Bush nominates homophobe to head enforcement of civil rights
by Eric Resnick
Austin, Texas-In a clear attempt to please the Christian right and the anti-gay establishment, President-elect George W. Bush has nominated defeated Senator John Ashcroft to become the next United States Attorney General.
Ashcroft, 58, served as attorney general of Missouri from 1976 until 1985, when he was elected governor of that state. He was re-elected in 1988 and served until his 1994 election to the Senate.
Ashcroft was defeated in his re-election bid by Democrat Governor Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash three weeks before the election. Carnahan�s widow, Jean, was appointed to the seat and will replace Ashcroft. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community support for Carnahan was credited, in part, for Ashcroft�s defeat.
While in the senate, Ashcroft�s record was as anti-gay as anyone who had ever served. By contrast, he is one of the Senate�s most aggressive champions of religious conservative causes.
Ashcroft supporters and detractors agree that the son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers is a hero of the Christian right and will approach the job of the nation�s chief law officer with steadfast conservatism and a religious outlook.
The Attorney General heads the Justice Department, where 100,000 are employed in agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Two Justice Department responsibilities of special concern to the LGBT community are the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The Attorney General would be responsible for enforcement of hate crime laws inclusive of sexual orientation and gender, if it ever passes. Current Attorney General Janet Reno and her deputy, Eric Holder, have been the Clinton administration�s loudest voices calling for the passage of such laws.
In his press conference announcing the nomination, Bush said, "There�s no question in my mind that [Ashcroft] is a person who believes in civil rights for all citizens."
LGBT and civil rights activists, however, have been left wondering what is meant by Bush�s definition of "all."
During his six years in the Senate, Ashcroft opposed issues of concern to gay people, scoring zeros on all three Human Rights Campaign legislative scorecards covering his tenure.
Ashcroft refused to adopt a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation covering employment practices in his office.
Ashcroft consistently opposed reauthorization of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which is supported by many religious conservatives who do not want to appear callous by withholding their support.
In 1997, Ashcroft offered an amendment to the Department of Interior appropriation bill to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Ashcroft referenced funded projects he believed "promoted homosexuality" as his reason for the amendment.
Ashcroft opposed the nomination of David Satcher to be the United States Surgeon General. Satcher was supported by LGBT and AIDS activists.
Ashcroft has consistently worked to block passage of hate crime legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.
Additionally, Ashcroft is being criticized for blocking Missouri Supreme Court justice Ronnie White�s, an African- American, elevation to a federal bench. Ashcroft also opposed the appointment of Bill Lan Lee to head the Justice Department�s Civil Rights Division. Lee is hailed by civil rights activists as a defender of civil rights, including those of LGBT people.
Keith Appell, a conservative who advised former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, told the Washington Post, "Bush wanted to make the statement with this pick that he wanted the antithesis of Janet Reno. Ashcroft is an absolute grand slam as far as conservatives are concerned."
As a senator, Ashcroft scored perfectly on conservative scorecards, including those of the anti-gay Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association.
Anti-gay crusader and former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer campaigned for Ashcroft�s nomination by making TV appearances and sending e-mails in an attempt to bring about grassroots resistance to Montana governor Marc Racicot, who is far more moderate and was also under consideration for the post.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which calls itself the nation�s oldest and largest civil rights and human rights coalition, and includes LGBT groups, calls the Ashcroft nomination "deeply troubling."
"It�s hard to think of a more divisive choice for attorney general," said executive director Wade Henderson.
"It�s especially surprising, coming from a president who professes to be a uniter, not a divider."
NAACP board chair Julian Bond said, "Any pretense of unifying the nation has ended with this nomination. This confirms the correctness of blacks� voting 9-to-1 against Governor Bush."
Ron Weich, a lawyer who works with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee where Ashcroft served said Ashcroft�s moralistic tone and opposition to outlawing discrimination against gays earned him enemies in the Senate.
"He was one of the most conservative, polarizing figures on the committee," Wiech told the Post. "He was a divider, not a uniter."
No senator has indicated a willingness to vote against Ashcroft and Republicans are defending his record.
Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who is only slightly less conservative than Ashcroft and just as anti-gay, said on ABC News This Week, "Ashcroft has a great record of equal justice for all. Anybody that knows John knows that he is a man of great integrity."
Traditionally, senators support their former colleagues when they are nominated to cabinet posts.
