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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Soldier leaves legacy much larger than 'he was gay'

By Wayne Drash -

Rosemount, Minnesota (CNN) -- Andrew Wilfahrt changed his gait in the weeks before going off to basic training. He walked more upright. He bulked up with weights. He spoke with a deep Robocop voice. He acted "manly."
Through the eyes of his parents, Jeff and Lori, it was all a bit strange.
This was the boy who told them he was gay at 16 after being confronted with exorbitant bills from Internet chat rooms. Who lobbied for gay rights in his high school and escaped the fists of football players when hockey players came to his rescue. Who had the courage to wear pink and green even after his car was spray-painted with "Go Home Fag!"
All his parents ever wanted was for Andrew to be Andrew.
At 29, he sat his mom and dad down at the kitchen table and told them his life was missing camaraderie, brotherhood. "I'm joining the Army," he said.
The news surprised them. Why would Andrew enter the military, where he'd be forced to deny a part of who he is?
He was a lover of classical music, a composer, a peace activist, a math genius. He studied palindromes, maps, patterns, the U.S. Constitution, quantum physics.
A soldier?
It had never really crossed the minds of his left-leaning parents. Yet, just as they'd done with all three of their children, they supported him. It wasn't easy. It became dreadfully painful.
When their son wound up in Afghanistan in July 2010, Jeff awoke early each day to Google "Kandahar." He tracked every soldier killed in the far-off land.
Then, on February 27, 2011, at the same oak table where Andrew said he was joining up, the Wilfahrts learned their oldest child was gone.
"I want to talk directly to somebody in his platoon!" Jeff told the officer and chaplain seated across from him. He wanted to know for sure that this wasn't a behind-the-shed killing of the gay guy.
Cpl. Andrew Charles Wilfahrt, 31, is believed to be the first gay U.S. soldier to die in battle since President Obama signed the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the policy forcing gays in the military to hide that part of their lives or risk being kicked out.
He was also among the smartest in the half-million force, scoring a perfect score on his aptitude test, a feat the Army says is rare.
Andrew was so well-liked his comrades named a combat outpost for the soldier with the infectious smile. COP Wilfahrt sits 6 kilometers from Kandahar. To his buddies, it is not named for a gay soldier, but for one who fought with valor.
"Mom, everyone knows. Nobody cares," he told his mother in their final conversation, a phone call from Afghanistan on Thanksgiving.
In a biography he left on his laptop, Andrew described himself as someone who "espoused casual solipsism, the idea that ultimately one can know only oneself and nothing more.
"Although close to my parents and siblings, I generally prefer solitude and introspection, and have but few close associates," he wrote.
"I have maintained 'bachelor status' with the strictest of discipline, and a discipline I secretly wish would be compromised by a charming beauty."
Andrew never denied his sexuality. But like so many, he struggled with what it means to be gay in America. Yet it was only one part of him. He was so much more. In the note on his laptop, he never used the words gay or homosexual to define himself. His younger sister, Martha, says it's the least interesting thing about him.
But with his death, his parents have taken up the cause of gay rights. Andrew fought for his nation in a foreign land. His parents' war is being waged in their home state of Minnesota. To them, it's about defending the Constitution -- protecting the rights of all citizens.
Gay in the land of Pawlenty, Bachmann
The red Toyota Corolla eases through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. The Wilfahrts are entering a part of their son's world that was distant to them. They're headed from their home in suburban Rosemount to the Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade, an annual event their son loved.
"It's new for us," Lori says .
They ride in solemn silence. Harry Nilsson sings from the speakers:
"Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can see
Remember, think of all that life can be
Remember, dream,
Love is only in a dream
His mother puts her hands to her face and cries. Her son's dream was to fall in love and find a job that allowed time to compose music.
"Are you OK, honey?" Jeff asks his wife.
The two have been married for 33 years. Lori works as a project manager for 3M. Jeff had a career there as well, but has been unemployed since the beginning of the year.
Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt attend their first gay pride parade. They hold a flag signed by their son's comrades.
Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt attend their first gay pride parade. They hold a flag signed by their son's comrades.
The Wilfahrts have the milquetoast looks of middle-age Midwesterners: gray hair, rimmed glasses, apple-pie ordinary. Yet make no mistake: These lifelong Minnesotans might be the most powerful force to join the same-sex marriage movement.
In a state that has produced GOP presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty -- who have made careers fighting gay marriage -- these parents of an American hero present a major challenge to the establishment.
They'll take their battle to the Supreme Court, if that's what it takes. To the Wilfahrts, denying gays the right to marry is discrimination against a group to which their son belonged.
Jeff has asked Lady Gaga to come to Minnesota to dance a same-sex marriage polka. He skipped a recent White House tea with the first lady held for families of service members. He wanted to send a message to the Obama administration: My son gave his life for his country, yet didn't have full rights back home.
On a recent spring day, the couple stood outside the Capitol while lawmakers inside prepared to debate marriage. The legislators voted, largely along party lines, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for November 2012 to define marriage as solely between a man and woman.
Jeff had never spoken much publicly before eulogizing his son. He began by telling the crowd, "If I hold my finger up, I'm gonna be crying. When you see that, I need to pause."
A few minutes later, his finger dangled in the breeze. His voice cracked. "I challenge the one-man, one-woman champions to define manliness or womanhood. Will you as a human being, as an American, as a Minnesotan, be asked to open your trousers or to have your skirt lifted when applying for a license to marry?
