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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ugandan lesbian Brenda Namigadde's asylum was rejected because she didn’t own magazines

A lesbian asylum seeker who was granted a last minute reprieve from deportation to Uganda was rejected the right to remain in the UK because she didn’t own magazines or other literature relating to her sexuality it has been revealed.
Brenda Namigadde, 29, was due to fly from Heathrow at 9:20 pm on Friday evening and was already on board the aircraft at when an injunction stopping the deportation was granted. The deportation was to take place little more than 48 hours after the prominent Ugandan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) rights campaigner David Kato was violently murdered in a homophobic incident.
The blog Political Scrapbook claims to have seen documents from her first-tier tribunal immigration judge.
“The Appellant appears to have taken no interest in forms of media by magazines, books, or other information relating to her sexual orientation,” the judge is claimed to have said, adding: “While there is no requirement to do so it does seem strange … that she has not done so.”
The full text of his judgement is repeated below:-
“I find that the Appellant was not and is not, on the evidence before me, a lesbian. l End that her credibility is affected by her conduct. l am not obliged to accept her say so of these issues. l find such peripheral information to describe what went on, either in Uganda or in the United Kingdom, very generalised and quite simply lacking in the kind of detail and information of someone genuinely living that lifestyle. The Appellant claims to have freedom to live a life unconstrained and without prejudice. l find the information as to how she has done so over the lengthy period she has been in the United Kingdom singularly lacking in detail or coherence. The Appellant appears to have taken no interest in forms of media by magazines, books or other information relating to her sexual orientation. Whilst there is no requirement to do so it does seem strange, if she is exercising the real sense of freedom she claims, that she does not do so.”
Ms Namigadde’s solicitor, Alex Oringa said that she will be taken back to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire pending a hearing in the High Court on Wednesday.
Earlier, the shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter expressed his “grave concern” over the proposed deportation of Ms Namigadde who lives in his Hammersmith constituency. “Whatever the circumstances surrounding Ms Namigadde’s presence in Britain, it is clear that she cannot be deported to Uganda at present,” he said. “Both the public mood and the official stance towards homosexuals in Uganda are lethal at the moment – we should not be contemplating sending my constituents back to a society where she will be in grave danger of her life.
“I call upon Damian Green [the immigration minister] to intervene personally to halt this deportation immediately and suspend the removal notice against my constituent, until we can find a resolution to this case that does not involve sending Ms Namigadde to face certain persecution and possible death.”


Martina Navratilova Interview at GLAAD

Martina at GLAAD talks about discovering tennis and the joys of all fast sports from skiing to race-car driving!


DADT: Commandant and SMMC's Message to Marines

On December 3, 2010, General James Amos testified that if DADT was repealed, the Marine Corps would step out smartly to carry out the new policy. On January 28, 2011, the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps released this video to the Corps describing the way ahead.


France lesbian couple lose marriage court case

Sophie Hasslauer & Corinne Cestino challenged the civil code
France has maintained its ban on gay marriage, with a constitutional court ruling that a lesbian couple with four children do not have the right to tie the knot.
The couple, a teacher and a paediatrician who have lived together for 15 years, had sought to bring France into line with EU neighbours like Spain, Belgium and Netherlands which allow same-sex couples to wed.
The ruling came as a TNS Sofres opinion poll said Friday that 58 percent of French people questioned were in favour of gay marriage, which is legal in ten countries around the world.
The court rejected the couple's argument that two articles in the French civil code which state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman were unconstitutional and discriminated against homosexuals.
But it said it was up to parliament to decide if the ban should be overturned, and not the constitutional authority.
The couple, Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, currently enjoy tax benefits and other financial advantages because they are in the legally recognised civil partnership known here by its acronym PACS.
But they say they should be entitled to further benefits that marriage would bring.
"Marriage is the only solution in terms of protecting our children, sharing parental authority, settling inheritance problems and eventual custody if one of us were to die," they said before the ruling.
"It's scandalous," Ms Hasslauer said after the court decision, slamming a "minority attitude" in French society belonging to "a backward and outdated elite."
Gay rights activists also slammed Friday's decision.
"The constitutional court has missed an historic opportunity to put an end to discrimination that has become intolerable for more than three million gay and lesbians in France," said Caroline Mecary, a lawyer for gay rights groups.
She said gay activists were now hoping that next year's presidential and parliamentary elections would see the right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy ousted and bring into power the Socialists, who are in favour of gay marriage.


UPDATE - Lesbian couple will walk in Champlin Park processional after lawsuit dismissed

Desiree (Dez) Shelton and her partner are students at
Champlin High School who would like to participate
in the Sno Days pep-fest and coronation as a same-sex
couple during an assembly.
A lesbian couple who sued Friday for their right to walk as a couple into a Monday pep fest at Champlin Park High School will be allowed to do so, according to a settlement hammered out Saturday.
In exchange, the lawsuit filed on behalf of seniors Desiree Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom will be dismissed, according to a joint statement released by both sides.
"All parties are pleased to announce that we have worked together, collaboratively, to arrive at an arrangement for introductions of elected royalty that is respectful and inclusive of all students," said the statement, which revealed the new arrangement to allow each member in the 24-person royalty court to "select a meaningful person in their life" to escort them in the coronation procession at Monday's Pep Fest and winter formal dance. The new plan will allow Shelton and Lindstrom to walk together.
The school's decision to change its tradition of having the students walk in as couples in favor of having them accompanied by an adult sparked the federal lawsuit filed Friday on the teens' behalf by representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Faegre & Benson law firm. The lawsuit accused the Anoka-Hennepin district of discriminating against gay and lesbian students and requested a restraining order against the school's decision as well as damages.
School district officials had maintained that their decision was made to stress that students should be honored as individuals -- not by sexual preference.
The lawsuit, which was "amicably" dismissed, according to both sides, now will be viewed as an opportunity for the school to consider its policy regarding activities "that will make our school communities inclusive and will enable us to realize the district-wide objective of honoring all students," according to the statement.


Hawaii Senate approves same-sex civil unions

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved civil unions for same-sex couples, a major step toward the proposal becoming law.

The state Senate voted 19-6 for the bill, which now goes to the state House of Representatives, where a nearly identical measure passed last year before it was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.
But this year, Democrats who control the state Legislature said they want to quickly approve the bill and send it to new Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has said he supports civil unions.
If the House and Abercrombie approve the measure, Hawaii would become the sixth state to grant some of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. A civil unions bill also passed the Illinois Legislature last month.
Five states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
"Let's get beyond this. Let's realize what the spirit of aloha is all about, which means including people no matter their color, no matter their gender, no matter their lifestyle," said Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Hilo-Honokaa.
The civil unions measure was the first bill to get final approval by the state Senate in this year's legislative session.
Supporters of civil unions wore rainbow-colored lei and cheered the vote, saying it was a victory for equal rights.
"It's time. I'm almost in tears," said Dan Abrahamsson of Honolulu, who was at the Capitol with his partner. "We are a minority, and it's very important that the Legislature protect our human rights and our civil rights."
Reaction from opponents was muted, with many acknowledging it seemed inevitable the bill would pass. They said civil unions erode the traditional family structure of one man and one woman.
"We're trying to re-engineer what the family looks like, and I don't believe the state has the authority to make those calls," said Mike McGuire of Ewa Beach, who watched the vote with his 8-year-old son.
People on both sides said civil unions could be a step toward legalizing same-sex marriage, possibly through a future court challenge. Hawaii's version of civil unions gives committed gay couples the same state rights as marriage.
"This will force same-sex marriage on the people of Hawaii who have consistently shown their opposition," said Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-Kalaeloa-Makakilo, who was a leader in passing Hawaii's first-in-the-nation "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment a decade ago.
Religious groups strongly fought civil unions over the last two years, organizing thousands of their members at rallies and threatening election defeat for lawmakers who supported the unions.
But after only one incumbent state legislator who backed civil unions lost re-election in November, visible opposition diminished. The Senate gallery was about half full during Friday's vote.
Hawaii nearly legalized gay marriages more than a decade ago. A Hawaii Supreme Court decision would have allowed the practice, but 70 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment in 1998 allowing the Legislature to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples.


