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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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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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National

Homeland Security says more attacks against LGBTQ people are possible

Gunman killed five people at ClubQ in Colo. on Nov. 19

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(Public domain photo)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror threat bulletin Wednesday warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, Homeland Security officials noted that several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the U.S:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” Homeland Security warned.

Homeland Security also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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