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Lesbian couple on origins of Calif. marriage fight

Tyler, Olson filed first lawsuit to challenge ban in 2004

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Robin Tyler, Gloria Allred, Diane Olson, gay news, Washington Blade
Diane Olson, Robin Tyler, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8

Diane Olson and Robin Tyler were in D.C. for last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments in the Prop 8 case. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For lesbian activists Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who have been a couple for more than 19 years, last week’s Supreme Court hearing on California’s Proposition 8 had a special meaning.

In February 2004, Tyler and Olson were among the first two couples to file a lawsuit challenging the California law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying. The lawsuit led to the California Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 declaring that same-sex marriages must be recognized under the state’s constitution.

The two were among the 18,000 same-sex couples to marry in California before marriage equality opponents placed Prop 8 on the ballot that same year. Upon its approval by voters in November 2008, recognition of all subsequent same-sex nuptials ended. Marriage equality activists, however, responded by filing another lawsuit challenging Prop 8, which took the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Tyler and Olson sat in the Supreme Court chambers on March 26 watching the attorneys argue for and against whether Prop 8 should be declared unconstitutional, each said they couldn’t help but recall how it all started for them 12 years earlier in Beverly Hills, where Olson was raised.

“What happened is starting in 2001 Diane and I would go…to the Beverly Hills courthouse every year to try to get a marriage license,” Tyler said. “And of course they turned us down.”

Added Tyler, “The first year we almost got arrested because MCC brought a cake and they said we couldn’t serve a cake on the sidewalk.” She was referring to the LGBT supportive Metropolitan Community Church, a longtime advocate for marriage equality.

Tyler, an out lesbian comic and entertainer since the 1970s, served as an organizer for the 1979 LGBT march on Washington and two subsequent LGBT marches on Washington in 1987 and 1993. At all three marches, Tyler helped organize same-sex marriage rallies outside the IRS headquarters in downtown D.C., in which hundreds of same-sex couples participated in marriage ceremonies they considered symbolic but that had no legal recognition.

With that as a backdrop, Tyler said the proverbial ‘last straw’ happened to her and Olson in 2004 shortly before she and Olson planned their annual ritual of going to the Beverly Hills courthouse to request a marriage license on or around Valentine’s Day. At the time, the two had been a couple for 10 years.

Gloria Allred, gay news, Washington Blade

Gloria Allred (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I was going to be 65,” she said. “So I called the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. I’ve been in the union for years because I was a comic. And I say, you know, I can purchase domestic partnership insurance for Diane,” Tyler recalled.

“But when I retired they said no you are not. And I said why not?” Tyler told the Blade. “And they said because you’re not married. And I said we can’t get married. And the woman said to me, ‘That’s just the way it is, hon.’ And she hung up on me.”

Tyler said she immediately called Gloria Allred, a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer based in Los Angeles, whose clients have been among some of the most famous Hollywood figures. Tyler said she and Allred had been friends for a long time.

“And the next morning she called and said you know what? I’m going to take the case. I’m going to sue for your right to get married to Diane and I’m going to do it pro bono,” Tyler said.

At Allred’s suggestion, Tyler and Olson agreed to invite Rev. Troy Perry, head of the MCC churches, and his husband, Philip De Blieck, who he married in Canada, to be a party to the suit.

Since Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday in 2004, Tyler said the two couples and Allred decided to go to the Beverly Hills courthouse that year on Feb. 12.

“They handed us this little thing like they did every year – you know, you can’t get married because marriage is a between a man and a woman,” said Tyler. “Gloria was with us and we walked outside and had a huge press conference, and Gloria announced our right to marry.”

Allred said she informed the media that the lawsuit would challenge a state family code that banned same-gender marriage.

In a development that surprised them and their supporters in L.A., then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that same week began performing same-sex marriages in City Hall in defiance of the state law banning such marriages. The first couple that Newsom himself married was veteran lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who were in their 80s.

“Someone called me and said Del and Phyllis, who were friends of ours, are getting married,” Tyler said. “I said what? And we turned on the television and there is Gavin Newsom Marrying Del and Phyllis.”

Allred said some have confused the role that Newsom and litigants like Tyler and Olson played in the marriage equality battle.

“The most important thing was that we were challenging the law, which prohibited them from being able to enjoy the right to marry each other,” Allred said. “What happened in San Francisco was slightly different. The mayor started marrying couples without getting a judicial declaration that the family code prohibiting such marriages was unconstitutional.”