Gay Marine’s husband surprised at respect shown by Naval Academy

By Neil Steinberg -

Mark Ketterson in his Albany Park home.
John Fliszar had a heart attack in 2006 and was rushed to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
“When I was in the emergency room with him, he asked me to promise him, if he died, to make sure his ashes were interred in the Naval Academy,” said Mark Ketterson. “He loved that place. He very much wanted to be there.”
Fliszar, a Marine aviator who served two tours in Vietnam, survived that heart attack. But last July the Albany Park resident suffered another one that killed him at age 61.
Hoping to fulfill Fliszar’s wishes, Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and told them that Fliszar, Class of ’71, had wanted to have his ashes interred at the USNA’s Columbarium, a serene white marble waterside crypt next to the school’s cemetery.
The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.
“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”
He was and they did, the couple having been married in Des Moines when gay marriage became legal in Iowa two years ago.
Ketterson sent a copy of the marriage license. That changed everything.
“I was respected,” he said. “From that moment on, I was next of kin. They were amazing.”
The USNA alumni association sent Ketterson a letter expressing condolence for the loss of his husband.
The USNA says Fliszar’s interment followed standard operating procedure.
“His next of kin was treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to the next of kin of all USNA grads who desire interment at the Columbarium,” said Jennifer Erickson, a spokesperson for the academy. “We didn’t do anything differently.”
John Fliszara (left) and Mark Ketterson
Shipmate magazine, the publication of the USNA’s alumni association, ran Fliszar’s obituary. It noted his two Purple Hearts for “having been shot down from the sky twice in military missions.” It noted “for the rest of his life he would joke about his ‘government issued ankle.’ ” It noted “his burly but warmly gentle manner.” It noted he was “survived by his husband, Mark Thomas Ketterson.”
“The word ‘husband’ in the obituary has created a bit of a stir,” said Ketterson, a Chicago social worker. “I’ve heard from a number of officers. It’s been amazing. This has not been absolutely confirmed, but I think I’m the first legal same-sex spouse who planned a memorial.”
The memorial service was held in October, in “the beautiful, beautiful Naval Academy chapel,” said Ketterson. A uniformed officer stood in the back and played taps.
“They did the standard military funeral, a wonderful service,” said Ketterson. “Since I was the designated next of kin, they were going to present the flag to me, but I deferred to his mom. She gave it to me.”
One of the groups Ketterson heard from afterward was USNA-Out, the organization for gay graduates of the naval academy.
“From my perspective, attitudes and actions are changing at the Naval Academy and certainly at the alumni association,” said Brian Bender, chair of USNA-Out, observing that while he “can’t speak for the Navy as a whole, we do interact with active-duty Navy folks, and they check in with their chain of command.”
I tried to find someone who could speak for the Navy as a whole, but with whatever era replaces “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ still in its infancy, well, let’s say that Navy communications specialists are not jostling each other for the chance to address this subject.
While the public generally approved of the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ in the U.S. military, the details still need to be worked out. The thorny issue isn’t ending the costly and counterproductive practice of forcing gays out of military services — that cost $40 million a year to enforce and deprived the armed services of thousands of qualified personnel. A bigger challenge is the question of entitlements: Who is a survivor? Who gets military benefits?
A marriage certificate was the key that let the USNA know how to treat Ketterson in relation to his husband’s service. Gays in the military and gay marriage are thought of as separate issues, but without legal gay marriage, or at least civil unions, how can the military know who gets the folded flag?
Such practical concerns were far from Ketterson’s mind when he and Fliszar got married after dating for six years — “because I loved him and he asked me,” Ketterson said, adding that the USNA alumni he’s heard from have made grieving more bearable.
“It’s been some months. I’m still doing mourning,” Ketterson said. “As a gay man who grew up in a military family, getting communications from USNA, having heard from alumni who say, ‘You will always be one of us’ — that’s powerful, and healing.”
“One of the e-mails said that I was a ‘trailblazer,’ ’’ said Ketterson. “I didn’t blaze any trail. I buried my husband.”
That said, he still finds himself marveling at how it all unfolded.
“I am a patriotic American, but I know this is not a perfect world,” he said. “The point is, when the chips are down, when the issue was patriotism and honor for a veteran, they were wonderful. Whatever their private feelings, they made me proud to be an American. We really do get it right sometimes.”


School District Prevents Lesbian Couple from Entering Dance Together

By Dana Rudolph -

Remember high school dances? The lucky few students who were named to the "royal court" by their peers as a sign of popularity or respect?
Two lesbian students in Minnesota, Desiree ("Dez") Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, were chosen by fellow students in Champlin Park High School to be part of the court for the annual Snow Days winter formal. But the school, which is part of the Anoka-Hennepin School District that has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT bullying, changed its school dance policy to prevent the two from entering the event as the couple they are.
In past years, the royal court entered the dance in procession, walking in pairs, and members of the court could choose their partners. Typically, couples who were girlfriend and boyfriend entered together.
According to a letter from the  Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre & Benson, LLP, to the school and the district yesterday, though, "CPHS told Desiree and Sarah they could not walk together, solely because both girls are of the same sex. When Desiree and Sarah persisted in their request, CPHS responded by informing them on Thursday, January 27, 2011, that it would cancel the traditional processional part of the assembly entirely and the Pep Fest and Coronation would begin with the student royalty already seated."
The school later modified this to say that students would be entering one by one; the organizations say the discriminatory effect is the same. They say the school has violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or sexual orientation, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution, and the First Amendment, "which protects the rights of students to bring same-sex dates to school-sponsored events." They draw a parallel between this case and that of Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen who last year successfully challenged her high school's ban on attending prom with a same-sex date.
The organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the district and school, along with an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District -- the largest in the state -- saw nine students, at least three of whom were LGBT, commit suicide last year. Tammy Aaberg, the mother of one of the students, has said the school's "neutrality policy" of not allowing discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom creates a "bad climate" for gay students.
Seems like the Snow Days dance isn't doing much to change the weather.
One bit of sunshine elsewhere in the country, however, is the successful resolution of a lawsuit against Gary School Corporation in Gary, Indiana, brought by transgender former student K.K. Logan. Logan was barred from her high school prom in 2006 because she wore a dress. Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Logan, said the matter was settled for an undisclosed amount, and includes revisions to the school district's dress code and non-discrimination policies so they now include specific protections for LGBT students. The school district also agreed to conduct training for the administration and school board members on LGBT and respectful treatment of LGBT people.

petition text -

Let Desiree and Sarah Enter the Snow Days Dance Together


I am writing to ask you to allow the royal court for the Snow Days winter formal to enter the dance in paired procession, with court members choosing their own partners as is traditional. This includes Desiree ("Dez") Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, a lesbian couple who were chosen for the court by fellow students.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has acquired a reputation for being less than welcoming to lesbian and gay students. For Desiree and Sarah to be open about their relationship was an act of great personal courage. They should be allowed all of the honors accorded to royal court members in years past, including the right to choose their processional partners.

