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St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill: Faith in inclusion

‘Members strive to create a tolerant and open world’

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St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (stmarks.net) is the Episcopal Church closest to the United States Capitol building. In the last decade, it is perhaps best known for hosting the annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, the most recent of which President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on Dec. 7.  

The church is less well known as a “straight” faith community that has provided a home for LGBTQ people since the late 1980s, when “faith community” often meant “homophobia.”  LGBTQ people have always been a minority of members, but have never felt like a minority because being queer is just like being a lawyer: an interesting fact that does not define us. Perhaps the defining characteristic of St. Mark’s is that we live our faith by telling and listening to our stories. Here following are several that illustrate that point.

For example, Keith Krueger started coming to St. Mark’s in the mid-1980s and found a welcoming, mostly straight community. “During the start of the AIDS crisis, St. Mark’s immediately stepped up to support the Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS (ECRA), and the community particularly supported my late partner in me during difficult times…. I stay because it is a community that values questioning and living together as we journey through life. The best part of St. Mark’s are its members who strive to create a tolerant and open world,” Krueger said.

John Lineberger, a long-standing member who recently died, took adult confirmation in 1989 where everyone was invited to be “authentic,” and share their story. He asked the clergy how welcome gays were at the church and told they had held every office of authority, but gay issues were “not talked about.” So, he asked if that meant “you have a place here, but don’t make trouble.”  

That question sparked a loud, overheard discussion between the Rector and Associate Rector, and he was then told, “You are absolutely invited to be honest about your life here with us without exception. There is no disconnect between being a member of St. Mark’s and being gay.” John was relieved, and felt like he had been overhearing his parents having an argument. “I liked the people of St. Marks and didn’t want to have to go back to church shopping. I had found home. Maybe it was messy, but it was home,” Lineberger wrote.

Rob Hall’s first Sunday was in 1988 on the 100th anniversary of the church on the invitation of a straight work friend. He was closeted then because he came from a southern tradition and was involved in Democratic politics. He found that “St. Mark’s was the perfect place for me to find my path as a progressive Christian and to help guide me spiritually as I came out while serving on the Vestry (the Church’s governing board) “with the help of great friends, compassionate clergy, and a good therapist.”  

One of the clearest signs of queer acceptance came in 1997. Jim Adams had retired and we were in the search/discernment period for our next rector. Interestingly, our Priest-in-Charge during the search was Jim Steen, an openly gay man. The race for Senior Warden (lay leader of the Vestry and Parish) was probably the most consequential election in parish history. One candidate was a pillar of the community and former senior warden who advocated for continuity, including possibly installing as Rector the most recent Associate Rector Susan Gresinger (who had recently departed so she could be considered). Rob was the other and told the community that he favored an open process and wanted to see the work of the search committee. The questions parishioners asked him showed that they realized he represented change. Rob remembers that, “My sexuality was brought up in every single conversation. . . . I would be St. Mark’s first gay senior warden serving with a gay interim priest. Would the community think we were becoming a gay church? Would I take the parish in another direction before a new rector could be installed? At 36, was I too young to take the helm of the parish?”  

Rob won and led us through a period of change, including calling an African-American rector, Paul Abernathy, who would serve for the next 17 years (and sometimes included in his sermons that his gay brother had died of AIDS). In 1999, the parish, after a series of meetings, also decided to embrace same-sex unions. At the final meeting, about 80 of us were grouped in tables who talked and then reported to the rest of meeting. What was amazing was that virtually every comment was positive. One parishioner quipped during one of those meetings that “We already decided this issue when we elected Rob.”  

Lesbian Belle Elizabeth McCain came to St. Mark’s in 1989. She came at Rob Hall’s invitation and, though she identified as straight, she was naturally welcomed by the gay men in the choir. “We were preparing to go on a tour in England and I came out at the choir retreat. Actually, somebody sort of outed me by saying ‘We hear there is a lesbian soprano.’” She says she has always felt accepted as a lesbian at St. Mark’s. “Jim Adams defended me to my homophobic and fundamentalist brother” telling my brother that “I was a respected member of the church and that I was accepted as a lesbian.”

