‘That’s so gay’ is
by Megan Wilson
Berea, Ohio—"That’s so gay!" is one of the most frequently heard insults among second-graders, second only to "That’s so stupid," said Kevin Jennings.
The founder and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network spoke to nearly 200 people at Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland on April 18. He was the keynote speaker for the B-W Allies student group’s conference, "Opening Minds: Educating for Unity."
Jennings told of his search for the American Dream, weaving his own story into a national examination of prejudice, fear, and a hope for freedom for all. He exhorted the young people in the audience to make the choices for the nation's future that would lead to greater freedom.
"We have the right to alter or abolish the government," he said. "We only need choose to exercise our rights. There can be no true freedom for our country as long as any arbitrary form of discrimination exists."
He spoke of his own experiences with discrimination, growing up with segregation and religious bigotry in the South, his own homophobia, and his journey as a teacher, learning about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in the schools.
According to GLSEN studies, he said, 92% of students regularly hear anti-gay insults in school, beginning with "That’s so gay." Thirty-seven percent have heard them from teachers, and rarely or never have any adults been known to intervene when such language is used.
He demanded to know what young person would "choose" a minority sexual orientation in such a circumstance.
"I suppose if you're a very slow child, and verbal harassment doesn't scare you off," he said, "there's always physical violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in four LGBT teens will be assaulted with a weapon . . . That is four times the rate of non-gay students."
He addressed a call to the students to take up this battle for civil and human rights. "Will you make this your fight, or will you turn and walk away? I urge you to go out tonight and make a history you will be proud of."
"Many people think our political system is irretrievably broken. If you forget everything else I say to you tonight, remember this: The people who say you cannot change the world are lying to you."
Megan Wilson is a student at Baldwin-Wallace College and education coordinator for B-W Allies.
CATF names Sue Crumpton as new executive director
by Anthony Glassman
Columbus—The Columbus AIDS Task Force announced April 23 that their ten-month search for a new executive director has come to an end.
Stepping into the position as of June 4 will be Sue Crumpton, a native of Kansas City, Missouri. Crumpton will be taking over the reins from Lori Yosick, the interim executive director who stepped in after the resignation of Gloria Smith last year.
"Sue’s depth of experience in the HIV/AIDS field and the non-profit arena is exactly what the search committee and CATF were looking for," according to board president Randy Arndt.
"It only took a very short time for me to become aware that I am being given the privilege of joining an extremely dedicated and effective group of people," Crumpton said in a statement released to the press. "I hope that I too can contribute to the work of Columbus AIDS Task Force in support of people living with HIV and AIDS."
Crumpton brings with her over twenty years of nonprofit experience, beginning with a Kansas City school desegregation program in the 1970s.
In 1985, she moved to California, assuming the mantle of executive director of House of Ruth, a domestic violence agency serving Los Angeles and San Bernardino County. During her time there, the agency’s budget doubled, a new shelter was renovated and opened, and a new outreach office was started.
Her work with AIDS service organizations has consumed the majority of her efforts over the last decade. In 1991 she accepted the position of executive director of the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, the city’s first direct outreach HIV and AIDS agency, where she expanded programs for women and people of color and developed additional outreach and education programs targeted at the city’s gay male population.
In 1998, Crumpton became executive director of the statewide Nebraska AIDS Project, waging an intensive campaign that led to the state’s first government funding of an HIV/AIDS organization.
Last year, she became the director of operations for Kansas City’s Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry, increasing food pantry service to people living with HIV.
"I’m very supportive of Sue and her work," said CATF interim director Lori Yosick. "As far as my position, we’re going to wait until the orientation and changeover process is over to see what direction we’ll take the organization."
Yosick herself intends to remain with the organization in some capacity. Her tenure as leader has been a rocky one, through no fault of her own.
"I think my goal in the position was to keep CATF moving forward with programs and services we’d begun," she stated. "There were a lot of decreases in funding and government grants, so we had to be creative to pull forth sources of fund to keep the agency moving."
Like other social service organizations, financial hardship over the last year have taken a toll.
"We’ve had some turnover, people left and we weren’t able to replace them, and we’ve eliminated some positions that were based on grants and money going away," Yosick said.
"She has been an outstanding interim executive director," Arndt said of Yosick. "She has really helped hold things together."
The challenge of securing and maintaining fundraising efforts, however, will now pass into Crumpton’s hands, a little over a year after Yosick took on the burden.
"[The selection process] could have been a lot quicker or a lot longer," Yosick ruminated. "They asked me for a 12-month commitment, and it will have been just a little over twelve months."
Crumpton will bring more than her decade of AIDS service experience to the job, though. She will also bring a mother’s love.
