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62 lawmakers blast anti-gay DOJ filing in bicameral letter

Congressional Democrats say brief ‘violates our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice for all’

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Equality Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is leading 62 congressional Democrats in objecting to an anti-gay DOJ filing. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A group of 62 Democrats from both chambers of Congress is blasting the U.S. Justice Department for a recent court filing arguing lesbians, gays and bisexuals have no protections under existing federal civil rights law.

In a letter dated Aug. 7 and made public Tuesday, the lawmakers assert the Justice Department’s recent friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Zarda V. Altitude Express is “not only contrary to existing law, but violates our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice for all.”

The missive was led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

“Any discrimination is completely unacceptable,” the letter says. “It tears at the fabric of our great nation and does not move us forward; it takes us backward. We urge the Department of Justice to reverse its position and to refrain from arguing against protections for LGBT people in any future Title VII cases dealing with the issue of whether sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Late last month, the Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued in a voluntary filing before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 affords no protections against sexual orientation discrimination.

As the letter points out, that reasoning is contrary to the decisions of a growing number of district courts as well as the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which have determined Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination in the workplace applies to cases of discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

“This reflects a growing consensus that discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation cannot be understood without reference to sex,” the letter says. “To argue the opposite defies any reasonable interpretation of what sex discrimination means.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. agency charged with enforcing federal employment non-discrimination laws, has also found sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII.

However, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has determined existing law against sex discrimination affords no protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. That has created a split among the circuit courts and prompted the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal to plan to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a nationwide resolution to the issue.

Notably, most of the seven openly LGB members of Congress who are also co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus didn’t sign the letter. Names that are absent are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The only gay members of Congress who signed the letter were Cicilline, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the Justice Department seeking comment on the congressional letter.

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New gay bar ‘Central’ to open in Baltimore this summer

Just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last year

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Marc Hayes and Ivan Yordanov inside the new Central. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

Fans of the old Grand Central club in Baltimore will get a new place to patronize this summer, and it has a familiar name and operator.

Central is the name of a gay bar and restaurant that’s expected to open in August, just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last September. One of its owners is the former general manager of Grand Central, Marc Hayes.

Baltimore’s liquor board last week approved a request to transfer an existing Beer, Wine and Liquor license to Hayes, from Baltimore, and business partner Ivan Yordanov, from Alexandria, Va.

The location is a three-building complex at 885-889 N. Howard Street, part of a block called Antique Row on the western edge of Mount Vernon, the city’s traditional “gayborhood.” Over the years, the Howard Street buildings have housed a series of clubs and lounges, most recently Bentley’s jazz club.
Grand Central closed after original owner Don Davis sold the property at 1001-1003 N. Charles Street to a developer, Landmark Partners, that’s now constructing an eight-story office building in its place. Its last day was Sept. 3.

Started in 1991 as Central Station at 1001 N. Charles St. and renamed when Davis bought the old Stagecoach Bar at 1003 N. Charles St., Grand Central was one of Baltimore’s largest gay-friendly clubs and remained busy on weekends even after Landmark acquired the property. Patrons called it ‘Central’ for short. It was required to close temporarily during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic but did offer outdoor and carryout service when permitted.

Hayes, the last general manager of Grand Central for both Davis and Landmark, had indicated before it closed that he wanted to find another place for patrons to go once construction of the office building began.

He said the Howard Street business is not a relocation of Grand Central because Landmark isn’t involved and Landmark owns the rights to the name and other intellectual property associated with Grand Central.

“We’re not Grand Central,” he said. “This is going to be Central. This is going to be an LGBTQIA-friendly place, but not using the Grand Central intellectual property.”

Hayes said he and Yordanov chose the name Central because the Howard Street buildings are centrally located between Leon’s and The Drinkery, two other gay bars in Mount Vernon.

“We are central,” he said. “We’re in a triangle.”

