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Dupont Circle church faces possible bankruptcy

Posted: 02 May 2018 05:22 AM PDT

St. Thomas, gay news, Washington Blade

St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle faces a financial crisis after a stop work order issued by the city on its new building. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons)

St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle, which is considered one of the city's most LGBT supportive religious institutions, could be forced into bankruptcy following a D.C. government order halting construction of its new church and an adjoining residential building, according to Rev. Alex Dyer, a gay priest who leads the church.

Dyer said the church faces a financial crisis as a result of a decision by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to issue on April 23 a "stop work" order on the construction of the parish's new church building and an adjoining 56 apartment residential building.

The DCRA says it issued the stop work order in response to a ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals vacating a zoning variance awarded to the church by the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment. The court, in siding with an appeal opposing the building project filed by the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, ruled that the Board of Zoning Adjustment failed to provide sufficient justification for awarding the zoning variance.

The court ruling says the variance could be reissued at a later date if the Board of Zoning Adjustment provides a better legal rationale to justify it.

Attorneys representing the church and CAS Riegler development company have argued in a motion asking the court for a stay on the stop work order that the court ruling did not require DCRA to issue the stop order and the order was a mistake that will cause irreparable harm to the church.

The church entered into a partnership with CAS Riegler in which it sold two-thirds of its property at 18th and Church Streets, N.W. as part of a joint project with the developer. Under the arrangement, the property sale and construction of a seven-story apartment building would pay the costs for building the new church, which the parish could not afford on its own, Dyer told the Washington Blade.

St. Thomas' Parish has occupied that site for more than 120 years. Its original church building was destroyed by fire in 1970 in an incident that authorities listed as arson. After years of struggling to raise the funds needed to rebuild the church, while holding its worship services in what had been the church rectory, St. Thomas' 250-member congregation was looking forward to moving into the new church building in March 2019, when it was scheduled for completion, Dyer said.

Lyle Blanchard, the church's attorney, said he and attorneys for the developer believe they have an excellent chance of persuading the court to reverse its decision to vacate the zoning variance on appeal. But Blanchard and Dyer said the appeal process could take months to wind its way through the court, forcing St. Thomas' Parish to continue to foot the bill for the construction crew and equipment, including the rental of a crane.

Dyer said the only means he sees to avoid bankruptcy is for the court to agree to the church and developer's motion for a stay on the stop work order while the appeal wends its way through the court.

"This has created a serious financial strain on our church," said Dyer. "We are losing thousands of dollars a day for the construction crew that still needs to be paid," he said, along with the rental fee for the crane.

Dupont Circle Citizens Association President Robin Diener, one of the lead opponents of the church-apartment building project, has said the project was too large and its modern design is out of character with the neighborhood that consists mostly of Victorian era town houses.

"The order to stop construction until a valid variance is obtained is totally consistent with law and regulation, and should have been anticipated by the developer and church," the DCCA said in a statement. "It is a direct result of their decision to proceed with construction 'at risk' during the pendency of the appeal," the statement says.

"Had the developer and church awaited the court's decision before proceeding, the community would not have been placed in this situation," the DCCA statement says.

In a separate statement, Dyer said the church and its supporters have worked with the neighboring community during the entire process of planning for the construction, with many in the community supporting the project.

It is "truly shocking that our church is being targeted by the DCRA and a small group of citizens, who I have tried to work with on many occasion," his statement says. "A vacant construction site benefits no one. We love Dupont Circle and this city," he continued. "All St. Thomas' Parish desires is to use its resources to make this city and this world a better place."

In their court motion for a stay on the stop work order, the church and the developer point out that the existing zoning law allows the church to build on 80 percent of the lot that makes up the church's long held property. In order for the joint project to work financially they needed slightly more than 86 percent of the land for the two buildings – just over 6 percent more than what would be allowed under the zoning law.

Dyer also points out that the apartment building is narrower in its upper floors, which places the overall impact of the building on a smaller scale than the first and second floors.

