Connect with us

homepage news

Top 10 local stories of 2018

Hate crimes, election results and big changes to D.C. nightlife top our list

Published

on

Top 10 local stories of 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

Hate crimes, election results and big changes to D.C. nightlife top our list for biggest local stories of 2018. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

No. 10: Many LGBT tipped workers join effort to oppose Initiative 77

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A large number of LGBT servers, bartenders, and other tipped workers joined the restaurant industry’s campaign in the spring of 2018 to oppose a D.C. ballot initiative calling for ending the city’s tipped wage system.

The system, which is part of the city’s labor law, allows restaurants and other hospitality industry businesses to pay employees a lower minimum wage than that offered to non-tipped workers as long as tipped workers earn the equivalent of the full minimum wage through their tips. If the tips fall short of that the businesses are required to pay the difference.

D.C. voters in June approved the initiative, but the D.C. Council a short time later voted to overturn the measure under its legal authority to do so. Supporters of the initiative quickly organized a new ballot measure in the form of a referendum to “repeal” the Council repeal of Initiative 77.

In yet another twist and turn over the Initiative 77 battle, the restaurant industry association filed a lawsuit that resulted in a D.C. Superior Court judge in December halting the referendum on grounds that the D.C. Board of Elections failed to give sufficient public notice of a hearing in which the wording of the referendum was approved. Supporters of the initiative said they planned to appeal the judge’s ruling.

No. 9: Major changes to D.C.’s nightlife scene

Town nightclub closed in 2018 but Pitchers quickly emerged as a new go-to nightspot. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The closing of the popular D.C. gay dance club Town due to displacement by real estate development and the opening of a new dual gay sports bar Pitchers and its adjacent lesbian bar League of Her Own were among a number of changes in the D.C. and Baltimore area LGBT nightlife scenes in 2018.

Other changes included the sale of the buildings in which two D.C. gay bars have operated for many years – Bachelor’s Mill on 8th Street, S.E., near the Washington Navy Yard; and Cobalt at 17th and R streets, N.W. Both clubs have continued to operate as usual, but Bachelor’s Mill’s owner has declined to say whether the new owner plans to allow the club to remain in its building indefinitely.

Cobalt owner Eric Little has said Cobalt’s current lease lasts until 2021 and that he is uncertain what might happen after the lease runs out.

The start of 2018, just after New Year’s Day, marked the end of a two-year run of a Sunday night gay male strip club venue on Georgia Avenue, N.W. created by gay former D.C. Council member Jim Graham in partnership with the owner of The House, which hosted Graham’s Sunday night venue called Rock Hard. On all other nights The House continued its regular venue of female strippers for a straight clientele.

When Graham died suddenly in June 2017 from complications associated with an intestinal infection The House owner said he planned to continue the Sunday night Rock Hard venue. But regular customers said that without Graham’s guidance the clientele dropped off and owner Daryl Allen decided to discontinue the event in January.

Ownership and management changes saw the Baltimore Eagle close, though the owner has said the club will reopen. The Baltimore gay club Grand Central was sold in fall of 2018, with the new owner saying the club will remain ‘gay’ for the time being. In Rehoboth Beach, the Double L gay bar also changed ownership and reopened as Diego’s Hideaway.

No. 8: CAMP Rehoboth leader Steve Elkins dies at 67

Steve Elkins, CAMP Rehoboth, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Elkins (left) shown here with his husband Murray Archibald. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT people and their supporters who frequent the popular resort town of Rehoboth Beach, Del., in March mourned the loss of Steve Elkins, the co-founder and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT community services center.

Elkins, a widely recognized advocate for LGBT rights since the 1980s, died March 15 following a battle with lymphoma. He was 67.

“For over 25 years as its Executive Director, Steve’s leadership and vision has allowed CAMP Rehoboth to become one of the most respected and successful non-profit organizations in Delaware and has contributed greatly to establishing Rehoboth as a widely recognized community with ‘room for all,’” the organization stated on its Facebook page.

“As he did throughout his life, fighting for the rights of so many in this state, he fought lymphoma with courage and dignity until the very end,” the statement said.

