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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 8, 2000

 

‘Get rid of our secrets,’
HIV conference is told

by Kaizaad Kotwal

Columbus—"We need to break the silence, we need to get rid of our secrets, because silence equals death," the head of Ohio’s sexually transmitted disease program told a World AIDS Day conference.

Juliet Dorris-Williams, program chief for the Ohio Department of Health’s HIV/STD prevention program pointed to the role of secrecy and denial in the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in remarks at the close of the Fifth Annual World AIDS Day Conference in Columbus.

The health department hosted the two-day event December 4 and 5 at the Fawcett Center on the campus of Ohio State University.

This year’s presentations, workshops and sessions were centered around the theme "AIDS: Ohio Men Can Make a Difference."

The conference opened with a plenary session on "The Secrets of African American Bisexual Men" presented by J. Louis, which focused on how "secretive, sneaky, hidden and private" at-risk behavior directly relates to the spread of HIV and STDs.

A series of nine workshops were offered on both days, each workshop being conducted at least twice. The smaller sessions allowed participants to attend workshops more directly related to their area of expertise and speciality.

One of the workshops, conducted by Gloria McCauley and Rebecca Gurney of BRAVO the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization, delved into the area of same-sex domestic violence.

Rev. Daniel M. Newman presented a strategic workshop on preventing HIV and STD transmission in the world of men who have sex with men but do not identify as being gay or bisexual.

These men, classified as "Non-ID MSMs," include populations as diverse as prison inmates, street hustlers, men who cruise in public spaces and victims of male-on-male rape.

Ellen Bentz, program manager for HIV and corrections with the National Minority AIDS Council in Washington, D.C., conducted a workshop "HIV Prevention in Prisons and Jails."

Using hip-hop as a teaching method, Torman Jahi led participants through a workshop on HIV/STD prevention amongst youth. While the main focus of the conference was on men, minority issues also played a very prevalent part in the programming and execution of all the sessions.

The closing plenary session of the conference, following the second day’s lunch, was titled "Singing Your Own Song: Preventing and Treating HIV-AIDS with Tradition." Delivered by Dr. Terry Tafoya, the presentation included slides, song and storytelling. Tafoya used Native American myths and stories to reveal multiple possibilities of dealing with disease prevention.

Tafoya ended his session and the conference by saying that, "The linguistic roots of the word ‘heal’ lies in the word ‘whole’ which in turn comes from the word ‘holy.’ The act of healing is a sacred act."

"You are doing sacred work," Tafoya told the conference participants of their daily jobs.

The Sixth Annual World AIDS Day Conference has been set for December 3-4, 2001 and will also be held at the Fawcett Center.

Lakewood passes hate crime amendment

by Anthony Glassman

Lakewood, Ohio--City Council passed an amendment adding sexual orientation, gender, age and disability to its current ethnic intimidation ordinance on December 4.

The new ordinance, entitled simply "Intimidation," increases the degree of a misdemeanor offense based on the above categories, adding them to the already-protected race, color, religion and national origin.

Voting against the addition were council president Robert M. Seelie and member-at-large Pamela Smith, who expressed surprise at the inclusion of gender, since, she said, there are only two genders.

Seelie also noted wryly that, because of the news coverage of this ordinance, he discovered that being in a wheelchair makes him disabled.

The humor in council discussion was limited to the dissenters, however. Councilmembers Michael Skindell and Thomas George both spoke in favor of the law, although George was concerned that some parts of the Rules and Ordinances Committee’s report had not actually been discussed in the committee.

Council vice president Nancy Roth related a memory of a time she worked in the Cuyahoga County correctional system. While talking to a recently sentenced young man, she asked him what he was in for, and he told her about going to Edgewater Park on Friday nights to beat up gay men.

"My other question, after, ‘What kind of person are you?’ in my head," she told council and the citizens gathered, "was why is he here in this institution instead of the state penitentiary?"

Councilmembers Brian Corrigan and Edward FitzGerald voted for the addition as well, although neither commented on the proposal.

The majority of residents speaking against the ordinance expressed a fear that the measure created an inequality between gays and non-gays.

