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Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Special Mothers' Day Message

AFER - American Foundation for Equal Rights
A Mothers' Day in Limbo
Kris Perry and Sandy Stier may be one of the two lead couples challenging Proposition 8, but like many gay and lesbian parents, they
will spend this Mother's Day waiting for equality.
Read the full editorial at The Adocate's website >
When the court ruled last August that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, and that all California couples should have the freedom to marry, we never imagined that our family would celebrate another Mothers' Day in limbo.

As long as our relationship is not afforded the same access to the same language and same protections as other Californians, Mother's Day will remind our four sons that our family is still—in the eyes of the law—something less than other families.

More than anything, we want our sons to live in a household with parents whose lifelong commitment to one another can be recognized. We don't want them to have to feel singled out by the fact that our relationship, a marriage in everything but name, nevertheless doesn't have a name.

We want our relationship to be as recognized the same as their friends' parents, and as those of our straight friends. We don't want to have to worry about what will happen to our kids if something were to happen to one of us, about whether they'd be protected.

This weekend we will celebrate our family. Our boys will give us each cards and make us breakfast. But this weekend is also a painful reminder that the state still enforces discrimination.
We will continue to fight Prop. 8 so that our family – and so many others – can have the protections, recognition and equality it so rightfully deserves.

We will not give up.


Kris Perry & Sandy Stier
Plaintiffs, Perry v. Brown, the court case challenging Prop. 8
American Foundation for Equal Rights

Aussie researchers closer to HIV vaccine

Australian researchers are one step closer to finding a vaccine for HIV, and hope to be able to offer a preventative jab within the decade.
Experts at The University of Melbourne have found that people with HIV produce antibodies called ADCC, which trigger the immune system to find and attack the virus.
Analysis of blood samples also found that the antibodies force the HIV virus to change, making it weaker, said Professor Stephen Kent, lead author of a report on the new findings.
"[But] because the antibodies don't develop until after they catch HIV, the antibodies can't actually cure the HIV once it's already there," he said.
"The thing about antibodies is, if you can induce them before you acquire infection, it's likely to prevent infection altogether.
"If a vaccine was to make these antibodies it could prevent the virus altogether."
The team from the Microbiology and Immunology department of the university are now working on a HIV vaccine that will induce the ADCC antibodies.
About 30 million people around the world are affected with HIV, including 20,000 Australians, and the number is on the rise, Professor Kent said.

USOC Chooses Anti-LGBT Activist Peter Vidmar as Chef De Mission

By Pat Griffin -

The United State Olympic Committee (USOC) has named former gold medal winning gymnast Peter Vidmar as chef de mission for the 2012 London Olympics.
Vidmar, a Mormon, is a public opponent of extending the right to marry to lesbian and gay people. He donated $2,000 to the successful Prop 8 anti-gay marriage initiative in California in 2008 and spoke at a public rally opposing same-sex marriage. Johnny Weir, an openly gay Olympic figure skater criticized the USOC choice in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently the USOC was not aware of Vidmar’s public role in opposing same-sex marriage rights when they appointed him chef de mission. Now that it has been brought to their attention, the USOC has defended their choice of Vidmar citing his views as part of his protected freedom of religion rights and acknowledging that many Americans do not share his views.

The USOC might want to be a little more careful in the future in vetting the candidates for such a highly visible position that is supposed to represent all US Olympians at the Games. The impression is that the USOC does not consider opposition to LGBT rights that big of a deal. Certainly, it is not a disqualifier for being named to a very prestigious position. I don’t like to make comparisons between LGBT civil rights and other civil rights movements, like the Black civil rights movement, the women’s movement, or the disability rights movement to try to make the point that opposition to these civil rights issues would be a disqualifier. However, it is an indication, however faulty, of what the USOC priorities are. I don’t believe they would have supported a chef de mission who opposed these civil rights movements.

Let’s not forget that in the early 80’s the USOC sued what was then called “The Gay Olympics” over the use of the word “Olympic.” That quadrennial event is now called the “Gay Games” as a result. Never mind that the USOC had no objection to the use of “Olympics” to describe other competitions like hot dog eating contests, the Police Olympics or the Special Olympics.

Yes, Peter Vidmar has a right to his anti-gay views. I even support his right to express them, but please, don’t try to have it both ways. In the Tribune article Vidmar claims, ``I fully respect the rights of everyone to have the relationships they want to have. I respect the rights of all our athletes, regardless of their race, their religion or their sexual orientation. I will cheer and do all I can, passionately, for every athlete on the U.S. Olympic team.'' If he really “respected the rights” of LGBT people, he wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars and be speaking out publicly to prevent us from having equal marriage rights.

The USOC has made a public statement in choosing Vidmar: They don’t consider public opposition to LGBT rights in or out of sport to be of great importance. It’s just a matter of personal opinion and religious freedom. That the USOC is comfortable with an anti-LGBT activist representing the USOC and all USA Olympians in London is a sad commentary on their commitment to LGBT equality in sport. No wonder so many LGBT Olympians choose to compete from the closet.

Cyndi Lauper event raises awareness for LGBT issues

 By Chase Matthews -

New York City — Cyndi Lauper and the Broadway cast of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" joined forces last week for an entertaining evening to benefit the True Colors Fund, which raises money and awareness for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and transgender) issues.

The RLife Live benefit for the True Colors Fund was sponsored by Grey Goose and took place at the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel on April 28. The fundraiser kicked off an online auction on, which runs through May 12, with proceeds to benefit LGBT youth housing projects.

DJ Mia Morretti and electroviolinist Caitlin Moe provided entertainment for the event before Lauper addressed the crowd to discuss the problems facing LGBT youth and the unique issues they face with homelessness.

"We're working hard to get all our straight allies involved because in every civil rights movement you need everyone – and that's what this is," she said. "I am finding it is not always a popular cause, but one that needs attention." In her heartfelt address, she spoke to the staggering statistics and the epidemic of families rejecting their children, and kids running away out of fear and despair."

The True Colors Fund was founded by Lauper to engage people to become active participants in the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and actively works to bring an end to homelessness amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

Lauper has been a long-time advocate of LGBT rights. "More people straight and gay need to know what is going on in this country with their civil rights," Lauper commented in a previous interview with about her True Colors tour, "The focus of the tour is to address the erosion of rights for the GLBT community, but in the larger context it's about people looking at civil rights. This country has the most diversity on all levels, but the rules are different for certain citizens of our country. It outrages me."

