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EXCLUSIVE: Republican co-sponsors Delaware marriage bill

State Rep. Mike Ramone spoke to Blade before House committee approved HB 75

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Mike Ramone, Delaware, Republican Party, Newark, gay news, Washington Blade
Mike Ramone, Delaware, Republican Party, Newark, gay news, Washington Blade

Delaware state Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley) (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

DOVER, Del.—The only Republican co-sponsor of Delaware’s same-sex marriage bill told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Wednesday he supports the measure because it’s “the right thing” to do.

“I always try to be respectful of what people think and how they think and we are supporters of treating everyone equally,” state Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley) said while discussing he and his wife Lisa’s decision to support House Bill 75. He noted during the interview he has a gay son and several of those who have worked at the six flower shops and floral warehouse they own throughout Delaware are out. “Gay people have become very close to us. We just don’t believe that they shouldn’t be treated equally like everyone else and have the opportunity to get married.”

Ramone spoke with the Blade less than three hours before the House Administration Committee voted 4-1 to move HB 75 to the full House. He and his wife also attended the April 11 press conference in Wilmington at which state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) announced she had introduced it.

The New Castle County Republican who has represented House District 21 since 2008 told the Blade he did not want Equality Delaware and other HB 75 supporters to officially announce his co-sponsorship of the bill during the press conference because he wanted to talk with his GOP colleagues about his position at first.

“They’ve been very kind and understanding,” Ramone said. “This is one of those things where we’re on different sides. We just are looking at it from different sets of glasses.”

He added he has received what he described as “an enormous amount of calls and letters because I am a Republican and a lot of people would have thought a Republican wouldn’t have done this.” Ramone said they have come from same-sex marriage and opponents alike.

“People in my district are very kind and understanding,” he said. “There are some fringe people that call me from… that are a little more harsh and troublesome.”

Ramone, who is one of two Republicans who voted for the state’s civil unions law that Gov. Jack Markell signed in 2011, said someone threw eggs at his home and car and vandalized his mailbox in the days after the vote. He conceded he has had “some very stressful environments” since his support of HB 75 became known that include people handing him a Bible and reading passages they claim prove he will go to hell over his position.

Ramone said neither he nor his family have received any threats or had “any issues” with their home or businesses over the marriage bill.

“I don’t really believe we’re redefining marriage with this bill,” he said. “Marriage can still be a holy sacrament between a man and a woman. We haven’t changed that. It’s just now that two men and two women get to be able to partake in the same sacramental event in their church.”

More than 200 GOP legislators voted for same-sex marriage

Ramone is the latest in a growing number of Republican lawmakers across the country who support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk earlier this month publicly backed same-sex marriage, while U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) endorsed the issue during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s oral arguments on two cases that challenge the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr., are among those who also support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

More than 200 Republican state legislators across the country have so far voted in support of same-sex marriage.

“I’m a Republican because I believe in fiscal responsibility and trying to make the government a place that helps people build businesses and be successful, not because it tells us how we should socially live our lives,” Ramone said in response to the Blade’s question about continued opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians within the broader Republican Party. “I wish we had a Republican Party that focused more on how we can make the world better through fiscal responsibility. And if there are social environments that aren’t hurting anyone else by their actual ability to participate in them on an equal basis, I don’t know that we should be involved in that.”

Same-sex marriage supporters were quick to welcome Ramone’s support.

“We are incredibly proud to have Mike Ramone as a vote for marriage equality,” Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman told the Blade before the House committee voted to advance HB 75. “He has long supported our community, and is a man who understands that marriage equality is not a partisan issue.”

Smith agreed during a brief interview with the Blade after the committee vote.

“He’s great,” she said.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s beloved Duplex Diner closes its doors

Owners looking to open new location in Rehoboth Beach

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Duplex Diner owners Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Owners of D.C.’s Duplex Diner announced Tuesday that they closed the business immediately after the landlord terminated a sub-lease last month. They also announced that they are searching for a new location in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to open a “Duplex 2.0.”

A note posted to the door reads as follows: “On May 31st JAM Holdings, owners of Duplex Diner since 2014, were notified by our landlord that he was terminating our sub-lease effective July 31, 2024. We have come to an agreement to sell our assets to our general manager who will be creating a new concept in this location, but unfortunately, we must close effective immediately.

“This decision is not made lightly. We know how much The Duplex Diner has meant to so many people who worked here, played here, had our rosé-all-day here, laughed here, cried here, over-imbibed here, celebrated here, found love here, and trusted us enough to leave credit cards on file here. Like us, we hope you have memories that last a lifetime. We leave this community with love and gratitude and will miss this beloved neighborhood institution more than we can describe. Thank you all for making The Duplex Diner a stop on your journey! Stay tuned though! JAM Holdings is searching for a location in Rehoboth Beach to open Duplex 2.0 and continue its legacy.”

The Diner’s general manager, Kelly Laczko, posted a message on social media indicating that she plans to reopen under a new name in the same space. She wrote, “While the Duplex Diner owners may have closed the original spot abruptly, we will be opening your next hang in this location. We remember your order, know where you sit and when you left your credit card. … More to come.”

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