of the couple’s home several years later, forcing Wetzel, who suffered from severe arthritis, to move into the Glen St. Andrew Living Community, a retirement and assisted living facility in Niles, Ill.

According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2016 by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, when word got out that Wetzel was a lesbian after she disclosed her sexual orientation to a fellow resident, she was called homophobic slurs, spat on, and assaulted on several occasions by other residents of the facility. The lawsuit, which later resulted in a court ruling in Wetzel’s favor, charged that officials at the Glen St. Andrew facility illegally failed to take action to prevent Wetzel from being subjected to abuse and threats by fellow residents and retaliated against her when she complained.

Lambda Legal announced one year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, that Wetzel passed away at the age of 73 of natural causes after a landmark 2018 appeals court ruling in her favor affirmed that residential facilities such as the one in which she lived are legally responsible for the safety of tenant residents.

“Marsha spent the rest of her days in a senior living community where she was out and affirmed,” said Lambda Legal attorney Karen Loewy, who represented Wetzel in the lawsuit.

Advocates for LGBTQ seniors were hopeful that the 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in the Wetzel case would speed up the gradual but steady advances in the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and in society in general.

A short time later, the New York City-based national LGBTQ elder advocacy group SAGE expanded its programs providing cultural competency training for the nation’s long-term care residential facilities. And in some cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, LGBTQ specific retirement and long-term care facilities began to open to provide LGBTQ elders with a wide range of “wrap around” services in addition to a safe place to live.

But LGBTQ elder advocates were taken aback in October of this year when news surfaced that transgender U.S. Army veteran Lisa Oakley, 68, was denied placement in more than two-dozen long-term care facilities in Colorado in 2020 and earlier this year.

“When they found out I was transgender, a lot of the facilities didn’t want me,” Oakley told USA Today. “A lot of transgender people, I’m sure, face the same thing,” she said. “We’re humans, just like everybody else.” 

Oakley told other media outlets her ordeal in trying to gain admission to a residential care facility began in October 2020, when she became unable to care for herself due to complications from diabetes. Her first choice was a facility in her hometown in rural Craig, Colo., where she had lived for the previous 25 years. She believes that facility turned her down because of her gender identity.

A social worker who assisted in Oakley’s applications for long-term care facilities said the facility in Craig said Oakley would have to be placed in a private room, which was at the time unavailable, “because she still has her ‘boy parts’ and cannot be placed with a woman” in a shared room. 

Many other Colorado facilities to which Oakley applied for admission, according to social worker Cori Martin-Crawford, cited the COVID pandemic as the reason for not accepting new residents. But as COVID related restrictions began to subside, other facilities continued to deny Oakley admission.

With Martin-Crawford’s help, Oakley finally found a facility that is LGBTQ supportive in Grand Junction, Colo., which is nearly three hours away from her hometown of Craig, where she had hoped to remain.

LGBTQ activists expressed concern that the discrimination that Oakley faced took place in the state of Colorado, which has a state law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts familiar with long-term care facilities for older adults have said many private elder care facilities can get around state LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by claiming other reasons for turning down an LGBTQ person.

Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE, told the Blade that the wide range of programs and initiatives put in place by SAGE and other groups advocating for LGBTQ elders in recent years have resulted in significant changes in support of LGBTQ seniors.

“It is the case now that in almost all states there are one or more elder care facilities that have been trained through our SAGECare program,” Adams said. “But it’s nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be that there are welcoming elder care facilities in every single community in this country” for LGBTQ elders.

Adams was referring to the SAGE program started recently called SAGECare that arranges for employees and other officials at elder care facilities throughout the country to receive LGBTQ competency training. The facilities that participate in the program are designated “SAGECare credentialed,” and are included in SAGE database lists available to LGBTQ elders looking for a safe facility in which to reside.

SAGE spokesperson Christina Da Costa provided the Blade with data showing there have been 136,975 professionals trained at a total of 617 SAGECare credentialed organizations nationwide. Out of 617 organizations, 172 are residential communities. Also, out of the total of 617 are 167 Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Senior Centers, and senior Ombudsman offices.

Da Costa said 278 of the credentialed entities that have received the SAGECare training throughout the country are “other aging focused nonprofit and for-profit businesses.”

According to SAGE, there are 12 SAGECare credentialed elder care facilities or service providers operating in the D.C. metropolitan area, with two located in D.C. One of the D.C. facilities is Ingleside at Rock Creek, located in Northwest D.C., which is a residential facility. The other is Options for Senior America, a company that provides in-home care services for seniors, including seniors living in D.C.

A SAGE list of the D.C.-area SAGECare credentialed facilities shows that three are in Rockville, Md.; two are in Gaithersburg, Md.; and one each are in Bethesda, Md.; Arlington, Va.; and Alexandria, Va. The list shows that one of them that provides services to elders in the D.C. area is based in North Carolina.

SAGE has a separate list of the 15 elder care residential facilities in the U.S. created specifically to serve LGBTQ residents. 

None are in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. However, SAGE says it has been working in cooperation with Mary’s House for Older Adults, a D.C.-based LGBTQ organization that advocates for LGBTQ seniors and is in the process of opening LGBTQ elder residential facilities in D.C. and others in the surrounding suburbs.

Mary’s House founder and CEO Dr. Imani Woody couldn’t immediately be reached to determine when the organization expects to open its first residential facility. 

While a residential LGBTQ elder facility has yet to open in the D.C. area, activists note that in addition to Mary’s House, services and amenities for LGBTQ elders in the area are currently being provided by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, which also has a legal services branch.

Adams of SAGE said the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center opened the nation’s first LGBTQ elder residential facility over eight years ago called Triangle Square. He said the L.A. Center opened a second LGBTQ elder residential facility a short time later. And this week, the L.A. Center announced it has opened a third LGBTQ elder residential facility in Hollywood that is part of a larger “intergenerational campus” that will bring together LGBTQ seniors and LGBTQ youth. 

