Please note-

*Please note- Your browser preferences must be set to 'allow 3rd party cookies' in order to comment in our diaries.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

REPEALED!




By Kerry Eleveld and Andrew Harmon -


HARRY REID X390 (GETTY IMAGES) | ADVOCATE.COMLegislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” is headed to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature after a historic vote in the U.S. Senate Saturday that seemed highly improbable just weeks earlier. In the second vote of the day, the Senate voted 65-31 Saturday afternoon to approve a stand-alone bill ending the military’s 17-year-old ban on lesbians and gays serving openly in the military. The outcome of that vote was a foregone conclusion after the chamber surmounted a much greater procedural hurdle that morning when senators voted 63-33 to proceed to the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives had passed the same piece of legislation earlier this week.

The stand-alone bill was a last-ditch effort to pass repeal before the next Congress, when the bill would have almost surely been dead for two years with the House in Republican hands. House majority leader Steny Hoyer and Pennsylvania representative Patrick Murphy cosponsored the legislation in the House. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, and Mark Udall were the Senate cosponsors.
President Barack Obama reportedly made last-minute phone calls to help secure the final votes. "We understand he has been on the phone with key senators and working closely with those at the Pentagon these final hours," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Six Republicans joined Democrats in voting to end the ban: Sens. Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe, and George Voinovich. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was absent for the vote.

Sen. Lieberman said from the floor that open service was not a liberal or conservative ideal, a Republican or Democratic ideal, but an American ideal.

“It’s time to right a wrong and put the military in line with the best of American values,” Lieberman said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and is scheduled to undergo surgery early next week, said he felt an urgency to be present for the weekend vote.

“I don't care who you love, if you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn't have to hide who you are,” Wyden said.

In a final act of protest, Sen. John McCain called it “a very sad day” and imagined that a successful vote would lead to “high fives all over the liberal bastions of America.”

“I hope that when we pass this legislation,” McCain said, “that we will understand that we are doing great damage, and we could possibly, and probably, as the commandant of the Marine Corps said … harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”

Exuberant reaction from groups that have worked to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" was immediate. "This vote represents an historic step forward for this country, and it will very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops," said Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson.
Advocates also cautioned against any gay service members coming out until a change to the policy is fully implemented, however.
“Gay, lesbian and bisexual service members posted around the world are standing a little taller today, but they’re still very much at risk because repeal is not final," Sarvis of SLDN said.
The Log Cabin Republicans, which put pressure on legislative repeal by winning a decisive victory in federal district court against "don't ask, don't tell" in September, praised the six Republican senators who voted in favor of repeal: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illiniois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
"Senator Collins, in particular, has long been the point of the spear in fighting for repeal among Republicans," Log Cabin executive director R. Clarke Cooper said. "She showed tremendous leadership in crossing the aisle to make this vote happen, continuing the fight when many thought hope was lost."
UPDATE: The White House has issued the following statement from President Obama on Saturday's Senate vote to proceed on DADT repeal:
"Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.

"As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.

"I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law."



-end-

BREAKING: Senate repeals DADT

The Senate just voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Repeal of DADT is just one of the things that GetEQUAL sees as a priority in order to work toward full legal and social equality. Far from being a lobbying group or political insiders, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to smash down the walls of discrimination and inequality that surround us. Yes, that includes military discrimination -- but it includes so many other things, as well.
Today, we honor those who have taken action with GetEQUAL over the past nine months, knowing that we need many more to join them. Please join us in honoring them -- and by reaffirming your own commitment to work toward a day in which we are all equal.
Sign the thank you page here!

We will continue this work as we turn the corner into 2011, and we hope you will continue this work with us. Today was a historic day, but by no means is it the end. We will move forward with pride, with urgency, with ferocity -- and without fear.
Get Out! Get Active! GetEQUAL!
Robin McGehee
Director, GetEQUAL
P.S. -- Do you want to celebrate in community with other activists? We're holding an open conference call at 9pm ET/6pm PT tonight -- no real agenda...just celebration! Join us by signing up at http://bit.ly/ezSq2Q. See you there!
P.P.S. -- Make no mistake -- there is still work ahead to finally and fully repeal DADT. There is a 60-day waiting period, during which soldiers can still be discharged under the policy. Then President Obama, Secretary of Defense Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen all have to sign off on repeal. And even then, we still have to fight for a non-discrimination policy, adequate training, and a reasonable implementation process. The work continues, but please join us in celebrating today's historic vote!
GetEQUAL icon

Rare Warhol films go on display in New York

Artist Andy Warhol may be best known for brightly colored silk-screens and clever riffs on pop culture, but an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art focuses on his silent and often challenging films.

The show, "Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures," which opens on December 19 on runs until March, consists of 14 "screen tests" -- short, silent, black and white portraits of the artist's friends -- as well as some of his longer works.

The "screen tests" in the show were selected from nearly 500 small films made from 1964 to 1966. Taken together as a whole they represent a who's who of New York's downtown art scene of that period.

"One of the things that makes these 'screen tests' so interesting is not only Warhol's interest in celebrity but more importantly I think his interest in rethinking the whole idea of portraiture in the 1960's," said Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art.

Musician Lou Reed, writer Susan Sontag, socialite Edie Sedgwick, poet Allen Ginsberg, artist Dennis Hopper and others are featured in the films.

The projections glow in sharp black and white, Reed staring intently at the camera and Allen Ginsberg's dark beard and mane of hair swallowed in the shadow of the frame.

Museum curators also included some of Warhol's more ponderous, complex films, such as "Sleep," "Eat" and "Empire," some of which are only projected at scheduled screenings.

In the 86-minute excerpt of the five-hour plus film "Sleep," in which Warhol filmed the poet John Giorno, the artist seems to play with the viewer by at times including utterly still moments at the limits of the moving image and the photograph.

Viewers can also see the eight-hour silent opus "Empire" about the Manhattan skyscraper, or "Kiss," featuring 13 couples petting and passionately embracing.



-end-

With Him In Spirit

Dead lover teaches married man that safety is not everything

Manolo Cardona (left) and Christian Mercado in Javier Fuentes-León’s “Undertow.”

In an extraordinary, award-winning Peruvian film, “Undertow,” Miguel (Cristian Mercado) tries to balance his marriage to his very pregnant wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), with a clandestine romance with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), a gay painter and photographer.

When Santiago pushes his lover to come out, Miguel resists, saying he doesn’t want to hurt his wife and family or upset his close-knit community. When Santiago dies in an underwater accident, his spirit remains in limbo and his ghost appears to Miguel, but no one else. Miguel now has what he wants — the security of his home life and a loving relationship with Santiago.

Miguel’s selfishness — in wanting to hang on to his wife and his lover as long as possible — soon backfires, and he finds himself the object of anti-gay rumors and prejudice.

Writer and director Javier Fuentes-León deftly explores masculinity and sexuality in “Undertow.” On the phone from Peru, the filmmaker spoke about creating the emotional pull of his film.

GARY M. KRAMER: One of the most striking elements in your very beautiful film is how you incorporate all the natural elements — water, wind, earth, through sand, and fire, in a candle. Was that deliberate?

JAVIER FUENTES-LEÓN: I tried to use the elements to intensify the story. Water is a crucial element in the film. Not only for the plot — drowning, rebirth, and ceremony — but also when Mariela’s water breaks. So I reference water a lot. The title of the film also refers to the currents — not just the ocean, but the pull of the characters. The candle represents Santiago, the light of his Miguel’s life.