Marriage equality opponents quickly obtained a court order halting San Francisco from performing same-sex marriages. Opponents next persuaded the court to invalidate all of those marriages on grounds that they had no legal standing.

Many of the couples whose marriages were invalidated joined the San Francisco County Attorney in filing their own lawsuits challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The court later merged those suits with the suit filed by Tyler, Olson, Perry, DeBlieck and others.

After four years of litigation, the California Supreme Court ruled in early 2008 that the state’s same-sex marriage ban violated the California Constitution and that same-sex marriages must be recognized in the state.

Due to their role as the first to file suit over the marriage question, Tyler and Olson were given permission to be the first same-sex couple to marry in L.A. County – one day ahead of everyone else.

Tyler and Olson acknowledge that the joy of their wedding was dampened later in the year when Prop 8 passed, even though the state Supreme Court ruled their marriage and those of the 18,000 other same-sex couples who married prior to the approval of Prop 8 would remain valid.

But the two said their wedding on the steps of the Beverly Hills courthouse was a special moment for them and their friends and supporters.

“And I want to tell you the mayor of Beverly Hills offered us City Hall, which would have been my dream,” Tyler said. “But we decided to marry in front of the courthouse because that’s the same courthouse that had turned us down all those years,” she said.

“And this time when we walked in with Gloria to get our marriage license the woman behind the counter that gave us the license started to cry,” said Tyler. “She said I’ve wanted to give this to you ever since you started to come in.

“And we walked out and we had no idea that the press would be there from all over the world,” Tyler continued. “And a policeman came up to me and said I was the cop that almost arrested you in 2001 for serving cake, and I’m proud to be at your wedding. So it had come full circle for us when we got married.”

Nine years later, as Tyler, Olson and Allred watched with great interest as the Supreme Court justices asked sharp questions in Washington to the lawyers arguing for and against Prop 8, Tyler said the comments by some of the justices cause her great discomfort.

“I was so full of emotion and so angry having to sit in the Supreme Court and hearing them refer to us as an experiment and to compare us to cell phones and the Internet,” she said, referring to comments by Justice Samuel Alito.

In remarks she said he hadn’t planned to make before the C-SPAN TV cameras on the plaza outside the Supreme Court, Tyler said she expressed her outrage over the remarks by some of the justices.

“I said we’re a civil rights movement. We’re not an experiment. And we’re going to win,” she told the Blade. “How dare they…,” she added, before cutting short her own comment.

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The White House

Biden hosts Kenyan president, unclear whether anti-LGBTQ bill raised

Jake Sullivan reiterated administration’s opposition to Family Protection Bill

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Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.

The Biden-Harris administration has not publicly said whether it raised LGBTQ rights with Kenyan President William Ruto during his visit to the White House.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma last year introduced the Family Protection Bill. The measure, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” and would ban Pride marches and other LGBTQ-specific events in the country. Advocates have told the Washington Blade the bill would also expel LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Kenya.

A senior administration official on Wednesday did not directly respond to the Blade’s question about whether President Joe Biden would speak to Ruto about the Family Protection Bill — neither he, nor Ruto discussed it on Thursday during a joint press conference at the White House. The official, however, did reiterate the administration’s opposition to the bill and other laws around the world that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A reporter on Wednesday asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during the daily press briefing about whether Biden would discuss with Ruto any concerns over “some authoritarian moves” in Kenya. (The International Criminal Court in 2011 charged Ruto and five others with crimes against humanity in relation to violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The ICC dismissed the case against Ruto in 2016, although the prosecutor said widespread witness tampering had taken place.)

“We’ve seen robust and vigorous democracy in Kenya in recent years,” Sullivan said. “But, of course, we will continue to express our view about the ongoing need to nurture democratic institutions across the board: an independent judiciary; a non-corrupt economy; credible, free, and fair elections.”

Sullivan added “these kinds of principles are things the president will share, but he’s not here to lecture President Ruto.”

“President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues,” he said. “We will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman in March 2023 sparked criticism when she told reporters in Kenya’s Kajiado County that “every country has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ rights.”

Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. A State Department spokesperson in response to Whitman’s comments told the Blade that “our position on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is clear.”

