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March on Washington speakers – gay and straight – call for LGBT equality

Martin Luther King III, NAACP head, U.S. Attorney General mention gays in speeches

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The Lincoln Memorial, site of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. originally gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Five gay and lesbian speakers were among those who took the podium on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least a dozen civil rights leaders and public officials speaking at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington joined five gay and lesbian speakers in embracing LGBT equality.

Martin Luther King III, one of the lead organizers of the 50th Anniversary March on Washington; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous; and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President Wade Henderson were among those expressing the theme that LGBT rights are part of the boarder civil rights movement.

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HRC Associate Director of Field Outreach Donna Payne was one of the LGBT speakers at the March on Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With tens of thousands of people assembled before her on the Lincoln Memorial steps and the National Mall, lesbian activist Donna Payne expanded on that theme.

“In times like this today I stand proudly with you as an African American lesbian representing the Human Rights Campaign,” Payne told the gathering. “I am proud because the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the African American community are working together toward justice for all.”

Payne added, “There have been many attempts to tell you that we can’t get along because we are so different. Don’t believe that hype. I come from a mother and father that sat at the tables at Woolworth stores fighting for freedom from Jim Crow laws.”

Payne, HRC Associate Director of Field Outreach, was referring to black civil rights activists who staged sit-in protests in the early 1960s at segregated restaurants and other businesses in the South that restricted blacks to “colored only” areas.

“The majority in my family are lifetime members of the NAACP,” she said. “This commitment doesn’t stop because I’m a lesbian. I am part of the fabric that weaves our destiny together,” she said. “Freedom is not about one civil rights group but it’s about all of our civil rights for everyone.”

A second rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, Aug. 28, in connection with the 50th Anniversary March on Washington events, was scheduled to include speeches by Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. Also scheduled to speak was lesbian activist Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

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HRC director of Faith Partnership and Mobilization Rev. MacArthur Flournoy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, HRC director of Faith Partnership and Mobilization, told the Lincoln Memorial rally that LGBT people are also part of the faith-based arm of the civil rights movement.

“Today I stand up as a black gay man ordained in the church in love with God filled with faith,” he said. “So we at the Human Rights Campaign – we join our faith with your faith. We look for an end to discrimination in all its forms. No more religious bigotry. No more racist bigotry. No more violence bigotry.”

Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT rights organization, and Payne of HRC were added as speakers at Saturday’s Lincoln Memorial event after the initial list of speakers had been released.

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Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition Sharon Lettman-Hicks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Every day I educate, advocate, and celebrate the contributions of the black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community because if any of my brothers and sisters are not equal and free none of us are truly equal and free,” said Lettman-Hicks, a straight, longtime advocate for LGBT rights.

Lettman-Hicks was among a number of the rally speakers who talked about Bayard Rustin, a gay man who served as one of the lead organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s top advisors.

“Rustin was a radical visionary, a black gay activist for freedom and justice during a time when the conditions of both of these identities were perilous,” she said. “Rustin was as unapologetically black as he was gay and by his very presence challenged the evils of homophobia and racism throughout his life.”

Adrian Shanker, president of the statewide LGBT rights group Equality Pennsylvania, identified himself as a “gay Pennsylvanian reflecting on the historic march 50 years ago, a march organized by another gay Pennsylvanian named Bayard Rustin.”

Shanker said he was proud to speak at an event with distinguished civil rights leaders “who paved the paths that allow us to stand here today more equal than yesterday, but with so much farther to go before the dream Dr. King shared will be realized.”

He noted that in Pennsylvania LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In his home state the governor recently signed a voter ID law “intended to suppress our votes,” and LGBT youth face school bullying “every day,” he said.

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Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“In Pennsylvania my legal marriage to my husband Brandon is not recognized by my government,” said Shanker, who called on states and the U.S. Congress to pass laws to eliminate the remaining discriminatory practices faced by LGBT people across the country.

Two out lesbians and LGBT rights advocates that spoke at the Lincoln Memorial rally – Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), stressed the importance of organized labor in the U.S. civil rights movement.

“Dr. King’s oration 50 years ago helped us create a better world, although we do not yet have the world that Dr. King dreamed of,” Weingarten said. “So this must not be a commemoration. This must be a continuation of that righteous fight to achieve racial and economic opportunity at the voting booth, in our schools, in our workplaces and in our communities.”