Even if it doesn’t have a legal connection with Grand Central, Hayes said, he will welcome its former patrons, as well as people who have never been to Grand Central. And while he’s billing it as a gay bar, he said, “I don’t see gender or race in anybody.” He describes himself as gender fluid and Yordanov as an ally of the gay community.

The three buildings date from around 1900 and are connected internally. Together, they contain more than 6,200 square feet of space on two levels – large but less than half the 15,000 square feet of space inside the two buildings that made up Grand Central.

Hayes and Yordanov are leasing the property and received a letter of support for the liquor license transfer from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association. They still need to pass inspections required by the liquor board and intend to hire a staff of about 20. They plan to have a dance floor and DJs, Sunday brunch, drag shows and other live entertainment as well as a full-service kitchen.

The interior has a long wooden bar that’s reminiscent of Grand Central’s, a series of lounges and dining areas, and some exposed-brick walls with arches that impart an air of history and allow views from one area to another. The main dance floor will be on the second floor, including one space where the walls are covered with mirrors.

Hayes said the building doesn’t need much in the way of renovations and since it’s actually three addresses, there’s already a separate entrance for carryout orders. He said he considered other locations but liked the ambiance, layout and location of this property. “I’ve always liked this building,” he said. “Grand stairwell. Wrought iron…It’s gorgeous. Look at the arches.”

The bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Sundays, when Central will serve brunch. The carryout will open daily starting at 11 a.m. Central will have a cover charge when there are shows.

While many gay bars have closed around the country during the pandemic, Hayes said he believes there’s a market for a new one in Baltimore. He notes that Central will be different from the Baltimore Eagle, which caters to the leather community; the tavern-style bars without live entertainment, and The Manor, an “ultralounge” in a meticulously restored townhouse on Charles Street.

“We’re not The Manor, obviously. They’ve got a fantastic chef and fantastic food and we’re going to be doing bar food” with a relaxed atmosphere and DJs. But Central will offer more in the way of food service and entertainment than the tavern-style bars around the city.

That’s another reason the name they chose makes sense. Given the other options in town, Hayes said, “We’re kind of right in the middle.”

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Delaware prepares to celebrate Pride month

Parade moved to October, but smattering of local events planned

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Delaware trans student policy, gay news, washington blade
Delaware Gov. John Carney issued a Pride month proclamation earlier this month.

As state coronavirus restrictions continue to lift, organizations throughout Delaware are gearing up for Pride month with events planned during June.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery dedicated its June Beer and Benevolence philanthropic effort to benefit CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBTQ+ non-profit community center in Rehoboth. The fundraising began last weekend at Chesapeake and Maine and the organization will receive 10 percent of proceeds from 4 to 6 p.m.

The Delaware Pride Parade is scheduled for Oct. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

June 19: Delaware Pride Bowling at Bowlerama
The Delaware Pride Bowling event is June 19 from 7-10 p.m. The New Castle Avenue Bowlerama will charge $15 per bowler and free shoes for the two hour time slot.

June 18: Stand-up Comedy by Julia Scotti
Trans comedian and America’s Got Talent quarterfinalist Julia Scotti will perform standup comedy at the Milton Theater. Admission is $17.

June 20: From Stonewall To Now – Presented By Mona Lotts
Milton Theater will host “From Stonewall To Now,” a celebration of the art of drag hosted by Mona Lotts. Admission is $20 and will feature performances from several drag queens from the state.

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Rachel Levine in ‘rewarding’ visit speaks with trans youth at D.C. health clinic

Hospital an oasis of support amid attacks from states

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Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s not unusual for Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health to visit medical facilities on behalf of the Department of Health & Human Services. But her visit last week to the LGBTQ youth clinic at the Children’s National Hospital was special because she was able to meet with transgender youth as an openly transgender presidential appointee.

The visit on Thursday by Levine at the D.C.-based hospital comes not long after the U.S. Senate approved her appointment, making her the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win a Senate-confirmed position. As such, her visit to the LGBTQ youth clinic, where transgender kids come for transition-related care and health services, held particular significance for the patients.

