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Marcus Brandon seeks to become first out black congressman

N.C. candidate says distinction would be ‘really significant’ for black and LGBT people

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Marcus Brandon, North Carolina, Greensboro, gay news, Washington Blade
Marcus Brandon, North Carolina, Greensboro, gay news, Washington Blade

N.C. state Rep.Marcus Brandon (D-Greensboro) is running for Congress in North Carolina. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Marcus Brandon has a chance to make history.

If he wins his bid to represent North Carolina’s 12th congressional district in the U.S. House, he could become the first openly gay black person elected to Congress.

Brandon, 39, says that distinction would be “really significant” because black people within the LGBT community tend to suffer most in terms of discrimination, but he asks potential supporters to look at his full body of work as the reason to back his candidacy.

“I tell people don’t vote for me because I’m gay, [but] because I passed more bills than anybody in the race,” Brandon said. “And so, we’re about effectiveness. So, for people to see my work, it really makes it a much more powerful conversation to say, ‘You know what, we really don’t care about his sexuality; we’re just glad he put 10 new schools in our district.'”

The congressional hopeful spoke to the Washington Blade on Thursday in the offices of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed his candidacy.

“I felt that underrepresented communities, like the one I live in, were not really having true representation in terms of being able to deal with structural issues concerning our community, dealing with education and equality, dealing with income inequality, environmental inequality,” Brandon said.

The 12th congressional district, which is located in central North Carolona and comprises portions of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and High Point, is heavily Democratic. It has been vacant since former Rep. Mel Watt resigned this year to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and a special election has been set for November.

The district has a significant African-American population; 47.2 percent of the residents are white, while 44.6 percent are black. More than a quarter of residents in the district live below the poverty line.

“The social ills that come out of that — I have the highest HIV rates, I have the highest infant mortality rates, I have the highest drop out rates,” Brandon said. “Whenever you say 41 percent of African-American males don’t graduate, that number doubles in that community.”

Brandon has experience in the political arena and distinction of toppling an incumbent in his own party. In 2011, he was elected to represent Greensboro in the State House of Representatives after beating four-term lawmaker and newspaper owner Earl Jones in the Democratic primary. He’s currently the only openly gay member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Yet again in his run for Congress, Brandon has competition for the Democratic nomination. Several other Democrats are in the race to claim the Democratic banner for the seat, including State Rep. Alma Adams, attorney George Battle III, attorney Curtis Osborne and State Sen. Malcolm Graham.

But Brandon said the most recent fundraising numbers reveal that only two Democratic candidates are in a position to “run a sufficient race here.” Brandon has raised the most, taking in $213,804 and having $71,000 in cash on hand, while Adams comes in second, taking in $202,000 and having $92,000 in cash on hand. The primary is May 6.

“I’ve never lost an election, and I don’t intend to lose this one,” Brandon said. “We have the biggest organization, the one with the most momentum and we fully anticipate it to be a very close election, but I have no doubt that we’ll win this race.”

David Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report, said it’s too early to determine what will happen in the primary, but added Brandon is a strong candidate.

“It’s so early in the race that it’s difficult to tell who will comprise the top tier,” Wasserman said. “But it’s safe to say Brandon will be a formidable contender, because he appeals to multiple constituency groups in the Democratic Party.”

If elected to Congress, Brandon said he’d work to address HIV/AIDS by restructuring the process of block grants from the U.S. government.

“We can’t treat Cincinnati, Ohio, like you treat High Point, North Carolina, or Charlotte, North Carolina,” Brandon said. “I, as a state legislator, was never able to move that money around to people who could do the work simply because of the control the federal government has on a very generic way that we deal with funding.”

Brandon said one piece of legislation long-pursued by the LGBT community, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would be “a big priority” for him.

The congressional hopeful said he sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in North Carolina and worked to ensure it included teachers and protections for transgender people.