Meanwhile, with the beams and outer walls of the apartment building already built to its full seven stories in height and the first two floors of the church's planned four floors already built, most observers don't believe the city or the neighbors would support demolishing the partially completed buildings or leaving the site as it is.

According to Dyer, the church very much wants to negotiate a settlement with the Dupont Circle Citizens Association that would allow the project to be completed. He said that with the church's full approval, the developer has reached out to the DCCA with an offer of financial support for neighborhood improvements.

"It was a very generous offer," he said. "But many neighbors I talked to did not know about that."

Among the longtime supporters of the church building project is nationally recognized Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who's gay and who now lives in D.C.

Mike Pompeo praises U.S. diplomats in first State Department speech

Posted: 01 May 2018 03:21 PM PDT

Mike Pompeo, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 1, 2018, delivered his first speech at the State Department. (Washington Blade by Michael Key)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday used his first speech at the State Department to praise U.S. diplomats and other members of the Foreign Service.

“I have a great deal to learn about the State Department and how we perform our mission, but as people, I'm confident that I know who you are,” he said in remarks that he gave while standing on one of the staircases above the State Department’s C Street lobby. “I know that you came here. You chose to be a Foreign Service officer or a civil servant or to come work here in many other capacities and to do so because you're patriots and great Americans and because you want to be an important part of America's face to the world. My mission will be to lead you and allow you to do that, the very thing you came here to do.”

The U.S. Senate on April 26 confirmed Pompeo by a 57-42 vote margin. He succeeds Rex Tillerson, who President Trump fired in March.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius is among many senior diplomats and State Department officials who resigned during Tillerson’s tenure. Tillerson also faced criticism over his management style and efforts to restructure the State Department.

President Trump has proposed steep cuts to the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The U.S. Senate on April 26 confirmed Richard Grenell as the next U.S. ambassador to Germany. LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world are among those who nevertheless continue to criticize the Trump administration’s overall foreign policy.

The hundreds of State Department personnel who listened to Pompeo’s speech on Tuesday applauded him as he entered the building. Pompeo, for his part, said he will work to return some of the State Department’s “swagger.”

“The United States diplomatic corps needs to be in every corner, every stretch of the world, executing missions on behalf of this country, and it is my humble, noble undertaking to help you achieve that,” he said.

Pompeo makes no mention of LGBT rights

Pompeo was the director of the CIA when Trump nominated him to succeed Tillerson. Pompeo represented Kansas’ 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011-2017.

Pompeo co-sponsored a bill that would have allowed states to refuse to recognize the marriages of gays and lesbians. He also opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has long-standing ties with the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group.

Pompeo during his confirmation hearing reaffirmed his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples. He also did not specifically answer U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)’s question about whether he thinks “being gay is a perversion.”

“I treat each and everyone of our officers with respect,” Pompeo told U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) during his confirmation hearing in response to a question she asked about the treatment of gay CIA personnel under his tenure. “I promise I will do that as secretary of state.”

Pompeo on Tuesday made no mention of LGBT-specific issues in his remarks. He also did not address concerns over his previous statements against Muslims that he continues to face.

Chile LGBTI activist participates in State Department leadership program

Posted: 01 May 2018 11:21 AM PDT

Fundación Iguales Executive Director Emilio Maldonado (Photo courtesy of Nicolás Fuentes)

The executive director of a Chilean LGBTI advocacy group is among those who are currently in the U.S. with the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Emilio Maldonado of Fundación Iguales and more than two dozen other human rights advocates from around the world arrived in D.C. last week.

Maldonado and other program participants traveled to Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday. He is scheduled to travel to San Antonio and New York where the program will end on May 11.

Maldonado is in the U.S. as Chilean lawmakers continue to debate a transgender rights bill that received renewed attention earlier this year after “A Fantastic Woman,” a film in which trans actress Daniela Vega stars, won an Oscar for best foreign film.

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions since 2015.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, another Chilean LGBTI advocacy group, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in the country.