Rather than make this event into a cause of contention, I hope you will instead choose to use it as an opportunity to show what diversity and respect really mean.

[Your name here]

Champlin Park High is sued to allow lesbian royalty


Champlin Park High students Emily Boevers, Gina Gainous, Rebecca Dearing
and Shannon Haver are members of the Gay Straight Alliance at the school.
Dearing and Haver held a sign that hangs in every classroom.

A federal lawsuit was filed Friday in Minneapolis in an effort to require Champlin Park High School to allow two openly lesbian members of the school's Snow Days royalty to walk in together during a pep fest procession Monday.
A federal lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of two openly lesbian members of Champlin Park High School's Snow Days royalty who want to walk into a pep fest Monday as a couple.
The suit is the most dramatic development in a controversy sparked by the school's decision to change its tradition of having the 24 members of student royalty walk in as couples, boys paired with girls. Instead, the students will walk in individually, accompanied by a parent, teacher or other adult mentor.
The students at the center of the tempest -- seniors Desiree Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom -- did not initiate the lawsuit. It was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on their behalf by representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Faegre & Benson law firm.
The school says it's just trying to make everyone as comfortable as possible and to prevent any possible heckling in the face of a situation it hasn't experienced before. But on Friday, some students charged that it is discriminating against gay and lesbian students.
Students elect the 24 members of the Snow Days royalty. Twelve seniors and four students from each of the Brooklyn Park school's other three grades, equally divided between boys and girls, are chosen.
Junior Justin Christoffer had an opinion as school let out Friday: "To be honest, I think [the school's decision] is kind of stupid. They say we're not supposed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and when they changed things, they just did that."
Anoka-Hennepin School District officials said the decision was made to stress that students should be honored as individuals, and not by sexual preference. Champlin Park Principal Michael George made the call earlier this week after consulting with district officials, said district spokeswoman Mary Olson. George could not be reached for comment Friday.
Olson said the feeling behind the decision was "just that this would be more comfortable for everyone.
"The thought was that the old approach was an assumption that everyone in royalty was heterosexual when that might not be the case," she said. "By doing [the procession] the individual way, there is no assumption that they're heterosexual or homosexual; they're simply Champlin Park students being selected as royalty."
She said the change was not the result of any complaints, and had created no big hubbub in the school. "My understanding is that there is a difference of opinion, but that most students are fine with that," she said.
Some students said otherwise on Friday.
"If an African-American and a white person wanted to walk together, there would be no objection at all," said junior Shannon Haver. "In every class we have a ... thing that says you cannot discriminate because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or ability. They're in every classroom. But the fact that they're not following what they teach is going to create an environment [among students] where, they're thinking, 'If they don't have to, we don't have to.'"
Shelton said she and Lindstrom still plan to be at the pep fest, but weren't sure how they were going to handle the procession.
"Right now, I really don't have an answer for that," she said. "We will be in the whole thing, we just don't know how it's going to work. ... I never thought it was going to be a big deal. But when they turned us down, I was disappointed."
Lindstrom declined to comment.
Not all students were foursquare behind Shelton and Lindstrom.
"I think it should be the traditional way like they've always had it," said junior Nick Stadler. "Personally, I'm against [Shelton and Lindstrom walking together]. But I don't really care. I have a few friends who are gay and lesbian."
English teacher Jann Garofano said that she didn't have a problem with the school doing away with the procession of paired students, but that the timing made her cringe.
"I think it's fine to recognize people as individuals," she said. "But why couldn't they have done that before this?"
Haver said students who favor letting Shelton and Lindstrom walk together plan to wear red shirts to the pep fest and carry supportive signs. She said there are no plans to try to disrupt the ceremonies.
Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said, "It's kind of astonishing that two girls walking together is so shameful and terrible for other people to witness" that the event would be altered. Bauer said a hearing on the suit is scheduled for Monday morning. The Associated Press reported that a mediation session was set for Saturday morning.


Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker wins last minute reprieve from deportation from UK

Solicitors acting for a Ugandan lesbian who was due to be deported from the United Kingdom earlier this evening have said that she has won a temporary reprieve of in advance of a fresh court appeal.
Brenda Namigadde, 29, was due to fly from Heathrow at 9:20 pm and was already on board the aircraft at when an injunction stopping the deportation was granted. The deportation was to take place little more than 48 hours after the prominent Ugandan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) rights campaigner David Kato was violently murdered in a homophobic incident.
Ms Namigadde’s solicitor, Alex Oringa said that she will be taken back to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire pending a hearing in the High Court on Wednesday.
Earlier, the shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter expressed his “grave concern” over the proposed deportation of Ms Namigadde who lives in his Hammersmith constituency. “Whatever the circumstances surrounding Ms Namigadde’s presence in Britain, it is clear that she cannot be deported to Uganda at present,” he said. “Both the public mood and the official stance towards homosexuals in Uganda are lethal at the moment – we should not be contemplating sending my constituents back to a society where she will be in grave danger of her life.
“I call upon Damian Green [the immigration minister] to intervene personally to halt this deportation immediately and suspend the removal notice against my constituent, until we can find a resolution to this case that does not involve sending Ms Namigadde to face certain persecution and possible death.”
In a letter to Mr Green, Mr Slaughter wrote: “Given the recent, tragic murder of David Kato in Uganda, the poor treatment of homosexuals in Uganda and the disturbing comments made by the Ugandan politician, David Bahati, about this particular case, it seems wrong that the decision has been taken to remove Ms Namigadde to Uganda where there is a very high chance that she will face persecution.”
Today, a 30,000-signature petition was delivered to Home Secretary Theresa May urging her to stop the deportation and allow Ms Namigadde to make a fresh asylum campaign.
The Ugandan’s case has been reviewed twice by a judge and her supporters say two of her witnesses were unable to attend a recent hearing.
She says that she was forced to leave the country after the home she shared with her Canadian girlfriend was burned down.
This week, the Ugandan MP responsible for the country’s notorious gay execution bill, David Bahati, said that she would be welcome in Uganda but only if she “repents”. He told the Guardian: “If she is caught in illegal practices she will be punished. If she comes to promote homosexuality, if she is caught in the act, if she is caught in illegal acts, she will be punished. I would be surprised, if she was promoting homosexuality, if she were not arrested.”
Yesterday, Ms Namigadde told that she expects to be killed once returned to the country.
The UK Border Agency currently dispute he sexuality. “I have all the evidence [that I am gay] but they are denying it. I don’t know,” she told Ms Namigadde is now in the unfortunate situation of her actual sexuality being irrelevant, if deported from the UK it will be to a country where she is now widely believed to be gay.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper has pointed to the lack of reference to LGBT rights on the UK Border Agency’s operational note on Uganda.”LGBT people in Uganda have faced arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and ill treatment, and the new plans for even more homophobic laws are deeply worrying,” she said.
“The UK Border Agency’s operational guidance for Uganda is now nearly two years old and does not mention LGBT rights. It needs to be updated as fast as possible to reflect the current situation on the ground.”
Stonewall co-founder, Labour MEP Michael Cashman wrote to Theresa May, the home secretary on behalf of the European Parliament’s intergroup on LGBT rights. He wrote: “There is no better-known, clearer, or more certain a fate for LGBT people than in Uganda. Respectable international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association have consistently documented Uganda as one of the most dangerous places for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people today.”
The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group said that Mr Kato’s death earlier this week shows how dangerous Uganda is for gays and lesbians and called for the government to do more to help asylum seekers.
Executive director Phil Jones said: “This shocking murder demonstrates once again that Uganda remains an oppressive and unsafe country for lesbians and gay men.
“The UK government must ensure that Ugandan lesbians and gay men who have fled to the UK are given the protection they need, and not returned to be the next victims of violent homophobia.”
The coalition agreement committed the current government to improving the situation of gay asylum seekers. Speaking at event held by the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group in London earlier this evening, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that this case was an example of how the government hadn’t put the promise into action.


Gay former cabinet minister Nick Brown reveals his phone was tapped

Gay Labour MP, Nick Brown, who served as chief whip during Gordon Brown’s tenure as prime minister and during Tony Blair’s first administration has said that he believes his phone line was bugged by a tabloid newspaper.
Unlike other high profile figures, Mr Brown believes that attempts to intercept his telephone calls went beyond hacking into his voice-mail. He said that he was warned by the police several years ago that his mobile phone might have been illegally accessed.
Mr Brown, who is MP for Newcastle East told his local Journal newspaper that his suspicions were first aroused after taking a phone call from an “important” person.
“I picked up a landline telephone very quickly … to make another call straight away,” he said.
“And the line clicked and then I heard my last conversation played back to me, which was quite eerie. I got on to British Telecom straight away … They said the line showed every signs of having been intercepted manually, not through scanners. It was an amateurish attempt involving the physical intervention of the line with a recording device.”
On another occasion, Mr Brown was contacted by the police who were investigating a phone-tapping incident. The case never reached the courts and Mr Brown was not told the full details.
“Given that it was near Highgrove [the country residence of the Prince of Wales], my assumption was that this might involve the Royal Family. But I was never explicitly told that,” he said. Asked if he had spoken again to police, he said: “It seems to me once the court says the court cannot proceed, I am not quite sure what there is left to do.”
Mr Brown was forced to come out by the News of the World, the newpaper at the heart of the phone hacking scandal. The disclosure was made after a former partner attempted to sell to the newspaper the details of their relationship. Mr Brown was also forced to deny he had ever paid for sex. At the time he was agriculture minister and told a group of farmers, “It’s a lovely day. The sun is out – and so am I.”
Fellow gay MPs Chris Bryant and Simon Hughes were the victims of phone hacking attempts by tabloid newspapers as was Brian Paddick, formerly the most senior openly gay policeman in Britain.


Death Threat Spurs Italian Student to Create Gay Studies Course

By Tom Basgil -

“If you hang another flyer, I will kill you.”
Giacomo Moro was minding his own business in the elevator, hanging fliers for an LGBT rights organization. Out of the blue, an unnamed man insulted Moro, calling him “human feces,” before threatening to take his life. Moro, a student at the University of Milan, decided to use the incident as impetus to create the first accredited gay studies course at an Italian university. “This person's hatred was born of ignorance. This class is something of a response,” said Moro. The 23-year-old biology major transformed the hate and anger directed toward him into a chance to educate his peers.
Although pegged as a “gay studies” course, gay men will not be the only subject of the class. The school’s LGBT rights organization, Gay Statale, released the syllabus. Don’t worry - the L’s, B’s and T’s of LGBT won’t be forgotten. For many students, this might their first time learning about queer theory so basics such as gender identity, politics and the media will be discussed.
The first day of the course saw a room filled to the brim with interested students. Fabio Galantucci, another student who helped launch the course, said, "People are responding very positively to the [class], to get the chance to see the world in a way different than presented by the media.”
Although these college students are on top of the times, Italy has a love/hate relationship with the LGBT community. Nationally, gender identity is not a protected class under employment non-discrimination laws. Marriage equality is nonexistent. However, the country seems to be moving in a steadily more progressive direction as the Roman Catholic Church loses its iron grip on Italian politics.
As it currently stands, the Gay Studies class is a one-time deal only. Fortunately, there is always the possibility that it will be offered again next year if there is enough interest. With 200 open-minded people showing up the first day, that is more than a distant possibility.


The Utah Lawmaker Who Wants to Keep Same-Sex Couples from Making Wills

By Michael A. Jones -

Utah has been a beacon of LGBT rights activism of late. In the past year alone, at least 10 communities have passed anti-discrimination ordinances inclusive of the LGBT community, with more communities prepared to do so in 2011.
Yet on a statewide level, some anti-gay lawmakers are really trying to counteract this progress with some harsh legislation. Take, for instance, State Rep. LaVar Christensen, who just introduced a bill that could bar same-sex couples from making certain contractual arrangements like wills or financial arrangements.
That's right. State Rep. Christensen wants to pass legislation that could prevent LGBT people from drafting wills with their life partners. Amazing that he not only wants to keep same-sex couples apart in real life -- Rep. Christensen was one of the legislators behind Utah's constitutional amendment barring gay marriage -- he now wants to keep same-sex couples apart in death, too. Now that's how you say heartless.
As Eric Ethington notes at, same-sex couples in Utah already have very few protections on a statewide level. One thing same-sex couples rely on in order to make sure that their limited rights are respected and upheld is the use of legal contracts.
If Rep. Christensen's bill moves forward, these legal contracts could essentially be voided.
"Christensen’s bill would leave surviving same-sex partners at the mercy of their deceased partner’s family," Ethington notes. Meaning that instead of turning to a person's same-sex partner as next of kin, or recognizing the ability of same-sex couples in Utah to form contracts together, all gay people would be treated as single individuals when it comes to contracts, whether they've been partnered for 10 years or 60 years. Ridiculous.
What's more, Rep. Christensen already introduced this bill in 2006 -- literally using the same language from back then in his 2011 bill. It was narrowly defeated then. It should be overwhelmingly defeated now.
Send the Utah legislature a note that Rep. Christensen's bill, HB 182, should be nixed. Same-sex marriage might be far off in Utah. But for those who are even diehard opponents of marriage equality, what pleasure could they get out of keeping same-sex couples from forming legal contracts like wills together? It's a cruel bill, no matter where one's politics on the issue of same-sex marriage stand.

petition text -

Please defeat HB 182, and do not penalize same-sex couples


I recently became aware of Rep. LaVar Christensen's bill, House Bill 182, that could render void all legal contracts between same-sex couples. This includes financial agreements and wills.

This legislation is cruel and heartless. While opinions on same-sex marriage run the political spectrum, shouldn't all legislators, regardless of political persuasion, want to make sure that residents have the capacity to decide things like wills, and their own personal financial arrangements?

