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March 17, 2000

Service harassment has doubled for a second year

Report finds a slight drop in military gay discharges

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--A report released March 9 finds anti-gay harassment among military servicemembers has doubled each year from 1997 to 1999. The report follows a recent public scrutiny of the "don�t ask don�t tell, don�t pursue" policy and the Pentagon�s statement in August 1999 that it would not tolerate harassment.

The sixth annual "Conduct Unbecoming" report by the watchdog Servicemembers Legal Defense Network documents 968 incidents of anti-gay harassment, including a murder, assaults, death threats and verbal gay bashing, up from 400 incidents in 1998, which in turn had double the 1997 occurrences.

The report found that violations of "asking" about sexual orientation and "pursuing" investigations increased 30 percent to 665 incidents in 1999, up from 511 the previous year.

Discharges, however, declined to 1,043 compared to 1,149 in 1998, still more than three each day. Despite the drop, the number of discharges is still 73 percent higher than when the policy took effect in 1993.

The Marine Corps showed an increase in discharges. All other branches showed slight decreases.

As in previous years, the 1999 report documents serious failures on the part of the military to train field commanders in the implementation of the "don�t ask" policy, and failure to hold violators accountable.

Women face an increasingly hostile climate, and comprised 31 percent of all gay discharges despite being only 14 percent of the armed forces. In the Air Force, 37 percent of 1999 gay discharges were women.

As in previous reports, this latest one found that women are often accused of being lesbians for retaliatory reasons, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

The Air Force continues to interrogate family and friends of servicemembers attempting to "dig up dirt" on those suspected of being gay. Doctors and psychologists have been instructed to report gay servicemembers who seek their help and treatment.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott acknowledged a problem with the health professionals and said there has been corrective action on that.

"The guidance on health care has been re-issued," she said.

Referring to "don�t ask, don�t tell," Abbott said, "This is the policy Congress gave us. We�re trying to do what we have to do to deal with it."

Abbott said the military still does not track incidents of anti-gay harassment, nor "don�t ask" policy violations.

The report specifically mentions the actions of Marine Lt. Col. Edward Melton for publicly calling gays "homos," "queers," and "backside rangers" and his mocking of the murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell last year. Melton added the comments to an e-mail from the Chief of Naval Operations that ordered steps to end anti-gay harassment, before redistributing it on the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine base.

"Melton was just relieved of his command," Abbott said, disputing the claim that commanders are not held accountable.

Abbott also explained that some actions taken against command for policy violations are "non-judicial" and don�t lead to hearings or relief of command, but amount to things like letters in personnel files. Abbott acknowledged that incidents of racial or gender harassment are more likely to lead to judicial proceedings. When asked to explain why, she said, "I have to present that question to the command."

"I don�t want you to have the impression that people are blowing [violations of �don�t ask, don�t tell�] off or don�t care," said Abbott. "It is an issue of big concern. Many high-level meetings are devoted to it, with the thrust on knowing the policy and implementing it properly."

At the March 9 Department of Defense news briefing, presenter Rear Admiral Craig Quigley said the department had begun reviewing the SLDN report, which it had received that morning.

"We are hopeful that [SLDN] can be as specific as possible. And with specifics, we can take action," said Quigley.

"The Pentagon is scraping the bottom of the barrel," said SLDN co-director Michelle Benecke, noting that the current report is nearly twice the size of the 1998 report and very specific. "This is their fall-back mantra. They are running for cover, looking for a justification as to why they haven�t done anything about these violations before."

Benecke did a change in the way Department of Defense officials handle her group�s report and reporters� inquiries.

"In years past, they tried to brush off our report and reporters. They just denied everything," she said. "This year, they have been careful not to deny anything that is in the report. Now they call us up around this time of the year, wanting to know when they can expect our report."

Benecke credits servicemembers who have been willing to let their stories be told and SLDN�s ability to push for public scrutiny for this change.

