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LGBTQ activists express mixed views on defunding police

Capital Pride, DC Center suggest diverting funds to queer programs



A protest earlier this month calling for defunding D.C. police ended at the home of Mayor Bowser. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local LGBTQ organizations and activists have expressed mixed views over whether the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department should be partially or completely “defunded” in the midst of a growing nationwide debate triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement to address police brutality and racial bias.

Several local LGBT groups and activists have said they support calls by the Black Lives Matter D.C. organization for significantly reducing the D.C. police budget and diverting police funds to social services and community-led violence interruption programs.

But none of the groups or activists who spoke to the Washington Blade has gone as far as others who say the D.C. police budget should be reduced each year “until we get to zero.”

However, the local LGBTQ group No Justice No Pride, which organized a June 13 protest rally and march in support of defunding the D.C. police that ended in front of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Northwest D.C. house, called on the mayor to “immediately defund MPD.”

Some local LGBTQ activists, who appear to be in the minority, say they are cautious about any reduction in the D.C. police budget until the alternative crime reduction programs favored by Black Lives Matter D.C. and other groups are shown to be effective in reducing crime and protecting the safety of city residents.

These activists point out that LGBTQ people, especially transgender women of color, have been subjected to anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and other violent crimes to a greater degree than other population groups.

“This is a very complex issue,” said longtime gay and Democratic Party activist Earl Fowlkes, who serves as executive director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity.

“It has a lot to do with crime and why there is crime and what do we do to prevent crime before the police are even involved,” said Fowlkes, who expressed support for the social services programs advocated by Black Lives Matter and others to address the root causes of crime.

“But do we defund the police or eliminate the police? I don’t see that as a viable alternative at this time,” he said.

Officials with the DC Center for the LGBT Community and Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes the city’s annual Pride parade and festival, have expressed support for the “Defund MPD” calls by the local Black Lives Matter leaders, but have not called for a full defunding of the police budget.

In a joint email to local LGBTQ activists, the two groups have called for diverting funds from the police budget to help fund 11 specific LGBTQ-related programs proposed by a coalition of 10 local LGBTQ or LGBTQ supportive organizations of which the DC Center and Capital Pride are members.

Rehana Mohammed, chair of the DC Center’s board of directors, told a June 15 D.C. Council hearing on police issues that the Center opposes a proposal by Mayor Bowser to increase the police budget by $18.5 million for fiscal year 2021.

“We recommend instead investing those funds in community safety, social services, violence interruption programs, and community support programs,” Mohammed testified at the hearing. “The current strategies of creating reforms and increasing funding are simply not working,” she said.

She attached to her written testimony the list of the 11 proposed LGBTQ programs that the coalition supporting them wants the D.C. Council to fund in the city’s FY 2021 budget that amount to $10.6 million.

Mohammed was referring to a sweeping police reform bill that the D.C. Council approved unanimously as an emergency measure on June 9. But the bill does not address the police budget, which the Council is expected to approve in July.

Ashley Smith, chair of the Capital Pride Alliance board of directors, said he too believes the traditional policing strategies in D.C. and other cities have failed to significantly reduce crime and create safer communities.

“I think Capital Pride, from an organizational perspective, we are totally advocating for funds to be diverted and greater investments to be made in supportive and preventive and community-based programs in order to address the needs of diverse communities,” Smith said.

Bobbi Elaine Strang, president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and a supporter of some degree of defunding the D.C. police, said she agrees with arguments by defunding advocates that much of the current funding for police goes to activities that police should not be doing.

“Our society asks police officers to act as drug counselors, mental health workers, and social workers,” Strang said. “There are agencies and supportive services that are much better equipped to deal with those issues that should be sufficiently funded, which will allow us to limit the scope of the work we expect from police officers and enhance public safety,” she said.

Among those agreeing with Strang’s assessment is Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s largest private healthcare agency serving the LGBTQ community.

“Whitman-Walker believes that funding for public safety should go to programs that create public safety,” Shafi told the Blade. “With that core belief, we support disinvesting in armed policing as a method of creating safety and in investing in our public safety budget including social supports that we know interrupt violence such as health care, education, housing, employment and other key areas,” she said.

“Sending armed police to respond to instances of intimate partner violence, mental health crises, and housing instability has not safely or effectively served the LGBTQ community,” Shafi said. “Whitman-Walker believes that through listening to leaders in Black communities who have been envisioning a safer and more equitable future, we can create a public safety and justice system that makes our whole community safer and stronger,” she said.

Longtime D.C. gay activist and Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell expressed a differing view when he spoke during a June 15 webinar on the D.C. police funding issue hosted by Capital Pride and the DC Center. Among the panelists who spoke at the webinar in favor of reducing the police budget were Preston Mitchum, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center; and Ward 4 D.C. Council candidate and community activist Janeese Lewis George.

“I’m going to be really honest, and it really hurts to say this,” Pannell said during the online forum. “But as a black gay senior citizen who lives in a poorer part of town, I’m more afraid of being on the streets of Ward 8 and being confronted by a young man in a hoodie than someone in a police uniform,” he said.