MP claims Foreign Office is ‘playing avoidance game’ over Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning has been transferred to another jail
By Jessica Geen -

Foreign secretary William Hague is playing an “avoidance game” over a gay US soldier accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, an MP has claimed.
Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP who is the former human rights envoy to Iraq, also accused the Foreign Office of “continued stonewalling” of Mr Manning’s mother, Susan, who is Welsh.
The 23-year-old American was held in solitary confinement until recently and concerns were raised about his treatment. He was required to strip regularly and was held in a bare cell.
Last month, he was moved to a medium-security prison in Kansas following lengthy assessments. He is now able to live alongside other prisoners and his surroundings have been described as more comfortable.
Mrs Manning wrote to the Foreign Office last month to ask officials to visit her son and check on his physical and mental health, the Guardian reports.
Ms Clwyd criticised the department for not responding to Mrs Manning’s letter within a week.
“Susan Manning also asked for any help that could be given, in Washington and elsewhere, to the family if they so request it,” she said. “At the very least, Mrs Manning, who is very concerned by the situation of her son, should have had the courtesy of a reply.”
She added: “This avoidance game they are playing can only be completely deliberate.”
Alistair Burt, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Foreign Office, said the department was “limited” in its actions because Mr Manning does not consider himself British.
However, Mrs Clwyd argued that Mr Manning is British by descent as his mother is Welsh.
Mrs Manning visited her son in February and said that conditions were having a “damaging” effect on him. She has also asked for consular assistant for future visits.
The Foreign Office said last month that the British embassy in Washington had relayed MPs’ concerns about Mr Manning’s treatment to the White House. it also confirmed that it was considered Mrs Manning’s letter and would reply shortly.

Activists call for gay marriage progress after SNP win in Scotland

SNP leader Alex Salmond supports gay marriage
By Jessica Geen -

The SNP are to form Scotland’s first ever majority government after their victory in yesterday’s election.
The party won a surprise majority with 65 seats in the 129-seat parliament. As of 5.30pm, some counts have yet to be declared.
This is the first time since the devolved government was formed in 1999 that a party has won an outright majority.
Leader Alex Salmond is on record for his support of marriage equality and the party’s election manifesto said it recognises the “range of views” on the issue and will open a consultation.
Daniel Donaldson, of the Equality Network, called for fast progress on the matter.
He told “We were really pleased to see that the SNP manifesto contained a pledge to consult on marriage equality and that Alex Salmond also gave his personal support.
“We hope and expect that a consultation will now proceed quickly”

Domestic Disturbance

(Photo Illustration by Todd Franson. Original cake photo by James Steidl/iStockphoto)By Chris Geidner -

Talking with Andrew Sullivan about marriage is a bit like asking a blue whale what he ate for dinner. Once he starts, there’s really no end.

’’At any particular point, we weren’t clear what would happen next,’’ he says, sitting at a coffee shop on a warm, early spring afternoon. ’’It was way more contingent. You tend to look back on these things with a sense of inevitability, and I hate it when people say, ’Well, they’re just on the wrong side of history.’

’’Bullshit. History is what people make of it. There’s nothing inevitable.’’

That much is clear from a simple glance at a map of the United States, where, more than 20 years after Sullivan started pushing this cause, only five states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire - and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

Fifteen years ago, though, it was another state -- Hawaii, whose Supreme Court ruling and ongoing case in which three same-sex couples were seeking marriage licenses -- that captured the nation’s attention.

In addition to the nation’s attention, says Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the issue caught the eye of the lagging presidential campaign of then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), which ’’saw this as a classic wedge issue’’ and prompted Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) to introduce the Defense of Marriage Act to stop same-sex couples and their lawyers from, as Frank says, ’’bringing same-sex marriage to every state.’’

Elizabeth Birch, then the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, describes 1996 as a very uncertain time. ’’This is what we understood,’’ she says, ’’Hawaii was bubbling along - even the legal organizations were very nervous about Hawaii in the beginning. At the time, it was one of the most potent, difficult issues. Even Democrats had tremendous issues with it privately - even our best friends.’’

Including President Bill Clinton, whose political advisors pushed him to sign the bill, according to Richard Socarides, Clinton’s liaison to the gay and lesbian community at the time.

’’Fifteen years later, I think we can be fairly candid about why that happened," Socarides says. "And the only reason it happened is because the people who believed that vetoing the bill would have jeopardized the president’s election won the political argument. That’s the only reason the bill got signed.’’

But for Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson, who was a lawyer at Lambda Legal at the time and was co-counsel on the Hawaii case, DOMA is a complicated story.

’’If I had had to pick which would you rather have, a win in Hawaii or subsequent state or blocking DOMA, I would have chosen the win. Because, without the wins first, we weren’t going anywhere,’’ he says. ’’If necessary, we would overturn DOMA on the strength of the wins, and that’s exactly what’s now happening.’’

The story of DOMA - from the religious right to the gay and lesbian groups and from Congress to Clinton - is important to understanding what’s now happening in Congress and from the Obama administration. That story itself, however, is incomplete without looking at the ways in which gay, lesbian and bisexual people and their allies sought recognition of their relationships - and debated about the best way of doing so - from as early as the years immediately following the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn.

Jack Baker (born Richard John Baker) and James Michael McConnell apply for a marriage license in Minneapolis. (1970) by MNHS  

’’What They Propose Is Not a Marriage’’

IT WAS ROUGHLY 40 years ago that what Wolfson refers to as the ’’first wave of marriage cases’’ began. Coming ’’within two years of Stonewall,’’ he says, ’’there were three major cases making their way up courts.’’

Along with a New York trial court case involving a transgender woman who the court found ’’was not a female at the time of the marriage ceremony,’’ the challenges - in Minnesota, Kentucky and Washington state - were met with hostility or simple disbelief from the courts.

In the Minnesota case, Baker v. Nelson, the state’s high court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the U.S. Constitution was not violated by the fact that Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell had been denied a marriage license. The blunt language of the court’s opinion, issued in October 1971, showed the uphill battle ahead for those same-sex couples seeking the right to marry.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice C. Donald Peterson noted the religious roots of marriage, writing for the court, ’’The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis.’’

The court also dismissed comparisons to the then-recent decision striking down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia, with Justice Peterson holding, ’’[I]n commonsense and in a constitutional sense, there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.’’

A year later, the United States Supreme Court appeared to agree, dismissing the appeal summarily because there was no ’’substantial federal question’’ in the case. In other words, it was not even plausible to think that the Equal Protection or Due Process clauses of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment could be applicable to gay or lesbian people or their relationships.

In November 1973, the Kentucky Court of Appeals was more direct when responding to Marjorie Jones and her partner’s claim that they were wrongly denied a marriage license from the county court clerk of Jefferson County: ’’[M]arriage has always been considered as the union of a man and a woman and we have been presented with no authority to the contrary. ... A license to enter into a status or a relationship which the parties are incapable of achieving is a nullity....

"[T]he relationship proposed by the appellants," the court concluded, "does not authorize the issuance of a marriage license because what they propose is not a marriage.’’

As Sullivan says today, ’’We were basically told it was ... an absurd, illegitimate request: marriage. Definitionally: not gay.’’