"It�s the culmination of six years of hard work and the murder of Barry Winchell that brought this change, and the visibility of the issue in the presidential campaign," she said.

SLDN staff attorney Stacey Sobel was positive about the steps the Pentagon took in December 1999 to correct its deficiencies, saying, "It�s going to take time."

But Defense Secretary William Cohen�s orders to train commanders how to put the "don�t ask" policy into practice is bringing mixed reviews. Training is not consistent between the service branches, and some commanders are taking it more seriously than others.

"There is not yet reason to believe the overall climate has improved," said Sobel, a point Abbott did not dispute.

Abbott also admitted that commanders are not trained in dealing with concerns of gay servicemembers as they are on issues of racial and gender harassment.

Currently, officers train for fifteen weeks at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, where they learn how to stop harassment on the basis of race religion, creed, and gender. The institute�s training has never included the "don�t ask" policy.

As to why that is, Abbott said, "I have no answer on DEOMI."

"One of the reasons for the increase in reported harassment," said Abbott, "is that people are more willing to come forward with it now. It is just like with domestic violence. The numbers showed big increases in domestic violence once people started reporting it, too."

Sobel said that there are as many reports of harassment after Secretary Cohen�s orders as there were before.

"People from the highest levels of command on down have to work to stop this," she said. "Some do and some don�t."

Commanders at Ft. Campbell, where Pfc. Barry Winchell was beaten to death last year, rejected a SLDN ad in the post�s newspaper earlier this month. The group wanted to advertise a toll-free number for soldiers to report anti-gay harassment, and seek help. Often, soldiers fear that reporting such harassment to their superiors on the base will trigger an investigation of themselves.

Ft. Campbell commanders deemed the ad "unnecessary."

When asked to justify that decision, Abbott replied, "I have no good answer for you."

Cohen also ordered the Inspector General to report on "don�t ask" policy implementation at bases where SLDN found a high incidence and severity of violations.

That report is due at the end of March.

 

 

Are we being counted?

Same sex couples can check �unmarried partner� on census form, but no other gay count is made

by Eric Resnick

To be counted, or not. That is the first question lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans face this month as U.S. Census 2000 forms are filled out.

The second question, especially for people not in committed relationships, is how?

Gay civil rights groups, led by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, are placing ads and sending e-mails urging same-gender couples to check the "unmarried partner" category if they live together. A web site, www.wecount.org, has also been set up.

Census forms, which began appearing in mailboxes this week, ask households to list a "Person 1." They provide several options to describe other household members� relationship to "Person 1."

One of these options is "unmarried partner." This was first included in the 1990 census to count unmarried heterosexual couples, but since the form also asks the sex of each individual, same-sex couples are also counted.

In 1990, the census found 81,000 male couples and 64,000 female ones. Three million heterosexual couples also checked "unmarried partner" that year.

Same-sex couples who checked "husband/wife" in 1990 were ignored by census computers. This year, if Person 2 is identified as "husband/wife," and is of the same sex as Person 1, the census will count them as unmarried partners.

This year�s count of same-sex partners has not been publicized by the Census Bureau, despite its large budget and commercials aimed at other populations. This is largely because the current form is not expected to give an accurate picture.

There is no category for single LGBT people. The 2000 census does not ask for any information on sexual orientation. NGLTF is seeking consensus to push for a sexual orientation question on the 2010 survey.

Individuals are circulating e-mails saying they will create their own demographic by writing in "gay." Others argue that they don�t want their privacy invaded and warn that the undercounting of gays and lesbians could lead to discrimination.

Census officials say there is no legal basis for counting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and write-in categories will be ignored. Census 2000 includes an unprecedented 63 categories to define the nation�s racial and ethnic make-up.

Only questions with legal triggers, such as those about race, which are used to enforce the Federal Voting Rights Act, and questions authorized by Congress are included on the survey. Since there is no federal civil rights law protecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, there are no questions on the form.