I never wrote about the wind, but when I arrived in the town where we filmed, it was a windy day. The progression of intensity of the wind and sand mirrors the intensity of Miguel’s conflict. We incorporated it into the story. The same is true with the sound and rumbling of the water.

GMK: You use magical realism very effectively. Why did you rely on the narrative device of a ghost?

JF-L: The way ghosts are seen in Latin America is different than in “Ghost,” the movie. That is why there are no special effects — Santiago is there the same way he was before he drowned — but only for Miguel’s eyes. I like the idea that Santiago’s death gives Miguel a new beginning. It’s a bittersweet irony. We know the best of both worlds will not be real and all-consuming — it’s a fantasy that lasts for a moment. It’s educational; Miguel realizes what his life would or could have been if he was openly gay.

GMK: Your film addresses elements of shame, respect, and responsibility, as Miguel is seen as a pillar of the community, then ostracized when his affair with Santiago is discovered. What prompted your sending these messages?

JF-L: I needed to balance not only my point of view but also the point of view of the society in which Miguel lives. When you are gay and/ or coming out, it’s what society imprints on us. I needed that counterpoint and to show why the prejudices come from the people who are closest to him and whom he admires. The [villagers] are calling him to be a good member of society, but the film is questioning — What is a good member of society? I believe that is being authentic and yourself. If you hide who you are, there is frustration; the price is quite big.

GMK: “Undertow” also addresses issues of masculinity/ machismo and what it means to be a man. Can you discuss this concept?

JF-L: I think that this whole machismo has rooted itself so deeply in Latin American society that it has done everyone a disservice. It not only has hurt men, but women even more. I play with those stereotypes — that men should play soccer, sit in bars and drink, and tell dirty jokes, and women should be passive and cook and watch soap operas. I don’t think everyone is that way, but it’s been rooted in our culture for years. I wanted to make fun of those ideas and question what it is to be a man. Is it dependent on sexual orientation? The idea that if you are gay, you are less of a man is ridiculous!

GMK: The lead actors are terrific together — you really feel their love and intimacy. How did you work with them on the characters?

JF-L: We never sat and talked about homosexuality and being gay. I didn’t take them to gay bars — we weren’t creating an urban behavior. We were telling a love story that happened to be between two men. If viewers only see the passion and sex, the love story won’t come across. Manolo said he would do the sex scenes, but emphasized it’s important to make this love come across. He and Cristian were conscious of what we needed to achieve. The love and the tenderness weren’t in the dialogue, but they did a great job.

GMK: Why did you dedicate the film “a mis viejos” — to my parents, my old folks?

JF-L: They are an amazing support in my life. I studied medicine and graduated from med school before I went to the US for film. My parents are not in the arts. In the world I grew up in, film was a crazy adventure, so when I made that change, they were supportive where others may not have been. They were my allies, and also when I came out — so I owe a lot to them.

It’s such a personal story, but not autobiographical. I’m not a father, fisherman, nor did I lose anyone I loved — thank God! — but it expresses my views about coming out and being out. Maybe it’s corny.



-end-

Ghanaian Activists' Gay Smear Is a Clear Cut Case of Gendered Political Thought

By Andrew Belonsky -

Bernice Sam built her career fighting for gender equality and calling for her government to tear down the walls that have so long divided men and women.
Why, then, has the Ghanaian activist also been working to amend her nation's constitution to prohibit gay marriage? Doesn't that contradict her message of equality? Well, not if you prescribe to her and others' gendered political thinking.
Sam, Ghana's program coordinator for the non-profit Women in Law and Development, appeared before a Constitutional Review Commission this weekend and insisted Ghana's founding document remains impotent against the seeping threat of same-sex marriage.
If Ghana doesn't act fast, she warned, gay marriage will infiltrate their entire society: “We believe it is time for our constitution to define marriage clearly because we cannot hide from the fact that these kinds of unions may catch up with us in the future. This is the time to say that we don’t want same sex marriages."
She later elaborated on the legal loopholes posing the greatest threat: "Article 11 that lists the laws in Ghana includes Common Law and under Common law it says customary law is also part of the laws of Ghana. And we know that when we define marriage, it is left to the definitions under customary law. Some countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda, are looking at same sex marriages."
The self-described activist also sneered at comparatively progressive South Africa, saying, "In fact in South Africa, there are laws on domestic violence recognizing violence within same sex relationships." It's worth noting that Sam has also worked to curb domestic violence in Ghana, although clearly only one breed of it.
Sam, whose organization receives funding from the World Bank, the EU and the Danish government, finally insists that Ghanaian lawmakers must gender the constitution: "The Constitution Review Commission should make proposals that clearly define marriage such that we do away with the possibilities of people bringing up arguments that say that our Constitution is gender neutral so we can now make the argument that same sex marriages are allowed."
Sam's strictly gendered view of "equality" echoes those made by another self-described activist, influential American conservative Phyllis Schlafly,
Still a right wing powerhouse at 86, Schlafly's star shined brightest during her crusade against the 70s-era Equal Rights Amendment, a failed piece of legislation that read "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
Though it seems logical that Schlafly, a woman, would support such a cause, she and like-minded activists saw ERA as a liberal agenda encroaching on their traditional way of life.
"All 50 states at that time said it was the [legal] obligation of the husband to financially support his wife and children," Schlafly told me in a 2009 interview. "The feminists tried to get those [equality] laws repealed [with ERA], which just shows their maliciousness because they didn't have to have a husband supporting them if they didn't want to. And they wanted to make sure other women didn't have that."
She went on to insist that while men and women are equal, women have different priorities, such as a family, which can prove biologically and emotionally consuming. Women can have it all, she agrees, but "not at the same time."
"Most of the women who go in the workforce simply donʼt have that same commitment to the career to put in the 60-hour week. I would not call it sexism, but I would call it a sex difference, a gender difference," claims Schlafly.
Sarah Palin's "Mama Grizzly" provides a more recent example of this conservative reasoning. Time and again she used midterm campaign speeches to celebrate an empowered population: hockey moms, ideal American females who found "common sense" in maternal duties.
"It seems like it’s kind of a mom awakening in the last year and a half where women are rising up and saying ‘no, we’ve had enough already.’ Because moms sort of just know when something is wrong," explained Palin.
"Mothers know best," she seems to say, while subtly ejecting women not enrolled in the soccer mom club. It's a cheer for both women's equality and "traditional" values that exclude those who break the nuclear family bold.
To Schlafly, Palin and Sam, women and men have specific roles. There's no blurring the lines. There can be equality, sure, but customary norms must also be upheld. LGBT people threaten that balance. They must therefore be contained, and marriage amendments like the one Sam proposed provide the perfect constraint.
Ghana was the first African nation to escape European colonialism and gain independence. Though its nascent democracy, finally free in 1957 and led by liberation activist Kwame Nkrumah, would crumble under coups, Ghana for decades represented a democratic beacon for a continent fighting for freedom.
Ghana's government straightened itself out in the 1990s, and democracy appears to be thriving. But with the nation's women bearing the brunt of poverty, gay male sex still illegal and homophobia running rampant, Ghana makes clear that democratic vote alone doesn't necessarily breed equality.
It's an ongoing, strenuous battle, one that's not always clear cut: an activist who looks like an ally, like Sam, may actually be playing for the other ideological team.
The people and organizations backing Sam's organization should take serious pause and reconsider whether Women in Law and Development fosters the best environment for future Ghanaian generations.