“I’ve been one of those folks who have been in the chorus of wanting more police in Ward 8 because I’ve been victimized so many times,” Pannell said. “And right on the block where I live I’ve had three neighbors and friends who have been killed. And none of them were killed by police,” Pannell said.

“I would hope that those of us in the LGBTQ community will at least engage in meaningful discussion with police officers,” he said. “And I truly feel that we can have an honest discussion about police brutality without brutalizing the police.”

Pannell told the Blade he acknowledges the need for police reforms to prevent the police killings of black men in other cities that have rocked the country and triggered ongoing protests against police abuse.

“But I don’t believe the behavior of rogue cops represents the general behavior of the police any more than I think the behavior of pedophile priests represents the general behavior of the Roman Catholic clergy,” Pannell said.

D.C. police spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck did not respond to a request by the Blade for the police view of what impact a substantial cut in the police budget would have on police efforts to curtail hate crimes, including anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

The Blade also asked Sternbeck in an email whether police officials think a cut in the police budget would have a negative impact on the operation of the police LGBT Liaison Unit, which has responded for many years to calls for police help by LGBTQ people in the city. Sternbeck or another police spokesperson had not responded as of late Tuesday.

Gay former D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson, who served as head of the department’s Special Liaison Branch that oversees the LGBT Liaison Unit, retired from the force last year. When asked last week about his views on the controversy surrounding calls for defunding the police and the impact it could have on the LGBT Liaison unit, Parson declined to comment. But he offered his view on the overall policing issues under debate across the country.

“I support the current discussions and calls for reform of policing in our nation,” he said. “If we are to have true peace and equality in our nation in communities, regardless of race or any other trait, police must gain the trust of all citizens through fair, compassionate, and effective reform,” Parson said. “I hope to be part of that reform movement.”

Gregory Pemberton, chair of the D.C. Police Union, told the Blade the union strongly opposes cuts to the police budget. When asked by the Blade if a significant budget cut would have an impact on the police response to calls for police help by LGBTQ people, he said police response to all calls for service would be hindered. 

“MPD responds to over 700,000 911 calls per year,” he said. “That’s nearly 2,000 calls per day where someone is in distress. If we start reducing the number of police officers or their equipment like cars and bicycles, the response time will increase for all citizens,” Pemberton said.

“The first things that are going to be cut from police services are training and personnel,” he said in discussing the impact of a large budget cut. “These are the two tenets of responsible policing, having well trained police and having enough of them to respond to the citizens,” said Pemberton. “The idea that cutting the budget would somehow improve policing is completely contradictory to common sense.”

When asked what he thought of proposals by Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ organizations to divert funds from the police to community-based violence interruption programs as an alternative to police involvement, Pemberton said he and the union would be “all ears” if such programs would lessen the need for a police response.

But he added, “Until someone provides us with a blueprint of exactly how this would work, I’m leery of how successful these approaches would be.”

Among those expressing concern over police defunding are LGBTQ nightlife industry workers, many of whom are hoping to return to work at the city’s restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that have been forced to close or limit operations due to coronavirus.

“As a nightlife advocate, I know firsthand how special policing programs make our nighttime socializing areas safe for workers and accessible for patrons,” said gay nightlife business advocate Mark Lee. “As venues fully re-open in the next fiscal year, they want to ensure there are sufficient monies to reduce the major pre-shutdown crime spike in commercial districts,” Lee said.

“Cities across the country with robust nightlife economies like D.C. are working to create ‘best practice’ approaches for nighttime safety utilizing dedicated police teams,” Lee said. “A merely symbolic slashing of the MPD budget threatens these initiatives.”

Lee said he was also troubled that requests by some local LGBTQ groups to redirect police funds to their organizations to operate proposed LGBTQ programs “smacks of opportunism and self-interest” and appears to be “less about how to improve policing than it is a money grab.”

Kent Boese, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, serves as an elected member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A in Adams Morgan. He said that while the Stein Club and his ANC have yet to take a position on the police defunding issue, he is concerned that while important city agencies such as the Office of Human Rights are slated for budget cuts, the mayor’s budget calls for an increase in funding for the police.

“While the current budget shows a strong priority for MPD, it does not similarly show a strong commitment to the critical services and programs that will make every District community a safer place,” Boese told the Blade. “So reducing the MPD budget is not only a legitimate option, it is a moral obligation provided the money is reprogrammed into the very services and programs that will result in safer, stronger communities – services and programs that have themselves been defunded for decades to the detriment of all.”

Adam Savit, president of the LGBTQ group Log Cabin Republicans of D.C., pointed to the separate April 2018 and June 2019 beatings of gay men by male attackers along the U Street, N.W. entertainment district as examples of why traditional policing is necessary to address incidents like these.

“Making moderate changes to the D.C. police budget and priorities may be helpful in solving existing problems in police-community relations,” Savit said. “However, massive funding cuts or defunding the police entirely shows a complete misunderstanding of why responsible use of force is needed to keep citizens safe,” he said.

“Perhaps more destructive than defunding is the moral and political undermining of the police to the point that they can’t do their job,” he said. “All citizens, including LGBT citizens, would be less safe if the MPD is defunded.”


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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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