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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 31 , 2000

Pentagon report finds widespread harassment in the military

80% of GIs have heard anti-gay speech, 85% say services tolerate it

 

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--After years of denial of any such problems, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced a "disturbing level" of anti-gay harassment in the armed services.

At a briefing March 24, Cohen outlined the findings of the Inspector General report he ordered at bases with high incidences of "donít ask, donít tell" violations following the murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell last year.

The Inspector General surveyed 72,000 troops at 49 facilities in January and February, and found that 37% had been the target of anti-gay harassment, or witnessed it. Eighty percent reported hearing anti-gay speech, derogatory jokes and names at least once during the year. Eighty-five percent said they believe the military tolerates anti-gay comments at installations and aboard ships.

Eighty-eight percent of the harassment witnessed was verbal; 35% was hostile gestures. Twenty percent of survey respondents had observed anti-gay threats or intimidation; 15% witnessed graffiti; 8% witnessed vandalism of property. Nine percent witnessed anti-gay physical assault, and another nine percent witnessed the denial of career opportunities based on perceived sexual orientation.

Only 9Ĺ percent of respondents witnessed any disciplinary actions against the perpetrators of anti-gay harassment. Fifty-seven percent said they had no training on the "donít ask, donít tell" policy.

Cohen, who has generally defended the policy as sound, commented, "We simply cannot tolerate harassment in the armed forces" and ordered a committee of uniformed and high-level civilian department officials to make plans to correct the situation by July 31.

Cohen put Under Secretary of the Air Force Carol DiBattiste in charge of the working group, which pleased Michelle Benecke, co-director of the "donít ask, donít tell" watchdog group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

"I believe DiBattiste will take it seriously," said Benecke. "She came up through the ranks and is no stranger to harassment, herself."

"This [report] is tragically gratifying," said Benecke about the Pentagonís findings. "This substantiates everything SLDN has said for six years."

SLDNís latest annual report, "Conduct Unbecoming," was released March 9. It documents a doubling of anti-gay harassment from 1998 to 1999.

"I expect the working group to address the problem of servicemembers who cannot go anywhere to report harassment, not even to their families, for fear of being outed," said Benecke.

Benecke maintains that incidents of harassment reported by the Inspector General are probably still too low.

"Itís flawed because the gays and lesbians--those affected by the harassment, are still not able to self-identify. One inspector general admitted that he would see to the discharge of anyone identified as homosexual by the surveys."

"The majority heterosexual respondents have a different ideas of what harassment is," added Benecke. "This is like the survey they did a year ago on racial discrimination where 68 percent of blacks clearly saw discrimination, but only 30 percent of whites did. The military didnít hesitate to say that discrimination had to stop."

Benecke says the first order of business for the working group needs to be the recognition of the intent of the policy. "This policy is supposed to be about respecting the privacy of servicemembers."

"Too much of the training, especially in the Marine Corps, is focused on how to find gays for discharge while getting around the intent of the policy," said Benecke.

A case in point is the Army training done by Captain Kevin Reszka at Fort Meade. Reszka teaches, "Youíre in the chow hall. Youíre a lower enlisted soldier and you overhear the soldier next to you at a nearby table mention that heís being harassed because heís come out of the closet and heís a homosexual."

Reszka teaches that the soldier hearing the conversation should report both the harassment and the admission, so commanders can begin to investigate.

"Thatís not the intent of the policy," said Benecke.

"The working group is going to have to address this violation of a private conversation as an outright misstatement of Ďdonít ask donít tell,í making the situation worse, not better."

Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott said the working group will also consider creating a tracking system to gather statistics on harassment.

Abbott still referred to the harassment in SWDNís report as "isolated incidents," but said each one is under investigation by the command.

Abbott said officers do not receive training on "donít ask, donít tell" as they do on racial and gender harassment and discrimination because sexual orientation is not protected by law as racial and gender discrimination are.

"It is left to the chain of command," she said.

Abbott was skeptical of the numbers of reported cases of harassment, too.