"As a mother of a son who died of AIDS complications in 1995, my heart and my passion is to serve people living with HIV and AIDS," Crumpton said. "The staff, board and others that I have met in the community have impressed me with their concern, caring and support for people living with HIV and AIDS."
"I hope to have the opportunity to meet more of the people who have over the years created such a wonderful organization.
by Bob Roehr
Washington, D.C.--Elizabeth Toledo is stepping down as executive director ofthe National Gay and Lesbian Task Force effective May 18.
The news release announcing Toledo’s departure was sent out late Friday afternoon, April 20. It came exactly one year to the day from the date of the news release announcing her appointment.
In the letter of resignation distributed to staff and released to the public, Toledo, 39, tied her departure to family matters, primarily her mother’s illness. She cited the need for a less demanding travel schedule that didn’t take her away from family, including her partner Cindy, and Toledo’s two young children, ages five and four, from a heterosexual marriage.
Jerry Clark, co-chair of the NGLTF board of directors, praised Toledo for her work. He said it was ironic that her strong family ties, one of the qualities that made Toledo such an attractive hire, also were what led her to step down.
The task force will not name an interim executive director "for the time being at least," said Clark, but will rely on the senior management team chaired by political director Tim McFeeley.
McFeeley joined the task force staff last January. He had served more than five years as executive director of what was then called the Human Rights Campaign Fund, stepping down at the end of 1994.
Clark said they have already begun the search process, relying primarily upon the pool of candidates that they interviewed a year ago when Toledo was hired. Phone calls over the last few days have established that at least some of those candidates remain interested in and available for the position with the task force.
He hopes that the process can be concluded "in terms of weeks, not months," though he realizes that it may take longer.
Many people had been surprised by the selection of Toledo to lead NGLTF last year. She was a vice president of the National Organization of Women, but had no experience working in a gay and lesbian organization. She had come out as lesbian less than a year prior to being hired by the task force.
Colleagues at other organizations that work with NGLTF, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Toledo’s limited knowledge and experience working in the gay and lesbian community hampered her effectiveness over the last year. They were not surprised by her departure.
Clark said that Toledo’s recent coming out had not limited her effectiveness at the task force. He seemed genuinely surprised by her resignation.
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland--Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in northeast Ohio are finding a mixed bag of acceptance and rejection, community and isolation, discrimination and attempts at protection.
LGBT community leaders have begun to reflect on the events of the past year, evaluating how far the community has come and where it needs to go.
Cleveland’s suburb of Lakewood is widely considered to be the "gayest city in Ohio." No one is sure how the city got that designation, but during the past 12 months, the town considered more legislation affecting the LGBT community than any other in the state, and had mixed results.
Lakewood passed a measure adding sexual orientation to the classes of people covered by its ethnic intimidation ordinance, but rejected an attempt to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples where one partner is an employee of the city. The city already includes sexual orientation in its fair housing ordinance.
This year, the Pride Center in Akron celebrated its second anniversary and continues to grow. But as Akron’s center was forming, Lorain’s LGBT center closed due to lack of resources.
The city of Akron is also considering a civil rights ordinance that would include LGBT people in its employment, housing, and public accommodations protections.
In Warren, General Electric employee Barry Tenney continues to fight for the right not to be harassed on the job because he is gay. His case was dismissed by common pleas court judge John Stuard because Ohio law does not protect from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
GE, like some other northeast Ohio employers, includes sexual orientation in its equal employment opportunity statement, but as Tenney found out, the enforcement of those statements by employers are internal policies, not law, and if employers choose to ignore them, they can, with little consequence.
Although Cleveland, four of its suburbs, Youngstown and Oberlin include "sexual orientation" in their anti-bias measures, most LGBT people in northeast Ohio live and work without any protection from harassment and discrimination.
Three openly gay northeast Ohioans, Joe Santiago of Cleveland, Tristan Hand of Warren and James Moore-McDermott of Bucyrus, are running for city council seats in their cities.
Despite funding reductions in other parts of the country, Boy Scout councils in northeast Ohio have received increases in funding from United Ways whose volunteer funding allocation committees hear little complaint, even from LGBT community leaders. No northeast Ohio United Way funds any LGBT-specific program, and none plan to.
LGBT people living in or near the large city of Cleveland find a very different comfort level within the larger community than do those living in other places.
Cleveland is becoming a "gay destination" city, hosting the 1998 Asians and Friends International Friendship Weekend and the 2001 National Stonewall Democrats convention, while people in nearby smaller cities struggle with issues of economic loss if they become too visible.
So, how LGBT-friendly is northeast Ohio? "Not very," said Rev. H. Paul Schwitzgebel of Canton, "but America is not LGBT-friendly, either."
