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YEAR IN REVIEW: Top 10 local stories of the year

Pride protest, Gay Games disappointment and Danica wins



Democrats, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year that started on a down note for most with the inauguration of President Trump ended with a stunning political upset in Virginia that lifted the spirits of LGBT advocates nationwide. Here, a look back at the biggest local stories of 2017.

10. Madaleno running for Md. governor

LGBT local news stories, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Rich Madaleno announced in July his bid for governor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who became the first openly gay member of the Maryland General Assembly in 2002, announced his candidacy for governor in July.

Madaleno, 52, is among the lawmakers and advocates who played a lead role in to secure passage of Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill in 2012 under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley. In addition to his outspoken support for LGBT rights Madaleno is known in Annapolis among political insiders as a highly knowledgeable lawmaker on a wide range of other issues, including financial matters.

Others competing with Madaleno for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year are Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, and former State Department official Alec Ross. If he were to win the nomination he would be running against incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I will never back down on civil rights, on LGBTQ rights, on workers’ rights, on women’s rights, on voting rights,” Madaleno said in his announcement speech. “Our rights cannot and will not be sacrificed with Rich Madaleno as governor,” he said.

9. Anti-LGBT groups challenge trans policy in Frederick

A 17-year-old transgender student in Frederick County, Md., filed a motion in federal court on Oct. 20 to defend the county school board against a lawsuit seeking to overturn the board’s sweeping policy of protecting trans students from discrimination and harassment at school.

James van Kuilenburg, an honor student at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, filed his motion to intervene in the case as a defendant with the aim of presenting a separate legal argument for why the lawsuit lacks merit and should be dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Maryland, according to a team of attorneys representing him.

The Frederick School Board adopted its transgender nondiscrimination policy in June with widespread support from the community, according to LGBT activists.

With legal representation from an attorney known to be aligned with anti-LGBT groups, a cisgender female student and her mother anonymously filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the policy on grounds that it violates students’ privacy rights.

8. Forced resignation of pro-LGBT Del. teacher prompts community response  

Cape Henlopen High School, gay news, Washington Blade

Cape Henlopen High School (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The forced resignation of a popular LGBT supportive teacher and theater director at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Del., prompted community meetings and the creation of a school district sponsored committee to look into reports of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

Several students and parents who know now former teacher Martha Pfeiffer said they believe school district officials forced her to resign because of her outspoken support for LGBT students in her role as faculty adviser for Cape Henlopen High’s Gay-Straight Alliance club.

 Reports of bullying and complaints by LGBT students that school officials were ignoring their appeals for help surfaced at a June 19 community forum in Rehoboth Beach organized by the LGBT community center CAMP Rehoboth.

 Schools Superintendent Robert Fulton told the Blade he created the Cape Henlopen LGBTQ Outreach Committee following media reports of concerns expressed by students at Cape Henlopen High that school officials were not adequately addressing longstanding concerns of anti-LGBT bullying at the school.

7. Va. man found not guilty in killing of lesbian chef

Tyonne Johns, gay news, Washington Blade

Tyonne Johns was stabbed to death; her accused killer was found not guilty.(Image courtesy Vimeo)

A Fairfax Circuit Court jury on Oct. 4 found a former county parks employee not guilty in the August 2016 stabbing death of lesbian chef and caterer Tyonne Johns during an altercation at a wedding reception in a park that Johns catered.

The verdict shocked friends and co-workers of Johns, who disputed claims by defendant Kempton A. Bonds, 20, who testified that he stabbed Johns in self-defense after she attempted to strangle him in an altercation that started over a dispute about who owned folding chairs used at the reception.

Bonds had been charged by Fairfax County, Va., police with second-degree murder at the time of the incident. The not-guilty verdict came three months after a mistrial was declared in July at the conclusion of an earlier trial when the jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict for Bonds.

6. Jim Graham dies at 71

D.C. Police and Fire Department honor guard carried former Council member Jim Graham’s coffin into the John A. Wilson Building on June 23, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jim Graham, a gay attorney who won election to four terms on the D.C. City Council after serving for 15 years as executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic during the height of the AIDS epidemic, died June 11 from complications associated with an intestinal infection. He was 71.

