Civil rights groups rally to halt Ashcroft nomination
by Bob Roehr
Leaders of more than two dozen national organizations crowded the stage of a Washington news conference to denounce the nomination of former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft to be Attorney General of the United States. It was just the tip of the iceberg of opposition that has swelled past 200 national groups united under the umbrella of "Stop Ashcroft!"
"This campaign will education the American public, the media, and most importantly the United States Senate about Senator Ashcroft�s pubic record, the responsibility of the Attorney General, and what is at stake should the Senate vote to confirm him," said Wade Henderson at the January 9 event. He is executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the coalition that has pressed for all of the nation�s civil rights legislation.
Henderson said that the decision was not taken lightly, but "Ashcroft�s views on a range of issues�are simply too extreme. His open hostility to the very laws and policies that protect the civil rights of all individuals in our society left the LCCR no choice but to actively oppose his nomination."
He called Ashcroft "a divider not a uniter," whose selection "strips bare any pretense about bringing this country together. Only a bipartisan majority of the Senate can right this wrong by rejecting the confirmation of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General."
Nan Aron, executive director of the Alliance for Justice, charged that
Ashcroft "has played politics with the judiciary for years"
with "vicious and baseless attacks" on judicial nominees. "He
is guilty of obstructing, not championing
In 1998, Ashcroft, along with anti-gay Senator Jesse Helmes, opposed the confirmation of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg because Hormel is gay. At that time, Ashcroft told news reporters he found Hormel unqualified, stating, "[Hormel�s] conduct and the way in which he would represent the United States is probably not up to the standard I would expect."
Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), lambasted Ashcroft�s strong right to life position. He "has spent his entire public career trying to undo a woman�s right to choose," she said. He has even "proposed legislation that would establish life as beginning at fertilization, which could outlaw some of the most commonly used forms of birth control." She called Ashcroft�s past "a harbinger of what he will do in the future."
Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said that in the decades he has spent as legal council on the Hill and as director of the LCCR, "this is the worst executive branch nomination I have ever seen." He cited the respected National Journal as ranking Ashcroft as the most conservative Senator in 1999, "to the right of Senator Jesse Helms."
Calling the position of Attorney General "the lawyer for all of the people," Neas said that Ashcroft "has a public record of indifferent if not outright hostility to equal opportunity for all Americans." He urged George W. Bush to "withdraw this nomination."
At the core of Bush�s campaign was his pledge "to unite the nation," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). "The nomination of Senator Ashcroft represents the extreme antithesis of that goal."
"We are gravely concerned that an Ashcroft tenure would be more about judgement than justice," Birch said. "He has shown a strong predisposition to only support people and policies that can successfully pass through the eye of an extremely narrow ideological needle."
During his six years in the Senate, Ashcroft "has an absolutely perfect record of abandoning gay Americans at every turn," said Birch. She cited his opposition to the nomination of James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg, "based not on the merits but by labels and categories." He has opposed hate crimes laws and she questioned his ability to enforce those already on the books.
Birch asked members of the Senate "to put aside the tradition of loyalty and collegiality within that body long enough to withhold judgement so that they can seek a full and fair presentation of the facts." She was confident that would lead to rejection of the nomination.
In a discussion following the news conference, Alexander Robinson said that Ashcroft "has opposed provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act." That legislation provides legal protection against discrimination in employment and the provision of services for people living with HIV infection, explained the former member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said they had made their discomfort with Ashcroft known to the Bush organization. He did not seem inclined to publicly work against Ashcroft, nor did he criticize others for doing so. "Each organization has their role," he said.
Strategy and tactics
Reporters questioned whether the nominee could be defeated. NOW�s Patricia Ireland seemed to speak for all of those present when she said they have "a strong, grassroots, experienced, angry constituency" that recently mobilized for the fall election. She called that "a huge advantage" in fighting this battle.
Questions from reporters suggested that it would be difficult to defeat Ashcroft, and that perhaps the groups were doing it primarily to raise money from their base of supporters. Michelman found the comment "very insulting."
She said, "It is the Bush administration that should be questioned as to their motives and their intent."
Other speakers suggested that the effort would lead to further spending rather than fund raising in educating and activating their members.
It will be difficult to defeat Ashcroft. Few, if any, Senate Republicans are likely to defect from supporting Bush on one of the first votes of his administration. Perhaps the most liberal Republican, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, sings in a barbershop quartet with Ashcroft. Tafel and those on the stage in opposition acknowledge that the collegiality of the Senate is a tie that works in Ashcroft�s favor and will be difficult to overcome. Robinson calls it "a challenge for both sides" of the ideological spectrum. There are "activated, motivated constituencies" in both parties that are taking stands on principles that they represent. "Are we really serious? And to what extent is the Senate going to be held accountable?" he asked.
Later that same day, on January 9, Linda Chavez withdrew as nominee to be Secretary of Labor. She said that controversy surrounding whether or not she employed an illegal alien was distracting from the process of putting together a government.
by Eric Resnick
Niles, Ohio-Since 1973, Barry Tenney, an employee at the General Electric Niles Mahoning Glass Facility, has endured harassment and hostility at work because he is gay. His recently-filed lawsuit against GE and five employees may, according to his attorney, create case law causing the state of Ohio to protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The lawsuit alleges that Tenney, 47, of Warren, was subjected to "extreme harassment" at the GE facility, including a fellow employee threatening to kill him, ridicule, unwelcome sexual remarks, hostile graffiti, and assignment to demeaning duties. The lawsuit was filed in September and will go before Judge John Stuard in the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas for the first time February 1.
The lawsuit also alleges that GE endorsed and actively participated in the harassment and failed to protect Tenney.
Due to the statute of limitations, which is six years for civil rights violations and four years for the other counts, Tenney�s suit only covers actions that occurred since 1996, although, he claims, and has evidence to support, that it has gone on over his entire employment at the plant.
Tenney, who is now an inspector, was formerly a materials hiker and before that, a janitor. All three positions are classified at the same level. Thus, despite his longevity, he has not had a promotion or job assignment that allowed him to advance with GE.
Tenney says he has stayed at GE for economic reasons.
"It�s not easy to find another job, and this is good money," he said.
Tenney says the harassment began as soon as he came out at work, shortly after he was hired, due to another harassing incident. "This girl [a co-worker] kept coming on to me. One day, she came up behind me and kissed me on the lips and said, �Why don�t we go out?� I just told her, �No, I�m gay,� and since that time, guys whistle at me like they would a girl, they have thrown rocks at my car, and I am called �fag� and �queer,�" he said.
Tenney�s attorney, Thomas Sobecki of Toledo, a civil rights lawyer, says Tenney�s is an extreme case.
"It was clear to me as I spoke to Barry that it was horrible what happened to him," said Sobecki. "I don�t come across cases like this every day."
It is also clear by viewing the copies of the grievances Tenney has filed over the years that GE knew of the frequency and severity of the harassment yet did not stop it. Neither did Local 751 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the union representing Tenney.
Instead, supervisors and former union president Bill Callahan, who is also a defendant in the suit, blamed Tenney, calling him a "trouble maker" and a "liar who makes stuff up."
Tenney said that after Callahan was served with a copy of the lawsuit, Callahan read it at a union meeting. Tenney said this was done in an attempt to turn other union members against him by announcing that the union would be responsible for paying for Callahan�s defense at a time when everyone was complaining that union dues had gone up.
Tenney reported that prior to the lawsuit, Callahan called him into the shift foreman�s office with two union stewards and said, "I�m tired of you filing grievances. You�re using the grievance process as your �war club� to beat up your fellow employees. You�re a liar, a trouble maker, and no one here likes you, and no one here will talk to you."
Tenney, who is also half Native American, believes the �war club� statement was also meant to be hostile.
"He said I was lazy and accused me of harassing people around here," said Tenney.
Tenney said a former union steward, Ed Havitch, told him that there was nothing the union could do about damage to his property and the harassing graffiti unless he witnesses it.
"Guys don�t want you in the bathroom," Tenney said Havitch told him, adding that they offered to make a private bathroom for him.
Tenney said he knew of two people, including a former union steward that left the union over how badly he was treated.
Tenney said the front office was also aware of his complaints and was subjected to investigation by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Tenney�s evidence includes photographs he has taken over the years of anti-gay graffiti directed at him scrawled on the plant�s men�s room walls along with tape recordings of conversations with GE supervisors that indicate that GE officials and human resource personnel knew of his complaints.
GE includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policies. Officially, the addition of sexual orientation was added October, 2000, but according to corporate spokesperson Gary Sheffer, "[Non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation] has always been the practice here, even though we made it explicit in the fall of 2000."
Janice Fraser, communications manager for GE Lighting, the division that operates the Niles plant, took it farther, saying, "We have a stringent policy against any discrimination and harassment. It is vigorously communicated and enforced throughout the company."