Years ago, she recalls, LGBTQ members formed the Lavender Lions (now the Lambda Lions). The group continues to meet on a sporadic basis. The parish now has several gay couples who are parenting children, at least two couples engaged and planning weddings.  

As for me, I came — and came out —- much later. I was a married “straight” man when my then-wife and I came to St. Mark’s. After a horrible divorce, I finally figured out I am gay in 2001. I don’t really think about being gay at St. Mark’s because there are so many of us in so many roles, including our Rector, Michele Morgan, a married lesbian, and our Seminarian, Joel Martinez, a married gay man. I’m now the church’s treasurer, continuing the tradition of LGBTQ people in church leadership roles.  

For more information about St. Marks, visit stmarks.net; a timeline regarding its LGBTQ+ inclusion is at stmarks.net/lgbtq-and-st-marks-history.

Randy Marks is a longtime member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill.

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Celebrating 15th anniversary of Harvey Milk Day

A powerful reminder that one person can make a difference

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The Harvey Milk Forever Stamp was unveiled at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on May 22, 2014. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Harvey Milk’s birthday, May 22, is officially a Day of Special Significance in California. Other states also honor Milk.

Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in U.S. history. In 1977, he was elected to a seat on the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. His term began in January 1978 and ended in November when disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.

In his 1982 book “Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” Randy Shilts wrote a moving account of San Francisco’s 1978 memorial for Milk. A “massive crowd stretched the entire distance from City Hall to Castro Street, some 40,000 strong utterly silent,” Shilts wrote. The crowd “ostensibly memorialized both George Moscone and Harvey, but few speakers quarreled that the crowd had amassed chiefly to remember the gangly ward politician [Milk] who had once called himself the mayor of Castro Street.”

Shilts quoted Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein, at the time acting mayor, telling the mourners that Milk “was a leader who represented your voices.” Another speaker said Milk “was to us what Dr. King was to his people. Harvey was a prophet [who] lived by a vision.” Equality was Milk’s vision.

Shilts presciently titled the last section in his book “The Legend Begins.” In 1979, after a jury gave assassin White a light seven-year sentence, LGBT rioters rocked San Francisco in what is called “The White Night Riots.” During the riots, Shilts wrote that “a lesbian university professor yelled into a feeble bullhorn: ‘Harvey Milk lives.’” Since 1978, Harvey Milk’s courageous leadership has been celebrated globally.

Over four years, 2006-2010, San Francisco reminded the country that Milk was a gay man worthy of great honors. The 2008 movie “Milk,” filmed partly in San Francisco, with Sean Penn as Milk, ignited greater public interest in the legendary gay activist. Gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Penn won Academy Awards in 2009.

The film led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation making Milk’s birthday a Day of Special Significance. Also, President Barack Obama awarded Milk with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Milk’s 84th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative Forever stamp in his honor.

California’s Harvey Milk Day recognizes Milk for his contributions to the state. It also encourages public schools to conduct “suitable commemorative exercises” to honor Milk.

“To me, [Milk] was a man who was a capitalist, and an entrepreneur who happened to be gay,” said Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, the only Republican to vote for the bill to create Harvey Milk Day.

The newer scholarship about Milk provided additional insight into his activism. “An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings” edited by James Edward Black, Charles Morris, and Frank Robinson, published in 2013 by the Univ. of California Press, is an excellent example.

The book’s title is drawn from Milk’s 1978 speech called “The Hope Speech.” He spoke about people [gays, seniors, Black Americans, disabled, Latinos, Asians] “who’ve lost hope.” He proceeds to talk about inspiring hope in others who are struggling when the “pressures at home are too great.” It is a passionate speech, based largely on Milk’s conversations with people in the Castro. In a review of the book for The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, I wrote it is: “An important contribution to the corpus of work on Harvey Milk as a writer and orator.”