During a ceremony in which Graham’s coffin lay in state in the John A. Wilson Building, which serves as D.C.’s City Hall, Mayor Muriel Bowser, City Council Chair Phil Mendelson, and others who knew and worked for him spoke of what they called Graham’s dedication and outspoken advocacy for city residents who often were overlooked and in need of city services.

In a gesture considered appropriate by those who knew Graham and his trademark fashion statement of always wearing a bowtie when dressed for work, his former Council staff members arranged for a rainbow flag shaped into a giant bowtie to be draped over the coffin.

“As we were thinking about all of the cultures that Jim touched, of course the primary one was the gay community because that’s where he came from,” said Calvin Woodland Jr., who served as chief of staff for Graham’s Council office.

5. Report shows hate crimes rose 59 percent

The number of anti-LGBT hate crimes in the District of Columbia increased in 2016 by 59 percent, from 37 cases reported in 2015 to 59 cases reported in 2016, according to the city’s annual bias-crime report released in March.

The report showed that hate crimes targeting people based on their “gender identity/expression” and “sexual orientation” came in third and fourth place in the percentage increase among the categories of hate crimes, behind “ethnicity/national origin” and “religion” related hate crimes. But the report said anti-trans and anti-LGB hate crimes continued their multi-year trend of comprising the largest number of hate crime cases.

The number of reported anti-trans hate crimes increased by 90 percent, from 10 in 2015 to 19 in 2016. The number of anti-LGB hate crimes rose by 48 percent, from 27 in 2015 to 40 in 2016, the report shows.

At a news conference at which the report was released, Mayor Muriel Bowser and then acting Police Chief Peter Newsham reiterated the city’s commitment to combat hate crimes targeting all population groups.

4. Trump appoints LGBT-supportive U.S. Attorney for D.C.

Jessie K. Liu, who President Trump appointed as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, told a community meeting in October that she is committed to aggressively prosecuting all forms of hate crimes, including those targeting LGBT people.

Her office organized the meeting in partnership with D.C. government officials and members of community groups, including the D.C. LGBT Center’s Anti-Violence Project.

“I want to thank our community and government partners, the D.C. Anti-Violence Project…and the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs, who helped our office plan this event tonight,” she said.

“As a woman of color myself I feel very emotionally strongly that we can’t tolerate anyone in our community being targeted because of race or religion or sexual orientation or gender or gender identity or any of the protected classes,” she said in referring to groups protected under the D.C. hate crimes law.

3. D.C. loses bid to host 2022 Gay Games

Gay Games, Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

A crowd of supporters joined Mayor Muriel Bowser at a rally in support of D.C.’s Gay Games bid earlier this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Federation of Gay Games in October announced it had selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, Mexico, to host the 2022 Gay Games, the quadrennial international LGBT sports event that is expected to attract as many as 15,000 athletes and thousands more spectators to the host city.

The announcement came days after Mayor Muriel Bowser headed a 32-member D.C. delegation that traveled to Paris to make the city’s final presentation on why it should be selected as the host city for the Games. Earlier in the year the FGG selected D.C., Hong Kong, and Guadalajara as the three finalists among more than a dozen cities that submitted bids for becoming the host city.

Some speculated that the FGG’s selection committee, which included Europeans, may have passed over D.C. because of hostility toward President Trump. FGG officials insisted the selection was based strictly on its findings following detailed site visits of which city could best host the Games and advance the FGG’s objectives of advancing LGBT equality in sports and society.

2. Protesters disrupt Capital Pride Parade

D.C. Pride protest, gay news, Washington Blade

No Justice No Pride protesters block the Pride parade in June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ten protesters from the local group No Justice No Pride stood in the street and locked arms to block the path of D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade on June 10 on P Street, N.W., to voice what the group said was its objections to participation by D.C. police and certain corporate sponsors in the annual Pride events.

D.C. police, including Police Chief Peter Newsham, were present on the street when the disruption occurred. As angry parade participants shouted at the protesters to leave the street police rerouted the parade. Capital Pride organizers said the disruption delayed the completion of the parade by about 90 minutes.

