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Remembering the lives we lost in 2018

Tab Hunter, SpongeBob creator, AIDS activists and others

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Tab Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade
LGBTQ people died, Tab Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade

Actor and 1950s heartthrob Tab Hunter died earlier this year. (Photo courtesy the Film Collaborative)

Many acclaimed LGBTQ people died in 2018 from the worlds of entertainment, sports, advocacy, business and beyond. They include:

Victor Salisbury, a Realtor, banking analyst, gay rights supporter and D.C. area resident, died on Jan. 4 at 66.

Eddie Weingart, a D.C.-based massage therapist and anti-gun violence activist died at age 39 on Jan. 11. After the 2012 Newtown, Conn. mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he helped to found the Project to End Gun Violence. In 2013, Weingart received the “Be the Change Award from the Washington Peace Center for his advocacy.

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a wealthy straight scientist and who was a pioneer in AIDS activism and research, died on Jan. 15 at age 91. She was the founding chairwoman of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Dennis Peron who led an effort to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in California died on Jan. 27 at age 71 in a San Francisco hospital.

Robert Pincus-Witten, a renowned art critic, died on Jan. 28 at 82 after a long illness.

John Mahoney, British-born actor, beloved for his portrayal of Martin Crane, the father on the hit TV sitcom “Frasier,” died on Feb. 3  at age 77. He was nominated twice for an Emmy for his role on “Frasier.”

Judy Blame, the fashion stylist, died at age 58 from cancer in London on Feb. 20.  There was a retrospective of Blame’s work at the ICA in London in 2016.

David Ogden Stiers, who played Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III in the renowned TV show “MASH,” died March 3 at age 75. At age 66, he came out as queer.

Barbara Wersba, an acclaimed lesbian author of books for young adults, died at age 85 on Feb. 18 in Englewood, N.J. She was among the first YA authors to write about same-sex relationships.

Hubert de Givenchy, the renowned French fashion designer who for decades dressed icons from Jacqueline Kennedy to Grace Kelley to Audrey Hepburn, died at age 91 on March 10.

Steve Elkins, founder and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach, Del., died at age 67 on March 15.

J.D. McClatchy, a Lambda Award-winning-poet, died at age 72 on April 10. He was the author of eight poetry collections and several opera librettos, including “Our Town” for Ned Rorem’s settings of Thornton Wilder’s drama.

Jean McFaddin, who planned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades, Santaland at Christmas, spring flower shows and July 4th fireworks in Manhattan for 24 years, died on April 18.

Richard Peck, a gay author of stories about rape, suicide and other difficult topics for young readers, died on May 27 at age 84.

LGBTQ rights activist Connie Kurtz died at age 81 at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Kurtz and her wife Ruth Berman were plaintiffs in a lawsuit over domestic partner benefits for New York City school employees.

On April 14, David Buckel, a prominent LGBTQ rights lawyer and environmental advocate, age 60, committed suicide by dousing himself with gas and setting himself on fire, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His death was a political act of self-immolation.

Robert M. Higdon, a friend of President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan and fund-raising director for the Reagan Presidential Library, died at age 58 on June 19.

Dick Leitsch, a pioneering gay rights activist, died at age 83 on June 22 in Manhattan. In 1966, Leitsch led a protest when a bartender at Julius’ in the West Village in New York wouldn’t serve openly gay patrons.

Tab Hunter, a 1950s movie star, died on July 8 at age 86. He was closeted until he came out in his 2005 autobiography (written with Eddie Muller) “Tab Hunter Confidential.”

Tom Gallagher, the first Foreign Service officer to come out publicly as gay, died on July 8 at age 77. “I don’t want any of you… ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you,” Hillary Clinton said in 2012 on the 20th anniversary of GLIFAA, a State Department LGBT employee organization.

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, feminist, activist and author died at age 72 on July 10.  

Gary Beach, an actor who won a Tony Award for his performance as director Roger De Bris in “The Producers,” died at age 70 on July 17.

Charles Hamlen, the founder of Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, died at age 75 on Aug. 1.  He started the group, which later merged with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, in 1993 five years after his partner died of AIDS in 1988.

John Glines, who won a Tony Award as a producer of “Torch Song Trilogy,” in 1983, died on Aug. 8 at age 84. At the Tonys, Glines thanked his lover Lawrence Lane.  It’s believed to have been the first time anyone at the Tonys said they were thanking their gay lover, reported the New York Times.

Vivian Matalon, who won a Tony Award for directing “Mornings at Seven” in 1980, died at age 88 on Aug. 15.

Craig Zadan, who with his producing partner Neil Meron, won the Academy Award for best picture for Chicago in 2003, died on Aug. 21 at age 69. They produced “The Sound of Music” and other live musical revivals for NBC.

Rev. Robert Wood, the first American clergy to support marriage equality and to urge churches to welcome gay people died on Aug. 20 at age 95, the Blade reported.

Lindsay Kemp, a choreographer and teacher of David Bowie and Kate Bush, died at age 80 on Aug. 24. Kemp and Bowie were lovers for a time.

Crime writer Amanda Kyle Williams died at age 61 on Aug. 31. She is the author of the Keye Street series, whose titles include “The Stranger You Seek.”

Disability advocate and gay rights activist Janet Weinberg died on Sept. 1 at age 63.  She was a leader at LGBTQ rights groups, including the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center.

Jeanne Ashworth, who won a bronze medal in the 500-meter race at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., died on Oct. 4 at age 80 at her home in Wilmington, N.Y. She was one of the first women to compete in speedskating in the Olympics.

Ruth Gates, an acclaimed coral-reef biologist and marine conservationist died at age 56 from brain cancer on Oct. 25. Gates advocated breeding a “super coral” to resist the impact of climate change.

Maria Irene Fornés, a playwright who won eight Obie awards, died at age 88 on Oct. 30. Acclaimed for her experimental theater work, she received an Obie for lifetime achievement in 1982. “She’s not spoken of as an important American playwright, and she should be,” playwright Tony Kushner told the New York Times.

Ray Hill, a former Baptist evangelist and ex-convict who became a Houston LGBT rights activist and helped to organize the first gay rights march on Washington died at age 78 on Nov. 24. In the 1980s, he helped to found Omega House for AIDS patients. Hill hosted a radio talk show for prisoners and their families.

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the cultural phenomenon “SpongeBob SquarePants” died at age 57 on Nov. 26. Hillenburg, who was straight, had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  “SpongeBob,” the animated adventures of a yellow, pineapple-dwelling, sea creature, that airs on Nickelodeon, has a big queer following.

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Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1

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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Michigan

Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass

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Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Indiana

Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office

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Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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