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Becker defends book during D.C. appearance

Author says she wasn’t aware of HRC event; staffer says she cancelled to appear on MSNBC

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Jo Becker, New York Times, gay news, Washington Blade
Jo Becker, New York Times, gay news, Washington Blade

Jo Becker defended her book against criticism during an appearance at a D.C. bookstore (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson).

The author of a controversial book on the fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8 defended her work Friday during a promotional event at a D.C. bookstore — although differing accounts have emerged over whether she cancelled an appearance at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters the next day.

Jo Becker, who wrote “Forcing the Spring,” spoke at an hour-long event at Politics & Prose Bookstore and touted her book, saying it wasn’t meant to encompass the entire history of the marriage equality movement.

The book’s praise for Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin’s contributions to that effort — while leaving out others or casting them as obstacles to the Prop 8 lawsuit — has ignited controversy in the LGBT community.

Asked by the Washington Blade during the Q&A portion of the event whether she thought this criticism was unfair, Becker said the book is “one chapter in a much longer narrative.”

“I chose to write about this chapter because it was a defining moment in the sense that there was a decision that was made to go to the federal courts — and that was not the consensus of the established gay rights legal groups who had been fighting this for years, who had given a great deal of thought to this,” Becker said.

Becker noted her book also talks about the case against the Defense of Marriage Act, the tension between that lawsuit and the Prop 8 case and concerns over bringing both cases to court. Additionally, Becker said she had received a “rave review” in the New York Times Book Review.

“The movie ending of this would have been the Supreme Court [issues a] 50-state ruling, everybody that brought this case gets what they want,” Becker said. “It wasn’t the ending that the people that I write about in the book wanted, but it was an ending that was very important to the people at [San Francisco] City Hall and as a result of this case, a fifth of the country has been able to resume…having marriage equality.”

When the Blade asked whether she had any conversations with gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, the chief critic of her book, Becker replied she had no such talks, but has “put herself out there on forums and on TV.”

“I think that their criticism is of a book I didn’t write,” Becker said. “The criticism is how could I leave out characters, really important people, in the marriage equality movement. And the answer is I chose to write about this case and in this case and this litigation effort, they weren’t a part of that.”

Expounding on the criticism, Becker said, “Some leaders in the gay community are divided about this book in the same way that they were divided about this case.”

Asked by The Bilerico Project’s John Becker (no relation to Jo Becker) about a line in the book saying the marriage movement previously had “languished in obscurity,” Jo Becker talked about the work of Mary Bonauto, the attorney who brought marriage equality to Massachusetts.

“Mary talked about this, none of the cases just didn’t garner the same amount of attention,” Becker said. “This became a headline in the way that it hadn’t been in part because of the odd-ball, odd-couple pairing of these two straight guys who came from opposite sides of the aisle, fought Bush v. Gore. Mary told me her cases didn’t get that kind of attention.”

Before opening the event up to questions, Becker began the event by reading from her work the personal tales of individual gay people who spoke at the Prop 8 trial, and what being gay — and unable to marry in California at the time — meant for them.

“The political change that we’ve seen, it’s moved with a rapidity unseen in modern political history,” Becker added. “And one of the really big reasons is people, sort of, have come out and told stories. When you come to know someone — 9 out of 10 Americans now say they know someone who is gay. When you know someone who is gay, you’re more likely to support this issue.”

The bookstore event came on the same day that blogger Sullivan published an apparent schedule of her tour from Penguin, her publisher, indicating she was set to appear at an event at the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday. Following controversy over the book, HRC spokesperson Charles Joughlin said reports of her making an appearance at the organization were “incorrect,” but declined to clarify if something was once scheduled but then cancelled.

Differing accounts have emerged of what happened. After her event at Politics & Prose, the Blade asked Becker whether she planned to appear at an HRC event the next day. She replied, “no,” adding that she’ll make an appearance on MSNBC. When the Blade asked whether there ever was an event scheduled for her at HRC, Becker said she was “not aware” of anything.

The next day, the Blade went to HRC headquarters at 11 a.m. as the Penguin schedule indicated she would speak. An attendee near the desk, who identified himself as “Carl,” said an event was indeed taking place, but it was a private meeting for high-dollar HRC donors and not open to the public. Asked whether Becker would make an appearance, Carl said she was scheduled to come, but she cancelled to appear on MSNBC.

[UPDATE: Sarah Hutson, a spokesperson for Penguin Press, offered another explanation for what happened regarding the HRC event, saying the company is responsible for Becker’s schedule.

“Penguin Press publicity had discussed with HRC a possible appearance on Saturday 4/26 and we entered it into our database as a placeholder,” Hutson said. “It was erroneously marked as a confirmed talk/signing in our system and thus was automatically loaded onto Penguin.com’s event listings which should never have happened. We instead decided to have Jo appear on MSNBC that day. We’re pleased to have many interview and event requests for Forcing the Spring and we make scheduling decisions, not the author.”]