Schwitzgebel, who is on the board of the Akron Pride Center and the president of Stonewall Akron, is a Unitarian Universalist minister. Twenty-five years ago, Schwitzgebel was relieved of his pulpit in the United Church of Christ due to his sexual orientation.
Scwitzgebel describes the religious community around northeast Ohio as an "absolute disaster" regarding affirmation of LGBT members.
"There are a lot of fundamentalist independent churches in northeast Ohio," he said. "And the mainstream denominations tend, with some exceptions, to be less LGBT-affirming the farther away from Cleveland you get."
Schwitzgebel noted that, for example, the United Church of Christ churches that are in the Western Reserve Association, the counties bordering Lake Erie, are gay- affirming.
The UCC’s national headquarters is in Cleveland. The UCC was the first mainline Protestant church to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy.
"In the Eastern Ohio Association, which is the rest of northeast Ohio, no clergy I know who came out lasted more than six months," said Schwitzgebel. "And I know of six of them."
Feminist and lesbian mother Janet Black of Kent has seen some shift toward acceptance in the areas outside Cleveland in the past 10-15 years.
"But I live in Kent for a reason," said Black, "as most of Portage County would not be as friendly to me as Kent is."
"Kent has a long history of out lesbian presence. I am not the first lesbian here, nor the only one."
Black has concern with the lack of African-American visibility in the northeast Ohio LGBT community.
"I tend to be the only black person that a lot of white queer folks know," she said. "And around a city like Akron that is one quarter black, that is troubling."
Black says that much of northeast Ohio acts like a small town, which often creates barriers for LGBT people.
"The school you went to, who your family is, and the church you go to still determine one’s connectedness to community," said Black.
Dolores Noll, who co-founded the Kent Gay Liberation Front and served as its faculty advisor, now lives in Stow, and says she feels accepted generally, "but I have an unlisted phone number for a reason."
When founded in 1972, the Kent Gay Liberation Front was one of the first lesbian and gay student groups in the state. (It is now called Pride! Kent.)
Noll, who is studying to become a UCC minister, agrees with Schwitzgebel that outside of Cleveland, churches are not as gay-friendly.
Noll says that in historical perspective, she finds northeast Ohio "reasonably good" but adds, "For someone quite out, it is still a problem."
"The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture is alive and well in northeast Ohio," says Cleveland attorney Tim Downing, who has served as co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s Cleveland event and does pro bono work for the American Civil Liberties Union. "We are not a subject openly discussed for non-gay people."
"No major employers around here trumpet domestic partner benefits," said Downing, "and there is a sense of complacency among the LGBT community."
Downing pointed out that there has never been a case brought under Cleveland’s ordinance against sexual orientation employment discrimination. The measure is the only one in the nation making it a criminal offense prosecuted by the city, rather than a civil one requiring the victim to sue.
"I don’t know whether that is because there haven’t been any cases, or people don’t know about it, or the standard to bring a case is too high," said Downing.
Downing said the even in places perceived to be LGBT-friendly like Lakewood, when attempting to pass the domestic partner benefits, "the closet is a big factor."
Downing also observed that how friendly you perceive northeast Ohio depends on your economic status.
"If you are well off and have a full-time job, this is not a bad place to be," said Downing.
"And it is both a blessing and a curse that we are so dispersed throughout the area," said Downing, observing that there are no gay business districts like other cities have.
Marshall McPeek of Cleveland’s WKYC TV Channel 3 enjoys domestic partner benefits, but points out that they are provided through the union representing on-air talent at the station, not WKYC.
McPeek is arguably the most visible gay Cleveland media personality and was recently elected vice president for broadcast journalism of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
McPeek grew up in Bucyrus, a small town halfway between Cleveland and Columbus.
He also observes that unlike Columbus, LGBT people in Cleveland and northeast Ohio are spread out. "There is no geographic core," he observed, "so it appears that we are less influential, even though we have more people."
McPeek says his TV station is using him as a resource on LGBT stories. "They give me scripts to look at just to make sure the language is acceptable," he said. "WKYC has also adopted the NLGJA style guide for acceptable language covering us."
But McPeek observed that the general media climate around northeast Ohio for LGBT issues is "not a friendly environment."
McPeek said there are more lesbians and gays working at Cleveland TV news stations than are willing to be out.
"Television is shallow," said McPeek, "and if people decide they don’t like the person giving them news, they won’t watch, and the ratings will go down, and that is what drives the personalities on the air."
McPeek echoed Downing’s concern that more northeast Ohio employers do not offer protection and domestic partner benefits.
The largest purchaser of health insurance in the state of Ohio is the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Council of Smaller Enterprises.
According to a statement by COSE, they do not offer domestic partner benefits for members, and members have expressed little interest in offering it.
Cleveland Lesbian and Gay Center executive director Linda Malicki agrees that outside Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, the world is much less LGBT-friendly, but she sees an increase in the number of area social service agencies that are looking to partner with the center.
"Most of the elected officials from this area are supportive," Malicki added.
Malicki said the center documents three to four incidents of employment and housing discrimination per year. She addded that it is people living in typical neighborhoods throughout the city that encounter the most oppressive environment.
The LGBT elderly also encounter barriers in northeast Ohio.
Gray Pride organizer and social worker Doug Braun says that for seniors who grew up in the era of McCarthyism, northeast Ohio "can be a scary place."
Braun says that many seniors have lived in a past environment where people regularly lost their jobs because they were gay.
"Even though times have changed, seniors still reflect that experience from around World War II. They are afraid to tell their doctors they are gay because they might be seen as having a mental illness, and generally, they do not want to rock the boat. So, sometimes they do not speak up for themselves."
Braun points to some cooperation with area aging agencies as signs of progress, but, he added, "Gay people in general are not used to being included in things, so institutional change is slow."
Former Lakewood City Council candidate John Farina said LGBT people need to be more influential in the larger communities in order to make northeast Ohio more friendly.
"If our people were more interested in communities, not just gay community, and be more active on city commissions and projects, it would go a long way toward changing perceptions."
"We ultimately control our own fate in northeast Ohio," said Farina, "There are differences of opinion, but when it comes to quality of life, we can’t get it until we come together to make it happen."
Schwitzgebel observed, "LGBT people need a vision of what society could be--where we move freely and have equal rights."
"People need to carry the hope that they could achieve that vision," he added. "But most importantly, LGBT people need to be willing to sacrifice status and revenue in order to accomplish the changes needed to make northeast Ohio a better place to live."
"Too often, people are only interested in shopping, drinking, and watching gay-themed TV," Schwitzgebel concluded.
by Anthony Glassman
Lincoln, Neb.—The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision April 20 that Richardson County and former sheriff Charles Laux are fully liable for wrongful death in the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena.
The court sharply criticized Laux’s interview with the young transgender man as "extreme and outrageous."
In a scathing, 20-page opinion, Chief Justice John Hendry reversed an earlier decision that said Teena, born Teena Brandon, was partly responsible for his own death.
Teena was murdered on New Year’s Eve by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen, because he had reported their rape of him one week earlier, on Christmas Eve.
JoAnn Brandon, Teena’s mother, sued Laux and the county, saying that the sheriff had informed Lotter and Nissen that the rape had been reported but failed to arrest them, although they had threatened to kill Teena if he reported it.
Laux was more concerned with Teena's sexuality than with keeping her safe, Hendry said.
He said Laux showed indifference to the rape allegation by referring to Teena as "it" and not immediately arresting the rapists.
"Laux's conduct was extreme and outrageous,'' Hendry wrote. "Laux asked questions which expressed simply a prurient interest in the rapes."
A lower court found in favor of JoAnn Brandon, but shifted most of the blame to Teena’s killers, and 1% of it to Teena himself. She was awarded $86,000, but 84% was to be paid by the killers.
Brandon appealed to the state supreme court. The county also appealed, asserting that it was not negligent in Teena’s death.
The supreme court justices found for JoAnn Brandon on all her claims, and dismissed the county’s claim that it was not negligent as lacking in all merit.
The high court ruled that it was incorrect to shift liability for damages to Nissen and Lotter.
Since both are in prison for the murders of Teena and two of his friends, neither can pay the damages.
The supreme court noted Laux’s tone in his interview of Teena, and his apparent abuse of power as factors making his questioning unacceptable.
The court found that a number of the questions Laux asked had little or no bearing on an actual rape investigation, and seemed designed solely to satisfy Laux’s prurient interest.
"Laux proceeded to use crude and dehumanizing language during the entire interview," the court writes. "Examples of such language include statements such as ‘they got ready to poke you,’ ‘sinking it in your vagina,’ ‘stuck it in your box or buttocks,’ ‘he got a spread of you,’ ‘had you spread out,’ and ‘was he fingering you?’ "
Tom Olberding, a deputy who first interviewed Teena and later walked out of the interview room in anger at Laux’s questions, testified that he believed Laux’s interview was completely inappropriate.
He also told Teena that he did not have to answer Laux’s questions. Olberding further testified that, while there was probable cause to arrest Nissen and Lotter after the rape, the county never offered Teena protection from the two.
John Caverzagie, former assistant chief of police for Falls City, testified on JoAnn Brandon’s behalf as well, telling the court that "just about everything" Laux said during the interview was "very unprofessional."
Overall, the court ruled that the original $86,000 award lies solely with Laux and the county, and the district court cannot divert the liability.
It sent the case back to the district court to re-examine the evidence of Brandon Teena’s emotional distress, inflicted by Laux, and to determine damages to JoAnn Brandon for that and the loss of her child.
At the time of the original trial in Richardson County district court, Laux was a county commissioner.
Teena’s murder became the basis for two movies, Boys Don’t Cry and The Brandon Teena Story. The latter film, a documentary, contains recordings of Laux’s interview.
by Anthony Glassman
Kent—An attack on an openly gay Kent State University student at a local restaurant has led to a campus protest urging the addition of gays and lesbians to Ohio’s ethnic intimidation law.
Mikell Nagy and a group of friends were waiting to be seated at Denny’s on Ohio 59, on the border between Kent and Franklin Township, a little after 3 am on April 20.
Brian D. Lydick, a 28-year-old Ravenna man who was at the restaurant with a group of people, called Nagy a "faggot," and the two exchanged words.
Lydick then hit Nagy, knocking him unconscious.
Police were called and arrested Lydick, who was arraigned later in the day. Lydick was released on bond, ordered by the court to stay away from both Nagy and the restaurant where the attack occurred. Lydick is charged with criminal assault, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Portage County prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said that if sexual orientation were added to the state’s ethnic intimidation law, it would elevate the possible sentence if Lydick were convicted. As it stands, though, the state law only covers religion, race and ethnicity.
In response to the attack and the lack of protection for gays under state law, Kent students have organized a rally set for noon on April 27 to urge lawmakers to add sexual orientation to existing groups in hate crime legislation. The rally, which will be held in the plaza in front of the Student Center, will be the center of a storm of emotion.
"I’m outraged that such blatant homophobia could be displayed in any town," said Mindy Galik, a friend of Nagy’s, "but especially in such a progressive town as Kent, to such a sweet man as Mikell."
Galik spent the weekend by Nagy’s side along with other friends, helping him recover from the physical wounds, including bruises, cuts and broken teeth. While his body is on the mend, she said, his injuries run deeper than what is visible.
"I would say that the emotional aspect hasn’t really hit him yet," she said.
Lydick claims that the punch was in self-defense, and that Nagy was being confrontational and threatening. Nagy and other witnesses, however, refute Lydick’s claim. Nagy has indicated that he may file a civil suit against Lydick because of the attack.
by Eric Resnick
Akron—The children of a Springfield Township woman are contesting their mother’s will, saying that her marriage was invalid because her husband was born female.
Dimple Lois Brookings of Springfield Township died on May 6, 2000, leaving a will naming her husband, Sean Brookings, as sole heir to her estate. The estate includes a mobile home on Springfield Lake where he resides.
Summit County Probate Court Judge Bill Spicer will hear motions in the case on May 18. He must decide whether or not a marriage to a female-to-male transsexual is considered a legal marriage in Ohio, and if a will resulting from that marriage can stand up to a legal challenge.
The Brookings married on January 1, 1995. It was her second and his fifth--twice as a woman, three times as a man.
Two of the wife’s children, Leslie Allen McKinney and Kimberly Mendez, both of Akron, claim that the marriage was fraudulent, as was their mother’s will, because two women cannot legally marry in Ohio.
In 1994, before they were married, then Dimple Lois McKinney added Brookings’ name to the mobile home’s deed in exchange for $9,000 of repairs he had made to the property.
Following their wedding, a survivorship deed, in which property automatically transfers to a surviving spouse upon death, was recorded on the home and the new Mrs. Brookings wrote a will naming her husband as the sole heir.
Her children claim that their mother did not know then of Brookings’ life as the former Sharon Perry, and was embarrassed when she found out.
They say that he showed her a tape of a Sally Jessy Raphael TV show in which he detailed his sexual reassignment surgery which began in 1986 and ended in 1991.
Additionally, they claim that their mother was abused by Brookings and that at the time of her death at age 61, she was abusing drugs, including OxyContin, Xanax, and Darvon, prescribed by three different doctors. OxyContin is a widely abused painkiller, as is Darvon. Xanax is used to treat severe depression.
Records show that the police have visited the Brookings’ home six times to quiet domestic quarrels. Once, Brookings was convicted of assaulting his wife during an argument and sentenced to a domestic violence treatment program.
Leslie Allen McKinney also claims that prior to his mother’s death, she called him requesting that he make her an appointment with a divorce attorney.
The children have hired Tallmadge attorney Vincent Alfera and seek ownership of the mobile home and personal property.
