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Va. lesbian couples file lawsuit seeking marriage rights

ACLU, Lambda Legal seek to overturn 2006 constitutional ban

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Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are challenging Virginia’s gay nuptials ban and the commonwealth’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court on July 29. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising an 8-month-old daughter, married in D.C. in August 2011.

“I’m an Air Force veteran, and if Virginia would just respect our marriage from D.C., it would ensure that my spouse and family could access all the benefits I’ve earned,” Berghoff, who works for the U.S. Justice Department. “I’ve been with Victoria for almost a decade now; and it hurts to have our home state say we are not married when it recognizes marriages entered into by different-sex couples who may have only recently met.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit against the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 slightly more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

A gay couple from Norfolk last month filed a separate federal lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 13 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can marry. The federal government also recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians who legally tied the knot, although their ability to receive Social Security and other federal benefits depends upon whether the state in which they live will recognize their unions.

“It seems contrary to the rights and liberties guaranteed to us by our Constitution, that a trip across the Potomac River, an arbitrary geographical line would somehow grant or deny any citizen equal treatment under the law,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on July 18 noted 50 percent of Virginians support same-sex marriage. A survey that Public Policy Polling unveiled a week before found 55 percent of commonwealth residents back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said in a statement he knows of “too many couples” who have moved out of the commonwealth because of “a lack of protections now offered to our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Maryland.”

“With a total of 13 states and D.C. offering equality to couples, Virginia is at a competitive and economic disadvantage,” Ebbin said. “After all, forward thinking companies of all sizes locate where their diverse workforces will enjoy a high quality of life.”

Tucker Martin, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Virginia in Harrisonburg, defended Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“The voters of Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 defining marriage in the commonwealth as being only a union of one man and one woman,” Martin said. “It is the law in this state based on the popular will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box.”

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, although spokesperson Brian Gottstein referred to a statement he released after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.

“Virginia has followed the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for more than 400 years,” Cuccinelli said in a June 26 statement on the justices’ rulings. “Virginians voted overwhelmingly to add this traditional definition to their constitution.”

Cuccinelli, who will face off against former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in the commonwealth’s gubernatorial election, highlighted his opposition to same-sex marriage last month during a debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs. GOP lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshein, who is running to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, also oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians.

McAuliffe in February publicly backed same-sex marriage. State Sens. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) and Mark Herring (D-Loudoun,) who are running for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively, also support the issue.

Joanne Harris, Jessica Duff, Staunton, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

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Biden urged to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach LGBTQ people abroad

US bought 500 million Pfizer doses for COVAX initiative

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COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade

Four Democratic congressmembers have asked President Biden to ensure some of the 500 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine it bought to distribute around the world will reach LGBTQ people that the pandemic has left even more vulnerable.

“While we are pleased to see the administration’s efforts to support global public health, we would like to ensure these vaccines are equitably distributed once they are sent abroad,” wrote U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), William Keating (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in a letter they sent Biden on Tuesday.

The Washington Blade exclusively obtained the letter.

“We are particularly concerned that the LGBTQI+ community may be unjustly excluded from receiving vaccines in various countries,” it reads.

The Biden administration last week announced the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The African Union and 92 countries around the world will receive them through COVAX, a global initiative the World Health Organization co-founded in order to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.

The letter notes the pandemic “exposed inequity in health care systems around the world for many marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQI+ community.”

“Due to stigma, violence, and discrimination, LGBTQI+ people — and transgender and non-binary individuals, in particular — face additional barriers to accessing relief and health care services,” wrote the congressmembers. “In addition to non-inclusive approaches to distributing relief, unsafe distribution centers and anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments and/or rhetoric of relief workers may also prevent LGBTQI+ individuals from obtaining vaccines.”

The letter, among other things, notes transgender people in Panama faced discrimination under gender-based regulations the country’s government implemented to control the pandemic’s spread. The congressmembers also cite Ugandan authorities who charged 19 LGBTQ people with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules after their April 2020 arrest at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to further restrict LGBTQ rights in his country after lawmakers gave him more power under the guise of combatting the pandemic.

“These are just a sample of the countless instances where those in the LGBTQI+ community have been unjustly discriminated against because of their gender identity and expression, sexual orientation or whom they love,” reads the letter. “As the entire world focuses on trying to return to some normalcy, we must ensure those who have been marginalized are afforded the same opportunities and resources to resume their lives.”

Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. The congressmembers in their letter notes they “appreciate your long record of promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world.”

“We hope that as the United States finalizes agreements for vaccine donations to countries, your administration will ensure that governments receiving vaccine doses from the United States will equitably distribute them to their residents regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” they conclude.

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As NYC Pride nears, ban on police seen as support for trans, BIPOC attendees

Organizers to provide ‘community-based security and first responders’

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A scene from NYC Pride in 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NYC Pride announced last month that it would no longer allow corrections and law enforcement exhibitors to participate in NYC Pride events until 2025. The decision is in accordance with NYC Pride’s commitment to create safe spaces for marginalized LGBTQ groups including BIPOC and transgender individuals at their Pride festivities.