A year later, it was no different when a Washington appellate court upheld the denial of John Singer and Paul Barwick’s attempt to marry. In Washington state, the court had to address the fact that its relevant statutes did not explicitly limit marriage to one man and one woman.

’’[T]he definition of marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman who are otherwise qualified to enter into the relationship,’’ the court held, was ’’so obvious as not to require recitation.’’

Evan Wolfson  

’’Going After the Central Problem’’

LESS THAN 10 years later, in May 1983, as AIDS began its emergence as the defining political - and personal - battle of the gay community, Evan Wolfson was graduating from Harvard Law School.

’’I wrote my third-year paper in law school - my version of a dissertation - on why gay people should have the freedom to marry,’’ says Wolfson. ’’[I] always believed that this was important for us to fight for, a, in its own right and, b, as an engine for moving everything along.’’

But when Wolfson began practicing law in the area - first as a pro bono attorney with Lambda Legal and then as one of its then-small staff of attorneys - his efforts to turn his thesis into a project he hoped would one day become reality hit a snag not often discussed these days: the conflicting views of other gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

’’It was the subject of big divisions within the movement, within the legal groups and within Lambda,’’ he says, noting there were two distinct approaches from opponents. ’’There was the ideological opposition, and the strategic or tactical or timing opposition.’’

That ideological opposition, in some ways, was led by Paula Ettelbrick, the first staff attorney at Lambda Legal and the organization’s legal director - hence, one of Wolfson’s bosses - from 1988 through early 1993.

Ettelbrick, author of ’’Since When Is Marriage the Path to Liberation?," the leading feminist argument against Wolfson’s path, says she has changed - and not changed - her views on marriage over the years.

’’[T]his issue has been on [my] radar at least since the early to mid ’80s,’’ Ettelbrick says. ’’I think the way to situate the perspective here is to look historically at what was guiding our thinking at different points of time. For me, it was feminism, it was progressive politics - which was very much endemic in the gay community and certainly in the lesbian feminist community - about going after the central problems. Not just looking for fixes, but going after the central problem.’’

That ’’central problem,’’ she says, was - and is - that marriage is the only vehicle for relationship recognition.

’’I feel very firmly that we need to continue the broader recognition, that we should insist on marriage and non-marriage - in a sense - family relationships.’’

It wasn’t just Ettelbrick and Wolfson intellectually sparring. Wolfson talks about the disputes over marriage at the legal roundtable - attorneys at gay and lesbian rights legal groups, academics and other lawyers who would meet regularly.

’’That was the biggest dividing line, the biggest source of arguing amongst a group that might quibble or haggle over a particular legal idea but basically agreed over a whole range of things,’’ says Wolfson. ’’The one thing that people would argue about more than any other was marriage.’’

’’Nobody was going to challenge that we needed to get rid of sodomy laws," Ettelbrick explains. "No one was going to challenge that we needed antidiscrimination laws to deal with everything from HIV to sexual orientation.’’

But marriage ’’was hotly debated.’’

She adds, ’’I think it was a really important part of our movement that’s seldom been fully addressed, to tell you the truth.’’

That debate also took hold because Lambda Legal Executive Director Tom Stoddard shared Wolfson’s view. Stoddard’s opposing viewpoint article - ’’Why Gay People Should Seek the Right to Marry’’ - was regularly paired with Ettelbrick’s article to exemplify the debate in the years that followed.

Of the importance of the articles, Ettelbrick notes, ’’We both represented, first of all, different sides of the coin in this argument, and also, we were both at Lambda Legal Defense, which was a central organization to deciding about the future of litigation of these cases. So the movement question was not just, ’How do we deal with these competing views?’ but also, ’How does an organization like Lambda deal with the two leaders of the organization having such differing perspectives?’’’

Andrew Sullivan (Photo by Todd Franson)  

’’Civil Unions? After All That?’’

AS THE LATE 1980s hit and AIDS was decimating the gay community, Stoddard and Wolfson found an unlikely ally in Andrew Sullivan. With a striking cover story - ’’Here Comes the Groom’’ - in The New Republic on Aug. 28, 1989, Sullivan began making a different case for marriage.

The article’s subhead was ’’A (Conservative) Case for Gay Marriage" and Sullivan made the argument that recognition of gay relationships was important - both in principle and practicality.

Describing the roots of gay politics since Stonewall and the transition that came about because of AIDS, Sullivan wrote, ’’A need to rebel has quietly ceded to a desire to belong. ... Certainly since AIDS, to be gay and to be responsible has become a necessity.’’

Sullivan says that one of the lessons of the time is the story of ’’how the gay rights movement grew out of the AIDS crisis as a very serious national movement.’’

He recalls the men who would come up to him when he talked about his marriage work, telling him, ’’’This isn’t some sort of moral issue about bathhouses or whatever, or what we should do as gay men. It is that I need to be able to see my husband in hospital and I need not to be stripped of all my belongings immediately thereafter by his angry relatives.’’’

Of the movement as a serious force, Sullivan says, ’’It hadn’t been that, really, beforehand. It had been an urban and regional and sort of defensive gathering of groups. It had not been a national, coherent strategy.’’

Sullivan advocated focusing on marriage and military service because those issues not only highlighted discrimination by the government, but expanded the narrative of gay lives.

’’Those stories, those causes, would re-describe gay people in the minds of straight people,’’ he says. ’’The images they would put out there of gay people - soldiers, people living in families, which was the truth of who we were - was an important counterbalance to the only thing they previously had seen, which was gay rights parades, which, however wonderful they are, are not fully representative of who gay people are.’’

For a conservative like Sullivan, it changed the terms of the debate, as well.

’’Straight people understood marriage more than they understood defense of sexual freedom,’’ he adds. ’’And yet we had been trapped into this ... ghetto of defending sexual freedom. And then asking people not to be mean to us. Which, I thought, was the basic gay rights movement until the early ’90s.’’

That ’’defense of sexual freedom’’ was provided during the debate by people like Michael Warner, who countered Sullivan’s book, Virtually Normal, with his own book published in 2000, The Trouble With Normal.

’’At a time when the largest gay organizations are pushing for same-sex marriage," Warner writes in his preface, "I argue that this strategy is a mistake and represents a widespread loss of vision in the movement.’’

Even people like Ettelbrick were seeking more, not less, governmental recognition of relationships, which alienated the position articulated by Warner and others - mainly in academia - who agreed with him.

But as Ettelbrick points out, ’’Even within that pro-marriage part, you have people who differ.’’

Including Sullivan and Wolfson, who disagreed over the political course, albeit privately.

’’We didn’t really air it, but it was an interesting debate,’’ says Sullivan. ’’Evan kind of pitched his proposal as, ’We can get this very quickly nationally by one state’ - which I always thought was a reckless overreach.

’’Publicly we were one, but, personally, I didn’t really believe it should be automatically imposed on everybody in America. I thought we needed time to let this evolve in the public consciousness, and that was not going to happen overnight and that we should take every opportunity to educate.’’

To that end, Sullivan says of his view of marriage and the military, ’’Anything that got either of those two issues debated would change the narrative and legitimize it.’’

For others in the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, however, this raised the other main concern with the ’’marriage project.’’

As Elizabeth Birch, HRC’s executive director from 1995 through 2004, says today, ’’I think back in those days, the judgment was, ’We don’t even have employment protections’ - and we still don’t. Eventually, there were two schools: You could really leapfrog forward by going for what was seen as a very precious right - the right to marriage - or you could do it kind of incrementally.’’

Ettelbrick looks at the ’’foundation’’ that she says was being built in court as another reason for advocating the incremental approach.

’’We needed to use domestic partnership and other kinds of vehicles to begin to address the legitimacy of our relationships, period,’’ she says, which was happening through decisions on gay custody, second-parent adoption and local-government recognition of domestic partnerships. ’’There was a very strong argument that we needed that foundation because that was helping the American public kind of acclimate to our relationships.’’

AIDS, Ettelbrick says, had made clear the need for that acclimation.

’’Legislatures around the country were introducing legislation to quarantine gay men,’’ she says. ’’We were the scourge of the earth at that point, and our relationships were deemed not only immoral and criminal, but unhealthy. So, in that context, to even raise the specter of marriage just seemed ridiculous, from a strategic perspective - was the argument.’’

For Sullivan, the reality of AIDS and the fear it engendered created his passion to fight for marriage.

’’I really don’t think you can overstate the weird confluence of those two events - a gay rights movement that emerges in the ’60s and ’70s in its most potent force, and it gets slapped down, really, by catastrophe. And the moment that’s interesting is the moment when, instead of capitulating, it actually emboldens them more. We organized in different ways, and we fought back.’’

Sullivan then references ’’the memory of people’s lost spouses,’’ and tells the story of a man whose partner had just died of complications from AIDS.

The man was singing a show tune in the hospital, where he had been ’’cut off completely, won’t be allowed to go to the funeral, has been kicked out of his home, [yet] he’s been singing that same song since the morning. Because, it’s their song, and it’s his last way of staying in touch.’’

’’It still gets me today," Sullivan says, crying. Am I going to let that happen without somebody, somewhere, insisting [on marriage]? Fuck this. Civil unions? After all that? Fuck you.

’’You have to multiply that experience so many times in the memory of that generation to understand why we were completely committed to this - even when everybody told us it was nuts.’’

But for Ettelbrick, the reality of the matter is that domestic partnerships or civil unions can make the difference someone like Sullivan is seeking.

’’I just don’t buy the argument that domestic partnership is second-class citizenship,’’ she says. ’’I’ve never bought that argument.’’

Looking at today’s legal landscape, she says, ’’When you are in the context in which you need those health benefits or you need that recognition, it is a very important thing that New Jersey allows recognition of your family and of your relationship. Whether it’s called marriage or not, you get all of the benefits. Now, it might be that culturally we still want the term marriage, but from a legal perspective, from a needs-based perspective, it’s ... damaging for people to argue the second-class citizenship.’’

Birch makes clear that she - and HRC - believed such an incremental approach had merit - in large part because the specter of same-sex marriage ’’was the most potent piece in their arsenal against us.’’

Of HRC’s approach at the time, though, Sullivan is characteristically blunt.

’’They were like, ’No, we want to get ENDA. ... We know that has higher polling, we can do it.’ And my position was, ’Screw ENDA. First, this is a more fundamental issue about the government discriminating against us as opposed to our fellow citizens, and, secondly, if we win this, the argument that we make on this will so change the debate that ENDA will become easy.’ And their view was totally understandable -- I’m not saying it wasn’t.’’

But, as Sullivan says he told people at the time, ’’It’s coming anyway. The courts are going to have to make these decisions.’’

Paula Ettelbrick  

’’This Isn’t Just About Hawaii’’

SULLIVAN, IN A way, was right - although the first legal same-sex marriages didn’t start in America until about 15 years after his New Republic cover story.

The way the ’’second wave’’ started, though, was not quite how Wolfson had planned.

’’I was asked by couples in Hawaii who knew of me ... if I would consider taking this case,’’ he says. ’’And I was interested in doing that, but I was told by Lambda, no, that we were not going to do it. And all the other legal groups turned them down as well.’’

Wolfson calls that decision ’’one of the best things to happen’’ to the movement.

"It led the couples back to a local Hawaii attorney, a non-gay guy named Dan Foley, who did take the case and brought to it just this extraordinary savvy and credibility on the ground in Hawaii that we would have never had.’’

Birch concurs. ’’Ultimately, what was great about it - the way anything happens in American history - is that ordinary citizens go to get their rights. It wasn’t orchestrated. It wasn’t impact litigation. It really was people just wanting a marriage license in Hawaii.’’

And 20 years ago, on May 1, 1991, they did. Ninia Baehr, Genora Dancel, Tammy Rodrigues, Antoinette Pregil, Pat Lagon and Joseph Melilio - three same-sex couples - filed a complaint in a Hawaii trial court seeking the same marriage license that had been sought and denied previously during the first wave of marriage cases.

Lambda allowed him to give behind-the-scenes support, Wolfson says, and he and Foley became close over the course of the case, which was dismissed by the trial court - just as had happened 20 years earlier to Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell.

This time, however, the Supreme Court saw the matter in a different light when it heard the case on appeal.

On May 5, 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court recognized that it was possible for same-sex couples to show that denying them marriage licenses violated their state constitutional rights.

Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven H. Levinson wrote the opinion for the court, detailing - case by case - how the decisions in that ’’first wave’’ were an ’’exercise in tortured and conclusory sophistry.’’

Instead, the Hawaii Supreme Court held that Hawaii’s marriage restriction was a sex-based classification and, thus, subject under Hawaii’s Constitution to strict scrutiny. This meant that the marriage prohibition for same-sex couples ’’is presumed to be unconstitutional’’ unless the state could prove at the trial court that ’’the statute’s sex-based classification is justified by compelling state interests and ... the statute is narrowly drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgments of the applicant couples’ constitutional rights.’’

Wolfson told his Lambda Legal colleagues, ’’Whatever you thought before, wherever you were with all these other divisions, the world had just turned. ... This was a whole new era; it would never be the same again.’’

As Ettelbrick says, this changed not only the external world, but also the ideological debate within the gay and lesbian world.

’’We were immediately launched into a battle that made it very odd for people like myself because, obviously, in no way was I ever going to defend the attacks on the Hawaii decision as they started playing out in legislatures around the country.’’

As the case returned to the trial court so that it could apply the Hawaii Supreme Court’s new standard, Lambda allowed Wolfson to join the case as co-counsel and launched the National Freedom to Marry Coalition to push political organizing efforts.

The need for public education quickly became apparent.

Elizabeth Birch says that, at the time, ’’What we heard happened is that the [Republican National Committee] started doing really intensive polling and research, and they were trying to find an issue - a really potent wedge issue. ... What popped was gay marriage and the numbers were astoundingly negative. They were, ’My God, look at this!’’’

Barney Frank says Republicans seized on the way in which ’’the rhetoric on our side played into it’’ with the declarations that same-sex marriage would follow nationwide after Hawaii.

’’Everywhere in the country wasn’t ready for it," he says. "So [Republicans] then could argue, ’See, we gotta stop it, this isn’t just about Hawaii. They’re bringing same-sex marriage to every state.’’’

Birch sums up the strategy: ’’They figured out, ’Man, if we can drive a wedge between gay voters and gay money and the Democratic Party, wouldn’t that be great? And, at the same time, we could use this issue to paint the Democratic Party as silly and frivolous in that, you know, this is what they’re going to focus on.’’’

As Ettelbrick says, ’’At that point, who knew how it was going to turn out? It looked like the whole world was going up in flames over our relationships.’’

Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia  

’’I Heard Rumblings’’

THE WEDGE WAS the Defense of Marriage Act.

’’I heard rumblings that they were considering it, playing with it, I think as early as ’95, certainly in ’96,’’ Wolfson says. ’’It wasn’t just another anti-gay effort happening in Congress, which had happened before, but it was one that was being done in the full spotlight of a presidential campaign and with enough people on our side that there was a debate. It wasn’t just a routine anti-gay thing.’’

It wasn’t. The brief bill - introduced by Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia - only contained three provisions, and one of those was the title.

The first substantive provision stated that ’’[n]o State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.’’

The second provision - the federal definition of marriage - stated, ’’In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ’marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ’spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’

With seven co-sponsors - Reps. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.), Bill Emerson (R-Mo.), Steve Largent (R-Okla.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisc.), Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Harold Volkmer (R-Mo.) - Barr introduced the bill in Congress just 137 days before it would be signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The date was 15 years ago this week, May 7, 1996.

This was the first part of a series marking the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. The aim of the series is to present an in-depth examination of the circumstances, consideration and passage of the 1996 federal marriage law.

15 Years After Signing DOMA, Clinton Speaks Out for Marriage Equality

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
By Kilian Melloy -
Fifteen years after putting his signature to a federal law that excludes gay and lesbian families from any form of federal recognition or protections, Bill Clinton has joined daughter Chelsea in coming out for marriage equality in New York, reported The Huffington Post on May 5.

"Our nation’s permanent mission is to form a ’more perfect union’ deepening the meaning of freedom, broadening the reach of opportunity, strengthening the bonds of community," the former president wrote in a statement released by the Human Rights Campaign.

"That mission has inspired and empowered us to extend rights to people previously denied them," Clinton’s statement continued. "Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation. Now we should do it again, in New York, with marriage equality.

"For more than a century, our Statue of Liberty has welcomed all kinds of people from all over the world yearning to be free. In the 21st century, I believe New York’s welcome must include marriage equality."

"At a launch party for a non-profit group, Chelsea Clinton said she hopes gay people in New York will be able to marry their best friend, just like she did when she and husband Mark Mezvinsky wed last summer," the Huffington Post article said.

"I certainly expect my straight friends to help us achieve that for all New Yorkers, for all Americans, and for the children that, at least, Marc and I hope to have someday," said the former First Daughter.

Bill Clinton said in 2009 that his thinking had shifted on the issue, comments that bore similarities to President Obama telling bloggers last year that his attitude toward marriage equality is still "evolving."

"I am no longer opposed to [marriage equality]," Clinton said three years ago, noted Politico in a May 5 article. "I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it."

"The former president’s statement in support of the New York bill comes as advocates push for its passage ahead of the end of the state’s legislative session in June," Politico reported. "It’s passed the state Assembly three times in previous years, but failed in the state Senate the one time it came to the floor, in 2009."

Clinton’s 2009 remarks were made in an interview with Anderson Cooper. Gay blog Towleroad posted a transcript of that exchange on Sept. 25, 2009.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has remained an ardent supporter of marriage equality since his candidacy for the state’s top office, and has said that he intends to see it become a reality in New York during his tenure.

Wife Hillary Clinton, who serves in the Obama Administration as Secretary of State, still opposes marriage equality for gay and lesbian families, the Politico article noted.

Politico also observed that support for marriage equality in New York has come from the other side of the ideological aisle as well, with Barbara Bush--daughter of Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, who during his presidency called for an anti-gay amendment to the United States Constitution--speaking out earlier this year.

Other Republican figures who have lent their voice to GLBT equality campaigns in recent years include John McCain’s wife and daughter, Cindy McCain and Meghan McCain, respectively.

The bill that Clinton signed in 1996, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act, blocks any legal protections or recognition of same-sex families. Even if they marry in one of the six states where marriage equality is currently legal, same-sex couples must still pay higher federal taxes and, if one member of the household is a foreign national, the American partner is not permitted to act as a sponsor for residency and a green card, as heterosexual American partners in binational families are allowed to do.

Heterosexual families automatically receive more than 1,000 rights and protections upon marrying.

Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

Syrian Lesbian Activist Blogs, Courts Persecution

Unrest in the Syrian city Aleppo

Unrest in the Syrian city Aleppo
By Kilian Melloy -

The lesbian daughter of a Syrian father and an American mother has fearlessly taken to the blogosphere, despite the risks involved.

Amina Abdullah writes a blog called A Gay Girl in Damascus reported British newspaper the Guardian in a May 6 article. The blog’s subtitle: "An out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on ..."

Syria’s protests are part of the so-called "Arab Spring," an international pro-Democracy movement that has shaken up the Arab world to such an extent that governments have cracked down on protests on the streets and even online, limiting or--temporarily--even disabling local access to the Internet and other communications services.

Syrian protests grew earnest in March, when security forces killed five protesters. But that action did not quell unrest: Demonstrators were back in the streets a day later in a funeral procession for those cut down by security forces. By the end of the month, the protests had spread to Damascus and other cities around the country, leading to further violence. Around 150 protesters died by month’s end, according to activists. In Damascus, eight people died when snipers--believed to be government security--picked them off.

Government shakeups followed, with President Assad firing most of his cabinet. On Friday, April 1--called "Friday of Martyrs" by activists--more demonstrations took place, with government forces firing on crowds and killing several people.

Unrest only grew throughout April. At one point, soldiers who refused an order to open fire on demonstrating civilians were allegedly shot and killed by government security members.

Fridays seemed to be especially potent days for demonstrations. Protesters took to the streets after Friday worship on April 22--and 88 died, according to reports. More were killed as they attended funeral rites for the slain--and mourners for those victims were killed in turn at a fresh round of funeral proceedings.

By the end of April, with more than 500 demonstrators dead, "hundreds" of Ministers of Parliament stepped down in protest at the government’s brutal handling of the crisis. But the crackdown continued, with the government attacking the city of Deraa and then setting out to arrest intellectuals and activists across the land.

Abdullah, like other protestors, remains unbowed. Her blogging remains courageously reformist, calling on its author’s Syrian roots as well as her American Democratic sensibilities. On May 6 Abdullah wrote, "It’s Friday morning; I’m in Damascus. Today may be the big day of the National Uprising that we have been working for."

Or, Abdullah was unafraid to point out, maybe not.

"This might be the last post on this blog," she added.

As it happened, it was not. A subsequent post on the same day, titled "Has the Civil War begun?" read, "There are protests everywhere ... "

"[W]e are calling for the regime to fall," the blog posting added. "A million martyrs for freedom we are pledging today, on Martyrs’ Day ..." Added Abdullah, "[T]he regime has lost all legitimacy."

Abdullah’s blog "is capturing the imagination of the Syrian opposition," the Guardian reported, calling the young woman’s writings "brutally honest, poking at subjects long considered taboo in Arab culture."

"Blogging is, for me, a way of being fearless," Abdullah told the publication. "I believe that if I can be ’out’ in so many ways, others can take my example and join the movement."

The blog shot to notoriety two weeks ago when government agents arrived to take her into custody. Abdullah’s father dissuaded them. The Guardian noted that the family "is well-connected--she has close relatives in both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood," and, as a result, she found her political expression was "natural" to her.

"Unfortunately, for most of my life being aware of Syrian politics means simply observing and only commenting privately," Abdullah said.

But when she joined crowds of protestors seeking reforms in the streets, Abdullah came face to face with government oppression, and found her voice.

"Teargas was lobbed at us," she wrote of one street action. "I saw people vomiting from the gas as I covered my own mouth and nose and my eyes burned." She went on to quip, "I am sure I wasn’t the only one to note that, if this becomes standard practice, a niqab is a very practical thing to wear in future."

"My views are heavily informed by being both a member of a small marginal minority as an Arab Muslim in America and as a part of a majority as a Sunni in Syria, and of course as a woman and as a sexual minority," she told the media.

"It’s tough being a lesbian in Syria, but it’s certainly easier to be a sexual than a political dissident," the blogger added. "There are a lot more LGBT people here than one might think, even if we are less flamboyant than elsewhere."

If Syrian GLBTs are "less flamboyant," it may well be due to the fact that it’s illegal to be gay there. However, if gays keep a low profile, they are largely able to avoid trouble, the Guardian article said.

"For my family it is a preferable outcome than a promiscuous heterosexual daughter," Abdullah said.

The article said that Abdullah was born in the United States and spent part of her childhood traveling between the two nations, and the two worlds that they represent. When the government cracked down in 1982 on Islamists, she stayed in America. But at the age of 26, Abdullah returned to Syria once more and became a teacher.

Then the current unrest led to school closings--and took Abdullah into the streets.

"I consider myself a believer and a Muslim: I pray five times a day, fast at Ramadan and even covered for a decade," is how Abdullah described her faith. But that devotion does not extend blindly into the realm of the cruelly doctrinaire: "I believe God made me as I am and I refuse to believe God makes mistakes," she added.

The article said that following a second visit from government agents, both Abdullah and her father have gone into hiding. The blogger now stays on the move, though she still keeps her blog updated.

"The Syria I always hoped was there, but was sleeping, has woken up," she said. "I have to believe that, sooner or later, we will prevail."

Or, as a May 6 blog entry had it, "[T]he end of the long night is in sight!"

Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

Mr. President, Time To Make That Transition To Full Marriage Equality

Barack-obamaBy David Mixner -

Several months ago the President indicated he was in a 'place of transition' regarding his support for full marriage equality. Since then he dropped the Justice Department's opposition to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and his words have tended closer and closer to full equality for LGBT citizens. There is little question of the direction he is heading it is just the timing.
The time has come for him to make a complete transition. It is still far from the election and by doing it now he will avoid a couple of important pitfalls:
1. That he was forced to do it by the LGBT community instead of receiving praise for leading on the civil rights question of his generation.
2. He will avoid the appearance of pandering to a particular group of people.
3. The President will enter the election with the full enthusiasm of most of the LGBT instead of a community that is sadden by his failure to lead on this issue.
4. By doing so now, his voice will become an important one in pushing us over the line in winning our freedom. His Presidency will be known not only for careful deliberation but as a place where morality and love for freedom flouishes.
By delaying, he leaves the LGBT community no choice but to amp up the pressure on him to do the right thing. He will leave no options for those in the LGBT community that support him but to divert important energy to ask him to stand by our side. All this can be avoided by the President being an historically great leader and endorse full marriage equality in the very near future.

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

STEVE HAYES: Tired Old Queen at the Movies


The seedy underbelly of show business is the business at hand in Alexander McKendrick's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Based on an original story by Ernest Lehman and a screenplay co-written with Clifford Odets, the film deals with the daily life of J.J. Hunsecker, a sleazy columnist who wields a lot of power and is based on Walter Winchell. As played by Lancaster, Hunsecker is a glowering monster, a menace in black spectacles. Curtis plays press agent Sydney Falco whose life and livelihood depend on his clients getting mentioned regularly in Hunsecker's column. Falco is desperate to be better than he is and will do whatever, to whomever he needs to get where he needs to go. It's a land of perpetual night and constant double crosses. Shot on location in and around Manhattan in the fifties. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS offers unforgettable characters caught in ever tightening webs of their own design that take them farther and farther away from the one thing they so desperately need and will do anything to get, having their dreams fulfilled.

Friday, May 6, 2011

IGLHRC Shocked at Possible Passage of Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Uganda Banner

IGLHRC Shocked at Possible Passage of Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Rights Protections for All Ugandans Precarious
For Immediate Release
Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, IGLHRC (New York)
Tel: (347) 515 0330; Email:
(New York, 6 May 2011) The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned at reports that the now infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda may be passed by that country's Parliament. The Bill, first introduced in October 2009, was ostensibly "shelved" by Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni following an international outcry. However, public hearings on the Bill took place today in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. The remaining stages of the legislative process – namely second and third readings of the bill and presidential adoption – could be completed within the remaining week of the current parliamentary session.
"We are shocked that after more than 2 years of engagement with the government of Uganda about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, this heinous piece of legislation may still become law," said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Executive Director. "Governments, world religious and political leaders, and HIV prevention experts have all appealed to Ugandan parliamentarians to put their distaste and fear of LGBT people aside and use their better judgment for the good of the country."
The Bill reaffirms existing penalties for consensual same-sex relationships, and criminalizes the "promotion of homosexuality" and failure to report homosexual activity. The Parliamentary Committee itself has said that the provisions of the Bill are redundant and unnecessary. Most controversially, the Bill would punish "aggravated homosexuality" – including activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive – with the death penalty. To IGLHRC's knowledge, the provisions related to the death penalty remain part of the Bill, despite statements by the Bill's author that these would be removed. The Bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but also contravenes the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party.
"There can be no reason to pass this Bill other than to take the attention of Ugandans – and the rest of the world – away from the fact that Uganda is slipping into political chaos," stated Johnson. "Clearly the issue of homosexuality is being used to deflect attention from the crackdown on democracy and freedom of speech that has led to at least 5 deaths, more than 100 injuries, and hundreds of arrests in the last month. IGLHRC stands firm with all the people of Uganda as they struggle to maintain their freedom and dignity."
See our previous work on Uganda »
For more information, visit Uganda's Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law website »
The mission of The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is advancing human rights for everyone, everywhere to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, and has an office in Buenos Aires. Visit for more information.

 IGLHRC on Twitter Check out our Facebook page Watch our Videos on You Tube View our Photos on Picasa
IGLHRC · 80 Maiden Lane, Suite 1505 · New York, NY 10038
phone: +1 (212) 430-6054 · fax: +1 (212) 430-6060 ·

"I cannot thank you enough!"

In the shadows of the Statue of Liberty, we see glimpses of freedom.
Henry Velandia's deportation hearing ended a short time ago, and it was quite an event. Because of the pressure that you and thousands of other LGBT advocates across the country created, Henry's case was pushed back to December, opening up the possibility for tens of thousands of other same-sex binational couples to make a case to keep their families together, despite the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Henry and his husband, Josh, are ecstatic that they have more time together, though the fight is certainly not over yet. This week, a wide range of LGBT organizations came together to support Henry and Josh, including Stop the Deportations, All Out, Courage Campaign, Garden State Equality, Out4Immigration, Princeton Equality Project, Immigration Equality, Marriage Equality USA, and Queer Rising. And Henry and Josh's lawyer, the tireless Lavi Soloway, was a force to be reckoned with.
We asked Lavi if he wanted to send along a message to you with an update about what this means for Josh and Henry, for other binational couples, for other LGBT Americans, and for the movement -- here's what he had to say:
"Today was a remarkable day. We're still in legal limbo with this case and with others, but momentum is on our side and the Administration is starting to look for ways to address the disparity in how the U.S. government treats binational same-sex couples. We have wind at our backs, but there are tens of thousand of couples who are facing similar circumstances. We'll fight as hard as we can in the courtroom, but we need activists and organizers to fight as hard as YOU can on the streets. For your work that led to today's outcome, I cannot thank you enough!"
-- Lavi Soloway, co-founder of Immigration Equality and founder of
Today was a good day…and we don't always have a lot of good days. We'll continue to press the Obama Administration to create a permanent solution to this problem of immigration inequality, but we'll need more people like you in order to do that.
Can you forward this email to your friends, asking them to join the movement for full federal equality at
In the shadows of the Statue of Liberty today, we were not silent, and her poem held renewed meaning: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
For equality,
-Heather Cronk, Managing Director
GetEQUAL icon

Avoiding becoming part of Gen Silent

--by Robyn

On Thursday I went to a retirement party for the woman with whom I have been co-coordinating the Bloomfield College Gay/Non-Gay Alliance since I started working full-time here in 2001. It got me thinking about my own impending retirement and what will happen as I grow older.

Together with that, there was a news item about a film festival in Canada, called the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival in Calgary, which is showing, among many other films, Gen Silent, a film about elderly GLBT people who fear they will have to go back in the closet in their last years to be treated as they wish to be. Below is the trailer for this documentary.

Athlete Ally: Rugger Ben Cohen - Pitching for Acceptance

0504-ben-cohen-thBy Ty Nolan -

Gay Icon Ben Cohen Preps for May U.S. Tour

Ben Cohen is a remarkable man — a rugby superstar and World Cup winner. England has rewarded him by naming Ben a Member of the British Empire. He’s a qualified helicopter pilot — and he replaced David Beckham as the Gay Times’ Sports Personality of the Year. He was nominated for a 2011 Logo New Now Next award. He’s won a gay following, not only because of how great he looks in or out of uniform, but because of his proactive role as a straight ally.

Ben is clinically deaf, and has helped publicize video clips specially designed to teach coaches and players specific British Sign Language terms for “rugby,” “tackle,” “attack,” etc. This can help make communication easier with deaf and hearing-impaired players. The clips can be found at In an interview with the UK newspaper The Independent Ben said, “Everyone in rugby knows me as ‘Eh?’ because of my deafness. It didn't stop me from becoming a professional player but it’s never been easy. ... I've also got tinnitus – a permanent ringing in the ears – which doesn't help. If the ability to sign rugby words helps more kids get into the game, it's got to be good.”

0504-ben-cohen-barnBeing deaf is similar in a number of ways to being gay. No one chooses to be deaf, or chooses to be gay. The members of the deaf community, like those of the gay community, are often invisible to members of the general population — not immediately identifiable unless they come out by their actions. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Ben has moved so well into a leadership role to encourage the international sports world to have a greater acceptance of diversity. He was one of the first professional athletes to provide his “It Gets Better” video on behalf of GBLT youth.

In May Ben begins the American leg of his Acceptance Tour, sponsored in part by Compete Sports Media, bringing a message of standing up against homophobia and bullying. His fans in Atlanta, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle will have an opportunity to meet with him. Compete had the honor of interviewing Ben for our June 2010 issue, and this time we were able to speak with him to find out about his message for America and his plans for expanding his role as a straight ally.

Compete: Sometimes people mistake you for being arrogant when you actually haven’t heard them speaking to you.
Ben: I did something with the England deaf rugby team. I have a 33 percent hearing loss in each ear — later on in my career I’d like to do some more with the deaf rugby team. I’ve had to cope with it. I sometimes miss out on jokes. It’s been difficult sometimes. I watch people’s lips. When you’re out I make eye contact — then your eyes are wandering down to their mouths but with women, they think you’re looking at their breasts, but I’m really looking at their lips.

Compete: You’re kicking off your tour with Beer with Ben events in England that will give you a chance to interact with your fans while also raising funds for charity.
Ben: I was opening up a shop tonight with High and Mighty. It’s a company working alongside with me. Hopefully we’ll get the publicity at each event to make a difference — to stand up against homophobia and bullying. Get that campaign off to a good start.

Compete: Will your events include some sort of formal presentation?
Ben: The good thing about rugby is the players are very accessible after the game in general, so it’s a very personal thing. I’ll do a sort of speech of what we’re going to do and what we want to achieve. It’s very exciting — new territory over the next couple of years. We hope these will become big events making serious money working for the charities we support.

Compete: Looking at your schedule, you’ll be very busy while you’re in the States.
Ben: We’re coming over to do as much as we can. It’s a long way over. It’s a big commitment to raise awareness and to raise money for charity. We want to get as much done as possible for the events. We’ll be doing dinners, rugby and meet and greet. It’s important and it’s what I enjoy doing, spreading the message on the other side of the pond. I won’t do a half-hearted job. I have to be committed or this wouldn’t work.

Compete: You had mentioned elsewhere you might consider retiring to give more time to your foundation. What sort of directions would you like to take if you do retire?
Ben: I have a number of irons in the fire. The foundation is something I’d love to devote my full time on and get the campaign up and firing on all cylinders. We’re getting support. We get contacted daily by celebrities who want to help us. We know we’re going on the right track. I’d like to be full time. I don’t know if it will be another year or two still playing, or if I can hit the ground running with the foundation. This is what I’m passionate about.

Compete: Hudson Taylor is a friend of ours who is doing similar things in terms of being a straight ally. We’ve promoted his site. You’re a big hero to him.
Ben: Hudson is a lovely, lovely guy. I met him in January and what I liked about him, he’s an honest sincere guy and that’s something I’d like to base myself upon, too. He’s level headed – fingers crossed he’ll hopefully go to the Olympics. It’s a lot of hard work in making a difference.

0504-ben-cohen-sharksCompete: Hudson is working as a wrestling coach. Do you have an interest in coaching?
Ben: I’d love to get into coaching, especially into rugby. Rugby’s been my life and it’s something that’s very passionate for me. I have a massive part to play in the community and helping those who are struggling to accept themselves. We need to work on these things to offer an olive branch. Come and join our lovely, fantastic community – the social side or on the field. Join us and make some new friends, gay, straight or whatever. You’re more than welcome.

Compete: The mission of Compete is to use sports as a bridge between the straight and gay communities. In fact, the owners met by playing on a gay rugby team.
Ben: Oh, that’s good to hear. Rugby for me is a very accepting sport — gender, sexual orientation, color, race, size, or shape – it caters to everyone. That’s what makes it a fantastic sport. We have to do our part. We need to have gay and straight people play rugby and really push the quality of rugby. We have to be accepting: if you want to be accepted you have to be accepting. Gay-friendly rugby meant we needed to take a step back and look at it from both sides. You have to confront homophobia to make strides and great gains going forward.

Compete: There are auctions planned during your tour here. Do you have any plans to auction off your autographed jockstrap the way you did last December for GMFA, the British gay men’s health charity, during Gay Sports Day?
Ben: (Laughing) That’s done quite well. I was very surprised. As long as it raises money for charity.

Compete: Any final words for your fans?
Ben: I’m really looking forward to coming over. It’s a learning curve for me and my team. We’re learning all the time. The information, the feedback, the e-mails – the painful stories people go through. It’s astonishing. We’ve gotten some really good people on board making my foundation something that’s very successful in making a difference in people’s lives.

Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour
May 19-21 Atlanta
May 22-24 New York City
May 24-26 Washington, D.C.
May 27-29 Seattle

For more information visit Ben's exclusive Tour blog on Compete Network!

Alleged rape, killing of gay rights campaigner sparks call for action

The term "corrective rape" started following the rape
and murder of Eudy Simelane, a well-know lesbian
soccer player.
By Faith Karimi -

(CNN) -- A 24-year-old who was stabbed to death in South Africa is the victim of "corrective rape," gay rights activists said Thursday, a crime where men attack lesbians in an attempt to reverse their sexual orientation.
Noxolo Nogwaza was attacked late last month after dropping off her girlfriend in Kwa-Thema township near Johannesburg.
She was raped, stabbed with broken glass several times and her face pummelled with rocks, Human Rights Watch said.
"A beer bottle, a large rock and used condoms were found on and near her body," the rights group said.
Earlier this week, the nation's Justice Ministry set up a task force to address hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Africans.
The task team was set up after activists worldwide signed an online petition demanding the South African government act to halt the attacks. The call to petition intensified after Nogwaza's killing.
Police in Gauteng province, where the township is located, said they have not found any evidence of a hate crime and an investigation is under way.
But some gay rights activists disagree.
"Her attack is a case of corrective rape," said gay rights activist Lydia Kunu. "Neighbors said they heard her attackers telling her, 'We will take the lesbian out of you. ' They were mocking her and asking her why she acts like a man."
Kunu is a community networking organizer for Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee, where Nogwaza worked as well.
The death has sparked renewed calls for action as rights groups warn of escalated homophobic attacks.
"In these cases, killing is the end of the spectrum," said Siphokazi Mthathi, the South Africa director for Human Rights Watch. "It follows a trail of other problems -- rape, violence, problem accessing health care and violation by police."
Mthathi said it is hard to get an overall number of the people subjected to violence because attacks go unreported over the distrust for the judicial system.
"There's a great deal of under-representation because they are going to face secondary victimization," she said. "We've heard of cases where when they report a rape, the police tell them, 'aren't you happy that you got a real man for a change.'"
The use of the term "corrective rape" started three years ago after the rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, a well-known soccer player who lived openly as a lesbian.
Nogwaza's attack is similar to the soccer player's in some ways: police say they were both raped and stabbed to death. And just like Nogwaza, Simelane's body was dumped in a public place in the same township .
Two men were found guilty in the soccer star's death and sentenced to prison terms, but the judges quashed any motions linking her attack to her sexual orientation.
"Nogwaza's death is the latest in a long series of sadistic crimes against lesbians, gay men, and transgender people in South Africa," said Dipika Nath, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch.
"Police and other South African officials fail to acknowledge that members of the LGBT community are raped, beaten and killed simply because of how they look or identify, and they are attacked by men who then walk freely, boasting of their exploits," said Nath.
A police spokesman slammed the accusations, and said authorities are working to ensure safety for all.
"It is our responsibility to provide safety, and we take that job seriously," said Col. Tshisikhawe Ndou, the provincial spokesman for Gauteng.
The spokesman said there have been no arrests in Nogwaza's killing, but investigations are under way.
"We're following some leads, and in this specific case, we'd like to ask anyone with information to contact the police," he said. "They can even do so anonymously if they are scared."
Outspoken gay rights activists have faced harassment and attacks in the nation, Human Rights Watch said.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, based on rules left over from the British colonial era when sodomy laws were introduced.
However, the post-apartheid constitution bans prejudice against gays in South Africa, the first African nation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Despite the law, attacks based on sexual orientation are still going on, rights groups said.
The new task force is scheduled to start working in July. It will address issues such as whether police and social workers should undergo sensitivity training, and whether rapists who target sexual minorities should get harsher sentences.
Mthathi said having the anti-prejudicial constitution in place is an indicator that the task force alone won't resolve underlying problems.
"South Africa is a very misogynist and homophobic society," she said. "We welcome the task team, but it won't solve social problems. We need to address the culture of accountability in judicial and social institutions, we need to address the attitudes ... disrupt the culture of impunity."