-end-

Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Pulls Funding from Smithsonian Over Gay Censorship

By Michael A. Jones -

Artist Robert Mapplethorpe once said that he "went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today's existence." One has to wonder what Mapplethorpe might say today if he were still alive, responding to the madness of the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery censoring artwork from openly gay artist David Wojnarowicz.
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, an institution set up by Mapplethorpe himself shortly before his death and which perseveres today as a body to promote creativity in the arts, has an idea. They think Mapplethorpe would be offended that the nation's largest museum would refuse to stand up for the integrity of art, and cave in to bigotry. That's why the Mapplethorpe Foundation has announced that they are pulling funding from the Smithsonian. After all, if the institution can't stand up for bold and provocative art, what's the point in giving it heaps of money?
The Mapplethorpe Foundation joins the Warhol Foundation in announcing that no more funds will go toward the Smithsonian, unless the work of art pulled by the museum -- A Fire in My Belly, a video portrait by Wojnarowicz -- is reinstalled. It was pulled last month after anti-gay activists with the Catholic Church and a right-wing news site, CNSNews.com, suggested that the piece was offensive to social conservatives.
What they found offensive in particular was a scene in the video where ants crawled on top of a crucifix. The work is meant to symbolize the persecution and stigmatization that those living with HIV/AIDS experienced in the mid-1980s. But for CNSNews.com and folks like Bill Donohue with the Catholic League, there was no explaining the metaphor. Perhaps that's not shocking, given the politics of these two entities. But the shock came when the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery decided to agree with Donohue and CNSNews.com, and pull the piece. Talk about a failure to live up to the integrity of art, and giving a voice to people who would like to silence those with HIV/AIDS.
And proving that this fracas isn't going away, activists in New York City are staging a demonstration this weekend (pdf) to call attention to the Smithsonian's poor decision to censor Wojnarowicz's piece. This Sunday, activists will gather at the Met and march over to the Cooper-Hewitt, the only Smithsonian institution located in NYC. Organizers of the march said that the censorship of Wojnarowicz's piece is truly tragic, given that the exhibit it was a part of, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," was groundbreaking. Now it's being remembered as an exhibit that fosters the type of discrimination and stigmatization that so many artists who have works included in the show sought to dismantle.
"No one religion, no one party, no one segment of our society can be allowed to restrict access to works of art in our public institutions, which are funded by our taxes," say demonstration organizers. "
They then echoed the New York Times, in calling the decision to remove A Fire in My Belly "an act of political cowardice."
And that's probably the best five-word description of the Smithsonian's actions that anyone could deliver. Send the institution a message that they're permanently damaging their reputation, and should reinstall Wojnarowicz's piece. There are still about two months left of the show, which means that there's time left to make amends for this utterly poor and widely-criticized decision.

 petition text -

Stop attacks on free expression at the Smithsonian
Dear Rep. Boehner and Rep. Cantor,


Congress has no business censoring art and free creative expression, and threats to go after the Smithsonian Institution's public funding over a privately-funded art exhibit are inappropriate. That these threats are in response to attacks by Far Right activists like Bill Donohue, who has made a career of manufacturing controversies over false claims of attacks on Christians, is outrageous.

I urge you to end the hostile rhetoric and respect America's standards of honoring free speech and creative expression. As the leaders of incoming majority of the House of Representatives in the coming year, your job should be to work with the Senate and the White House to advance policies that will help Americans, not to chase political straw men at the behest of the Far Right.

Sincerely,

[Your name here] 

-end-

Anti-Gay Group Wants Its Rainbow Back

By Kilian Melloy -

A religious group seeking "to promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage" says that gays appropriated the rainbow from Christian and Jewish tradition. Now the anti-gay religious right wants it back.

The argument offered by the head of the National Organization for Marriage’s Ruth Institute is that the rainbow symbolizes everything from God’s covenant with humanity after the Great Flood to the cross-section of ethnic and religious demographics that joined forces to strip gay and lesbian families of marriage rights in California two years ago, reported Talking Points Memo (TPM) on Dec. 16.

As such, declares Jennifer Morse, the rainbow properly belongs not on display in gay Pride parades, but in Sunday schools and churches. TMP reports that Morse made her claims in an article published at anti-gay religious web site OneNewsNow. OneNewsNow went so far as to say that Morse viewed anti-marriage Prop. 8 proponents as "the original rainbow coalition," despite the term’s earlier application to at least eight different specific political entities ranging from a 2002-forged Kenyan alliance to a political movement in Israel, to Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition (which subsequently merged with another group, PUSH).

"Proposition 8 was passed by a great grassroots coalition that included people from all across the religious traditions, and also people of every race and color," asserted Morse. "We are the real rainbow coalition. The gay lobby does not own the rainbow."

As for gays having used the rainbow as a motif since 1978, "We can’t simply let that go by," Morse declared. "Families put rainbows in their children’s nurseries. Little Christian preschools will have rainbows... Noah’s Ark and all the animals... Those are great Christian symbols, great Jewish symbols."

Rainbows result when sunlight refracts through water vapor in the atmosphere. Biblical literalists assert that prior to the great deluge described in the Old Testament, rain did not fall from the sky; rather, water seeped up from the ground to provide surface water and moisture for crops. The Bible says that the rainbow first appeared after God established a covenant with Noah following the great flood.

A Dec. 16 AlterNet article on Morse’s declarations notes that Morse has participated in NOM’s anti-marriage equality "Summer of Marriage" tour. NOM has mounted campaigns in states across the country to prevent marriage rights from being extended to same-sex families, and to roll back family parity in states where marriage equality has been granted.

Text at the Alternet article reads, "The main campaign of the Ruth Institute is ’Gay Marriage Affects Everyone,’ a seminar led by Morse on the dangers of same-sex marriage.

"Among the ways ’gay marriage affects everyone,’ writes Morse, include the notions that ’same sex marriage will marginalize men from the family" and "increase the power of the state over civil society,’ " the Alternet article adds.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.
 
-end-

Diversity Training a Condition if Scouts Want to Buy Philly HQ Building

By Kilian Melloy -

The Boy Scouts headquarters in Philadelphia 
Under a proposal to allow the Boy Scouts of America to buy the Depression-era building in Philadelphia that has long housed the local council’s headquarters, the Scouts would have to agree to host diversity trainings and GLBT community groups in the space, the Philadelphia Daily News reported on Dec. 17.

The city lost a federal trial against the Scouts earlier in the year. The sale of the building for $500,000--half its appraised value--has been proposed as a means of settling with the Boy Scouts. At issue in the trial was the national organization’s policy of excluding gays and atheists, which the Supreme Court upheld in a 2000 decision. But the city, which had been leasing the building to the Scouts for the token fee of $1 per year, has anti-discrimination policies in place that cover sexual minorities. When the city pressed for the Cradle of Liberty Council to defy the national group’s anti-gay policy or face a choice between eviction or paying the market rate for its yearly lease--a cost of $200,000--the case went to trial. A jury found in favor of the Scouts.

The plan to sell the building includes caveats, noted the Philadelphia Daily News article. One is that the Cradle of Liberty Council must agree that they will not sell the building for at least ten years. The other is that the group must allow community groups to use space within the building--including GLBT groups--for educational forums, including diversity training.