“Effective immediately, NYC Pride will ban corrections and law enforcement exhibitors at NYC Pride events until 2025. At that time their participation will be reviewed by the Community Relations and Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion committees, as well as the Executive Board,” reads NYC Pride’s statement. NYC Pride is scheduled for June 27. 

To make sure that safety regulations are still adhered to at events, NYC Pride will “transition to providing increased community-based security and first responders, while simultaneously taking steps to reduce NYPD presence at events.”

Police officers being banned from participating in Pride parades and festivities is not an unfamiliar conversation to LGBTQ advocacy and activist groups in North America. In 2018, Capital Pride in D.C. announced that uniformed officers would not be allowed to march in the Pride parade. In 2019,  Pride Toronto announced that uniformed police officers would not be permitted to attend any Pride Toronto events. 

The announcement was preceded by a voting session that took place among Pride Toronto members. Global News, a Canadian news platform, reported a final result of 163-161, disallowing police participation in Pride Toronto events.

Global News also reports that Pride Toronto committed to using their $1.25 million federal grant to examine the LGBTQ community’s feelings regarding police, and to forge a way forward. 

In solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Vancouver Pride Society announced in 2020 that police officers were no longer welcome to march and exhibit during any of Vancouver Pride Society’s festivities. 

“The roots of Pride are in righteous anger, riot and uprising against police brutality. These riots against the violence of the police were led by Black and Brown trans women and queer people. The Stonewall Riots propelled gay movements from assimilationist tactics towards unapologetic Pride. These riots worked,” reads Vancouver Pride Society’s statement. 

The organization also pledged to ensure public safety by participating in calls to defund the police and “commit to learning and convening community dialogues about what these alternative forms of managing public safety look like.”

Why ban the police? The decision from NYC Pride was simple: given the law enforcement’s history of police brutality in America, there is a need to ensure that BIPOC and transgender individuals who attend Pride events can do so comfortably, without feeling vulnerable at events meant to be safe havens that allow full, unabashed identity expression and manifestation. 

“After many interactions between the police and LGBTQ community locally, [including] the passive aggressive moves between the NYPD and peaceful protestors in Washington Square Park last year, we have to look at the history,” said André Thomas, NYC Pride co-chair. “The ability to welcome Black, Brown, and trans Americans at our events is an even higher priority than for someone to be able to wear police uniform in a parade.”

It is no secret that BIPOC and transgender communities are some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to interactions with corrections and law enforcement officers. 

Mapping Police Violence reports that in 2020, Black people constituted 28% of those killed by the police despite only constituting 13% of the country’s population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also reports that Black transgender people were 50% more likely to report that their interactions with police officers as suspecting them of soliciting sex work and leading to an arrest. In addition, the Movement Advancement Project reports in a 2017 study that nearly 40% of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are LGBTQ youth of color. 

With this in mind, NYC Pride’s goal is to make their events harm-and-fear-free for members of the LGBTQ community. 

To supplement the absence of corrections and law enforcement officers at NYC Pride events, the organization will provide community-based security companies and first responders who will ensure that Pride events are secure and will also be on standby in case of emergencies. 

As part of their training, the security companies are primed on how to deal with all kinds of situations including responding to an active shooter. 

“Our staff has gone through active shooter training and everything it entails including what they’re wearing and how they’re identifiable to the community,” said Thomas. “We want to ensure people that even though the NYPD may be a block away, there is still security [present] to take care of your needs.”

A lot of NYC Pride’s information regarding security measures is currently being relayed through social media and reportage from various news sources. 

“We tweeted about our meetings that we had with the NYPD to reinforce public safety after the initial news broke out of what’s been going on,” said Thomas. 

Regarding whether NYC Pride will implement this year’s model for next year’s Pride, “[NYC Pride is] figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to do things in a hybrid model with some limited in-person and some virtual events. We’re going to figure out what to keep and what to change, and this will influence the planning and processes that we do.”

As for future Prides, Thomas wants everyone to remember this: “It’s always someone’s first Pride, and so, you want to be able to give someone that special experience. So, for future Prides, we’ll be working on greater inclusivity and representation.”

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National LGBTQ Task Force welcomes new leadership

Mayra Hidalgo Salazar named deputy executive director

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Mayra Hidalgo Salazar is the new deputy executive director of the Task Force. (Photo courtesy Task Force)

Earlier this month, the National LGBTQ Task Force named Mayra Hidalgo Salazar as its new Deputy Executive Director. Hidalgo Salazar joined the then newly appointed Executive Director Kierra Johnson as part of the Task Force’s new and growing leadership team that will continue to advocate for LGBTQ individuals across the country while paying close attention to intersectionality as a crucial component of LGBTQ activism. 

As part of a statement released by the Task Force, Hidalgo Salazar said, “I am overjoyed to stand on the shoulders of the giants, elders in our movement who started the National LGBTQ Task Force over 40 years ago. The seeds that the Task Force has planted in training and developing LGBTQ+ leaders for nearly 5 decades are in full bloom.”

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on this new journey, it is clearer for her that fighting for LGBTQ rights is important now more than ever. 

Hidalgo Salazar was introduced to LGBTQ activism at age 17. She worked on the Trail of Dreams in 2010, a 1,500-mile walk from Miami to Washington, D.C., in support of immigrant rights. The Trail of Dreams’s goal, according to Amnesty International, was to “[raise] awareness about broken U.S. immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy.” 

During her time working on this campaign, Hidalgo Salazar became more personally acquainted with the concept of intersectionality, in addition to her basic academic understanding of the concept. 

“Before I could really understand what intersectionality meant…this campaign really showed me, in action, a great example of what it looks like to support people and support our community, which is not living single-issue lives,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “Two of the walkers [at the Trail of Dreams] were actually a queer couple: Isabel Sousa Rodriguez and Felipe Matos, and, it’s interesting because all of the demands that the campaign was making people really understood them as solely immigrant rights or immigrant justice issues.”

This realization, showed Hidalgo Salazar that to adequately advocate for the LGBTQ community, activists must recognize that LGBTQ individuals inhabit multiple identities, such as undocumented immigration status, that shape their realities as members of the queer community. 

Being a young activist did not come without its challenges for Hidalgo Salazar. She acknowledges that while passionate about her work, she was not prepared for the emotional baggage that accompanies leadership. 

“I will say that now at 29, I can recognize that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for a lot of things leadership would bring my way,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “I was part of the first generation of undocumented people in Florida that started coming out publicly, and it was a very different time for immigrant justice than it is now.”

Hidalgo Salazar further remarked, “There were so many people who were afraid and even outraged, people who said ‘No don’t do that; you can’t do that; you’re putting yourself at risk; you’re putting yourself and your family in danger’ and, I think so many of us were at a place where our current existence was unbearable.”

Hidalgo Salazar is grateful that she did not let those remarks cloud her vision and stand in the way of the work she was doing. Given this, her main advice to young and upcoming activists is to “actively listen and carve your own path” amid people whose relationship to risk will force them to impose their problems on young activists. Simultaneously, she also believes in practicing self-care as it establishes longevity within the activism world.

“I can’t tell you how many gifted, incredible organizers I know who have burned out before they were even 25. There’s environmental reasons for this and also, it’s about how we hold — or don’t — our boundaries. So, self-care is really important,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Spearheading new era of leadership

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on her new role with the LGBTQ Task Force, one of the goals at the forefront of her mind is to “level-up” the work that has already been done by her predecessors and existing leaders within the LGBTQ activism space. 

“I think [that in] any role I undertake, it’s super important that I’m building a bench, that I am leveling up the existing leaders. That’s just important for me when I think about the longevity of this work and really building a culture of passing on the torch and normalizing it,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar will also support Kierra Johnson’s vision to build the Task Force’s organizing efforts, and better train, support, and defend local grassroots power. Having worked with undocumented youth at United We Dream  as the development director, Hidalgo Salazar understands the importance of having an organized front of directly impacted people ready to mobilize and hold those in power accountable.

“The Task Force used to have a field organizing team that was in the double digits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Right now, our organizing team is three people, and as we’ve seen these past four years, no one advancement and policy is actually ensured unless we have an organized base of grassroots leaders,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, part of what Kierra Johnson is wanting to settle down at the Task Force is really building out [our] local organizing arm.” 

In addition to this, Hidalgo Salazar brings a deep understanding of America as it exists today and how integral youth are to mobilizing masses to demand change. She is aware of the power and fervor Generation Z possesses and how this passion has become one of the main driving forces of modern day activism. 

“[Young people] are at the forefront of social change across so many different issues from climate change, to immigrant justice, to uprisings against police brutality, and so many more,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “We are forging a future for ourselves and we’re inviting people to come with us; and we’re going [in full force].” 

Ultimately, Hidalgo Salazar’s work will be aimed at preserving and continuing the tradition at the Task Force of approaching LGBTQ activism and advocacy with a strong consciousness surrounding intersectionality, a tradition that she appreciates. 

“I think the Task Force has done such an amazing job at really focusing not just on how different genders and sexualities are criminalized, but also working from this place of really innovating and creating a space where folks can enter a sex-positive framework really young,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar’s modus operandi will focus on participating in an exercise where LGBTQ individuals outline and work toward what they would like their liberation to look like. 

“I think it’s about being able to articulate the alternative worlds we want to live in. And when I think about intersectionality at the Task Force, we have the first-ever Black bisexual woman and the first woman with an undocumented immigrant experience in leadership,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, there’s so much opportunity for us to really leverage our own stories so that more people that maybe didn’t see themselves as part of the LGBTQ movement per se, can see this work as relatable.” 

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