“One of my colleagues in the Senate did an ENDA bill that excluded teachers because they were fearful of the conversation,” Brandon said. “I think that’s why it’s important to have LGBT people at the table when we’re making policy because we know that any kind of conversation actually moves people from one place to the next, and that’s always been a vision for us. To exclude anybody from a conversation on equality is not something that we do.”

As ENDA languishes in Congress, Brandon said he’d like to see President Obama sign an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors because it would serve as a “reference point” for the passage of legislation.

“I think it definitely would help simply because everybody needs a reference point to know what’s right,” Brandon said. “There’s a lot of fear-based rhetoric that goes along with this, and I think that if we have a reference point … it makes it a lot easier for that domino effect to take place.”

Brandon isn’t the only openly gay black candidate in the middle of a congressional bid. Also pursuing a seat is Steve Dunwood, a Michigan candidate who’s seeking to represent Detroit in the U.S. House.

Brandon also isn’t the only openly gay candidate running in North Carolina. Just this week, gay singer and “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken announced that he’s pursuing the Democratic nomination in the state’s 2nd congressional district in an attempt to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).

Brandon said he welcomes a fellow openly gay congressional candidate in North Carolina running at the same time — mostly because he thinks it’s time for Ellmers to end her tenure as a member of Congress.

“I’m very excited about Clay running for Congress because I’m a Democrat and we really need that seat,” Brandon said. “Renee Ellmers has done nothing but show contempt and hate for our president, and so, I think Clay Aiken has studied issues and always been passionate about social issues. And he’s just like me, he’s just a guy that happens to be gay and wants to make change.”

Brandon was elected to the state legislature just one year before North Carolina approved Amendment One, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and marriage-like unions. Brandon voted against it but the legislature approved the measure, as did North Carolina voters.

Although Brandon said his state is ready for marriage equality, he blamed redistricting in favor of Republicans as the reason why it hasn’t happened.

Amid numerous lawsuits making their way to the Supreme Court, including one filed in North Carolina, Brandon said a ruling from the high court would be a “much quicker route” to bringing marriage rights to gay couples in the state.

“I do believe the people of North Carolina, and polls shows that we are there, and North Carolina is ready for equality,” Brandon said. “I think the country is ready for equality, it just takes the political will, like it always does.”

Torey Carter, chief operations officer at the Victory Fund, said Brandon’s election to Congress is important because no openly gay black person has ever been elected to the body.

“North Carolina State Representative Marcus Brandon’s endorsement from the Victory Fund comes at a key moment in history where currently in the United States Congress there is not an out gay black member of Congress,” Carter said. “We are excited for Brandon’s primary on May 6 where he will hopefully shatter one of the many glass ceilings that need to be broken.”

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District of Columbia

Bill calls for designating D.C. street in honor of gay former slave

Black resident called ‘early pioneer’ for LGBTQ rights in 1880s

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Excerpt from the National Star, Jan. 13, 1896. (Image courtesy National Archive)

The D.C. Council is expected to approve a bill that calls for designating Swann Street, N.W., near Dupont Circle in honor of William Dorsey Swann, a little known Black gay D.C. resident and former slave who is credited with leading a group that organized drag shows in the late 1800s. 

A statement released by D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who introduced the bill along with 10 other Council members, including gay Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), says William Dorsey Swann was an early pioneer in LGBTQ rights who referred to himself as “The Queen of Drag.”

“Beginning in the 1880s, William Dorsey Swann ran a group known as the ‘House of Swann’ and organized balls, largely attended by queer, formerly enslaved men who would gather to dance and cross dress,” according to Pinto’s statement, which she released on Feb. 28 at the time she and the other Council members introduced the bill.

“William Dorsey Swann was persecuted by the authorities and arrested multiple times for ‘impersonating a woman’ and ‘keeping a disorderly house,’ and was the first American activist to lead an LGBTQQIA+ resistance group,” Pinto’s statement says. “Swann eventually sought a pardon from President Grover Cleveland, becoming the first American on record to pursue legal action in defense of LGBTQQIA+ rights,” the statement says.

