by Eric Resnick
Columbus--Ohio Senate president Richard Finan, an Evandale Republican, took time at his annual year-end press conference December 12 to address the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act passed by the House on October 31.
During his opening remarks outlining what the Ohio Senate did in 2001 and what he sees as the agenda for 2002, Finan told the Statehouse press corps, "The Defense of Marriage Act is kicking around, and not without controversy on both sides of the situation."
As the conference opened for questions, Finan answered two on the DOMA bill, which denies benefits of marriage to couples not married under Ohio law. This includes same-sex civil unions from other states, and possibly hospital visitation and survivorship for same and opposite-sex couples.
John McCarthy of the Associated Press asked: "What are you hearing from your caucus [Senate Republicans] on the Defense of Marriage bill? Is it going to be a priority?"
"I’m hearing very little from my caucus on the Defense of Marriage bill," Finan replied.
Finan explained to the reporters that the bill has two sections, one prohibiting marriage between people of the same sex, and the other dealing with benefits of marriage.
On prohibition of same-sex marriage, Finan told reporters, "My belief is that Ohio law already prohibits that. There’s three Supreme Court cases that say that."
On the benefits, Finan said he does not know what sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz put in the bill on them, but said he and other senators are hearing more from constituents about the benefits part of the bill.
McCarthy then asked, "What are your constituents telling you?" Finan replied, "It depends on the constituent. Some want the bill as it came over. There’s clearly others in the gay and lesbian community who are concerned about the benefit side. And there are other people who are not gay or lesbian who are concerned about the benefit side--even some businesses. So it all depends on which person is calling that day."
Laura Bischoff of the Dayton Daily News then asked, "What is your personal opinion on the bill?"
Finan replied, "I have great respect for Rep. Seitz. I consider him to be a very bright man and a very good lawyer, and I want to see what he has to say in his memo and things there before I make that decision."
Finan has been consistent with his opinion of the DOMA bill since an earlier version was introduced in 1999.
"He doesn’t think it is necessary, but if someone influential wants it to move, he will probably bring it up," said one source, who spoke under condition of anonymity.
"It would probably take someone like Sen. Jeff Jacobson, whose committee it would be sent to, to want it badly for Finan to bring it up," the source added.
Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, is chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Justice.
So far, State Sen. Jay Hottinger, who sponsored the 1999 legislation, has said he will not come forward to sponsor it. State Sen. Jim Jordan, who sponsored the bill in the House, has not come forward to sponsor it, either.
The source concluded, "I think that’s the biggest indicator that the Senate doesn’t feel as strongly about passing this as the House did."
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland--"If you look with your eyes, you will see 81 men singing, but with your ears and your heart, you will hear 82," said North Coast Men’s Chorus president Jeff Lamkin to large audiences at the group’s holiday concerts at Cleveland State University.
The gay men’s chorus was shaken following the sudden death December 10 of one of its stars, Steven Sterlekar, from meningococcal meningitis.
The infectious disease causes quick death, and is the same as the one that caused four other northeast Ohio deaths over the past seven months.
An unidentified Lakewood man who is not a chorus member is also hospitalized with the disease, and is reportedly "doing well." He was at a chorus rehearsal and social that Sterlekar attended December 8.
Others that were at the gathering at Lamkin’s Hudson home, including chorus members, spouses and friends, have been given doses of antibiotics such as Cipro as a prophylactic. So far, no one else has come down with the contagious disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the bacteria that causes the disease infects the blood rather than the spinal and brain fluid, as do less deadly forms of meningitis. It can be spread by coughing, close talking, or sharing food, as well as more intimate forms of contact.
About 130 cases of meningococcal disease occur in Ohio each year.
Sterlekar left a December 9 rehearsal with flu-like symptoms and was ill all night. By morning, he was too weak to get out of bed, and was taken to the hospital by his housemate Tim Wright.
Sterlekar had returned to the chorus last year following a leave. He was one of the group’s earliest members, and was considered one of its most talented baritones.
He had an acting and singing career apart from the chorus. His 1996 recording of Jule Styne Remembered was marketed in London, New York and Los Angeles.