Chile in 2015 formally ended its opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Former President Michelle Bachelet’s government last August introduced a marriage and adoption bill as part of an agreement it reached with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in its lawsuit.

President Sebastián Piñera during last year’s presidential campaign publicly opposed marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. A spokesperson on Monday nevertheless said his government will honor the agreement it reached in the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation case.

Director de grupo LGBTI chileno participa en programa del Departamento de Estado

El director ejecutivo de un grupo LGBTI chileno está entre ellos quien están en los EEUU con el Programa de Liderazgo para Visitantes Internacionales del Departamento de Estado.

Emilio Maldonado de Fundación Iguales y más de dos docenas otros activistas de derechos humanos desde todo el mundo llegaron en Washington la semana pasada.

Maldonado y otros participantes del programa viajaron a Charlotte (Carolina del Norte) el sábado. Está programado para viajar a San Antonio y Nueva York donde terminará el programa el 11 de mayo.

Maldonado está en los EEUU con el contexto del debate sobre un proyecto de ley que extendería los derechos a la comunidad trans. Este propósito recibió más atención a principios de este año cuando “Una Mujer Fantástica,” una película en que la actriz trans chilena Daniela Vega protagoniza, ganó un Oscar a la Mejor Película Extranjera.

Parejas del mismo sexo desde 2015 han podido entrar las uniones de hechos en Chile.

El Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual, otro grupo LGBTI chileno, en 2012 presento una demanda ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos en nombre de tres parejas del mismo sexo quien están buscando los derechos matrimoniales en el país.

Chile en 2015 terminó formalmente su oposición a los derechos matrimoniales para parejas del mismo sexo.

El gobierno de la expresidenta Michelle Bachelet el pasado agosto presentó un proyecto de ley de matrimonio y adopción como parte de un acuerdo que firmó con el Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual en su demanda.

El presidente Sebastián Piñera el año pasado durante la campaña presidencial se opusó públicamente los derechos de matrimonio y adopción para las parejas del mismo sexo. Sin embargo, una vocera el lunes dijo su gobierno honrará el acuerdo en el caso del Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual.

Lance Bass reveals why he didn’t come out while in NSYNC

Posted: 01 May 2018 10:02 AM PDT

Lance Bass, gay news, Washington Blade

Lance Bass speaks at the 2016 Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Lance Bass, Justin Timberlake, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone and JC Chasez celebrated a milestone together as they accepted NSYNC’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this week.

While accepting the star Bass, 38, explained how significant growing up in NSYNC was for him.

"I want to thank these four guys right here. We're brothers. We're family," Bass begins. "Out of all this, the music, the tours, the love from the fans, it's my brotherhood I'm most thankful for. I was a kid when we came together and I'm a man today because of the family I have and you. I love you guys."

He also addressed an issue he struggled with but kept a secret during the height of NSYNC’s popularity.

"The other thing I want to say here today is something I've been trying to put into words maybe my whole life. Growing up in Mississippi and in a Southern Baptist church, in a town where everyone knows your business, I had a secret: I was gay,” Bass says.

"Yes guys, I'm gay. I am. And at the time, I thought that I would never be able to tell anyone because not only was I terrified of the lasting rejection — I was certain that that would happen — but more than that I didn't want to jeopardize the careers of these guys up here, much less the hundreds of amazing people who worked tirelessly to bring NSYNC to the world,” Bass continued.

Bass went on to share that he wasn’t able to reveal that part of himself to his fans at that time but now wants to reach out to the LGBT community.

"I thought if I had come out, NSYNC would be over. So I kept my secret. And our wildest dreams were coming true and we were so incredibly thankful — and I still am. But so many nights onstage, I'd see so many young, gay fans singing their hearts out and I wanted so badly to let you know, I was you. I just didn't have the strength then,” Bass says. "But I do today and so let me say loud and proud to all my LGBT brothers and sisters, who embrace me and show me the way to be who I am, thank you so much."

Bass came out as gay in 2006. He and his partner Michael Turchin married in 2014.