Levine, speaking with the Washington Blade at the end of her visit, said having the opportunity to speak with both transgender youth and medical professionals testing them was “tremendously, tremendously rewarding”

“It’s tremendously gratifying to be able to speak to the medical professionals and the clinic personnel, but particularly to the youth and their families from my experience,” Levine added. “So I have two aspects of that. One is that I’m a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. So I’ve been teaching to children and their families my entire career, but the other is coming from my lived experience as an openly transgender woman, and so I find it tremendously rewarding.”

The warm environment of the hospital for children is readily apparent upon entering the main atrium of the building. Lights dressed up as hot air balloons fill the tall ceiling while a nearby TV shows music videos consisting of squares of kids’ faces singing, followed by easy-listening country music and Asian K-pop. Children and their parents await their appointments seated in comfy plush red chairs before white blocks meant for use as tables.

Key to Levine’s visit was taking part in a discussion at the hospital auditorium with three transgender youth and their families who obtain services at the clinic. During the question-and-answer period, Levine shared her experience as a transgender person who underwent transition later in life and went on to tremendous success as a high-ranking presidential appointee.

For the transgender youth, Levine’s presence at the hospital — at a time when state legislatures are busy enacting bills to restrict their access to medical care and school activities — serves as a reminder that barriers based on gender identity are breaking down and the sky’s the limit for their future.

After the question-and-answer session, Levine told the Blade she “learned a lot” about Children’s National, which she called “a world-renowned children’s hospital and academic medical center.”

“I’ve known about it before,” Levine added. “I’m a pediatrician, adolescent medicine specialist, but I learned more about what they’re doing. And I learned specifically about their gender clinic, where they take care of transgender and gender non-conforming youth and got to meet some of the staff as well as the kids and their families.”

The Youth Pride Clinic, which opened in 2015, is one of the few clinics in the nation to provide primary care and mental health services to LGBTQ youth from ages 12 to 22. Among the services offered are hormone replacement therapy, STP/STI treatment and PrEP services as well as individual and family therapy for transgender youth.

Among the transgender youth patients at the clinic who spoke to the Washington Blade was Amir, a 15-year-old Georgia native whose last name as a minor is being withheld for confidentiality purposes.

“I started out in fifth grade coming out as lesbian,” Amir said. “I didn’t even really know, but when I came out to my grandma in Georgia, where I’m from, I still didn’t feel like myself. So then, later on, me and my friend researched, and next thing you know we came across the term transgender, and I was like, ‘This is who I am. This is me.’”

Amir said he began taking shots as part of care regimen in January. Being able to receive care from the Youth Pride Clinic, Amir said, means a lot because he has an opportunity not available to other transgender youths, who face challenges and even hostility as they make the journey to transition. The staffers at the Youth Pride Clinic, Amir said, are “like a second family” who work hard to provide the services they offer.

Sonia Murphy, Amir’s aunt who became his legal guardian, said when she began reaching out for medical help for Amir she found a two- or three-year wait list to get access to treatment, which she said makes her “saddened” such care isn’t widely available.

“There’s a population of kids and parents out there who need the services and just can’t access it because there’s not enough bandwidth, not enough manpower,” Murphy said.

Amir said he’s getting other avenues of support from his two cousins, one who is older at age 18 and one who is younger at age 12. “They’re like sisters to me, so I call them my sisters,” Amir said. Amir also identified two other male cousins as well as his uncles and his aunt.

“They’re all very supportive of me,” Amir said. “My auntie Tonya, for example, Pride month came up, first day, she sent me a paragraph, saying, ‘I’m glad you’re yourself and you’re open to who you are and things like that,” and that I’m not afraid to be who I am around anybody. It’s just things like that. And for my birthday, I had tons of Pride shirts, and I got a rainbow shirt with the fist in the middle for Black Lives Matter, and it was a ton of different things.”