I urge you to defeat this bill, much like the bill was defeated in 2006 (albeit narrowly). This legislation has no business being on the books in Utah.

Thanks for your time.

[Your name here] 


DADT-Discharged Dan Choi Shouldn't Have To Pay Back His Signing Bonus - Here's Why

By David Badash -

Dan Choi, forever the activist, set off a firestorm late Wednesday night when he tweeted, "To the U.S. Marshals who came to my friend's NYC apartment looking for me: I don't couchsurf there anymore. I'm at 6 Traymore Cambridge MA," which was then followed by, "Well, I do owe the Army a few thousand $ for my DADT discharge (and refuse to pay a cent.) Or it could be for D.C. direct actions."
Dan Choi's "direct action" -- chaining himself to the White House fence -- didn't win him much love from the government the first time, but the last time he did it seems to have garnered some "attention." Dan, along with some of his fellow members of the "White House 13" -- the 13 GetEQUAL activists and LGBT vets who chained themselves, for the last time, to the White House fence in November -- received visits from the U.S. Marshal, "generously" reminding them of upcoming court appearances. Intimidation, much? John Aravosis speaks to this vindictive, abusive use of power here and here.
Robin McGehee, GetEQUAL Co-Founder and of the "White House 13" told me today that the U.S. Marshals have attempted to contact all 13 protestors. She adds, "I believe the efforts being made by the U.S. Government to collect the debt of soldiers who were unjustly and unconstitutionally thrown out under DADT is unethical and morally wrong. These individuals did nothing but serve their country -- many of them not coming out to themselves or to others until after serving years in the military. Asking those who have served our country, and then were discriminated against to repay such a loan is completely absurd and should easily be forgiven.  As for our U.S. Marshal visits, I am willing to take whatever punishment set forth, as I was aware that I was taking such a risk -- but, that risk was taken to highlight and illuminate the homophobic and transphobic policies of our U.S. government and as our government begins to right a wrong -- they might consider dropping charges since our actions were used to bring mainstream attention to their oversight.  At the very least, save tax payer money and send us a letter about future court dates, instead of the "attempted" intimidation of a U.S. Marshal."
Justin Elzie, the first Marine to be discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" 18 years ago, is one of November's "White House 13" also. He's waiting for his visit from the U.S. Marshals, and today he told me, "I believe the personal visits by U.S. Marshals all over the country are a bit excessive. To me the government is wasting U.S. tax dollars to send U.S. Marshals to serve us with papers. One has to question if they are trying to make an example out of us so that no one ever again chains themselves to the White House fence. Is the government trying to intimidate and send a message to have a chilling effect?  Dissent and civil disobedience are not illegal in this country, and in fact, are very American ideals."
So back to Dan. As it turns out, if you're in the military, and get discharged because of the (still in-effect) "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law for being gay, the military requires you to pay back your enlistment bonus, and the costs associated with your training and education, even though you didn't quit, you got fired.
Yup! Not only are you discharged for being gay, you're charged for being gay. It's a military one-two-three punch!
What's punch number three? If you're fired for being gay in the military (it's still called a discharge, and it's usually classified as "honorable,") and you are pension-eligible, the military automatically cuts your pension in half! Why? Because they want to. There's no law requiring them to do it. They just do it because, well, they want to.
(Fortunately, the ACLU has decided to sue the government, "challenging the Defense Department’s discriminatory policy of cutting in half the separation pay of service members who have been honorably discharged for being gay. The separation pay policy is not part of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, and can be changed without congressional approval.")
So back to Dan again, who, as it turns out, "owes" the military $2,519.18 from his "enlistment bonus," and Thursday told President Obama, "I refuse to pay your claim."
Which reminded us again of this offensive, vindictive, and not-legally-required practice by the U.S. military.
I reached out to Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United, a group which "actively engages in education, advocacy, and lobbying on issues affecting the gay military, veteran, and defense community," and was instrumental in lobbying Congress and the president on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Nicholson told me via email, "Servicemembers United has been pro-actively and steadily pressuring the White House to end the practice of recoupment of education and training costs in 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' discharge cases. The practice, which can be terminated by the President with the stroke of a pen, continues to ruin the lives and credit ratings of people who have only tried to live up to the values that the military unquestioningly demands."
Nicholson also pointed me to a Servicemembers United memo, which reads in part:
"When a servicemember is discharged from the military during or after certain periods of training or education (ROTC, Service Academies, medical schools, etc.), federal law gives the service secretaries the OPTION to demand that the discharged servicemember repay all or part of the training or education investment. This practice is wrongly (although arbitrarily) applied to gay discharges as well, which are formally considered INvoluntary discharges and are often caused by a servicemember trying to live up to the values and integrity that the military unquestioningly demands. This practice immediately saddles veterans in their 20s with tens of thousands of dollars in debt due immediately, which wreaks havoc on their lives and credit."
The memo offers these unconscionable examples, too:

1) West Point graduate Anthony Woods is an Iraq War veteran who had earned more than 70 days of leave after returning from war. When he was discharged under DADT soon thereafter, not only did the Army demand recoupment of $33,000 in education and training costs, but it also refused to pay him out for the leave he earned in Iraq because it instead decided to apply that earned leave payout he was owed to his recoupment debt. On top of that, he will now be pursued by debt collectors for the Army to recover the remainder.
2) Sara Isaackson entered ROTC at the University of North Carolina before she came to terms with being a lesbian. After she grew comfortable with this part of her identity, she elected to live up to the values that ROTC drilled into cadets every day. She stopped making up the elaborate lies required to cover up her orientation and started being honest. The ROTC program at UNC discharged her and demanded that she repay $78,000 immediately. Isaackson is in her early 20s, still in college, and obviously does not have $78,000 to hand over, so she will now be pursued by debt collectors and have her credit ruined.
3) Mara Boyd was discharged from ROTC at the University of Colorado four years ago for being a lesbian. The Department of Defense demanded $33,000 back in education and training costs. Boyd, who went on to self-fund the remainder of her college education, obviously did not have tens of thousands of dollars in cash on hand to repay the federal government. Four years later, debt collectors for the government still hound her and increasing fees have increased the recoupment debt to $35,000.

Is this how we treat our gay and lesbian service members, who want to serve their country so badly they hide their true selves, knowing every day could be their last? Knowing, we now learn, that they could get fired, be forced by the government and commercial creditors to "pay back" thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars, and have their pensions cut in half?
Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel writes,
"The Huffington Post spoke with Eric Durr, spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, who explained that even though he was discharged involuntarily, Choi still had to repay the portion of the bonus because DADT was the law of the land when he came out in 2009:
Lt. Choi joined the New York Army National Guard in 2008, and agreed to serve in the New York Army National Guard as an office for three years in exchange for a $10,000 affiliation bonus. So he was given $10,000 extra, on top of his regular Army National Guard Reserve pay, for joining the National Guard, because we need young officers. Under the terms of this, which occurred in March 2008, he agreed to repay the part of the bonus that he had not yet discharged an obligation for, if he failed to satisfactorily complete that assigned term. And among those was involuntary separation for violating regulations. He signed it, like everybody does."
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may be on its way to being repealed (remember, there's still a "certification" that needs to take place), but there are about 14,000 gay men and women whose careers were cut short by it, many of whom have been paying for who they are with their careers and their checkbooks.
Let's retroactively pay back those DADT-discharged vets who were forced to "pay-back" the government when the government discharged them. And let's stop these vindictive collection procedures currently underway.
When will we stop charging America's gays and lesbians more just for being who they are?

 petition text -

Don't force Lt. Dan Choi and other gay soldiers to pay for their DADT discharges

Dear President Obama,

Lt. Dan Choi, discharged under the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2010, is facing a bill from the Department of Defense of more than $2,500. The Pentagon argues that Lt. Choi should pay back part of the enlistment bonus he received when he entered the U.S. Army.