Her statement cites the Jan. 24, 1912, edition of the Congressional Record for the U.S. Senate as saying that Swann Street, N.W. had originally been named for Thomas Swann, an “enslaver” who served as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland.

“Officially designating this street in honor of native Washingtonian and trailblazing LGBTQQIA+ rights activist William Dorsey Swann is an opportunity to ensure that our streets honor those who embody the District’s value of social equality and human dignity,” the statement says. 

“The location of Swann Street, N.W. provides a physical and symbolic representation of the District’s Black Queer community, sitting both within the Strivers’ Section Historic District, a historic Black neighborhood, and the Dupont Circle neighborhood, the historic epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQQIA+ community,” it says. The street would maintain the current nomenclature and signage as ‘Swann Street,’” the statement concludes.

Swann Street is located between 14th Street, N.W. and 19th Street, N.W. and parallel to and between S Street, N.W. and T Street, N.W.

Pinto’s statement says William Dorsey Swann is believed to have been born in 1858 and died in 1925.

At the time of its introduction, the bill, called the William Dorsey Swann Street Designation Act of 2023, was sent to the Council’s Committee of the Whole, which consists of all 13 Council members.

In addition to Pinto and Parker, the Council members who co-introduced the bill include Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Robert White (D-At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie (I-At-Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), and Matthew Frumin (D-Ward 3).

Lindsey Walton, a spokesperson for Mendelson, said the Committee of the Whole voted unanimously on March 21 to approve the bill, which was expected to come before the full Council on April 4 for the first of two required votes.

One potential problem for the immediate passage and implementation of the Swann Street bill surfaced in a March 21 memo prepared by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee and sent to Council Chair Mendelson.

Lee says in his memo that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has determined it will cost $30,000 to fabricate and install a commemorative sign called for under the bill explaining the historic background of William Dorsey. It says the sign is to be located at the intersection of Swann Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and 17th Street, N.W.

“Funds are not sufficient in the fiscal year 2023 through fiscal year 2026 budget and financial plan to implement the bill,” Lee says in his memo. “Department of Parks and Recreation will need to work with ANC 2B to design the sign and then will fabricate and install it…The fabrication and installation will cost $30,000 and the agency is unable to absorb the cost within its existing budgeted resources,” the memo says.

Walton, Mendelson’s spokesperson, said Mendelson and the other supporters of the bill on the Council will look for funds for the $30,000 needed to implement the bill in the city’s supplemental budget.

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District of Columbia

Former Trump official elected president of D.C. Log Cabin Republicans

Says GOP group welcomes ‘wide spectrum’ of conservative adherents

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D.C. Log Cabin Republicans President Thad Brock (Screen capture via Heritage Action for America YouTube)

Log Cabin Republicans of D.C., the local chapter of the national LGBTQ Republican organization with the same name, earlier this month elected former Trump administration official Thad Brock as its new president.

Brock replaces longtime GOP activist Adam Savit, who served as the D.C. Log Cabin group’s president for the past two years. The local group held its officers election on March 7 during a meeting in which U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) appeared as a guest speaker.

Brock served from 2018 to 2019 during the Trump administration as Assistant to the Administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration, according to his LinkedIn page.

His LinkedIn page says he served from 2019 to January 2021 as Special Assistant to the CEO at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. agency that works with the State Department to help facilitate foreign trade and assistance for developing countries.

Brock told the Blade the two positions were presidential appointments.

Information released by the D.C. Log Cabin group says its members also elected Andrew Mink as vice president, Matthew Johnson as secretary, Greg Wallerstein as treasurer, and Andrew Desser, Tyler Stark, and Jaime Varela as at-large board members.

“Log Cabin Republicans is the nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies,” the national Log Cabin group states on its website. “For more than 40 years, we have promoted the fight for equality through our state and local chapters, our full-time office in Washington, D.C., and our federal and state political action committees,” the statement says.