Some gay civil rights advocates argue that being counted on the census would help in the passage of civil rights laws.

"A gay and lesbian count might even help fight hate crimes," said Jennifer Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It could help win passage of anti-discrimination laws if lawmakers knew how many gay and lesbian constituents they really have."

Additionally, they say the data would help in consideration of gay families with children.

Other advocates maintain that numbers should not matter in civil rights law, so opponents should not be able to use low numbers as a political weapon.

The number of gay people in America is often debated in political discussions because there have been no definitive studies. Estimates range from 2 to 10 percent. Exit polls done by the Voter News Service in 1998 showed that 4.2 percent of voters identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

"We ask about so many other things but we don�t ask about this," said NGLTF research director Sean Cahill. "We have a lot of anecdotes about gays and lesbians, but not a lot of good social science. This is about making our whole community count."

Individual information gathered by the census is required to be kept confidential by federal law, and cannot be revealed even to other federal agencies. The Census Bureau releases only count totals and other analyses.

After 72 years, the bureau releases names and other basic individual information. This is often used in genealogical research. For this census, that occurs in 2072.


Both sides say marriage campaign energized them

by Denny Sampson
with wire reports

After months of an emotionally exhausting campaign, both the proponents and opponents of a California marriage ban report that they are stronger and more energized after the measure passed March 7.

In spite of opposition from President Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, California Gov. Gray Davis, and all but one of the state�s daily newspapers, the citizens of California voted 61 to 39 percent in favor of Proposition 22. The measure was approved in all but five of the state�s counties in the Bay area.

By passing the measure, California became the 31st state to limit marriages to opposite couples and deny recognition of same-sex marriages if they should become legal in another state.

"I�m delighted to see that we prevailed with such a margin, and I�m happy to see that the people of the state of California agreed with me that we should not change the definition of marriage," said State Sen. Pete Knight (R), who sponsored the ballot initiative.

The Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition was also pleased. "In California�s gay rights struggle, the landscape has changed," he told the San Francisco Examiner. "The pro-family values community will never be the same. Since the Prop. 22 victory, the religious right is alive and well."

Likewise, organizers of the campaign against the initiative pointed out the silver lining in the pain of defeat.

"Every march for equality is three steps forward and one step backward, and this is a step backward," Mike Marshall, manager of the No on 22 campaign, told the Los Angeles Times. "But the vast majority of voters under 40 voted against the initiative. This is a generational issue. We�re patient."

"In the battle against Prop. 22, we turned a corner on the road to full equality for gay and lesbian families," Marshall added. "The [public] conversation is no longer about if our families should have full protections, but about how we can be afforded those protections."

"Millions of Californians across the state [now] understand the ways in which gay and lesbian couples don�t have full rights under the law . . . and the subtle yet profound ways our families face discrimination," said Tracey Conaty, press secretary for No on Knight. "In addition, we�ve mobilized thousands of volunteers. We�ve brought new donors into our movement."

"We�re stronger and more galvanized than ever before," Gwen Baldwin, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center told the Los Angeles Times.

Assembly member Carole Migden (D) is hoping to put those newly energized volunteers to work in her effort to register 50,000 domestic partnerships in California this year under the new state law she sponsored.

"We want to come back to the governor next year to say this is real, we have a solid constituency on this," said Eric Potashner, an aide for Migden in San Francisco. "We want to add muscle to the skeleton of this law."

Aside from the disappointing outcome of Prop. 22, the polls on March 7 brought good news to gay civil rights activists with several lesbian candidates fairing well. Two lesbians who are running for seats in the California Assembly, including Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, won their primary elections. A third, Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D), is set to run for the state Senate, which has never had an openly gay member.

A long-term benefit of the Knight campaign is likely to come from the campaign rhetoric itself. Because poolls show that Californians oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians, the pro-22 campaign, and Sen. Knight himself, went on record as saying that they endorse legal protections for same-sex couples--just not traditional marriage.