No Justice No Pride members said the decision to block the parade came after Capital Pride leaders, following a community meeting in which No Justice No Pride voiced its concerns, declined to agree to the dissident group’s demands that police, including the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, be banned from the parade. Protesters also wanted Capital Pride to drop its ties to several corporate sponsors of the parade and Pride festival set to take place the following day on grounds that the corporations had policies harmful to Native Americans and people of color despite their support for LGBT rights.

Capital Pride leaders promised to reassess their corporate sponsorship policies but said it was too late in the organizing to make any changes for the 2017 events. The protest triggered heated debate and disagreements among some in the LGBT community about how Capital Pride should operate each year.

1. Danica Roem unseats Bob Marshall in Va. House race 

Danica Roem stunned homophobe Bob Marshall in November. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Transgender rights advocate and former journalist Danica Roem made history on Nov. 7 when she won election to a seat in the Virginia House of delegates, becoming the first transgender person in the country set to be seated in a state legislature.

 Roem, a Democrat, drew both nationwide and international attention, in part, by defeating Bob Marshall, a Republican who held the seat in the House of Delegate’s 13th District in Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. since 1992 and who was known as the state legislature’s most outspoken opponent of LGBT rights.

 Political observers said Roem ran a highly effective and strategic campaign that stressed local infrastructure issues. Her well researched proposals for alleviating traffic congestion and traffic backups along a route in her district that impacted large numbers of residents as they commuted to and from work every day resonated with voters, observers said.

 Despite Marshall and his supporters’ attempts to portray Roem as a militant activist promoting a transgender “agenda” over the needs of the district, Roem beat Marshall by a 54-45 percent margin.


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Honoring the legacy of New Orleans’ 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire

Why the arson attack that killed 32 gay men still resonates 50 years later



Fifty years ago this week, 32 gay men were killed in an arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans. (Photo by G.E. Arnold/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

On June 23 of last year, I held the microphone as a gay man in the New Orleans City Council Chamber and related a lost piece of queer history to the seven council members. I told this story to disabuse all New Orleanians of the notion that silence and accommodation, in the face of institutional and official failures, are a path to healing.  

The story I related to them began on a typical Sunday night at a second-story bar on the fringe of New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1973, where working-class men would gather around a white baby grand piano and belt out the lyrics to a song that was the anthem of their hidden community, “United We Stand” by the Brotherhood of Man. 

“United we stand,” the men would sing together, “divided we fall” — the words epitomizing the ethos of their beloved UpStairs Lounge bar, an egalitarian free space that served as a forerunner to today’s queer safe havens. 

Around that piano in the 1970s Deep South, gays and lesbians, white and Black queens, Christians and non-Christians, and even early gender minorities could cast aside the racism, sexism, and homophobia of the times to find acceptance and companionship for a moment. 

For regulars, the UpStairs Lounge was a miracle, a small pocket of acceptance in a broader world where their very identities were illegal. 

On the Sunday night of June 24, 1973, their voices were silenced in a murderous act of arson that claimed 32 lives and still stands as the deadliest fire in New Orleans history — and the worst mass killing of gays in 20th century America. 

As 13 fire companies struggled to douse the inferno, police refused to question the chief suspect, even though gay witnesses identified and brought the soot-covered man to officers idly standing by. This suspect, an internally conflicted gay-for-pay sex worker named Rodger Dale Nunez, had been ejected from the UpStairs Lounge screaming the word “burn” minutes before, but New Orleans police rebuffed the testimony of fire survivors on the street and allowed Nunez to disappear.

As the fire raged, police denigrated the deceased to reporters on the street: “Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” 

For days afterward, the carnage met with official silence. With no local gay political leaders willing to step forward, national Gay Liberation-era figures like Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church flew in to “help our bereaved brothers and sisters” — and shatter officialdom’s code of silence. 

Perry broke local taboos by holding a press conference as an openly gay man. “It’s high time that you people, in New Orleans, Louisiana, got the message and joined the rest of the Union,” Perry said. 

Two days later, on June 26, 1973, as families hesitated to step forward to identify their kin in the morgue, UpStairs Lounge owner Phil Esteve stood in his badly charred bar, the air still foul with death. He rebuffed attempts by Perry to turn the fire into a call for visibility and progress for homosexuals. 

