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Not so fast, Mikulski fans

Retiring senator voted for DOMA, spent career in the closet

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Barbara Mikulski, gay news, Washington Blade
Barbara Mikulski, Democratic National Convention, Democratic Party, Washington Blade, gay news

Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced Monday that she will not run for re-election in 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As usual, when a prominent Democratic politician or public figure makes headlines, LGBT advocacy groups develop a case of amnesia about that person’s record.

Today’s example: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the iconic Maryland Democrat who has indisputably blazed a trail for women in the U.S. Congress.

But her record on LGBT issues is far from heroic, though you wouldn’t know it from the barrage of press releases today hailing her supposedly long record of support.

“Sen. Mikulski’s work has improved virtually every facet of life for LGBT Americans,” HRC trumpeted.  “… the LGBT community will miss working with her.”

For a more complete, rounded view of her legacy, consider that she voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. She spent her entire life hiding in the closet and refusing to answer questions about her sexual orientation, even as she was casting horribly anti-gay votes. And the tales from her staffers about the abusive environment she cultivated in the office would make Anna Wintour blush.

The rumors about Mikulski’s sexual orientation go back to the 1980s, when Linda Chavez described her as a “San Francisco-style Democrat” while running against her for the Senate. Mikulski’s relationship with congressional aide Teresa Mary Brennan — the two briefly lived together — also raised eyebrows. After her vote for DOMA, Mikulski was ambushed in New York while on a book tour by LGBT activists who rightly demanded to know how she, as a closeted lesbian, could support DOMA and come to the heart of the city’s LGBT community to plug a book. She refused to answer their questions about her sexual orientation. She was similarly targeted by activists in other cities and always ran for cover, refusing to engage.

In 2004, as Congress prepared to vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have barred same-sex marriage, Mikulski’s position was unclear. It was a stressful time and bloggers and LGBT media outlets, including the Blade, were working to out hypocrites on Capitol Hill.

I confronted Mikulski at a Baltimore event in 2004 and asked her directly about her intent with regard to the FMA vote and whether or not she’s gay. Per usual, she ducked the questions and scurried to a waiting car.

The FMA failed and Mikulski ultimately did the right thing and voted against another marriage ban effort in 2006. She finally came around on LGBT issues and co-sponsored the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, ENDA and a repeal of DOMA.

All of that is good and appreciated but truly supportive and courageous politicians stand up before it’s safe and popular, as some of her colleagues did in opposing DOMA in 1996.

The mindless praise of politicians like Mikulski by HRC and others ignores history and does a disservice to LGBT people. Now that she’s freed from having to run another campaign for re-election, perhaps Mikulski will sit down and finally answer all the questions about her long career and not just the self-serving ones. No one disputes Mikulski’s great achievements, especially the work she’s done on behalf of her Baltimore constituents and her role as the “Dean of the Senate Women.” But there’s more to the story and so far it’s not being told.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Robin Tyler

    March 3, 2015 at 1:59 am

    Thank you so much for telling the truth!

  2. Ann Northrop

    March 3, 2015 at 2:42 am

    Thanks, Kevin. I'm very happy to have you document our confrontation with Mikulski at the Chelsea Barnes & Noble shortly after her DOMA vote. She ran out of the room. Her co-author, Marylouise Oates, member of the HRC board and married to Bob Schrum, stayed behind to yell at us. By the way, we were virtually the entire audience at the book signing.

  3. Efrem Capers

    March 3, 2015 at 7:42 am

    No offense whomever she sleeps with is none of your damn business. Confronting her on the other issues is understandable.

  4. John Williams

    March 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    It seems to me that whatever she's done/not done–it's been effective. Sometimes one has to be strategic in one's public commentary in order to retain effectiveness and work across all groups to create change. Change comes slowly. It's brought by two key elements: Those in high places working carefully and strategically (i.e., not bringing in personal issues that could hinder their broader effectiveness); and the rest of us in the streets developing and demonstrating public support via special-interest groups and the broader population. A lot of people voted for things like Don't Ask, DOMA, etc., who did it strategically–not because it was what was in their hearts. Remember–elected leaders have two jobs: to represent the will of their constituencies (on all issues, not just focus on one issue), and to work to mold that will, gradually and strategically. Mukluski has been incredibly effective, and that's the only thing that counts. Dredging up one vote or a some dodged questions needs to be tempered by the overall result. And the results of her work have been dramatic. In her job, strategy counts, not brashness. I applaud all she's done, and I try to understand those few things I see as "wrong" in the light of the times and the situation. Don't you think we all owe her at least that level of understanding?

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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