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Christine Quinn, Corey Johnson and Identity Voting in the NYC Primary Election


QuinnChristine Quinn lost in dramatic fashion in yesterday's New York City Democratic primary. She is an out lesbian, with a record of accomplishment. By virtue of her position as City Council Speaker, sometimes those accomplishments involveed working with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was almost universally disliked among Democratic primary voters in the City (though certainly not disliked by all Democrats, in general). Ms. Quinn would have been the first woman and first member of the LGBT community to run NYC. She had also been the front runner for 11 of the 12 months preceding the election. Unfortunately, only the last day matters.

How did this happen?

The evidence suggests that this election represents the best and worst of the political side of the gay community. First, the worst. Our collective liberalism can, at times, be self-defeating: the liberal purity coming from the mouths of anti-Quinn LGBTs reminded me of the conservative purity of the Tea Party. Yesterday, we "ate our own," some are saying.

But, did we?

Now, the best. Ms. Quinn would have been a great Democratic nominee and a great mayor. But yesterday's election proved that being a woman or being gay is not enough for voters to gloss over certain policy and personality deficits they have with a candidate. And that's a sign of remarkable progress.

In a world where the LGBT community is under attack, hated, victimized and alone, we have to look to our own. In that case, when one candidate wants to suppress us and the other one is us, identity matters. When you're given a choice between a free trip to Mykonos and a two-night stay in a Moscow prison, you choose Mykonos. Plus, the symbolic value for women and gays of having Ms. Quinn helm this city would have been unmistakable and enormous. But the symbolism was not enough. When the choice is between Maui, Hawaii and Bali, Indonesia, the decision is tougher. When the choice is between a 100-percent pro-LGBT equality candidate and a 100-percent pro-LGBT equality who actually happens to be gay, other things -- their policies on stop-and-frisk, their personalities, their campaign tactics, their plans to raise (or lower) taxes -- become more important.

That's what happened yesterday. The newly minted Democratic nominee for NYC Mayor, Bill De Blasio, is an amiable, pro-equality (and very tall!) man who will be an ally to the LGBT and HIV-positive communities in New York. Ms. Quinn could not capitalize on her identity because, in 2013 in New York City, identity doesn't matter. She needed to do more to prove to voters that she was the best candidate, not just the one that looked like them.

As a community, we have arrived. Ms. Quinn's campaign missed the boat.


Continue reading "Christine Quinn, Corey Johnson and Identity Voting in the NYC Primary Election" »

Join Us LIVE This Thursday for an 'ENDA Situation Room'


This Thursday at 2 pm, Towleroad will be webcasting the first-ever ENDA Situation Room at New York Law School, hosted by Freedom to Work, the leading advocacy organization for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The event, moderated by Towleroad legal editor Ari Ezra Waldman, will consist of a bipartisan discussion of ENDA and the path to victory.

Towleroad readers can tweet questions they would like answered at the forum to @freedomtowork.

Speakers at the event will include Tico Almeida, President of Freedom to Work; Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry; Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law; Gregory T. Angelo, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans; Melissa Sklarz, Executive Director of Stonewall Democrats and Professor Ari Ezra Waldman of New York Law School, and legal editor for Towleroad. More additions may be announced in the coming days...

Join us here LIVE this Thursday for the webcast, from 2 to 4 pm ET.

Enda_obamaOver the weekend, President Obama tweeted the sad facts: "In 29 states, no state law protects you from being fired for being gay. Let's fix that."

Here's a report on the event from Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade, who spoke with Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson about this week's ENDA Situation Room:

Wolfson told the Washington Blade he envisions that his participation will facilitate a discussion on the ways successes from the marriage equality movement can be applied to ENDA.

“It’s going to really be more of a conversation about what are some of the lessons that we applied from history and from other movements in the shaping our strategy and campaign to bring the freedom to marry to the United States, and how can we apply some of those in the work to end employment discrimination,” Wolfson said.

The cross-pollination of the marriage equality strategy to other movements isn’t new for Wolfson, who said he’s been asked by other campaigns — ranging from the environment to voting rights efforts — to talk about the ways in which marriage equality achievements can be applied to these initiatives.