The sale was hailed as a "win-win" solution to an already expensive legal wrangle. Attorney Jason Gosselin, who represented the Cradle of Liberty Council, told the Associated Press that the sale was "a better solution than having to go through an appeals process."

A joint statement from both sides of the issue said, "What we have on the table is a win-win situation that resolves the lawsuit, saves the city $1 million and gives the Scouts the opportunity to buy the headquarters they have been in for 80 years."

But the plan has its skeptics and its detractors. "Anything that rewards discrimination is just plain wrong. So to give the Boy Scouts the building for $500,000 is giving them a prize piece of Philadelphia property for a pittance," said the head of Equality Forum, Malcolm Lazin, who added his signature to a letter from a group of prominent citizens to the city mayor urging that the sale not proceed.

"The recent proposal to sell city-owned property to the Boy Scouts, at a big discount, to facilitate discrimination is contrary to the values and beliefs we hold most dear as a community," the letter read in part, a Dec. 17 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported. "As history has shown, when we permit discrimination against some of us, we tear apart the fabric that makes us one," the letter added.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.
 
-end-

In France, Civil Unions Gain Favor Over Marriage

A pact is enough: Sophie Lazzaro and Thierry Galissant.
PARIS — Some are divorced and disenchanted with marriage; others are young couples ideologically opposed to marriage, but eager to lighten their tax burdens. Many are lovers not quite ready for old-fashioned matrimony.
Whatever their reasons, and they vary widely, French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.
When France created its system of civil unions in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in gay rights, a relationship almost like marriage, but not quite. No one, though, anticipated how many couples would make use of the new law. Nor was it predicted that by 2009, the overwhelming majority of civil unions would be between straight couples.
It remains unclear whether the idea of a civil union, called a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, has responded to a shift in social attitudes or caused one. But it has proved remarkably well suited to France and its particularities about marriage, divorce, religion and taxes — and it can be dissolved with just a registered letter.
“We’re the generation of divorced parents,” explained Maud Hugot, 32, an aide at the Health Ministry who signed a PACS with her girlfriend, Nathalie Mondot, 33, this year. Expressing a view that researchers say is becoming commonplace among same-sex couples and heterosexuals alike, she added, “The notion of eternal marriage has grown obsolete.”
France recognizes only “citizens,” and the country’s legal principles hold that special rights should not be accorded to particular groups or ethnicities. So civil unions, which confer most of the tax benefits and legal protections of marriage, were made available to everyone. (Marriage, on the other hand, remains restricted to heterosexuals.) But the attractiveness of civil unions to heterosexual couples was evident from the start. In 2000, just one year after the passage of the law, more than 75 percent of civil unions were signed between heterosexual couples. That trend has only strengthened since then: of the 173,045 civil unions signed in 2009, 95 percent were between heterosexual couples.
“It’s becoming more and more commonplace,” said Laura Anicet, 24, a student who signed a PACS last month with her 29-year-old boyfriend, Cyril Reich. “For me, before, the PACS was for homosexual couples.”
As with traditional marriages, civil unions allow couples to file joint tax returns, exempt spouses from inheritance taxes, permit partners to share insurance policies, ease access to residency permits for foreigners and make partners responsible for each other’s debts. Concluding a civil union requires little more than a single appearance before a judicial official, and ending one is even easier.
It long ago became common here to speak of “getting PACSed” (se pacser, in French). More recently, wedding fairs have been renamed to include the PACS, department stores now offer PACS gift registries and travel agencies offer PACS honeymoon packages.
Even the Roman Catholic Church, which initially condemned the partnerships as a threat to the institution of marriage, has relented; the National Confederation of Catholic Family Associations now says civil unions do not pose “a real threat.”
While the partnerships have exploded in popularity, marriage numbers have continued a long decline in France, as across Europe. Just 250,000 French couples married in 2009, with fewer than four marriages per 1,000 residents; in 1970, almost 400,000 French couples wed.
Germany, too, has seen a similar plunge in marriage rates. In 2009, there were just over four marriages per 1,000 residents compared with more than seven per 1,000 in 1970. In the United States, the current rate is 6.8 per 1,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
France is not the only European nation to allow civil unions between straight couples, but in the few countries that do — Luxembourg, Andorra, the Netherlands — they are not as popular. In the Netherlands in 2009, for example, there was just one civil union for every eight marriages.
If current trends continue in France, new civil unions could soon outnumber marriages, as they already do in Paris’s youthful 11th Arrondissement.
François Lambert, 28, and his girlfriend, Maud Moulin, 27, signed a civil union in 2007 for what he described as logistical reasons. Both public schoolteachers, they would be assured of postings to the same district only if they filed joint tax returns, which civil unions allow.
“We didn’t have time to prepare for a marriage,” he said. “It was a question of speed.”
Sophie Lazzaro, 48, an event planner in Paris, signed a civil union in 2006 with her longtime companion, Thierry Galissant, who is 50. (She said she was drawn to a civil union largely for the legal protections and stability it offered.)
“I have two daughters, and if something happens to me, I want us to stay together as a family,” she said. “But without getting married.”
In addition to their practical advantages, she said, civil unions are ideologically suited to her generation, which came of age after the social rebellions of the 1960s. “We were very free,” she said. “AIDS didn’t exist, we had the pill, we didn’t have to fight. We were the first generation to enjoy all of this.” She added, “Marriage has a side that’s very institutional and very square and religious, which didn’t fit for us.”
Though French marriages are officially concluded in civil ceremonies held in town halls, not in churches, marriage is still viewed here as a “heavy and invasive” institution with deep ties to Christianity, said Wilfried Rault, a sociologist at the National Institute for Demographic Studies.
“Marriage bears the traces of a religious imprint,” he said, often anathema in a country where secularism has long been treated as a sacred principle. “It’s really an ideological slant, saying, ‘No one is going to tell me what I have to do.’ ”
For some, civil unions are simply a form of premarital engagement. Ms. Anicet, the student, said she and her boyfriend would probably be married were they not of different religions. She is Catholic, he is Jewish, and his mother disapproves of marrying outside the faith, Ms. Anicet said.
“We’re realizing that this is a test,” she said, “a way to get our families used to it.”
Though the two had considered a civil union for tax reasons, now “it’s a jumping-off point to getting married, later,” she said, adding after a pause, “I hope.”

-end-

A Gay Rights Life

Matt Coles, director of the ACLU LGBT Project, talks to Joel Engardio about his life working in gay rights, coming out, surviving the AIDS crisis and fighting for LGBT equality. Matt's conversation is divided into three chapters, each four minutes long:







-end-

Friday, December 17, 2010

Homeless for the Holidays

by Robyn


It is becoming that time of year again.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, etc...which, if you have a place to eat and money to purchase food, actually might mean something. But not all of us are so lucky.

What I am reminded of each year are the times when I myself was homeless...in Seattle and San Francisco and Tuscon and Tyler, TX...and in order to have a holiday meal, had to turn to a mission of some sort, being the only types of homeless shelter available at the time.

But times have changed, a bit. There are now non-religiously affiliated shelters in many locales.

Not that the religious ones were all that bad...as long as one remembered the main credo:

You have to listen to the Word if you want to eat the bird.


It is in one of these missions that I finally learned that I could no longer call myself a Christian. The answers to the questions I put to the preacher were just insufficient for me.

Oral Arguments Delivered in Lambda Legal Case of Lesbian Denied Spousal Health Insurance by Federal Employer

"This case could result in the next major court ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA"


Jennifer C. Pizer
National Marriage
Project Director
"The irony is that the Obama
Administration, through the
decisions of OPM and the
Department of Justice to assert
DOMA as an excuse for the
discriminatory treatment of
Karen Golinski, has turned
this into a challenge to DOMA itself."
(San Francisco, December 17, 2010)—The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard oral arguments on Friday in a Lambda Legal lawsuit against the Obama Administration that may have major implications for the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
Lambda Legal and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed suit against the federal government earlier this year on behalf of Karen Golinski, a 19-year employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Golinski seeks the same spousal health insurance for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, that heterosexual employees receive for their spouses. Golinski and Cunninghis have been together for 21 years. Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requests an order directing the agency to obey prior rulings by the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals awarding the equal insurance benefits to Golinski. OPM should rescind its instruction to Golinski's insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, not to enroll Golinski's wife in the family health insurance plan.
"This case could result in the next major court ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA," said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal. "This began as a simple internal personnel matter; the irony is that the Obama Administration, through the decisions of OPM and the Department of Justice to assert DOMA as an excuse for the discriminatory treatment of Karen Golinski, has turned this into a challenge to DOMA itself."
The judge previously asked both sides to file additional legal briefs addressing, among other topics, whether or not DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. Lambda Legal has explained that the law indeed is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation and infringes on the fundamental right to privacy and respect for one's family relationships recognized by the Supreme Court in Lambda Legal's landmark case, Lawrence v. Texas.
"Judge White, both through his request for supplementary information during the briefing process and his questioning at today's hearing, seems keenly interested in how the Obama Administration now is defending DOMA, after having reached out to block benefits for Karen and Amy," said Pizer. "He seemed rightly skeptical of the government's argument that DOMA maintains 'consistency' in how the federal government allocates federal rights and benefits. Before DOMA, the federal government—consistently—respected all legal marriages, no matter what state issued the license or who married whom. Now, for the first time under DOMA, the government inconsistently distinguishes among legally married people, favoring heterosexuals and ignoring lesbians and gay men, and for no reasons other than ignorance, prejudice and anti-gay religious condemnation."
"Judge White also skewered another piece of twisted logic on OPM's part: that the Executive Branch agency's duty to negotiate contracts with insurance plans to cover federal workers somehow authorizes it to meddle in and to thwart individual enrollment decisions ordered by top managers of a different branch of the federal government. OPM's facilitation and support functions go nowhere that far."
Lambda Legal's Pizer represents Golinski together with Rita Lin, James McGuire, Gregory Dresser and Aaron Jones of Morrison & Foerster LLP.
The case is Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management and John Berry, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in his official capacity.

-end-

true LGBTQ Stories - We're From Omaha, NE, and Wichita, KS.

www.imfromdriftwood.com Is a compilation of true stories by gay people from all over in an attempt to help LGBTQ teens feel not so alone. Please pass the link along to anyone who might benefit from, contribute to, or simply enjoy the site, stories and videos. Thanks!



-end-

Gay marriage supporters plan new vote in NY Senate

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York's most influential advocates for gay rights say the chances are better than ever to legalize same-sex marriage, even in a Republican-controlled Senate.
The Empire State Pride Agenda said its count after the November elections showed a net gain of at least two votes for same-sex marriage. The group also said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos has promised to bring the issue to the floor again.
A year ago, the measure passed in the Assembly, but failed in the Senate by eight votes. In November, two senators who opposed gay marriage — Democrat William Stachowski of Erie County and Frank Padavan of Queens — lost re-election bids in part because of Empire Pride's efforts.
The organization insists, too, that several new legislators in the biggest freshman class in decades will likely vote for the measure, while those who opposed it in 2009 will see a wiser political course in 2011.
Democratic Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo also made gay marriage a significant element in his campaign.
"We are sitting here today in a stronger position after the election than we were before," said Ross Levi, executive director of Empire Pride.
Part of the group's strategy includes arguing that gay marriages held in New York would add nearly $200 million to the economy and framing the question as a civil right. It also argues that legal marriage provides more than 1,000 rights to married couples, from who can visit a dying patient in a hospital to transferring property in wills.
"I believe there is a clear and credible path to victory on marriage equality," Levi said. "It's hard work. It's going to be a difficult session for anybody ... but we know how to do it."
He noted that some of the biggest wins for the gay and transgender community in the area of hate crimes and civil rights were won when Republicans controlled the Senate. Republicans are poised to take the majority in January after two years of Democratic rule, pending a final appeal in one race.
"Senator Skelos said that, subject to a discussion with his conference, he would put the bill out for a vote," said Skelos spokesman Mark Hansen. He noted, however, that the "top, immediate priorities" are the balancing the budget, cutting spending and creating jobs.
A Siena College poll this month found 56 percent of New York voters would support a same-sex marriage bill, with 43 percent opposed. In 2009, most polls showed slightly over 50 percent of voters supported gay marriage.
"I think in view of new members that have joined our conference and theirs, there is a likelihood that it has a better shot at passing," said Democratic Sen. Malave Dilan of Brooklyn, who voted for the measure in 2009. "Whatever the case is, it is should come to an up-or-down vote."
Empire Pride also said Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's opposition to gay marriage has generated more political support for its cause.
Levi said Paladino's crash as a candidate was hastened by that opposition and his criticism of the behavior of gays at parades. Loud public opposition to Paladino's views created a warning for other politicians.
"It just doesn't work in New York," Levi said.

-end-

UK parliament gets first LGBT network

Lords, MPs and parliament staff will soon have a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network.
The group, named ParliOut, will be launched next week with Speaker John Bercrow as its president.
It is the first of a series of “equality network groups” to be launched in parliament – although no details have been released about others.
Created with the advice of gay rights charity Stonewall, ParliOut will offer “mutual support” and a mentoring programme.
A cross-party board including Chris Bryant MP, Stephen Gilbert MP and Margot James MP will oversee it.
The network is the first of its kind in Westminster and prime minister David Cameron gave his congratulations today.
He said: “If parliament is to remain relevant to the wider public, it is vital that any barriers preventing LGB and T people from becoming MPs, or parliamentary staff, are dismantled. ParliOut is a fantastic and welcome opportunity to help achieve this.
“I want Britain to remain a world leader in LGB and T equality, and it is right that the mother of parliaments should support its LGB and T staff. I congratulate ParliOut on its launch, and wish it every success.”
Mr Bercow added: “Parliament as a workplace should set an example in good practice when it comes to equality and diversity.
“Therefore I am delighted to be able to welcome the creation of the first LGBT network group – the first of the equality network groups to be set up on the parliamentary estate. This is another positive step towards breaking down barriers in the workplace.”

