Akron considers adding gays, TGs to rights law
by Anthony Glassman
Akron—City Council is considering an ordinance to add gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to the city’s civil rights ordinance.
The proposed ordinance was introduced at the September 11 meeting of the Public Safety committee by Council President Marco Sommerville of Ward 3.
It also adds disability to the city’s present ordinance, and expands it to cover private employment. The existing measure, passed in the late 1970s, covers discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and city employment based on race, religion, color, sex, and national origin.
The proposed amendment includes sexual orientation, which it defines as "male or female homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality, by orientation, preference, or practice."
It adds protection for transgender people by changing the definition of "sex" in the existing ordinance.
" ‘Sex’ means the state of being or becoming male or female or transsexual," the new measure reads, "and includes a person’s gender, identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s sex at birth."
The ordinance, if passed, would make Akron the 11th city in Ohio with a gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance, and the second to include protection for transgender people. Toledo includes "gender identity" in its 1998 gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance.
The only major hurdle for the ordinance is its requirement of a body to receive, review, and act on complaints of violations. It calls for the city’s Human Relations Commission to review written complaints of offenses and act on them, refereeing a resolution when possible, and recommending public hearings when a brokered solution is not reached.
Currently, the Human Relations Commission lacks this power. Their role now is simply to screen complaints, not act on them, as they would be required to do under the new measure.
The city law department is currently working to resolve the difference between the commission’s present powers and the ones outlined in the new ordinance.
After the law department resolves the situation, the ordinance will go to public hearings before Council’s Public Safety Committee.
Ten other Ohio cities have ordinances protecting their gays and lesbian citizens: Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Youngstown, Athens, Oberlin, Yellow Springs, Cleveland Heights, Lakewood and North Olmsted. Also, Westlake’s law director has ruled that the city’s fair housing ordinance covers sexual orientation discrimination.
Texas women exchange vows in nation’s
first legal same-sex marriage
by Anthony Glassman
San Antonio, Texas--Two women made history here September 16 by becoming the first lesbians to legally marry each other in the United States.
The historic move was made possible by a ruling by a Texas appeals court in another case. In the other case, Christine Littleton, a transsexual woman, sued a doctor for malpractice after the death of her husband.
The 4th District Court of Appeals, covering the San Antonio region, ruled that Littleton, having been born male, could not have legally been married to her husband.
Building on the ruling that one’s sex is determined by chromosomes and sex at birth, Robin and Jessica Wicks decided to get married, since Jessica Wicks was born a man.
A Bexar County clerk granted them a marriage license on September 6, after he was informed of the decision of the 4th District Court, housed next door to the County Clerk’s office.
Robin Wicks had previously changed her last name to reflect the depth of her commitment to Jessica.
"I’m on cloud nine," Robin Wicks told the Houston Chronicle.
by Anthony Glassman
Cleveland--September 17 dawned a beautiful, sunny day, and saw the latest installments of two enduring Cleveland fundraising traditions.
The first, the Dr. John T. Carey Memorial AIDS Walk, celebrated its tenth year. By 10 am, the field by the lower pavilion of Edgewater Park was buried under a sea of people. The walkers stepped off an hour later.
To the south, beginning at 11 am, was the Northern Ohio Coalition Inc. (NOCI) "We Are Family" Festival, which changed location this year. Last year, the gala was at Wildwood Lake Water Park in Columbia Township. This year, the 22nd annual event moved to Parma and the German-American Cultural Center’s lush picnic grounds.
The walk had a number of vendors, including Cleveland Pride and Night Sweats and T Cells, a collective of people with AIDS who produce T-shirts and other garments, which are sold to raise funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS issues.
There were also information booths for a number of local organizations, including Stonewall Democrats, The Living Room, and a presentation of panels from the Names Project Quilt, which drew hundreds to the hand-made patchwork panels commemorating lost loved ones.
