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Gay mayor-elect vows to ‘clean up’ Atlantic City

Republican beat incumbent with support from Democrats



Don Guardian, Atlantic City, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Don Guardian, Atlantic City, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Don Guardian shocked Atlantic City’s political establishment by defeating the Democratic incumbent earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Guardian)

Don Guardian said he never became involved in politics until recently when he “got fed up with how bad things were” in his hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Guardian, 60, a gay Republican, ran for mayor this year in the Nov. 5 election. He shocked Atlantic City’s political establishment by defeating incumbent Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a Democrat, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by a nine to one margin.

“I said I thought we needed to bring all of the different groups within Atlantic City together,” Guardian told the Blade. “And that extended to race, color, creed, national origin, political parties, sexual orientation and gender.”

For the past 21 years, Guardian has worked as executive director of the Atlantic City Improvement District, a non-profit corporation recently acquired by the state government that provides services to the city’s tourism district where more than a dozen casinos and upscale hotels are located.

Guardian said he believes he succeeded in defining himself as a good-government reform candidate capable of using his knowledge and experience in running the tourism district to address the longstanding problems plaguing the rest of the city, where most of the residents live.

“From a city standpoint the services are very, very poor,” he said. “From not cleaning the streets or replacing lights, paving roads, maintaining parks and playgrounds, cleaning beaches, maintaining the boardwalk – services that you would expect from a city to be commonplace – are not,” he said.

“And yet we have the third highest budget in the State of New Jersey. Only Newark and Jersey City are larger than us,” he said. “And we have the largest workforce in the state.”

Added Guardian, “I ran on a platform that I was going to bring those services to the other half of the city that was not receiving them.”

Pointing to his promise to limit his tenure in office to two terms, Guardian said he also “ran on a campaign that I needed eight years to clean up this city, to bring development back, to bring housing back, to bring up the standards, to lower taxes and to reduce crime.”

To the surprise of many of the city’s political observers, he attracted the support of constituency groups that traditionally back Democratic candidates, including a key local labor union and Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander advocacy groups.

Also on his agenda, he said, are plans to strengthen efforts already under way to promote Atlantic City as an entertainment and beach destination in addition to its well-known reputation as a center for casino gambling. With many other states legalizing casino gambling, Atlantic City no longer has an East Coast monopoly on gaming, Guardian said, making it essential that the city “reinvent itself” as a destination with attractions other than gaming.

Among the groups that endorsed Guardian were the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, and the Pakistani-American Muslim Organization of South Jersey.

Guardian said rank-and-file Democrats clearly crossed over to vote for him following what he says was an aggressive grassroots campaign in which he knocked on the doors of more than 3,000 homes to listen to what people’s concerns were.

“There’s no question – Democrats and independents are the reason that I’m the mayor-elect today,” he said. “They provided the majority of my volunteers, the majority of the funding.”

Following a recount and careful examination of mail-in and provisional ballots counted during a 10-day period after the Nov. 5 election, the Atlantic County Board of Elections last week issued its final vote count in the mayoral race.

Guardian received 3,929 votes compared to Langford, who received 3,568 votes, showing Guardian won by a razor-thin 361-vote margin. An independent candidate, John McQueen, received 230 votes.

Although Guardian beat Langford by a close margin, election results show he received 1,032 more votes in Atlantic City than Gov. Chris Christie, who won his statewide re-election bid by a landslide.

In Democratic dominated Atlantic City, Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono beat Christie, a Republican, by a vote of 4,293 to 2,897. In the statewide vote, Christie trounced Buono by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent, catapulting him into the national spotlight as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Guardian said that although he has yet to meet Christie, the governor initiated policies in his first term to boost economic development efforts in Atlantic City. He said he looks forward to an amicable relationship with the Christie administration.

Most political observers said Langford’s relationship with Christie became strained last year when he and Christie clashed over an evacuation plan for Atlantic City during the onset of Tropical Storm Sandy, which devastated much of the Southern New Jersey coast.

Guardian, in describing himself as a political newcomer, said he was unaware of the existence of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national political organization that raises money for openly LGBT candidates running for public office. Had he applied for and received an endorsement from the Victory Fund, he could have received additional financial support for his campaign.

“I have to tell you I was very naïve in not knowing there was such a thing as organized gay, lesbian, transgender support, either financial or otherwise,” he said. “And so no, I never applied and no one contacted me.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said there is no state Log Cabin organization in New Jersey, which prevented Log Cabin from endorsing Guardian under the group’s bylaws.

“I had my eye on this but we were not involved,” Angelo told the Blade. “But the fact that we have an elected gay Republican is a good thing.”

While he had few connections with LGBT organizations, Guardian said he supported LGBT equality during his tenure with the Atlantic City Special Improvement District, which he said adopted its own internal non-discrimination policy for LGBT employees.

As a longtime member and leader of the Rotary Clubs of Southern New Jersey, Guardian said he and his partner of 19 years, Louis Fatato, used the occasion of Guardian’s 2005 induction ceremony as district governor of the Rotary International organization of South Jersey to formally announce they had legally filed for a domestic partnership.

“It was great for us to announce it,” he said. “This was a great day for Rotary and for me personally. I have a domestic partnership and I’m also being inducted as a governor of Rotary International.”

During this year’s mayoral campaign, Guardian said he expressed his support for same-sex marriage in New Jersey in response to a question presented to him and Langford during a candidate debate.

“He said that was a national issue and he was a Christian and everybody has their own views,” said Guardian. “My response was the courts have made it very clear that gay marriage is a civil rights issue and that I would always stand on the right side of civil rights.”

Added Guardian: “In other words, I’m not supporting it because I’m a gay guy. I’m supporting it because the courts have already ruled that New Jersey has to provide gay marriage and that our current domestic partnership is not the same as civil marriage and therefore it had to be changed.”

According to Guardian, Langford never raised Guardian’s sexual orientation directly on the campaign trail in his public statements. But Guardian said a letter that the Langford campaign sent to voters urged voters to ask Guardian about “his unacceptable lifestyle.”

Neither Langford’s office nor his campaign responded to a request from the Blade for comment on this and other issues surrounding the campaign.

Similarly, the Atlantic County Democratic Party Chair, James Schroeder, and the county’s Republican Party Chair, Keith Davis, did not return calls seeking comment on Guardian’s election as mayor. Atlantic City is located within Atlantic County.

Also not responding to calls from the Blade for comment on Guardian’s election were spokespersons for Christie.


The White House

Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim



Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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Climate change threatens LGBTQ resort communities

Provincetown, Cape Cod, other destinations face ‘existential’ challenge



The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on New York's Fire Island has been the scene of extreme erosion in recent years. (Photo courtesy Actum Vice President Savannah Farrell)

As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more. 

Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.

Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”

Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall. 

“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr. 

All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations. 

Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind. 

Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.  

“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”

Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.

“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”

Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger. 

“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said. 

In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community. 

Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities. 

“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.

Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.

“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.

Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.

The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.

McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community. 

“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon. 

Stronger storms threaten Fire Island

Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.

Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”

“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin. 

Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines. 

Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines. 

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The White House

US announces additional sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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