By STEPHANIE SCHWARTZ & JACKIE BRYKS
One of my proudest moments occurred when my mother, Carol Schwartz, won the National Capital Area Leadership Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2002. In her acceptance speech, my mom told a story I had never heard. In high school and college, she had two friends who were gay. A few years after graduating, both committed suicide. It’s rare that my mother doesn’t share what’s on her mind, but I guess in this case, her friendships with these two men and their endings had weighed on her mind, silently until then.
I think my mother’s early experience with discrimination made her particularly empathetic to those who face it. Though nothing like many LGBT youth or other minorities endure, she did face anti-Semitism while growing up in West Texas. During the only snow day of her childhood, she got out of school early and a group went to a friend’s house. But the mother wouldn’t allow a Jewish person in her home so she stood outside in the snow for hours, waiting for the others. This incident of prejudice was not the first or the last—and they scarred. In addition, her only sibling Johnny, 18 months older, had intellectual disabilities, and she had to protect him from taunts and ridicule. That, plus the racism she observed in that place and time, made her “intolerant of intolerance” — a phrase Mom uses. I am sure that feeling has fueled her work in public and community service, starting as a special education teacher.
It is fortunate that in the last decade many people have joined the LGBT cause. But Carol Schwartz was there early on, fighting for our rights 40 years ago. When she was on the D.C. Board of Education in the mid-1970s, she pushed through the law that forbade employment discrimination against DCPS teachers and other personnel based on sexual orientation.
During her four terms on the D.C. Council, that commitment continued. She introduced the law that prohibited the harassment of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She provided additional funding for the Office of Human Rights. She spoke out against the effort to exempt transgender people from certain protections under the D.C. Human Rights Act. She was instrumental in pushing the domestic partnership law—the strongest in the country—and had she been on the Council in 2009, would have voted for same-sex marriage. She was an active proponent of and a contributor to needle exchange programs and co-sponsored medical marijuana legislation, and lobbied Congress to stop the hold-up of both.
She also protected workers by putting forth the strongest Whistleblowers Protection Law in the country, which the federal government replicated, and made D.C. the second jurisdiction in the country to give sick and safe leave to workers who did not have that human benefit—and lost her Council seat because of it.
What someone chooses to do outside their role in elected office is also revealing. My Mom has chosen to lend her leadership skills to a host of volunteer community service organizations. To name just a couple, she was a member of the board of the Safe Haven Outreach Ministry, a service provider for low-income and homeless adults, who are substance abusers living with HIV/AIDS. And she was elected to be a 17-year member of the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, including during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, and was elected its vice president.
Her work, both elected and volunteer, earned her Best Straight Ally three times from Blade editors and readers as well as the Blade’s Local Female Hero.
One of my mom’s proudest moments was when she walked me down the aisle as I married my spouse Jackie in October of 2012 in New York. Years before, I had been engaged to a man. Soon after my broken engagement I became involved with a woman, then a man, then a woman again on my journey to where I belonged. But through it all, there was my mom, always supporting me. That support wasn’t a surprise. She had already been a member of PFLAG as a friend for decades before she knew she would qualify in every category.
As her daughter I have gotten the unique perspective on relationships she’s formed. Friends can’t have a birthday without getting an off-key birthday song on their voicemail. She looks after numerous seniors. And like many, she’s lost too many friends to AIDS, but there she was saying goodbye during their last moments, lying in bed with them, holding them. The faces of those friends are still displayed in photos in her home.
A good gay friend of hers often asks, “Do you ever spend time with people who aren’t gay?” “Yes,” she answers, “When I have to.”
She’s been a good role model. I have tried to follow her lead in my own career — working in a group home for people with cerebral palsy, serving as criminal defense attorney for Legal Aid, and advocating on behalf of victims of child abuse as a Children’s Services attorney for NYC in the Bronx.
Her empathy helps her build bridges. One of the reasons my Mom stayed a Republican all those years was because she was better able to lobby Congress on behalf of D.C. When a member of Congress put forth a rider that banned gay and lesbian adoptions, she and activist Carl Schmid were able to get an appointment. In that meeting, she spoke about her LGBT friends who had adopted children and the vibrant and loving families that exist for these kids who barely had hope for one — and cried. Later that day, the rider was withdrawn. This is what D.C. needs — someone who can be tough when called for but is always compassionate and unifying.
As D.C. is economically booming, it’s too easy to forget those who are left out. What we need now is a strong caretaker who has proven she can take care of business and people, and who will also continue the fight for LGBT — and voting — rights. I know of no better leader—or person—than my mom to be your mayor.
Stephanie Schwartz, Democrat
Proud of my mother in law
Soon after meeting my now wife, I made the charged pilgrimage from my home in New York for the first meeting with her mother, Carol Schwartz. You know the deal, everybody on their best behavior trying to make a good impression. Carol seemed to like me a lot, but I can say for certain that she blew me away. All I knew going into that first meeting was that Carol was some sort of local D.C. politician, a Republican no less. This meeting took place more than six years ago — a time during which the national Republican Party was less than welcoming to gays and lesbians. So let me be frank: As a lifelong gay rights advocate, I had some misgivings, apprehension even. But the reality upended all my preconceptions (a life lesson against pigeonholing people if I ever saw one).
Because what I found was the most progressive, most welcoming, most gay-positive person I had ever met. And these many years later, after marrying Carol’s daughter, Stephanie, I have been proud to learn — and not just from the family — that Carol, being Carol, used her estimable energies over decades to transform this progressive instinct into concrete policies supporting the LGBT community.
I was also proud that when the Republican Party continued to drift further and further to the right on social issues — notably on women’s health and LGBT rights — Carol, though usually loyal to a fault, decided to leave the party and register as an Independent. To me, that label suits her to a tee.
Jackie Bryks, Democrat
Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative
Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate
It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative.
The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.
Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.
Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.
Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.
To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.
At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia.
Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”
Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done.
On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters.
“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”
Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].
Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood
The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society
My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me.
As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.
Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.
(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)
At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.
Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.
The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too.
Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.
More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?
Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.
Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.”
Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.
Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.
Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet
From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years
OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley.
All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome
Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160.
So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated.
On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.
And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it?
It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.
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