During the 1994-95 season at Greenbriar Theatre in Parma, Sterlekar was named best actor in a musical for his portrayal of Dickson in A Secret Garden.
According to chorus spokesperson Jeff Woodard, who said he shared a water bottle with Sterlekar at the party, chorus members are "doing a lot of grieving and a lot of wondering why."
Chorus members met at their Pilgrim Church rehearsal room the night after Sterlekar’s death to discuss the disease with a physician and the City of Cleveland health commissioner.
The December 15 and 16 holiday concerts, titled "Naughty or Nice" were tributes to Sterlekar, with a memorial and photo display set up at the lobby entrance. Although the group has just expanded to two performances of each concert this year, both had near to full houses.
During the concerts, the song "Christmas Without You" was performed and dedicated to Sterlekar.
The song was written as a tribute for two gay men who died in the crash of TWA Flight 800 while returning to Paris from the 1996 gay and lesbian chorus festival in Tampa, Florida.
Woodard said the song felt different than when they had sung it in the past. "Before, we were just singing it," he said. "Now, we’re living it."
Meningococcal disease is fatal in 10 to 20 percent of cases. It can also cause deafness and paralysis.
The Lakewood Division of Health has set up a hotline for anyone with questions at 216-529-7692.
Sterlekar’s family has requested that all memorials be made to the North Coast Men’s Chorus.
The chorus will perform next at the January 5 inauguration of Cleveland mayor-elect Jane Campbell.
Miami to vote on civil rights law, again
by Anthony Glassman
Miami—Echoing the first anti-gay referendum nearly a quarter-century ago, voters here will again decide the fate of a gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance, unless a legal challenge succeeds.
Petitions to repeal the Miami-Dade County ordinance have enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, elections officials said December 18.
An amendment to the joint city-county’s civil rights law adopted in 1998 makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation.
However, groups such as the Christian Coalition and Take Back Miami-Dade County spearheaded a drive to repeal the amendment, turning in more than 59,000 signatures to the county clerk’s office a year ago.
Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections David Leahy certified the petitions. The county commission could now either repeal the ordinance or present the issue to voters, elections spokeswoman Gisela Salas said.
The earliest the measure could appear on the ballot is in a countywide election on Sept. 10, 2002.
In 1977, county voters overturned a similar law after former beauty queen and orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant led a crusade against it. The campaign, which ultimately ruined Bryant’s career, was the first anti-gay referendum.
Save Dade, which is one of the groups fighting the attempt to repeal the ordinance, will challenge the certification in court, said Heddy Pena, the group’s chair.
Other groups also decried the measure.
"It is outrageous that in Miami-Dade we are still battling over basic equality and basic human rights," said Ralph G. Neas, president of the People for the American Way.
It has taken a year for the petitions to be certified. Some of the petitions were improperly notarized and thrown out immediately. Leahy’s office has spent the last three months verifying 100-signature samples of the petitions. It took fifteen samples to gather enough valid signatures to represent a proportional sample that would certify the petitions.
Of the 1,500, 409 signatures were thrown out because they were not from registered voters or because the signatures differed greatly from those on voter registration cards.
Take Back Miami-Dade gathered affidavits from some of the people whose signatures did not match their voter registrations and sued to force Leahy to accept the affidavits. A Miami-Dade judge left the decision over the affidavits to Leahy, saying that state law made no provisions for reversing the invalidation of signatures that way. Leahy declined to accept them, and Take Back Miami-Dade has filed a federal suit to force him to.
Meanwhile, the state attorney’s office is examining Save Dade’s charges that the petition drive engaged in widespread fraud. That investigation continues, and it is unclear what would happen to the referendum if criminal charges stemming from the investigation are made.
Take Back Miami-Dade has charged that gay civil rights supporters attempted to sabotage petitions by signing them with invalid names or addresses.
A similar repeal effort in neighboring Broward County failed in October when 12,000 signatures were rejected by elections officials.
Ben Kuehne, Save Dade’s attorney, said that his group will file suit to block the referendum. The main focus of the group, however, will be the battle at the polls and the effort to keep the gay-inclusive rights ordinance on the books.|
by Anthony Glassman
Cleveland--The Salvation Army’s red kettles are at the center of a battle this Christmas season.
Complaining of bias by the Christian charity, some gay civil rights supporters are dropping protest notes in the kettles instead of cash.
The protest campaign started in Flint, Michigan in November after the Salvation Army’s national leadership rescinded a decision by its 13-state Western branch to offer health benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.
"It seemed so mean," said Mary Scholl, mother of a gay man, who started the campaign along with her colleagues in the Flint branch of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Since then, Scholl said, she has received scores of messages from across the country, some supportive, others hostile. "I’ve had 100 e-mails from people telling me I’m going to hell," she said.
The national office of P-FLAG has taken up the cause. Its web site shows supporters how to make copies of the protest notes, which vaguely resemble $5 bills.
"I would have donated $5," the note says. "But the Salvation Army’s decision to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees prevents my donation now and in the future."
"We have had some show up in Cleveland," said Salvation Army communications officer Philip Mason, who described the number as "just a few."
Like other chapters of the organization, Mason reported that donations were slightly down, but attributed that more to the current economic climate and the amount of donations made after the events of September 11.
P-FLAG’s program and policy director, Cynthia Newcomer, said supporters are being asked to donate to charities that provide domestic-partner benefits.
At the Salvation Army’s national headquarters in Alexandria, Va., officials say the protest appears to have caused little financial damage.
They make no apologies for a policy that limits family health benefits to married couples and their dependent children.
"We’re a Christian organization--we don’t provide those benefits for heterosexual couples that aren’t married," said Lt. Col. Tom Jones, the Salvation Army’s community relations and development secretary.
This past summer, the Salvation Army had angered activists and church/state separation advocates when a memo promising the group’s support for President Bush’s "faith-based" initiative in exchange for an exemption from state and local gay anti-discrimination laws was leaked to the press.
The charity does not ask its 45,000 employees, nor those who seek its services, about their sexual orientation, Jones said.
"The only question we ask is: Do you need our help?" he said.
Among gay activists supporting the protest, there are some mixed feelings about the target.
"It’s a tough issue," said Cathy Renna, spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "The Salvation Army does good work. But at the same time, they’re not upholding their mission if this is how they treat their employees."
The Human Rights Campaign says it supports efforts to change Salvation Army policy but is not urging its members to join the protest.
The campaign has spread to a number of states including Ohio, where the Cleveland Anti-Racist Action web site has a different set of protest bills that can be printed out. A doctor in Halifax, Nova Scotia has picked up the charge in Canada, bringing the protest to his eastern province.
Woman kicked out for being lesbian
The Salvation Army recently sent out Christmas fundraising letters with a card attached reading, "Equality. We . . . want you, our cherished donor, to know that we are all about equality in the workplace. We employ qualified applicants, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views," the Washington Post reported.
According to one woman who used to be a member of the "army against sin," however, the card presents a bald-faced lie.
"They tried to destroy me, but it didn’t work," Gennie Maze told Between the Lines, Detroit’s LGBT newspaper.
Six years ago, when her superior found out about her sexual orientation and her relationship with another woman at the Salvation Army, he became furious and told her that her partner was the devil.
When Maze refused psychiatric counseling, she was given three days to leave the Salvation Army compound where she lived.
"It’s totally based on their articles of war, which is the war against sin, and we were soldiers fighting in that war," Maze said, clarifying the central purpose of the Salvation Army. "A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Salvation Army is a religion and everything, all of their work, stems from the fact that they are a church."
Her former superior, Major Ralph Bukiewicz, says that Maze violated the tenets of the group’s beliefs, making her unfit to be in the ranks of the organization. However, according to Bukiewicz, outsiders hired by the charitable arm of the church are protected by non-discrimination policies which include sexual orientation but prohibit employees and clients from "recruiting others to any particular lifestyle."
by Anthony Glassman
Vancouver, B.C.—An earlier attack in a local park known for cruising may provide a key lead in the investigation of the murder of a gay man, according to a December 12 Vancouver Sun story.
Edward Smith was attacked on three different nights with increasing degrees of violence. Smith, who is not gay, says that the four men who assaulted him have been wandering the park over the last year "looking to hurt people."
Smith wrote down the license plate of the Jeep Cherokee the men were driving a week after the final attack on him.
According to Smith, he filed a police report on November 7, ten days before Aaron Webster was discovered in a pool of his own blood, having been beaten unconscious.
Webster was found by one of his friends next to Webster’s car in the parking lot. As the friend called emergency services and began to perform CPR, he discovered that it was Webster.
Webster died from his injuries.
The Vancouver police will not release a copy of Smith’s police report to the press unless he specifically requests that it be made public, but Det. Sean Trowski, a homicide officer working the case, confirmed that Smith filed the report, which includes a number of incidents in the park.
Trowski said, however, that the report does not include mention of a physical attack on Smith, only on Smith’s vehicle, or references to baseball bats. Police believe baseball bats or something looking like them were used in the attack on Webster.
According to Smith, however, the officer who responded to the call "seemed to be in a hurry and was not taking very many notes."
Trowski said that he was given the report on December 10 and will follow up on the information in it.
According to Smith, a construction contractor, he was in the park late at night, a common occurrence for him when he suffers from insomnia. Four men in their 20s pushed him to the ground and attacked him in an attempt to rob him. He got away from the men.
Running to a nearby road, he stopped a car and used the driver’s cell phone to call police.
The following week, he returned to the park with friends to find the men. When he saw them in a parking lot, he wrote down their license plate number, which was included in his Nov. 7 police report.
Smith said the first incident with the men came in November 2000. He again had insomnia and was picking soda bottles up from the side of the main road through the park on a Saturday night. When he passed a dark green Cherokee, the four men got out with bats, but he was able to avoid being attacked.
"I talked my way out of it," he said.
Two weeks later, the same vehicle pulled up next to him, and when he started to drive away, the men smashed the side mirror of his vehicle. After that attack, he did not see the men for months.
He left for a few days after filing his police report. When he returned to the park, he saw a memorial for Webster and contacted the police, wanting to make sure they drew a connection between the murder and the attacks he reported.
He described one of his attackers as tall, thin and blond, while another was shorter and had darker skin.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
ACLU sues Detroit police for entrapment in park busts
Detroit—A civil rights group is taking the Detroit Police Department to federal court for unfairly targeting gay men in a long-term undercover sting operation.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit December 17 on behalf of four men and the Triangle Foundation, Michigan’s largest gay advocacy group. The suit alleges that officers in the department enticed, arrested and impounded the cars of about 500 men during the four months of sting operations at Rouge Park.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the department’s operations. The ACLU said none of the arrests in the sting operation involved public sexual activity or prostitution. All of the charges against the men eventually were dropped.
The lawsuit alleges police entrapped the men by following or approaching people they perceived to be gay, making eye contact and encouraging the men to respond in a sexual manner.
Men who responded with as little as a look, gesture or conversation the officers perceived to have sexual connotations were arrested and their car impounded, the suit said.
To get their cars back, the men had to pay $900, plus towing and storage costs. That money was not refunded, even if the court dismissed the charges.
Mayor vetoes partner measure
Atlanta—Mayor Bill Campbell vetoed legislation that would require contractors working for the city to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.
Campbell gave no immediate reason for the veto December 14, but said that he would write to the city council detailing his concerns with the legislation. It was one of four vetoes Campbell handed down.
A possible reason for the veto, mirroring a concern voiced by some of the council members who still voted for the ordinance, was that the measure would not give present contractors enough time to change their policies to comply with the ordinance.
The legislation was similar to one in San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles, and would have made Atlanta the first eastern U.S. city to have the measure.
Bush asked to include partners
New York City—The mayor, the governor and the attorney general have asked President Bush to include same-sex partners in federal Sept. 11 relief.
The Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York LGBT group, on December 18 released a letter sent to Bush by New York Gov. George Pataki, state attorney general Eliot Spitzer and New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.
"The lack of formal recognition [of a same-sex relationship] does not mitigate the shattering impact of the death of a beloved companion, parent or guardian," the Nov. 27 letter reads. "The emotional injuries are profound and will take long to heal. The economic losses are immediate as well as long term."
"In many cases, these individuals were dependent on the income from the deceased, and this financial adversity, if unaddressed, will exacerbate the emotional pain," it continues.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to decide who is eligible for federal relief on December 21.
A number of organizations, including the Red Cross, have issued assistance guidelines which include surviving members of same-sex relationships. Empire State and the Anti-Violence Project have established a gay-specific relief fund with the Stonewall Community Fund to help with those who lost their partners in the attacks.
Arrest made in architect’s murder
Philadelphia—Four months after Adam Levy’s body was found handcuffed in a local park, police have arrested the man they believe killed him.
Dennis Urban was charged with murder on December 14. Police say that internet-related files on Levy’s computer, as well as information from Levy’s internet service provider, led them to the suspect. The investigators did not divulge the information that fingered Urban as the suspected killer.
According to friends, Levy had been using the internet to meet people following an extended period of grieving for his partner who died in March, 2000.
After his lover died of a heart attack, Levy quit his job. He had, before his death, started talking about going back to work and getting on with his life. Jim Foulton, one of his friends, said that Levy had not mentioned Urban.
Police believe Levy, after talking online with Urban, arranged to meet him at the park and the date went horribly wrong, resulting in Levy’s murder.
TG activist found shot to death
Jacksonville, Fla.—Transgender activist Terrianne Summers was killed in her driveway December 12, shot in the back of the head while exiting her car.
The Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Equality Florida are urging local authorities to investigate the murder as a hate crime.
They point to the fact that Summers was shot but not robbed as being consistent with a hate crime killing. Summers’ purse was not taken from the car.
Summers was a Navy veteran with two children. She had organized a local protest against Winn-Dixie supermarkets, who last year fired an employee who dressed in women’s clothing in his private life. The man never cross-dressed at work or while driving a truck for the supermarket chain.
Police have no suspects in the slaying.
Army stop-loss order excludes gays
Washington, D.C.—The United States Army followed the lead of other branches of the military on December 2, issuing a stop-loss order that requires sexual orientation discharges to continue.
A stop-loss order, generally issued in times of military necessity, halts certain administrative discharges, though usually allows medical and family discharges.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the military branches to issue stop-loss orders following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and mobilization of forces to Afghanistan. Rumsfeld did not specify whether the branches should suspend the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, but the three branches who have issued the orders have kept the policy in place.
The Army’s order specifically states that soldiers who violate the military’s policy on homosexual activity are still to be discharged. The Navy and Air Force’s stop-loss orders, issued earlier, gave the number of the "don’t ask" policy, but did not describe what it was.
Helms Scout measure stays
Washington, D.C.—An amendment to President Bush’s education plan requiring schools to let the Boy Scouts use their facilities was allowed to remain by a House-Senate conference committee on December 11. Schools that refuse will lose federal funding.
North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms proposed the amendment after a string of school districts ended their relationships with the Scouts following last year’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the group’s right to ban gays and atheists.
No same-sex ‘kissing bears’ allowed
Providence, R.I.—The news editor of In Newsweekly, an LGBT newspaper, was thrown out of a mall for trying to buy two male "kissing bears" from a Hallmark store.
The bears have magnets in their heads to make figures of the opposite sex attract and "kiss," while ones of the same sex have the same magnetic polarity and repel each other.
Fred Kuhr, the news editor, noticed two male bears that attracted each other on December 8, and took them up to the counter to buy. The clerk refused to sell them, saying that they could only be sold in opposite-sex couples, despite being priced for individual sale.
When Kuhr asked to speak to a manager, the clerk called security to escort him out of the mall.
Kuhr complained to the management of the store, the national Hallmark corporate offices, and the mall management, In Newsweekly reported. The shopping center’s management said that the security guards will be disciplined, and that their entire security force will be retrained.
According to Fitzgerald Himmelsbach, the LGBT liaison for Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci, the manager of the Hallmark store was very apologetic.
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