NOCI’s picnic featured food and beverage, with bartenders from area clubs serving beer, and an all-star line-up of northern Ohio’s best gay club deejays.
"This is one of my favorite events," Linda Malicki, executive director of the Cleveland Gay and Lesbian Center, said of the picnic.
There were also volleyball courts, casino and skill games, and an area for people to grill their own food.
The picnic raised $15,000 in gate receipts, plus advance ticket sales, which were not available at press time. A crowd of 750 people paid between $20 and $25 admission.
"One of the main reasons we moved is that the new park cost us half as much as the old park," said NOCI president Edd Martin. "People responded very well to the move."
Last year, the event drew nearly 2,000 people, and raised around $35,000. Martin said the drop in attendance was partly due to the new location.
Amounts raised at the AIDS Walk were not available at press time.
The 1999 AIDS Walk brought in over $300,000 for a number of local charities, including the AIDS Housing Council of Cleveland, Project SAFE, and Planned Parenthood.
Los Alamitos, Calif.--An Arizona state lawmaker is fighting his ouster from the U.S. Army Reserves for violating the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy when he said he is gay during a legislative debate on an anti-gay bill.
A panel of three colonels recommended September 17 that Lt. Steve May be honorably discharged.
The discharge recommendation still must be reviewed by a general and then be sent to the Department of Defense for approval. In the meantime, May will continue to serve two days a month in the reserves.
May said he will appeal. "I’ll continue to serve until the appeals process is exhausted," he said.
The panel rejected the Army’s recommendation that May be given an other-than-honorable general discharge.
"We presented the position that we thought was justified in this case," said Maj. Mark Johnson, who argued the military’s case.
The Army began investigating May after an acrimonious February 1999 Arizona House debate on a bill that would have prohibited government benefits for employees’ domestic partners. He reminded a fellow lawmaker that derogatory statements she had made about gay people applied to him, also.
May had been open about his sexuality since his first campaign for elected office in 1996. That was after he was honorably discharged from active duty in 1995 and before he was recalled to active duty in the Army Reserve during the Kosovo crisis.
His attorney, Christopher Wolf, said the investigation was a personal attack on the legislator’s integrity.
May’s record was unblemished and he has been rated an exceptional officer.
"We believe the board ignored the facts and ignored the law," Wolf said.
The Army could have allowed May to remain in the reserves by declaring his continued service to be for the good of the military, Wolf said.
The colonels who heard the case at a military base south of Los Angeles where May’s unit is based rejected that argument.
May serves with the 348th Transportation Company as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare officer, training soldiers to defend themselves against chemical weapons.
The board’s decision shows "that the policy does not work," said Stacey Sobel, legal director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit organization that helps military members facing discharge because of their sexual orientation.
by Eric Resnick
Columbus--Attorneys for a couple trying to get the county to return their six-year-old transgender child have withdrawn due to the parents’ separation.
The girl was taken from her parents on August 23 by Franklin County Children Services. She was placed with a foster family, who have forced her to live as a boy.
Legal ethics dictate that attorneys cannot represent parties whose interests in a case could become different, such as a separated couple.
Family Court Judge Kay Lias released the attorneys from the case September 20 at the same time she ruled on a motion brought by guardian ad litem Rebecca Steele for a gag order. CBS News and other media fought this motion, holding up the custody proceedings.
Lias ruled that cameras and reporters would be allowed in open court, but placed a gag order on all parties, not allowing any comment to media outside the court record.
The child’s mother, Sherry Lipscomb, appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America show earlier this week and has been approached for appearances on numerous daytime talk shows.
During hearings held September 14 and 18 on this motion, Steele asserted that media attention is detrimental to the child and not in the child’s best interest.
Steele and attorneys for Children Services called two witnesses to support their claim. The first was social worker Martha Lambert, who was present when the family handed the child over to Children Services at the studios of WCMH TV.
She testified that the child was emotional when she was handed over.