-end-

Ian Baynham’s family urges better reporting of hate crimes

Ian Baynham
The family of Ian Baynham has urged victims of homophobic hate crimes to report incidents to police.
The civil servant, 62, died last October, 18 days after he was punched and kicked in a homophobic attack in central London.
His sister Jenny said she missed him “dreadfully” and called on the public to “take responsibility” for reporting such crimes.
Describing her brother as her “protector”, she said: “He was very generous. He loved people. He had this great knack of engaging people.
“My younger brother and I used to say that he really was a must at any party because he loved it. He got on well with everybody.”
Ms Baynham, 59, condemned the homophobic abuse hurled at him on the night of the attack and said that their 89-year-old mother Muriel had been left “desperately upset” by his death.
Mr Baynham was killed while out celebrating a new job at the Foreign Office.
After the attack, he was taken to the Royal London Hospital, where he died from a brain injury 18 days later.
Ms Baynham said: “I went to the hospital nearly every day and when I first saw Ian I looked at him and I thought ‘I can’t see how you are going to survive’.
“He looked so ill. The hospital staff were fantastic. They did everything they could but he never responded, probably from when he was rendered unconscious. That was the last time he knew any life, I think.”
She stayed at his bedside with his close friend George Richardson, 53.
Mr Richardson said: “You spend 18 days hoping for some kind of miracle. But when I saw the medical staff on the night he was admitted, they told me how very poorly he was.”
Ms Baynham said she and Mr Richardson were both holding her brother’s hand when he died.
“I said to George ‘I think he’s slipping away’ so we were left and we were with him, which was quite important to us.”
Ms Baynham said she was angry at hearing that her brother had been called anti-gay slurs before he was attacked.
She said: “I can’t believe it. That makes me angry to hear that. I am not normally angry but I just feel it’s so wrong, it should never be. We shouldn’t be able to treat each other like that – something about dignity and respect.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, we should be able to give that to everyone, whoever we come across.”
She added: “I do believe that we do need to do something about any sort of abuse to anybody. It is just not acceptable but it is particularly tragic because it is so close.
“I thought that we had moved on a long way and I am really surprised that this sort of thing is still thrown up and is still an issue.
“But I think that it is the general public’s responsibility to do something about that and report more of these sorts of incidents.
“There is still a huge prejudice relating to homophobia.
“I have seen that not only in this country but also in Australia and I think a lot more needs to be done.
“I don’t think there is an easy answer to it and I think as individuals everybody has certain feelings about different sections of society but it is about tolerance, that is important.”
She said she hoped “something positive” would come out of what happened.
Mr Richardson said he was “probably not as shocked and surprised” about the nature of the attack “because you know how much of it goes on”.
“You know how much of it in the past has been under-reported, and I hope more people are prepared to come forward now,” he said.

-end-

United Nations Will Vote on Whether It's OK To Execute Gay People

By Michael A. Jones -

Last month, collective shock shot around the globe as the United Nations voted to remove sexual orientation from a resolution condemning extrajudicial killing. Sure, the global community was willing to condemn murder on the basis of age, religion, or ethnicity, but when it came to the subject of sexual orientation, a gaggle of countries demurred. They wanted the right to kill people on the basis of sexual orientation, and darn it, they weren't going to let the international community stand in their way.
Sure enough, they organized, and a coalition of African nations (led by Benin) took charge. They proposed a measure that would strike sexual orientation from this extrajudicial killing resolution, and then they got 79 countries to support their work. As a result, the United Nations gave its blessing to the execution of LGBT people around the globe.
What was even more shocking was the fact that several countries deemed to be LGBT-friendly (or at least heading in that direction) voted in favor of killing gays. Countries like South Africa and Cuba, where LGBT people have made great strides in recent years, or countries like Guyana, Belize, and the Bahamas, which while not entirely LGBT hospitable, aren't seen as the type of places that support the murder of LGBT people.
Thankfully, this issue isn't finished yet, and in large part, we have the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to thank for it.
On Human Rights Day (marked December 10), Rice announced that the U.S. would try to fix this crooked vote, and get the UN back on track to do what it's supposed to do: protect the human rights of all, regardless of sexual orientation.
“Here at the United Nations, like many of you, I was incensed by the recent vote in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which eliminated any mention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals from a resolution condemning extrajudicial killing of vulnerable people around the world,” said Rice. “We’re going to fight to restore the reference to sexual orientation. We’re going to stand firm on this basic principle, and we intend to win."
And now it looks like the UN will vote once again on this resolution, on Monday, December 20.
Several organizations are stepping up lobbying efforts to make sure that, this time, the resolution passes with a reference to sexual orientation in it. Take ARC-International, which sent out a backgrounder for people to use when calling their foreign mission asking them to keep sexual orientation in the resolution. They note that for 10 years sexual orientation has been included in this resolution, and it's never caused a controversy.
And the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) added that this vote is extremely important, because this resolution is the only official UN resolution to include the words sexual orientation.
"On Monday, we have an opportunity to turn this around. States will have the chance to restore the reference to sexual orientation – and hopefully extend it to also include gender identity – when the resolution is voted on by the full UN General Assembly," said IGLHRC.
So here's what to do. A number of foreign nations are believed to be persuadable on this issue, and could make all the difference in whether sexual orientation flies in this resolution. These countries? Well, they include South Africa and Cuba, two states who should have known better the last time. But also the Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. And you can send all of these countries a message now, urging them to get with the program, and get out of the business of supporting the execution of people, solely because they're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

petition text -

Include sexual orientation in resolution on extrajudicial killing

Greetings,

On December 20, the United Nations will vote on a resolution condemning extrajudicial killing. For the past 10 years, this resolution has included a condemnation of killing based on sexual orientation. I urge you to keep sexual orientation in this important resolution.

Efforts are being made by a coalition of countries to strip sexual orientation from the language of this resolution. But the message that would send to the world community is that the United Nations -- the body charged with upholding human rights around the globe -- believes it's appropriate for countries to execute gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. That is a message we cannot afford to send the world.

Please stand up and support sexual orientation in this resolution.

Thank you for your time.

[Your name here] 

-end-

Russian Lesbian Families Featured in New Poster Project

By Dana Rudolph -

Whenever I get too frustrated with the pace of change for LGBT rights here in the U.S., I think of what things are like in many other places in the world. Places like Russia, where the level of visibility, understanding, and rights is even less than it is in most of our country.
An LGBT rights organization in St. Petersburg, Russia,  however, hopes to increase visibility and awareness with a series of five posters celebrating lesbian parents and their children. The group Coming Out is launching the “Rainbow Parents” project, according to a press release, "to present short stories from the life of gay families, to show their existence for the Russian society. The current threat of homophobia makes many gay families in Russia hide their sexual orientation from children, relatives and friends, from the society."
The posters touch on five topics: “Courage”, “Dignity”, “Rights”, “Happiness” and “Coming out”. You can view them in the original Russian or via Google Translate for a (more-or-less accurate) English translation. Although the words may sound rough to our ears, the love of the families shines through.
With the help of the Heinrich-Böll foundation in Moscow, the posters will be distributed among community organizations in St. Petersburg and the regional offices of the Russian LGBT Network. A note on the Coming Out Web site says they are willing to donate additional posters to anyone else who wants to hang them (presumably in Russia).
Coming Out also recently held the first gathering for LGBT parents in St. Petersburg. I doubt we've heard the last of what seems like an energetic group -- and I hope some of the various LGBT family organizations and projects in the U.S. reach out to them to share resources and stories.
Courage has many faces. These are some of them.