"We�re going to call them on that claim," said Conaty.

Eric Astacaan, Sacramento lobbyist for the gay-rights California Alliance for Pride and Quality, said pro-domestic partnership statements from the conservatives in California will help pass six bills currently pending in Sacramento that will increase domestic-partnership benefits for same-sex couples in California.

However, many activists are not satisfied with small, incremental steps toward equality, and are determined to continue their fight for the legal right to marry.

In the midst of the Prop. 22 campaign, John Henning, a Los Angeles lawyer, and his brother Tom, a San Francisco teacher, have started an initiative to put a measure on the November ballot to allow same-sex marriage.

Since the Hennings don�t have the money to pay signature gatherers, the campaign in relying on volunteers. So far, they have collected 100,000 signatures--a fraction of the approximately 1 million they need by April 20. But they hope the passage of Proposition 22 will provide their campaign with an energized group of volunteers.

"I think it�s hard to make an argument for domestic partnerships, because deep in their hearts, marriage is what people really want," Henning said.


Blood, spit get HIV+ man charged with assault on cops

by Denny Sampson

Cleveland--An HIV-positive man is charged with assaulting two Cleveland police officers with deadly weapons-his own saliva and blood.

In the predawn hours of October 12, 1999, 30-year old Konrad Rotter, a gay man who lived with his partner in the city�s West Park area, was arrested for what began as a minor disturbance: playing his stereo too loud.

An altercation between Rotter and the police ensued, and Rotter says he was a victim of police brutality. However, he is facing charges of two counts of felonious assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly flinging blood, spitting, and blowing at two police officers.

Each charge of assault carries a mandatory sentence of three years, and up to ten years in prison.

Rotter, 30, said that he got home late from his job as a waiter, and his partner, Michael Burress, said the police had stopped in earlier and asked him to turn down the music.

Rotter said he had a few beers, and then he heard someone at the door.

"There were seven policemen out there responding to a disturbance of the peace complaint," Rotter said. "I didn�t open the door at first because I was afraid. When I did open the door, they were all on me at once. They handcuffed me and put me in the back of a police car."

The police report offers a different version of that story. Officer Brian Kluth and his partner, Martin Stanton, wrote that at 4:11 am they were sent to the home because the downstairs tenant, Rotter, was playing music too loud. They say they spoke with Rotter at 4:13, and he said he would turn it down.

The officers said they received another call to return to the same house because Rotter had turned the music back up when they left.

The policemen said they returned at 4:16 am, and could hear the music. They say they knocked on the door again, and Rotter came to his kitchen window. The policemen asked Rotter to turn down the music, and they claim that Rotter responded with obscenities and refused to open the door.

Police said that Burress jumped out of a rear window and fled. He was not caught.

The officers radioed for assistance, and another patrol car arrived, manned by patrolmen Clayton and Tippie. Kluth wrote that Rotter became very irate and began yelling obscenities at the patrolmen through the window.

Clayton reportedly convinced Rotter to open the door. The police report states that Rotter began yelling, "You motherfuckers!" and the policemen handcuffed him behind his back. Rotter then began to struggle with the police officers, until he was escorted to the rear seat of Kluth�s patrol car.

According to Rotter, as he was sitting in the back of the car with his hands cuffed behind his back, the officer driving the car repeatedly applied the brakes so that Rotter�s face would strike the barrier between the back and front seat.

However, the police report says Rotter banged his own head on the barrier, lacerating his forehead. The police allege that Rotter then began to wipe his blood on the glass on the patrol car and on the rear seat, saying, "Ha, ha, I�ve got AIDS."

As police took Rotter to Fairview Hospital for treatment, Rotter allegedly said he had tuberculosis, and began blowing over the top of the divider into the front compartment of the squad car, saying, "I hope you take this home to your wife and kids, motherfuckers."