"You have to put it in perspective," she said. "When you look at the whole statements, inappropriate things may have been said, but that doesnít mean it was in the context of harassment."

Abbott maintains that 37% of troops witnessing anti-gay harassment is "not that high" when you consider the 300,000 new recruits to the armed services each year.

"People are coming in here with many different life attitudes," she said. "We are stressing again that harassment interferes with good order and discipline and will not be tolerated."

Noting agreement with the observation that Defense Department officials only refer to generic "harassment," never connecting it to any specific reference to anti-gay harassment, Benecke agrees that this is a "chain of command" problem, and is cautious about claiming any great victory.

"This is institutional dragging of the feet at the very least," she said.

"This Inspector General report leaves the Defense Department with no more maneuvering room," said Benecke. "I hope this survey has finally opened some eyes of Pentagon officials to what members of the military and the public has known for a long time. The solution can either come from the top or military leaders can keep burying their heads in the sand until someone else gets hurt."

 

 

Supreme Court: Student fees are constitutional

by Denny Sampson
with wire reports

Washington, D.C.-State-run colleges and universities can subsidize campus groups with money collected from mandatory student activity fees without violating the rights of students who find some of those groups objectionable, the Supreme Court ruled March 22.

Conservative Christian students had sued the University of Wisconsin because it used student fees to help fund campus groups for women and gays. Two lower courts agreed with their argument that being compelled to support the groups violated their free speech rights.

In a unanimous vote, the justices upheld the University of Wisconsinís student-fee system after finding the school does not pick and choose which student groups to fund based on the views they espouse. The high court held that the fee system does not violate any studentís right to free speech.

A feature at most universities, these fees provide funding for many of the activist groups on campuses nationwide.

"The First Amendment permits a public university to charge its students an activity fee used to fund a program to facilitate extracurricular student speech if the program is viewpoint neutral," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.

"The University of Wisconsin exacts the fee at issue for the sole purpose of facilitating the free and open exchange of ideas by, and among, its students," Kennedy said.

The case began in 1996 when three conservative Christian law students from the University of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit challenging the universityís student-fee system. The students objected to having some of their fees allocated to liberal organizations.

Scott Southworth, the lead plaintiff and now an attorney, argued that mandatory fees are unconstitutional. He believes that students should have the right to "opt out" of funding groups and causes they oppose.

"As a conservative Christian, I donít think I should have to fund these violently partisan, anti-Christian hate groups," Southworth said.

Southworth had originally sought a refund of $7.99 for one semester in 1995. When the lawsuit was filed in 1996, about $15 of the $166.75 that students paid in fees each semester was earmarked for distribution to campus groups by the student government.

The lawsuit identified 18 of the 125 subsidized campus groups as objectionable, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual Center, the Campus Womenís Center, the Madison AIDS Support Network, and Students of National Organization for Women.

A judge in Madison and subsequently the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago agreed with Southworth. They ruled that students cannot be forced to subsidize campus groups that engage in "political or ideological advocacy."

The Supreme Court said allowing a majority vote of students to cancel out a universityís neutrality toward student groupsí views would be unconstitutional.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that simply by paying tuition, "people are compelled to pay for all kinds of things being taught that they might not believe in."

Liberal groups praised the ruling.

"College and university campuses have a long tradition of providing a forum where many voices can be heard," said Ralph Neas of People for the American Way.

"This decision preserves minority viewpoints because without it, the ability of student groups to organize on campus would have depended on how popular they are," said Matthew Coles of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"There has been an organized attempt by conservatives around the country to de-fund groups they oppose, and lesbian and gay student groups always have been among their targets," Coles said.

But conservative groups said the decision shortchanged some students.

"The court accorded little value to a studentís right not to be compelled to speak," said Liberty Counselís Matthew Staver. "This decision takes away the rights of the objectors."

If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way, public colleges and universities across the country would have had to stop giving money to controversial student groups or figure out some way to give partial refunds to those students who wanted them.

The ruling will not affect private schools because the Constitution protects people against government actions only.


And the winner is: The AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland

by Michelle Tomko

Cleveland--"Sting is here. Come up here, Sting, and talk to me. Iím all alone," said Barbara Streisand as she pointed to a beautiful blonde man in the crowd during the AIDS Taskforce of Clevelandís Academy Awards gala on March 26.

Okay, it wasnít the real Barbara, or the real Sting for that matter. But Helene Weinberg, president of the event entertainment group Out to Lunch, was very convincing and the table with the blonde had a good chuckle. Her Joan Rivers wasnít bad either.

Comedienne Karen Williams hosted the event, held in the English Oak Room at Tower City Center. She gave Robin Williams a run for his money, even though she did not get to appear with those sexy Mounties from South Park like he did.

"Iím thrilled. Itís a great party. So many of our fundraisers are somber. We talk about serious stuff. I think thereís a place for this too" said Taskforce executive director Earl Pike.

Two hundred people paid $35-$75 to attend, and the event raised about $15,000. Pike said that, after expenses, the Taskforce would net about $4,000. The money will go into the organizationís general fund.

Guests enjoyed literally the red carpet treatment as they entered the party, getting photographs as the walked down the ruby lane. They also enjoyed wonderful food and spirits as they watched the "golden boy" awards to see what Cher would wear this year on a huge projection screen in the front of the room. (The actress wore a fairly conservative full-length black gown.)

There was a silent auction in the lobby with movie memorabilia from such famed donors as Gwyneth Paltrow and the cast of Will and Grace.

Auctioned off were an autographed script from Will and Grace, Oscar posters, jewelry from The Young and the Restless, autographs by Gwyneth Paltrow, and two tickets to a Hollywood première.

A few stars from the 24th Cleveland International Film Festival were also on hand at the event. Steven Martini, co-star of Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish made an appearance with Teri Machi, an agent at Ford Talent of Cleveland, along with Jean Zarzour from Lipschtick Entertainment.

Not having Monday morning off as most of the Hollywood stars do, guests began leaving early, some before the party learned the Hilary Swank had won Best Actress for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Donít Cry.


Stepfather killed his son for being gay, police believe

by Eric Resnick
with wire reports

New York City--A plastic food container found March 21 by a man strolling through Alley Pond Park on Long Island contained the bones of 19-year-old Steen Fenrich, a gay man believed to have been killed by his stepfather John D. Fenrich. The elder man, who could not accept his stepsonís sexual orientation, ultimately took his own life following a dramatic standoff with police.

Dental records confirm that the bones are Steen Fenrich, who has been missing since September 1999. The bones included part of a foot, part of a pelvis, and part of a bleached skull. The skull had the victimís social security number and "gay nigger number one" written on it in black indelible marker.

John Fenrich was white; Steen Fenrich was black.

"It was very clear, leading us to believe that someone wanted us to identify that body," Deputy Police Chief Patrick Timlin, who is commander of Queens detectives, told the New York Times.

Shortly after police informed Steenís stepfather on March 22 that they may have found his stepsonís body, the elder Fenrich called a TV station and told them that his stepsonís body had been found "cut up" in a Queens park, and that the murder occurred because he was gay.

Police say they never told John Fenrich or other family members that Steen was dismembered. His knowledge of this led them to believe he killed his stepson.

Timlin also said that no one had ever filed a report that Steen Fenrich was missing, neither in Queens where he lived with his partner, nor in Suffolk County where the family lives.

Police believe John Fenrich killed Steen during a September 9, 1999 argument over his stepsonís wish to move back into his familyís home after an argument with his partner.

Steenís partner told police that John Fenrich, who had previously treated him with contempt, called him a few days after the argument.

"He said, ĎSteenís going away for a couple of weeks, and he told me to tell you that he loves youí," the man told police, according to Newsday.

The TV station that John Fenrich called also reported that Steen Fenrich was gay and posed for gay pornographic photographs. They also reported he had a contentious relationship with his stepfather.