-end-

State Department Honors Lesbian Couple for "Transformative Diplomacy in Albania"

By Dana Rudolph -

"Transformative diplomacy." That's what the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) called the efforts of Mindy R. Michels and Melissa E. Schraibman to help set up "a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Albania where none had existed." The women were honored by the U.S. State Department as two of this year's six winners of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Overseas.
Schraibman, a foreign service employee, and her partner Michels helped a small group of activists in the Albanian capitol Tirana to establish the Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca Kunder Diskriminimit LGBT). According to AAFSW, the two met weekly with the Alliance "and provided support, inspiration and skills development." They organized strategic planning sessions, and trained the leadership team in "grant writing, membership recruitment, press strategies, organizational development, and grassroots activism."
Michels also helped the group draft the anti-discrimination law that was passed unanimously by the Albanian government earlier this year, banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other categories. The Alliance has done more than push for legislative change, however. The group has weekly discussion groups and social events, regular grassroots actions, and a "very active" Facebook group with over 1100 [now 1200] members, according to AAFSW, and has created "a social and activist network that transformed the lives of the people it reached." Here's a slideshow of some of the group's activities, including one photo of former U.S. Ambassador to Albania John Withers II, with an Alliance t-shirt at a reception he held for the LGBT community.
Kudos to Michels and Schraibman -- but also kudos to the State Department for recognizing their efforts in helping to spread LGBT equality around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of course, has a strong record of supporting LGBT rights. She has taken a firm stand on human rights abuses against LGBT people in Uganda, expanded employee benefits to same-sex partners of State Department employees before they were standard throughout the government, and made one of the first "It Gets Better" videos of any federal official, even the president.
It's good to know, however, that the State Department's support of LGBT rights goes beyond the big, sweeping actions from the top and extends down to support for foreign service employees on the ground, working with local grassroots organizations to create change community by community.

 -end-

California Legislation Would Stop De-Gaying History

By Adam Amel Rogers -

At the front entrance of the Southern California elementary school that my husband teaches in is a prominent quote that reads, “What you would have in the life of a nation you must first put into its schools.” If LGBT people are going to achieve equal standing in society, the bells of equality must begin to ring in our schools. A new bill in California has a chance to start a national trend of LGBT educational equality.
Equality California and the GSA Network are sponsoring the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which was introduced in the California Legislature earlier this week by openly gay state senator Mark Leno. This important bill would go a long way to make sure the important contributions of LGBT people are taught in schools. Gay historical figures have been largely plagued by invisibility in curricula, but the FAIR Act would ensure that these figures are no longer de-gayed in California textbooks.
Of course, sentences that include the words “gay” and “education” instantly trigger a fearful response from the anti-gay industry. Anti-gay groups spend millions of dollars to “other” LGBT people – their goal is to paint gay people as being abnormal, different, lesser and as something to be feared, and this proposed legislation counters those messages. Enter the California Family Council, which is hyperventilating about the proposed legislation. They claim this bill opens the door “to further promotion of homosexuality while silencing the voice of traditional morality and Judeo-Christian beliefs in the schools.”
The FAIR Act does nothing to silence anyone; it simply ensures that the fair and accurate truth is presented to our young people. In the process, it will play an important role in making our schools safer. Education is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the effort to eradicate anti-gay bullying in our schools. As Change.org's Dana Rudolph points out, a London school has virtually eliminated homophobic bullying in their school by teaching children about the societal contributions of LGBT people. People fear what they don’t understand, so naturally an increased knowledge base about gay people will reduce fear-based homophobia in schools and by extension, society.
The overwhelming response of It Gets Better videos have provided significant community support for young gay people, but legislation like the FAIR Act will help young LGBT students receive the support they need from inside school walls as well. Previous generations have struggled to find open and honest LGBT role models, but the FAIR Act will allow the upcoming generation to find gay people to look up to while they are doing their homework.
With a new pro-gay Governor taking office in January (Jerry Brown), this legislation has a great chance of becoming law, but it is up to you to let the California legislature know that you support the FAIR Education Act – please sign this petition today.

 petition text -

Support the FAIR Education Act

Greetings,

I'm writing to ask your support for the FAIR Education Act, SB 48. This important bill will ensure that students learn in their social science classes about the many contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

LGBT youth deserve to thrive in school and in life. But to thrive, they need to feel safe and confident. They need to see and be inspired by LGBT role models who are changing the world for the better. They need to feel like they belong. Too many of our youth are struggling with harassment, feelings of worthlessness and even suicidal thoughts. We have to make our schools safer and more positive environments for LGBT youth.

Existing laws require classes in the social sciences -- including history, sociology, anthropology and similar subjects -- to teach students about the contributions of men and women, racial and ethnic minorities and other groups. The FAIR Education Act, sponsored by Equality California and the GSA Network, would require these same classes to teach students about the contributions of LGBT people. This important Act would also prevent the use of teaching materials that have negative images of people for being LGBT. Current laws already protect other groups in this way.

This bill can give LGBT youth hope, both for their future and for their lives today. All students will learn about how LGBT people have helped shape history, helping them to better understand their LGBT classmates.

Please support this important bill. If you are already a co-sponsor, thank you for your support.

[Your name here] 

-end-

California man uses Facebook to combat HIV/AIDS stigma

B
y Megan Barnes -

Xavier Mejia uses Facebook to combat HIV/AIDS stigma.
Xavier Mejia uses Facebook 
to combat HIV/AIDS stigma.

Nineteen years ago, Xavier Mejia approached classmates at El Monte High School about an LGBT group that met during second period on Tuesdays. Despite the awkwardness of recruitment, the group grew from five to 20 members by the time he graduated.

Mejia and his El Monte peers discussed issues not addressed elsewhere. They connected with LGBT advocacy groups in Los Angeles, and they listened to stories about watching people with
what was then known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency succumb to the virus.

"The first time I remember hearing about HIV was in second grade, when it was called GRID," said Mejia, who was teased and called "fag" in school. "I did know the association between the word fag and the word gay, so when I heard the word GRID and it started with the gay word, I zoned in and became very aware of GRID, which became AIDS and then HIV, but I didn’t understand the relationship between that and sexual activity."

The 34-year-old activist and social worker still reaches out to strangers-now thousands on Facebook. Sharing HIV/AIDS information, news and his personal story, Mejia gained a social network following that includes a few friends from the club he started in El Monte.

Mejia has worked for the City Project, LA Shanti, the Hispanic AIDS Forum and other non-profit and youth organizations over the last decade. He is currently a case manager for young people with HIV/AIDS at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. "Part of the work that I enjoy at Children’s Hospital and other orgs is tapping into evidence-based information, being on the forefront of information and trying to funnel that out and make information more available to other people," said Mejia.

Having followed HIV before and after the introduction of medications, Mejia has seen disparities between different generations of LGBT people.

"There was a group of men within the gay community who would have been the mentors to my generation that were gone because of HIV," he said. "There had been this terrible process that had been interrupted, so that also meant learning how to communicate again as a community. They had a trauma they had to endure, so it wasn’t like they had a community of survivors waiting to mentor 18-year-olds."

Another disparity, he said, is the way LGBT youth cope with a lack of spaces in which they feel comfortable. "You come out and most of your gay experience with others tends to be in a party scene and nightclubs and if you haven’t been given tools to develop healthier coping skills, then there is an opportunity to get lost in behaviors that may not provide most positive turn around," added Mejia.

Another downside of working for HIV/AIDS service organizations is survivor’s guilt. It began for Mejia when one of his best friends tested positive in 2002.

