by Denny Sampson
Lakewood--In spite of vocal and hostile opposition expressed at a January 10 meeting, the Lakewood City Council will act on a proposed ordinance to extend benefits to the domestic partners of city workers.
Council will vote on the measure at its next meeting unless something unforeseen happens, said Councilmember-at-large Michael Skindell.
"The committee has done the its work," said Skindell. "We have done our research, we have taken testimony, we have incorporated peopleís concerns into the ordinance as amendments, and its time to take it back to the council. It will be on the docket for the next council meeting." The meeting is Tuesday, January 18 at 7:30 pm at Lakewood City Hall.
On January 10, it was standing room only at a public meeting of the Rules and Ordinances committee, as nearly 300 people came out to have their say on the issue of domestic partnership.
Skindell and council vice president Nancy Roth, co-sponsors of the ordinance, gave a brief overview of the ordinance, taking care to clarify points of confusion.
If approved, the ordinance will extend spouse-related benefits, such as health care coverage and bereavement leave, to domestic partners of city employees.
Roth said that the cost to the city of implementing the ordinance would be minimal, between $16,800 and $39,400. Taxes would not need to be raised. An amendment stating that the ordinance in no way redefines marriage will be included in the proposal.
Skindell pointed out that an employee whose domestic partner becomes insured through this legislation will take on a tax consequence, since the value of the added insurance will be considered taxable.
The committee spent most of the evening taking testimony.
"This is the sixth meeting where we have taken public testimony, and we really want to hear what everyone has to say," Roth said.
And she did.
For nearly four hours, people took their turn at the microphone to speak their minds. At times Skindell barely maintained control of the meeting as members of the audience interrupted speakers and as speakers refused to stay focused on the ordinance.
Joseph Mazzarella, a regular attendee at council meetings, was escorted out of the room by Lakewood police officers because he wouldnít leave the podium and Skindell wouldnít recognize him, since he had previously given testimony.
"Itís hard to say, but it seemed as though the gays and lesbians were outnumbered, but maybe that is because the other side was louder and meaner," said John Farina, a former candidate for Lakewood council. "But I am sure there were at least 100 to 125 gays and lesbians there."
Lakewood resident Bill Paradise summed up the arguments of the opposition:
"Our lives are a product of the choices we have made. Somewhere you have to draw a line between right and wrong. I think itís ludicrous that council is going to redefine family. I donít want anyone else going into my pocket."
Lesbian mother Nicky Antonio said, "My family doesnít need to be redefined. We exist, therefore we are."
Patrick Corrigan said he opposes the ordinance because it makes him pay for situations that he finds immoral.
Rodney Schlinker said, "I canít support this ordinance until societyís definition of marriage has changed. In a recent Gallup poll, over 70% of the people in the U.S. are Christians and believe in the Bible. Morality comes from the people."
Melanie Tetnany asked, "Werenít the state and religion separated a long time ago? I donít understand what makes me so different just because I love someone of the same sex."
Brett Darner said, "You are codifying homosexual unions as paramount to the health of the nation. This is a perversion of Godís plan."
Dan Hlad, public relations director for the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, said "Iím Dan and I canít say where I live because I live in fear of those who speak for Jesus. The gays and lesbians in Lakewood pay enough taxes to more than compensate for the cost of the ordinance.
Four ordained ministers spoke during the meeting, and three of them supported the ordinance. However, the Rev. Mike Bartelone, president of the Lakewood Ministerial Association, said, "This is an issue of safety. If you pass this ordinance, the blood of the children of Lakewood will be on your hands."
Michelle McKee said, "You are making a huge issue out of people who love each other. Itís really hard to come here and hear the religious condemnation. You want to use God to punish other people.
Mike Ferbody said, "In Cincinnati, the council passed something like this, and the citizens rose up and changed the city charter so it couldnít happen again. If this ordinance passes, we will organize and we will change our charter so it canít happen again.
David Larsen said, "The financial burden of this ordinance is minimal. I am more concerned with the virulent expression of religious bigotry. Jefferson spoke of the separation of church and state, and he said there should be a wall between the two. Your morality stops where my civil rights stop."