“A person’s ability to exercise their rights should never be limited based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” said the spokesperson. “Governments should protect and promote respect for human rights for each and every human being, without discrimination, and they should abide by their human rights obligations and commitments.”

The White House on Thursday released a “Kenya State Visit to the United States” fact sheet that broadly notes the promotion of human rights and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

• Promoting Human Rights: The United States and Kenya affirm their commitment to upholding the human rights of all. Together they stand with people around the world defending their rights against the forces of autocracy. Kenya and the United States commit to bilateral dialogues that reinforce commitments to human rights, as well as a series of security and human rights technical engagements with counterparts in the Kenyan military, police, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at strengthening collaboration on security sector governance, atrocity prevention, and women, peace and security in Kenya and regionally.

• Continuing the Fight against HIV/AIDS: The United States and Kenya are developing a “Sustainability Roadmap” to integrate HIV service delivery into primary health care, ensuring quality and impact are retained. With more than $7 billion in support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) spanning two decades, Kenya has successfully responded to the HIV epidemic and strives to end HIV as a public health threat in Kenya by 2027. These efforts improve holistic health services for the 1.3 million Kenyans currently receiving antiretroviral therapy and millions more benefiting from HIV prevention programs, while allowing for greater domestic resources to be put toward the HIV response, allowing PEFPAR support to decrease over time.

Biden and Ruto on Thursday also issued a joint statement that, among other things, affirms the two countries’ “commitment to upholding the human rights of all.”

“Our partnership is anchored in democracy and driven by people,” reads the statement. “Together we share the belief that democracy requires ongoing work, and thrives when we commit to continually strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“This historic state visit is about the Kenyan and American people and their hopes for an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous future for all,” it adds.

The White House said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Democratic National Committee Deputy National Finance Chair Claire Lucas and her partner, Judy Dlugacz, are among those who attended Thursday’s state dinner at the White House. Ruto on Friday is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Ugandan officials sanctioned after Anti-Homosexuality Act signed

The U.S. has sanctioned officials in Uganda, which borders Kenya, after the country’s president in May 2023 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The White House also issued a business advisory against Uganda and removed the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.

Sullivan, Whitman and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are among the officials who joined Biden and Ruto at a meeting with CEOs that took place at the White House on Wednesday. Ruto earlier this week visited Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The company announced it will invest $175 million in Kenya.

Coca-Cola on its website notes it has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index each year since 2006. The company also highlights it has supported the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Trevor Project, and other “LGBTQI-focused organizations and programs in our communities.”

“Coca Cola is proud of its history of supporting and including the LGBTQI community in the workplace, in its advertising and in communities throughout the world,” says Coca-Cola. “From supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards, Coca Cola has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell in a statement to the Blade said Ruto “is choosing to align with anti-gender extremists and is allowing queer Kenyans to be put at extreme risk.” She also criticized Biden for welcoming Ruto to the White House.

“Biden is campaigning as an LGBTQ+ champion, but he is ruling out the red carpet for someone who is explicitly siding with the extremists,” said Russell. “It’s doublespeak on the part of the White House.”

Brody Levesque, Christopher Kane, and Sam Kisika contributed to this story.

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Federal Government

National Park Service clarifies uniform policy

Announcement has implications for Pride

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National Park Service rangers from the Stonewall National Monument march in the 2021 New York City Pride parade. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service’s Facebook page)

BY ERIN REED | The National Park Service on May 17 clarified its policy on employees wearing official uniforms to non-sanctioned events, which has implications for Pride events.

It’s unclear what triggered the clarification. A source at the National Park Service told the Blade in a statement that the uniform policy “has not changed,” but some LGBTQ employees report feeling betrayed and note that official Pride participation in major cities is uncertain as applications to participate in parades remain unprocessed.

The clarification comes amid increasing crackdowns on Pride flags and LGBTQ people nationwide.

The announcement was first disclosed in a memo to park service employees that did not directly address Pride but stated that “requests from employees asking to participate in uniform in a variety of events and activities, including events not organized by the NPS” conflict with park service policy.

The specific provision cited states that park service employees cannot wear the uniform to events that would construe support for “a particular issue, position, or political party.” Applying this provision to bar Pride participation drew ire from some LGBTQ employees who assert that LGBTQ Pride is not about an “issue, position, or political party,” but about identity and diversity. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also pointed out that the internal ERG guide allowed for participation in Pride events and that park employees had participated in Pride events with approval for years under the current set of rules.