SAGE, meanwhile, operates two LGBTQ elder long-term care residential facilities in New York City, one in Brooklyn called the Stonewall House and one in the Bronx called Pride House. 

The other U.S. cities with LGBTQ elder residential facilities include: Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco (which has two such facilities), San Diego, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Islip, N.Y.

Adams said the LGBTQ elder residential facilities range in size, with the largest – New York’s Stonewall House – having 143 apartments that can accommodate 200 residents. He said others vary from 40 or 50 residential units to 120.

Advocates for LGBTQ elders point to what they consider another important breakthrough for LGBTQ elders this year in the release of a joint SAGE-Human Rights Campaign Long-Term Care Equality Index report for 2021. Adams said the report is the first of what could become an annual report and rating and scorecard for long-term care elder residential facilities and other elder facilities. 

The 2021 report includes a self-reporting assessment of elder care facilities that the facilities themselves completed through a questionnaire in which many disclosed they have LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies for elders around admission to the facility and for practices by staff for those residing in their facilities.

The report includes a chart showing that 158 elder care facilities in 31 states responded positively to the outreach to them by organizers of the Long-Term Care Equality Index.

“We are thrilled to be working with SAGE and to be working with the Human Rights Campaign who are developing the Long-Term Care Equality Index,” said Nii-Quartelai Quartey, who serves as senior adviser and LGBTQ liaison for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP.

“There is a great deal of work that we’re doing in the area of LGBTQ older adults nationwide,” Quartey told the Blade. “And AARP has been engaged with the LGBTQ community nationwide for many years now,” he said.

“In recent years, we’ve turned up the volume in working more closely with organizations like SAGE and Lambda Legal and the Victory Fund Institute, the Center for Black Equity, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and the Hispanic Federation.”

According to Quartey, a recent AARP study of LGBTQ elders called Maintaining Dignity shows that longstanding concerns of discrimination remain despite the many advances in support for LGBTQ seniors in recent years.

He said a survey that was part of the study found that 67 percent of the LGBTQ elders who responded, “were concerned about neglect in a long-term care setting.” Over 60 percent feared verbal or physical harassment in a long-term care setting and over half “felt forced to hide or deny their identity” as an LGBTQ person, Quartey said.

Another recent survey of LGBTQ elders conducted by SAGE asking them how they feel about the use of the word “queer” in descriptions of LGBTQ people yielded findings that came as a surprise to some, according to Adams. A large majority of those surveyed from across the country said they are “comfortable at this point using that word and reclaiming that word, which is different from what we had heard historically,” Adams said.

He said in response to those findings SAGE will now as an organization gradually shift to using the term LGBTQ instead of its past practice of using LGBT.

Although Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, last year under the Trump Administration, Congress acted in a rare bipartisan way to approve the required five-year reauthorization of the U.S. Older Americans Act with new language supportive of LGBTQ older adults. President Trump signed the legislation.

The language includes a mandate for outreach to and reporting about services provided to LGBTQ older adults in federally funded programs. It also opens the way for LGBTQ older adults to be designated in a category of “greatest social need.” Under that category, older adults receive a higher priority in the allocation of resources by the federal government.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to go to get over the finish line,” said the AARP’s Quartey. “And aside from passing legislation federally and on the state and local level, we absolutely need to continue the hard work of changing hearts and minds,” he said.

Longtime gay activist and writer Brian McNaught, whose latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray – Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives,” was just released, says his own very informal survey of LGBTQ elders found there is a need for intimacy that may be too controversial for the establishment LGBTQ elder groups.

“I’m a SAGE volunteer and the 81-year-old man with whom I was working after his husband of 47 years died, said after his grieving process, ‘I want to be hugged and kissed. Does that make me a bad person?’”

McNaught told the Blade he assured the man those feelings do not make him a bad person. McNaught said the man’s comment prompted him to conduct further research, in which he found that some gay male elders in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area who often need assisted living support would like to patronize gay bathhouses or seek the services of an escort agency. He said he determined that any LGBTQ elder group providing such services would trigger “a huge uproar of protests” and most likely a loss of funding.

“We don’t want to talk about sexuality and aging,” McNaught said.

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Former VOA director nominated to head U.S. Agency for Global Media

Previous CEO’s actions threatened LGBTQ internet freedom

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(Public domain photo)

President Biden on Monday nominated Amanda Bennett, the former head of Voice of America and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor, to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

“I am honored by this nomination,” Bennett told Voice of America. “If confirmed, I will be so proud to work with all the dedicated journalists at USAGM who are doing the critical and difficult work around the world of upholding and demonstrating the value of a free press.”

The agency operates independently from the U.S. government and oversees five different entities that include Voice of America, broadcasting platforms and the Open Technology Fund. The fund is an independent non-profit organization that focuses on advancing global internet freedom by providing internet access, digital privacy tutorials, privacy enhancement and security tools like encryption.

These tools have been integral in preserving internet freedom for LGBTQ people abroad, especially in places where it’s unsafe or illegal to be LGBTQ.

Bennett, 69, was named VOA director in 2016 and resigned from her post in June 2020 after conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack was confirmed as the agency’s CEO during the Trump administration.

Under Pack’s tenure, several technology freedom experts said the former CEO thwarted the Open Technology Fund’s efforts abroad by freezing funds. Pack also ignored a House subpoena for an oversight hearing that was meant for him to address mass firings, withholding congressionally approved funds and other questionable activities.

Pack stepped down at Biden’s request in January, and the president named Kelu Chao, a VOA veteran journalist, as Pack’s replacement and interim CEO.

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