Nora Peralta said, "This is a major issue for both sides. I am asking council to put it to a vote through out the community. It looks like the council is trying to sneak something by us.
Councilmember Edward Fitzgerald, formerly a member of the Rules and Ordinances Committee, said, "The council cannot duck tough issues. This council will vote on this when all the facts have been heard."
Both Roth and Skindell believe that vote will take place on January 18. Skindell said, "I am not concerned with the political ramifications. I believe this ordinance is the right thing to do, and I believe most people in Lakewood agree with me."
by Denny Sampson
Fort Campbell, Ky.ĖFollowing a plea bargain, a soldier was sentenced to 12Ĺ years in prison for his role in the death of another soldier who was assumed to be gay.
The parents of the victim and a group that represent gay and lesbian service members criticized the sentence as too lenient.
On January 8, Spc. Justin R. Fisher, 26, of Lincoln, Neb., pleaded guilty to lying to Army investigators and to obstructing justice in the investigation of the murder of Fisherís roommate, 18-year-old Pfc. Barry Winchell of Kansas City, Mo.
Winchell was attacked July 5 with a baseball bat and beaten to death while he was sleeping. The primary suspect, another soldier who lived in the barracks, Pvt. Calvin N. Glover, 19, of Sulfur, Okla., was arrested and tried for premeditated murder.
During his court martial in December, Glover testified that Winchell had gotten the better of him in a fight on July 3. Then, on the night of the attack, Glover testified that he and Fisher were drinking heavily, and that Fisher was teasing Glover about being beaten by a "faggot." Fisher allegedly gave Glover the baseball bat and told Glover that he should use it to get even with Winchell.
On Dec. 8,. Glover was found guilty of premeditated murder, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Fisher was set to be court-martialed at Fort Campbell on Monday, January 10. He was charged with goading Glover into attacking Winchell, and lying to Army investigators, among other charges.
On January 8, Fisher made a plea agreement with the armyís prosecuting attorney. As part of the agreement, charges of premeditated murder and acting as an accessory after the fact were dismissed in exchange for Fisherís plea. Fisher also pleaded guilty to supplying alcohol to a minor, since he had purchased beer for Glover.
Fisher admitted in earlier testimony that he washed the blood from the bat and lied about his involvement to investigators.
A military policeman testified that he saw Fisher covered in blood and shouting, "Let him die! Let him die!" as an ambulance carried Winchell to the hospital.
Keith Caruso, a Nashville psychiatrist for the defense, said he had diagnosed Fisher as an alcoholic with a cross-dressing fetish.
Caruso said Fisher told him he was not sexually attracted to men, but that wearing lingerie beneath his clothing aroused him and made him feel more comfortable.
Caruso said that the fetish had apparently developed while Fisher was growing up. Fisher allegedly envied the closeness of his three sisters and their affectionate relationship with their mother. He longed to become "one of the girls," the psychiatrist said.
The psychiatrist claimed that Fisher had been troubled about his cross-dressing and his participation in the crime. He appeared to find some relief in his diagnosis, Caruso said.
Fisherís mother, Connie Butler, testified that she divorced Fisherís father, who was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, in 1987.
Butler said her husband always seemed disappointed in his sonís performance in sports and in school.
"He was just not being the man he wanted him to be," she said. "He just could not get up to that standard for him."
Tears at sentencing
During his sentencing, Fisher apologized to his family and to the relatives of the victim.
"Barry, I hope you can hear me," Fisher said. "Iím sorry for the part I played in this. I know you are now in a better place. I hope you know that if I could go back to the morning it happened, I would have changed it all."
Fisher said he didnít think Glover was serious when he talked about going after Winchell.
"I didnít know he had that much rage in him," Fisher said. "Even when he came back in [Fisherís room, immediately after the attack], I didnít know the extent of what Glover had done to Barry. Iím sorry from the bottom of my heart."
Military Judge Col. Kenneth D. Pangburn wanted to sentence Fisher to 14 years in prison, but under the terms of the agreement, Fisher could be sentenced to no more than 12Ĺ years.