In a follow-up, the park service stated that the ERG resource known as the “OUTsiders Guide to Pride” conflicts with its policy and that it is in discussion with ERG leaders to review it and similar documents.

Meanwhile, it stated that park service participation in Pride “could imply agency support … on a particular issue of public concern,” essentially stating that celebrations of LGBTQ employees would be considered an “issue of public concern” rather than a non-political celebration of diversity. As such, they determined that park service official participation in parades “should be extremely limited.”

Concern spread among some park service employees . They noted that the park service has participated in Pride parades across the United States for years under the same set of rules, including during the Trump administration, which notably cracked down on LGBTQ Pride in government agencies, such as at embassies abroad.

They also noted that Stonewall National Monument is run by the park service. Importantly, Stonewall National Monument’s founding documents state, “The purpose of Stonewall National Monument is to preserve and protect Christopher Park and the historic resources associated with it and to interpret the Stonewall National Historic Landmark’s resources and values related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement.”

One park service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that multiple Pride parade requests are currently sitting on desks “collecting dust” for participation and representation in major city Pride festivities. When asked about the determination that Pride festivals are an “issue of public concern,” they said, “Pride is not political, it’s not a cause, you just are LGBTQ+. It’s a celebration of who we are.” They added, “Morale is just so low right now. There’s not a lot of fight left in us.”

The Blade reached out to a park service spokesperson to ask about Pride parades in major cities and whether the park service would continue participating this year as they have in previous years. The spokesperson stated that the policy “had not changed” and that “Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and, as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint.” They added that in-park Pride events have not been canceled and that community events outside of the parks that “directly relate to a park’s mission” could be approved. However, they did not indicate whether these events would include continued contingents in major U.S. city Pride parades and celebrations and could not be reached for a follow-up on this question.

Park service resources currently live on the site call for people to “Celebrate Pride,” citing Stonewall National Monument to state that “The LGBTQ experience is a vital facet of America’s rich and diverse past.” This resource emphasizes the importance of not rendering LGBTQ people invisible, stating, “By recovering the voices that have been erased and marginalized, the NPS embarks on an important project to capture and celebrate our multi-vocal past.”

Park Service employees have marched in uniform for years. According to the Bay Area Reporter, in 2014, Christine Lenhertz of the park service requested that a group of LGBTQ park service employees be allowed to wear their uniforms in the Pride parade. They were initially barred from doing so, prompting the group to file a complaint. She then sought a ruling from the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, who ruled that there was no reason to bar her and other LGBTQ people from participating in uniform. Since then, many park service contingents have participated in Pride events.

The future of Pride parade participation with in-uniform park service employees is uncertain. While it appears that there will be some Pride events in certain national parks, such as Stonewall, external participation in major city Pride events seems to be on hold in at least some major American cities.

You can see the full response to the request for comment from a park service spokesperson here:

The NPS uniform policy has not changed. There are no restrictions on wearing of uniforms in NPS-organized in-park events. There has been no directive to cancel NPS-organized in-park events. Superintendents have discretion to approve park-organized events, which support park purpose and mission, and departmental mission, initiatives, and priorities (e.g., diversity, inclusion, climate change, and tribal engagement.) This would include many of the events planned to celebrate Pride month. 

Official NPS participation in community events that directly relate to a park’s mission can be approved by the park superintendent, provided it is consistent with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and NPS policies.

Last week, the service sent out a reminder about the uniform policy — specifically because there has been an in-flux of requests from folks asking to wear their uniforms for non-park service events. These requests run the gamut of topics, but could include weekend, off duty events that folks are of course able to do in their personal capacity, but not while wearing a uniform representing the federal government. Previous interpretations of the uniform policy were inconsistent and as you can imagine, approving participation in some events and not others could be seen as discrimination based on viewpoint. 

NPS employees represent a diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences, and we are committed to supporting all of our workforce. Like any large organization, we have a diverse workforce supporting myriad causes, and we welcome employees to express their personal support for various issues, positions, and political parties, provided they do not imply their presence or endorsement constitutes official NPS support for the same.  And, also like other large organizations, there are limits to what employees can do while on-duty and in uniform and seen as communicating on behalf of the NPS.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Diverse group includes 11 LGBTQ judges

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Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 5, 2023. (Screenshot via White House YouTube channel)

With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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