Senate Democrats are not likely to move to block Ashcroft, either, in part hoping that this appointment would make it unlikely for him to try to reclaim his senate seat in two years.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat from New Jersey who also serves on the Judiciary Committee said, "While I have obvious philosophical differences with John Ashcroft . . . the president is entitled to have an attorney general of his own ideology."
But civil rights activists will continue to object.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, "Bush has worked hard to portray himself as a moderate. By nominating a religious right favorite for attorney general, the president-elect has shown his true colors."
Lynn continued, "This nomination may please television evangelists like [Pat] Robertson and Jerry Falwell, but it�s a disaster for anyone who cares about maintaining constitutional principles."
by Eric Resnick
The holiday season celebrated between the secular holidays of Thanksgiving and New Year�s is very diverse throughout the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Many of these holidays are centered around traditional family activities, which can often leave LGBT people feeling isolated during the season if there are underlying issues regarding family acceptance of their sexual orientation.
To celebrate or to cope with the emotions of the season, many LGBT people turn to their family of choice, close friends and like worshipers to celebrate and grow spiritually.
There are entire denominations and congregations dedicated to LGBT people and their families, while some other religions, like Wiccans, are so LGBT-affirming that the non-traditional family structure is matter-of-fact.
Regardless of affiliation, LGBT families join the nation in celebration during the holiday season.
Winter Solstice � Yule
Officially the first day of Winter, December 21, "solstice" means "sun standing still". It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. To Pagans, this is the night that the Goddess gives birth to the new Sun, restarting the cycle of the seasons.
Wiccans, who are also Pagans, celebrate Yule, marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Yule was not traditionally one of the more important Pagan holidays until the spread of the Roman Empire. Romans added their festival of Saturnalia, a twelve-day festival also marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next, to Pagan observances, bringing more prominence to the observance.
It is because of Yule mythology that Christmas is celebrated around the solstice, even though biblical scholars suggest that Jesus� birth probably occurred in April.
Myths that pre-date Jesus by two thousand years tell of a king or god who comes into the world as a newborn baby during Yule and grows to take his place as the companion of the Goddess at Beltane.
Yule is the origin of many symbols used to celebrate Christmas, including stringing lights, decorating with holly, giving gifts, and Santa Claus.
This year celebrated December 21 through 29, "Hanukkah" is Hebrew for "dedication." Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, not a religious holiday, and is perceived to have more significance than it actually does due to the festive nature of the winter season.
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Hellenistic Syrians in 165 BC. The Syrians had destroyed the holy temple in Jerusalem and their king, Antiochus, ordered that Jews be placed into slavery.
Hanukkah involves two miracles. The first is that the tiny Jewish army, led by the Maccabee sons, defeated the Syrian army and was able to cleanse and rededicate the holy temple. The second, according to the story, occurred when the Macabees re-lit the Ner Tamid, or everlasting light, over the ark that contained the holy Torah scrolls. The Syrians had smashed all the vials of lamp oil but one. That one vial had only enough oil to burn for a single day, yet it burned for eight days, giving a messenger enough time to bring back more. This is the miracle commemorated by the lighting of the menorah for eight nights, adding one candle each night.
During Hanukkah, children play with four-sided tops called dreidels, a gambling game where the object is to win Hanukkah gelt, which is money, or foil-wrapped chocolate coins.
The Fast of Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, believed to be the time when the Holy Quran (sometimes spelled Koran) was sent down from heaven. It is the month Muslims fast.
The Fast of Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time with concerns of daily living. During Ramadan, Muslims� lives are restrained. Eating and drinking during daylight hours is prohibited. At the end of each day, the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. Smoking and sexual activity is also prohibited during fasting.
In the evening, following the iftar, Muslims visit family and friends. The fasting resumes the next morning.
During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the masjid (mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan, Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer, which is usually 2-3 times longer than the daily prayers.
On the 27th day of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat-alQadr (the night of power). It is believed that on that night, the prophet Muhammad first received the Quran. And according to the Quran, it is on that night that God determines the course of the world for the following year.
When the fast ends, it is celebrated for three days in a holiday called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of the Fast Breaking). Family and friends gather to pray and partake in large meals. Gifts are exchanged.
While not recognized as a religious holiday, Kwanzaa is ritualistic and has a spiritual purpose. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word meaning "first fruits of the harvest." Kwanzaa was begun in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a holiday for African-Americans to celebrate and learn about their African customs and heritage. Originally celebrated only in the United States, Kwanzaa is now celebrated around the world.