Milk believed that it was important for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to come out. If more people were aware of their LGBTQIA+ associates who were their friends, family, and loved ones, then discrimination would end. To Milk, coming out would lead to ensuring LGBTQIA+ civil rights.

In 2007, during Pride in San Francisco I worked at a nonprofit’s booth in Civic Center Plaza. A man stopped to talk. I mostly listened. He was a veterinarian from a small town in Arkansas. He was gay and closeted. He regularly visited San Francisco for Pride. Afterward, he regularly returned to his closeted life in Arkansas. I felt sorry for him. Though I was a stranger to him, he needed to come out to me. I was reminded of Milk’s wisdom about the freedom of coming out.    

Harvey Milk Day is for all people who need hope. Milk’s life is a lesson that one person can make a difference. A strong, united community inspired by Milk and others has changed and continues to change the world.  

Milk’s short political career led to long-term LGBTQIA+ political leadership from the Bay Area to Washington, D.C. to Miami to Seattle. To paraphrase a Woody Guthrie song: This LGBTQIA+ Land is Our Land. Happy Milk Day 2024!

James Patterson is a lifetime member of the American Foreign Service Association.

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Opinions

Rosenstein: Vote McGuiness for Delaware’s 14th District

For responsible growth and continued improvements in Sussex County

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I know Kathy McGuiness, and there is no one more qualified to replace Pete Schwartzkopf as 14th District Representative. 

I have owned a home in Sussex County for more than 25 years, and have been coming to Rehoboth Beach for 40. I followed Kathy’s career, and know the time she has given to the people of the state and District. No one can match her ability to do the job. Kathy is a health care professional, and a mother, committed to continue to fight to protect every woman’s health and reproductive rights.

“As a registered pharmacist, I’ve been on the front lines when it comes to health care,” she said. “I’ve been with patients who cried at the counter when they couldn’t afford their medicines, administered COVID shots during the pandemic, struggled when my mother couldn’t schedule a doctor’s appointment for weeks, and joined my sister to advocate for her son, who is in a wheelchair, when he can’t get the services he needs. We have a health care crisis in Sussex County.”  

Kathy is committed to attracting, and retaining, doctors, nurses, specialists, and pharmacists, to the fastest-growing county in the state. She has committed to seeing state and federal regulators never again identify the families, and retirees, in the 14th district, as being under-served in healthcare.  

Kathy graduated from Cape Henlopen High School and her mom taught 6th grade at Shields Elementary. She knows first hand the struggles of our children, and teachers. She is committed to listening to, and working with, local and state officials, parents, and teachers, to ensure the resources needed to facilitate the best possible education for all our children.

Born and raised in the district, now bringing her family up here, Kathy understands the value of the unique, precious, natural resources in Eastern Sussex County. She will continue to work to protect our beaches and natural resources. She will fight for state funding for sensible, responsible, infrastructure and traffic projects, that truly meet the needs of the community. Kathy takes the fight to Dover understanding tourism with her experience as a six-term Rehoboth Beach Commissioner. She is a businesswoman, and founding president of Rehoboth Beach Main Street. She will fight to protect and promote local businesses, press DelDOT to improve traffic flow, and importantly, work with state and county officials to create more safe and affordable workforce housing.

No one has the broad experience Kathy has. She has been a member of the 14th District’s Democratic Committee; a trustee at Delaware State University; a member of the Delaware Film Commission; a member of CAMP Rehoboth Board of Directors and the YMCA Sussex Board; and Lewes-Rehoboth Meals on Wheels board. She volunteered with Delaware Food Bank, Just Soup Ministry, Shepherd’s House, Planned Parenthood, and the Seashore Striders.

