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LGBTQ rights advocate John Burlison dies at 69

Served as co-chair of Maryland’s Free State Justice

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John S. Burlison was co-chair of Free State Justice Campaign.

John S. Burlison, a resident of North Bethesda, Md. who worked as a technical editor and writer and later as a software products manager and who served in the 1990s as a board member and co-chair of the Maryland LGBTQ rights group Free State Justice Campaign, died March 18 at his home of complications associated with abdominal cancer. He was 69.

Burlison was born in Moscow, Idaho, and attended high school in Potlach, Idaho before graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication, according to a write-up released by his husband, Ron Dagani.

He studied at Illinois State University before beginning his professional career as a technical editor and writer at Battelle-Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Wash. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1983 where he met Dagani, and the two have resided together in Maryland since 1984, the write-up says. Burlison and Dagani were married in 2013 on the 30th anniversary of their meeting each other.

According to Dagani, Burlison worked for several companies in the D.C. area that provide contract work for the federal government as a usability consultant and later as a software product manager. Among the firms he worked for were Computer Sciences Corporation and General Sciences Corporation.

He worked for the Federal National Mortgage Association known as Fannie Mae from 1997 until his retirement in 2007, Dagani’s write-up says.

The write-up, which Dagani said was prepared mostly by Burlison, notes that Burlison served for a number of years in the 1990s on the board of the Free State Justice Campaign and served for two years as the then Maryland gay rights organization’s co-chair as it advocated for LGBTQ rights legislation before the Maryland General Assembly. The organization later became Equality Maryland.

In the early 2000s Burlison took up square dancing with the D.C. Lambda Squares, an LGBTQ square dancing club for which he served on its board for nine years, the write-up says. He was an avid cyclist and traveled with friends on extended bicycle trips along the U.S. East Coast and throughout central Europe.

Dagani said religion and faith were an important part of Burlison’s life and that presented a conflict with his status as a proud gay man. According to Dagani, Burlison grew up in a religious Methodist home in Idaho but converted to the Mormon faith in the early 1970s shortly before he married a Mormon woman in 1973 who had been his childhood sweetheart, Susan Comstock.

The couple, who had four children, divorced while living in Washington State around the time Burlison was working for Battelle-Northwest Laboratories. Dagani said Mormon Church officials had earlier told Burlison, who loved his wife and told her he was gay before they married, that getting married would solve his “gay problem.” But church officials later excommunicated Burlison for homosexuality and “apostasy,” Dagani said.

When his wife remarried she and her new husband took legal action to arrange for the husband to adopt the children and deny parental rights for Burlison, Dagani said. But despite this trying experience, years later while living in Maryland in a fulfilling relationship with Dagani, Burlison returned to the Mormon Church in what turned out to be a supportive Kensington Ward congregation in Maryland near his and Dagani’s home.

“At first it was awkward and surreal – people who are rejected by a church do not normally re-enter the good graces of that community,” Dagani wrote in a draft obituary he plans to deliver when the coronavirus epidemic subsides and a memorial service for Burlison can be held. “But with time he found a place in the Kensington Ward, which he found to be warm, loving, and accepting of both of us,” Dagani wrote. “As one ward member told me recently, ‘John has touched the lives of so many current and past ward members,’” Dagani recounted.

Burlison also became involved with the LGBTQ Mormon group Affirmation, Dagani said.

“John was a sweet, gentle, loving, soft-spoken man with a whimsical sense of humor,” Dagani told the Washington Blade. “He was modest, often referring to himself as ‘an Idaho country farm boy.’ That he was, but he was also intelligent, smart, well-read, and curious about the world.”

Dagani, who noted that Burlison’s close friends addressed him by the nickname Happy, said he will miss his husband for his many talents, including his cooking and his “wacky, whimsical sense of humor…Most of all, though, I will miss his love. He was truly the love of my life,” said Dagani. “Thank you, Happy.”

Burlison was predeceased by his brother, Vernon Burlison Jr. In addition to his husband Ron Dagani, Burlison is survived by his siblings Grace Burlison Wallace, Frank Burlison, Katherine Clancy, Stephen Burlison, Patricia Finn, and John Michael Finn; his four children, Timothy Mauery, Sarah Mauery Foutz, Vernon Mauery, and Mary Mauery Haeberle; 23 grandchildren; and many friends.

Dagani said a celebration of Burlison’s life will be scheduled at a later date.

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Lane named senior counsel at Brady United

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Thomas Patrick Lane

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at [email protected].

Congratulations to Thomas Patrick Lane the new Senior Litigation Counsel and Director of Affirmative Litigation with Brady United. According to its website, Brady’s mission is, “To unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.”

Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel and vice president of legal at Brady said, “The whole Brady team is thrilled to welcome Tom’s skills as a trial lawyer and his leadership as a champion for justice and a voice for inclusivity and equal rights. Tom is one of the top litigators in the country, and has been a fighter his whole life who has proven himself undaunted by any challenge, including taking on the gun industry for its role in causing gun violence in America. Tom’s expertise and insights into complex litigation involving emerging technologies, such as 3-D printed guns, “smart” technology, and online commerce, will bolster our fight for industry-wide change by holding companies accountable and forcing reforms that will make all Americans safer.”

Upon accepting the position Lane said, “From my time as a prosecutor to private practice, I have seen the effects of gun violence and the importance of defending victims and survivors and upholding common-sense laws that keep our families and communities safe. I am excited to bring that background to Brady and to continue this important work nationwide.”

Prior to joining Brady, Lane was a partner in the New York office of Winston & Strawn, LLP. Before that he was a partner in Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP. He is recognized as one of the country’s top intellectual property and new media lawyers. He tried the first Internet music case and the first Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbor case before juries. He has also served as a senior trial attorney in the office of the New York Kings County District Attorney.

Lane represented the City of New York in litigation against major gun manufacturers in the early 2000s. LawDragon named him as one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America.

Lane earned his undergraduate degree from Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y.; and his J.D. from Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans. He has created an endowed scholarship there for LGBTQ students to help law firms realize the importance of hiring diverse rosters of attorneys, and to honor the courage of his uncles Bernard Lane (an Army Ranger decorated with two Bronze Stars) and Richard Morrison (a recovered alcoholic who devoted his life to counseling others).

Both men were known for their toughness tendered by humor and both lived openly in loving relationships with same-sex partners in the 1970s. Lane is a former board member of the National LGBT Bar Association. He directs all external legal matters for the Tyler Clementi Foundation, whose mission is to end bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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Va. GOP governor nominee opposes transgender-inclusive youth sports

Glenn Youngkin made comment to Arlington voters in March

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Glenn Youngkin (Photo via Twitter)

 

The Republican gubernatorial candidate to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has said he does not support allowing transgender children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

“Biological males should not be allowed to play sports in girls sports,” Glenn Youngkin said during a meeting with a group of voters in Arlington on March 25, according to the Washington Examiner. “It’s just not fair.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to Youngkin’s campaign for comment.

Youngkin, the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, on Saturday defeated Pete Snyder, former House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield County), Peter Doran, Sergio de la Peña and Octavia Johnson in the Republican Party of Virginia’s nominating convention. Virginia Republicans nominated Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares as their candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively.

The Democratic Party of Virginia will hold its primary on June 8. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is widely expected to win the vote, and run against Youngkin in the general election.

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