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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 16, 2001

Five states are considering civil union or marriage bills

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

Just over a year after a Vermont Supreme Court decision that resulted in the state�s historic civil union law, five other states have introduced bills that would either create civil unions or allow same-sex marriage.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, New York and Hawaii all have proposed legislation to extend marital rights to same-sex couples. Whether any will ever become law is another matter.

In Connecticut, hearings are slated to decide whether and how to help gay and lesbian couples protect their relationships. The outcome of the hearings will decide whether the state will introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, or introduce the parallel institution of civil unions.

Connecticut activists are pointing to fellow New England state Vermont, the first in the nation to allow civil unions granting gay and lesbian couples rights similar to that of heterosexual married couples.

Vermont�s civil unions law was enacted last July after the state supreme court ruled in December 1999 that withholding the legal benefits of marriage from same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The court left the Vermont legislature with the task of deciding whether to allow full marriage or dole out rights in another way.

Connecticut has already made strides in the rights of gay and lesbian couples, being only the second state to pass a law giving parental rights to both members of a same-sex couple. (Court rulings do this in several other states, including Ohio.) The state also has anti-discrimination laws on the books covering gay men and lesbians. Connecticut has also repealed its sodomy laws and enacted hate crime laws protecting gays.

The smallest state in the union, Rhode Island also has gay civil rights laws, hate crime laws, and has repealed its sodomy laws. Openly gay State Rep. Michael Pisaturo is taking the next step, introducing legislation to allow full marriage for same-sex couples, a bill he�s introduced every year for the past 14 years. Unlike previous years, however, this time around the bill will have a public hearing.

Some of his colleagues, in the meantime, are introducing bills to allow civil unions similar to the ones performed in Vermont.

In New York, State Sen. Tom Duane, who is gay, has introduced a bill to allow full gay marriages. Duane is not particularly optimistic about the chances for the proposed legislation he put forward in mid-January. The state�s senate is led by Republicans, none of whom in that body support the notion, and there is even dissent among Democrats who control the state assembly, where he has yet to find a co-sponsor.

Duane is also skeptical of the chance for passage of a bill to allow civil unions that he plans on introducing in the near future.

Duane admits that the first priority of gay and lesbian activists in the state should be the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act, which has been killed in the legislature every time it was put forward in the last 30 years.

Hawaii, whose supreme court ruled in 1993 that preventing gay couples from marrying was unconstitutional, only to have the constitution changed by voters, also has a civil unions bill before its House of Representatives.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Eric Hamakawa and Rep. Ed Case introduced the bill in late January.

They believe that the state, through its reciprocal beneficiaries law, dedicated itself to providing marital rights to gay couples. The reciprocal beneficiaries law, passed in 1997, extends dozens of legal benefits to gay and lesbian couples that register as domestic partners. Case, however, said the state should do more.

The proposed law would replace the existing one with civil unions.

In Washington state, two Seattle lawmakers also introduced a civil unions bill. Washington has already passed a so-called Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting gay marriage; the bill to allow civil unions would side-step the DOMA.

The bill was introduced February 2 by State Sen. Pat Thibaudeau and State Rep. Ed Murray.

"Same-sex couples have the same responsibilities as all other couples," Murray said in a statement. "It is time that same-sex couples be accorded the same rights and the same level of respect."

"This bill is about treating all of our citizens with dignity," Thibaudeau added. "The bill does nothing to diminish marriage, but grants same-sex couples equal protection under the law."


Protests, resolution mark National Freedom to Marry Day

by Anthony Glassman

February 12 was National Freedom to Marry Day, a joint effort by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Freedom to Marry Coalition, and various local groups across the country.

Over a dozen cities saw events marking the day, from protests at marriage offices in California to a mass signing of Lambda�s marriage resolution in Chicago.

The resolution reads, "Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice, Resolved: The State should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitment of civil marriage."

Among the signers in Chicago was Rev. Greg Dell, the embattled pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church. Dell had been suspended after performing same-sex union ceremonies, and his congregation recently faced an emotional vote to decide whether to remain part of the Methodist denomination or break away from the church, whose doctrines forbid gay and lesbian marriages. The congregants decided to remain in the Methodist church, working from within to change the denomination�s policies.

"Religious leaders long have been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights, including legal recognition for lesbian and gay civil marriages," said Evan Wolfson, director of Lambda�s Marriage Project. "Same-sex couples should have access to the same protections, recognitions, and responsibilities under the law as afforded non-gay couples who exchange marriage vows."