" ... I hope my son didn't die for human beings, for Americans, for Minnesotans who would deny him civil rights."
On this day, in the grandstands of the pride parade, the Wilfahrts will celebrate their son's identity as both a gay man and a soldier. It's the type of event that would stun Bachmann and Pawlenty: More than 100,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and straights gathered in their home state, celebrating life and obeying the law. A Minneapolis police car led the parade, two officers waving to the jubilant crowd.
The night before, Jeff, 58, and Lori, 56, wondered if they were doing the right thing by coming. Their son was so private, would he want his mom and dad to speak out?
Within minutes today, they get their answer. "Thank you for you and your son's service," a man says, offering a hug to Lori. Tears well in the parents' eyes.
Another stranger, Laurie Kermes, holds Lori's hand. "Your son did a lot. He's not going to be lost in vain."
Soon, a float goes by carrying two poster-sized photographs of Andrew in Army camo. "That's our boy!" Jeff says.
He and Lori embrace. Their heads tilt toward the ground, two exhausted parents missing their son.
'I am here to serve'
Andrew met with a retired gay Marine in Minneapolis bars and coffee shops in the months before signing up. He wanted to know the pros and cons of being gay in the military.
He'd been volunteering at food shelters, animal shelters, an AIDS hospice, voter-registration drives and other non-profit initiatives. At 29, he was living with his parents and looking for more out of life.
The retired Marine says Andrew told him he wanted to serve so a soldier with a wife and children wouldn't have to go fight.
"He wasn't making a statement" about being gay. "He was doing it for everybody else," says Dan, who asked that his last name not be used. "He will forever be my hero because he joined for the right reasons. He was a silent part of the gay community, but it's just unspeakable how big of an impact he's had now."
His name and face have been front and center in the state's debate on gay marriage.
Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was just two days from leave from the Afghanistan theater when he was killed.
Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was just two days from leave from the Afghanistan theater when he was killed.
Republican Rep. John Kriesel, who lost his legs while serving in Iraq, sent Andrew's photo around the floor during debate in the Minnesota House.
A few years ago, he said, he would have defined marriage as solely between heterosexuals. But his military service changed that.
"This amendment doesn't represent what I went to fight for," he told lawmakers.
"I cannot look at this family and look at this picture and say, 'You know what, Corporal, you were good enough to fight for your country and give your life, but you were not good enough to marry the person you love.' I can't do that."
Andrew didn't have a significant other. If he had, the partner wouldn't have been allowed to escort his body home from Dover Air Force Base, nor would he have received Andrew's $100,000 death benefit.
Andrew arrived at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in February 2009. The man with the muscle-builder chest and six-pack abs drew immediate attention when quizzed by drill sergeants. He spoke in a Robocop voice. He asked question after question.
Watching him, Kevin Gill wondered: Who is this guy?
"After we became really close, he told me that was his 'tough man voice' and that he used it to show his real 'manhood,'" Sgt. Gill told CNN in a series of e-mails from Afghanistan.
Andrew earned the nickname Slovak for his macho speak and exaggerated, arrow-straight gait. Andrew was like that, a ham who figured out a way to fit in. When he laughed, he threw his head back, closed his eyes and let out a sound that made everyone else chuckle.
In combat, he rode with two other soldiers. One was African-American, the other from Hawaii. They were known as "Team Minority."
Intelligent didn't even begin to describe him. Everybody felt smarter just being around him. Shortly after Andrew arrived on post in Hawaii, a commander saw his perfect aptitude score and grilled him: What was somebody with such smarts doing as a grunt?
The Wilfahrts say they will fight for gay rights all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Wilfahrts say they will fight for gay rights all the way to the Supreme Court.
"Is this some kind of joke, Wilfahrt?"
"No, sir," he said. "I am here to serve!"
Gill once asked him about World War I. Over the next week, for four hours a day, Andrew recounted the history of the first World War and all the other U.S. conflicts up through Vietnam.
Andrew felt a connection to World War I: His great-grandfather, Charles Wilfahrt, entered battle in the European theater on September 26, 1918. Ninety-two years to the day, Andrew entered Operation Dragon Strike in Afghanistan as a member of the 552nd Military Police Company.
The coincidental timing wasn't lost on him. He always found meaning in numbers.
The numbers with meaning for him and Gill were their ages. They bonded at boot camp, where they were the "old" guys. Andrew was 29 at the time. Gill was 39.
The two were like brothers. Their only difference before going to war: Gill headed to the straight bars during off-time at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Andrew hit the gay bars. Gill says Andrew always thought military investigators were following him.
None of his comrades cared about his sexuality. And, guys being guys, they cracked gay jokes around Andrew. His response: to laugh with them.
He said it was funny that he talked more about his sexuality with his band of brothers than he ever had with gay friends.
Gill paid close attention and made sure the jokes never got out of hand. One of his own brothers is gay and moved to Switzerland in the mid-1990s. The two haven't seen each other in 16 years, even though he accepts his brother for who he is. "That's the tough thing about it."
Gill says it helped to talk to Andrew. No topic was taboo. They shared everything: about family, life, the war. Andrew told him how hard it can be to be gay in America.
One day last fall, the two were doing guard duty at a tower in a Kandahar police station when Gill's understanding of what Andrew meant deepened. Andrew was reading a copy of Time magazine. In it was an article about gay teens who committed suicide after being bullied.
Andrew began to weep.
"This was more than just a tearful cry. This was all his emotion from the past just coming out all at once in front of his fellow soldier."
Andrew's parents say he struggled with suicidal tendencies in his early 20s. But every time, the thought of the four people he loved most -- his mom and dad, sister Martha and brother Peter -- stopped him.