“This fire had very little to do with the gay movement or with anything gay,” Esteve told a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I do not want my bar or this tragedy to be used to further any of their causes.” 

Conspicuously, no photos of Esteve appeared in coverage of the UpStairs Lounge fire or its aftermath — and the bar owner also remained silent as he witnessed police looting the ashes of his business. 

“Phil said the cash register, juke box, cigarette machine and some wallets had money removed,” recounted Esteve’s friend Bob McAnear, a former U.S. Customs officer. “Phil wouldn’t report it because, if he did, police would never allow him to operate a bar in New Orleans again.” 

The next day, gay bar owners, incensed at declining gay bar traffic amid an atmosphere of anxiety, confronted Perry at a clandestine meeting. “How dare you hold your damn news conferences!” one business owner shouted. 

Ignoring calls for gay self-censorship, Perry held a 250-person memorial for the fire victims the following Sunday, July 1, culminating in mourners defiantly marching out the front door of a French Quarter church into waiting news cameras. “Reverend Troy Perry awoke several sleeping giants, me being one of them,” recalled Charlene Schneider, a lesbian activist who walked out of that front door with Perry.

(Photo by G.E. Arnold/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

Esteve doubted the UpStairs Lounge story’s capacity to rouse gay political fervor. As the coroner buried four of his former patrons anonymously on the edge of town, Esteve quietly collected at least $25,000 in fire insurance proceeds. Less than a year later, he used the money to open another gay bar called the Post Office, where patrons of the UpStairs Lounge — some with visible burn scars — gathered but were discouraged from singing “United We Stand.” 

New Orleans cops neglected to question the chief arson suspect and closed the investigation without answers in late August 1973. Gay elites in the city’s power structure began gaslighting the mourners who marched with Perry into the news cameras, casting suspicion on their memories and re-characterizing their moment of liberation as a stunt. 

When a local gay journalist asked in April 1977, “Where are the gay activists in New Orleans?,” Esteve responded that there were none, because none were needed. “We don’t feel we’re discriminated against,” Esteve said. “New Orleans gays are different from gays anywhere else… Perhaps there is some correlation between the amount of gay activism in other cities and the degree of police harassment.” 

(Photo by H.J. Patterson/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

An attitude of nihilism and disavowal descended upon the memory of the UpStairs Lounge victims, goaded by Esteve and fellow gay entrepreneurs who earned their keep via gay patrons drowning their sorrows each night instead of protesting the injustices that kept them drinking. 

Into the 1980s, the story of the UpStairs Lounge all but vanished from conversation — with the exception of a few sanctuaries for gay political debate such as the local lesbian bar Charlene’s, run by the activist Charlene Schneider. 

By 1988, the 15th anniversary of the fire, the UpStairs Lounge narrative comprised little more than a call for better fire codes and indoor sprinklers. UpStairs Lounge survivor Stewart Butler summed it up: “A tragedy that, as far as I know, no good came of.” 

Finally, in 1991, at Stewart Butler and Charlene Schneider’s nudging, the UpStairs Lounge story became aligned with the crusade of liberated gays and lesbians seeking equal rights in Louisiana. The halls of power responded with intermittent progress. The New Orleans City Council, horrified by the story but not yet ready to take its look in the mirror, enacted an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting gays and lesbians in housing, employment, and public accommodations that Dec. 12 — more than 18 years after the fire. 

“I believe the fire was the catalyst for the anger to bring us all to the table,” Schneider told The Times-Picayune, a tacit rebuke to Esteve’s strategy of silent accommodation. Even Esteve seemed to change his stance with time, granting a full interview with the first UpStairs Lounge scholar Johnny Townsend sometime around 1989. 

Most of the figures in this historic tale are now deceased. What’s left is an enduring story that refused to go gently. The story now echoes around the world — a musical about the UpStairs Lounge fire recently played in Tokyo, translating the gay underworld of the 1973 French Quarter for Japanese audiences.

When I finished my presentation to the City Council last June, I looked up to see the seven council members in tears. Unanimously, they approved a resolution acknowledging the historic failures of city leaders in the wake of the UpStairs Lounge fire. 