The ordinance refers to sexual orientation, which includes heterosexuals and homosexuals, and gender, which includes males, females and possibly transgender and intersex people, as well as those who do not conform to gender norms.

"I would think that they’re doubly covered," said legislative liaison Mary Ross Gallagher, referring to the possibility of transgender people being protected under the term gender in the ordinance.

Perhaps the most compelling speaker of the evening was Nickie Antonio, a lesbian mother and Lakewood resident. She said it was difficult for her to stand up and identify herself as a lesbian after the hate mail she received last winter for speaking in favor of giving health benefits to city workers’ domestic partners.

"There are times when I have actually cringed when people gave their addresses," she said. "Just by saying I’m a lesbian mom who lives in Lakewood, I put myself up to be threatened, because there are people who feel very hateful."

Mayor Madeline Cain looked triumphant as the roll call vote proceeded following the public comment section. She signed the ordinance the evening of December 5, and it will go into effect on January 14.

The ordinance increases one degree the severity of a misdemeanor when committed because of one of the protected statuses.

The only exception is first degree misdemeanors. To be raised to a felony, the state laws must recognize the possibility of the enhancement. Certain misdemeanors may become felonies, while others, like telephone harassment, aren’t covered because there is no state framework for their enhancement.

The maximum penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor are a $1,000 fine and six months in jail; second-degree misdemeanors carry a maximum $750 fine and 90 days in jail; third-degree is $500 and 60 days, and a fourth-degree misdemeanor goes up to $250 and 30 days.

The 5-2 vote reflected the same margin by which the move to extend domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian city employees was defeated last winter, with only Roth and Skindell voting in the end in favor of extending the benefits.


Three groups withdraw from
AIDS Day gospel fest
Organizers refused statement about
same-sex relationships

by Anthony Glassman

Cleveland--A dispute over the inclusion of black gay men led to three groups serving the black gay community to withdraw from a World AIDS Day event at the Mt. Zion Fellowship Church in Highland Hills.

BlackOut Unlimited, the Brother Circle of Cleveland, and the Brother 2 Brother program pulled out of the World AIDS Day Gospel Fest on December 1.

The event was organized by the AIDS Memorial Eulogy Names Project (AMEN Project).

The three groups withdrew after AMEN would not allow them to select a person to read a statement including the message that "committed, and therefore monogamous, relationships--regardless if they are straight or same-gender loving--reduce the risk of HIV infection, to the individuals in those relationships and the community at large."

AMEN Project president Pam O’Neal, who could not be reached for comment, had earlier told the press that the request for the statement came only two days before the event, when the program had already been finalized.

"This program is about HIV awareness," O’Neal told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "and we were never going to get specific about sexual behavior."

However, BlackOut Unlimited co-founder Derek Barnett said that AMEN’s offer to have someone else read the statement invalidates their claims that there simply wasn’t time. The offer would also seem to contradict O’Neal’s claims about referring to "sexual behavior," he added.

The issue goes back further than that, Barnett said, pointing to an earlier incident at the church where the gospel fest was located.

"Just a few weeks ago, a couple of gay male members were asked to leave because they had participated in a formal commitment ceremony," Barnett said. "We felt that if a church is going to take an action like that, they should not be rewarded with having an AIDS awareness gospel fest there, because they’re doing something that’s sort of antithetical to AIDS prevention."

There was a great deal of unhappiness concerning the location among the members of the Brother 2 Brother advisory board, made up of members from the three groups that pulled out.

"By having the event there, it’s almost a tacit endorsement that this church is on board with HIV prevention awareness," Barnett explained. "Because people were upset that it was being held there, as a compromise, we offered to make this statement specifically to balance the messages of the evening."

This insensitivity to the feelings of the black LGBT community is worsened, according to Barnett, by the fact that Mt. Zion is, historically, a relatively liberal church.

"Part of the problem is, this church is known for being fairly progressive in Cleveland," Barnett said. "I think it may be a growth area for them."

Barnett does not believe there was any malice involved in the decision on the part of the AMEN Project.