In Afghanistan, Andrew confided in Gill.
"I just trusted him and was proud to be serving next to him right there on the battlefield."
'A damn good soldier'
It was Sunday, February 27.
Members of the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon were on foot patrol in a region west of Kandahar, accompanied by members of the Afghan National Police.
There were 11 of them, and they were familiar with the area. Andrew was ninth in line as they crossed a bridge toward a police checkpoint. Children scattered.
A 122-mm mortar round lay hidden along the route.
Kevin Gill wrote this note on an American flag signed by  Andrew Wilfahrt's comrades.
Kevin Gill wrote this note on an American flag signed by Andrew Wilfahrt's comrades.
At 11:48 a.m., the massive bomb detonated beneath Andrew. Three other explosives, daisy-chained together, failed to go off. Gill was 20 meters ahead of his battle buddy. He'd have been killed, too, if the other bombs had exploded. He rushed toward Andrew. A medic joined. They were at his side within seconds.
It felt like a terrible training session. But it was all too real. Andrew's legs were blown off, as was his left hand. He'd suffered severe wounds to his head.
Andrew was the 66th Minnesotan to be killed while serving in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some 7,000 miles away, in the Wilfahrt home in Rosemount, the world shattered.
Their firstborn, the baby who had taken 12 hours of labor to deliver.
The boy, who at 6 asked his father: "Do you think there is a different kind of gravity at the edge of the universe?"
The man who told them he loved his band of brothers so much he hoped to become an Army lifer.
He was gone.
Four months after their son's death, Jeff and Lori sit at the kitchen table, the place where Lori says "a lot has gone down." They both say the Army's been good to them. They don't feel anger, except as Jeff puts it, for "those f--kers at the Capitol" who voted against same-sex marriage.
Jeff places his son's autopsy report on the table. "Don't sanitize it," he says.
The document is inside a manila envelope with these words on the outside:
"WARNING: The information in the enclosed report is graphically described for complete accuracy in the physical details of the remains of Andrew C. Wilfahrt.
"It is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that you read this in the presence of people that can provide you with emotional support during this time, such as your minister, a family friend, or a counselor."
Jeff and Lori read the detailed eight-page report alone, on their own time.
The anti-war activists whose boy once attended protests alongside them never thought they'd find themselves here, boasting about a soldier son. But they swell with pride, patriotic pride and gay pride.
Blunt and outspoken, Jeff says his boy didn't die defending freedom. Don't use that politician jargon "crap" around him.
"He died for the soldier to the left and right of him," he says. "And he was a damn good soldier."
Shortly after Andrew's death, Jeff wrote a letter to his son's comrades. "A gay child will take you to places in your heart you did not know existed," he said. "Regardless of orientation, I beseech all of you who are parenting now, or do so in the future, to give them all the love you can muster. At times it feels like you are bailing the ocean, but do not stop loving your children."
Ashes at kitchen table
The soldiers of the 552nd are preparing to return home after a year in theater. They will leave behind Combat Outpost Wilfahrt.
"We will never forget him and are honored to have served with such an outstanding person," platoon leader 1st Lt. Brandon LaMar said in a letter informing the family of the naming of the outpost.
That letter arrived on May 7, what would have been Andrew's 32nd birthday. Included in the package were memorial bracelets. The Wilfahrts wear theirs every day.
Their home has become a shrine.
Some of Andrew's ashes rest in a brown container near the family table. His photograph is taped to the outside. Nearby are two teddy bears, one tattered from his youth, one given to the family in his memory.
Jeff's greatest regret is not hugging his son when he first told him he was gay. "This is how it is for an old fool of a man. This moment is the burden I carry."
Jeff awakes in the middle of the night. Sometimes, he wanders the house. He'll use Google Earth to zoom in on the exact spot where Andrew died. Lori often cries herself to sleep. She wonders if she'll ever find the happiness she once had.
They try to maintain focus. "Andrew had courage. He had guts," Lori says. "So I can have guts, too. And maybe it gives his death some meaning or a purpose, that he didn't die for nothing."
The Wilfahrts speak to veterans groups, gay groups, book clubs. Their message: Our son was an American hero, not someone to be feared because he was gay.
In an Army cherry chest in the family library are Andrew's six medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. They share space with a class assignment from when he was 10.
"These people are important to me: every good person, friend, etc.," the boy wrote. "The one thing I am most thankful for is my family."
A loveseat across the room is overrun with compact discs, journals and Moleskine Music Notebooks he carried with him in Afghanistan. Inside are his scribbled music compositions.
In one leather-bound book, Andrew jotted down favorite quotes.
"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."
Jeff Wilfahrt always reads a poem by William Wordsworth when he visits his son's grave."The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."
"Too often we don't hear the deaf and do not see the blind."
"What we dream we become."
His friend, Gill, says the man he will always remember is a great American hero. "Andrew became that person he always wanted to be."
Jeff Wilfahrt always reads a poem by William Wordsworth when he visits his son's grave.
He was just two days from leave when he was killed. "With luck, I'll be home as soon as the 6th," he said in the last sentence he ever wrote his father.
Instead of greeting their son with hugs on March 6, mom and dad buried their boy. His final resting spot is among thousands of others at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, a place where Jeff and Lori now come for solitude.
A lover of literature, Jeff always brings a collection of William Wordsworth. He flips the pages to "Expostulation and Reply." He sits on the marble stone commemorating his son and reads aloud. Lori sits on the ground nearby.
He gets to the last verse and chokes up:
"Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away."

