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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Inside the Rainbow Zone: Australia's Mardi Gras Parade 2011



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'Why was I born gay in Africa?'

John Bosco in his flat.
Elizabeth Day listens to the experience of two gay refugees from Uganda, where violent homophobia is state policy

By Elizabeth Day -


As a child in Uganda, John Bosco remembers hearing an old wives' tale that if a man fell asleep in the sun and it crossed over him, he would wake up as a woman. "I used to try that as a kid," says John now, some 30 years later. He sits at a table in a busy cafe across the road from the railway station in Southampton, his fingers playing with the handle of a glass of hot chocolate. "I'd spend all day lying under the sun. From childhood, I wanted to be a girl. I wanted dolls. At school, I played netball. I wanted to dress up like a girl … I rubbed herbs into my chest that were meant to make your breasts grow. I tried everything but it didn't work."
He tells me that there was not one single moment when he realised he was gay; that the knowledge of it had always been there, unexpressed until he found the right words. As he grew older, John started being attracted to men. On the radio, he heard stories of gay couples being beaten and killed by police. He says that if he could have changed himself, he would because he so desperately wanted to be considered "normal", to fit in, to make his family proud.
When he went to university to study for a business administration degree, his relatives and neighbours in Kampala would ask why he never had a girlfriend. "I used lots of excuses – I'm not yet ready, or I have a girlfriend who doesn't live in the same area," he says. "It was difficult because you cannot be open [about your sexuality]. You can't socialise like any other person. A lot of the time, you have to keep your distance. You feel you're not yourself. It makes things really hard."
This is the reality of being gay in modern Uganda, a place where homosexuality is criminalised under the penal code, punishable by life imprisonment. According to human rights organisations, about 500,000 homosexuals live in the country, unable to admit their sexuality for fear of violent retribution either from the police or their own communities. Anti-gay legislation is a relic of British colonialism, designed to punish what the imperial authorities thought of as "unnatural sex" – thinking that was subsequently reinforced by wave upon wave of Catholic missionaries.
Although much of that legacy has been dismantled as Uganda modernises, homophobia is as entrenched as ever. An anti-homosexuality bill, due to be discussed by parliament before June, advocates the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" –ie for gay people with HIV practising sex, or gay people who have sex with someone under 18. Known colloquially as the "kill the gays" bill, it would also make it a crime not to report someone you know to be a practising homosexual, thereby putting parents, siblings and friends at risk.
"One of the things the Ugandans say is that being gay is European culture, that it is un-African," explains John, 31. "There is this idea that Europeans and Americans are recruiting people to be gay, giving them money to do it."
Last October, the now defunct anti-gay Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone published a list of the country's "top 100" homosexuals under the headline "Hang Them". In January, the prominent gay-rights activist David Kato was murdered – beaten to death in his home by a hammer-wielding thug. Gays, lesbians and transgendered people in Uganda face harassment, extortion, vandalism, death threats and violence on a daily basis. They can be sacked from employment if they are outed, forced to enter into heterosexual marriage and detained by the authorities without charge or access to legal defence. In some of the worst cases, they can be subjected to so-called "correctional rape".
It is not only Uganda – for years, the developed world has turned a blind eye to the state-sanctioned persecution of homosexuals that exists in 38 out of 53 African nations, according to Human Rights Watch. Now, a new feature-length documentary film seeks to redress the balance. Getting Out, directed by film-maker Alexandra Chapman in conjunction with Christian Aid, tells the story of the gay refugees who are forced to flee discrimination in their own countries.
"It is very important for people in the west to understand that legalised and state-sanctioned homophobia is a reality in many parts of Africa," says Dr Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University in Kampala, who was instrumental in the making of the film. Dolan, who campaigns extensively to protect the rights of beleaguered minorities in this corner of Africa, says that the political climate in Uganda "enables a wide range of abuses and violations that seriously diminish the quality of life of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, most of whom seek to stay under the public radar. It also places many such persons in serious and extreme danger."
For John, the danger soon became too great to ignore. At his university freshers' ball, he met and fell in love with a man called Aziz. The two of them were discreet, taking care not to be seen acting too intimately in public. In this way – never quite being honest, living in the half-shadows, always looking over their shoulders – their relationship continued after graduation when John took a well-paid job in a bank. When John first took Aziz home to visit his family, he was introduced as "my best friend. He became like another son to my mum. That was the way it was until 2001."
Then everything changed. A group of John's gay friends were arrested in a police crackdown. They were beaten and forced to give the names of other gay people they knew. John realised he had to get out. "I had to disappear," he says. "I had some money saved up so I paid a private agency to get me a visa, a passport … I didn't tell anybody I was leaving, not even my family. At first, I didn't know where I was going. But then, luckily, the guy gave me a visa to the UK."
John Bosco did not know it then, but his problems were only just beginning.
Florence Kizza smiles a lot. She has a sharp, pretty face with slanted eyes and straight, white teeth. When she talks, she does so in an even, clear voice, her faint Ugandan accent lending the words an irregular rhythm. We meet in a cafe in Richmond, Surrey, near to where she works as a bank clerk. Although the story she tells me is a horrific one, Florence does not show emotion as she recounts it, beyond a slight narrowing of the eyes, a glance to one side, a short pause in her narrative. She explains that to break down and cry would be to give into something she needs to resist. Because Florence is a woman who defines herself by her survival.
Florence is 32, Ugandan and a lesbian. She grew up in Najjanankumbi, on the southern edge of Kampala, the daughter of a prosperous businessman who sent Florence and her sister to a prestigious girls' boarding school.
"I kind of knew [about my sexuality] at school, but those things you don't talk about," she says. "It's something you never breathe out loud. I was brought up a Catholic. Every day, these pastors are preaching that a gay person should be stoned to death, that they should die. If you heard that, would you be open?"
When Florence was 16, both of her parents died of Aids within a year of each other. Florence was taken out of school and raised by relatives. The older she got, the more certain she became that she was gay. Lonely and increasingly isolated, she craved companionship. And then, buying food at the market one day, she met a woman called Susan, from the west of the country. "She spoke a different language," says Florence, "but we just connected. We went for coffee, we talked and then we met up five more times." Gradually, the two of them became closer but, like John Bosco, they were careful about how they acted together in public. Florence continued to live alone. Still, the fact that she was a woman of marriageable age without a husband aroused the suspicion of the local community.
In December 2000, neighbours broke into her house and found her in bed with Susan. The villagers stripped the two women naked, paraded them through the streets and then beat them in front of a baying crowd. "To say it was painful is an understatement," says Florence now. "You can take being hit but being humiliated around God knows how many people – you lose your dignity. I felt, I wish I could die now."
Banished from her village, Florence was forced to find somewhere else to stay. She spent the nights at Susan's home, waking up early each morning to sneak out under cover of darkness. But however cautious she tried to be, it was never enough. In March 2001, Florence was arrested and, over a three-day period, was beaten and raped by three policemen at gunpoint. The assault was so ferocious that, 10 years on, Florence still bears the scars. It is cold when we meet and Florence is wearing a long-sleeved zip-up sweatshirt but, even in the milder weather, she does not like to show the twisted ridges of skin that snake all the way up her arms.
"Looking back, I think the police officers found me very challenging," Florence says, and she half-closes her eyelids, as though squinting to make out a murky, distant shape. "There was a time when one of them hit me on the second day and I looked at him and I didn't cry. I looked very, very calm. I told him: 'Have you finished? It doesn't hurt,' and I laughed." She looks up, meeting my gaze. "And he stopped."