“We believe in limited government, strong national defense, free markets, low taxes, personal responsibility, and individual liberty,” the statement continues. “We believe equality for LGBT Americans is in the finest tradition of the Republican Party,” it adds, an assertion that many LGBTQ Democrats strongly dispute.

Asked what he thought about the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ rights, Brock said he would defer that question to Charles Moran, president of the National Log Cabin Republicans.

In discussing plans for the D.C. Log Cabin group, Brock said he and the newly elected board members will continue the types of activities and emphasis of the former board and former President Savit.

“We will definitely continue to build off the success of the former board members and continue with speakers and events that are representative to the interest of our membership,” he said. “But one of our big focuses will be meeting people where they are,” he said, noting that plans were underway to hold events in different D.C. neighborhoods.

“I think one of the things that we’re also really looking forward to doing is a really big recruitment push to get a lot more members on the conservative spectrum that share a wide variety of ideas,” he said.

But Brock said he and his fellow board members will likely retain a policy put in place by Savit and the previous board in which most of the group’s meetings and events are closed to the press.

“The culture of our membership is strengthened by an open and honest dialogue with our speakers,” he said, which have included GOP members of Congress. “For a better free-thinking environment, we have limited access for the press to attend,” Brock said. “If there is an event that warrants press availability, I will certainly let you know,” he said.

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United Kingdom

LGBTQ ally Humza Yousaf becomes Scotland’s next first minister

Nicola Sturgeon resigned in February

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Humza Yousaf, right, and charity worker during a March 20, 2023, event at Who Cares? Scotland in the group's Glasgow offices. (Photo courtesy of Humza Yousaf's office/Facebook)

Humza Yousaf, in a tumultuous election race for leadership of the Scottish National Party pitted against socially conservative rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, was elected Monday as SNP leader. He becomes the first Muslim to lead a major U.K. political party and the first Muslim to lead a European democracy.

In a vote in the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood) on Tuesday, Yousaf was confirmed as Scotland’s next first minister, replacing Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon had resigned as the SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister last month, setting off a close contest within the party to succeed her. 

Her decision was tied to two key political challenges: The future of the independence campaign and changes to Scotland’s gender recognition laws. In January Sturgeon castigated the conservative government of U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for blocking the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from being signed into law by King Charles III.

The Gender Recognition Reform bill introduced by the Scottish government in Holyrood last spring was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before this past Christmas. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing transgender Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.

The Guardian noted the most pressing question is how a change of leadership affects the Scottish government’s plans to contest the U.K.’s decision to block the bill, which it did using section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, described by sources as “the nuclear option.” Scottish ministers have three months from the date the section 35 order was laid — Jan. 16 — to contest it.

PinkNewsUK reported that Yousaf had received a tidal wave of support and well wishes after his victory was announced. SNP MP John Nicolson said that Yousaf led a “positive and bold campaign.”

“Humza knows that young voters love our party’s vision of a liberal, progressive, egalitarian independent Scotland,” Nicolson said. “His campaign promised a progressive agenda of fair taxation, defending LGBT+ rights from Westminster attack, and support for the vulnerable at home and abroad.”

Speaking to PinkNews, Nicolson added: “I think young people want a Scotland which is socially progressive and liberal. And for young people, independence isn’t about a face, but it’s about the kind of country that they imagine independent Scotland could be — a progressive country — and Humza very deliberately tapped into that in the course of the election campaign and made it very clear what his views were and championed that.”

During the campaign Yousaf had promised voters, “If elected Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland’s next first minister, I’ll build on our track record of promoting and protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people by: (1) banning conversion practices and (2)  embedding LGBTQ+ rights in an independent Scotland’s constitution.”

A political commentator and SNP source told the Washington Blade on Monday they are “happy with the result and motivated by what is to come. Humza has secured the continuation of a progressive agenda. I think he will be more popular as he becomes more well-known.”

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