McKinney’s son could not be reached by the Gay People’s Chronicle, but told the Akron Beacon Journal, "It makes me sick to think what my mother went through, and it makes me sick to think that thing is living in my parents’ home."
Brookings did not, upon becoming a man, get a legal name change through a probate court. As Ohio law allows, he got a new Social Security card and driver’s license with his new name and sex, using the documentation of his surgery.
Before his final surgery, Brookings married Julia Barreda of Florida. That 1988 marriage license was granted by Stark County Probate Judge R.R. Denny Clunk, who in 1987 had made Ohio history by denying a marriage license to a transgender couple, and publicly stating he would not grant such licenses.
That marriage lasted less than two years. Barreda later married Brookings’ son, whom he bore as Sharon Perry.
In 1990, Brookings married Virginia Baughman of Twinsburg. That marriage license was also granted by Judge Clunk. That marriage lasted only four months.
Both divorces were granted by Summit County Probate Court.
Clunk also granted the marriage license to Brookings and his last bride.
Brookings’ attorney is Randi Barnabee of Northfield, who is also transsexual and specializes in gender issues and transgender rights.
Barnabee asserts that the childrens’ lawsuit should be thrown out because the will leaves the mobile home to Brookings, whether or not the marriage is ruled valid.
Alfera argues that Sean Brookings does not legally exist and wants the marriage declared void.
Pastor’s talk of ‘recruiting’ hurts couple’s restaurant
North East, Pa.--The owners of a restaurant 15 miles east of Erie said their business is hurting after a pastor warned his congregation not patronize the night spot because the two women are lesbians.
Patrick Kennedy, an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in North East, told the Erie Times-News that he told parents to keep their teenagers from going to the South Shore Inn "because of the potential for recruitment into the homosexual lifestyle."
As a result, South Shore Inn owners Patricia Graham and Danielle Hazen said they have seen a decline in business, especially on nights when the inn hosts a teen-age dance club.
"I would say we have no business at all now," Graham said. "It’s been killed off. We only have about five teens at our dances now, whereas we used to have about 50. But as long as we have any coming at all, we’ll stay open."
Kennedy said he talked to his congregation of 600 about the restaurant twice, the last time handing out copies of a message promoting the restaurant that was posted on a now-defunct Internet site for Erie gay and lesbian residents.
"We have longed to offer a place to the gay/lesbian community where we could take our lovers for some fine dining and not worry if we wanted to hold hands through dinner," the message said.
Hazen and Graham, while acknowledging that they are lesbian, denied that they wrote the message and cited the fact that Hazen’s name is misspelled as proof.
The idea that Haven and Graham are corrupting minors is ridiculous, Graham said. All teenagers under the age of 19 have to have their parents sign them in and out of the dances at the inn, she said.
"I’m 44 years old, for God’s sake. I’m not going to seduce a 13-year-old. Or anybody else. I’m very happy with my life, thank you," she said.
Closet can limit visitation, court rules
Newark, N.J.--Keeping a gay relationship secret can limit visitation or custody rights involving children if the relationship breaks up, a state appeals court ruled.
In a case involving two lesbian lawyers from northern New Jersey, the court on April 20 turned down one of the women’s request for visitation rights with her former lover’s seven-year-old adopted daughter.
The court said the woman, identified in court papers only as "A.F." isn’t entitled to a hearing to determine if she is considered a "psychological parent" to the child because there is no evidence the couple ever presented themselves as a family in public or to anyone who knew them.
"Both parties agree that defendant hid the romantic aspect of their relationship from family and friends, maintaining the appearance of a close, platonic friendship," the court said in a ruling. "If the parties did not hold themselves out to the world at large as a family, how then can a court conclude that plaintiff lived with defendant’s child as part of a family unit?"
The ruling came a year after a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that granted gay and lesbian partners visitation rights with the children of a former lover.
The appeals court noted the difference between that case and the one currently at issue. In the earlier case, the couple presented themselves as a family to the world.
In the current case, the court noted that the women never lived together. A.F. lived in Union County, while the defendant, identified as "D.L.P." lived in Bergen County. The court recognized that A.F. had a role in the child’s life, but likened it to that of a "nanny or baby sitter."
A.F.’s lawyer, Bettina Munson, said her client has not decided whether to take the matter to the state supreme court.
Munson said the real issue was not how society viewed the relationship between the women, but how the child saw it.
Jailbreaker gets life for killing
Denver—A 22-year-old prison escapee was sentenced April 20 to life in prison with no parole for robbing and killing a Denver man.
Samuel Grauman was accused of targeting 36-year-old Daniel O’Brien in the 1999 attack because he was gay.