Elkins’ passing followed an announcement made one month earlier in what became his last column in the Rehoboth magazine Letters From CAMP Rehoboth, in which he said he was taking a medical leave of absence and that his husband and life partner of 39 years, Murray Archibald, would serve as the organization’s interim executive director.

Archibald, who co-founded CAMP Rehoboth with Elkins, has since been named Elkins’ successor as the organization’s executive director.

“The evolution of Rehoboth Beach from a city where homophobia reared its evil head too frequently to a city that is truly accepting to all is largely the work of Steve Elkins,” said Delaware LGBT rights advocate and former Sussex County Democratic Party Chair Mitch Crane.

No. 7: Mayor Bowser ‘takes over’ high heel race                

The 32nd annual High Heel Race was held on Frank Kameny Way on Tuesday, Oct. 30. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made official in mid-October what LGBT activists have said has been a developing trend during the past several years – that the D.C. government directed by the mayor’s office would be the official sponsor and organizer of the city’s 32nd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race.

For years the event has been one of the city’s most popular Halloween events, with thousands of people lining the street to watch as many as 100 drag queens racing down the street wearing a required pair of high heel shoes.

“The mayor was really excited about this when we talked about it a year ago because this shows her support of the LGBTQ community and its diversity,” said Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

“And I think this is going to go a long way toward making sure this event last and continue,” Alexander-Reid said. “I know Mayor Bowser loves this event and I know she’s proud to present it.”

The event took place Tuesday night, Oct. 30, with Bowser giving the official signal to start the race.

No. 6: Four gay men, one trans woman murdered in D.C.-Baltimore

Brendon Michaels was found dead in his Baltimore apartment on Nov. 8, 2018. Police have not made any arrests in connection with his murder. (Photo courtesy of Carroll Community College)

Two gay men in D.C., a gay man in Beltsville, Md., a gay man in Baltimore, and a transgender woman in Baltimore were victims of murder in 2018.

But police in each of those locations said they had yet to obtain evidence to show the victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Arrests have been made in two of the five cases.

Meanwhile, D.C. police in early 2018 made three arrests for the Dec. 28, 2017 murder of lesbian Kerrice Lewis, 23, who was found shot to death in the trunk of her car that had been set on fire by one of the suspects arrested in the case.

D.C. police said the motive for her killing appeared to be a dispute between a group of friends. Police said they had no evidence to indicate Lewis was targeted because of her status as a lesbian.

Three men have been charged with first degree murder while armed in connection with her death. The three are being held without bond while awaiting trial.

The first of the five 2018 cases took place on March 14, when Antonio Barnes, 27, was fatally stabbed outside his residence in Beltsville. P.G. County police one month later charged Barnes’ boyfriend, Canaan Peterson, 23, with first degree murder, but prosecutors later allowed Peterson to plead guilty to a lower charge of first degree assault. Authorities said the case was an act of domestic violence and they didn’t believe Peterson, who stabbed Barnes in the upper leg, intended to kill him. Authorities said Barnes bled to death after the stab wound punctured an artery.

On March 14, gay D.C. resident Sean Anderson, 48, was found shot to death in his apartment on the 2300 block of Good Hope Rd., S.E. In April D.C. police charged Jerome Wilson, 35, an acquaintance of Anderson, with second degree murder. On July 21, District resident Michael Miller, 37, was found shot to death in an alley behind the 1600 block of Minnesota Ave., S.E. Police say no suspects and no motive have been identified in the case.

On Nov. 8, Brendon Michaels, 43, a fitness instructor at Carroll Community College, was found beaten to death in his apartment on the 1200 block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore. Police have no suspects and no known motive for his murder.

On Nov. 26, 37-year-old transgender woman Tydi Dansbury was found suffering from a gunshot wound to her body in the 1900 block of W. Lanvale Street in Baltimore, according to Baltimore police. She died two days later at a nearby hospital. Police say they have no suspects and no known motive in the case. They are seeking help from the public in their investigation into the murder.

No. 5: Md., Del. ban conversion therapy; Va. measure killed

Maryland and Delaware passed laws in 2018 that ban licensed mental health professionals from performing so-called conversion therapy for minors. Separate bills calling for banning the therapy for minors in Virginia died in committee in the state House and Senate.

