Marriage equality comes to England and Wales on Saturday

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 12.45.25 PMThe world welcomes more equal rights as England and Wales will be celebrating their first same-sex marriage ceremonies at midnight on Friday, March 28th. The British Parliament passed the marriage equality law in July 2013.

England and Wales will be the 10th European nation to have marriage equality. Out of the 28 European Union (E.U.) members, England will be the 7th nation to approve marriage equality. About half of the members of the E.U. have civil unions and the E.U. mandates non-discriminatory practices in the work place.

Scotland, part of Great Britain, passed their own marriage equality bill in February 2014 and it is expected to go into effect this fall.

Same-sex couples who legally wed outside the country were able to make it official in England earlier this month. Couples who had previous civil unions in the country will be able to convert them to marriages by the end of the year.

What does the Queen think of all this? Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval to the bill, giving her formal support. The Queen has not publicly been in support of LGBT rights in the past, but this is seen to be a great stride for the Royal Family.

While the monarch might approve of the Marriage Act, the Church of England showed great opposition. The Church will not allow same-sex marriages to be performed, as they believe that the institution of marriage should not be changed.

There is no doubt that England will be celebrating this monumental day. Celebrations will include a televised same-sex marriage, as well as many other events around England. The British Embassy in D.C. will be ringing in marriage equality Friday night to coincide with midnight in London.

Anti-Harassment Bill Proposed on Senate Floor


Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would require colleges and universities receiving federal aid to adopt anti-harassment policies and consider cyberbullying a form of harassment. The bill, called the Tyler Clementi Education Anti-Harassment Act, is named in honor of the Rutgers University freshman who took his own life in 2010 after his roommate and another student leaked online video footage of Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man in his room.

Murray took over the amendment from the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who died before it could reach the Senate floor.  Taking the lead with the bill, which is being co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), carried personal implications for Murray after listening to the story of one of her interns who was antagonized while a student at the University of Houston. A junior in college at the time, Kristopher Sharp, who is openly gay, was running for student government when he was attacked in a smear campaign.

In a meeting with the dean, Sharp was shown a flyer beginning to pop up around campus, featuring a picture of Sharp with an X over it and the heading: “Want AIDS? Don’t support the Isaac and Kris homosexual agenda.” On the back of the flyer was a copy of Sharp’s medical records, which indicated his HIV-positive status.

He was told by his school’s administration that their hands were tied, and they were unable to act. “This is the dean of students,” said Sharp in an interview with Murray, who he has been assisting in rolling out the legislation. “This is an administrative official in the university who has clearly articulated to me that the things that are happening are not things they can do anything about.”

Murray hopes that the bill will protect students like Sharp, victims who have been left without advocates or policies to properly address wrongdoing.

Now 24 years old, Sharp decided he could make an impact to prevent others in similar situations from slipping through the cracks. He has been able to work in Murray’s office thanks to his participation in the Victory Congressional Internship program, a semester-long intensive leadership session organized by the Victory Institute to help develop the next generation of out leaders. There, he has had the opportunity to advocate for victims who have not been given a voice.

Check out Murray’s introduction of the Tyler Clementi Education Anti-Harassment Act on the Senate floor HERE.

Photo:  Senator Patty Murray’s Office | Kathryn Robertson

Openly gay nominee moves closer to federal judgeship

gayles_darrin_p_jad_3Darrin Gayles, an openly gay judicial nominee from Florida, has gotten one crucial step closer to a seat on the federal bench. Senator Marco Rubio this week submitted his “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, signaling that the committee is able to move forward with Gayles’ nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. If he is confirmed, Gayles will become the first openly LGBT, African American man to serve as a federal judge.

Traditionally, the “blue slip” process was largely a formality, giving senators the privilege to block or approve a judicial nominee hailing from their home state, the expectation being that they would submit a blue slip without hesitation. In recent years, however, the provision has become a partisan lynchpin in Washington; some Republican lawmakers have withheld blue slips to impede the confirmation of judges nominated by the President Obama.  Now that blue slips have been submitted by both Rubio and Florida senator Bill Nelson, the largest hurdle Gayles faced in his confirmation process has been overcome.