Kathy was named State of Delaware, Tourism Person of the Year; Business and Professional Women’s Employer of the Year; and recently, 2022 Delaware Pharmacist of the Year. She is married to Steve, a river boat pilot, and is mom to three amazing children. Has one grandchild, and another on the way. 

Let me address the only issue some may have with Kathy. She was accused of six very questionable criminal counts when serving as a successful State Auditor. Of the most serious, the jury found her not guilty on three, and the judge threw two others out. She was convicted of one simple misdemeanor, for hiring her daughter as an intern, which she only did after the Delaware Attorney General assigned to her office, said it was legal. As Pete Schwartzkopf said at her campaign announcement, this is nothing that so many others in the state have done. Kathy said, “I’ve paid my debt to the state through a fine and community service. Now I’m ready to get back to what I have done my entire adult life — help and serve the people of Eastern Sussex County.” 

So, I am honored to add my name to those of Speaker of the Delaware House Pete Schwartzkopf, 20th District Representative Stell Selby, Dewey Beach Mayor Bill Stevens, Dewey Council member Paul Bauer, former Rehoboth Planning Commission Chair Richard Perry, former Ambassador Tom McDonald, former Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Steve Scheffer, former Dewey Mayor Pat Wright all endorsing Kathy McGuiness for 14th District Representative. 

They know Kathy is the candidate for those who want to see responsible, sustainable growth, and continued improvements in Sussex County. She said, “When elected, I promise to listen to your questions and concerns. I will reach out, and remain available for conversations with everyone. I will serve with renewed dedication and humility. I promise to give it everything I’ve got.” So, vote Kathy McGuiness for District 14th Representative on Sept. 10. She will make us all proud.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Opinions

Advocating for the Queer Community On and Off The Job

One organ donor can save up to eight lives

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Kai Sprando (Photo Courtesy Infinite Legacy)

As a proud trans man, Kai Sprando recognizes the importance of visibility and education in fostering understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. His commitment to spreading awareness and advocating for queer experiences is something he champions on both a personal and professional level. 


In 2019, Kai began working in the organ donation field as it provides a convergence of purpose and opportunity, which he embraced wholeheartedly to make a difference in people’s lives. Kai works as an Instructional Designer at Infinite Legacy, where he develops educational resources, curriculum and training plans primarily for clinical staff. At Infinite Legacy, he found not just a job, but a community of compassionate individuals who support him in every aspect of his trans journey.

In Kai’s eyes, organ donation is more than a medical procedure; it is a lifeline and second chance for individuals with end stage organ failure. He also sees it as a way for organ donors to continue their legacy of kindness beyond their time on Earth. He is deeply moved by the profound impact that one organ donor has to save up to eight lives. This knowledge fuels Kai’s passion for his work, driving him to encourage others to learn about the transformative power of organ donation.

For Kai, education is key. He believes that the more people know about and understand organ donation, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions and advocate for the cause.

“The opportunity to make a difference by saving lives as an organ donor is very powerful. When I pass, I want to know that if nothing else, I tried my best to help others. That’s what life is all about to me…finding ways to make the hard things in life a little less hard, one act of kindness at a time.” said Kai.

With his background in teaching and his viewpoint as a trans man, Kai has been invited to and spoken at several national organ donation and transplantation conferences providing insight and perspective on what it means to be trans and queer, allowing his peers the ability to be more effective and caring while interacting with LGBTQIA+ people and their families. 

Kai is passionate about advocating for marginalized communities and through his openness, vulnerability and willingness to share his lived experiences, Kai contributes to positive change in healthcare, particularly around gender and sexuality representation.

As he continues to advocate for change and build a better infrastructure around LGBTQIA+ needs and representation, Kai remains hopeful for the future. He has seen the important shifts and positive changes in healthcare in recent years and is determined to keep pushing for progress, one conversation at a time.

Everyone can register to be an organ donor. To learn more, visit infinitelegacy.org

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