"He and I basically lived the same lifestyle and we were the same age and hung out with the same people and did the same things," he said. "The only thing I could really do was be there and listen and not share with him my guilt because I didn’t want to add to it. I think that it did affect my choices and it probably felt more real then. I knew about HIV and the cookie-cut messages we put out about ’Use a condom,’ ’Condoms save lives,’ but I think this created a reality that knowledge alone doesn’t give you."

This guilt was increasingly difficult when he told clients they had tested positive-from a monogamous Latina senior, to a religious 16-year-old having anal sex to preserve her virginity. Mejia, however, experienced survivor’s guilt on a new level when he met and fell in love with his partner, who was living with HIV.

Mejia, who coordinated a youth program in San Diego at the time, lived with his partner in Tijuana. His partner’s status prevented him from obtaining a passport to enter the United States. "I often thought about what it was like for him knowing that his partner was negative and the fears he would express and as his partner I wanted him to feel safe and comfortable," said Mejia.

Living between two worlds, Mejia saw the detrimental effects stigma had on his partner’s health.

"By day I would go to San Diego, and at home I was living with a partner who was struggling with his HIV diagnosis and struggling with obtaining information because he was afraid that if people saw him, he would get coined the HIV-positive person in community," he said. "Although he appeared to be very healthy, he wasn’t on HIV meds and wasn’t being followed by a doctor because of the fear of being seen in an HIV clinic."

Mejia’s partner passed away from opportunistic pneumonia on Dec. 12, 2007. As part of his grieving process, Mejia decided to express his feelings. He began using Facebook as a diary and was surprised by the direct messages of support and shared experiences he began receiving. His inbox was also filling up with questions to which he had answers.

"I realized Facebook has the ability for me to post information publicly, so why was I keeping this information just brief?" said Mejia. "I started to publicly post informational links about HIV and events and orgs that I worked with. Little by little, the friends grew and I realized my Facebook wasn’t just about me, that through my coping, people related and that I had an opportunity to use Facebook as a tool to provide information to people that I had easy access to."

Shortly after World AIDS Day, Mejia posted a Facebook note that disclosed his own HIV diagnosis a year ago. "As an educator and as someone who has been in the HIV field for 10 years, I feel the responsibility to help give a face to this virus/disease," he wrote. "There are no bad guys here to arrest... only human choices, with human experiences."

After his diagnosis, Mejia found himself enrolling in the same workshops he once taught and going through the same steps through which he guided clients in the past. Colleagues with whom he worked on other cases began asking him questions-many people assumed before his diagnoses he was living with HIV because of his activism and his posts about his partner.
"If HIV was about just condom usage, then we wouldn’t have doctors who are HIV-positive," said Mejia. "So I think part of the stigma that I’ve had to face personally is because I am in this field some people have asked, ’Well, you have been on fore front of this, how can this happen?’ I could have bought into the fear of judgment and kept quiet, but I feel that my answer is very real and that is that HIV is a human experience and there are more important issues around HIV we need to talk about. We need to have those sorts of conversations, and me opening up about my situation eliminated room to hone in on the stigma."

In addition to his HIV/AIDS work, Mejia is part of Los Payasos, a volunteer group of gay Latino men who dress up as clowns to raise funds for children’s causes. He also cites his family (his mother is also a social worker) and mentors as those who contribute to his positive outlook.

"I am a product of the people that have taught me the qualities that come with having a more positive outlook, people who did not allow me to fall in moments where I wanted to get lost in my own pain," said Mejia. "I honor the support they gave me by being that for other people and embracing that for myself."

-end-

Culhane: The gay year ahead

, Professor of Law, Widener University -


With just a couple of weeks to go in 2010, the time seems ripe to list the big legal issues I expect to be following during the next year – along with some predictions.
  • Wither the Prop 8 litigation? Unless the case is tossed out for lack of standing (which I doubt), Perry v. Schwarzenegger likely won’t get resolved by the end of 2011. But there will be at least one, and maybe two, appellate decisions (by the Ninth Circuit panel that heard the case last week and perhaps by the court sitting en banc) and endless analysis and commentary from every point along the legal and political spectrum.
Prediction: The appellate court will side with Judge Walker’s decision, finding Prop 8 unconstitutional. The case will inch closer to the Supreme Court.
  • DADT won’t get repealed this year (please, let me be wrong!). Obama’s Justice Department won’t drop the appeal, nor will the Conciliator in Chief issue an Executive Order that would at least temporarily end the policy. But discharges – already rare under Obama – will diminish down to almost zero, thereby paving the way for eventual repeal (in about 2017).
  • Apart from the Prop 8 case, marriage equality will plod along. Maryland will pass an equality bill, and New Hampshire in the end won’t repeal its equality legislation. Hawaii will join Illinois in passing a civil union bill. As the percentage of citizens in states with civil union or marriage equality laws crosses the 30% threshold, public opinion will continue to swell in our favor – not just for civil unions, but for full equality. (Obama, however, will not move toward support for marriage equality, content to sit comfortably behind the curve.)
  • Bullying of LGBT youth will continue to command political and legal space. Several states will strengthen their anti-bullying laws, thereby calling to account not just the kids who bully, but also the authorities allowing this shameful treatment to continue. Yet law will continue to have limited effect in this area; advocates and the kids themselves will play the larger part in reducing the violence. Glee will have limited impact on the situation.
  • The battle over the accommodations between LGBT rights and religious liberties will intensify. Radical right Christians (or “Christianists,” a term that I prefer to describe this subset of Christians) will continue to press – mostly unsuccessfully – for broad exemptions from any anti-discrimination or pro-equality laws that are enacted. Their failure to enact their prejudices into law will feed their narrative of victimization. (I will be addressing this issue soon.)
  • The public health benefits of the health care reform law will begin to become evident, even as the legislation’s promise enters a kind of judicial limbo, waiting on an ultimate ruling by the Supreme Court on whether the pay-or-be-fined mandate is constitutional. (Yes, health care reform is LGBT rights law, as the most marginalized and ostracized members of our community stand the most to gain.)
Prediction: Unless there’s a change in the make-up of the Supreme Court, the mandate will likely be struck down, 5-4 for the complex constitutional reason that the Justices…don’t like it.
  • No prediction here, but an important story nonetheless: The assault on judicial independence begun by NOM and its supporters in Iowa is extremely troubling. (As you’ll recall, the Iowa Supreme Court had committed the unpardonable sin of interpreting the state’s constitution to require marriage equality; the decision was unanimous.)  Whether or not the suit challenging the ouster of three of the seven justices is successful, NOM’s despicable tactic is a shot across the bow, intended to frighten judges in other states from doing their constitutional duties.  It won’t work.
  • The Ugandan Parliament will not end up passing any version of their unspeakable “kill the gays” bill, but the connection between American fundamentalists and their Ugandan  counterparts will continue to be exposed.
  • [This space reserved for unforeseeable legal issue.]
Although I’ll probably have another column or two in this space before year’s end, this seems like a good place to pause and thank all the readers – those who comment and those who don’t, and whether you usually agree with me or not – for making this column a part of my weekly routine that I approach with great zeal and enthusiasm.
And thanks to Jay Vanasco for reaching out to me in the first place. As they used to say in the comix I read as a kid: Excelsior!
John Culhane is Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del. He blogs about the role of law in everyday life, and about a bunch of other things at: http://wordinedgewise.org. He is the editor of and contributor to a just-released book, Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates: A Public Health Perspective, now available on Amazon.  His chapter is on marriage equality.
 
-end-