Lawrence D’Angelo, director of the Youth Pride Clinic and an occupational health adolescent medicine specialist, told the Blade being able to start the facility in 2015 in and of itself was one of the key victories for the initiative, although he said the Children’s National has been providing transition-related care since 1998.

“When we started it…we thought that we were going to be running a PrEP clinic, that we were going to be providing preventive services to LGBTQ kids,” D’Angelo said. “The first day, the first patient actually came in and asked for PrEP, and the other six patients that were scheduled that day all wanted transgender services. So, suddenly, it became obvious what we were going to be spending 90 percent of our time doing, which is exactly what we think we should be doing, because that’s where the need is the greatest.”

Despite the advantages of having access to the Youth Pride Clinic, transgender youth have clear challenges and face hostility based simply on their gender identity, especially in a year when state legislatures have in an unprecedented manner enacted legislation against them. The Youth Pride Clinic, in many ways, is an oasis of support.

Arkansas, for example, enacted a measure that would make criminal the kind of services provided at the clinic. Other states have enacted measures prohibiting “biological boys” from participating in sports, which essentially bars transgender girls from participating in sporting events.

While anti-trans measures aren’t being enacted in D.C. or any nearby states, the advancement of anti-trans legislation in states has had a negative effect on transgender patients at the Youth Pride Clinic.

D’Angelo, based on conversations he’s had with the patients, said they’re aware of the wave of legislation, which he said has led to fear, anger and being “unable to understand what is happening and why it’s happening.”

Amir said watching states enact legislation against transgender youth “makes me feel some type of weight,” pointing specifically to the anti-trans sports measures because he said he’d welcome the opportunity to participate in athletics.

“I’m athletic,” Amir said. “I do all types of sports. I play basketball, soccer, I’m going to do boxing…With sports and stuff, I just feel like I want to be able to do everything, just as a regular cisgender person will be able to do,”

Amir, despite the enactment of anti-trans laws, has an optimistic outlook and said the enactment of state measures against transgender youth demonstrates they’re now “on the radar” of the social conservative movement.

“I feel like if everybody who’s a part of LGBTQ and trans together, we can stand up and we can overcome this because the thing is, there are so many people out there who don’t understand what we do, and the thing is that they’re noticing us, so that’s a start to something big.”

Amir (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With many states hostile to transgender youth, others are looking to the federal government for support under the Biden administration. On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible.

Levine cited an announcement from HHS that resulted from this order on implementing regulations prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in medical care, reversing a policy under the Trump administration that green lighted discrimination, as one of the ways it has answered that call and helped families like the Youth Pride Clinic.

“So the Affordable Care Act says that you cannot discriminate based upon sex,” Levine said. “The Department Health & Human Services and the Office of Civil Rights has interpreted sex to include sexual and gender minorities, to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which means LGBTQ individuals under that. So we need to look at all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and to work to implement that interpretation of the statute. That was only done a month or so ago, so we’re going to be working on that now.”

Is there anything more the federal government can do to support the clinic? D’Angelo cited a number of key things already secured, including the hospital being able to offer insurance to patients and the affirmation from HHS against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. More research dollars and greater focus from the National Institutes of Health on gender diverse and sexual minority individuals, D’Angelo said, would also be welcome.

“There are things out there that the federal government can do, but I think…there are limitations of what they can do,” D’Angelo said. “They can’t, unfortunately, effect what’s going on in individual states, which is, in some cases draconian. That’s an awful thought if we were practicing medicine in Arkansas, we could be in jail.”

Meanwhile, Levine said the Biden administration, including Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra, is working on both internal and external policies to facilities like the Youth Pride Clinic to help them secure their place in the health system and reach transgender youth.

“The secretary and I will be doing everything we can to advocate for the LGBTQ community,” Levine said. “So I think we’re going to be working externally, in terms of advocacy, and then we’re going to be working internally in terms of policy.”

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