Fisher will be imprisoned at Fort Knox.
Reactions to the sentence
The mother and stepfather of the victim criticized the verdict as too lenient. Fisherís parents, Pat and Wally Kutteles, said that they could not understand how the Army could at first charge Fisher with goading Glover to murder their son, then drop the most serious charges.
"Suddenly, the Army let him plead to nothing related to the actual murder . . . justice was not served today," they said in a statement.
Wally Kutteles, Winchellís stepfather, testified that his family could have handled Winchellís death more easily had it occurred during combat or training.
"This is a tragedy that never should have happened," he said, his voice rising.
Kutteles said he was angry that, after learning about the attack, Fisher, who made the 911 call, didnít do enough to help his stepson.
"Specialist Fisher was too busy cleaning off a bat to go see what happened to him," Kutteles said.
The sentence is "a travesty," said C. Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "Weíre left with huge questions about why Ft. Campbell cut this deal."
Fisher will be eligible for parole in about four years, Osburn added.
The SLDN is urging people to call or write to military officials to ask for the resignation of Major General Clarke, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell.
"Clarke is the commander responsible for the lack of supervision, lack of leadership and excessive drinking in the barracks that, with anti-gay harassment, created the conditions in which Pvt. Calvin Glover could murder Pfc. Winchell," said an SLDN release.
Even after Winchellís murder, anti-gay harassment has continued at Fort Campbell, according to reports from soldiers. In some cases, soldiers have even mocked Winchellís murder, making references to "faggots" and baseball bats, as a way to intimidate others.
SLDN has assisted two soldiers in leaving Ft. Campbell recently because they feared for their safety.
Winchellís murder has reverberated throughout the military, and has become a key issue for both parties in the presidential campaign.
It has also renewed the debate over the Clinton administrationís "donít ask, donít tell" policy six years after it was adopted, which allows gays to serve in the military provided they keep their sexual orientation to themselves and do not engage in sexual acts.
Those who favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military cite the Winchellís murder as evidence that the "donít ask" policy has failed.
After Gloverís conviction, President Clinton himself said the policy was "out of whack." Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen ordered the Pentagonís inspector general to investigate whether gays face harassment on military bases because of their sexual orientation.
Army to expand inquiry
The Army plans to investigate whether officers at Fort Campbell overlooked the daily harassment that trial witnesses said Winchell faced before he was beaten to death.
The Armyís inspector general, Lt. Gen. Michael W. Ackerman, is expected to focus on the environment at Fort Campbell in the months leading up to Winchellís killing.
Ackerman is also expected to investigate other aspects of discipline and leadership at the base, including why soldiers were allowed to drink excessively and openly at their barracks with little apparent intervention.
According to witnesses, Winchell kept his sexual orientation to himself because he feared discharge under "donít ask, donít tell. However, he was still subjected to relentless harassment.
Some soldiers in his unit testified that they had reported the taunting to Fort Campbellís inspector general, but that nothing came of it.
In Gloverís trial, soldiers testified that Winchell repeatedly experienced taunting with antigay slurs and that superiors did not intervene.
One sergeant, Michael Kleifgen, even testified that he had questioned Winchell about his sexuality, which is a clear violation of the "donít ask, donít tell" policy.
Parents may sue Army
The parents of Winchell may sue the Army for failing to protect their son from anti-gay harassment, the Washington Post reported January 10.
"What itís shown us that the military is not a safe place to send our children to," Pat Kutteles told the Post. "I donít believe in lawsuits, in everybody suing other people, but itís the last resort."
SLDN co-director Michelle M. Benecke said the Armyís decision to order an inspector generalís investigation came too late and fell short of what was needed.
"The Army needs to do more than a review," she said. "Army leaders need to take action and make changes in the command climate at Fort Campbell and elsewhere."
by Eric Resnick
The "donít ask, donít tell" policy on gays in the military figured prominently in the presidential primary races last week, with both Democratic candidates calling for gays to be allowed to serve openly, and most Republicans supporting the present policy.