According to Mark Narens, an openly gay attorney representing the Lipscomb family, Lambert conceded during cross examination that all children get emotional when they are taken from their parents, so the media attention had no effect.
The other witness called by Steele was psychologist Jolie Brams of Columbus. She has never seen the child and had only read parts of her file, but testified that to an average hypothetical child, the media attention would be upsetting.
Narens and attorney Marion Little, representing the Columbus Dispatch, decided not to cross-examine Brams because they felt her testimony was not very strong.
During the course of the hearing, Steele again tried to assert the possibility of the parents having Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Steele has attempted to make that claim at an earlier hearing September 12. Upon Narens’ objection, Magistrate Lorenzo Sanchez ruled her out of order and struck the comments from the record.
Munchausen by proxy is a very rare condition where caregivers attempt to bring attention to themselves by harming a child. It is generally diagnosed by observation of consistent behavior over a long period of time. In this case, no medical professional has ever suspected the syndrome, and Children Services made no mention of any suspicion of it during the case they had with the family from February to July of this year.
Steele refused to comment on where her suspicions of the syndrome come from, but court documents indicate that the child has been seen by 13 doctors and been hospitalized four times since January, 1998.
"She is just trying to poison the well," said Narens of Steele. "She has no proof and nothing to base [the Munchausen claim] on. She just keeps bringing it up as if to say to the judge: This is something you should look at."
There is a hearing on the family’s motion to vacate the magistrate’s order for temporary emergency custody scheduled for September 26.
Narens and attorney Randi Barnabee filed that motion, but since they have withdrawn as counsel, that hearing is not likely to move forward, again delaying the court’s ability to address the core custody issues.
Before the case can move forward, each parent will need to hire legal counsel independently. It is also less likely that a federal civil rights suit against Children Services, some of its employees, and other parties involved in the removal of the child from her home will go forward.
Steele did indicate to the Gay People’s Chronicle that she is "trying to maintain an open mind" regarding gender identity disorder and transgender issues.
"I welcome any information you would like to send me," she said.
Steele can be reached at the public defender’s office, 373 South High Street, 12th floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215; 614-462-3194.
by Anthony Glassman
Cincinnati--A police officer filed a federal lawsuit against the city September 18, claiming his superiors demoted him from sergeant because he is transgendered.
Phillip W. Barnes’ suit alleges that he was demoted because he did not fit the masculine stereotype his superiors wanted, and because the officers responsible for his demotion were motivated by prejudice.
Barnes was promoted to the rank of sergeant in January of 1999, and placed on a standard six-month probationary period. According to the suit, the scrutiny under which he was placed far exceeded that given to any other sergeant.
During the probationary period, a number of Barnes’ superiors and co-workers commented on his appearance, sexual activities, and his ability to command. The lawsuit also states that it was common knowledge in his division that Barnes was not straight, but perceptions of his sexuality ran the gamut from gay to transsexual, bisexual to transvestite.
The commander who recommended the demotion claimed that he was unaware of Barnes’ sexual orientation, and that the failing of probation was due solely to poor performance. The report on the reasons for the demotion stated that Barnes could not write proper reports, had poor judgment in dealing with street situations, had no time management skills, was not honest, and did not have an air of authority.
by Sarah Mieras
Hart, Michigan--The tents have come down, the shuttles are in storage and festival-goers and volunteers have gone home from August’s 25th-anniversary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in Hart.
Meanwhile, allegations of sexually abusive activity toward children and other violations of Michigan’s criminal code at the festival have been submitted to Michigan attorney general Jennifer Granholm.
The allegations, which first surfaced on the web site of the anti-gay group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, are based on chat-style forum discussions held on the festival’s web site.
Some of the women in the forum said that children, who are allowed at the event with their mothers, may have witnessed nudity, women kissing, or overheard people having sex inside tents. Others said that some frank workshops were not far enough from common paths, but did not mention children being on the paths.