It’s not only a tragedy that for the past 17 years, the U.S. military has kicked out over 14,000 soldiers because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But to ask these discharged soldiers to pay back thousands of dollars to the military, all for being discharged because of their sexual orientation, is outrageous.

I urge you to put an end to these kinds of charges for discharged gay soldiers. Soldiers like Lt. Choi should be honored for their valor and service, not charged thousands of dollars as a lingering consequence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

[Your name here] 


Lesbian Filmmakers Offer DVD on Challenger ‘Teacher in Space’ Christa McAuliffe

By Karen Ocamb -

'Teacher in Space' Christa McAuliffe

Yesterday, Friday, Jan. 28 marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Among the crew killed in the unexpected explosion (see video inside) was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe whose presence made the space trip an educational mission viewed live by children around the world.
Lesbian filmmakers Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges made it their mission to tell the extraordinary story of this extraordinary teacher through a documentary produced with the cooperation of NASA and McAuliffe’s mother, Grace Corrigan.  In a letter to President Obama (see inside), Corrigan notes that McAuliffe was a firm believer in equal rights. Indeed, in the documentary, Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars, the filmmakers interviewed one of her students who told of McAuliffe’s intolerance towards bullies and how she made him feel safe.
Philanthropist, Pepi Kelman was so moved by the film that she is working with the Los Angeles-based filmmakers to donate about 10,000 DVD’s to students and educators, primarily through GLSEN, (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network). (See the NOVA PBS Teacher’s Channel for more information.).
“I miss my daughter very much and I’m comforted to know that she lives on in this wonderful film,” says Corrigan. “And now, more people will get the chance to see it.”

Jonathon Del Arco, Develop Consultant at GLSEN says: “We are very excited to receive this film and be able to share it.  We plan to give the DVD as a gift at our GALA events and encourage the film to be watched as a family. “

For more information, contact:  
Renee Sotile at

Here’s Grace Corrigan’s letter to President Obama:
January 21, 2011
Dear Mr. President Obama,
My daughter is Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space. On January 28th it will be 25 years that we lost her and the other members of the Challenger crew.
You may have heard that she was an inspiring teacher but may not have heard some of the things she did that made her so special. I would like to share one story with you and how even now, after 25 years, my daughter is still making a difference to education.
Christa was an advocate for equal rights at a time when it was not popular to be. She would not tolerate bullying in her classroom when it came to sexual orientation.
There is a wonderful documentary by filmmakers Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges that captures my daughter’s pioneering spirit, Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars.
Renee and Mary Jo interviewed a student of Christa’s who shared his experience in the classroom. Tony Potter discusses Christa’s intolerance to bullies, which made this young gay man feel “safe”.
“It just felt like she could accept who I really am.  At least one person in the world would accept me. You know, it would be Mrs. McAuliffe,” says Tony.
When philanthropist, Pepi Kelman saw the film she was so moved she approached the filmmakers about donating 10,000 DVD’s to students and educators primarily through GLSEN, (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).
“As we approach the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, it is only appropriate that we honor the legacy of Christa McAuliffe with the gift of this film to those who might otherwise not have experienced her teachings,” says Kelman, donor and co-founder of DOCCLUB LA, a documentary film group in Los Angeles. “I hope that others will join me in this endeavor to reach even more students and teachers and put a stop to bullying once and for all.”
Jonathon Del Arco, Develop Consultant at  GLSEN says, “we are very excited to receive this film and be able to share it.  We plan to give the DVD as a gift at our GALA events and encourage the film to be watched as a family. “
Mr. President Obama, if you or the administration acknowledges the 25th Anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy this January 28th, please considering mentioning my daughter and her brave contribution to education and more specifically how she stopped bullying in her classroom.
Grace Corrigan
This is video of the Challenger liftoff and the disaster.

Please note that the NASA flight director was apparently looking at the loss of data on his computer monitor, not the screen, which is why he so calmly talks about a “major malfunction.”


With David Kato's Death, The Horror Grows In Uganda

By David Mixner -

Uganda has been a time bomb ready to explode ever since the Pentecostal community in the United States began pushing their anti-LGBT agenda overseas. The world reacted in horror when the Uganda Parliament attempted to pass the death penalty for homosexuals. The legislation is still pending and still might see the light of day. Almost the entire legislative effort has been funded by US Pentecostal organizations. Then a newspaper called "Rolling Stone" (not the United States magazine) printed on its front page the photographs of 100 homosexuals and ordered their readers to "get rid of them."

One of those pictures was of young David Kato Kisule, one of Uganda's leading LGBT activists in that nation. Earlier this week he was brutally beaten to death in his home. Most likely he is just the first of many to suffer the consequences of the legislation and the article. David refused to hide and refused to remain silent after his picture appeared in the paper. The result was a savage beating to death of this Uganda hero.
Uganda in an effort to protect its image is already proclaiming loudly that David's horrific death had nothing to do with his homosexuality. Don't believe that for a second.
President Barack Obama issued a statement expressing sorrow at the news of the death of the brave young man:

I am deeply saddened to learn of the murder of David Kato. In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate. He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work.
At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate. In the weeks preceding David Kato’s murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the Governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights. My Administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad. We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all.

Matteo Pegoraro of "Everyone Group" wrote yesterday of his friendship with David:

"I could read the pain in David's eyes: a sorrow that had taken root in his heart for his people, for those who experience daily the abuse of discrimination, fear and isolation. A pain that was matched by his desire for justice, freedom, and the equality of all human beings. His eyes shone with melancholy, but they could not conceal the strength of an extraordinary man, ready to give his life to defend the most vulnerable, ready to deprive himself of everything to help the most needy, ready to face even the most formidable opponents to defend his own opinions and those of others."

for more from David visit Live from Hell's Kitchen.