The police say the patrol car arrived at Fairview Hospital at 5:22 am. While getting Rotter out of the car, Rotter allegedly repeated, "I�ve got AIDS, motherfuckers, and I hope you take it home to your families." Police allege that Rotter flipped his head towards both Kluth and Stanton, flinging blood on them and spitting on them.

Stanton reportedly covered Rotter�s mouth and head to avoid further contact with Rotter�s blood and saliva. Inside Fairview Hospital, police allege that Rotter continued his comments about "taking this home."

Rotter denies that he made any statements about taking AIDS or TB home to their families.

"I wanted my own cell. I told them I had AIDS and that I might have TB because I wanted them to give me a cell to myself," he said.

Rotter claims that, once at the hospital, a policeman covered him with a sheet and rammed him into the walls as they entered the hospital.

Rotter was treated and released by Fairview Hospital, and was then taken to District 1 police headquarters for booking and jail.

Rotter�s attorney, Edele Passalacqua, calls the charges against her client outrageous.

"I always say in cases like this, you have the client�s version and you have the police version, and somewhere in between you have the truth. But to charge my client with first degree felonious assault with a deadly weapon for bleeding, spitting and blowing is ridiculous. It is impossible to spread the AIDS virus that way."

An HIV-positive Columbus man was released from prison in February after serving five years on a similar charge for spitting on a police officer. Jimmy Lee Bird�s case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which in 1998 upheld a lower court ruling that, since Bird had pleaded no contest, his conviction of felonious assault could not be appealed.

The court did not address the issue of whether or not an HIV-positive person�s saliva can be considered a deadly weapon.


West Virginia becomes 33rd state to pass marriage ban

Charleston, W.Va.--The West Virginia legislature voted March 11 to ban same-sex marriages and prohibit the state from recognizing such marriages performed in other states.

On the last day of the 60-day legislative session, the House approved the measure 96-3 and sent it to the governor for his signature. The Senate previously passed it unanimously.

Gov. Cecil Underwood introduced the measure because he says it was "the right thing to do."

"We were concerned we didn�t have a statute. We could be forced into recognizing same-sex marriages from other states," Underwood said.

Underwood said he opposes same-sex unions because, "As a former biology teacher, I don�t see any other way."

The state has a right to interject itself into gays and lesbians� personal lives because, "It�s the right thing to do," Underwood said.

The bill would allow marriage licenses to be issued only to couples consisting of a man and a woman.

It would add the sentence, "Marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man" to marriage license applications. The bill also prohibits West Virginia from recognizing gay and lesbian marriages performed in other states.

Chuck Smith, co-chairman of the West Virginia Lesbian and Gay Coalition, said, "I think this is a really sad day. The main purpose of the bill is to say, once again, that people who are gay and lesbian are second-class citizens."

Smith said gay and lesbian marriages are not a threat to any religion and no church has to perform the marriage ceremonies.

The Legislature has debated bills banning same-sex marriages for three years. Versions have passed both houses, only to die on the last day of the session because lawmakers could not agree on wording.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer (D), a lawyer, said she voted against the bill because she thinks it is unconstitutional. She is chairwoman of the House Constitutional Revision Committee.

"I think the right to marriage is a fundamental right. It�s just like the racial laws that say you can�t marry. I took an oath to uphold the constitution," Fleischauer said. "I think it�s a solution looking for a problem."

West Virginia is the 33rd state to pass an anti-gay marriage defense of marriage act. In the last two weeks, South Dakota became the 31st and California, the 32nd.

The Ohio legislature is also considering a marriage ban bill, and a Wisconsin Senate committee heard testimony on one this week.

--Associated Press


News Briefs

Governor vetoes church exception from civil rights laws

Frankfort, Ky.-Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton vetoed a bill on March 8 that would have allowed religious organizations to discriminate in the way they provide public accommodations.

