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Del. lawmaker introduces same-sex marriage bill

New Castle County Democrat sponsored state’s civil unions measure

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Jack Markell, Lisa Goodman, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Melanie George Smith, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Delaware state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WILMINGTON, Del.— Delaware state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) on Thursday introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the First State.

“Today is a good day to be a Delawarean,” she said during a press conference at Freedom Plaza in downtown Wilmington. “Today we’re introducing legislation that will respect and recognize with equal dignity all couples who are in a loving and committed relationship.”

Smith, who sponsored the state’s civil unions bill in the House, spoke about her own marriage to her husband. The New Castle County Democrat also referenced Delawareans who are in the military as she spoke in support of the same-sex marriage measure.

“We stand here today to say that we’re here to protect their freedoms also, their freedom to marry the person they love and every Delawarean’s freedom to do so,” Smith said.

Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, representatives of U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney and Rev. Donald Morton of the Black Clergy Consortium of Delaware were among the more than 100 people who attended the press conference.

“The marriage equality bill filed today will allow loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love just like the rest of us,” Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) said. “We say to gay and lesbian couples that their love and their families are worthy of the same dignity and respect as all of our families.”

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) specifically thanked HB 75’s 22 co-sponsors in both legislative chambers by name.

“You will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you stood firm and voted on the right side of history in our state,” he said.

Denn echoed Schwartzkopf.

“As long as same-sex couples in Delaware have to explain to their children why their relationship is called something else, why the law treats it as something less than the relationship that their friends’ parents have, than the message that we are sending these kids is that their parents’ relationship is less worthy,” he said, noting he attended Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and her partner’s civil union ceremony on the day the state’s civil unions law took effect in Jan. 2012. “This bill ensure that same-sex couples can truthfully talk to their kids about their families the same way that married couples to now.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Aside from Delaware, lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois are expected to vote on proposals that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in their respective states.

Majority of Del. voters support same-sex marriage

A Global Strategy Group poll that Equality Delaware commissioned in February shows 54 percent of Delawareans back nuptials for gays and lesbians, compared to 37 percent of respondents who oppose them. A survey that ABC News and the Washington Post released last month indicates 58 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

Biden said during the press conference that his father, Vice President Biden, and President Obama “stand with us here today.”

Markell cited the U.S. Supreme Court cases that challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 as he urged lawmakers to support his state’s same-sex marriage bill.

“If DOMA is struck down as many expect, our failure to pass marriage equality here in Delaware will mean that we — not anybody else — will be responsible for the perpetuation of federal discrimination against committed same-sex couples in Delaware,” Markell said.

Jack Markell, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Gov. Jack Markell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Delaware Family Policy Council, which opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians, accused Goodman and other advocates of lying about their intentions to seek same-sex marriage in the state after lawmakers in 2011 approved the civil unions bill that Markell signed into law.

Goodman and other same-sex marriage advocates remain optimistic HB 75 will pass.

“Today is a historic day in Delaware,” Goodman said. “With the filing of this civil marriage equality bill, Delaware begins the process of becoming a marriage equality state.”

Rehoboth Beach resident Bob Hoffer, who has been with his partner Max Dick for 32 years, agreed.

“We’re very optimistic that this is going to pass,” he told the Washington Blade after the press conference. “Our country is moving forward in a more positive way.”

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB 75 in Dover on April 17.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. EL

    April 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Great to see all these pushes for Marriage Equality in the states and support for them. What ever happened to expanding anti-discrimination employment laws at the state level? We know that there are sadly still too many states that don’t protect GLBT people from employment discrimination. Marriage equality is important but so is the ability to fight job discrimination especially in this economy! Pretty much all of us have to work while not everyone is lucky enough to have a partner to marry.

  2. Jenna Fischetti

    April 13, 2013 at 2:30 am

    Glad to see Equality Delaware going back for "thirds" when trans folks wait in line for the soup kitchen to take the sign down that says "Trans not served here"…

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

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 Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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