Council members personally apologized to UpStairs Lounge families and survivors seated in the chamber in a symbolic act that, though it could not bring back those who died, still mattered greatly to those whose pain had been denied, leaving them to grieve alone. At long last, official silence and indifference gave way to heartfelt words of healing. 

The way Americans remember the past is an active, ongoing process. Our collective memory is malleable, but it matters because it speaks volumes about our maturity as a people, how we acknowledge the past’s influence in our lives, and how it shapes the examples we set for our youth. Do we grapple with difficult truths, or do we duck accountability by defaulting to nostalgia and bluster? Or worse, do we simply ignore the past until it fades into a black hole of ignorance and indifference? 

I believe that a factual retelling of the UpStairs Lounge tragedy — and how, 50 years onward, it became known internationally — resonates beyond our current divides. It reminds queer and non-queer Americans that ignoring the past holds back the present, and that silence is no cure for what ails a participatory nation. 

Silence isolates. Silence gaslights and shrouds. It preserves the power structures that scapegoat the disempowered. 

Solidarity, on the other hand, unites. Solidarity illuminates a path forward together. Above all, solidarity transforms the downtrodden into a resounding chorus of citizens — in the spirit of voices who once gathered ‘round a white baby grand piano and sang, joyfully and loudly, “United We Stand.” 

(Photo by Philip Ames/Times-Picayune; reprinted with permission)

Robert W. Fieseler is a New Orleans-based journalist and the author of “Tinderbox: the Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.”

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New Supreme Court term includes critical LGBTQ case with ‘terrifying’ consequences

Business owner seeks to decline services for same-sex weddings



The U.S. Supreme Court is to set consider the case of 303 Creative, which seeks to refuse design services for same-sex weddings. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court, after a decision overturning Roe v. Wade that still leaves many reeling, is starting a new term with justices slated to revisit the issue of LGBTQ rights.

In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the court will return to the issue of whether or not providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds. In this case, the business owner is Lorie Smith, a website designer in Colorado who wants to opt out of providing her graphic design services for same-sex weddings despite the civil rights law in her state.

Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, said in an interview with the Blade, “it’s not too much to say an immeasurably huge amount is at stake” for LGBTQ people depending on the outcome of the case.

“This contrived idea that making custom goods, or offering a custom service, somehow tacitly conveys an endorsement of the person — if that were to be accepted, that would be a profound change in the law,” Pizer said. “And the stakes are very high because there are no practical, obvious, principled ways to limit that kind of an exception, and if the law isn’t clear in this regard, then the people who are at risk of experiencing discrimination have no security, no effective protection by having a non-discrimination laws, because at any moment, as one makes their way through the commercial marketplace, you don’t know whether a particular business person is going to refuse to serve you.”

The upcoming arguments and decision in the 303 Creative case mark a return to LGBTQ rights for the Supreme Court, which had no lawsuit to directly address the issue in its previous term, although many argued the Dobbs decision put LGBTQ rights in peril and threatened access to abortion for LGBTQ people.

And yet, the 303 Creative case is similar to other cases the Supreme Court has previously heard on the providers of services seeking the right to deny services based on First Amendment grounds, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In both of those cases, however, the court issued narrow rulings on the facts of litigation, declining to issue sweeping rulings either upholding non-discrimination principles or First Amendment exemptions.

Pizer, who signed one of the friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to 303 Creative, said the case is “similar in the goals” of the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation on the basis they both seek exemptions to the same non-discrimination law that governs their business, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, and seek “to further the social and political argument that they should be free to refuse same-sex couples or LGBTQ people in particular.”

“So there’s the legal goal, and it connects to the social and political goals and in that sense, it’s the same as Masterpiece,” Pizer said. “And so there are multiple problems with it again, as a legal matter, but also as a social matter, because as with the religion argument, it flows from the idea that having something to do with us is endorsing us.”

One difference: the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation stemmed from an act of refusal of service after owner, Jack Phillips, declined to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple for their upcoming wedding. No act of discrimination in the past, however, is present in the 303 Creative case. The owner seeks to put on her website a disclaimer she won’t provide services for same-sex weddings, signaling an intent to discriminate against same-sex couples rather than having done so.

