Local Briefs

New Director for DC's Gay Men's Chorus; 3 Pro-gay bills pass in Maryland; DC gays march for voting rights.


Gay Men’s Chorus appoints new E.D.

Robert Johnson has been playing the piano since he was 9 years old. Now 31, Johnson, a member and assistant accompanist for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) for the past two years, has accepted a position as the group’s executive director starting Monday, April 16.

”Music is a very powerful thing and it means so many things to different people,” Johnson says of his belief that music is not just about entertainment. ”It can also be an instrument of change and I think that’s where the Gay Men’s Chorus [of Washington] comes in.”

Johnson, a resident of Columbia, Md., and the former associate director of the Heifetz International Music Institute in Ellicott City, Md., says he is looking forward to leading the GMCW in a new direction, one that will get the chorus more involved in community events.

”I want to expand the membership a little bit, increase the budget, and bring the chorus more to the front in the gay community of Washington,” he says.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., who came out to his mom at 11, Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Geneseo. He went on to earn a Master of Music degree in piano performance from Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Johnson replaces former executive director Andrew Hoffmann, who led the chorus between February and December 2006; and David Bielenberg, who was with the chorus for five years before relocating to Baltimore where he currently works as the executive director of Concert Artists of Baltimore. — Yusef Najafi


Maryland passes three pro-gay bills

Gay rights activists in Maryland are celebrating the passage of three bills that will benefit gays and lesbians in domestic partnerships in the state in the coming year.

They include the Equity in Family Coverage Expansion Act (HB-1057), which requires health insurance companies to implement policies that include domestic partners and children up until the age of 25, per request of an employer. This bill, requested by Equality Maryland, and sponsored by lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), became the only health care reform bill to pass in Annapolis this year, when it passed the House of Delegates this week with a 122-18 vote.

”We’re pleased that they’ll be increasing health care coverage for Maryland families this year due to the efforts of equality Maryland and delegate Mizeur,” says Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.

With Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature, the bill will become law in January 2008.

”We were very deliberate in making this a bi-partisan bill,” says Furmansky. ”The House version had five Republican co-sponsors on it. The vote count, especially in the House was overwhelming.”

Activists were also pleased with the passage of SB-1022, which will authorize life insurance companies to cover domestic partners of current participants; and HB-314, which works to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace by modifying Maryland’s current law, which requires that claims of employment discrimination be made to federal courts. The new bill will allow claims to be brought to local courts.

”This is the first time that gays and lesbians can sue for compensatory damages,” Furmansky says. — Yusef Najafi


D.C. gays march for voting rights

Expected to include the largest march ever for voting rights — specifically, voting representation in Congress — for D.C. residents, plans for D.C. Emancipation Day 2007, April 16, are underway. And GLBT Washingtonians are front and center.

”We hope to have more than 200 people march with us,” says Mario Acosta-Vélez, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, one of the district’s largest gay political groups. The club is listed among the event’s dozens of official sponsors.

”We’ve been working with several GLBT organizations, asking them to invite their members to march. We’ve got volunteers that are going to be outside bars handing out fliers. Tonight we’re doing a phone bank. … As a community, we need to join other district communities to promote our fundamental rights of full representation in Congress.”

Those interested in joining the GLBT contingent for the march from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol are asked to gather at 1:45 Monday afternoon in front of the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. For more information about the day’s events, visit www.votingrightsmarch.org. –Will O’Bryan

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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