Jeff stands quickly, touching the grey stone with his hand, as if reaching out to his beloved son from beyond the grave. He trembles and cries. "I can never get through the last paragraph," he says. "What the hell's wrong with me?"
Lori stands, too. The two stare at the headstone. Tears still streaming down his face, Jeff says, "It's just the shits." He whispers again, "It's just the shits."
They want people to know their son wasn't a "gay soldier." He was a great soldier who happened to be gay. Above all, he was a citizen.
A remarkable man, his epitaph reads.

Gay Soldier's Parents Fight Marriage Ban

Andrew Wilfahrt's parents are using his story to push marriage equality

3 Marines face charges of adultery, marrying for financial gain

Marine Cpl. Ashley Vice, left, and Jaime Murphy say they each married a Marine to receive stipends offered to married couples.
Marine Cpl. Ashley Vice & Jaime Murphy say they each married a Marine to receive stipends offered to married couples.

(CNN) -- Three California Marines have been charged with marrying for financial gain, accused of manipulating the military's off-base housing program so a lesbian couple could live together, according to a woman at the center of the case.

Marine Cpl. Ashley Vice says she and two others have been charged with conspiracy, making false official statements, fraud and adultery for allegedly marrying to collect thousands in financial assistance offered by the military to heterosexual married couples.

"The bottom line is that every Marine knows if they violate the law, they will be held accountable for their actions," 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a Marine spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton, told CNN.

"Regardless of sexual preference, we will hold all Marines accountable to the same standards."

Dooley would not release details about the case, saying the "investigation is ongoing."

Vice told CNN affiliate KGTV in San Diego that she wanted to live off base with her girlfriend, Jaime Murphy, as a couple. Murphy is a civilian.

But on her salary, she couldn't afford it.

So she says she found a Marine, Jeremiah Griffin, who agreed to marry her so she could receive the $1,200 per month living stipend the Marine Corps gives to married couples living off base.

A year and a half later, Murphy did the same thing and married Marine Joseph Garner, Vice and Murphy told KGTV, according to footage that aired Thursday.

Vice said she was questioned by the Marine Corps about the living arrangements.

"I honestly didn't even try to hide it," she said. "I just said this is what's going on. They asked me who Jaime is ... I told them."

The three Marines are accused of pocketing about $75,000.

"There's no conspiracy here," Murphy told KGTV. "There's no trying to steal from anybody. We just wanted to be together and she wanted to serve her country."

Vice and the two others face up to a year in prison if convicted on all counts. They also face the possibility of a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank and forfeiture of all pay.

DOJ: Court Should Not Dismiss Karen Golinski's Health Benefits Claim, Should Instead Find DOMA Unconstitutional


By Chris Geidner -

Today, the Department of Justice filed a brief in federal court employee Karen Golinski's federal court challenge, supporting her lawsuit seeking access to equal health benefits for her wife and arguing strongly that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in terms unparalleled in previous administration statements.
In a brief filed on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management and other federal defendants, DOJ acknowledged the U.S. government's "significant and regrettable role" in discrimination in America against gays and lesbians.
The summary of the DOJ argument that Golinski's case should not be dismissed begins simply: "Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, 1 U.S.C.  Section 7 ('DOMA'), unconstitutionally discriminates."
The filing signed by Christopher Hall, a trial attorney with DOJ, responds to the June 3 filing by the lawyers for the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group's Republican members asking the federal court in San Francisco to dismiss Golinski's lawsuit. That June 3 filing was the first in which Paul Clement -- the outside lawyer hired by the Republican leaders to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court -- presented a substantive defense of the law.
Unlike in other cases where DOJ has stopped defending DOMA in accordance with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder's decision that Section 3 of DOMA -- the federal definition of marriage -- is unconstitutional, DOJ lawyers today made an expansive case in a 31-page filing that DOMA is unconstitutional. Previously, the government had attached the Feb. 23 letter from Holder to House Speaker John Boehner (R) that announced the DOJ position to filings to courts about the decision to stop defending the law, but it had not laid out any more expansive reasoning.
But, for Golinski's case, DOJ did so. In describing why heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual orientation, for example, the DOJ's lawyers -- in describing how "gays and lesbians have been subject to a history of discrimination" -- write, "The federal government has played a significant and regrettable role in the history of discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals."
Compare that to the Feb. 23 letter, where Holder used more vague language, writing, "[T]here is, regrettably, a significant history of purposeful discrimination against gay and lesbian people, by governmental as well as private entities, based on prejudice and stereotypes that continue to have ramifications today."
Today's filing does more than acknowledge the federal government's role in discrimination, going on to detail specific instances of anti-gay and anti-lesbian discrimination, including the 1950 Senate resolution seeking an "investigation" into "homosexuals and other sexual perverts" in government employement and President Dwight Eisenhower's executive order adding "sexual perversion" as a ground for "possible dismissal from government service," in the brief's words. It also details the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service in investigations seeking information about government employees suspected of such "perversion."
The brief goes on to describe anti-gay and anti-lesbian state and local discrimination, as well as private discrimination, before discussing other considerations made by courts when deciding what level of scrutiny should be applied to laws classifying groups -- including immutability; political powerlessness; and whether the classification bears any relation to, as the brief puts it, "legitimate policy objectives or ability to perform or contribute to society."
DOJ's lawyers conclude that heightened scrutiny applies and argue how, under that heightened scrutiny, Section 3 of DOMA should be found to be unconstitutional. Heightened scrutiny, the brief details, would require that Section 3 is substantially related to an important government objective.
DOJ states: "Section 3 fails this analysis."
After detailing why, the brief concludes, "[T]he official legislative record makes plain that DOMA Section 3 was motivated in substantial part by animus toward gay and lesbian individuals and their intimate relationships, and Congress identified no other interest that is materially advanced by Section 3. Section 3 of DOMA is therefore unconstitutional."
In addition to the DOJ filing, Golinski earlier today filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there are no factual disputes in her case that require a trial and that the court can and should decide the case in her favor on the legal issues alone.