Rubio’s involvement in the judicial appointments of the president has been under heavy scrutiny. Last year, he incensed black and LGBT communities and advocates by refusing to approve nominee William Thomas, who is also openly gay and black, to a federal judgeship. Considering that Rubio initially recommended the choice of Thomas to President Obama, his subsequent turnaround drew widespread media attention and speculation. As Thomas’ confirmation process foundered and the White House decided not to resubmit the nomination for this year, onlookers braced for another standoff.

According to Rubio, however, does not anticipate any reason to object nominees set forth by Obama last month.

Last month, Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute press secretary Steven Thai issued the following statement: “We commend the Administration for nominating a qualified jurist who will also add diversity to the federal bench.  If confirmed, Judge Gayles will be the nation’s first male, black openly gay federal judge, and he will reflect the talent and commitment that exists in communities that are underrepresented in public service.”

While Gayles’ appointment to the bench would break considerable ground, he would not be the first out LGBT African-American to serve as a federal judge; Deborah Batts, an openly lesbian black judge, was sworn in twenty years ago.

Douglas Brooks appointed to top White House position

Douglas Brooks as photographed for a profile on him in Boston Spirit magazine in 2010. (photo: Tony Scarpetta for Boston Spirit)

Yesterday, President Obama appointed Douglas Brooks as the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).

Brooks will lead the office in implementation of HIV/AIDS strategies and HIV care initiatives throughout the country. He will also work with the Global AIDS office to continue the progress of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which works with countries heavily impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Brooks formerly served as the Senior Vice President for Community, Health, and Public Policy at the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) in Boston. At JRI, Brooks worked with LGBT youth education programs, supportive services, peer and legal counseling, and community based services.

Brooks was previously appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and was a liaison for the CDC Advisory Council. He managed several federal programs including the Ryan White project, CDC Prevention for African American/Black youth, and others.

“Douglas’s policy expertise combined with his extensive experience working in the community makes him uniquely suited to the task of helping to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach,” President Obama said.

Victory congratulates Douglas on his appointment to the White House and his continual work within the HIV/AIDS community.

Photo: Tony Scarpetta for Boston Spirit

Transgender Hawaiian Candidate Attacked for Gender Identity


Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is a strong trans woman running in what is probably one of the most trans-accepting states in America, Hawaii. If elected to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees, she would not be the first transgender elected in the state. A respected leader and educator, she has done much for marriage equality and trans rights in the state.

There have not been any notable large-scale attacks on her identity, and that is significant. However, that does not mean she is not facing entrenched anti-trans bias, particularly from the right-wing Hawaii Free Press (HFP):

  • Recently, HFP  ran the headline “Tranny Supports ‘Racist’ Hanohano,” linking to a KITV ABC news affiliate article in which Wong-Kalu’s identity is a non-starter.  HFP brings it up anyway: “how consistent could a dude be if he thinks he is female?”
  • In January, Hawaiian Republican Assembly President Tito Montes published a lengthy description of the graphic nature and medical inaccuracies of Hawaii’s Pono (“righteous”) Choices sexual education program . At one point, he paints Hina as a “transvestite drag queen,” among other attacks. He was called out for his comments, but there is no indication of an apology despite his comments causing a stir.
  • This ensuing HFP article, “Tranny Asserts Right to Promote Himself to 6th Graders”  speaks for itself: “Tito Montes, president of the Hawaii Republican Assembly, is under ‘fire’ for calling(pointing out that) a respected Hawaiian leader and cultural practitioner (dude in a dress is) a ‘transvestite’ and a ‘drag queen.’ (Mr.) Hina Wong-Kalu — who considers herself (sic) a transgendered female — says the name calling borders on hate speech. (Censorship: Unless you accept the lie that gender is changeable, you are a hater.)” It continues in that vein.

Indicative of Hina’s status, Hawaii News Now framed the spat over sex-ed as a “Republican leader” attacking a “Hawaiian leader.” A supportive response for Hina gained national attention in outlets such as the Huffington Post.

As Hina responded to yet another attack on her trans identity, “How individuals, community & political  leaders respond to this attack, or not, will reveal the true character of a place that so often proudly proclaims itself “the aloha state.” This shows exactly why Hawaii is poised to elect another trans leader – one who actually stands for “pono” choices.