In May, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland signed into law a conversion therapy ban that had been passed at that time in D.C. and 11 other states. In July, Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) signed a similar bill approved by the Delaware Legislature.

LGBT activists in both states praised their governors and state lawmakers for enacting laws that they said would protect LGBT young people from the serious harms attributed to “therapy” seeking to change someone’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.

All of the mainline professional medical and mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, have warned that conversion therapy is ineffective to changing someone’s sexual orientation and has been found to cause harmful side effects such as depression, suicidal ideation.

In Virginia, Republican lawmakers tabled two bills in February calling for banning conversion therapy for minors in Virginia, effectively killing the bills for the legislature’s 2018 session. Supporters of the bills said they would reintroduce them in 2019.

No. 4: Matthew Shepard interred at National Cathedral

Judy and Dennis Shepard at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Oct. 26. Their son Matthew’s ashes were interred in the church’s crypt. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The ashes of Matthew Shepard were interred in the Washington National Cathedral’s crypt on Oct. 26 during a private ceremony following a service open to the public in the cathedral’s main hall, which was filled to capacity.

Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, died on Oct. 12, 1998, after being bludgeoned with the barrel of a pistol by Aaron McKinney and tied to a fence in a desolate field in Laramie, Wyo., by accomplice Russell Henderson in what has become known as one of the nation’s most notorious anti-gay hate crimes.

Matthew Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, were among those who attended the National Cathedral service after announcing their decision to have their son laid to rest at the Cathedral 20 years after his passing. The two have become vocal advocates for LGBT rights and for efforts to pass hate crimes legislation nationally and in states across the country

“It’s so important that we have a home for Matt,” said Dennis Shepard before the interment. “A home that others can visit; a home that is safe from haters, a home that he loved dearly from his younger days in Sunday school and as an acolyte at his church back home.”

Retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, delivered an emotional homily at the service.

“Gently rest in this place,” he said. “You are safe now…welcome home.”

No. 3: Six anti-gay assaults target gay men in D.C.

Gay men were the victims in at least six anti-gay assaults that occurred in D.C. in 2018 beginning in April. Arrests have been made in just two of the incidents.

The first took place April 15 at Vermont Ave. and U Street, N.W. at about 12:30 a.m. when three unidentified male suspects assaulted two gay men while shouting anti-gay names. Both men were hospitalized and treated for non-life threatening injuries. On May 20, two or three male suspects assaulted a gay man while yelling anti-gay names about 1 a.m. at Sherman Ave. and Harvard St., N.W.

On May 27 one unidentified male suspect shouted anti-gay names at two men walking on the sidewalk on the 1300 block of 14th St., N.W. about 6:30 p.m. The suspect punched one of the men in the face before fleeing the scene. On June 5, D.C. police arrested District resident Bertrand Lebeau Jr. for allegedly punching a male victim in the head and stomping on the victim’s cell phone while calling the victim a “faggot.” Lebeau was charge with simple assault and destruction of property.

On June 10 male suspect Uduak Iben was charged with simple assault and destruction of property for allegedly destroying LGBT Pride decorations displayed outside a pet store near the corner of 17th and R streets., N.W. and assaulting two of the store’s employees who tried to stop him from pulling down the decorations. He shouted “fuck gay people” while attacking the employees, according to a police report.

The last of the six incidents took place on Sept. 16 along the 2000 block of New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. near a D.C. police station. Four males and one female suspect jumped out of two vehicles and attacked and beat two gay men while shouting anti-gay slurs, a police report says. One of the victims was hospitalized. Both victims were wearing Stonewall Kickball T-shirts associated with a gay kickball league. No arrests have been made in the case.

No. 2: Danica Roem sworn in, makes history

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade

Danica Roem was sworn in on Jan. 10. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On Jan. 10, history was made when Danica Roem was sworn into office as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from her district in Manassas to become the nation’s first transgender person to serve in a state legislature.

Roem, a Democrat, won election to the seat in November 2017 by defeating anti-LGBT incumbent Robert Marshall (R), who held the seat for more than two decades.