Maine seeks to regain marriage equality

Dana Rudolph -

For the first time in history, LGBT activists are initiating a ballot measure to win marriage equality.
EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced Thursday, June 30, that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot. The measure will ask Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry.
The move comes a year and a half after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009. Because repeal activists immediately began petitioning for a “People’s Veto” against the law, the law was put on hold and ballot Question 1 asked voters if they would like to repeal that law.
Fifty-three percent of voters cast ballots in favor of repeal, with forty-seven percent against.
But LGBT advocates say they have been working since that time—canvassing, phone banking, and more—to change people’s attitudes. Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said, “We have been going door to door talking to them and hearing their journey towards support.”
They seem to be succeeding. Two recent polls show 53 percent of likely 2012 voters now say they support marriage equality.
To begin the initiative process, GLAD and EqualityMaine submitted an application to the Maine Secretary of State, Charles Summers Jr., on June 30. Once he approves the wording of the initiative, EqualityMaine will begin collecting the more than 57,000 signatures currently required to put it on the November 2012 ballot.
The proposed language of the ballot question reads, “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”
EqualityMaine and GLAD will also be ramping up their public education efforts in the coming months, tailored by findings of research they have been conducting to test various persuasive messages.
This summer, they will continue going door to door throughout the state to have one-on-one conversations with voters. Amy Mello, field director of EqualityMaine, said at a press briefing that they believe “this is the most effective and strategic way to change minds.”
They have also launched a new Web site,, that includes created videos of Mainers—LGBT and straight—telling their personal stories of what marriage equality means to them.
“In the coming months, we’re going to continue to help same-sex couples, their family members, and their friends share their stories and talk about why marriage matters to them,” said Matt McTighe, Maine director of public education for GLAD, in a statement. “We know that, as more people come to understand the love and commitment that gay and lesbian couples share, we will continue to change hearts and minds.”
A leading face of the campaign will be United Methodist Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Gray said he used to hold “a very traditional view of what marriage meant,” but after meeting same-sex couples in his parish and beyond, he said, “I now realize that the love and commitment in their relationships is as strong as the love and commitment my wife and I share, and I support their right to marry if they are lucky enough to find someone they love.”
McTighe said at a press briefing that the purpose of the new pro-equality campaigns was not only to build support, but to “inoculate against” opponents’ attacks and be prepared to respond to them.
In the earlier campaign to rescind marriage equality for same-sex couples, opponents launched a heavy barrage of television and radio ads warning that approval of same-sex marriage would lead to public schools teaching children about gay marriage.
Equality Maine field director Mello said the door-to-door campaigners are taking on some of the “hard subjects,” such as what children will learn in school, and why marriages are better than civil unions. They will be discussing these topics even with supporters, “to ensure they really are with us and that we can count on their support.”
Demographics may also play a role in the outcome of the initiative. Presidential election years garner a larger portion of voters under age 40 than in off-year elections such as 2009, according to Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, one of the firms that conducted a poll for EqualityMaine. And younger voters are much more likely to support marriage equality than the oldest voting cohort.

Friday, July 1, 2011

STEVE HAYES: Tired Old Queen at the Movies - #78


Ronald Coleman and a party of kidnapped refugees from a war torn country find themselves crash landed in the Himalayas, rescued and taken to a hidden valley called Shangri-la in Frank Capra's classic LOST HORIZON. Taken from the novel by James Hilton, the story deals with a man who discovers paradise and doesn't know whether to give himself over to it or battle his way back to a civilization from which he was relieved to have escaped in the first place. Coleman was at his romantic best in this film and Capra, having just won an Oscar, never attempted such a visionary film again. Lost footage has been salvaged and somewhat restored from the original print and the result is a remarkable film with a subtlety and spirituality all its own. You'll be moved and mesmerized by the hauntingly beautiful LOST HORIZON.

PFLAG National Proudly Presents: Bringing the Message Home, 2011

Dear PFLAGers,
As you know, no voice is more powerful -- or persuasive -- than that of a PFLAG member. As parents, families, friends and allies of America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens, we know firsthand the impact that discriminatory laws have on our loved ones and ourselves. Our stories of the pain this prejudice inflicts upon our families are enormously important in moving fair legislation forward and in opposing anti-LGBT bills and resolutions in Congress.
For almost a decade, PFLAG National’s Bringing the Message Home campaign has empowered many of you to meet with countless lawmakers and their staff, helping pass important laws like the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Now, with the release of our 2011 guide, we have included the most recent federal legislation introduced in the 112th Congress. Bringing the Message Home will empower and encourage you to begin or continue meeting with federal lawmakers about important issues impacting our LGBT loved ones. It features issue briefs, talking points, information to help you set up a lobby visit, and techniques for gaining the support of your Congress Members.
While the current House of Representatives poses a significant obstacle for pro-LGBT legislation to advance, we view this Congress as an important opportunity to continue education efforts vital to the ultimate passage of legislation like the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, among the many other critical bills necessary to extend full equality to our LGBT loved ones and ourselves. In fact, there are over 100 new members of Congress who need education about LGBT lives and the lack of basic civil rights.
It is critically important that PFLAG families let lawmakers and the President know where they stand on important legislative and administrative priorities.
Remember: it is up to each of us, as members of the PFLAG family, to bring the message home thatdiscrimination, prejudice and second-class citizenship must end, and that full civil rights must be extended to our family and friends without delay.  To that end please take action today by downloading your copy of Bringing the Message Home Research the issues, then schedule a lobby visit with your legislators. Over the next few months, you'll have two opportunities to meet with your federal legislators; once in August when they return to their home states, and in D.C. when you join us at the PFLAG National Lobby Day, part of the 2011 PFLAG National Conventionon November 3rd! Please don't pass up these opportunities to let key decision-makers know how they can help make your families stronger by moving equality forward! 
PFLAG National's Policy Team

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Red Sox and

The Red Sox have joined the "It Gets Better Project" and "The Trevor Project" to inspire hope for young people who may be struggling with bullying.

Seattle man says ‘God told him’ to rape and stab lesbian couple

Isaiah Kalebu
By Jessica Geen -

A man in Seattle, US, has admitted the rape and stabbing of a lesbian couple, claiming that “God told” him to do it.