Children have a separate campground, divided into three age groups. But girls, and boys age five and under, are allowed onto the rest of the festival’s land.
Using an online article titled "Homosexual Acts Performed in Front of Children," which quoted the on-line conversations as evidence, Gary Glenn of the American Family Association issued press releases the first week of September.
Glenn sent the releases to two newspapers near the festival site, the Ludington Daily News and the Oceana Herald-Journal, the prosecuting attorneys’ offices in both Mason and Oceana counties, and to the office of the Michigan attorney general.
To date, both papers have run brief articles detailing Glenn’s accusations. Oceana County Prosecutor Terry Shaw told Between the Lines, a Michigan LGBT weekly, that his office did receive the allegations. Shaw said he has not, however received any complaints from anyone who attended the festival.
"What this is, is a news release that contained information from a web site chat room," said Shaw. "I am presuming on it there were people with pseudonyms talking about what they saw there and there was a debate going on."
With a staff of two, including himself, Shaw said his office is not equipped to handle a full-blown investigation into the allegations made by the AFA, and has turned the matter over to the state attorney general.
"We haven’t taken it seriously," said Shaw. "To the extent as to believe what is on there, as far as what the kids are being exposed to."
Festival producer Lisa Vogel said that it is not the first time something like this has happened.
"This is a group of people who think that being gay is illegal and certainly being gay and having children is illegal," said Vogel. "When they attack the festival, they attack lesbian culture."
With a number of workshops and support groups offered during the festival that deal specifically with survivors of sexual abuse, Vogel said the allegations of abuse are the antithesis of what really happens at the week-long event.
She noted that 75 percent of those who send in post-festival feedback forms indicate that their favorite aspect of the festival is how safe they feel.
"That’s deep, that women feel that unsafe at home," said Vogel. "This is probably the one place that these kids feel safe."
Genna Gent, a spokesperson for the Micheigan attorney general told Between the Lines last week that the office had received the allegations sent by the AFA and is currently in the process of reviewing them.
"But we haven’t at this point made any decisions about what we will or will not do," said Gent.
by Anthony Glassman
Kirkersville, Ohio--Over 2,000 women turned out this year for the twelfth Ohio Lesbian Festival on September 9.
The day-long festival, which ran from 11 am to 11 pm, was organized by the Lesbian Business Association, and featured a "Lesbian University" with workshops and activities, as well as a variety of entertainers along the course of the day.
The workshops covered diverse subjects, from web sites for women and financial sophistication, to yoga and face painting.
The onstage entertainment ranged from Quartetto Di Lesbos, four members of the Columbus’ Pro Musica orchestra, to nationally-renowned comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, who took the stage later in the day. Also present was lesbian folk-rock icon Ferron, who has been compared to Bob Dylan for the depth and intensity of her songwriting.
by Eric Resnick
Washington, D.C.--The House of Representatives approved a measure that keeps activists’ hope alive that a federal hate crime law including sexual orientation and gender will be enacted before the end of the legislative session.
The House passed a measure September 13 asking a House-Senate conference committee to retain the Senate’s hate crime language in a Defense Department appropriations bill.
The non-binding "motion to instruct" was passed 232-192. While not a bill, the motion instructs the committee to keep the language known as the Local Law Enhancement Act of 2000, formerly known as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Neither the House nor the Senate have ever passed a stand-alone hate crime bill that includes sexual orientation and gender.
However, the Senate voted June 20 to add the language to its version of the defense bill as an amendment. Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. and Gordon Smith, R-Ore. were the sponsors.
The House version of the defense measure, passed earlier, does not contain the hate crime language.
Julian Potter, White House liason to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said President Clinton is commited to passing an inclusive hate crime law before he leaves office. Potter suggested that if the language could get to the point where the White House was negotiating with Congress, the president was prepared "horse trade" and get it included.
Last week’s House vote was one step closer to getting the language to that point.