As such, expect issues of standing — whether or not either party is personally aggrieved and able bring to a lawsuit — to be hashed out in arguments as well as whether the litigation is ripe for review as justices consider the case. It’s not hard to see U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to lead the court to reach less sweeping decisions (sometimes successfully, and sometimes in the Dobbs case not successfully) to push for a decision along these lines.

Another key difference: The 303 Creative case hinges on the argument of freedom of speech as opposed to the two-fold argument of freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise in the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation. Although 303 Creative requested in its petition to the Supreme Court review of both issues of speech and religion, justices elected only to take up the issue of free speech in granting a writ of certiorari (or agreement to take up a case). Justices also declined to accept another question in the petition request of review of the 1990 precedent in Smith v. Employment Division, which concluded states can enforce neutral generally applicable laws on citizens with religious objections without violating the First Amendment.

Representing 303 Creative in the lawsuit is Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that has sought to undermine civil rights laws for LGBTQ people with litigation seeking exemptions based on the First Amendment, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Kristen Waggoner, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote in a Sept. 12 legal brief signed by her and other attorneys that a decision in favor of 303 Creative boils down to a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment.

“Colorado and the United States still contend that CADA only regulates sales transactions,” the brief says. “But their cases do not apply because they involve non-expressive activities: selling BBQ, firing employees, restricting school attendance, limiting club memberships, and providing room access. Colorado’s own cases agree that the government may not use public-accommodation laws to affect a commercial actor’s speech.”

Pizer, however, pushed back strongly on the idea a decision in favor of 303 Creative would be as focused as Alliance Defending Freedom purports it would be, arguing it could open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“One way to put it is art tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” Pizer said. “Is something of a craft, or is it art? I feel like I’m channeling Lily Tomlin. Remember ‘soup and art’? We have had an understanding that whether something is beautiful or not is not the determining factor about whether something is protected as artistic expression. There’s a legal test that recognizes if this is speech, whose speech is it, whose message is it? Would anyone who was hearing the speech or seeing the message understand it to be the message of the customer or of the merchants or craftsmen or business person?”

Despite the implications in the case for LGBTQ rights, 303 Creative may have supporters among LGBTQ people who consider themselves proponents of free speech.

One joint friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, written by Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who’s written in favor of LGBTQ rights, and Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues the case is an opportunity to affirm the First Amendment applies to goods and services that are uniquely expressive.

“Distinguishing expressive from non-expressive products in some contexts might be hard, but the Tenth Circuit agreed that Smith’s product does not present a hard case,” the brief says. “Yet that court (and Colorado) declined to recognize any exemption for products constituting speech. The Tenth Circuit has effectively recognized a state interest in subjecting the creation of speech itself to antidiscrimination laws.”

Oral arguments in the case aren’t yet set, but may be announced soon. Set to defend the state of Colorado and enforcement of its non-discrimination law in the case is Colorado Solicitor General Eric Reuel Olson. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would grant the request to the U.S. solicitor general to present arguments before the justices on behalf of the Biden administration.

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that has recently scrapped the super-precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion, supporters of LGBTQ rights may think the outcome of the case is all but lost, especially amid widespread fears same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block. After the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against 303 Creative in the lawsuit, the simple action by the Supreme Court to grant review in the lawsuit suggests they are primed to issue a reversal and rule in favor of the company.

Pizer, acknowledging the call to action issued by LGBTQ groups in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, conceded the current Supreme Court issuing the ruling in this case is “a terrifying prospect,” but cautioned the issue isn’t so much the makeup of the court but whether or not justices will continue down the path of abolishing case law.

“I think the question that we’re facing with respect to all of the cases or at least many of the cases that are in front of the court right now, is whether this court is going to continue on this radical sort of wrecking ball to the edifice of settled law and seemingly a goal of setting up whole new structures of what our basic legal principles are going to be. Are we going to have another term of that?” Pizer said. “And if so, that’s terrifying.”

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Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund



Kelley Robinson (Screen capture via HRC YouTube)

Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.

Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.

“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”

Kelley Robinson IS NAMED as The next human rights Campaign president

The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelley Robinson, seen here with Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health, is the next Human Rights Campaign president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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