Democratic candidate Al Goreís detractors accused him of "backpedaling" on whether he would have a litmus test for appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At a January 5 debate in New Hampshire, moderator Peter Jennings asked, "If you become president, will you nominate members of the Joint Chiefs who only support your gay policy? In other words, will it be a litmus test?"
"I would insist before appointing anybody to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the individual support my policy [that gay service members should be able to serve openly] and yes, I would make that a requirement," Gore said.
Following criticism by military commanders and their supporters, Gore said, "What I meant to convey was I would not tolerate, nor would any commander-in-chief, nor would any president, tolerate orders not being followed. I did not mean to imply that there should ever be any kind of inquiry into the personal political opinions of officers in the U.S. military."
Bill Bradley, Goreís opponent for the Democratic nomination, answered Jenningsí question by pointing out that the Joint Chiefs must follow the presidentís orders, but "A consultation process takes place in which you hear their views."
The Republican National Committee aired a TV ad in Iowa and New Hampshire accusing Gore of advocating a policy that would prohibit Gens. Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf from serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both helped craft the "donít ask" policy.
Less than one month after John McCain accepted 40,000 dollars in campaign contributions from members of the gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP presidential candidate attacked Gore and Bradley for their positions on gays in the military.
McCain told a January 9 fundraiser in New Hampshire that neither Gore nor Bradley is qualified to be commander in chief, based on their responses at the January 5 debate.
McCain continued, "The Ďdonít ask, donít tellí policy works. It was designed by Colin Powell and many others. It works. Iíll support it and Iíll continue to improve it and Iíll do whatís best for our military."
Log Cabin communications director Kevin Ivers responded to inquiries by saying, "[McCain] might not even be the nominee. It might be Bush."
However, Republican frontrunner George W. Bush also stands by the "donít ask," policy. In response to a question at a January 6 GOP debate, Bush made his own litmus test, saying he would not appoint anyone to the Joint Chiefs who advocated gays serving openly.
Of the other four GOP candidates, religious-right figures Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer called for a return to a total gay ban at the January 6 forum. Steve Forbes said open gays should not be allowed, and Orrin Hatch said he "will not expect anybody in the military to live any way other than the way I live."
Meanwhile, the mainstream media has struggled to find differences between the plans and the statements offered by Democrats Gore and Bradley.
"You canít put a millimeter of a hairís difference between Gore and Bradley on this," said Human Rights Campaign political director Winnie Stachelberg. "Both are committed to making sure that nothing like the murder of Barry Winchell happens again."
Pfc. Winchell was beaten to death at Ft. Campbell last July, after months of anti-gay harassment.
Stachelberg said that the issue of gay service members will continue to be a high priority for HRC.
Repeal effort is not a priority
While debating the issue on NBCís Meet the Press January 9, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said he would introduce legislation to repeal the "donít ask, donít tell" law enacted by Congress in 1993, if HRC and others think it is advisable to do so.
On the same program, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said a repeal effort would be a mistake until a new Congress is elected.
"A bill to repeal will go nowhere in this Republican Congress," said Frank, who also spoke of the need for Congress to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice so specified sex acts, including those between same-sex couples, are not illegal.
Frank also said that the first step of the next Congress will be a gay and lesbian civil rights bill. " ĎDonít ask, donít tellí should not be first on the agenda," he added.
"Rep. Nadler is ready to introduce the bill at any point and he is happy to do it," said Nadler spokesperson Eric Schmeltzer. "But he agrees with Congressman Frank that this Republican congress is not the best time."
"The danger with doing something in this environment is that we may end up with something worse than we have," said Stachelberg.
Stachelberg said HRC will be looking for more than just a vote from members of Congress to get HRCís endorsement. "We want to see leadership. That means speaking out and sending a message beyond a vote."
Trial delayed for suspects in
Redding, Calif.--A Shasta County judge has delayed setting a trial date for two brothers accused of murdering a gay couple because their homosexuality "violated Godís law."
Superior Judge James Ruggiero granted defense attorneysí request for more time on January 7. He scheduled a hearing April 7 to set a trial date for Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, of Palo Cedro, near Redding in northern California.
The brothers are charged with robbing and murdering Winfield Mowder, 40, and Gary Matson, 50, who were found shot to death in their Happy Valley home July 1.