"Leaders from a range of institutions believe that we should have the freedom to marry," added Matthew W. Roberts, Lambda�s Midwest regional director. "Two-thirds of the public believes that we will eventually win the freedom to marry, and Vermont has paved the way with civil unions."

"Hopefully lesbian and gay couples soon will be able to celebrate National Freedom to Marry Day with marriage licenses in their hands."

National Freedom to Marry Day linked Valentine�s Day and Abraham Lincoln�s birthday with themes of both love and equality.

"With civil unions in Vermont, thousand of American businesses providing partner benefits, and the steady growth in support from non-gay clergy, youth, and civic groups, the American people have awakened to the reality that lesbian and gay people deserve and want protections and respect for our families," Wolfson said. "Central to that awareness is the ongoing national discussion about ending discrimination in civil marriage and person to person, group to group, state to state, we are asking non-gay people to join the civil rights work."

"Even Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in the vice presidential debate acknowledged that they personally are more and more �open� to the question of equality in civil marriage," Wolfson concluded. "As polls show, Americans are ready to support this advance."

Among the supporters Wolfson referred to are some of the most well-known names in all arenas of public interest who have signed the Marriage Resolution.

People from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr. and longtime supporter of gay rights, to musicians Beck, David Crosby, Madonna and the band Luscious Jackson have signed the resolution. The list of actors, both stage and screen, is virtually a who�s who of famous names, including Allan Cumming, Neve Campbell, Ted Danson, Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, Ricki Lake, Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Al Franken, Gillian Anderson, Bea Arthur and Matthew Broderick, to name a few.

Organizations who have lent their names and support to the resolution are just as wide-ranging, and no less impressive. Companies like Atlantic Records and Playboy enterprises, city governments in Ithaca, New York, Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and religious and secular groups from the Quakers to the University of Colorado Student Union have given their support to Lambda�s Marriage Project.

Events in Ohio

Closer to home, Dayton�s Eternal Joy Metropolitan Community Church showed the film The Right to Marry in honor of the occasion on Sunday, February 11.

Two other Ohio events in upcoming weeks tie in with tNational Freedom to Marry Day.

In Columbus on February 20, Dorrie Mills and Karen Anders, who made history by being one of the first couples to register in Vermont for a civil union when the law took effect July 1, are holding an organizational meeting for an Ohio group to lobby for the freedom to marry.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have never really applied to us, not fully," Mills said. "The only arguments we have heard against same-gender marriage are based in ignorance, fear, bigotry and hatred, or are of a religious bent. None are valid reasons for withholding civil rights."

"We find it ironic," she continued," that in Ohio we can be married in any number of religious institutions, but not by the state, where separation of church and state is founded in the Constitution."

Mills� partner Karen Anders added, "It only takes five letters to your state legislator�s office to earmark an issue as important. If they only hear from those who hate and not from those who love, we are powerless."

"If those who believe in love and justice can envision a state and country where same-gender couple are free to express their committed love, it will happen."

The meeting will be held at Stonewall Columbus, 1160 N. High Street at 7 pm. Stonewall can be reached at 614-299-7764.

The next night, the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center will present a discussion of same-sex commitment ceremonies and gay marriage, also at 7 pm. The event is being co-sponsored by the Spiritual Leaders Group, an interfaith networking organization. The center is located at 6600 Detroit Avenue, and can be reached at 216-651-5428.|

 


Gays are third most likely hate crime target, FBI says

Quantico, Virginia�The Federal Bureau of Investigation released its final report on 1999 hate crimes statistics on February 13, leading to an immediate response from gay groups calling for better reporting of crimes against LGBT people.

According to the report, of 7,876 bias-motivated crimes reported to the FBI on a voluntary basis, 1,317 were anti-gay crimes. That makes gays the third most likely target of hate crimes, according to the FBI statistics, with racial bias the motivating factor in 4,295 crimes, and religion in 1,411.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force cried foul at the release of the numbers. Anti-gay crime is underreported to begin with, they said, both because of a fear of being outed by coming forward to report crimes, and reluctance on the part of some law enforcement officers to treat anti-gay crime as hate crime.

The FBI figures are based on incidents reported from 12,122 law enforcement agencies in 48 states and Washington, D.C. Under the Hate Crime Statistics Act, there is no duty on the part of local and state law enforcement to report hate crimes to the federal government, leading to what the NGLTF refers to as woeful underreporting of crimes against LGBT people.

The gay and lesbian National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported 1,965 anti-gay crimes in 1999, with just 25 jurisdictions across the country giving data to the coalition.