The Denver District Court jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Grauman guilty of first-degree murder, robbery and auto theft.
O’Brien was found dead Sept. 13, 1999, in his southeast Denver apartment. He had moved to Colorado from Massachusetts four months earlier.
Grauman and another inmate escaped from the Natrona County Jail in Casper, Wyoming, just before O’Brien was killed. The two escapees stole a truck, drove to Denver and went to a bar popular with gay men, according to testimony.
Police said they befriended gay men they thought would be easy robbery targets.
Hate crime bill passes Texas House
Austin, Tex.—For the second time in two years, the Texas House led the way in trying to strengthen the state’s hate crime law by giving preliminary approval April 23 to a bill that enhances penalties for crimes motivated by hate.
The 87-60 vote came after a two-hour debate in which one lawmaker tried to stop the vote and others tried to alter the bill.
The bill is in limbo in the Senate, where sponsor Sen. Rodney Ellis has been unable to gather support to bring it up for debate.
The bill died in the Senate in 1999 when critics complained it created unnecessary distinctions for gays and lesbians.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said she believed the same concern led a block of House members to oppose the measure April 23.
Then-Gov. George W. Bush quietly opposed the 1999 bill, which became an issue in last fall’s presidential debates.
Plans to bring up the bill were halted last week in both chambers after Gov. Rick Perry voiced his concerns that two Republican senators wouldn’t have been present for the vote. Ellis said he had the support he needed before Perry intervened.
The House voted closely along party lines, with all 77 voting Democrats supporting the bill and all but nine Republicans opposing it.
Alaska couples sue for partner benefits
Anchorage, Alaska--The state is discriminating against gay couples because the prohibition against gay marriage denies them the same health and pension benefits granted to married couples, lawyers for the Alaska Civil Liberties Union said April 24.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides heard arguments in the case that was first filed in 1999, shortly after voters amended the Alaska Constitution to thwart a state supreme court ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The judge gave no indication when she would act on the case.
The case was brought by nine gay couples who have been together for between three and 30 years, lawyers said.
Assistant Attorney General John Gaguine said the problem should be addressed in the legislature instead of the courts.
Colorado Senate passes rights bill
Denver—A bill that would expand Colorado’s employment discrimination ban passed the state senate on April 18.
The bill would add sexual orientation to the law, as well as the wearing of religious symbols to work, an amendment added by an anti-gay state senator.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House.
Bush will keep security clearance rule
Washington, D.C.—The State Department says that George W. Bush’s administration will continue the policy, established in a 1995 executive order by Bill Clinton, allowing gay men and lesbians to receive full security clearance.
The policy encourages applicants for security clearance to be completely honest with interviewers, operating on the theory that if they have nothing to hide, they cannot be extorted by foreign powers.
Until 1995, sexual orientation in and of itself could be used to deny an applicant security clearance.
The directive from the State Department is the latest sign of a warming trend in the Bush White House toward the LGBT community. Bush had four openly gay people on his transition teams, has put an openly gay man in the country’s highest AIDS advocacy post, and said that sexual orientation is not a factor in his hiring decisions.
While liberal watchdogs are wary of Bush’s motives, the religious right is furious, alleging that Bush misrepresented himself as a "Christian."
TG lawsuit will test new state law
Sacramento, Calif.—After one lost her home and another lost his job, two transsexuals filed suit April 23 under a new anti-discrimination law they say doesn’t go far enough to protect them.
Supporters of transgender rights say a favorable court ruling could set a landmark precedent that boosts protections for people who change their visible gender by dressing differently, taking hormones or having sex reassignment surgery.
But opponents of the new law--which identifies transsexuals as a disabled group entitled to protection if they can prove their gender change hampered their life--call it an example of bad policy gone wrong.
Gary Johnson, 42, said he was hired last year at a Sacramento foster care and adoption agency. At the time, Johnson was appearing in public as a woman and using his given name, Gaynell.
While working at Families for Children, he began dressing more masculine and was harassed, Johnson said. Eventually, he was placed on unpaid administrative leave.
Johnson left his counseling job in February, but says the agency effectively fired him -- a possible violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act if he can prove the agency acted against him because of his gender change.
The second lawsuit, filed by Stanantha Jaros, claims her condominium homeowners’ association tried to get her to move out once they found out that she used to be a man.
Neither the homeowners’ association nor Families for Children returned calls seeking comment.
Johnson and Jaros are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Drug firms drop South Africa suit
Bloemfontein, South Africa--In a victory for AIDS activists, 39 multinational pharmaceutical companies dropped their legal effort to prevent South Africa from importing or producing generic copies of patented AIDS drugs on April 19.
The lawsuit had become a public-relations nightmare for the companies.
"We hope our experience has contributed in some way to the larger debate on access to affordable health care for developing countries and for the poor in wealthier nations," said South African Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
However, even generic AIDS drugs sold at close to cost are believed to be too expensive for mass distribution in most African nations, including South Africa, officials cautioned.
Tshabalala-Msimang also said the drugs are too toxic and that it is nearly impossible to achieve patient compliance with complex drug regimens in a nation without a First World medical infrastructure.
Marriage bill introduced in Spain
Madrid--The opposition Socialists introduced a bill in Spain’s parliament to legalize same-sex marriage April 18.
Socialist parliamentary spokesman Javier Barrero said the 1978 Spanish constitution does not specify that one’s spouse has to be of the opposite sex.
"[Marriage] is a right of everyone," he said.
The Netherlands on April 1 became the first nation to let gays marry under the ordinary marriage laws. Belgium has said it will follow suit.
Several other European nations have registered-partnership laws for gays, which grant up to 99 percent of the rights of marriage. A few other nations recognize gay couples via common-law marriage statutes.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman, Patti Harris and Rex Wockner.
Geek’s role in ‘Sideshow’ is all about self-acceptance
by Anthony Glassman
Cleveland--The fortuneteller promises to unveil the secrets of the future; the bearded woman winks seductively; the reptile man flicks his tongue out, mimicking his scaled namesakes.
There are others here: the tall man, the short man, the fat woman, the strong man. Some are born what the barkers call them, others impose it on themselves. Whatever the case, they are the reason people come here. They are the Freaks. You are in their home; you are in Side Show.
The true story is quite simple, and hits very close to home. Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, are discovered in a sideshow and become legitimate stars in vaudeville. Things come full circle, in a way, when director Tod Browning selects them to be in his 1932 film Freaks.
With music by gay composer Henry Krieger of Dreamgirls fame, and book by Bill Russell, writer of Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens, the musical opened to rave reviews in October 1997. Despite getting good notices from the critics, it had a fairly short run, and is seldom staged.
It has, however, achieved a sort of cult status, a latter-day Rocky Horror. Part of the reason is the underlying theme of acceptance and self-love, according to Pierre-Jacques Brault, a senior in the musical theater department of Baldwin-Wallace College who fills the role of the Geek in Cleveland Play House’s production of Sideshow.
"The whole show is about self-acceptance," said the openly gay actor, who hails from the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. "Act one ends with the number, ‘Who Will Love Me As I Am?’"
"In society, a black man, a gay man, a heavyset woman are treated as freaks," he continued. "Being a gay man, first you need self-love, to be able to stand out and say, who will love me as I am?"
Brault was attracted to the play for more than the themes of acceptance and diversity, though. The head of his department at school, Victoria Bussert, is directing, as she did the 1999 Cain Park production.
"She’s a great director to work with," Pierre said, explaining his decision to take the role. "Also, the show is rarely done because it didn’t run long on Broadway, and it’s hard to put on."
Preparing for a role is very important to actors, and Brault did just that, immersing himself in books and films about sideshows and "freaks," including the Tod Browning film, which was banned in Browning’s native England for 30 years.
"I bring a lot of personal things to the role to make it real for me, and make my performance more raw and vulnerable for the audience," he told the Gay People’s Chronicle.
Does that mean, playing the Geek, he bites the heads off of things?
"Yes, a stuffed toy chicken with a Velcroed-on head," he admitted, expressing relief that he didn’t have to go further with the role.
"Geeks are considered the lowest of the sideshow, self-inflicted freaks," he said. "They were usually alcoholics, and died young because of the alcoholism."
Brault, however, has many plans for the future, none of which include dying young.
"I’m going on a tour of Gypsy in August, and then I’m moving to New York," he confided. "I want to move to London, but that takes a lot of planning."
After Side Show, Brault will be directing Mercury Summer Stock, which will present the musical The Wiz.
"I started [Mercury] last year because I have a strong desire to direct because of Vicki," he explained, referring to Bussert by her nickname. "I also wanted the opportunity to give my friends and younger kids a chance."
There are some changes for Mercury this year, according to Brault.
"We went non-profit this year," he told the Chronicle. "I’m also bringing some drag queens from Akron to play in The Wiz, to get the audience more involved and accepting."
Brault is no stranger to directing, though. He cut his directorial teeth on Falsettos, a play about a man who leaves his wife for another man.
Brault, and the rest of the cast of Side Show for that matter, already feel self-love. Now it’s time for the rest of us to love them in their roles.
Side Show will play at the Cleveland Play House’s Bolton Theatre through May 13. For tickets and more information, call the Play House at 216-795-7000.
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