"One of the thing that made this decision so difficult is because here you have the AMEN project people, who I believe are good people trying to do a good thing on World AIDS Day, but the problem is they didn’t take some of these things into consideration while they were doing it, this greater harm that could be done," he said.

Barnett noted that there is a unique quandary for religious organizations dealing with an issue that often is rooted in something the church considers immoral.

"Because there is a desire on the part of faith-based organizations to become more involved in this issue, particularly in the African-American community," Barnett said, "and because the Centers for Disease Control and other funders are encouraging faith-based organizations to become involved in this issue, then there’s going to have to be some dialogue between those faith-based organizations, who have their own value set, and our community, which is disproportionately affected, and its value set."

 


Dignity Cleveland closes

Founded in 1972, it was one of the city’s
first GLBT organizations

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland--One of the city’s oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations has ceased to exist due to lack of membership.

The Cleveland chapter of the Dignity USA, a group of GLBT Catholics, folded effective November 30 by a vote of the remaining board. It has been in existence since 1972.

Board Chair Jay Vennessy of Cleveland, who presided over the decision to fold, confirmed that the chapter was out of existence, but would not comment further.

"I don’t have permission from the national office to talk to you," Vennessy said.

Dignity USA executive director Marianne Duddy didn’t understand Vennessy’s comment.

"The national office doesn’t hold control of our local chapters," she said.

Duddy said that the national office received notice of the Cleveland chapter’s dissolution on December 6.

"Now we can move them through the process," she added. "They have to cancel their charter, close their post office box and decide what to do with their treasury."

Duddy said that nationally the membership of Dignity is growing, but some of the weaker chapters are going under.

"Sometimes it is due to lack of membership, sometimes it is lack of leadership."

Bob Tayek, director of media and public relations for the Greater Cleveland Catholic Diocese was unaware of Dignity Cleveland’s status. Historically, the Cleveland diocese has been more welcoming of GLBT Catholics than many others.

"We haven’t heard from Dignity for quite some time," said Tayek, "so our [recent] contact has been limited."

Tayek said that the diocese is continuing to reach out to GLBT Catholics and their families through two greater Cleveland ministries. St. John Vianney in Lake County serves the east side. St. Lasislaus serves the west side.

Tayek pointed out that neither of these congregations are "ex-gay" ministries that attempt to "convert" lesbians and gays to heterosexual through aversive therapy and prayer.

Instead, the ministries follow the Always Our Children pastoral statement made by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1997-98 which says gays and lesbians are children of God and that homosexual orientation is a deep-seated, relatively stable dimension of one’s personality that is not freely chosen. Always Our Children also calls on parents to understand and accept their child’s basic homosexual orientation and states that nothing in the Bible or Catholic teaching can be used to justify prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In November, Dignity USA joined Soulforce at the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in Washington, D.C. to protest Catholic Church discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Specifically, Catholicism still teaches that homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered" and that homosexual acts are "an intrinsic moral evil."

Most U.S. dioceses do not allow Dignity chapters to meet on church property. GLBT Catholics are denied the Eucharist and some dioceses have punished priests and nuns who attempt to minister to GLBT people.

Dignity USA was founded in April 1969, two months before the Stonewall riots.

Remaining Ohio Dignity chapters include Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Toledo.

 


 

German upper house takes tax equality out of partner bill

Berlin--Government plans to end discrimination against gay couples in Germany were partially set back December 1 when conservative lawmakers carried out their threat to withhold tax privileges granted to heterosexual couples.

The center-left majority in the lower house of parliament last month pushed through new laws expected to give gays and lesbians the right to seal life partnerships by the middle of next year.

Gay couples will be able to exchange vows at local government offices and require a court decision for divorce. Same-sex couples will also receive rights given married couples in areas such as name changes and health insurance. The law takes effect January 1.

But the upper house, the Bundesrat, where the states are represented and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government lacks a majority, rejected those parts of the bill needing their approval, leaving intact disadvantages to gays in labor, tax and welfare codes. They also struck down provisions in the law that would allow gay couples to adopt children. In addition, a provision requiring a working person to support their unemployed partner was also stripped from the bill.

The law would also apply to non-Germans who registered their relationships. The states will decide individually where the registrations will take place.