HIV/AIDS and the Gay Community: A (Belated) Report from Lavender Law


Scott-SchoettesAt the end of August, I had the honor of attending and speaking on a panel at the annual conference of the LGBT Bar Association. The conference, quaintly called "Lavender Law," is a well-attended event, bringing together students, practitioners, scholars and many people like you interested in legal issues facing the LGBT community.

This year's conference was pretty special. James Esseks, LGBT Project Director at the ACLU and one of Edie Windsor's attorneys, received an honor. That alone is notable and fantastic. James, a friend, a man I admire and great lawyer, deserves accolades for his great success. But, with all due respect to James, he wasn't the star of the show.

That honor goes to Scott Schoettes, the HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal (right).

Scott spoke during a prime session on the second day of the conference; everyone was there. What his panel was about is really irrelevant. Scott took the opportunity to ably and dramatically issue a call for the LGBT community to once again come together to fight the spread of HIV, the stigmatization associated with criminalizing HIV and other HIV-related issues that may not solely touch the gay community, but still plague our friends, neighbors and kinsmen. His comments, available in full at Lambda's website, lamented the fact that too many of us are willing to forget about HIV to win more pressing battles. He expressed legitimate frustration that the very coalition charged with raising LGBT legal and social issues -- the National LGBT Bar Association -- rejected every HIV-related panel proposed to it for this year's Lavender Law. He charged us to never forget the most vulnerable among us because they need our help the most.

Scott spoke truth to power and for that he deserves more than an award; he deserves our respect.

Follow me AFTER THE JUMP to learn more about Scott's speech and how you can get involved.


Continue reading "HIV/AIDS and the Gay Community: A (Belated) Report from Lavender Law" »

DOMA and Why Certain States Must Recognize Your Divorce But Not Your Same-Sex Marriage


The "What's Next" series takes an in depth look at marriage and gay rights, in general, after the Supreme Court's momentous rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8. Today's column looks at the legal implications of marriage and divorce.

Divorce-imageMarriage freedom came to Minnesota and Rhode Island last week. So too did the freedom to divorce in Colorado. Years ago, Colorado chose to enshrine marriage discrimination in its constitution and yet, its civil unions law includes provisions for the equitable division of marital property upon divorce.

This gives us the perfect opportunity to understand the legal difference between getting married and getting divorced in the context of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Windsor v. United States.

Windsor struck down only one part of DOMA: Section 3 had stated that the federal government would only recognize those marriages between one man and one woman. The case did not touch, so the Court had no reason to address, Section 2 of DOMA, which holds that states need not recognize the marriages performed in other states if those marriages conflicted with the state's public policy. Notably, this wasn't anything new. DOMA Section 2 is merely a restatement of current law; the fact that the 1996 Congress felt the need to restate it just for the sake of restating it when it came to gay marriages is a testament to the anti-gay animus that motivated that debate.

So here's the question: If DOMA Section 2 permits states to ignore out-of-state marriages between same-sex partners, how can a state recognize you as divorced if it never recognize you were married in the first place?

The short answer: Divorces are court orders, which have to be recognized across state boundaries. Marriages are not. That means that the Constitution's full faith and credit clause applies to divoces, not to marriages. So, the Constitution gives us a national right to divorce, but not a national right to marry. 

I explain AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "DOMA and Why Certain States Must Recognize Your Divorce But Not Your Same-Sex Marriage" »

Russian Hate, An American Boycott, And The Sochi Olympic Games


O-STOLI-VODKA-facebookI attended a professional/social networking event recently where, after listening to one gentleman tell his friend about the "awesomeness of Kathy Perry" (Who's Kathy Perry, I asked? "The pop star, of course," he said with all the cocky self-assuredness of Anthony Weiner), I decided to change the subject.

"I'd like to know what we all think about the vodka boycott?"