Suits on Same-Sex Marriage May Force Administration to Take a Stand


President Obama speaking on Friday at Families USA's health action conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel in DC.
WASHINGTON — President Obama has balanced on a political tightrope for two years over the Defense of Marriage Act, the contentious 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Now, two new federal lawsuits threaten to snap that rope out from under him.
Mr. Obama, whose political base includes many supporters of gay rights, has urged lawmakers to repeal the law. But at the same time, citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress, he has sent Justice Department lawyers into court to oppose suits seeking to strike the law down as unconstitutional.
The two lawsuits, however, have provoked an internal administration debate about how to sustain its have-it-both-ways stance, officials said. Unlike previous challenges, the new lawsuits were filed in districts covered by the appeals court in New York — one of the only circuits with no modern precedent saying how to evaluate claims that a law discriminates against gay people.
That means that the administration, for the first time, may be required to take a clear stand on politically explosive questions like whether gay men and lesbians have been unfairly stigmatized, are politically powerful, and can choose to change their sexual orientation.
“Now they are being asked what they think the law should be, and not merely how to apply the law as it exists,” said Michael Dorf, a Cornell University law professor. “There is much less room to hide for that decision.”
James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer helping with one case, said the new suits could be game-changing.
The Obama legal team has not yet decided what path to take on the lawsuits, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the internal deliberations. But the Justice Department must respond by March 11. The debate has arisen at a time when Mr. Obama has signaled that his administration may be re-evaluating its stance.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama backed civil unions for gay people while opposing same-sex marriage. But last month, after Congress — in the final hours before Republicans took control of the House — repealed the law barring gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the military, he told The Advocate, a magazine that focuses on gay issues, that his views on marriage rights “are evolving.”
“I have a whole bunch of really smart lawyers who are looking at a whole range of options,” Mr. Obama said, referring to finding a way to end the Defense of Marriage Act. “I’m always looking for a way to get it done, if possible, through our elected representatives. That may not be possible.”
Since 2003, when the Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing gay sex, the legal landscape for same-sex marriage has shifted. Eight states now grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples or recognize such marriages if performed elsewhere. But under the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government cannot recognize those relationships.
That has raised a crucial question: Is it constitutional for the federal government to grant certain benefits — like health insurance for spouses of federal workers, or an exemption to estate taxes for surviving spouses — to some people who are legally married under their state’s laws, but not to others, based on their sexual orientation?
The Constitution declares that everyone has a right to equal protection by the law. But many laws treat some people differently from others. Courts uphold such policies as constitutional if they can pass a test showing that the discrimination is not invidious.
A law singling out an ordinary class — like owners of property in a district with special tax rates — gets an easy test. It is presumed valid, and a challenge is dismissed unless a plaintiff proves that the law advances no conceivable rational state interest.
But a law focusing on a class that has often been subjected to unfair discrimination — like a racial group — gets a hard test. It is presumed invalid and struck down unless the government proves that officials’ purpose in adopting the law advances a compelling interest.
Gay-rights groups contend that the marriage act ought to be struck down under either test. Last year, a federal judge in Massachusetts agreed, saying it was unconstitutional even under the easy test’s standards.
But the Obama administration, which appealed that ruling, contends that a plausible argument exists for why the act might be constitutional. Justice Department officials say they have a responsibility to offer that argument and let courts decide, rather than effectively nullifying a law by not defending it.
Justice officials have argued that the marriage act is justified, under the easy test’s standards, by a government interest in preserving the status quo at the federal level, allowing states to experiment. And in its brief appealing the Massachusetts ruling, the department stressed seven times that a “binding” or “settled” precedent in that circuit required the easy test.
But for the new lawsuits, no such precedent exists. The Obama team has to say which test it thinks should be used. Courts give a class the protection of the hard test if it has been unfairly stigmatized and if its members can choose to leave the class, among other factors. By those standards, it could be awkward, especially for a Democratic administration, to proclaim that gay people do not qualify for it.
But under a hard test, the administration’s argument for upholding the marriage law would be weaker, legal specialists say, in part because when lawmakers enacted it in 1996, they mentioned only in passing an interest in preserving the federal status quo as states experimented.
Some conservatives have accused the administration of throwing the fight by not invoking other arguments, like morality. And in particular, lawmakers’ primary focus in 1996 was “encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing.”
But the administration’s filings in other cases disavowed that rationale, noting that infertile heterosexuals may marry and citing studies that children raised by same-sex parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexuals.
M. Edward Whelan III, a former Bush administration lawyer, said the Obama team’s rejection of the children-based rationale amounted to “sabotage.”
Another possible path, legal specialists say, would be to urge the judges to adopt the easy test because courts elsewhere have done so, without laying out any full legal analysis of how to think about gay people as a class.
Gay-rights supporters, however, call that option dishonest: those cases largely derived from decisions before the Supreme Court’s 2003 sodomy ruling. The premise that it was constitutional to criminalize gay sex short-circuited appraisal of protections for gay people from lesser forms of official discrimination.
“We think there is only one answer the government and the court can come to if they apply the test conscientiously, and that is that the government must have to prove why it needs to treat gay people differently,” said Mr. Esseks, the A.C.L.U. lawyer.
“And if the government has to have a real reason, as opposed to a made-up reason, we don’t think there is any way that the government wins.”


Gays Seeking Asylum in U.S. Encounter a New Hurdle

Romulo Castro, who is gay, feared
deportation to his native Brazil.
Romulo Castro considered attending his asylum interview in Rosedale, Queens, dressed as Fidela Castro, a towering drag queen in six-inch stilettos, a bright green poodle skirt and a mane of strawberry blond hair. In the end, Mr. Castro, 34, opted for what he described as understatement: pink eye shadow, a bright pink V-neck shirt and intermittent outbursts of tears.
After years of trying to conceal his sexual orientation back home in Brazil (where Fidela never made an appearance), Mr. Castro had been advised by his immigration lawyer that flaunting it was now his best weapon against deportation.
“I was persecuted for being fruity, a boy-girl, a fatso, a faggot — I felt like a monster,” said Mr. Castro, who reported being raped by an uncle at age 12, sexually abused by two police officers, and hounded and beaten by his peers before fleeing to the United States in 2000. “Here, being gay was my salvation. So I knew I had to put on the performance of my life.”
Amid international outcry over news of the Czech Republic’s testing the veracity of claims of purportedly gay asylum seekers by attaching genital cuffs to monitor their arousal while they watched pornography, some gay refugees and their advocates in New York are complaining that they can be penalized for not outwardly expressing their sexuality. While asylum-seekers and rights groups here expressed relief that use of the so-called erotic lie detector is impossible to imagine in the United States, some lamented in recent interviews that here too, homosexuals seeking asylum may risk being dismissed as not being gay enough.
The very notion of “gay enough,” of course, or proving one’s sexuality through appearance, dress and demeanor, can be offensive — and increasingly androgynous fashions and the social trend known as metrosexuality have blurred identities in many people’s minds.
“Judges and immigration officials are adding a new hurdle in gay asylum cases that an applicant’s homosexuality must be socially visible,” said Lori Adams, a lawyer at Human Rights First, a nonprofit group, who advises people seeking asylum based on sexuality. “The rationale is that if you don’t look obviously gay, you can go home and hide your sexuality and don’t need to be worried about being persecuted.”
Jhuan Marrero, 18, who was born in Venezuela but has lived — illegally — in New York since he was 4, said the immigration officer at his asylum interview last week challenged him about his macho demeanor.
“I was brought up by my parents to walk and talk like a man,” said Mr. Marrero, who volunteers at the Queens Pride House, a gay and lesbian center in Jackson Heights.
“The officer said: ‘You’re not a transsexual. You don’t look gay. How are you at risk?’ I insisted that if I was sent back to Venezuela, I would speak out about being gay and suffer the consequences.”
Victoria Neilson, legal director of the New York-based Immigration Equality, which provides assistance to asylum seekers, recalled the case of a 21-year-old lesbian who had been threatened with gang rape in her native Albania to cure her of her sexual orientation, but was initially denied asylum, Ms. Neilson said, because she was young, attractive and single, apparently not conforming to the officer’s stereotype of a lesbian. (A judge later granted her asylum, Ms. Neilson said.)
Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said each case is examined individually, both for evidence of sexual orientation and the conditions of the country of origin. While she declined to comment specifically on the examples cited by Mr. Marrero and Ms. Neilson, Ms. Rhatigan said such behavior by immigration officers would not be condoned.
“We don’t say that someone is insufficiently gay or homosexual, whatever that would mean, or that he or she could be saved by hiding his or her homosexuality,” Ms. Rhatigan said. “Sexual preference is an immutable characteristic. It is something an individual can’t or shouldn’t change.”
Citizenship and Immigration Services received 38,000 asylum applications between October 2009 and September 2010, but the agency does not track how many cite being gay or lesbian as a reason. People may qualify for asylum if they can demonstrate past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution based on membership in a particular social group; in 1994, the scope of the law was expanded to specifically include homosexuals.
Illegal immigrants seeking asylum are interviewed by immigration officers, who can either approve their applications or refer them to an immigration judge. Gay applicants must marshal evidence of their sexual orientation and their risk of persecution, like affidavits from same-sex partners or police and medical reports of abuse. But legal experts said that the burden of proof can be difficult for people from places like Saudi Arabia or Iran where homosexuality is punishable by death and it can be dangerous to be openly gay or report an anti-gay hate crime — or from Western countries that are believed to be sexually tolerant.
Advocates said the situation had gotten worse amid the troubled economy and high unemployment rates, citing anti-immigrant sentiments and a desperation that had led some straight immigrants to feign being gay in hopes of winning asylum.
One lawyer recalled a recent client who applied for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation, then showed up a few weeks later with his wife, seeking help with a green card. In 2009, Steven and Helena Mahoney of Kent, Wash., pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a consulting business in which, among other things, they coached straight people on how to file gay asylum claims.
For fees of up to $4,000, the Mahoneys provided asylum seekers with dramatic (if fictional) stories of anti-gay persecution, along with lists of gay bars and maps of the gay pride parade route in Seattle to help them pass as gay, according to federal prosecutors. Mr. Mahoney was sentenced to 18 months in prison, Mrs. Mahoney, to 6 months.
Ms. Rhatigan, the immigration spokeswoman, said that judges and immigration officers were highly trained to assess the evidence in asylum cases, and that each case was carefully scrutinized for signs of fraud.
Even in cases where the persecution is real, experts said, coming from a country perceived as sexually liberal can be a disadvantage.
Mr. Castro, the son of an army officer in a staunchly conservative Roman Catholic family, said he was initially advised by immigration lawyers in Washington and New York not to bother applying for asylum since he came from Brazil, a country that has developed a reputation for gay pride parades, Carnival pageantry and drag queens.
In 1999, Mr. Castro was accosted by two police officers after leaving a gay club in the northeastern city of São Luís, Maranhão, according to his asylum application. He said they forced him to perform oral sex. When he started to sob, he said, one of the officers dangled a bag of cocaine and threatened to frame him.
Depressed and despondent, Mr. Castro said he considered the priesthood, and prayed every day; he also tried to date women. After a year, he decided to flee to the United States. He obtained a tourist visa, which he overstayed by eight years.
Last year, Mr. Castro, now a massage therapist living in Jackson Heights, decided to apply for asylum so that he would not have to live in fear of being deported.
The day of his interview in 2009, he was shaking. “I thought, ‘They will never let me stay,’ ” he said. “I cried.”
He said the officer was initially unsmiling and intimidating. “I figured I was doomed,” he said.
He showed her the affidavit his older brother had written begging the United States to keep Romulo “forever away from us” to prevent him from shaming the family. He shared a letter from his psychiatrist confirming that he took antidepressants for the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his abuse. He came armed with a thick stack of articles detailing episodes of persecution of gays in Brazil.
Coached by his lawyer to be anything but bashful, he also produced several photographs at the end of the interview of his alter ego, Fidela, decked out in a tiny, strapless, black-satin cocktail dress dangling a stiletto heel from atop a giant pink float.
In June 2009, he was awarded asylum. He got a green card last summer.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Military lays out plan to implement gay ban repeal


WASHINGTON – Military training to apply the new law allowing gays to serve openly will begin in February and will move quickly, senior Pentagon leaders said Friday.
They said there is no intent to delay but would not guarantee full implementation of the repeal this year.
The hedge on scheduling came despite assertions by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech this week that the repeal of the 17-year-old ban will be finalized in 2011.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Gen. James Cartwright said he expects the military services to move expeditiously to train the bulk of their units, and that a year for completion is "a good goal."
Still, he added, "there's nothing that tells us that it's not reachable, but we have to allow for the fact that we may discover something between now and then."
Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he expects the services will know within the first month of training how well they are doing and how quickly they will be able to proceed.
Cartwright and Clifford Stanley, the defense undersecretary for personnel, said the military services will have a lot of latitude to determine their training process and schedule.
Both men appeared unable to describe what would be unacceptable behavior from service members, such as those who might crack jokes about sexual orientation.
Instead, they said it will be up to individual unit commanders to make sure their troops are professional and respectful. In fact, Stanley said, as a commander on the battlefield, he would be more concerned about insuring that his troops are focused on their mission and that they come home alive.
"I'm not sure I'm going to be too concerned with your orientation," said Stanley, a retired two-star general in the Marine Corps.
Calling this a milestone event for the armed services, Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a memo Friday said a guiding principle is that "all personnel will be treated with respect."
"Harassment or unlawful discrimination of any member of the armed forces for any reason will not be tolerated," he said, adding that he wants the implementation done in a timely, comprehensive way.
The implementation plan will go to Gates next Friday, and training materials will be delivered to the services at the same time. Gates wants progress updates every two weeks.
Under the law passed and signed by the president late last month, final implementation will go into effect 60 days after the president and his senior defense advisers certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight.
Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, have said they expect to be able to train the bulk of the force over the next three months.
But Pentagon leaders have also cautioned that training the entire force will be difficult because troops are scattered around the world, and many are in various phases of deployment to war or heading home. Also, many National Guard and Reserve members gent together as units only infrequently.
Cartwright said troops at the warfront may get part of the training now and part after they return home.
The training package will include slides, possibly a video, and a list of potential vignettes that describe how leaders can handle situations that arise.
Rear Adm. Greg Smith, director of communication for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said Friday that U.S. commanders at the battlefront should be able to integrate the training "fairly reasonably" in terms of time and effort.
"It clearly will take extra time out of the day, but that's something we'll work in," Smith told The Associated Press in an interview. "As the secretary has indicated, we'll do this right and we'll do it at the right pace, and I suspect we'll be able to handle it in due course."
Advocacy groups lauded the military's action.
"This is an historic day for the Defense Department and a new day for gays in the military," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which supports the repeal.
Cartwright and Stanley said that until the repeal is final, dismissals under the current gay ban could continue. They said no one has been approved for discharge for being openly gay since October when Gates put authority for signing off on dismissals in the hands of the three service secretaries.
According to Friday's memo, once the repeal is fully implemented service members in the process of being discharged solely under the provision of the gay ban will be returned to duty. All pending investigations under the ban will cease.