Conservatives have branded the move to recognize gay couples an attack on mainstream morals and the family and have threatened to ask the country’s highest court to rule it unlawful.

Gay and lesbian groups pledged to continue their decade-long fight until they secure all the same rights granted to heterosexuals.

Much of Northern Europe has similar laws on the books. New Zealand recently introduced legislation giving gay couples the same property rights as heterosexual couples, and Canada’s supreme court has ruled that gay couples must be given the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.

Associated Press

 


Clinton marks World AIDS Day with visit to clinic

by Bob Roehr

Washington, D.C.--President Clinton marked World AIDS Day with a flurry of activity. On the calendar for December 1 was a visit to the Whitman-Walker Clinic to speak with people living with HIV, an address at Howard University, release of an international blueprint on fighting AIDS by the National Institutes of Health, and release of a summation of accomplishments by the White House.

It was essentially old wine in new bottles, a repackaging of ongoing activities. But it was a reminder that AIDS remains a huge, deadly problem.

First up was the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which grew out of the volunteer Gay Men’s Venereal Disease Clinic of the 1970s. Clinton toured the facilities and "had a really good chat with our clients," said executive director Cornelius Baker, "he mainly wanted to listen and learn."

"Part of the complacency today is that some people believe we have a cure," said Baker. "But it takes sophisticated health care and social services programs to keep people strong, healthy, and alive." The president heard how those programs helped one 17-year survivor of HIV twice recover from near death, while another said the support kept him from falling back into addiction.

The next stop was the chapel at Howard University, where the president addressed religious leaders gathered for a conference.

"Today, we have come together, people from all over the world, from different countries, to ask ourselves a simple, stark question: whether we are prepared to do what is necessary to save millions of lives of those who are living with HIV and AIDS and all those who might yet avoid it," Clinton said. "It will depend upon, in equal measure, our will and our wallet."

He reminded the audience that "AIDS everywhere is still 100 percent preventable." He challenged them, saying, "Overcoming stigma and overcoming silence will be impossible without the moral leadership that in so many places only religious leaders can provide."

The NIH released an 85-page global AIDS plan. It set out goals for research in prevention through social interventions, use of condoms, and the development of microbicides to give women control of protection from sexually transmitted diseases. It also includes better therapies, vaccine development, and training programs to help the hardest hit nations strengthen their medical and research infrastructures.

A White House report said that "since 1993, the Clinton-Gore administration has more than doubled spending on research, prevention and treatment to a total of $12 billion." While the numbers are accurate, credit for them lies more with Congress than the White House. The Clinton budget often has proposed only a cost of living increase for research, which Congress has pushed up several-fold, lately averaging 15 percent. Congress has consistently appropriated more for services than has been requested.

Meanwhile in Rome, the Vatican’s contribution to World AIDS Day was to reaffirm its opposition to using condoms to prevent transmission of the disease.

"According to Catholic doctrine," said Archbishop Javier Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Workers, using a condom is "not ethically permissible . . . because they do not respect the absolute dignity of the human person."

The government of South Africa announced conclusion of an agreement with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in which it will donate about $50 million worth of the drug fluconazole for use in treating meningitis associated with HIV infection. The program will run for two years.

A few days later, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Development Forum focused its annual meeting on the economic and societal impact of HIV. The U.N. Economic Commission for Africa said that HIV "is no longer merely a health problem but poses a major development crisis in the continent." Many of Africa’s political leaders attended the five-day conference.

 


Study: Students don’t like gays, but support gay issues

by Eric Resnick

A national survey of top high school students shows that while many say they have prejudice against gays and lesbians, at the same time they favor same-gender marriage and GLBT people holding high leadership positions.

The study, released November 28, was conducted by Who’s Who Among High School Students, which surveys the top 20 percent of high school students every two years on social policies, trends, and conditions.

The survey was conducted among 2,804 high-achieving 16-18 year olds with an A or B grade average, 97 percent of whom plan to attend college.

Forty percent of students surveyed admitted to bias against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, far higher than those admitting prejudice against any racial, religious or ethnic group.

But in findings the publishers are calling "one of the most ironic twists in the thirty year history of the survey," the students are far more open to GLBT participation in society.