According to these figures, with over twice the area coverage in reporting as the coalition, the FBI only learned of two-thirds of the anti-gay hate crimes reported to the coalition.

NGLTF executive director Elizabeth Toledo called for mandatory reporting of hate crimes, as well as intensive training for law enforcement officer in recognizing and handling hate crimes. She also said that local police departments should be equipped with anti-bias units to ensure the proper handling and reporting of incidents of bias-motivated crimes.


White House AIDS office is out, then back in

by Bob Roehr

The Bush administration did a quick little Texas two-step around the issue of AIDS on February 7. Press reports first had the office of "AIDS czar" being abolished, but a few hours later the White House press office said that was not the case.

In a front page article on February 7, USA Today said that Bush was going to eliminate offices on AIDS and race relations created by President Clinton. Their source was an interview with White House chief of staff Andrew Card.

"The presumption that a White House bureaucracy looks the same from administration to administration is a myth," Card was quoted saying.

The ink was not yet dry on that edition of the newspaper when the White House press office issued a clarification. Card "made a mistake," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. The functions of both offices would be maintained, though the administrative structures will change.

Fleischer said they anticipate that both a member of the Domestic Policy Council and an AIDS expert from the Department of Health and Human Services, on loan to the White House, will handle HIV. The Clinton administration also staffed their HIV activities with personnel on loan from other government agencies as a way to make the White House staff and budget appear smaller.

At the Retroviral Conference in Chicago, Dr. Anthony Fauci was "very surprised" to read the headline that morning. The principle leader of AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health said that in discussions with members of the transition office and later the domestic policy office, they had been "eager to do the right things."

Fauci thought that "integrating [HIV] into the fundamental domestic policy issues might turn out to be a positive thing, rather than have it off isolated." He added, "Certainly the funding will be fine."

AIDS organizations breathed a tentative sigh of relief, awaiting appointment of key people who will work on HIV issues. The National Minority AIDS Council said the Office of National AIDS Policy "provides an important vehicle for close collaboration with national and international AIDS organizations," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign.

"It�s important that Bush�s inner circle of advisers deal with this issue on a daily basis," Stachelberg added. She sees the office as important to coordinate activities that involve both domestic and international issues.|


News Briefs

 

Death may not have been suicide, man�s partner says

Cedaredge, Colorado�An attorney is asking for more information on the death of a gay man that his partner believes was murdered, although authorities ruled it a suicide.

Mike Brewer, a lawyer with the gay civl rights group Colorado Legal Initiative Project, asked Delta County coroner Chalmer Swain and Cedaredge marshal Tom Early on February 6 for the autopsy and records of the investigation into the death of Steve Ruck in October.

Ruck was killed by a gunshot to the head in his trailer. Police ruled the death a suicide. Ruck�s partner, John Moore, believes otherwise.

According to Moore and one of Ruck�s neighbors, a man came out of Ruck�s trailer just after he was shot and told the neighbor to call the police, and that he had just shot someone.

Western Equality, a regional Colorado gay civil rights group, accused the police of dragging their feet on the investigation, as well as not being forthcoming with information.

Coroner Chalmer Swain said that he would release the autopsy report. Marshal Early, however, said he would not release any of the requested information.

 

Student attacked in dorm

Helena, Montana-An openly gay student at Carroll College has withdrawn from school after being knocked unconscious and beaten in his dorm room.

The attack occurred last month, but officials of the 1,400-student Roman Catholic college did not inform police or students until last week, said vice president for student affairs Bob Pastoor on February 9.

Pastoor said the student, 22, did not notify college officials until nearly a week after the Jan. 17 attack, and they assumed he would notify police. He still has not done so. Pastoor said the student was not able to identify his attackers.

The school has not released the student�s name, and its report to the Helena Police Department is confidential, Pastoor said.

A report to Pastoor said someone struck the student in the head with a bottle as he returned to his room from the dorm showers in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, then beat him while he was unconscious.

The attacker also wrote "Die Fag" on his body with a marker.

 

Partner wants dog owners jailed

San Francisco-The partner of a lacrosse coach whose January 26 dog-mauling death shocked the nation wants the dog�s owners jailed.

Sharon Smith said February 6 that she has retained the services of Michael Cardoza, an area attorney and former prosecutor, to monitor the district attorney�s investigation into the death of her partner Diane Alexis Whipple.

Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, Whipple and Smith�s neighbors in their apartment building, own Bane, the 120-pound Presa Canario dog that mauled Whipple. Noel and Knoller have said that Bane and their other dog are very gentle, but Smith says her past experiences with the dogs have proven otherwise.

"I want to see the two of them locked up," said Smith. "I believe they knew exactly what they had--what the dogs were capable of--and they let this happen."

 

Sydney�s gay Mardi Gras opens

Sydney, Australia--Thousands of spectators crowded the steps of Sydney Opera House the evening of February 9 to celebrate the official opening of the 2001 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a three-week gay pride cultural event.

Transvestites rubbed shoulders with tourists at the free open-air party on a warm summer night with the landmark opera house spectacularly lit up for the occasion.

Although it is best known for its city-stopping Mardi Gras parade, the event includes theater, cinema, dance parties, literary discussions, even a dog show which includes a best dressed pooch competition.

Beginning 24 years ago as a gay pride march which erupted into a riot, the Mardi Gras has moved firmly into the mainstream of Sydney�s cultural calendar. The event�s sponsors this year include national carrier Qantas and Australia�s largest company, communications giant Telstra.

This year�s parade is on March 3.

 

Man confesses to Gallaudet murders

Washington, D.C.�After two murders in four months, with accusations of hate crime flying and a student being dismissed from the school, the mystery of the deaths at Gallaudet University ended late on February 13.

Police charged Joseph Mafnas Mesa Jr., 20, of Guam with the murders of Benjamin Varner and Eric Plunkett, both 19.

Thomas W. Minch had originally been accused of killing Plunkett four months ago, but charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Minch was expelled from the university, the oldest and most prestigious college for the deaf in the United States.

Since Plunkett was openly gay, many believed his murder may have been a hate crime.

Police said Mesa confessed to the murders after being questioned for several hours. Both deaths were the result of robbery attempts. In Varner�s death, one of the clues that led police to Mesa was a check he stole from Varner the night of the murder. Mesa wrote it out to himself for $600.

Plunkett, the first victim, lived across the hall from Mesa in the dormitory.

 

New study can�t prove �gay brain�

New York City�A team of neuroanatomists at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine has failed to replicate the results of Simon LeVay�s 1991 study indicating a brain structure might be the cause of homosexuality in men.

The new study, however, doesn�t disprove LeVay�s findings, researchers cautioned.

In 1991, while working at the Salk Institute, LeVay dissected 41 brains of gay and heterosexual men, and found that most of the brains of the gay men had smaller third interstitial nuclei in the anterior hypothalamus. In other words, gay men�s brains were structured differently than heterosexual men�s brains, a finding that would, if verified, provide a solution to the nature vs. nurture debate.

The new study, however, produced results that were inconclusive, according to Dr. Bill Byne, one of the researchers. The results of his research will be published later this year in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

LeVaysaid he was disappointed that they didn�t strongly support his findings, but cautioned that he and the public would have to wait for further research before the matter is decided.

 

Panel okays same-sex inheritance

Denver, Colorado--A bill approved February 5 by a Senate committee will allow the surviving partner in a same-sex relationship to inherit property after one partner dies, if there is no will.

Opponents said the measure comes close to sanctioning same-sex marriage.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill 4-3. The three Republicans on the committee voted no.

To inherit from a partner, the new law would require a couple to sign an affidavit declaring that they were "committed partners."

It would give the survivor the same priority as a widowed spouse.

Current law allows the family of the deceased partner to take everything, even if the family hasn�t seen the person for many years, said Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver, the bill�s sponsor.

The measure now goes to the full Senate, where it is expected to encounter strong opposition from conservatives who last year helped the legislature pass a ban on same-sex marriages.

Democrats, however, have an 18-17 majority in the Senate this year, compared with a 20-15 Republican majority the year before.

 

Elton-Eminem duet baffles some

New York City--Some people are scratching their heads over Elton John�s decision to sing a duet with Eminem at the Grammy awards, announced on February 9.

"We're flabbergasted and shocked,'" said Cathy Renna, news media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. GLAAD had already planned a protest outside Los Angeles's Staples Center, where the Feb. 21 show will be held. "Frankly, I don't think any of us can really imagine a reason to do this, or a reason to do this first," she said.

"I can certainly imagine Elton wanting to sit down and talk to Eminem, using his position as a celebrity, a highly respected musician, and an icon, to get some face time with Eminem," Renna added. "We tried that route, and it was completely unsuccessful."

But the rapper, who has included anti-gay rhymes in his songs, thinks he understands why the gay superstar is a supporter.

"I think that Elton John, I think he gets it. Because the kids . . . they are taking my music for what it�s worth, you know what I mean? They�re taking it with a . . . grain of salt," Eminem said backstage during a concert last month.

John said he�s a big fan of Eminem and does not believe his lyrics, which include references to gays as "fags" and violent imagery, are hateful.

"I'm a big fan of his music and I said I would be delighted to" sing with him, John told the Los Angeles Times. "I know I'm going to get a lot of flak from various people who are going to picket the show . . . I'd rather tear down walls between people than build them up. If I thought for one minute that he was a hateful bastard, I wouldn't do it."

 

Mom and son nominated for Lammies

Washington, D.C.-The Lambda Literary Foundation announced the finalists for its literary awards February 6, and this year�s nominations have made history in a strange way.

A mother and son have been nominated for separate books.

Anne Rice, master of the modern Gothic horror novel, is nominated for her novel Merrick, the first book to combine her popular vampire and Mayfair witches series. It is nominated for a "Lammy" in the science fiction/fantasy/horror category.

Meanwhile, in the gay men�s mystery category, Rice�s openly gay son Christopher�s debut novel A Density of Souls is also a finalist for a Lammy, the first time in the 13-year history of the awards that two generations of a family have been honored like this.

The almost 100 nominees include Brave Journeys by David Mixner, Amy Sonnie�s anthology Revolutionary Voices, David Sedaris� latest oeuvre, Me Talk Pretty One Day, The Femme�s Guide to the Universe by Shar Rednour, Benjie Nycum�s teen-oriented The XY Survival Guide, and Randy Boyd�s tale of mentoring and caring, Bridge Across the Ocean, all of which have been featured in Chronicle reviews. Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman, Brian DeWitt and Patti Harris.

 


A far-reaching look at the conflict between black identity and gay identity

The Greatest Taboo:
Homosexuality in Black Communities

by Delroy Constantine-Simms
Alyson, $16.95 trade paperback

Reviewed by Anthony Glassman

There is a view, however unjust, that the black community is more homophobic that its white counterpart. This may be because of the visibility of homophobia in hip-hop music, or prominent African-American athletes making fools of themselves preaching before the Wisconsin legislature.

Whatever the reason, the perception is there.

Black gay men and lesbians present a final frontier of discrimination and bigotry, despised both for their skin and their hearts.

There is an everyday struggle for black queers: am I a gay black man, a black gay man, an African-descended lesbian, woman then black then gay, or gay then black then woman?

There has also been rather a dearth of academic material on this subject. Many anthologies will have stories or essays by black writers, and black writers are becoming better known for their gay fiction. James Earl Hardy�s B-Boy Blues even examined the conflict between black identity and gay identity, albeit in a fictional setting.

Delroy Constantine-Simms is changing all that with The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities.

The choice of subtitle was a political statement in and of itself, trying to dispel the myth that the "black community" is a single, monolithic organism. The experience of African-Americans can be very different from that of their cousins in the Caribbean, or Suriname, or the Netherlands, or England. The treatment of people of African descent has varied widely from place to place, and even in Africa, the results of European colonialism have had differing effects on the population.

For instance, South Africa has been poised to become the first country to have specific protections for gay men and lesbians in its constitution, a move welcomed by many in the former resistance movements. After living with apartheid, many South African leaders strive to ensure that no one is given second-class citizenship.

However, many Afrocentric writers insist that homosexuality is an affection, as well as an affliction, foisted upon the black population by European culture. The fact that many of these writers use arguments based in Eurocentric Christianity seems to be lost on them, but not on the essayists whose work is included in this volume.

From an examination of biblical law regarding all sexual taboos, to a look at the exemplification of the black mother embodied by RuPaul, this book covers almost everyone and everything. African, European, American, it�s in there.

This sweeping collection examines gay and lesbian relationships among slaves, as well as those had by their ancestors in Africa. There are essays on the Harlem Renaissance and homophobia in hip-hop music; Magic Johnson�s revelation of his HIV status and the results; lesbianism in the African diaspora and the cultural significance of Luther Vandross.

If you are black, this book is a valuable resource to see where you and your people have been, where you are now, and where you are going. If you�re white, this volume can illustrate the struggles that go on beyond you, which do not affect you per se, but the ramifications of which are very much a part of your life. And, considering the marginalization of Latino and Asian-American gay men and lesbians, any other group in a position to be discriminated against should look closely at this anthology as well.

What we learn from the struggles of others can be applied to our own struggles, a lesson well learned. This book is probably the best collection of those struggles to come across my desk thus far, and I�m very glad it did.

 

 

 

 

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