Kwanzaa begins each December 26 and lasts seven days. Each day represents one of the principles of Kwanzaa, called Nguzo Saba� unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
Symbols of Kwanzaa are a Kinara or seven candle holder, Mkeka, which is a place mat made of straw, Mazao, fruits and vegetables, Kikombe cha umja, the communal unity cup, Mishumaa, seven candles � one black, three red, and three green, and Zawadi, gifts that are enriching.
Celebrants are encouraged to decorate their home in an African motif. Gifts are given to promote creativity and are supposed to be affordable and artistic or educational in nature. The gifts are traditionally given January 1, the last day of Kwanzaa.
The Kwanzaa Karamu is a feast held on December 31. It is a communal effort and generally takes place in a home, church, or community center. An informative and entertaining program is presented to encourage commitment and unity.
The appropriate Kwanzaa greeting is "Habari gani?," which means "What�s the news?"
Christmas, which falls each year on December 25, is the Christian celebration honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians recognize as the Son of God. The Christian bible teaches that Christ�s birth was prophesied in the Old Testament (early biblical writings) and that Jesus was to live among earthly mortals to later die by crucifixion on a cross. His death symbolized God�s sacrifice to his followers and promised eternal salvation to all believers.
People in different countries celebrate Christmas with different symbols. In the United States, the holiday is often spent at home with family and friends and many decorated a evergreen tree or put up a replica of the manger where Christ was born. Some people decorate the outside of their homes with brightly colored lights, and wreaths, as well. Churches hold prayer services on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The Christian custom of exchanging gifts originated to remember the three wise men that brought gifts for the newborn Jesus.
With the addition of Pagan symbols, the idea of Santa Claus bringing gifts to well-behaved children also became part of the holiday culture.
Many non-Christians observe Christmas as simply a time to exchange gifts and good wishes with loved ones and friends.
by Anthony Glassman
Colorado Springs, Colo.-A former Focus on the Family employee was convicted on December 18 of sexually molesting a boy he was mentoring.
A jury convicted Steven Wilsey of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. He faces penalties ranging from 12 years of probation to life in prison when he is sentenced February 22.
Until last year, Wilsey worked at the anti-gay Focus on the Family Christian Ministry. He was part of a team that counsels youths who contact the ministry for advice on problems.
Focus on the Family is actively involved in the "ex-gay" movement, which professes to be able to "cure" or "reform" gay men and lesbians into heterosexuals. The therapies touted by Focus and Exodus International, the umbrella organization for the "ex-gay" movement, have been invalidated by most professional medical and psychological organizations in the country, and have been vilified as harmful to the people who undergo them.
The boy�s mother works as a research specialist at Focus on the Family.
She testified that Wilsey approached her in 1992 and offered to mentor her three sons. Wilsey made his offer after a Focus on the Family radio broadcast that said boys who grow up without a father figure are more prone than others to embrace a "homosexual lifestyle," the woman said during a week-long trial.
She said Wilsey acted as a surrogate father to the boys, taking them camping and hiking, helping them with homework, attending holiday dinners and participating in other activities with them.
She said she considered Wilsey a friend until February 26, 2000, when her youngest son, who was eight at the time, came home with bruises in the groin area after an overnight stay at Wilsey�s house.
The boy testified that Wilsey molested him several times.
Prosecutors had charged Wilsey with conducting a pattern of abuse from October 1998 to late February 2000, but the jury convicted Wilsey only of the one count of fondling the boy on February 25.
Focus on the Family was also in the news at the end of September, when John Paulk, both an employee of Focus and then-chairman of Exodus, was photographed by Human Rights Campaign workers in a Washington, DC gay bar.
Paulk, the "ex-gay" poster boy for Exodus, first claimed he was looking for a rest room, then changed his story, saying that he was curious about gay bars, since he had not been in one since he was "cured."
French study unveils promising HIV treatment
Paris, France-A team of French scientists published a study December 22 unveiling a new treatment for HIV that has been successful in tests on mice.
The doctors at Edouard-Herriot Hospital or Lyons have been using gene therapy to cause the mice to produce a substance called glycoproteins. The glycoproteins mimic CD4 receptors, the part of the cell onto which HIV attaches itself, causing the virus to attach to the glycoproteins instead of cells. The virus, finding itself without an energy source, could not reproduce, and died.
Three weeks after the glycoprotein-producing mice were infected with HIV, the virus was undetectable in the bloodstream, even using the strongest available tests.