The motion to instruct the conferees was filed by Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
The vote marked the first time the House had ever voted on hate crime legislation inclusive of protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. The vote was bi-partisan, with 41 Republicans joining nearly all the Democrats favoring Conyers’ motion.
The vote was a political move by Democrats to attempt to force Republicans to take a recorded stand on hate crime legislation with elections less than two months away, with the possibility of making them accept hate crime legislation that Republican leadership strongly opposes.
The vote is good news to gay and lesbian civil rights activists. They point to a recent poll done by the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group that concludes that 66 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who voted against legislation "to strengthen the prosecution of violent hate crimes motivated by prejudice against race, religion, gender or sexual orientation of the victim."
But, "The hate crime language is unlikely to stay in the final defense authorization," even with this House vote, said Human Rights Campaign political director Winnie Stachelberg.
The House Republican leadership insists that the Senate amendment will be stripped from the bill in conference and they are preparing for a budget showdown with President Clinton over it.
Stachelberg said it is difficult to predict what will happen when the Senate, House, and White House negotiators attempt to reconcile the defense appropriation bill. "This will be difficult," she said adding, "Although the president is committed, it may not find its way into the final package."
Omnibus budget bills such as this one need to be passed by the end of October. Stachelberg said she hopes people will tell their representatives to support the final version with the hate crime language if there is a vote.
Ohio representatives voting in favor of the motion to instruct were Democrats Sherrod Brown, Tony Hall, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Dennis Kucinich, and Ted Strickland. They were joined by Republicans Paul Gillmor, Steve LaTourette, and Ralph Regula.
Ohio House members opposing the motion were Republicans John Boehner, Steve Chabot, David Hobson, John Kasich, Robert Ney, Mike Oxley, Robert Portman, and Deborah Pryce. They were joined by Democrat James Traficant.
by Eric Resnick
Washington, D.C.--Due to an unusual set of circumstances, both candidates for U.S. Senate from the state of Vermont have been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.
History was made September 12 as Vermont Democrats nominated openly gay State Auditor Edward Flanagan to run for the Senate against incumbent Republican James Jeffords. Flanagan becomes the first openly gay person to be nominated by a major party to run for the senate.
Flanagan beat State Sen. Jan Backus in the primary, despite voter backlash against the state’s civil unions law.
The HRC announced September 19 that both Senate candidates, openly gay Democrat Flanagan and incumbent Republican Jeffords, will be endorsed. The group has donated $5,000 to each of their campaigns, the maximum allowed.
HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg said this was "the rarest of cases" where the Washington, D.C. political action committee would support both candidates.
Stachelberg said Jeffords is an exceptional candidate, who has a 96 percent voting record with HRC over four sessions of Congress.
Jeffords’ only departure was his vote for the 1996 "Defense of Marriage Act," which was viewed as a chance for Republicans to gay-bait Democrats and President Clinton immediately before anational election.
Stachelberg also said that Jeffords has been up-front on some issues and has done much "in the back rooms" to strip anti-gay provisions from bills before they reach the floor, often in opposition to his own party.
"This [dual endorsement] signals to voters that both are exceptional candidates," said Stachelberg. "Jeffords’ record is better than most Republicans and better than some Democrats we have endorsed."
Stachelberg also praised Flanagan, who is currently trailing Jeffords in the polls by a substantial margin.
"He has a chance to make history and is an exceptional candidate," she said.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect gays and lesbians to office, has endorsed Flanagan and will be directing contributions toward his campaign.
This is not the first time the Human Rights Campaign has given a dual endorsement when one candidate is openly gay. In 1996, Democrat Rick Zbur of California won his primary and became the only openly gay candidate for Congress that year.
HRC endorsed his Republican opponent Steve Horn first in 1996, and was sharply criticized by activists for endorsing him over an openly gay candidate. Three weeks later, HRC also endorsed Zbur.
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