As Towleroad has been reporting, the combination of draconian anti-gay laws in Russia, roving bands of gay hating pogroms (a term used for the roving bands of anti-Semitic attackers in Russian history), and the upcoming Winter Olympics in the otherwise pleasant resort town of Sochi, Russia, has caused many in the American gay community to issue calls for the United States to drop out of the Games, on-the-ground activism, and/or vodka boycotts.

The last one got me thinking: Is a boycott of alcohol (and alcohol produced by a company not owned by Russia, at that) the best focus of our community's energy?

This led to what I think is the most important question: How do we define "best"? Is our goal an end to anti-gay hate in Russia? Better understanding and acceptance of LGBT persons? Safety for openly gay athletes at the Olympic Games? What are we trying to achieve?

For Dan Savage, the Stoli boycott would "show solidarity" and "draw international attention" to the persecution of LGBT Russians. That's it? That's all he wants? Scott Shackford, the needlessly condescending writer on gay issues over at the libertarian, thinks the boycott is misguided, but can't offer any alternative beyond his general dislike of all things coming out of the mainline gay movement these days. Michelangelo Signorile has some advice: boycott a whole slew of companies, from Proctor & Gamble to Holiday Inn, because these companies do business with Russia and have influence here in the United States.

The problem with all these ideas is that they are haphazardly approaching a problem without a clear idea of the goal they want to achieve. None of these will help LGBT Russians; some may hurt. A Stoli boycott is a drop in the bucket, harmless to Putin, to his nationalist allies, and to anyone who could possibly influence them. Mr. Signorile's insightful idea is focused here at home, hoping that the United States can ultimately help things change in Russia. But will a hoped-for, but unlikely drop in Proctor & Gamble's profit margin push President Obama to make more than statement of concern to Mr. Putin.

If we want to achieve all these noble and important goals -- helping LGBT Russians, pushing the United States and others to act -- then it seems to me that we can only do one thing: Go to the Olympic Games, have our openly gay and our supportive athletes make physical and verbal statements of LGBT support, and embarrass and hurt Mr. Putin's standing among his people. Let's find Putin's Jesse Owens rather than let Putin laugh at us from afar. Let's hurt Mr. Putin, not the independent owner of a vodka company.

AFTER THE JUMP, I consider the options and show how we can focus and the get the most out of our activism.

Continue reading "Russian Hate, An American Boycott, And The Sochi Olympic Games" »

The "Gay" Marriage Misdirection: Justice Alito Gets It Wrong in Windsor


I am pleased to welcome guest columnist, Brian Chelcun, a graduate of N.Y.U. Law School and a friend, who both conceived of and principally drafted today's installment of "What's Next." Towleroad is honored to have the benefit of his keen insight. The "What's Next" series takes an in depth look at marriage and gay rights, in general, after the Supreme Court's momentous rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8. Today's column looks at Justice Alito's dissenting opinion in Windsor.

1299099052136Back in March, when the Supreme Court heard oral argument Windsor v. United States, the media -- Towleroad included -- quickly jumped on a provocative question posed by Justice Samuel Alito:  

"Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new… [You] want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?"

Last week we discussed Justice Scalia’s dissent, a sloppy, berating conceit lambasting what he perceived as judicial activism and warning (again) about the impending extension of marriage equality across the country. Justice Alito’s dissent is a little different: it's a little less bombastic and focuses mainly on the "newness" of the institution of same-sex marriage. But, like Justice Scalia's, Justice Alito's dissent doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

He repeatedly invokes the phrase "same-sex marriage," a term that is often used as shorthand for marriage equality. It seems innocuous enough, and many advocates have probably used it in conversation to avoid more tongue-twisting phrases such as "marriage for same-sex couples." So why is Alito wrong to use it (over, and over, in his dissent), and why should we avoid it as well?

Continue reading AFTER THE JUMP to see how Justice Alito’s assessment of "same-sex marriage" is flawed, and doesn't appreciate what Windsor v. United States and the marriage equality battle are really about. His dissent serves as a timely reminder to those of us who are continuing the fight to expand marriage equality about how important the phrasing of a few words like "same-sex marriage" can be.

Continue reading "The "Gay" Marriage Misdirection: Justice Alito Gets It Wrong in Windsor" »


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