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HRC hits campaign trail for Democrats

‘We are at a critical juncture in our fight for full equality’

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Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade
Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is set to hit the campaign trail for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With only a few days remaining before Election Day, the Human Rights Campaign is set to hit the campaign trail in a few competitive races on behalf of Democrats.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, plans to make personal appearances in four states for the campaigns of Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate at a time when the party is struggling to maintain control of the chamber.

“We are at a critical juncture in our fight for full equality,” Griffin said in a statement Tuesday. “The outcome of this election will impact whether or not we move forward or backward with fair-minded policies and legislation, and that’s why mobilizing LGBT voters and allies to get out and vote for equality-minded candidates is a key priority.”

Griffin has repeatedly refused Blade interview requests since he took over as HRC president.

The four states to which Griffin will travel are Oregon, Colorado, Georgia and New Hampshire. He’s set to take part in a phone bank on Tuesday for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), on Wednesday for Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), on Thursday for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and on Saturday for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Merkley is relatively safe in his prospects for re-election, but the remaining three candidates are in more competitive races. Still, Udall has been consistently behind in the polls as he faces a re-election challenge from Republican candidate Cory Gardner.

In addition to traveling to four states, Griffin is set to take part in a telephone town hall for U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa Bruce Braley, who’s in a competitive race with Republican candidate Joni Ernst.

The Human Rights Campaign also on Tuesday unveiled new online ads promoting the candidacies of Udall and Merkley based on their LGBT work, which includes support for marriage equality, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

HRC points to polling conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2012 that found support for LGBT rights helped candidates with voters.

Other efforts initiated by HRC to support these candidates include sending election-related action alerts to HRC members, deploying 24 staff members to work in campaigns and co-ordinating volunteer phone banks at HRC headquarters.

HRC bills itself as a non-partisan LGBT organization, but all of the candidates it supports in this effort are Democrats. One Republican candidate endorsed by HRC, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), isn’t among those that will receive help as part of this latest push by Griffin.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s not surprised Griffin would back Democratic candidates for office, but declined to criticize him.

“My interactions with Chad Griffin have always shown him to be an advocate who understands the importance of Republicans in the fight for equality, but he also makes no bones about being a liberal Democrat,” Angelo said. “It’s election season, so I can’t say I’m fazed or surprised.”

But Angelo said Log Cabin is also helping to make a push in the days before Election Day. Staff will be deployed to Massachusetts’ 6th congressional district, where gay Republican U.S. House candidate Richard Tisei is seeking office, and California’s 52nd congressional district, where Carl DeMaio, who’s gay, is running.

Angelo said he’s making the trek himself to California to assist the campaign of DeMaio, who’s running against pro-LGBT incumbent Rep. Scott Peters (R-Calif.)

Not to be outdone, anti-gay groups also undertaking efforts to ensure opponents of LGBT rights win at the polls. Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement Tuesday TV ads have been purchased and are set to air this week in North Carolina and Arkansas.

In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), a supporter of marriage equality, is fending off a challenge from Republican Thom Tillis, who is seeking to overturn a court decision in favor of same-sex marriage in his state. In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton is running ahead of incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), although neither supports marriage equality.

“The National Organization for Marriage Victory Fund will spend $200,000 this week in just the North Carolina and Arkansas Senate contests,” Brown said. “Today we’re announcing the launch of a powerful new television ad that puts marriage front and center in the race, contrasting the leadership of Thom Tillis in getting the North Carolina marriage amendment on the ballot with Kay Hagan’s opposition to it. Moreover, Hagan was the person who hand-picked the federal judge who invalidated the North Carolina marriage amendment without so much as giving voters a day in court.”

The ad in North Carolina, “Kay Hagan’s Judge,” criticizes Hagan for recommending the appointment to the bench of U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, who was responsible for overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Additionally, NOM says automated phone calls have been made in California, Massachusetts and Oregon. In each of the states, Republican hopefuls — U.S. Senate candidate Monica Wehby, gay U.S. House candidate Richard Tisei and DeMaio — are considered supporters of marriage equality, but anti-gay groups have pledged to block their candidacy.

The organization says mailers have been sent out in North Carolina and are being sent out in California.

The leader of another pro-LGBT group, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe, is set to travel to Maine to assist with the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud.

Michaud is in a tight race with incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but could could be the first openly gay person elected to the office of governor.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Victory Fund, said Wolfe plans to be in Maine on Election Day.

“He typically participates in get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day, places calls to thank donors, attends (hopefully!) victory celebrations and speaks to media about the results and the impact of a victory,” Dison said.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    October 29, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Good for him and good for us. I don't always agree with him, but Griffin is a good, solid rep for the larger cause. Every vote counts in many of these elections this cycle. It's got to be a good thing for LGBT-friendly candidates too.

    HRC's initiatives in the South is smart and helpful as well– despite some regional gripes in another national rag this week. Equality opponents in maybe half the non-ME states of the 18 remaining, will dig in their heels. Those states especially will require the kind of organizational expertise and clout HRC can bring to local efforts.

    The Blade's recent coverage of the South has been excellent, too.
    _

  2. W AhContraire Chartier

    October 29, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    How's this a a campaign banner?

    SODOMY: MEDICALLY DANGEROUS BEHAVIOR?
    Why not have a public dialogue on the medical safety of Sodomy, gay and straight, and ask these two simple medical questions?

    That is, Doesn't the medical community recommend that you, "Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom."?

    Yet, now there are some in the medical community that now say it's OK to "Sleep with the waste that gets flushed down in the toilet?" and that it's possible to live a perfectly normal life.

    Additional, the same can be said that there are some in the medical community that now say it's OK to "Lick the toilet bowl" and that it's also possible to live a perfectly normal life.

  3. Brooks Austin

    November 1, 2014 at 4:11 am

    And who's going to help truly progressive third party candidates? Imagine how much difference could be made to American politics if any of these political campaign groups would commit to supporting third parties like the Greens and then maybe we could finally put an end to the bipartisanship that has a grip over Congress and the Senate.

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Anti-LGBTQ group claims Va. marriage amendment repeal will legalize polygamy

State Sen. Adam Ebbin rejected claim during committee hearing

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(Bigstock photo)

A representative of an anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said the repeal of Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman would pave the way for the legalization of polygamy in the state.

“There are some, at least, very legitimate concerns about whether this would actually legalize polygamy, among other forms of marriage,” said Family Foundation of Virginia Legal Counsel Josh Hetzler.

Hetzler made the comment during a Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee hearing on state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s resolution to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. Ebbin, who is the only openly gay member of the Virginia Senate, in response to the claim noted polygamy is a crime under Virginia and federal law.

“I take offense to the Family Foundation’s characterization that this would allow polygamy,” said Ebbin. “This has nothing to do with polygamy, what this has to do with is equality.”

Carol Schall, who, along with her wife, Mary Townley, joined a federal lawsuit that paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia, and outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck are among those who testified in support of the resolution. The committee approved it by a 10-5 vote margin.

Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment in 2006.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Virginia since 2014.

The General Assembly last year approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Ebbin earlier this month told the Washington Blade he remains “hopeful” the resolution will pass in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Prospects that the resolution will pass in the Republican-controlled state House of Delegates are far less certain.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin before his election reiterated his opposition to marriage equality. Youngkin, however, stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

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Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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