Isaiah Kalebu, 25, is accused of breaking into the couple’s home in July 2009 and and torturing and raping them repeatedly before stabbing them.

One of the women, Teresa Butz, 39, died in a pool of blood in the street outside her home as neighbours tried to help.

Her 36-year-old partner survived and identified Kalebu as the attacker. Friends said the pair planned to marry soon.

Kalebu is accused of aggravated murder, first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree burglary.

The Seattle Times reports that while his lawyers argue he is not guilty, Kalebu told the courtroom on Wednesday: “I was there and I was told by my God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to attack my enemies, and I did so.”

Due to “disruptive behaviour” at past court appearances, he was wheeled into the room wearing a shock sleeve, restraints and oversized gloves designed to stop him putting things in his mouth.

Previously, he was treated in hospital after swallowing a pencil.

Although he is not using a defence of mental incompetence, he has a history of mental illness, which means prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Suing for equal health coverage

Alec Esquivel, 42, is an Oregon transman. He works as a law clerk for the Oregon Court of Appeals. Alec's doctors said it was a medically necessary procedure to have a hysterectomy because of his heightened risk of ovarian and uterine cancer due to the hormone therapy he began in 2001. Providence Health Plans, third-party insurance administrator for the state, and the Public Employees Benefit Board denied coverage for the procedure, stating:

services related to a sex-change operation, including evaluation, surgery and follow-up services are not a covered benefit of your plan.

Alec is therefore suing the state of Oregon and the PEBB to cover his medical care related to the hysterectomy as well as $250,000 in damages and attorney fees.

Alec Esquivel was denied coverage for a medically necessary procedure specifically because he is transgender. This type of discrimination is unlawful and risks the health of hardworking, productive citizens of Oregon.

Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal transgender rights attorney

Rhode Island civil union bill passes, but pleases no one

Dana Rudolph

The Rhode Island Senate passed a civil union bill 21 to 16 on Wednesday, June 29, which the governor has said he will sign but which LGBT civil rights advocates are not happy with and are urging he veto.
The bill, passed by the House in May, states that it would give same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples. But LGBT groups say an amendment providing for extensive religious exemptions from the law “legalizes discrimination against the very status and protections it creates.”
Marriage Equality Rhode Island and several leading LGBT advocacy organizations sent a letter to Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) June 28, asking him to veto the civil union legislation if it includes the amendment. They said the amendment would allow religiously-affiliated “hospitals, day care centers, schools or cemeteries to openly and intentionally discriminate against civil union spouses.” Hospitals, they say, “could refuse to allow a spouse to visit their dying partner or make medical decisions in an emergency situation.”
Fourteen state representatives sent a similar letter to Chafee the day before.
The civil union bill has been a disappointment to many LGBT advocates from the start because a bill for full marriage equality was dropped in April after it failed to gain enough support, even though Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers and Chafee, a long-time supporter of LGBT equality, said he would back it.
But one of the marriage equality bill’s sponsors, openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D), said in a statement in April that “there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate,” where Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) opposed it. Fox said he would not move forward with a vote in the House.
The Providence Journal newspaper also reported that Fox said he did not have the votes to pass the bill even in the House, where Democrats hold 65 seats to Republicans’ 10.
Fox instead sponsored the bill for civil unions, a decision that did not go over well with LGBT groups, even before the religious exemption amendment. Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) held a rally at the State House to protest Fox’s decision to drop the marriage equality bill. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and other groups issued statements criticizing Fox’s decision and calling it “completely unacceptable.”
But the civil union bill went to the House floor on May 19, where Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) introduced the amendment regarding religious exemptions.
The amendment exempts religious organizations, religiously affiliated charitable or educational organizations, and their employees, from solemnizing civil unions and from providing related services, facilities, or accommodations.
Religious exemptions were included in New York’s recently passed marriage equality bill, but the Rhode Island amendment goes further and exempts the organizations and individuals from treating civil unions as valid in any way, if to do so goes against their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
There was little debate before the House voted 63-6 to include it in the final bill, which they then passed 62-11.
Chafee, although he supports full marriage equality, has said he will sign the civil union bill.
Interestingly, even opponents of marriage equality oppose the civil union bill. Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage chapter in Rhode Island, issued a statement, saying that civil unions were “a clear threat to the definition of marriage” and to religious liberties.
On June 29, the same day that the civil union bill passed the final legislative hurdle in Rhode Island, Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBT political group, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples, claiming that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide them with full equality.
Two other states—Connecticut and Vermont—also won marriage equality after their highest courts ruled that civil unions were insufficient in providing equal rights and benefits.

Michele Bachmann's Husband: Gays Are Barbarians & Need To Be Educated & Disciplined

Thomas Roberts talks with David Graham (The Daily Beast).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Help us Reach 15,000 Online Signatures to Fight 'Gay Cure' Therapy In Hong Kong

Truth Wins Out logo
Help us Reach 15,000 Online Signatures to Fight 'Gay Cure' Therapy In Hong Kong

Campaign led by Dan Choi and Truth Wins Out to end Hong Kong's sponsorship of "ex-gay therapy" gathers thousands of supporters over 48 hours; Organization behind "gay cure" iPhone app continues to spread anti-gay doctrine overseas

 Dan Choi
Last week, Lt. Dan Choi and Truth Wins Out launched anonline petition on to end Hong Kong's sponsorship of "ex-gay therapy." In the past 48 hours, momentum has gathered with thousands of supporters signing and giving us more than 14,500 signatures.

We need your help to push us over the edge and reach 15,000 signatures today. If you have already signed our petition we thank you, but please consider sending it to friends and asking them to sign too. If you have not signed, please consider doing so now.

We launched this petition after Hong Kong's government hired "gay cure" therapist Hong Kwai-wah. The controversial therapist claims he can "cure" LGBT people through cold showers, prayer, and abstinence.  

The effort to infiltrate Hong Kong's government and promote anti-gay ideology has been spearheaded by Canada-based Exodus Global Alliance and United States-based Exodus International. Exodus has been spreading its fundamentalist "ex-gay" doctrine overseas for some time -- as it did in Uganda, encouraging advocates of the notorious "Kill the Gays" bill to criminalize homosexuality. Truth Wins Out released a comprehensive report this week --How Radical American Christian Sects Are Invading Hong Kong and Beyond -- produced by researcher Bruce Wilson, detailing extensive efforts by American extremists to evangelize Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's hiring of Hong Kwai-wah is the tip of the iceberg. If we don't take a stand now and stop this madness, the efforts to infiltrate Hong Kong and spread a radical, hate-filled ideology will only intensify.
"It is shocking that Hong Kong would risk its reputation as an international business and cultural center by hiring a therapist with such disturbing views," said Dan Choi. "Hong Kong should move decisively to restore its honor and dignity by removing Hong Kwai-wah. The world is watching and taking note of this embarrassing travesty."
Please stand up and join Dan Choi and Truth Wins Out in fighting efforts to spread "ex-gay" therapy worldwide. Together, we can make a difference and stop these dangerous efforts.

Dustin Lance Black Takes On Obama's Marriage Position


Can President Obama have it both ways on the marriage issue? Can he rally support and dollars from the LGBT community yet assert that marriage rights are an issue for the states to decide? As the president hosts a National Pride Month reception Wednesday at the White House, a growing number of activists and pundits say no — including Academy Award-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
"I prefer President Obama to the alternative. That is true," Black said during recent remarks at the San Francisco Pride festival. "But I cannot and we should not hide our disappointment with his response to our historic victory in New York. In his response he wrongly claimed that marriage equality should be left up to individual states to decide.
"President Obama, with all due respect, you know the proud history of civil rights in this nation and you understand that the ultimate responsibility of protecting our minorities falls on the federal government, on our courts and on your desk, Mr. President -- not on each individual state’s legislature or ballot box,” Black said.
Stay tuned to for updates on the President’s Wednesday news conference, the first he has held since March, as well as his Pride Month remarks later this afternoon at the White House.
Black’s full speech text for San Francisco Pride:
It is my great honor to announce that a few weeks ago, inside of Harvey Milk’s old camera shop right down on Castro street, we opened the Harvey Milk Call Center, finally turning the Trevor Project into a fully self sufficient 24-7, nationwide crisis help line for LGBTQ youth.
After all, that was Harvey Milk’s mission, to be there to answer the call from that young person in Altoona, Pennsylvania who had lost hope -- giving hope to the hopeless, and not just here in SF but nationwide.
But that was not Milk’s end goal, and it’s certainly not our common dream today. Our dream today is to one day have no Altoona, Pennsylvanias, no more places in this country where children are told by their government that they are second class or less than. No more places where children are robbed of their self-esteems by their own leaders and communities.
And yes, winning marriage equality in New York was one of our greatest victories, and we must celebrate that victory and all of the men and women who have fought so hard to create that watershed moment, because it paves the way to our end goal, to our larger dream, a dream of full equality in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states across this great nation.
And yes, I prefer President Obama to the alternative. That is true. But I cannot and we should not hide our disappointment with his response to our historic victory in New York. In his response he wrongly claimed that marriage equality should be left up to individual states to decide.
President Obama, with all due respect, you know the proud history of civil rights in this nation and you understand that the ultimate responsibility of protecting our minorities falls on the federal government, on our courts and on your desk, Mr. President -- not on each individual state’s legislature or ballot box.
Mr. President, consider the LGBTQ children living in Mississippi, Arkansas and in my home state of Texas. Are their lives less worthy of protection than those in New York, Massachusetts and Iowa?
If the civil rights of this country’s minorities are left to the states, then this will become a checkerboard nation where some areas are free and some areas are not free. Where children in some states are told to lift their heads high and others are told they are second class citizens, less than, and that their love and their future families are not worthy of this nation’s protection and admiration.
A state-by-state solution sends a government sanctioned message to the bigots and bullies that in some states in this nation it is okay to treat LGBT people as unequal -- as less than human.
Mr. President. This is a civil rights issue, a minority rights issue, a federal issue. How many more lives must we see taken, how many more bullies must be emboldened before you complete what you’ve called your “evolution” toward equality, and protect all of your citizens, old and young, black and brown and white, gay and straight?
No more, Mr. President. You must speak up for all of us, and speak up now.
And right here in California. What can we do?
The truth is, we are mere breaths away from marriage equality right here in California. We won in Federal court. Federal judge Vaughn Walker declared unequivocally that proposition 8 is in fact unconstitutional. That the 14th amendment indeed applies to all people. Every single one of you here today. Gay or straight.
Yet we wait. Because the CA Supreme court has yet to answer the one technical question asked by the 9th circuit Federal Court of appeals, so that we may finally put an end to the prejudice and hate that has plagued this city and this state for generations.
So please, enjoy this day of Pride, but follow in the great tradition of San Francisco and demand our President take responsibility for all his citizens – nationwide -- and demand that the CA Supreme Court do their duty now. Not after more lives are lost, more bullies are emboldened and more self-esteems are robbed. So that we may join with NY State in this country’s greatest tradition -- the tradition of spreading freedom and equality to all… and that we may make those calls from Altoona, Pennsylvania a thing of the past.
I believe in you San Francisco. And I leave this vital work to your strong voices and in your mighty hands.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Charlize Theron On Gay Marriage: Our Gov. Has Not Stepped Up Enough To Make This Federal

Charlize Theron on why she believes in marriage equality, but says she won't ever marry herself.

Politico's Glenn Thrush: Obama Is Going To Have To Stake Out A Position On Gay Marriage

"He wants to get credit for being really progressive on this issue and he wants people to assume that he has a really progressive position supporting gay marriage, but he's not willing to go all the way."

EQUALITY - WHAT MATTERS: The latest in the LGBT rights movement

JUST POSTED TODAY: LOOKING BACK AT NOM’S FAILED CAMPAIGN (via Equality Matters’ Carlos Maza) – “Last Friday, New York became the sixth state in the country to adopt full marriage equality. The move represents a major milestone in the fight for full LGBT equality in America. It also represents an embarrassing defeat for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which invested over a million dollars in its efforts in the Empire State.”

HOW THE BATTLE FOR NEW YORK WAS WON (via Equality Matters’ Richard Socarides) – “On March 9, 2011, when the still-new governor of New YorkAndrew Cuomo, walked into the history-laden Red Room at the state capit ol in Albany, the small group of us invited in secret just the day before to hear his plan for same-sex marriage weren't sure what to expect. Cuomo had said during his campaign that, if elected governor, he would support full marriage rights for gay New Yorkers.”

CAN OBAMA BRIDGE THE ENTHUSIASM GAP? (via Equality Matters’ Kerry Eleveld) – “’Who else could gays vote for?’ That’s the question mainstream reporters had seemingly drilled down to as President Barack Obama prepped for a Thursday address to one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituencies: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. What else could matter in the scheme of politics? You either vote Democrat or Republican, right? Certainly, queer Americans are stuck between a rock and a hard spot.”
WILL NEW YORK SPARK OTHER SUCCESS?  Thomas Roberts interviews EQM’s Socarides:

NEW LAWSUIT ON MARRIAGE FILED TODAY (via Lambda Legal / Garden State Equality) – “Today Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed from the unequal civil union system.  The case is captioned Garden State Equality v. Dow.”

--Gov. Christie “not a fan” of marriage equality (via MSNBC

--Obama’s latest comments on marriage equality (via CNN

--Bi-national same-sex couple facing deportation (via CNN) 
--Pat Robertson: No civilization that has survived has “openly embraced homosexuality” (via CBN) 
--Will marriage equality be a wedge issue in 2012? (via MSNBC)

--Jim McGreevey on American attitudes on equality (via CNN)

--Rev. Sharpton debates NOM’s Brian Brown (via MSNBC)

--John Heilemann on pro-equality republicans (via MSNBC)

--NY Sen. James Alesi on marriage support (via MSNBC)

--Bachmann on anti-gay constitutional amendment (via Fox News

--Daily Beast: Bachmann Believes "That Homosexuality Can Be Cured."

--Bachmann: "It's Part Of Satan" To Call Homosexuality "Gay."

--Bachmann Suggested Melissa Etheridge's Breast Cancer Was An "Opportunity" To Reflect On Being A Lesbian.

--Bachmann Is So Anti-Gay She Introduced "Redundant" And "Unnecessary" Legislation Barring Gay Marriage In Minnesota.

--Bachmann Warned "Little K-12 Children Will Be Forced To Learn That Homosexuality Is Normal, Natural, And Perhaps They Should Try It."

--Bachmann: Being Gay Is "Bondage" And "Personal Enslavement."






18 MONTHS AND 18 MURDERS IN PUERTO RICO (via AutoStraddle) -




U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: It Gets Better

A video for LGBT youth around the country and the It Gets Better Project, featuring U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Breaking News: Back to Court in New Jersey

Lambda Legal: making the case for equality
Dear Terrence
Today Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden StateEquality — New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization — and seven same-sex couples harmed from the unequal civil union system.
After years of work on the ground, and in the face of political opposition from New Jersey GovernorChris Christie — who has threatened to veto marriage equality legislation similar to the bill that just passed in New York — Lambda Legal decided that the courts must fix the messcivil unions have caused and give full marriage equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children. We are pleased that Garden State Equality is part of the lawsuit.
Making the Case for Marriage Equality
Making the Case for Equality
Learn why civil unions don't work and make a special gift in support of our work.
Elected officials must be ready to stand up for equality, but when they fail we must be ready to ask the courts to uphold the Constitution, no matter where the politicians stand.
Lambda Legal will argue in Garden State Equality et al. v. Dow et al. that the discrimination and burden faced by New Jersey same-sex couples violates not only the New Jersey State Constitution but the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
For ten years, Lambda Legal has been fighting in the courts and in the court of public opinion, pushing for marriage equality in the Garden State and laying the groundwork for this new case.
In 2006, Lambda Legal secured a unanimous decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court — in our original case Lewis v. Harris — requiring the state to provide same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. The Court required the state legislatureto remedy this injustice — the legislature responded with the civil union law which we know has failed to provide true equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples.
Politicians who continue to fight for the status quo even as it injures honest and hardworking families will ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history — and now they’ll find themselves in court.
Terrence, you know this is not just about marriage equality in one state. In many facets of their lives, LGBT people and those with HIV are still relegated to second-class status all over this country. From schools to workplaces, LGBT people are told we cannot speak out, we cannot move ahead, we cannot choose the person we love and we must accept discrimination.
We are here to say: they’re wrong. We’ll prove it, and we can stop those who promote injustice.
Thank you in advance for your generosity and support as we begin this new chapter in our shared fight for equality.
With warm regards,
Kevin M. Cathcart
Executive Director
P.S. Reminder: Tonight, June 29th, Lambda Legal will be hosting a special teleconference with Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg and Director of Constitutional Litigation Susan Sommer. Susan and Hayley will discuss our current docket and take questions about our New Jersey Marriage Case as well as the recent marriage equality bill in New York. The call begins at 7:00pm ETAs a current member you are invited to attend. Dial: 1-888-609-1606 and enter Participant Code: 61430520# at the prompt. You can send questions before or during the call to: