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LGBT hopefuls face steep odds in bids for Congress

But 6 incumbent House members look safe



Non-encumbent LGBT candidates include (top l - r) Angie Craig, Bao Nguyen, Paul Babeu, Misty Snow, Dr. Matt Heinz; (bottom row l - r) Clay Cope, Denise Juneau, Matt Heinz, Jim Gray and Misty Plowright (Photos courtesy campaigns; Plowright photo by Michael Herrera)

Non-incumbent LGBT candidates include (top l – r) Angie Craig, Bao Nguyen, Paul Babeu, Misty Snow, Dr. Matt Heinz; (bottom row l – r) Clay Cope, Denise Juneau, Brady Walkinshaw, Jim Gray and Misty Plowright (Photos courtesy campaigns; Plowright photo by Michael Herrera)

A plethora of non-incumbent openly LGBT candidates is seeking election to Congress this year, but a look at the polls reveals many of them are facing an uphill climb.

The Washington Blade identified 10 openly LGBT non-incumbent candidates running for seats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate in 2016, including two candidates who are the first-ever openly transgender people to win nominations from a major U.S. political party, two openly gay Republicans and a candidate who’d be the first out lesbian with children elected to Congress.

The best prospect in this lot is business executive Angie Craig, a lesbian Democrat running against Republican Jason Lewis to represent Minnesota’s 2nd congressional district, which comprises suburbs of the Twin Cities.

According to a KSTP/SurveyUSA poll published on Oct. 17, Craig has a lead with 46 percent of the vote compared to the 41 percent who support her opponent, although 12 percent of voters were undecided.

A victory for Craig would mean Democrats retake a seat held by Republicans for 13 years, most recently by anti-LGBT Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who’s retiring this year. Additionally, it would mark the first time since Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) left the House to serve in the Senate that an out lesbian served in the House as well as the first time a married lesbian with children served in Congress.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor for “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Craig has a good chance of winning the race.

“She is a small favorite thanks to a controversial opponent and Clinton’s likely ability to run ahead of Obama’s 2012 performance in this suburban swing district,” Kondik said.

Another bright spot lies in the six incumbent openly LGB members of the U.S. House. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) are Democrats and relatively safe as they pursue re-election during a presidential year with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot. The Blade couldn’t find polls bothering to monitor these races.

But the good news ends there for LGBT congressional candidates. The two openly LGBT candidates running for seats in the U.S. Senate — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in Kentucky and Misty Snow in Utah — face daunting odds, according to polls.

In Kentucky, Gray is challenging Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has overwhelming name recognition in the Bluegrass State. Gray’s election would double the openly gay representation in the U.S. Senate, but that doesn’t look to be in the cards.

A WKU Social Science Research Center poll published on Tuesday found Paul has 55 percent of support compared to the 39 percent for Gray and six percent who are undecided.

In Utah, Snow made history by being the first openly transgender person nominated by a major U.S. party for a U.S. Senate seat, but faces overwhelming odds against incumbent Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). A survey published last month found Snow trailing Lee by a whopping 39 points. Lee had 61 percent support, while Snow had just 22 percent.

In Colorado, Army veteran Misty Plowright made history on the same day as Snow by becoming the first openly transgender person nominated by a major U.S. party for a U.S. House race, but she faces daunting odds in the state’s 5th congressional district against five-term incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.). The Blade couldn’t find a poll monitoring the election.

The situation is reversed in terms of party in a Connecticut race. Clay Cope, an openly gay Republican who serves on the board of selectman for the town of Sherman, faces an overwhelming challenge in his bid to unseat two-term incumbent Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who represents the state’s 5th congressional district. No polls could be found monitoring this race.

In Arizona’s 1st congressional district, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who came out as gay in 2012 amid controversy during an earlier congressional bid, is running against Democratic former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran. It was once considered a competitive race, but a poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made public last month found O’Halleran had opened up a 10-point lead over his gay Republican challenger.

In California’s 46th congressional district, two Democrats — former State Sen. Lou Correa and gay candidate Bao Nguyen — are running against each other as a result of the state’s so-called jungle primary, which allows the top two voter-getters regardless of party to proceed to the general election.

But Correa won the most votes in the June primary. Last month, a poll from his campaign found he had a 2-1 margin over his opponent. According to the poll, which found Correa had support among 47 percent of respondents, the number of undecided voters, 30 percent, was higher than the 23 percent who supported Nguyen.

Washington’s 7th congressional district is in a similar situation because two Democrats — State Sen. Pramila Jayapal and gay State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw — are running in the general election as a result of the state’s jungle primary system.

But the Bernie Sanders-backed Jayapal, who would be the first South Asian woman elected to Congress, trounced Walkinshaw in the primary and a poll unveiled by her campaign in August, as reported by the Seattle-based Stranger, found she was up 14 points heading into the general election.

In Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, gay physician Matt Heinz is challenging incumbent Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). A Wilson Perkins Allen Research poll published in September found McSally has a double-digit lead with 56 percent of support compared to the 37 percent enjoyed by Heinz.

Kondik attributed Heinz’ standing behind McSally in the race to neglect at the national level and the effort the Republican has placed in the race.

“It would be a big surprise if he won given that Martha McSally, the incumbent, is well-funded and has worked the district hard,” Kondik said. “National Democrats never took much interest in his candidacy.”

In Montana, where the race for U.S. House is for an at-large seat, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, who would be the first lesbian Native American elected to Congress, is challenging freshman incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). Although Juneau once boasted a small deficit in the polls, that deficit seems to have expanded. A poll published last month by the Mason-Dixon polling firm found Zinke leading Juneau by a margin of 53 percent to 40 percent.

Of these non-incumbent candidates, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed one of the Senate candidates, Gray, as well as five of the House candidates: Heinz, Walkinshaw, Craig, Nguyen and Juneau. Snow, Babeu, Plowright and Cope aren’t among the endorsed candidates. The organization is known to endorse only openly LGBT candidates that have a reasonable chance of winning.

Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Victory Fund, was optimistic despite the challenges these candidates face, pointing to internal early vote numbers, and said the endorsed candidates “are running great campaigns and could dramatically increase our numbers in the next Congress.”

“Angie Craig, Denise Juneau, Matt Heinz and Brady Walkinshaw are proof that the right LGBT candidates with the right message can run and win competitive campaigns anywhere,” Moodie-Mills said. “We’re looking forward to seeing just how large the Equality Caucus will grow on election night – but this week is critical. While early vote numbers look good for our races, our community has to turn out and urge friends and family in those districts to vote for equality.”

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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



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



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



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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