Doctors were not yet certain, however, that the virus was not holed up in lymph glands, the brain, or the spinal cord, all of which can serve as reservoirs for HIV.
The next step will be primate testing, which, if successful, could lead to human trials on those who have developed resistance to anti-retroviral cocktails. Human trials, if all goes well, could begin within three years.
One of the most difficult challenges facing the researchers will be delivering the gene therapy to humans. It will require using a disabled virus carrying the new gene to infect all of the body�s cells to produce glycoproteins.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Traverse City, Michigan-City officials unveiled a new bumper sticker December 19, one that will go on all city-owned vehicles, as well as on all buses serving the city.
It�s a jigsaw-puzzle design overlaying a rainbow flag.
The new stickers, the brainchild of city commissioner Margaret Dodd, stem from a string of hate crimes that occurred in September. First, an employee of the gay bar Sidetraxx was attacked by three men outside the bar. A rash of vandalism targeting minorities followed that attack.
People started removing pride stickers from their cars, fearing attacks by bigots.
"Following the example of King Christian of Denmark during the German occupation, I immediately put a rainbow flag on my car and suggested at a televised city commission meeting that other citizens do the same," Dodd told the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper.
During World War II, when the Germans were occupying Denmark, Adolph Hitler ordered King Christian to have all Danish Jews wear yellow stars on their clothing to make them visible to German forces. The next day, the king came out to speak to his people wearing a yellow star himself as an act of protest.
The Hate-Free TC organization offered its puzzle-piece logo to the effort, and that was imposed across a rainbow design. The city�s Human Rights Commission reviewed four designs before making its final choice.
Iowa group protests QAF
Rapid City, Iowa-a Sioux Falls-based organization paid for a full-page advertisement in the Sunday, December 17 Rapid City Journal to urge people to cancel their subscription to the Showtime cable television network.
The South Dakota Family Policy Council�s ad complains about the program Queer as Folk, which airs on the premium channel on Sunday nights.
In the ad, the SDFPC said the program contained an "explicit sex scene between a 17-year old boy and a 19-year-old man" and "depictions of oral sex, group sex, bisexuality, pornography, prostitution and sadomasochism."
The group also asked advertisers to cancel commercials until the show is pulled.
Officials at Midcontinent Communications, the local cable service provider, said they had made no special plans to deal with calls in response to the ad.
Anti-gay measures abolished
Vaduz, Liechtenstein-The parliament, with 23 out of 25 votes, abolished the four anti-gay measures in its penal codes, holdovers from 1988, when this small European principality legalized homosexuality.
The four provisions, taken from the Austrian penal code (which has also since been changed), include a ban on positive information about homosexuality. This ban is similar to the Oregon ballot initiative�s "no promo homo," a ban on gay and lesbian associations, the outlawing of gay prostitution, and a higher age of consent for gay male sex than for heterosexual sex, 18 years compared to 14 years.
These articles were taken directly from the 1975 Austrian penal code. With the repeal of the age of consent clause, the government has chosen the German model, with an across-the-board age of consent of 14. However, sex between someone over the age of 18 with a 14- or 15-year-old is still illegal if the older person takes unfair advantage of the minor, or offers remuneration, to pay them in one fashion or another.
Of the four provisions, Austria itself still has only one on its books: the varying ages of consent between gay and straight sex.
The new penal code in Liechtenstein also includes same-sex domestic partners in the definition of "next of kin" for the purposes of the penal code.
The citizenry can initiate a referendum against the changes by January 19. If a referendum is not initiated, the reform goes on the books as is.
Most anti-gay laws in Western Europe have been repealed to keep in line with the European Union�s charter on human rights, which led to Ireland dropping their sodomy laws, and also spurred Britain to remove anti-gay laws from its Caribbean holdings.
Film about de Sade painfully good
by Anthony Glassman
There is snow drifting lazily down from the clouds; ice and slush make the shortest of drives an unbelievable nightmare. Some call this winter. Entertainment writers call it the beginning of Oscar Buzz season.
You might ask yourself, why talk about Oscar buzz so early?
You might ask yourself, perhaps answering your first question, has the writer of this article recently seen a film that is sure to garner Oscar nods? A film, perhaps, that could earn another nomination for Best Actor for the inestimable Geoffrey Rush? One almost certain to be mentioned for Best Picture, perhaps a Best Director and Best Actress for Philip Kaufman and Kate Winslet, respectively?
Yes. The writer braved snow and ice and really chilly temperatures to view Quills. And, best of all, it was worth it.
Quills is a fictionalized account of the last few months of the life of the Marquis de Sade, that syphilitic "madman" whose depraved writings brought the world the term sadism.
Adapted by Doug Wright from his own play, the movie takes place in the asylum of Charenton, somewhere in France. After the horrors of the French Revolution, during which the Marquis was made a hero because of his poor standing with the aristocracy, the new government eventually tired of his "perversions," and locked him away.
Despite his imprisonment, de Sade (Rush) still manages to have manuscripts smuggled out of the institution by the lovely chambermaid Madeleine (Winslet). When the published books find their way into the hands of Emperor Napoleon, he sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to oversee the work of Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who runs the asylum with kindness and understanding.
Coulmier believes that, by giving de Sade an artistic outlet for the demons in his head, he can cure him. Royer-Collard, however, believes in more aggressive therapies: leeches, dunkings, and worse.
As things grow progressively darker in the asylum because of the conflict between de Sade and Royer-Collard, an odd love triangle emerges more and more. Coulmier loves Madeleine; de Sade loves Madeleine; Madeleine loves both men, albeit in different ways, and both men share an intellectual attraction to each other that borders on the pornographic.
The other patients, Dauphin the pyromaniac, Pitou the transvestite, and Cleante the bird-man, are all enthralled by the charismatic Marquis. They perform in the plays he directs, which are open to the public, until de Sade steps over the line satirizing Royer-Collard�s private life. Royer-Collard has a classic case of "Physician, Heal Thyself," and may be a far darker soul than de Sade himself, described by Doug Wright as "a professor emeritus of Evil."
The story is magnificent. The writing, the direction, the sets and costumes all conspire to almost literally transport the audience to Napoleonic France, into the cell of one of the most lauded and despised writers of all time.
And, of course, the cast is incredible. Thinking about all these people, and the roles they play, might be difficult. Kate Winslet as a chambermaid? Joaquin Phoenix as a priest? And Rush and Caine, what the heck are they doing there?
"Geoffrey Rush was the perfect choice to play the Marquis de Sade," said director Kaufman. "Geoffrey understood not only the Marquis� narcissistic personality, but reveled in the role of a man imprisoned for his ideas."
"I think that especially in the scene with the Marquis� wife [played by Rush�s real-life wife, Jane Menelaus], we see the genius of Geoffrey as the Marquis: he is at once funny, brutal, and tragic."
Perhaps the best way to describe his portrayal is a cross between Casanova Frankenstein, Rush�s role in Mystery Men, and the best teacher or professor you ever had. He has the charm and the foppishness, but he also has the innate intelligence and brilliance that bred the arrogance leading to his downfall.
Michael Caine, as well, is uncannily good. He�s played thugs, he�s played nice guys, but in this movie, he is almost truly evil.
"Michael Caine is so much against type in this role that he gives it a charge," Kaufman said. "We spoke of his character in terms of being a Kenneth Starr-like man who believes he�s doing a wonderful thing by ridding society of Sade�s writing, a man who pursues virtue unaware of his own lack of it."
Caine had some comments about his character. "I like playing characters who are sinister, but I look for a way to give them some kind of redeeming qualities. I play villains on the principle that no man is a villain to himself. All villains think they are nice people."
That presented a problem with a character like Dr. Royer-Collard.
"When I first read through my part, I thought, �This man is so evil, there is nowhere to go with it.� Then I read it again, and I began to find the way. Fifty percent of my character is made up in the spaces between the words."
And, of course, there is Joaquin Phoenix, recommended to the director by Winslet herself.
Phoenix is the everyman who allows the audience to see Charenton with his eyes, a place of madness, but also of hope, a place where those cast out by society can find peace. The almost manic energy he brings to Coulmier as the Abbe�s dream becomes a nightmare through Royer-Collard�s interference is gripping, perhaps even more so than Rush�s own superlative performance.
And Kate Winslet, wrapping up the central cast, is the fulcrum on which the events turn. De Sade tries to impress Madeleine, Coulmier tries to protect her, and Royer-Collard sees her as the Marquis� accomplice. What she is, and what becomes of her, is somewhere between the three, and leaves the audience astonished.
To sum up:
It�s a great movie. See it twice.
Quills opened Christmas Day at the Cedar-Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights, the Drexel East in Columbus, the Esquire in Cincinnati, and the New Neon in Dayton.
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