The bill would have made religious organizations exempt from civil-rights laws that require public accommodations to be open to everyone. If the bill were enacted, churches could legally refuse to rent their campgrounds, meeting halls and other facilities to groups inconsistent with the churches� "religious tenets."

While churches could not discriminate on the basis of disability, color , race or national origin, they could have prohibited groups such as gays and lesbians, atheists, Satanists, and Wiccans.

"Civil rights laws do not require a religious organization to open its facilities to the general public," said Patton, "but they do require that if a religious organization opens its facilities to the general public, they must obey the same laws that non-religious entities are required to obey.

The bill will be sent back to the state senate to consider overriding the governor�s veto.

 

W.V. House kills hate crimes bill

Charleston, W.V.--A bill that would have added gays and lesbians to the West Virginia�s hate crime law failed in the House March 9.

Although the bill passed in the state Senate March 3, it failed in the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 11-11. The tie vote kills the bill, according to West Virginia Lesbian and Gay Coalition co-chair Linda Bodie.

The current law makes it a felony to attack people based on religion, race or other group considerations. The bill would have added gays, lesbians, and disabled people to the list of protected categories.

"This bill has come a long way and we have gained more support than ever. This issue is far from over," said Bodie.

 

Alliance backers disrupt school board

Orange County, Calif--About thirty masked protesters disrupted the Orange Unified School District�s March 19, causing a scuffle that ended in two faculty injuries and one arrest. The protesters apparently were supporters of the newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance at El Modena High School.

The school board last fall attempted to stop the formation of the student alliance, one of about 700 nationwide, and a controversy erupted in this conservative Los Angeles suburban community. A judge ruled that under the federal Equal Access Act, the board cannot deny the club if it allow other clubs.

Two of the protesters allegedly wrestled a microphone away from alliance opponent Donna Sigalas who was speaking out against the group. Administrator Fred Forbeck received a slight scratch on the wrist. Canyon Hills Principal Stan Pasqual was bitten on the arm.

A 17-year-old officer of the club was arrested the next day on suspicion of assault and battery before being released to the custody of her mother.

David C. Codell, the lawyer representing the students of the club, said that it had not sanctioned the protest.

This is the second time since the court order allowing the club to meet that violence has erupted.

A homophobic group from Utah has arrived in the area to protest at the high school. Fred Phelps, the Kansas man who protested Matthew Shepard�s funeral, has plans to visit the school March 20.

 

Hillary marches in inclusive parade

New York City--Amid boos and cheers, Hillary Rodham Clinton marched in what was billed as the first local "inclusive" St. Patrick�s Day parade March 5 in Queens.

Among the groups that participated were Lavender and Green, a gay Irish group that had about two dozen members walking a half-block behind the first lady.

The main St. Patrick�s Day parade, held March 17 on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, excludes the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization on the grounds that the event is run by a Catholic fraternal group, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Most of the onlookers--some of them holding signs saying "Irish-Americans for Hillary"--clapped and cheered.

The U.S. Senate candidate said March 5 she still hopes the main parade will be inclusive, but even if it�s not, she confirmed she would attend.

 

�Fusion� may create same-sex parents

London-New developments in a technique called "cell fusion" may make it possible for same-sex couples to have children who carry both partners� genes, according to the Times of London.

Cell fusion involves taking two embryos and fusing them to create a chimera, a developing individual made up of two types of cells. While the technique has been used widely with mice and other species of lower animal, a British research team hopes to engineer the first chimeric rhesus monkeys this year.

Lee Silver, professor of genetics at Princeton University, believes that the technique could be applied to humans as well. For example, if two men want to be biological fathers of the same child, this technology could produce a child who has three parents. Half of the child�s genes would be from a surrogate mother, but half of the remaining genes would be from one man and half from the other.

The process could also be adapted for two women.

"Every technical detail of this could be carried out today," Silver said.

Compiled from wire reports by Denny Sampson, Michelle Tomko and Brian DeWitt.

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