As the homicide investigation turned up evidence, John Fenrich, meeting with police at his home March 22, bolted onto the roof of his home, fired guns into the air, and begged officers to kill him. The eight-hour standoff ended when Fenrich shot himself.

The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project has been joined by openly gay city council member Christine Quinn and openly gay state senator Tom Duane urging the police to give the case high priority, pointing out that many gay youth experience violence at home.


ĎWeíve come a long wayí

by Doreen Cudnik

As predicted by many in the entertainment industry, Hilary Swank took home the Best Actress Oscar for her passionate performance as the murdered transgender man Brandon Teena in the film Boys Donít Cry. It was the first Oscar nomination for Swank, who won the Golden Globe Best Actress for the role on January 23.

At several times during the March 26 Academy Awards telecast, the real person whose life and death was the subject of Boys Donít Cry was referred to as "Teena Brandon" or a "girl living as a boy."

Actor Peter Coyote, who acted as a sort of play-by-play announcer during the evening, embodied this awkwardness when he said the film was the "story of a boy . . . girl living as a boy in Nebraska." Coyote added that Swank had "lived as a boy for one month to prepare for the role of Teena Brandon."

Swank, however, has consistently honored Brandon Teenaís gender expression, and her Oscar acceptance speech was no exception.

"We have come a long way," Swank began. "This movie wouldn't have been made three and a half years ago."

Acknowledging the Academy for "their support and recognition of me and my work in a movie that is so important," Swank thanked Brandon Teena "for being such an inspiration to us all."

"His legacy lives on through our movie to remind us to always be ourselves, to follow our hearts, to not conform," she added. "I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences, but we actually celebrate our diversity."


Vermont Senate panel mulls anti-marriage amendment

By Denny Sampson
with wire reports

Montpelier, Vt.ĖA key committee of the Vermont legislature is considering two proposed constitutional amendments that would limit the civil rights of same-sex couples, according to the Rutland Herald.

In the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee where constitutional amendments originate, Sen. Julius Canns has proposed an amendment that reads: "that marriage is a special label for a partnership between a man and a woman."

Cannsí proposal would prevent the future lawmakers from including same-sex couples in the stateís marriage laws.

However, if passed, this amendment would not prevent the legislature from enacting the civil unions bill passed by the House, which would provide the legal benefits of marriage.

The other constitutional amendment being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee was proposed by Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R). This proposal would also define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Also, it would amend the state constitution to read that neither the legislature nor the courts would be required to extend the benefits of marriage "to any grouping of people other than one man and one woman."

This proposed amendment would effectively overturn the Vermont Supreme Court ruling that the Vermont Constitution requires that the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage be extended to same sex couples.

The committee has taken testimony on the proposed amendments.

Burlington lawyer Tom McCormick urged the committee to listen to the people of Vermont and address what he called the "historical absurdity" of the Supreme Courtís ruling.

"We are not bigots," said McCormick. "We are decent men and women, committed to our families, committed to our communities and committed to our state. We do not believe that gays and lesbians should be objects of hate or scorn or derision."

"At the same time, we do not believe that marriage should be redefined to include two men or two women . . . We do not believe in gay marriage. We do not believe in "parallel systems" that look and feel like marriage."

In his testimony, Paul Gillies, a Montpelier lawyer, former deputy secretary of state, and an expert on Vermont history, urged the lawmakers not to rush ahead with a constitutional amendment to respond to the current controversy over marriage benefits for same-sex couples.

"I donít know if it ever makes sense to take a highly charged political issue and put it to a constitutional amendment," said Gillies.

Testimony opens on civil union bill

The committee is also taking testimony on the bill passed by the Vermont House March 16 that would create a system of "civil unions" for same-sex couples, providing them with most of the legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

Nina Beck, one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case that instigated the current legal debate, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 22. She asking the lawmakers to legally recognize her eight-year relationship with Stacy Jolles and to give her family the rights and benefits given opposite-sex couples.

All but one of Beckís and Jollesí fellow plaintiffs in the case sat in the audience. It was the first time any of them have expressed their views to lawmakers their views about how to grant same-sex couples the rights and benefits of marriage.


Mississippi gets closer to adoption ban

by Denny Sampson
with wire reports

Jackson, Miss.-Lawmakers have moved a step closer to making Mississippi the second state in the nation with a law banning homosexual couples from adopting children.

On March 22, the full state House of Representatives approved a bill that included an amendment prohibiting lesbians and gay men from adopting children. The ban easily cleared the House, with a vote of 107 to 8. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Currently Florida is the only state with a law forbidding gay adoptions. Utah recently passed a law prohibiting unmarried couples, gay or straight, from adopting.

A prior bill to ban gay adoptions in Mississippi was killed on March 16 when the chairman decided not to bring it up for a vote of the full house.

However, Mississippi lawmakers were then deluged with phone calls from supporters of the bill, outraged that it had died without a debate.

The ban on gay adoptions was resurrected March 21. It resurfaced attached as an amendment to a previously-approved Senate bill in the House Public Health Committee that dealt with the roles of nurse practitioners in adoptions.

The second proposal does not go as far as the first one. Initially, representatives proposed banning gay couples from adopting and refusing to recognize those adoptions agreed to in other states. The second proposal deals only with banning gay and lesbian adoptions in Mississippi.

Mississippi Baptists and the American Family Association support the proposal.

"It makes a statement for the strong traditional family," said Republican Rep. Bobby Howell, who had proposed the prohibition this year for the first time at the urging of family groups.

However, just hours after the House approved the bill, a coalition of faculty, staff and student leaders from universities throughout Mississippi announced their opposition to it.

The coalition issued a statement that said: "The state legislatureís decision should be based on scientific research, and on what is in the best interests of Mississippi children. With those criteria, the only sensible action is to defeat this bill."

The coalition further wrote, "Every respected national organization in the mental health and child welfare field has recognized that a parentís sexual orientation is irrelevant in determining child custody. Among the organizations that have taken this position are the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers."

State Rep. David Green agrees. "That bill is of the assumption that anybody whoís gay will abuse children. Thatís not a good argument," said Green.

The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened a lawsuit if the bill is enacted.

Besides Mississippi, lawmakers in Hawaii, Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering measures to outlaw gay and lesbian adoptions.


News Briefs

 

Court appears skeptical of religious exception to fairness laws

San Francisco--A federal appeals court appears to be unwilling to exempt religious landlords from fair housing laws.

Judges of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appeared skeptical as they heard arguments March 23 that anti-bias laws in the state of Alaska and the city of Anchorage violated the rights of property owners with religious objections against renting to unmarried couples.

The ruling by the 11-judge panel could also affect laws on discrimination based on sexual orientation in the nine western states covered by the circuit. Six of the states and the Clinton administration sided with Alaska and Anchorage in the case.

The suit was filed by Kevin Thomas and Joyce Baker, who each own several rental properties in Anchorage and said they had refused to rent to unmarried cohabitants because of their objections, as Christians, against nonmarital sex.

Similar claims by religious landlords have been rejected by the state Supreme Court in both Alaska and California. But a panel of the federal appeals court ruled 2-1 in January 1999 that the state and local laws violated Thomas' and Baker's freedom of religion as well as their freedom of speech, because they were barred from asking tenants about their marital status.

Noting that state and local authorities have not filed complaints against any of the property owners in the suit, Judge Susan Graber compared them to demonstrators who want courts to hear their religious arguments before they are charged with wrongdoing.

"Your clients are saying, 'Please come down and arrest meí," she told the landlords' lawyer, Kevin Clarkson.

Another judge, A. Wallace Tashima, asked whether they could have simply chosen another business. But Clarkson said they have a constitutional right to remain in the rental business.

"These are landlords who believe sincerely that they are to follow their religious beliefs in every aspect of their lives," he said. "In order to comply with the law, they have to violate their religious beliefs," said Clarkson

 

Austrian far-right leader is outed

Vienna, Austria-Jörg Haider, the de facto leader of a far-right political party in Austria, was outed when German and Austrian newspapers claimed he is gay, according to the London Guardian.

A report in the left-wing Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung, repeated in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard March 23, says that the Austrian gay community has had evidence that Haider is gay for years, but has not released the evidence for fear of a backlash of hatred toward gays.

Most political analysts thought that his resignation as head of the Freedom Party last month was a tactical move, but now some are suggesting he wanted to withdraw from the limelight because he was afraid his outing was imminent.

According to Tageszeitung, many members of Viennaís gay community are willing to confirm these allegations. They claim he regularly has sex with young men below the age of consent-18 for gays. The report also alleges that Haider has a cocaine habit.

Thus far, Haider has made no comment on the allegations.

 

Definition included in partner bill

Ottawa--A Commons justice committee studying Canadaís domestic partner legislation voted 11 to 4 on March 23 in favor of including the definition of marriage in the proposed legislation, according to the Canadian Press.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan said the day before that, in an effort to avoid a backlash from Canadian citizens, she wanted to amend the legislation to include a definition of marriage.

The addition states that: "For greater certainty, the amendments made by this act do not affect the meaning of the word marriage, that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."

"We are providing reassurance to Canadians," McLellan told Reuters."For the vast majority of Canadians, marriage continues to be a unique institution,"

McLellan introduced the bill last month which would amend 68 federal statutes to erase most legal differences between opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

The bill, which is still under study at the committee, must return to Parliament for a final vote. It then must be approved by the Senate before it becomes law.

 

Gay Nazi victims to be recognized

Berlin--German lawmakers proposed March 22 to make amends to thousands of men sent to Nazi concentration camps for being gay.

The governing Social Democrat and Green parties introduced a bill to acknowledge Nazi persecution of gays and ask the government to review whether to annul convictions under a Nazi-era anti-gay law, Paragraph 175. Under the law, even a kiss or glance between men could result in imprisonment.

The bill, approved separately by the parliamentary factions March 21, calls only on the government to review whether an existing law allowing for the annulment of unjust Nazi-era convictions should be expanded to include those involving Paragraph 175.

Of the estimated 50,000 gay men convicted under the law, few ever came forward after World War II because of the continuing stigma--as well as the fact that Paragraph 175 remained on the books in West Germany until 1969.

When the Allies liberated the concentration camps, gay men were often transferred to civilian prisons to serve out their sentences.

The number of surviving gay Nazi victims is unknown, but their plight has gained attention since the release this year of an U.S.-made documentary, "Paragraph 175," which won awards at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals.

A two-part exhibition tracing the lives of 60 victims of the law and documenting the fates of 700 other victims opened March 26 at the Gay Museum in Berlin and another just outside the city at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The Nazis murdered more than 600 gay men at the camp between 1939 and 1943. The exhibits of documents, photos, drawings, and other objects collected during ten years of research is the largest on the subject ever mounted in Germany.

Guenter Morsch, director of the Sachsenhausen memorial, noted that protests erupted after the first plaque dedicated to gay victims of the Nazis was hung at the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich in the 1980s.

Last year, Germany's national Holocaust Memorial Day commemorated gay victims for the first time with a ceremony at Sachsenhausen.

 

Hawaii partner law may be restored

HonoluluóA domestic partner bill that was allowed to expire two years after it passed may be renewed with a requirement that health insurance companies offer partner benefits in their plans.

At the same time they put a constitutional same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in 1997, lawmakers also passed a "reciprocal beneficiaries" measure. A court later limited its health insurance provisions to state employees, leaving only a partner registry for Hawaii residents.

But the benefits measure was set to automatically expire last summer, leaving about 60 partners of state workers without health insurance.

The Hawaii House on March 24 added a provision to a bill renewing the law that would require health insurers and HMOs to offer partner coverage in their private-employer plans. While the option would be offered, employers would not be required to include it.

The bill, already passed by the Senate, must still pass a third House reading.

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

 

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