On the third day, Florence escaped when one of the policemen fell into a drunken stupor and she was able to steal the keys to her cell. She ran out into the streets and got a taxi to a friend's house. She knew she had to get out of the country before the police tracked her down. She and Susan fled across the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, they paid a human trafficker to take them to the UK. "He said, OK, you have to pay a very big price. He asked for £20,000. I had to give up one of my dad's plots of land as security."
At the last minute, the trafficker said it was too dangerous for both Florence and Susan to travel at the same time. "He said, it's one person, you choose. I said Susan should go because I was feeling ill, I didn't have the energy. But they said I should go because my health was bad and I was the worst off."
In September 2001, Florence flew to the UK and was taken by the trafficker to a B&B in Wembley, north London. He gave her a £50 note and left her there. At the age of 22, Florence was on her own in a sprawling foreign city with little money and no prospects. For days, she walked the streets, unsure of what to do or who to turn to. After her experiences in Uganda, she looked at everyone with mistrust and suspicion. She had to beg for money for food.
A man from a local church group eventually took her to the Home Office to seek refugee status but Florence was deeply intimidated by the interview process. "Basically, I didn't trust authorities because of the bad experiences I had with them in Uganda," says Florence. "The interviews were degrading. They would ask me to talk about my personal life, to explain how I had sex. The way they looked at me, I just thought, Jesus Christ, am I this disgusting? Honestly, I was so angry. They just had no idea."
Already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, Florence's symptoms got worse the further she travelled through the UK appeals system. Her initial application to stay was refused, on the grounds that she would be safe if she returned to Uganda, relocated to a different area of the country and acted "discreetly".
According to Erin Power, the group manager of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, a large part of the problem for gay Ugandan refugees is an unwillingness to talk openly about a sexual identity that they have had to keep secret all their lives, often even from themselves. "If they do what they're supposed to do and approach the Home Office as soon as they land in the UK, you're asking them to go up to a figure of authority in a uniform and tell them they're gay," says Power. "But that is the person who, in their country, will persecute them for speaking openly.
"We have clients who have never said they're gay before. The idea that they can identify themselves is problematic because often they have kept it secret all their lives … Some clients have never had sex, but we argue that being LGBT is not about who you have sex with, it's about who you are and what your identity is. We've struggled to get the Home Office not to focus on sex. Up till now you've had to prove two things: one, that you're gay or lesbian and two, that your country's dangerous."
How do you prove you're gay? Power laughs. "Everyone always asks that."
John Bosco was facing similar problems in a different part of town. Having arrived in London with £600, John found a room to rent in Manor Park, north London. "I thought, if I can get to an English-speaking country, I'll be OK. As soon as I get there, I can get a job because I have qualifications. I didn't know the asylum system at all."
When he tried to apply for jobs, he was told he needed a national insurance number. "I didn't know what it was," says John. Eventually, a group of Jamaicans he met on the street directed him to the UK Border Agency offices in Croydon. But instead of what he thought would be a straightforward interview, John says he was stripped naked, asked for his fingerprints, bundled into a van and taken to the Oakington immigration detention centre in Cambridgeshire.
Here, he spoke to the authorities through a translator, but the interpreter was from a different part of Uganda and did not speak the same tribal language so John's statement was littered with inconsistencies. John, terrified as to how the UK authorities might react, did not tell them that he was gay and that this was the real reason he had fled Uganda. "They asked me if I wanted a solicitor," he says now, shaking his head. "I didn't know what this word meant."
Failing to make himself understood or to provide a consistent story to explain his refugee status ended up costing John dearly. From Oakington, he was taken to Haslar, an immigration removal centre run by the prison service in Portsmouth. For the first few weeks, he had no change of clothes and had to wash his single pair of underpants every day. When a local volunteer visited him to ask if he needed any help, John finally confessed everything.
"When she asked me, 'Why did you leave?' I said because of my sexuality. She said: 'That's OK, that's not a problem.' I had to sit back like this." He leans back in his cafe chair, crossing his arms over his chest with an expression of shock in his eyes. "I was shivering. I'd never had anyone talk to me like that. She was the first person I'd ever told about my sexuality and she was nice to me." He breaks off, bows his head and rapidly wipes his eyes.
After four months in Haslar, John was given leave to stay in the UK but the Home Office appealed against the decision. For the next six years, from 2002 to 2008, John's life became an exhausting cycle of legal battles. He got a job working at a mental health charity in Southampton and poured £21,000 of his own money into solicitors' fees. In 2008, during a routine visit to the police station (the terms of his leave to remain in the country required that he report to the police once a month), he was manhandled into a van, taken to the airport and put on a flight back to Uganda.
"I was thinking, just kill me. I have no friends, no relatives, nothing. How long is this going to go on? I'm not going to change myself to be accepted."
As with Florence Kizza, the judge in charge of his case had decided that John would face no immediate danger if he returned to Uganda, changed his behaviour and moved to a different part of the country to live "discreetly". This was in spite of the fact that John's photograph had been printed on the front page of a national newspaper in Uganda only a few weeks before he was deported. Living discreetly was just about the last thing he could do.
Within days of touching down in Kampala, John was arrested. The police threw him into a cell with several other inmates and subjected him to regular beatings. "The beatings are not something you can say you get used to," he says now. "It's something you expect."
He bribed the police to release him with the little money he had left and went into hiding for six months. In the end, his solicitors won him refugee status for five years and he was flown back to the UK. But the leave expires in 2014 and John still lives in a state of anxious uncertainty, isolated from his family, friends and his former boyfriend Aziz, all of whom he has found it impossible to trace.
"I have bad dreams still: people chasing me, being beaten up," he says. "Sometimes I sleep and then I think, what will happen after 2014? All I want is freedom, where I can be who I am."
Florence was granted permanent refugee status last year. Since leaving Uganda, she has completed a degree in business management at Kingston University. For a while she worked for a supermarket; now she has a job in the offices of a high-street bank in Twickenham, London. She never heard from her girlfriend Susan again. "We tried really hard to locate her," she says, her voice drained of emotion. "I think I'm getting used to it."
In July 2010, the UK's Supreme Court categorically denounced the "discretion reasoning" that had been central to the rejection of both Florence's and John's refugee claims, ruling that the decision failed to recognise the human rights of homosexuals and breached the UN refugee convention. The Home Office has since produced a set of guidelines, in consultation with asylum groups, on how to assess the validity of such claims, and all senior case-workers have been put through a one-day training session on the connected issues. "That process finished at the end of February," says Erin Power, "so we don't know what the outcome will be. Obviously we hope there will be some improvement because some of the interviewing was horrific, quite honestly."
Back in the cafe in Southampton, John's hot chocolate has gone cold. He says he misses his family "all the time" and does not have much of a social life, feeling too black to be fully welcomed by the predominantly white gay community in this part of the world, and too gay to be fully accepted by the straight people he meets. He spends most of his evenings and weekends in a rented room watching TV soaps. "Calling the memories back stresses me out," he says, at the end of our conversation. "But the reason I do it is because if I don't, people won't understand what is happening, especially the people in Uganda who do not have a voice. The only way they will understand is for me to tell you about it."
As he pushes his chair neatly under the table, he says that he is plagued by two questions. "I ask myself all the time, why was I born gay? And if I was born gay, why was I born in Africa?"
He leaves, letting the cafe door slide silently shut behind him, turning back to give me a wave and a smile through the window as he goes. Perhaps there will never be an answer. But for now, at least, John Bosco is free to pose the questions out loud.

Getting Out will be shown on Friday 15 April at 7pm at The Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1QJ. Tickets are free but space is limited. To reserve a seat email admin@uklgig.org.uk

GLOBAL HATE: Homophobia around the world

■ More than two-thirds of African countries have laws against homosexual acts. In 2008, Yahya Jammeh, president of the Gambia, threatened to "cut off the head" of any homosexual found in his country. He also pledged "stricter laws than Iran" on homosexuality. In Iran, the penalty for gay sex is death.
■ Gay people in Senegal, where homosexual sex is illegal, have reportedly been tortured in prison. Last year a judge in Malawi sentenced a gay couple to 14 years in prison: the country's president pardoned them after international condemnation.
■ Conservative American evangelical church groups have been blamed for intensifying prejudice against gay people in African countries. A month before the anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in Uganda, preachers from the United States visited the country and staged a conference where they accused homosexuals of destroying African culture.
■ Uprisings in northern Africa and the Middle East have not – so far – quelled deep-seated homophobia in the region.
■ While homosexuality is largely legal in South and Central America, gay people are at risk of violence and prejudice. Following the 2009 coup in Honduras more than 30 gay and transgender people were murdered. Dadeus Grings, archbishop of one of the largest dioceses in Brazil, said last year that the acceptance of homosexuality in society could pave the way for the acceptance of paedophilia.
Jamaica has been described as the most homophobic place on earth. Prominent gay-rights activists have been murdered, and the reggae star Buju Banton appeared in court accused of assaulting a gay man. The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.
■ In 2004, an official at the ministry of culture in Thailand proposed the removal of homosexuals from media and government posts. Lady Gaga's gay anthem "Born This Way" has been censored in Malaysia, where homosexual acts are illegal.
■ In February this year, Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, said: "As long as we are in power, traditional marriage and gay unions will never be on the same level." In 2009, the Lithuanian parliament was condemned for proposing measures that would ban talking about homosexuality in schools.

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Pastor Denounces Ricky Martin's Concert, Open Homosexuality

By Andrea Marcela Madambashi -

Pop singer Ricky Martin kicked off his world tour on Friday in his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The popular artist, however, wasn’t welcomed by everyone.

Megachurch pastor Wanda Rolón of First Christian Church of La Senada Antigua in northern Puerto Rico, which has over 3,000 members, denounced the Musica+Alma+Sexo (Music+Soul+Sex) concert for promoting nudity and sadomasochism.
She called the event abominable.
“I want to say to Ricky Martin that there is no need to go to the extreme by making our children and youths confused,” she said during a press conference Thursday in the Puerto Rico Senate.
“May the Lord help us this weekend. God have mercy on Puerto Rico,” she added.
Her comments came just days after she posted on her Facebook page that Martin, who is openly gay, would lead Puerto Ricans to hell. Rolón expressed her disagreement with Martin publicly exhibiting his homosexuality as if it was normal behavior.
"I want more Christian news!"
She posted (translated): “This weekend Puerto Rico will receive a man whom God rescued from hell (referring to evangelist Nicky Cruz, founder of Nicky Cruz Outreach) … on the other hand, there is another one who wants to take people to hell! RM (Ricky Martin).”
Immediately, a hundred of her followers agreed with her comments. And to those who disagreed, she replied, “Saying the truth, warning people is wisdom; being silent before the lie is sin.”
One commenter responded, “You proclaim God but do not respect others. What about ‘love your neighbors as yourself’? It is not assumed that all are children of God? … He who has no sin throw the first stone…”
In the days following the post, Rolón said she has been a victim of attacks due to her comments.
Later, Rolón removed the post from her Facebook and published another post: “I never promoted hatred, but the love of Christ … God calls us as only man and woman because it was how He created us. I will continue to preach with all my heart about the love of God, because He doesn’t want to lose anyone but He wants to save all of us.”
The pastor denied having compared Martin with the devil, according to The Primeira Hora, a Puerto Rico publication. She said she was denouncing him for saying openly that he is gay. Martin announced last year that he is gay.
Though Martin’s intention is to encourage people to be open about their homosexuality, he is doing the opposite because instead of being accepted they are most likely to end up isolated, Rolón noted.
“Should I glorify this conduct? No. I wouldn’t glorify a drug addict or an alcoholic…,” she maintained.
“I ask you to seek God and to cease being adulterers, fornicators, liars,” she said as she expressed concern for children who might think that being gay is “okay.”
On Thursday, security guards blocked gay activist groups who showed up at the press conference to speak out against the pastor’s “homophobic comments.” Those who did manage to enter criticized Rolón, arguing that she is “imposing religious beliefs on society.”
Young gay activist ángel Luis Crespo said, “Her expressions perpetuate oppression and discrimination in society, when we are seeking to combat inequality.”
Helga García, spokeswoman for Martin, was extremely offended and disappointed that a pastor would make such comments and use her gift to divide rather than unite.
"The pastor has the right to express her position … but I think … she should reflect on who she is and what God’s message for the whole earth is,” she said.
She recommended that the pastor remember her “duty as an ambassador of Christ’s teachings” and to abstain from making offensive comments against the music artist.
According to the spokeswoman, the pop music artist is "a very spiritual person."
Martin’s Musica+Alma+Sexo tour is based on his latest album, his first studio album in six years. Martin came out on his official website where he stated, "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.”

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The Extra Hoops Gay Parents Must Jump Through

Amanda, right, & Kay Shelton with Maya, 3, & Myles, 8 months.
Protecting Kay's rights as a parent takes careful planning.
By TARA SIEGEL BERNARD -

BEVERLY HILLS, Mich. - MOST pregnant women avoid long road trips right before their due date. But Amanda and Kay Shelton, a lesbian couple in Beverly Hills, Mich., contemplated traveling more than 600 miles to New Jersey so Amanda could give birth in a state where their baby could have two “legal” mothers.
Michigan, along with several others, doesn’t allow same-sex couples to perform second-parent adoptions, which allow one partner to adopt the other’s biological or adopted children. They never did make the long trip, which would have allowed Kay to begin adoption proceedings immediately. “It was not terribly practical, so we were kind of in a difficult spot,” said Amanda, 34.
The inability to adopt is one of many legal and financial inequalities the Sheltons face because their state and the federal government do not recognize their union, which they affirmed in a ceremony almost 11 years ago.
Though Kay, 37, is known as “mama” to their children — Maya is 3, Myles, 8 months — the state government still views her as a legal stranger. So Amanda, who works as a commercial litigator for a law firm in Detroit, must sign a notarized document every six months that gives Kay, who stays home with the children, parental consent. But they have often wondered if there was more they could do to strengthen those legal ties, or to improve their financial situation. So we asked three experts in same-sex issues — a lawyer, a financial planner and an accountant — for advice.
LEGAL DOCUMENTS The Sheltons say their top priority is their children. If Amanda were unable to care for them, Kay said, “I would not want them missing from me, even for a day.”
Michigan recognizes second-parent adoptions performed elsewhere, but that would require establishing residency in a state where Kay could adopt. That can take more than a year.
Several documents are available to create as many rights as possible for the couple, according to Mary Kator, chief counsel at the Rainbow Law Center, a firm in Southfield, Mich. Without the documents, Kay, a former auto mechanic, is vulnerable — especially if the couple ever splits up.
Instead of relying on the renewable parental authority document, she suggested a “power of attorney for parental authority,” which does not expire. It would allow Kay to act on the children’s behalf, whether it was for a trip to the doctor’s office or a visit with a teacher. “It has never been challenged and as a practical matter, it works,” Ms. Kator said.
Ms. Kator also suggested a parental appointment of guardian, which would designate Kay as the children’s guardian in the event that Amanda died or became incapacitated, giving Kay priority over any blood relatives.
They also need to update their wills: Amanda should appoint Kay as the children’s guardian, but the documents should also express that Kay be treated as a co-parent.
“Even the ring your partner has given you will belong to your birth family upon your death,” said Ms. Kator of same-sex couples in Michigan who die without a will.
Since many of the couple’s assets would pass to one of them directly because they are either jointly held, like their home and savings accounts, or, in the case of Amanda’s retirement accounts, have Kay listed as the beneficiary, Ms. Kator did not think it was necessary to use a revocable living trust.
The trust is often recommended for couples with substantial assets that may be subject to probate, the process to settle a deceased person’s estate. Assets held in the trust bypass that process. The couple do need to make sure their beneficiary designations are kept up to date.
The Sheltons already have medical powers of attorney that allow them to make medical decisions for each other. Ms. Kator suggested making them broader and more explicit, giving each partner broad visiting rights and authorizing a health provider to give them medical information. The couple already have a durable power of attorney that would allow them to handle legal and financial matters for each other.
Finally, they should set up a domestic partner agreement and a co-parenting agreement that outlines how to handle child support and parenting should the couple ever split. This is especially important for Kay, since she is not a legal parent and has no wage-earning job. “In our community, because we don’t have divorce courts we don’t have the ability to address this economic inequality, and a domestic partner agreement can substitute for that,” Ms. Kator said.
FINANCIAL CONCERNS Since Kay isn’t earning any money, she cannot use any tax-advantaged savings vehicles for retirement — these require earned income. And Amanda can’t contribute to a spousal I.R.A. on her behalf, since they cannot marry.
Kay isn’t entitled to receive Social Security benefits on Amanda’s earnings record, either. Normally, lower-earning spouses can receive up to half of their spouse’s benefits, if those are higher than their own. Surviving spouses are also entitled to collect their husband or wife’s higher benefits instead of their own. “I know I need to be saving more for her, but I’m not,” said Amanda, who puts about $6,000 a year in her 401(k). It would be difficult, if not impossible, to divide that up should they split. Married people who divorce can divide retirement plan assets without having to pay taxes or penalties on withdrawals, but the Sheltons wouldn’t have those privileges, said James Tissot, president of Prism Planning in New York.
“The biggest issue as you go forward is the disparity between the two retirement plans and coming up with something that is equitable,” he told the couple. That agreement should be included in a domestic partner agreement.
After paying down certain debts, he suggested that Amanda at least double her savings.
TAXES If the Sheltons could file their federal returns jointly, they would save several thousand dollars in taxes. Instead, Amanda files her federal tax return as “head of household,” and claims the children and Kay as dependents. Tax rates are higher for people who file as head of household compared with couples who file jointly, so they end up paying at least $3,000 more, according to Tina Salandra, an accountant and president of Numerical L.L.C.
But they could do something that would help Kay save for retirement: Amanda could hire Kay as a nanny and pay her $3,649 a year, which she could then put into a Roth I.R.A. (Kay needs to earn less than $3,650 for Amanda to continue to claim her as a dependent, Ms. Salandra said.) Kay and Amanda would both owe Social Security and Medicare taxes, and Amanda would need to pay state unemployment taxes. That’s roughly $644 in total, but Amanda could deduct her share of the payroll taxes as itemized deductions on her return. After reviewing the advice, the Sheltons said their first priority would be to put the extra parental protections into place, then update their will.
The couple said they were optimistic that, someday, their family would be able to avoid all of these extra costs and hurdles. “I would love to have another wedding because I love weddings,” Amanda said, laughing.  “And I would love to have our kids there and to be part of that. I am hopeful.”

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Gay Kids Thrive With Family Support, Acceptance

By Kilian Melloy -


Kids need the love, support, and acceptance of their parents. Without it, they may not flourish. But for some kids--GLBT youth in particular--family acceptance is not always guaranteed.

That could have serious consequences for their futures, or even their lives, research suggests--and families are starting to heed that advice, a March 22 article in Colorado newspaper the Longmont Times-Call says.

One organization devoted to researching the issue of how family support--or the lack of it--impacts GLBT youth is the Family Acceptance Project.

"Our team is putting research into practice by developing the first evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBT children and youth," text at the group’s website says. "Once developed, we will disseminate our model across the U.S. and to groups we work with in other countries."

The site’s text also noted that the Family Acceptance Project "is the only community research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to decrease major health and related risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, such as suicide, substance abuse, HIV and homelessness--in the context of their families.

"We use a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children," the text adds.

One early research paper, published in November of 2010, documented a "direct link between school victimization of gender-nonconforming LGBT youth with depression and quality of life in adulthood"--that is to say, a correlation between GLBT youths who are bullied at school and sexual minorities who suffer later in life.

Other studies documented how family acceptance and support acts as to shield gay kids from problems such as substance abuse--whereas family rejection leaves youths especially vulnerable to problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse.

The group’s director, Caitlan Ryan, told the Longmont Times-Call that GLBT youths who experience familial rejection are as much as eight times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior as kids who are embraced by their families.

Rejected kids are also much more prone to depression and risky behavior that can increase their chances of contracting HIV or suffering other health consequences.

"Society has become very polarized around issues like this. But we’re just really trying to help families help their child by understanding how much their behaviors matter," Ryan told the newspaper.

Neurological research has shown that the developing brains of children and teens can be affected by traumatic experiences of abuse and rejection. Sexually and physically abused children exhibit many of the same physical and emotional health issues as bullied kids do. Traumatized children and teens can grow into adults afflicted by depression and substance abuse problems.

Familial rejection--which can include bullying and abusive behavior toward a gay or transgender child--is just as damaging, the group’s research indicates.

The research suggests an answer for parents who wonder what they did wrong when their son or daughter comes out as gay: nothing. Not yet, anyway. But what they do next--in response to the news--is crucial for a child’s long-term well-being.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.



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Premier of Ontario Weighs In On Debate Over GSAs in Catholic Schools

By Brandon Miller -

The war against gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Ontario's Catholic schools rages on. This week, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said that he refuses to order Catholic school boards to allow GSAs. Critics say that it has much to do with the looming election, but the government says that it is not a necessity that these schools allow gay groups, as long as there are other forms of support.
“If there isn’t a gay-straight alliance, then there needs to be an alternative forum of peer support,” said Mike Feenstra, spokesperson for Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky. “If there is not a GSA, there does need to be another group that gives students the opportunity to talk about issues that are important to make them feel safe.”
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on what constitutes support. In Mississauga, a principal recently turned down an appeal for a GSA at her Catholic school, only to hand out homophobic pamphlets to teachers that suggested gay youth should "change" their sexual orientation. News flash: groups that claim to "cure" gay people are not supportive. Just so we're clear.
“I don‘t believe freedom of religion trumps a student’s freedom of expression, association and equality, especially given the high level of teen suicides among gay youth,” Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of equity for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said to ParentCentral.ca.
Some, including New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese, have called out the Premier for his stance that GSAs are not mandatory. They claim that the Ontario policy compels schools to allow groups with gay in the title. Gay rights group Queer Ontario has said that McGuinty is trying to side-step his own policy.
Since Catholic schools are publicly funded, they should adequately reflect the law of the land. In Ontario, human rights law supports LGBT students. Sadly, Catholic schools do not. To call on the government to stop using taxpayer dollars to fund homophobic Catholic school, sign the Change.org petition here. To ask the Ministry of Education to enforce their policy that all schools be open to forming GSAs, go here.

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »


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Rugby fans warned over anti-gay chants at Gareth Thomas

By Jessica Geen -

Castleford Tigers fans have been warned by the club’s chief executive to ensure that homophobic chants directed at gay player Gareth Thomas are not repeated.
The club was fined £40,000 last year after a small number of fans abused Crusaders star Thomas. The fine was cut to £20,000 on appeal and the club banned three people.
The Crusaders are to play an away match against Castleford on Sunday and chief executive Richard Wright urged fans to prove that the club is not anti-gay.
He said: “We’ve put a lot of hard work into taking every step possible to prevent a repeat of last year.
“There has been a fantastic atmosphere at games so far this season and we are grateful to our fans for that.
“We’ve invited the RFL’s [Rugby Football League] equality and diversity officer as guest of honour for Sunday’s game and we are very proud of the fantastic progress made in introducing new initiatives, some of which are firsts for rugby league and sport in general.
“We know that it was a small number of mindless fools that let the club, the town and the sport of rugby league down last year and we have taken steps to deal with these. Anybody found guilty of homophobic abuse has, and will be, banned from games indefinitely.”
He added: “Sunday is an opportunity for the fans to make a statement that Castleford Tigers are not a homophobic club. The club has played its part, it’s now up to the fans to concentrate on cheering the team and proving once and for all how this is a proud club, that warrants its reputation as one of the friendliest, family-orientated clubs in the game.”
Mr Wright described measures taken by the club to stamp out homophobia, including a poster campaign, improved CCTV audio recording and briefing of stewards.

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Questioning the 'Social Transformation' (editorial from the Harvard Crimson)

On April 1-2, the Harvard Extension Service and Learning Society will host a conference in Northwest Labs entitled Social Transformation by the Power of God. Although the title of the conference certainly does not shy away from the religious thrust of the event, what still escapes us is the link between a group that calls itself a Service and Leadership Society and the expectation of an “existential encounter that will renew and revive your passion to be agents of change.” We seriously question the “existential encounter” that might be brought about by speakers such as one Dr. Lance Wallnau, who has had the following to say about why Social Transformation is necessary: “So you've got your homosexual activity, your abortion activity here, Islam coming in, you've got a financial collapse—all of this, to those of us who are Christians, is an apocalyptic confirmation that when you remove God from public discourse, when you don't line up your thinking with kingdom principles, you inevitably hit an iceberg like the Titanic and you go down.” Especially on a campus that exemplifies diversity and tolerance in so many ways, egregiously anti-pluralist views such as those espoused by Wallnau and some of other speakers in the conference lineup tow an uncomfortable line between the exercise of free speech and an uncomfortable acceptance of hate speech.
While nearly anyone is welcome to speak on campus, context is key. Of course, we do not dispute the value of the First Amendment and believe that Harvard can and should invite to campus any speaker it wishes. In the case of speakers who are known widely for intolerant or strongly offensive views, however, they should not be put on a pedestal—quite literally—and be allowed to take advantage of speaking under a Harvard banner and the legitimacy that banner affords naturally affords them. For speakers with intolerant and offensive views, the University should construct any public event in which those speakers will play a prominent role as a challenge of their views rather than a celebration of them.
When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to Columbia, for instance, he said famously horrible things, such as that Iran simply does not have “the phenomenon of homosexuality.” That “opinion”, while repulsive, was nevertheless expressed in a context that allowed it to be challenged and publicly dismissed. As John Stuart Mill said, “complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action.”
Unfortunately, this is not the case with the upcoming Extension School conference. By hosting a panel discussion whose participants will merely voice their opinions without being called upon to justify their past incendiary remarks, the event seems to accept incredibly offensive opinions without providing any internal challenge. In a sense, the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community is consequently on trial with this coming conference. Regardless of their subject matter, conferences must nevertheless be held to basic standards of intellectual honesty and accountability, and we simply cannot imagine what value the Social Transformation Conference will bring to our community.
Also, it is nothing less than dishonest to present this particular line of speakers merely as “leading voices for the faith-based social transformation of culture,” as the conference describes. Their model of social transformation is, in fact, highly controversial for a variety of reasons, including some of the speakers' homophobic and Islamophobic views. Besides Wallanu, Os Hillman, another speaker, has endorsed one of the strongest Ugandan proponents of that country’s 2009 anti-homosexuality bill, Julius Oyet. Hillman has even written himself of homosexuality: “Even kids were not immune to the new onslaught of the gay agenda when in October of 2007 the major character in the Harry Potter books and movies, Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts was revealed that he was gay. This is how the frog in the kettle gets hotter and hotter until we wake up one day and realize we have totally lost the culture and we have become a nation like Sodom and Gomorrah in which God had to destroy the entire city.” These important facts are not presented in a straightforward manner by the conference organizers, who present misleading official biographies of Wallanu and Hillman and seem to focus on marketing, rather than engaging and challenging, their speakers. (Keep in mind that in between every panel, conference attendees will have an opportunity to buy books from panel participants.)
The conference website guarantees that attendees will get to “Explore and discern your life-calling and purpose, and understand the connection between your faith and your vocation.” Leaving aside the fact that the conference is explicitly centered on a Judeo-Christian worldview (the conference will explain how, “faith-based social transformation efforts are changing our society using the time-tested principles of the Judeo- Christian worldview which has profoundly influenced the founding of this country as well as western civilization itself”), we question why this particular Extension School club is holding this conference, which seems to needlessly depart from its nominally secular mission.
More disturbingly, an official statement released by the organizers of the conference states that “We have been assured by our speakers that they have not supported any hatred directed towards any group, and that allegations to the contrary are untrue and/or misinterpreted.” These assurances should be strongly questioned—if Wallnau and Hillman’s expressions do not seem like hatred, we are hard pressed to understand what does. There appears to be a link missing between a Service and Leadership Society that hosts events like the 2009 Negotiation and Leadership Conference, and a Society which feels that the morals espoused at Harvard have degraded so far that we must open our gates to speakers with such disparaging views.
Appearing at Harvard legitimizes a speaker and his or her opinions; therefore, while people with many views are welcome to speak at Harvard, we find it morally dubious to allow speakers to proselytize, especially discriminatory views, and remain unchallenged. Especially in the wake of the return to ROTC to campus, Harvard must do everything in its power to show its compassion for and extend its eternal welcome to the LGBT community that forms such a vibrant part of campus life. Somehow, a conference so clearly informed by the Seven Mountains of Culture movement and that markets itself as an initiative to “reclaim the Education Mountain” for Jesus Christ does not bode well for any attempt the University might have considered in combating discrimination on campus grounds.
While we cannot anticipate the nature of the talks and discussions that will come to pass on April 1 and 2, we urge members of the campus community who are concerned by this supposedly imminent Social Transformation to attend the conference and embrace free speech as much as the conference organizers have in bringing this pointed agenda into an environment that strives for pluralism and tolerance.

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Beer with Ben in the UK

beerwithbenevening.jpg
The Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour scheduled to run from 19th to 29th of May in the USA is starting here in the UK.

Ben has teamed up with the Village Spartans Rugby Club in Manchester and the Kings Cross Steelers in London to hold 'Beer with Ben' evenings to raise awareness and funds for the up and coming tour.

"I am looking forward to coming along to meet everyone."  says Ben "I have already met quite a few of the Village Spartan guys when I got involved with their successful bid for the Bingham Cup to be held next year. It should be a fun evening. I will be bringing along some auction items, updating everyone on the Acceptance Tour details and speaking about my rugby career. I have heard also that one of the clubs will be auctioning off their club kit as well! That's a bit different!"

Beer with Ben is a ticket event and they are available from the shop here or from the clubs themselves.

The Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour will be visiting Atlanta, New York, Washington and Seattle in May this year and will be raising awareness and funds, standing up against homophobia and bullying and standing up for equality, tolerance and mutual respect.

Further details to be announced soon.

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS

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Gov. Jack Markell - Featured Speaker at International Equality Dinner

Gov. Jack Markell
Featured Speaker
IED_2011_650

Governor Jack Markell 

Jack MarkellAs Governor of Delaware, Jack Markell spearheaded the state’s Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), making Delaware one of 29 states and the District of Columbia to have anti-discrimination employment protection based on sexual orientation and gender expression or identity.

Markell recently announced his support for civil unions for same-sex couples in Delaware.

Governor Markell signed innovative laws in education, the environment, and the economy. He has been recognized across the country as a leader in promoting policies to help all people achieve their economic potential and to provide equality.
More


Equality Forum 2011 

Visit www.equalityforum.com/dinner for more information.

Equality Forum is a national and international LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus. Equality Forum presents annually the largest and premiere national and international LGBT civil rights summit. Equality Forum 2011 has over 40 programs, parties and special events. There is no registration fee and all panels are free. [More]



www.equalityforum.com (215) 732-3378

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Spring TransNews

--by Robyn

Becoming Chaz is coming to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on May 10 at 8pm. Immediately following the show will be a special discussion hosted by Rosie O'Donnell including interviews with Chaz and his girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and assorted transfolk.


Becoming Chaz first aired at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Here's a review:

The last time many of us paid attention to Chaz Bono, he had recently transitioned from a life as a woman to that of a man, and the tabloids and comedians were having a field day. Viewers of Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's wildly engaging documentary "Becoming Chaz" might be surprised, then, to see the complicated and often touching story behind the late-night snark.


--Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Taylor at the GLAAD Media Awards

http://glaad.org - Elizabeth Taylor accepts the Vanguard Award from Carrie Fisher at the 11th annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2000. For more information about GLAAD's work, please visit http://www.glaad.org, http://facebook.com/glaad, and http://twitter.com/glaad.



Screen queen Elizabeth Taylor has left behind a fortune worth at least $600 million, much of which is expected to go to the AIDS charities she championed for decades.
Her famous jewelry collection, valued at an eye-popping $150 million in 2002, is likely to be auctioned off with the bulk of the proceeds going to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and amfAR, the AIDS charity she helped found in 1985, according to WFLD/Fox TV Chicago.
"From what I understand, she seems to have been very wise about her investments," said a financial planner who has worked with other Hollywood A-listers.
At the time of her 1994 divorce from her last husband, Larry Fortensky, Taylor's net worth was estimated at $608.4 million. That figure could now be well in excess of $1 billion.
During the 1990s, Taylor reportedly earned about $2 per second, or about $63 million per year.
Her famed perfume, White Diamonds, earned more than $70 million last year, according to reports.
Taylor's acting career was, of course, quite lucrative and even in her later years, she was paid top dollar for film work.
The violet-eyed siren, who in 1963 commanded a then-record $1 million payout for "Cleopatra," snared $2.5 million for a small part in her last movie, "The Flintstones," in 1994.
Property records show that Taylor transferred the title to her Bel Air home -- which housed her large Impressionist Art collection and was famously furnished with 18th-century antiques and Aubusson rugs -- from a trust in her name to one operated by one of her money managers.
Her last will and testament, along with all of her property, is held in a private trust, according to public records.
Records show that the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, which has raised millions over the years, has a net fund balance of about $750,000. The charity took in $257,000 in 2009 and gave out $187,000 to health causes. The charity took in $463,000 the previous year and gave out $931,000.
The movie icon was buried yesterday in a traditional Jewish service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif. She had converted to Judaism in 1959 before her marriage to fourth husband Eddie Fisher.
The funeral was held at the cemetery's Great Mausoleum, where other film greats like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are interred. It's also the building where close friend Michael Jackson was interred in 2009.
With news helicopters buzzing overhead, access to the building and immediate surrounding area was locked down. Fans trying to enter the cemetery were turned away.
Five stretch limousines and several private cars carried about three dozen family members past hordes of reporters outside the famed memorial park that's also the final resting place for W.C. Fields, Red Skelton, Gracie Allen, Walt Disney and Nat King Cole, among other celebrities.
A larger, public memorial service is planned for a later date.
Broadway will honor Taylor by dimming its lights tonight at 8 p.m. for one minute in her memory.
Taylor died early Wednesday of congestive heart failure in LA at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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Man, 20, charged with murder of gay Edinburgh lecturer

By Jessica Geen -


A 20-year-old man has been charged with the murder of a retired gay lecturer in Edinburgh.
He is due to appear before Edinburgh Sheriff Court today over the death of 64-year-old Roger Gray, who taught maths and statistics at Heriot-Watt University.
Mr Gray is the third gay man to have been killed in the city in the last month but police have said there is no evidence the deaths are related.
He was found dead in the hallway of his Merchiston Crescent flat on Saturday morning after neighbours reported a gas leak.
He had been stabbed to death in a “sustained” attack, police said.
One neighbour reported hearing a disturbance the night before and it was claimed that Mr Gray’s flat had been locked from the inside.

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Canada to assist persecuted gay refugees


By Nicholas Keung -
On the eve of a likely spring election, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced an unusual partnership with Canada’s queer community Thursday: a pilot project to help refugees persecuted for their sexual orientation.
Through the project, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will work with the Rainbow Refugee Committee to share the cost of sponsoring gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual and bisexual refugees overseas to Canada.
The department will provide $100,000 in assistance to cover three months of income support for the refugees upon their arrival here, while the Rainbow committee will offer orientation services, accommodation, food and other basic needs.
“These funds are a welcome first step in response to the crisis facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the globe, at a time when 77 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality and five prescribe the death penalty,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, the country’s largest LGBT human rights organization.
“The Rainbow Refugee Committee provides critical support to asylum seekers fleeing homophobic and transphobic persecution in their countries of origin.”
As part of the agreement with Ottawa, the Rainbow committee must reach out to other groups to facilitate sponsorship applications and arrangements.
“Encouraging private sponsors to come forward is vital to refugees in need of protection and to the future of the private sponsorship program,” Kenney said in a statement.
“Canada has a proud tradition of opening its doors to people from around the world and providing a safe haven to those in need of protection. The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program plays a significant role in the resettlement of refugees from across the globe.”
As private refugee sponsors, groups identify individuals in need and must commit to providing a year of financial support for the asylum seekers’ first year of settlement in Canada. Applicants must still pass government security and medical checks.
Kenney’s warming to the gay community is in contrast to his department’s decision last year to exclude Canada’s gay rights history from an updated citizenship guide. That section of gay rights was reinstated in the guide’s latest edition this month after public outrage.
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Our campus (Pepperdine) ranked ‘LGBT’ unfriendly

By Wade Addison -
Ranked 20th on Princeton Review's list of the top "LGBT-unfriendly" campuses, it may be difficult to believe that Pepperdine would attract any gay students, faculty or staff. However, there are quite a few gay waves in our midst.
Just like our straight peers, we chose to come to Pepperdine for various reasons, including the faith-based community, academic prestige, awe-inspiring location and highly reputed international programs. Many of us did not come to terms with our orientation until long after we arrived, while some came to Pepperdine with the initial goal of not hiding this aspect of themselves. Regardless of where someone is in the process of understanding their sexual identity, it is safe to say that Pepperdine's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members come to Pepperdine because of its overall quality and purpose. We desire to serve and lead as much as anyone else and also desire to be loved as brothers and sisters. And while the state of the gay at Pepperdine could be much worse, improvements could still be made.
Lately, progress has been made in respect to the relationship between Pepperdine and its LGBT members. Asked by Mark Davis, dean of Student Affairs, to be one of seven students to speak at a Building Bridges roundtable in February, I was able to see this gradual progress that will hopefully result in positive change. This meeting, a series of many to address the issue, was attended by administrators who had open ears and were curious to hear how Pepperdine could do better. Rich Little, preaching minister at the University Church of Christ, asked how it has been at Pepperdine for those of us who identify as Christian and gay. We discussed the misunderstandings that have arisen, and that it is not a simple matter, but spoke of the importance of open dialogue and a desire to be shown Christ's love despite differences in opinion. Being able to share our stories and experiences with open-hearted individuals is an essential part of healthy communication.
In all honesty, I must say that I am honored, blessed and privileged to write this article and to have it published. My peers at Harding and Baylor universities, and other private Christian institutions, are not as fortunate. It would be a shame to see Pepperdine take such negative steps. The negative steps against the gay communities at these schools include forbidding an SIF (Sexual Identity Forum) group at Baylor where students would be able to have dialogue on issues such as suicide, homophobia and political issues. Harding additionally instituted a school-wide block of sites created by LGBT students to express their experiences with the current negative environment, such as huqueerpress.com's "The State of the Gay at Harding University."
Currently, an LGBT group at Pepperdine is not allowed, but it is the hope of Reach OUT (Pepperdine's unofficial LGBT group) that some type of forum might be allowed with oversight and involvement from members of the administration, such as the chaplain's office. After all, allowing such a club would not be much different than approving clubs such as the Judaic Cultural Awareness Club or Catholic Student Association, which both sway from traditional Church of Christ beliefs. Reach OUT also hopes that "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" be included in Pepperdine's non-discrimination policy.
For this article, I asked a few campus leaders for their thoughts on the matter. The following excerpts came from Davis.
"More than anything we need the kind of love modeled by Jesus. If Jesus returned to campus, I think He would start by sitting down with those who feel marginalized in our community. He would listen carefully to them, and as He heard stories of pain and rejection, He would no doubt empathize with tears of compassion. And He would speak out against hateful slurs, bullying or harassment. He would want everyone to understand that all are created in the image of His Father and should be treated as brothers and sisters. As a master teacher, He would insist that we learn more about this topic, especially because our ignorance has led to unnecessary hurt and exclusion."
Regarding obedience to God's will and alluding to the automobile owner's manual analogy used by both C.S. Lewis and George Pepperdine to illustrate God's instruction for our lives, Davis said, "When it comes to sexual behavior, the traditional interpretation of the Owner's manual is that God has reserved sex for the safety of a married relationship between a man and woman. Pepperdine's statement in the Student Handbook on sexual relationships affirms this position, and those who support this traditional interpretation are trying to be faithful to their understanding of God's will in hopes that it will lead to fulfilling lives that honor God. At the same time, I know that not everyone interprets the Owner's manual the same way. So we must respect other members of our community, including sincere Christians, who reach different conclusions on God's design for sexual relationships. And as an academic institution related to a Christian unity movement that is based on going back to the Bible, we need to spend more time studying the primary sources together.  Sitting at the table together in study and fellowship will help us hone both our convictions and our civility."
Civility is of utmost importance and communication is crucial to the understanding of those unfamiliar with LGBT issues. Based on personal experience with family members and friends, it has been clear that honest and open communication is a good predictor of strong relationships. If you have questions or haven't formed an opinion on this issue that may be affecting you or one of your close friends, talk with someone. Pray for guidance and seek out trusted mentors while making an effort to seek resources from both sides to gain an educated opinion.
Mark Davis said, "My hope is that Pepperdine is increasingly known for reflecting the love of Christ, where we insist that everyone is treated as a brother or sister, and where love compels us to sit down with each other to explore our differences and to celebrate our common goals as we work together to build a stronger community." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. This University is wonderful because of the community present within and it is my desire that someday this issue will become less of a divisive topic at Pepperdine and throughout the world. Let love win out.

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Marquette University to offer domestic partner benefits

Decision comes a year after job offer to lesbian candidate was rescinded

By Sharif Durhams and Don Walker -

Marquette University plans to start offering domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2012, a move that comes about a year after the university's decision to rescind a job offer to a lesbian candidate caused the campus to erupt in debate.
In a statement sent to the campus Thursday afternoon, Marquette President Robert A. Wild said he's been wrestling with an idea of offering the benefits that would provide services for gay and lesbian employees for years.
University officials said the timing of the announcement was influenced by votes in recent weeks by the University Academic Senate and the Marquette University Student Government that have urged the university to offer benefits for domestic partners.
"If we are truly pastoral in our application of the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, I asked myself if I could reconcile that with denying health benefits to a couple who have legally registered their commitment to each other," Wild said. In Latin, cura personalis means "care for the entire person."
Wild noted that the State of Wisconsin gives legal recognition both to marriage for heterosexual couples and to a registered domestic partnership for same-sex couples.
Officials said they're still working out details, but medical, dental and vision benefits currently offered to married couples and their dependents will be extended to registered domestic partners. The couples receiving the benefits must share a residence, and must be of the same sex. The declaration of domestic partnership may be initiated by an application filed with the clerk of the county in which an individual resides.
The decision by Marquette comes nearly after a year after the school announced that it was rescinding a job offer to Jodi O'Brien, a lesbian and scholar at Seattle University, involving concerns relating to Marquette's "Catholic mission and identity" and their incompatibility with some of O'Brien's scholarly writings.
The university said at the time that the decision to rescind the job offer did not have anything to do with O'Brien's sexual orientation.
The university has a Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity. It reads, in part, that Marquette "recognizes and cherishes the dignity of each individual regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, disability or social class." The statement adds that the Jesuit-run school seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice.
After Marquette and Wild announced the decision, dozens of faculty members at both Marquette and Seattle condemned Marquette for rescinding the offer to O'Brien to take over as dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences.
In June of last year, the school announced that it had reached a "mutually acceptable resolution" with O'Brien. Marquette said it had apologized to O'Brien, and sources said the school took a "financial hit."
School officials said at the time that the university would consider research projects, conferences, courses and service learning projects exploring the topics of Catholic identity and gender and sexuality issues.
It could not be immediately determined if the decision to offer domestic benefits was related to the settlement of the O'Brien matter.
In December, Marquette released a report to the university community that officials commissioned after the O'Brien incident. The report by Ronni Sanlo, a retired senior associate dean of students at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students she studied felt harassed at Marquette and that some gay and lesbian faculty wished top university officials were more supportive.
Last March, before the incident involving O'Brien, Wild announced he would step down in June 2011 after about 15 years at the helm of Marquette. He said he had discussed his decision with trustees, including the Rev. Scott Pilarz, Marquette's incoming president.

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