During the bookstore event, the questions that Becker took from the LGBT media and other attendees were decidedly different. While the gay media challenged her over complaints about the book, others were apparently unaware of the controversy and sought more information on the LGBT rights movement.

One woman apparently unaware of the Prop 8 lawsuit interrupted Becker as she spoke to ask, “Who was Charles Cooper?” Becker informed the audience member he was the attorney who had defended Prop 8 in court.

Another audience member expressed concern about the focus on marriage equality as opposed to workplace non-discrimination protections. Becker eagerly responded with information about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying in more than half the states employers can legally discriminate against workers because they’re gay.

“I don’t think it is a wedge issue; it just isn’t,” Becker said. “The country is changing so rapidly. Demographically, leaders of the Republican Party that I’ve talked to — they understand the demographics of this issue. This is a long-term losing position for the Republican Party, and so there’s a lot of discussion around that.”

As reported by Bilerico, Becker spoke at the D.C. bookstore on the same day it was revealed the Ford Foundation approved a $150,000 grant for her in 2013 “to research and write a book on the marriage equality movement in the United States.”

Asked by the Blade whether she sees a potential sequel to “Forcing the Spring,” and if so, what would be an appropriate topic, Becker said any of the more 60 marriage lawsuits making their way once again to the Supreme Court would make a good “epilogue” to her book.

“There’s a bunch of books in the works,” Becker said. “This was an extraordinary five years and there should be books written about all different aspects of it. Like I said, this is just one, but there should be lots of books. There’s going to be a case that eventually does make it to the Supreme Court.”

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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Family code bill to be introduced in Cuban Parliament in July

CENESEX made announcement during May 4 press conference

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Mariela Castro at a CENESEX press conference

 

Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story was published on May 6.

HAVANA — The National Center for Sexual Education on May 4 during a press conference in which it unveiled the program for the 14th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia events in Cuba announced a bill to amend the family code will be introduced in Parliament in July.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro Espín said during a meeting with official and foreign media outlets at the International Press Center that this year’s events are part of the process of amending the family code.

She added that this legal change will reflect several rights guaranteed in the constitution, which is why it is necessary to sensitize and educate the Cuban population to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference.

The official referred to the results of the National Survey on Gender Equality in Cuba, conducted in 2016 and published in 2019. According to this official study, 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74-years-old said that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people should have the same rights as any other citizen.

CENESEX’s director, however, did not use this information in the 2018 parliamentary debates sparked by Article 68 of the bill to amend the constitution. The idea that it was not the appropriate time to implement same-gender marriage in Cuba eventually won out.

Mariela Castro told Tremenda Nota a few days before the referendum in which Cuban voters approved the current constitution that she was aware of the survey, but she did not explain why she did not use the data it revealed as an argument (in favor of marriage equality.)

“It was a wasted tool that now we can only use in the next referendum,” then-MP Luis Ángel Adán Roble told Tremenda Nota during a February 2019 interview, as did Mariela Castro.

The moment that Adán Roble mentioned has arrived.

It became known during the May 4 press conference that the family code will be introduced in the scheduled parliamentary session in July. The Council of State on March 22 appointed a commission that will be in charge of preparing the bill, but the list of its members was not made public until April 30. None of them are openly LGBTI+.

Activists over the last few weeks have demanded that Parliament reveal the identities of those who make up the commission and the deadline they have to prevent the Family Code. The May 4 press conference resolved the last outstanding point.

The Cuban IDAHOBiT program

Mariela Castro and CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido explained that numerous activities with the goal of making visible and fighting against all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will virtually take place from May 4 through May 30.

The IDAHOBiT events in Cuba have a program that includes academic dialogue, social activism and artistic presentations from virtual spaces.

Forum debates are among the activities. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper will host the first one with the theme “Deconstructing myths around same-sex families and partners” and Cubadebate will hold the second called “Constitution and Sexual Rights in Cuba: Progress and Main challenges.”

They also announced at the press conference the books “Paquito el de Cuba: A Decade of Online Activism” and “Non-Heteronormative Sexualities and Gender Identities. Tensions and Challenges for Human Rights” will be presented.

There will be virtual panels titled “Diverse Families: Histories of Non-Hegemonic Lives,” “National Program for the Advancement of Women: Opportunities to Confront Homophobia and Transphobia,” “Keys for Inclusive Communication” and “Sexual Rights and Religious Fundamentalisms.”

Castro Espín explained that CENESEX will use its social media accounts to promote the program, contribute to the sexual education of Cubans and the recognition of rights for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

A show against homophobia and transphobia that will officially end the events will be broadcast on social media and on television.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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