District Attorney McGregor Scott is seeking the death penalty.
The brothers have pleaded not guilty, but the elder Williams has told reporters that he committed the murders, and that he also set fire to three Sacramento-area synagogues on June 18, causing over $1 million in damage.
He added that the fires empowered him to commit the murders, to follow what he said is Godís laws against homosexuality.
He said his younger brother was not involved in any of the crimes. However, authorities say Tyler Williamsí palm print is on the murder weapon. They also discount the elder Williamsí claim that the fires were set with the help of eight other white supremacists.
Federal authorities are investigating the Williams brothers role in the temple fires, which caused more than $1 million in damage.
The brothers are also suspects in a July 2 arson at a Sacramento building that houses an abortion clinic. They have yet to be charged in any of the fires.
Crosby is daddy to Etheridge children
Los AngelesóMelissa Etheridge and her partner Julie Cypher have revealed that the father of their two children is rocker David Crosby.
The couple, tired of media speculation about the father of their daughter Bailey, age three, and one-year-old son Beckett told Rolling Stone magazine about their donor selection.
"Heís musical, which means a lot to me, and I admire his work." said the 38-year-old Etheridge, a fan of Crosby, in the magazineís January 14 issue.
Cypher, age 35 and former wife of actor Lou Diamond Phillips, bore the children. Cypher said that "No kitchen implements were involved."
Crosby, 58 and already a father of four, was not present at the two births, nor does he have any parental duties, according to Etheridge.
The family, including Crosby and his wife Jan, appeared on the cover of the magazine.
"Maybe itís a good thing for a lot of straight families to see that this is not something strange." said Crosby.
Court wonít hear AIDS cap case
Washington, D.C.óThe U.S. Supreme Court has allowed an insurance companyís caps on AIDS coverage to remain in place.
The court on January 7 declined to review Doe v. Mutual of Omaha, in which two Chicago men challenged the insurance companyís lifetime limit on coverage for HIV-related treatments. The men are identified in court documents as "John Doe" and "Richard Smith."
The men say that the limit prohibits them from using state of the art treatments to prolong their lives, and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The companyís coverage limit for other diseases is often ten times the amount of that for HIV.
In a December 1998 ruling, U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon ruled against Mutual of Omaha, saying that HIV care is not more expensive than other illnesses. This decision was reversed by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The high courtís refusal to hear the case leaves the lower court ruling for the caps intact in the Seventh Circuit, which is Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
Judge wonít dismiss pilotís suit
Atlantic City, N.J.--A Superior Court judge has rejected the stateís request to dismiss a lawsuit by a New Jersey Air National Guard fighter pilot who claims he was harassed by members of his unit.
Maj. Robert Scott accuses fellow pilots of harassing and humiliating him because they believed he was gay. He also was punished for complaining about the alleged harassment, according to his lawsuit filed last March.
Andrew J. Walko, a deputy attorney general defending the National Guard and the state, told Judge George L. Seltzer January 7 that the military should be permitted to handle the matter internally, without court interference. Seltzer denied the stateís motion to dismiss the case.
According to the lawsuit, Scott was called a "faggot" and "homosexual" and subjected to humiliation while he was stationed at the 177th Fighter Wing at the Atlantic City International Airport in Pomona, N.J..
Members of the squadron assumed Scott was gay because he is unmarried, shares an apartment with flight attendants and doesnít have a girlfriend, the lawsuit said. Scott has denied he is gay.
After Scott complained, he was grounded and forced to take a pay cut, the lawsuit alleges. He has since been reassigned to a nonflying position with the 108th Air Refueling Wing at McGuire Air Force Base, said Christopher P. Lenzo, Scottís attorney.
Walko disputed Scottís allegations.
Seltzer must still decide whether the case can go to trial, based on whether Scott was on a "state mission" or a "federal mission" while serving as a National Guard pilot. He would be barred from pursuing a claim in state court if Seltzer determines that the mission was federal.
A ruling is not expected for several months.
Compiled from wire reports by Michelle Tomko and Brian DeWitt.
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