“While at first Danica received international attention because of her groundbreaking win, now she receives coverage because of her deep policy knowledge and the legislation she has advanced that improves the lives of Virginians,” said Ruben Gonzales, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which supported Roem in her election campaign.

Roem has been credited with running a highly effective campaign by focusing on local issues that most impact the residents of her district, including traffic congestion and innovative ways to alleviate the free up clogged commuter roads and highways.

She has emerged as one of the Virginia General Assembly’s most outspoken advocates for LGBT equality.

No. 1: 2018 election results

Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Dionne Reeder ran a spirited, but unsuccessful, campaign for City Council. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The so-called “rainbow wave” in which a record number of openly LGBT candidates won election to public office across the country on the state and national level in 2018 did not appear to reach D.C., Delaware, and Virginia.

In what some LGBT activists viewed as a disappointment, seven gay or lesbian candidates lost their races this year in D.C. for several key positions, including mayor, City Council member, attorney general, and the city’s congressional delegate seat.

But in what other activists view as a positive sign for LGBT equality, all of the incumbent public office holders that defeated the gay and lesbian candidates in D.C. have longstanding records of strong support for LGBT rights.

And while the seven gay and lesbian candidates lost their races for the more traditional positions such as mayor and D.C. Council seats, Ward 3 community activist Monika Nemeth broke new ground on Nov. 6 by becoming the first known transgender person to win election to a seat on one of the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Another 23 gay men or lesbians won election or re-election to 22 other ANC seats, which are unpaid positions with no powers other than to advise city officials on local community based issues such as trash collection and liquor license approval.

Among the LGBT supportive incumbents to win re-election to the D.C. Council was Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) who defeated lesbian challenger and businesswoman Dionne Reeder, who also ran as an independent. Reeder was considered to have the best shot at winning among the other six gay candidates that lost, all of whom were men.

The remaining six non-ANC gay candidates that lost were Kent Boese, who challenged incumbent Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) in the Democratic primary; Jamie Sycamore, who challenged Nadeau as an independent in the general election; Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton, who waged a longshot challenge to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D); and longshot Libertarian candidates Joe Henchman, who ran for Attorney General and his husband Ethan Bishop Henchman, who ran for D.C. Council Chair against incumbent Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large). Gay Libertarian Bruce Majors ran against D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). All six lost by wide margins.

In a similar development in Delaware, lesbian civic activist Kerri Evelyn Harris lost her Democratic primary challenge in September by a lopsided margin to incumbent U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who has a record of strong support for LGBT rights. Gay Republican businessman Eugene Truono also threw his hat in the ring for Carper’s Senate seat but lost to challenger Rob Arlett in the Republican primary. Carper beat Arlett by a wide margin in the November general election.

In Virginia, no openly LGBT candidates surfaced in 2018 in the state’s congressional races. No candidates were up for election in the Virginia General Assembly in 2018.

In Maryland, three of the four incumbent openly gay or lesbian members of the Maryland House of Delegates – Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) won re-election.

The fourth incumbent, lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), won election to the Maryland State Senate in a separate district in Baltimore City.

Also winning re-election was gay Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane, who will begin his new term in that position in January.

And in a development that continues Maryland’s status as a pre-existing “rainbow wave” state, gay civic activist Gabriel Acevery, a Democrat, won election to the House of Delegates in a District in Montgomery County. Acevery’s election continues Maryland’s status of having five openly gay or lesbian members in its state legislature, among the highest number of LGBT state lawmakers in the nation.

Meanwhile, three other LGBT candidates lost their races for seats in the Maryland Legislature in 2018. Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer lost her bid for a State Senate seat in Montgomery County in the Democratic primary. The seat had been held by longtime gay incumbent Richard Madaleno (D), who gave up the seat in an unsuccessful race for governor.

Also losing their races in the Democratic primary for House of Delegate seats in Montgomery County were bisexual Mila Johns and gay candidate Kevin Mack.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

homepage news

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

Business owner seeks to decline services for same-sex weddings

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

homepage news

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

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Published

on

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)
Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

Published

on

Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular