by Denny Sampson
Columbus--Both the Ohio House and Senate versions of the Defense of Marriage Act now assigned to committees will most likely die in committee, according to gay civil rights lobbyists.
The citizen lobbyists were participants in Lobby Day, an annual event sponsored by Equality Begins at Home Ohio, held at the Statehouse in Columbus on April 12. Twenty-four participants were given lobby training and turned loose on the Statehouse to become comfortable with the lobbying process.
"The most positive things we learned is that we appear to be winning on the issue of DOMA. The overall feeling among the legislators is that a DOMA law in Ohio is unnecessary," said Eric Resnick, the group’s co-chair.
The DOMA bills were sponsored State Sen. Jay Hottinger (R) and State Rep. Jim Jordan (R). If passed, they bills would reassert that the only marriages legally recognized in Ohio are those between a man and a woman in Ohio.
"This mean the focus of Equality Begins at Home is shifting towards the passage of the Beatty bill," said Resnick. Sponsored by Rep Joyce Beatty (D), House Bill 277 would revise Ohio’s "ethnic intimidation" law to include sexual orientation, gender, and disability.
The lobbyists were armed with a 25-page report written for the legislators and the media. The report outlined the need to defeat the DOMA bills, the need to pass the Beatty bill, and the need to outlaw anti-gay employment discrimination.
The report included 13 pages of stories by people who had been victims of hate crimes or who had been denied services in Ohio, according to Resnick.
"The sheer number of stories is compelling," said Resnick. "These instances weren’t reported because there is no law against them. The report provides resources to our friends in the legislature, it gives our enemies a warning, and those on the fence a wake-up call that our community is here, it is organized, and it deserves their attention."
Equality Begins at Home Ohio is one of 50 state groups founded in 1998 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Statewide Political Organizations.
"Lobby Day isn’t just a single event we sponsor each year," said Resnick. "It is the beginning of a year long process. Our goal is to continue to keep the legislators informed and to build on the relationships we started."
by Eric Resnick
While the eyes of the nation are focused on a six-year-old Cuban boy in Miami, and United States immigration law is under scrutiny, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender continue to be returned to their homelands, even when it means facing oppression or separation from their partners.
"It’s really more like don’t ask, don’t tell," said Cleveland immigration attorney Margaret Wong. "If Immigration knows a person is gay, there would probably be no entry."
Wong points out that there are obstacles faced by GLBTs that are unique, even though the clause in the Immigration and Nationality Act specifically barring lesbians and gays from permanent residence was repealed in 1990.
Under the old law, classes of aliens deemed ineligible for visas and excluded from United States admission included those "afflicted with psychopathic personality, or sexual deviation, or mental defects." It also barred "aliens coming to the United States to engage in any immoral sexual acts." These clauses were interpreted to mean homosexual activity.
INS has wide latitude
The new law deletes the specific references to "immoral sexual acts," but gives the Immigration and Naturalization Service wide latitude for refusal. The new law, for example, excludes people who "have had a physical or mental disorder and a behavior associated with the disorder . . . which behavior is likely to recur or lead to other harmful behavior."
"It is largely at the discretion of the immigration officers," says Michael Sharon, an attorney in Wong’s office.
Sharon says that most immigration officers will "generally look the other way," but "based on the officer’s personal beliefs, [sexual orientation] might be an issue."
Sharon advises clients to remain silent on sexual orientation, even when the alien is seeking entry to the United States to escape persecution.
The new law also has provisions barring criminal behavior that could be used to exclude aliens in states with criminal sodomy laws.
Permanent resident status
Most gays and lesbians find the most difficulty once they enter the United States and live here a while.
Many come officially as students knowing the real reason to stay is to find freedom to love whomever they want, which may not be an option in their country of origin. According to Sharon, that presents a problem for the alien, particularly if they come from a country that is friendly to the United States. Visas expire and may not be renewed.
There are several ways to obtain permanent residency, known as the "green card" and possibly apply for citizenship.
Most of these involve employers’ proof that employment of the alien is necessary for them due to special skills or inability to find a citizen to do the job.
But the avenue most relevant to gays and lesbians seeking freedom or wanting to remain with their partner is asylum. "Claims for asylum based on sexual orientation are rarely granted," said Sharon.
"The case for asylum is the strongest if the alien comes from a very homophobic country like Iran," Sharon added. "But the applicant must prove to the immigration judge ‘a well founded fear of persecution’ if the alien returns home, and it’s hard doing that if you are from Canada."
Sharon says gay and lesbian aliens from the Middle East have a better chance of being granted asylum than those from Europe or North America, and Asian aliens fall somewhere in the middle.
Couples are separated
Sharon also points out that aliens seeking asylum generally have no chance of getting it if they wait longer than a year after their arrival to apply. This adversely effects gays and lesbians that live in the United States under visas for longer than a year and fall in love. Once the visa expires, they may face deportation and separation from their partner.
Immigration law does not recognize the families formed by same-gender couples.
"Same-sex couples are not the basis for permanent residency," said Sharon, noting that opposite gender couples have the option to marry. "With no state recognizing same-sex marriages, no federal law applies," he said.
United States immigration law also does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions done in other countries.
Transgender people face an entirely different set of issues because of the discrepency of gender on their birth certificate.
"I have no experience with transgender immigration, but I would bet the birth certificate would cause additional problems," said Sharon.
Bill would allow partner sponsorship
On February 14, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partner for immigration to the United States, in the same way heterosexual spouses can. The bill received little attention, even among gay advocacy groups. Openly gay Democrat Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin are co-sponsors. Openly gay Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe is not.
Nadler’s bill, which is called the Permanent Partners Immigration Act of 2000 has only 15 House sponsors and is not likely to pass this congress.
Naddler estimates that 10,000 gays and lesbians could sponsor their partner if the bill passed. Bi-racial and bi- national couples would particularly benefit.
Currently, 13 countries allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partners for immigration. They are Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, France, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden.
Sharon points out that the INS is under the direction of the attorney general, appointed by the president.
"The president has strong direct in the discretion used at INS, but it is Congress that makes immigration law," he said, adding that it is not always a party position. "These laws remain like this as much out of a climate opposed to immigration as it is opposed to gays," he said.
There is, however, an exception in the law, allowing people with HIV to obtain permanent residency if they can show means of financial support.
Sharon advises gays and lesbians seeking permanent residency in the United States to just go about it through the typical channels of employment, not even mentioning sexual orientation.
"Come as an opportunity, not as a chance to be gay," he says.
Sharon cautions that even when the intention is to escape oppression, sexual orientation can disqualify a person from entry.
"One of the risks one faces if it becomes a gay issue is that one could expose themselves to some of those old laws," he said.
by Doreen Cudnik
Cleveland--The sanctuary at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ was transformed into a TV set on Saturday, April 15, as hundreds gathered at the Tremont church to tape the Easter service that will be broadcast nationally April 23 on ABC television.
As Chaz Henderson provided "hair support" to Pilgrim senior pastor Dr. Laurie Hafner, she laughed and told the crowd, "Now we know why those movie stars make so much money."
The service was shot "in sequence" over a period of about three hours. It began with member Charlie Knepper tolling the church bell, and included a dramatic introduction by Theatre Labyrinth, sacred dance by Suzie Moriarity, and African and Caribbean rhythms supplied by the all-women drumming troupe Iya Iiu (Mothers of the Drum), led by Linda Thomas-Jones. The service ended with a spirited singing of the South African freedom song "Siyahamb ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos" (We Are Marching in the Light of God).
Pilgrim Church was selected from among thousands of churches nationwide because of their strong commitment to being an "inclusive, vibrant, alive, witnessing community of faith," Hafner said. Millions watching the broadcast will see a multi-racial church led by two women pastors--one of them openly lesbian--and will witness lesbian and gay couples and families worshipping alongside straight couples and families.
One family that was part of the colorful opening processional was Ralph Hayes and Kevin Martin, who practically danced into church with their son and daughter, Khai and Mai Linh, both born in Vietnam and adopted by Hayes and Martin.
Openly lesbian associate pastor Rev. Kate Huey joked that the church’s day care "looks like the United Nations." And as gay Pilgrim member John Beres put it, attending Pilgrim gives one "a taste of what the world should be like every day."
Beres, who was the gay education coordinator for the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland during what he called the "war years" of the AIDS crisis, came back to the city in 1997 after spending several years in Atlanta. Finding Pilgrim, he said, "was like a homecoming."
"I had an instant recognition of myself as a gay man, but also as a spiritual being," he recalled, "It was amazing. The comfort I found here at Pilgrim led me to have a resurrection of parts of myself that had been closeted, like my love for music. I hadn’t sung in a choir for years until I came here!"
Pilgrim’s commitment to inclusiveness is an "important part of the identity of this church," commented Huey, whose life-partner, Jackie Cassara, also took part in the service by singing in the larger-than-usual choir, led by openly gay musical director Ron Morgan. "There is a generous representation of gay and lesbian people in this church who work and pray right alongside our straight members. I am so proud to be a representative of this church."
One moment that will be particularly moving to Huey is when millions of people around the country watching the broadcast see a church pastored by two women.
"My background is in the Catholic church," Huey said, "and the procession always ended with men in robes. This church is thriving with two women pastors. The visual impact of two women leading worship--I think that will be very moving."
The service is being produced by the United Church of Christ Office of Communication for the National Council of Churches. Rev. Bob Chase, the office’s executive director, served as both director and cheerleader of the project.
In the Cleveland area, the service will be broadcast at 10:00 am Easter Sunday on WEWS Channel 5.
by Bob Roehr
Austin, Texas--"These are people from our neighborhoods, people with whom all of us went to school," George W. Bush said at an April 13 news conference at his campaign headquarters.
Surrounding him were a dozen gay and lesbian Republicans with whom he had just met with for over an hour.
"I appreciate them sharing their stories with me," Bush said, "I’m mindful that we’re all God’s children."
No policy shifts were announced, and no one pretended that Bush was a steadfast friend of the gay community, but many called it a landmark event nonetheless. As one of the participants, former Wisconsin Rep. Steve Gunderson, put it, "Never again will a major party candidate be able to run for president without addressing gay and lesbian issues."
Several of the gay guests had wrestled with accepting the invitation to meet with Bush. They acknowledge that his record on community issues is far from good.
"I was really appalled by the South Carolina campaign," said Gunderson. But he finally decided, "If I didn’t go, I was burning bridges."
Rebecca Maestri felt the same way. "Look, you’re either on the playing field or you are in the bleachers," said the former aide to New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. She had participated in meetings that then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain had in November with the gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans.
While Log Cabin members were among the group that met with Bush, the club’s national leadership was not invited, specifically executive director Rich Tafel, board chair Bob Stears, and their close associates.
The group of eleven men and one woman met in Austin the night before to thrash out what they were going to say to the governor. They decided to begin by telling their personal stories, some aspect of what it is like to be gay. They agreed to press for a commitment that at the very least, existing legal protections for gays and lesbians would not be rolled back.
The next day, campaign manager Karl Rove began what would stretch to be a four-hour meeting by offering a detailed look at polling data. It showed Bush leading in 35 states. The policy team entered for a discussion of issues important to the gay community. The governor joined them after taping a session with NBC News.
" ‘I’m going to win.’ Those were the first words out of Bush’s mouth," said David Greer, president of Log Cabin Pennsylvania. The governor said that he was not there because of polling, they hadn’t done any on gays, but because "it was the right thing to do."
Greer told Bush of growing up in Colorado Springs, where his dentist father treats Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, and working for Rep. Joel Hefley, who tried to roll back President Clinton’s executive order on hiring that protects gay federal employees.
"I told the governor, when you work with the far right, please realize that they are not monolithic, that they have gay and lesbian sons and daughters. And that this issue is dividing not only the country but it is dividing families," said Greer. "I love my family, so I cannot automatically hate the far right and call them the enemy, because the far right is my family."
Carl Schmid, past president of the Washington, D.C. Log Cabin Club, spoke of growing up in a conservative Catholic household in Connecticut. He and three of his four siblings are gay; one of his sisters and her partner have adopted and are raising three brothers.
Schmid told Bush that his parents voted for McCain in the primary and his mother is thinking of voting for Gore in November, because she is not sure that the governor will be supportive of their kids.
Bush slumped in his chair, a look of shock and confusion on his face, and he said, "I don’t understand. I don’t know why people have this perception that I’m so intolerant," Maestri recounted. "I’ve said that sexual orientation isn’t an issue in hiring."
"Governor, the way you answer these questions is what makes you look intolerant," answered Scott Huch, with Log Cabin of Northern Virginia.
"Then help me understand," Bush said.
That was "a tectonic transformation in the dynamic of the meeting," said Maestri. It turned into "Gay 101, a primer on what it is like to be gay."
Gunderson offered the example of celebrating his 15th anniversary with Rob Morris. "We don’t want you to say it doesn’t matter and you don’t want to know about it, we want you to know about it and we want you to celebrate it. We are a diverse country and we need to celebrate it, not ignore it."
Washington, D.C. city council member David Catania spoke of a friend’s suicide, which led to a discussion of problems facing gay youth in schools.
Bush offered strong support for reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, sustained funding for AIDS services, and increased research efforts at the National Institutes of Health.
The news conference following the meeting was a major event with more than fifty reporters and a parcel of television cameras.
"When Bush said [on camera], ‘We are all God’s children,’ that was not accidental, that was a pointed response to social conservatives," said Gunderson.
Schmid was pleased that Bush spoke of gays in the context of schools. All hoped that the governor’s strong statement that sexual orientation "is not a factor" in his hiring decisions would lay that matter to rest.
Maestri left Austin feeling that Bush was a man "whose heart is in the right place," but who is woefully ignorant of the gay community.
"It was analogous to coming out to my father," she said. "These are traditional guys, and gayness is not part of their reality."
She was encouraged as much by the intangibles of body language of the candidate and his staff as by the words spoken. And she "hopes it is the beginning of a long-term constructive relationship."
"Bush still has a long way to go," said Gunderson. "But I think he is a lot farther long today than he was last week."
"We appreciate that Bush acknowledged his past error and agreed to meet with gay Republicans," said Daniel McGlinchey, political director of the National Stonewall Democratic Federation. But he maintained that Bush was beholden to the far right.
Log Cabin Republicans, whose leadership is considered anti-Bush by the campaign, called the meeting "a positive first step."
Political analyst Jonathan Rauch, writing in the April 17 New York Times, suggested that Bush’s "maneuvering on gay issues has looked more like triangulation than principle." He called it "not a strategy at all; it is just denial."
Marty Keller, a veteran California gay Republican, urged caution. He spoke of a 1989 meeting with Newt Gingrich, where the Republican congressional leader "listened intently and made some trenchant observations that indicated to us that he ‘got it’."
"We all came away convinced that this had been an historic moment, that Newt was educable, and that while we had a long way to go, we had made an important first step."
"Remember all the things Gingrich did to uphold our quest for equal rights since then?" Keller asked.
He suggested that an appropriate response could be found in how Ronald Reagan dealt with the Soviet Union. It was embodied in the phrase, "Trust but verify."
THIS ARTICLE'S DISCUSSION IS IN THE "POLITICS" SECTION OF THE FORUM AREA
Religious discrimination charged in lesbian’s firing
Louisville, Ky.-A state-funded child services agency is being sued for religious discrimination by a woman who was fired for being lesbian.
Alicia Pedreira was fired from her supervisor position at the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in October, 1998. The organization, with eight shelters and ranches for abused and neglected children across Kentucky, said that her "admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to" their values.
Pedreira’s case charges that Baptist Homes’ firing of her is religious discrimination, outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and state law. They do not, she contends, have the right to require others to share their religious belief that homosexuality is wrong.
The Cabinet for Families and Children, a Kentucky government agency, has urged Baptist Homes to drop their employment policy on sexual orientation or risk losing their state contract, which provides over half the organization’s budget of $21 million. Other youth services agencies have said that they will be able to accept Baptist Homes’ state caseload.
The state of Kentucky is also being named as a defendant in the case. The suit contends that by funding a religious organization, it is violating the separation of church and state, and financing an agency that violates civil-rights laws.
Pedreira, represented by the ACLU, is joined by seven other plaintiffs in the suit. They include the parents of a youngster who was under Pedreira’s care at one of Baptist Homes’ facilities, a California social worker who cannot apply to Baptist Homes because she is a lesbian, a civil rights activist, and three members of the clergy.
The state’s contract with Baptist Homes expires June 30, and the Cabinet for Families and Children is currently debating whether or not to renew it.
Hawaii partner, fair housing bills die
Honolulu, Hawaii--Bills to ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and restore reciprocal health benefits for same-sex couples were allowed to die April 11 as the state House’s session neared it end.
Hawaii’s civil rights law presently covers anti-gay job discrimination, but not housing or public accommodations. The first bill would have added housing to the law.
The second measure, already passed by the state Senate, was to partly restore a "reciprocal beneficiaries" bill passed by lawmakers in1997, at the same time they put a constitutional same-sex marriage ban on the ballot.
A court later limited its health insurance provisions to state employees, leaving only a partner registry for Hawaii residents. But the benefits measure expired last summer, leaving about 60 partners of state workers without health insurance.
Mutual of Omaha ends HIV cap
Omaha, Neb.--The Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company will end their controversial cap on AIDS-related treatment on May 1.
After the Supreme Court let stand an appellate ruling that the insurance cap did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the company reversed their earlier decision to limit spending to as little as $25,000 per patient, as opposed to up to a million dollars for other illnesses. The limit caused two Chicago-area men to sue the company.
The company notes that the lawsuit served to judge whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes HIV-status issues, would be able to influence what is covered by insurance policies. Mutual also says that it was reviewing its caps at the time the company was sued, but decided to await the outcome of the case before making any decisions.
The policy reversal is being hailed as a victory by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund and AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, the two organizations who provided the plaintiffs in the case with legal assistance.
"By putting an end to this arbitrary practice, Mutual finally has brought itself in line with the majority of the insurance industry," said Lambda’s AIDS Project director Catherine Hanssens.
Partner protection stripped from DOMA
Denver, Colo--Lawmakers passed a bill to deny recognition of same-sex marriages made in other states, after removing language designed to keep the measure from being used against existing domestic partner laws in several Colorado cities.
House Bill 1249, a so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," was passed by the House early in its session. The Senate later added language that would have protected existing benefits offered by private companies or local governments to partners of gay employees.
A conference committee unanimously decided to remove that provision, and on April 13, both houses voted to send it to Gov. Bill Owens, who has said he would probably sign it. His predecessor, former Gov. Roy Romer, vetoed similar bills on two occasions.
Thirty-two other states have passed similar measures, and anti-gay activists in four states are using them to challenge domestic partner laws.
Rightist flustered by ‘anti-gay’ label
Toronto--Preston Manning, the prospective leader of the conservative Canadian Alliance party, was flustered April 14 when he was introduced as being anti-gay at a speech he gave at a mosque, according to the Canadian Press.
"Islam completely prohibits the lifestyle of gays and lesbians, and it’s a position which was taken by the leader of the opposition when Bill C-23 was presented," Haroon Salamat, the chairman of the Taric Islamic Centre in Toronto, said in his introduction of Manning.
Bill C-23 would grant federal benefits to same-sex couple similar to those of married, heterosexual couples. The Canadian Alliance is against the measure, which has already passed the House of Commons, and is expected to be approved by the Senate.
Manning, in his five-minute speech to a few dozen people, tried to shift spectators’ views of him from anti-gay to pro-family, but the introduction is believed to be damaging to his already-extreme image.
Toronto gay activist Michael Leshner compared Manning to the far-right former leader of Austria’s Freedom Party when he referred to Manning as a "Canadian Herr Haider." Joerg Haider stepped down earlier this year after his party’s presence caused the European Union to sever most diplomatic ties with Austria. (Haider was later outed by several European publications.)
Marriage referendum may be sought
Lincoln, Neb.—A conservative lobbying group will very likely begin a petition drive to get a constitutional same-sex marriage ban on the November ballot, one of its leaders said.
Jim McFarland, a Lincoln board member of the Nonpartisan Family Coalition, told the Omaha World Herald on April 17 that he was "90 percent sure" the organization would move ahead with a signature drive following a "very positive" meeting with about 15 supporters over the weekend.
McFarland, a former state senator, said the coalition is looking at a ballot initiative after failing the past four years to get a bill passed in the Nebraska legislature. It wants a clause in the state constitution declaring that only unions between a man and a woman should be recognized as marriages.
California voters passed a law in March to deny recognition of same-sex marriages made in other states. The Nebraska amendment would have the same effect.
Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman and Brian DeWitt.
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