Fifty-four percent believe gays should be allowed to marry; 78 percent believe gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military; 74 percent believe gays should be allowed to teach school; 54 percent believe gays should be able to seve openly in the clergy; 68 percent believe gays should be able to coach youth sports.

Sixty-two percent say it is okay to have a gay Boy Scout or Girl Scout leader.

The survey also found that 15 percent of teens surveyed indicated prejudice against Hispanics and Latinos. 15 percent indicated prejudice against African-Americans.

Those figures show no change over the previous survey, which was conducted in 1998. However, the previous survey found a 48 percent prejudice against gays, which was a 19 percent increase over the 1996 survey.

Of the respondents, 80 percent report never having sexual intercourse, but of those who did, 83 percent were 16 or younger when they lost their virginity. They were not surveyed on whether their partner was same or different gender. These figures showed no significant change over 1998.

Condom use was not surveyed, but other risky behaviors such as alcohol and marijuana use were high among those sexually active.

In 1998, 64 percent said they would be more likely to use condoms if the school distributed them.

The results of this survey were similar to one released October 16 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV’s Choose or Loose 2000 project. That effort surveyed 603 adults ages 18-24 without regard to academic achievement.

That survey found that only eight percent of high schools had clubs for lesbian and gay students and that 54 percent of students believed that same-gender couples should have the right to marry.

The Kaiser survey also found that 53 percent believed that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military and 72 percent said they opposed legislation that would ban sex education that discussed sexual orientation.

GLBT activists interpret these results differently, but agree that schools have a long way to go to prepare youth to function in a diverse workforce or attend college.

"We tolerate things we disagree with as long as we don’t have to be involved," said Tom Saal, an English teacher at Akron’s Firestone High School and faculty advisor to the school’s newly-formed Gay Lesbian Straight Student Alliance.

On the disparity of showing bias and tolerance at the same time, Saal said, "I think those attitudes are prevalent as people think, ‘As long as I don’t have to touch it, it is okay’."

Saal said his group has been well-received by the students and faculty because as a new organization, it has been fairly quiet.

"But if it becomes more overt, I might hear about it," he said. "And that is the same thing we see happening with the survey results."

"The 40 percent is still less than half," said Stonewall Cincinnati executive director Doreen Cudnik optimistically.

"Those numbers are interesting and helpful to those of us doing that work," said Cudnik, "but it also shows that anti-GLBT bias is ingrained in our culture."

Cudnik pointed out that the 40 percent with bias is not a definitive indicator. "Some of those 40 percent will say they aren’t sure why they are anti-gay," she said, "but it is encouraging to see that when presented with specific, clear views of fairness and equality, people get it."

"Now we have to keep chipping away at that 40 percent," she concluded.

Akron Pride Center chair Tom Beck said, "It’s apparent that our youth know in their hearts that things are wrong, but in their minds, they go with society displaying animosity toward us."

Beck is concerned that the sample of the Who’s Who survey may not be representative enough. "We know what the top 20 percent of the students are thinking," he said, "What about the other 80 percent?"

GLSEN public policy director M. K. Cullen said the survey "speaks volumes as to where American schools are" on dealing with issues of sexual orientation.

"Schools are dealing with issues around sexual orientation in a schizophrenic way," she said, "and it’s showing up in these survey results."

"I’d like to know how they defined bias," Cullen remarked, asserting that it could have been any number of ways, including violence. "Students get a lot of mixed messages on this, and that is reflected in those results."

Cullen said that things done by some schools are trickling down, but there is no universal activity by the schools that is having an effect on culture.

Cullen pointed to a 1999 GLSEN survey of GLBT students showing that over 90 percent were victims of violence or harassment by other students and teachers.

"Many teachers either don’t recognize anti-gay harassment or don’t think it is their job description to stop it," she said.

 


New York and Los Angeles cut ties with Boy Scouts

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

The Boy Scouts of America, at the center of controversy after the Supreme Court’s June ruling that they could discriminate against gays, suffered two defeats in the last two weeks, as the New York City school board and Los Angeles city council ended formal relationships with the organization.

The Scouts also suit to overturn the Broward County, Florida school board’s decision to cut ties with the organization.

 

New York City

School chancellor Harold Levy announced December 1 that, following the end of the district’s current contract to send troubled youths to a Scout-run camp, no further contracts would be signed with the organization. There are two years left in the district’s $800,000 contract with the Boy Scouts.

The decision would not affect the "Learning for Life" program, which is run by a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts. The program sends non-uniformed Scouts into schools to help students deal with problems such as gangs and drugs. The program is open to all students, whether or not they are gay or atheist, another group the Boy Scouts discriminate against.

Levy’s edict also forbids schools from sponsoring Scout troops, or allowing Scouts to recruit during school hours.

School districts 2, 3, and 15 had already issued similar rulings on the Boy Scouts. The three districts cover parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Upper East Side.

Daniel Gasparo, chief executive officer of the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts, wrote in a letter to Levy that his councils will not discriminate against gays, and have made progress in turning the national council away from its anti-gay policy.

However, other councils have made similar statements, and been forced to comply with national policy.

 

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously November 28 to cut ties between the Boy Scouts and the city, citing discrimination against gays and atheists.

According to the council, Los Angeles ordinances forbid the city to have relationships with discriminatory organizations.

The first step following the decision will be the dismantling of the police department’s Explorers unit, a police cadet training program for young people that is affiliated with the Boy Scouts. The program should be eliminated within 90 days. The police department will then create an alternative program.

The city will also start a department-by-department audit to find other contracts with Boy Scout groups and affiliates, and all city contracts will be verified for non-discrimination clauses.

Further, the Parks and Recreation Department will now charge fees for use of facilities. Until now, the fees charged to other groups were waived for the Scouts.

 

Broward County

The Boy Scouts filed suit December 4 in federal court to stop the eviction of 57 troops using school facilities in the county.

Claiming both that they are being discriminated against because of their views, and that other discriminating organizations are being allowed to use facilities, attorneys for the Scouts filed the suit to stop the county from ousting them on December 17.

The Broward County School Board voted unanimously November 14 to terminate all agreements with the Boy Scouts, claiming that their policies violate a non-discrimination clause in the Scouts’ contract with the schools.

If the suit fails, the scouts will no longer be able to recruit on school grounds or use schools or buses for meetings and events.

Superintendent Frank Till has ordered his staff to look through the contracts the county’s schools have with other organizations to ensure that no other groups are engaged in unfair discrimination.

Attorneys for the Scouts have pointed to a number of other organizations that have specific membership requirements, primarily to church groups and the Reserve Officers Training Corps. ROTC officials, however, have told the district that, while the military might not allow openly gay servicemembers, the program itself allows gay students to enroll.

The Scouts suit also cites Indian Princesses, a group affiliated with the YMCA for girls and their fathers, Aspira Clubs, groups for Puerto Ricans and Latinos, and religious groups that conduct services in the schools.

The district’s counsel, Ed Marko, told the school board in November that a group cannot be deemed to be discriminatory by only taking a specific type of member. According to Marko, the board is justified in keeping contracts with groups that recruit based on educational, safety or security considerations, like the at-risk Latino community in Broward County.


News Briefs

Loophole may allow same sex marriage in Ontario

Toronto—A Metropolitan Community Church pastor announced during December 3 services that, beginning in January, his congregation will perform legal same-sex weddings.

Rev. Brent Hawkes believes he has found a loophole in Ontario law that would enable him to perform the ceremonies.

Same-sex common-law marriages are recognized in Canada, after the Supreme Court ruled that not sanctioning them was unconstitutional. However, common-law marriages are only recognized after years of cohabitation.

Hawkes uncovered an old Ontario law that enables churches to perform common-law marriages by publishing "banns," announcements of the intention of two people to marry. The law allows people to marry without registering in a government office and allows members of the congregation to voice objections to the marriage. Hawkes has said that the genders of the couples will not be allowed as grounds for objection.

There are currently cases awaiting hearings before the provincial courts in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, asking that gay couples be allowed to marry.

The federal government has said that they do not believe the marriages will be legal. Lawyers for gay couples and the church, however, insist that they are, and they will go to court to prove it.

Presently no nation issues same-sex marriage licenses, although many European countries and one U.S. state have domestic partner laws similar to marriage. Holland is set to change its partner law into full same-sex marriage early next year.

 

Soulforce’s next stop is the Vatican

Laguna Beach, California--Soulforce, an interfaith organization for LGBT people and their allies, and Dignity USA, an organization for gay Catholics, announced December 5 that the two groups will take their campaign against "spiritual violence" to the Vatican.

The trip, scheduled for January 5 and 6, includes plans to tape demands for inclusion for all people to the "doors of the Vatican," according to a release, mirroring Martin Luther’s 1517 nailing of his 95 theses to the door of Saxony’s castle church.

The announcement comes weeks after 104 people were arrested in a Soulforce and Dignity protest outside the National Council of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Washington D.C.

The move was, in part, precipitated by the release of a 77-page report by the Pontifical Council for the Family, denouncing gay adoption and governmental recognition of same-sex unions.

The groups plan to hold a vigil before holding a press conference, culminating with the act of taping their demands to the door.

 

Student awarded $135,000

Somerset, Kentucky--School officials on November 28 settled a lawsuit filed by a student who claimed they failed to protect him from harassment by students who thought he was gay, attorneys said.

The Somerset Independent School District will pay an estimated $135,000 to Bradley Putman, said his mother, Regina Cooper.

On November 30, the school board adopted a more stringent harassment policy.

Putman, who is now 19, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in March, alleging administrators did nothing to shield him from ridicule and death threats during the 1997-98 school year.

When then-Superintendent Monte Chance met with Cooper, he told her the district had no policy against same-sex harassment, the lawsuit said.

The new policy forbids any harassment or discrimination based on "actual or perceived sexual orientation" and outlines the schools’ responsibilities and the recourse available to victims.

Cooper said the new harassment policy is the largest victory for her.

 

Repeal petitions turned in

Miami, Florida--The Christian Coalition and its allies turned in petitions containing thousands of signatures December 1 in a bid to repeal a Miami-Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Members of Take Back Miami-Dade County, a group spearheading the repeal drive, turned in what its members said were more than 59,000 signatures to the county clerk’s office. That would be well over the 35,000, or 4 percent, of the county’s registered voters the group needed to have sign.

The petition says that its backers are against a 1998 amendment to the Miami-Dade civil rights law making it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. That amendment was adopted by the county commission on a 7-6 vote.

In 1977, county voters overturned a similar law after former beauty queen Anita Bryant led a crusade against it.

The county clerk’s office forwarded the petitions to the county elections department for verification. If that process shows the group meets the 35,000-signature requirement, the referendum will be put on the ballot in the next countywide election.

The Christian Coalition also attempted to get the repeal measure on the November 2000 ballot, but failed to gather enough signatures by last summer’s deadline.

 

TG teen can return to school

Brockton, Mass.--A state appeals court judge November 30 upheld a lower court’s decision allowing a transgendered teenager to return to junior high school classes.

The eighth-grade student, referred to in court documents as Pat Doe, was barred from attending South Junior High School in Brockton as long as he continued to wear girl’s clothing to school.

The student’s grandmother sued Brockton schools. A therapist had diagnosed the student with gender identity disorder, and said failure to allow him to dress as a girl would be harmful to his mental health.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Linda Giles had issued a preliminary injunction allowing the 15-year-old to attend classes while the case is pending.

The schools had challenged Giles’ decision saying she had made some legal errors and was not impartial because the gay judge had once been an attorney for the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the organization that represents the student.

But Appeals Court Judge George Jacobs wrote in his decision that Giles "appears to have applied proper legal standards" and "did not abuse her discretion in granting the preliminary injunction in question."

 

State hate crime bill rejected

Richmond, Virginia--The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on December 1 rejected a bill that would have toughened penalties for crimes against gay men and lesbians.

The 8-4 vote, taken more than two months after Danny Lee Overstreet was killed when Ronald Gay walked into the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke and opened fire, seems to signal that similar legislation has little chance of passage if introduced again in January.

Legislators on the committee argued that Virginia has done nothing to condone persecution of gays and lesbians.

There were also arguments against the proposal based on the concept of equal protection under the law.

State Senator Patricia S. Ticer, the sponsor of the bill, argued that other groups who are victims of hate crime are similarly protected.

Virginia’s present hate crime law increases penalties for crimes against people based on their race or religion.

 

Schlessinger show is failing

Los Angeles, California—Radio and television host Laura Schlessinger is falling further from grace as her TV show finds itself moved to late night slots in more markets.

Currently, over half of the top 25 TV markets in the nation have moved the Dr. Laura television program to overnight time slots, a sign of poor performance.

"The whole show has been summarily panned by television critics," said Cathy Renna, director of regional media and community relations for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "People are not interested in supporting a show fronted by someone who is associated with prejudice."

In Ohio, WHIO Channel 7 in Dayton has moved the show from a prime daytime spot to 1:35 am. Nationally, a number of stations owned and operated by CBS have moved Schlessinger to late night slots.

"What we really see is a trend," Renna said. "A number of CBS owned and operated stations in large markets made a joint statement that they were moving her to overnight."

The major reason for the move is ratings. Stations determine their advertising rates according to their ratings, and Schlessinger’s are very low.

"Our feeling right now is that this show has been clearly rejected by the public," Renna continued. "You’ve got stations that are hemorrhaging money over this."

 

Carnahan appointed senator

Jefferson City, Missouri—Gov. Roger Wilson has appointed Jean Carnahan to become the state’s next U.S. senator in place of her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, who posthumously won the November 7 election.

The appointment is effective January 3, the date new senators are sworn in. Wilson said December 4 he signed it early to allow his predecessor’s widow to participate in freshman senator orientation in Washington, which began December 5.

He announced the signing after the Missouri Board of State Canvassers certified Democrat Mel Carnahan’s victory over anti-gay Republican Sen. John Ashcroft.

Jean Carnahan was not in Jefferson City for the appointment, but Wilson said he talked to her earlier in the day.

The move was expected, but is still good news for the gay and lesbian community in Missouri. Gov. Carnahan was an outspoken supporter of gay rights, and it was the hope of LGBT activists in the state that he would defeat Ashcroft, who has been vehemently anti-gay over the course of his Senate career.

 

Pastor finds way for same-sex unions

Chicago--A Methodist minister suspended last year after presiding over same-sex marriages said church law allows for such unions--if they take place outside of the church.

In a twist on the traditional wedding ceremony, couples at the Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago exchange vows at a ceremony with friends and family outside of church and then return to the church to celebrate their unions, the Rev. Gregory Dell said December 5.

All weddings at the church now are conducted in the same manner in ceremonies for both same-sex and opposite-sex ceremonies under a policy adopted Sept. 12. Several ceremonies have been held since then, and more are planned, Dell said.

Bishop C. Joseph Sprague said the ceremony and service appear to satisfy church law.

Dell was suspended last year after a church trial found that he had violated United Methodist law by presiding over the holy union of two Chicago men in 1998. He returned to the pulpit in July.

Dell said about 45 percent of his congregation is gay or lesbian.

 

Trial set in Matson, Mowder killing

Redding, Calif.--A Shasta County judge has set a trial date for two brothers accused of killing a gay couple because they "violated God’s law."

The murder trial of Benjamin Matthew Williams, 32, and James Tyler Williams, 30, is scheduled to begin next Sept. 19.

The Palo Cedro brothers are accused of killing Winfield Mowder, 40, and Gary Matson, 50, in the couple’s Happy Valley home. Mowder and Matson were found shot to death July 1, 1999.

District Attorney McGregor Scott is seeking the death penalty.

The brothers, held without bail in the Shasta County jail since last summer, have pleaded innocent to all charges. However, Benjamin Williams told a newspaper in 1999 that he shot Matson and Mowder because he believed their homosexuality violated God's law.

The brothers also face federal charges in the June 1999 arsons at three Sacramento area synagogues and a fire set later at a Sacramento building housing an abortion clinic.

Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman, Patti Harris and Brian DeWitt.


 

 

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