She added, “Fifty years ago another gay person, Bayard Rustin, had to be in the shadows. But today, I speak as a teacher, a worker, a labor activist and a gay person deeply committed to my faith…This is who we must be, not only a country that believes in equality but a country that acts on that belief. So let’s take a lesson from King. Let’s unite…”

Henry didn’t specifically mention LGBT rights but called for the broad civil rights and economic opportunities that she said were the hallmark of Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy work.

“As we rededicate ourselves to the goals of the 1963 marchers imagined 50 years ago we stand for freedom,” she said. We stand for jobs. We stand for equality. And the visionaries of this march proclaimed that we were going to fight the twin evils of racism and economic inequality.”

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Holder, like many of the non-LGBT speakers, noted that LGBT people and other minorities have become a part of the mainline civil rights movement since the time of the 1963 march.

“As we gather today, 50 years later, their march – now our march – goes on,” Holder told the rally at the Lincoln Memorial. “And our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across the country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment.”

Martin Luther King III said the civil rights movement has become stronger as it has become broader and more diverse, with the diversity reflected in different minorities and different faiths.

“Yes, we all need to love each other, black and white, old and young, red and brown, gay and straight, Christian, Muslim and Jew and all of God’s children loving one another,” he told the rally.

Jealous of the NAACP gave a fiery speech challenging opponents of various civil rights efforts in the country, including opponents of immigration rights and marriage equality.

“When they say no, you can’t have the Dream Act, no you can’t have marriage equality, no you can’t abolish the death penalty, no you can’t expand voting rights in any state south of the Mason-Dixon, we say – yes we can!” shouted Jealous to loud applause and cheers from the crowd.

Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, also sounded the theme of LGBT equality being part of the broader civil rights movement.

“We must stand until we live in a nation where it doesn’t matter who you love and we don’t have second class citizenship for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” he said.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was a student in his early 20s when he joined Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons in non-violent civil disobedience protests in the 1960s. He’s the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.

In his remarks at Saturday’s 50th Anniversary March at the Lincoln Memorial, Lewis expressed support for LGBT equality, just as he has during his years as a congressman.

“It doesn’t matter if we are straight or gay,” he said. “We are all one people.”

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National March on Washington (Washington Blade photo by Jon Wooten)

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Erin

    August 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Great read. FYI: Mayor Cory Booker is running for NJ’s available Senate seat

  2. Steve Kay

    August 31, 2013 at 1:10 am

    The McGurkin controversy several points..
    …….
    DC did the correct thing in cancelling this bad and homophobic mans speaking at the MLK / Bayard Rustin etc rally in DC But what else happened to cause this problem of a blatant homophobic hater who basically is suppotivve of the white and some black baptist churches who spit out against gay people whle supporting the very religious culture that justified slavery and segregation and made America the 2nd to last nation in the west to end it and the onlyu one to need a war to do so

    First of all years ago when the white baptist churches heard of a church supporting gay people or black people they would send a group to join that churrch and basically poison the well of tolerance and acceptance. An old game for which many dont recognize

    That why a portion of the Black community is so opposed to gays having equal rights

    Second, McGurkin did appologize later. After the damage was done and after the news cycle moved on so most people wouldn’ t know of the appology. In Psychology its called “The Bad is More powerful then the Good. An old trick used often by right wing extremist churches

    One would think that McGurkin would be truly ashamed, but Ive been dealing with t with his type for many ears in politics – the Pride that these bad people have for their ideas and positions blocks any idea of repentance or a real apology

    Toss in that he expects to be a rising star in the repub party – in many ways sold out to the southern Baptist / evangelists who see Obama as a nightmare come true, its also about power which usually translates to money

    McGurkin is the kind of person who would throw anyone, even some of his own people under the bus for that money / poser

    Proving once again tthat MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL

    As for the fix the gays thing he’s involved in, Exodus – the unbrella groups for all these fixers, shut down recently and Alan Chambers who headed it appologized for all the harm and hurt it had cause

    You don ‘t fix gay people to str8, any more then you can move str8 people to gay. What these groups do is basically turn people into pathological liars. Welcome to other facets of right wing extremist religions.

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Gay man attacked, beaten by neighbors in Northeast D.C.

Police list incident as hate crime but courthouse ‘backlog’ could delay arrests

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Antonio Zephir was beaten by neighbors and fears for his life. (Photo courtesy of Zephir)

A woman, her daughter, and a man believed to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched a gay man in the face while the mother called him a “Jewish faggot” and other anti-gay slurs during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of an apartment building where the victim and the two women live, according to the victim and a D.C. police incident report.

The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, told the Washington Blade the incident began after the mother began shouting anti-gay slurs at him as he walked past her and his roommate outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13. 

Zephir identifies the mother as Aurlora Y. Ellis in court papers seeking a restraining order against her that he filed in D.C. Superior Court. He said she had acted in a hostile way toward him before the assault incident.

“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” Zephir told the Blade in an email.

He said that minutes before the Oct. 13 attack, Ellis yelled the words “Jewish faggot” when he walked past her as she was talking to his roommate, Steven Johnson. Zephir said it is well known among his neighbors at the apartment complex that he is of the Jewish faith.

“I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir wrote in his email to the Blade. 

“I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he wrote. “Mr. Johnson tried to break us up when her daughter Latera Cox and [Cox’s] father assaulted me,” according to Zephir’s account of the incident. “Ms. Ellis yelled, ‘Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.”

At that point, Ellis, her daughter Latera Cox, and the man Zephir believes to be Cox’s father fled the scene, Zephir told the Blade.

The D.C. police incident report, which lists the assault as a suspected hate crime, says, “All three suspects then fled east bound” on the 4800 block of Fort Totten Dr., N.E.

Zephir said he immediately called police, who arrived on the scene and took a report on the incident. The report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as a simple assault, which is a misdemeanor under D.C. law.

But Zephir said a detective working on the case told him this week that police were looking into speeding up the process of obtaining warrants for the arrest of the three attackers based, in part, on the injuries Zephir suffered from the attack. He provided the Blade with a medical report issued by the Washington Hospital Center, where his roommate took him to the emergency room the day following the attack, in response to severe pain he was experiencing to his face and head.

The report from the hospital, which treated and released him on Oct. 14, says he was diagnosed as having a fractured nose; a fracture of the “interior orbital wall,” which is the bone surrounding one of his eyes; subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding of his left eye; and “laceration of oral cavity” which means an injury inside his mouth caused by trauma from the assault.

Zephir told the Blade that the same detective told him last week that due to a “backlog” in cases at the D.C. Superior Court, it could take between one and two months for police and prosecutors to obtain warrants for the arrests of the two women and the man who assaulted him.

A police spokesperson told the Blade the case remains under active investigation. A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which acts as the prosecutor for adult criminal cases in D.C., said he would look into whether the office could publicly comment on the status of efforts to obtain arrest warrants for the three attackers.

Zephir said rumors had surfaced prior to the assault incident that Ellis may have access to a gun. Based on what he feared was a threat by Ellis when she told him during the attack that “this isn’t over yet,” he said he persuaded his roommate to drive him to the courthouse on the same day as the attack to apply for a court restraining order to prevent Ellis from harming him again.

Court records show he also filed a civil complaint against Ellis, Ellis’s daughter, and Ellis’s roommate, Linda Miller, who Zephir says in the complaint acted as an “enabler” for Ellis’ hostility toward him.

The complaint, which is a civil lawsuit that Zephir wrote by hand and filed by himself without hiring a lawyer, calls for $18,000 in damages.  

“I have nightmares,” Zephir told the Blade. “I can’t believe it happened. I keep reliving the experience over and over and over in my head,” he said. “And I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own apartment. I don’t feel safe because I, honest to God, feel like she is going to bodily harm me and I might be, God forbid, murdered.”

Ellis, Cox, and Miller could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Biden endorses Roem for re-election

Former journalist is first out trans person in any state legislature

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) speaks to supporters following her re-election on Nov. 5, 2019. President Biden has endorsed her for re-election. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Biden on Tuesday endorsed Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) for re-election.

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is among the other Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates who Biden backed. Biden in his tweet also stressed his support of Terry McAuliffe, who is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Building back better starts in the states,” tweeted Biden. “Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect Terry McAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot.”

Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

Biden called Roem on the night she defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall and congratulated her. A Washington Post picture that showed Roem crying moments later went viral.

The Manassas Democrat who represents the 13th District in 2019 easily won re-election. Christopher Stone, the Republican who is running against Roem in this cycle, opposes marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

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Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools

‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students

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The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.

The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.

School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim. 

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues. 

“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.

Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.

Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.

Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.

“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.

“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”

The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”

The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred. 

The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.

“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.

The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.

In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.

“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”

Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”  

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