Fraser said she could not comment on pending litigation, but acknowledged that GE is aware of the claim and said it has been investigated internally by attorneys and human resource personnel.
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America adopted a policy to battle homophobia, including workplace discrimination, at its 2000 convention.
Steve Tormey, national spokesperson for the union was only aware of one grievance filed by Tenney. "We vigorously prosecuted the grievance," said Tormey, "We did not ignore the complaint."
But, for whatever reason, most of Tenney�s complaints never made it to the national office.
"If these allegations are true," said Tormey, "it is regrettable. We should have intervened. When we are aware, we have an obligation to put a stop to it."
Tenney describes an incident in 1996 when he was reprimanded because his partner of 21 years, Larry Carr, came to the workplace to tell him that their basement was flooding. At the time, they had no phone.
Tenney pointed out to his supervisor that other employee�s spouses, including that of the foreman, visited the plant frequently. "I explained that even though we couldn�t get married, Larry was my mate and had as much right to be there as other mates."
Tenney suspects that the supervisor who heard the word "mate" talked about the situation with others. Holding up a photo of graffiti on the bathroom wall that says, "There was a queer named Barry who took a ride on a ferry. He�ll be your first mate. The Captain, too. The ferry docked late, so he blows the whole crew � Big Dick," Tenney says, "This went up immediately" following his conversation with his supervisor.
Tenney has numerous photos of workplace graffiti derogatory to him and more photos where the graffiti was painted over.
Tenney says the hostility sometimes follows him home. He describes incidents of people screaming "fag" in his driveway early in the morning. He tells of an incident Thanksgiving morning in 1996 when he and Larry were awakened to find that the ditch around their property had been set on fire and the fire had spread within a few feet of their house.
He says he gets knocked off chairs at work while co-workers laugh.
But the incident that led Tenney to take legal action occurred in August 1999.
Tenney asserts that the plant nurse, Joanne O�Neil, subjected him to unwanted sexual harassment when he was reported to her office for treatment. She proceeded to tell him that his parents, both deceased, were "no good" because they didn�t talk to him as a fetus to encourage him to be born heterosexual. She further alleged that his parents must have allowed him to be raped as a child, which is why she concluded he is gay.
Tenney asserts that O�Neil then said she would be his mother, grabbed him, and hugged him. "It was more than a motherly hug," said Tenney. "Her hands were all up and down my back and she squeezed me so hard that the tape recorder I had in my underwear against my leg got knocked loose. You can hear the whole thing."
Tenney, with help from Sobecki, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In March 2000, EEOC issued a ruling in response to Tenney�s complaint that echoed GE�s response. It said, "The Commission, upon its review of all evidence provided by you and your employer, has determined that the acts taken against you are not based on your race or gender, but rather, your sexual orientation, which is not covered under our laws."
Sobecki points out that GE�s non-discrimination policy, like other employers� non-discrimination statements including sexual orientation, is internal, but if they choose not to follow it, there is no federal law to hold them accountable.
But the EEOC ruling gave Tenney the green light to file the lawsuit, which was filed September 29.
Joy Evans and Wendy Stark of the large Cleveland corporate defense law firm Baker and Hostetler, represent GE and two of the defendants, O�Neil and Terry Larson.
Stark declined comment on the case, saying GE has not given her permission to discuss it, but has filed a motion to dismiss the Tenney�s complaint, which claims emotional distress. Stark�s motion will be heard February 1.
Stark counters that "[Tenney�s] allegations, at best, show that he was subject to mere insults and indignities, not the type of outrageous conduct necessary to sustain a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress."
Stark continues, "Taken either cumulatively or alone, [Tenney] alleges nothing that would make the average person cry �Outrageous!� The isolated comments purportedly made by Tenney�s co-workers, are certainly not of a type that is �utterly intolerable.� While the allegations, if true, may not portray model conduct on the part of such employees, they simply do not rise to the level of extreme or outrageous conduct required to state a claim for emotional infliction of emotional distress. . . . many courts have dismissed claims which rest on more egregious conduct than that claimed by [Tenney]."
Sobecki said that Stark�s calling threats to Tenney�s life "mere insult and indignity"is "ridiculous."
Sobecki�s answer to the motion to dismiss points out that even though Ohio law does not protect on the basis of sexual orientation, the Ohio Supreme Court has never ruled on it.
He cites Retterer v. Whirlpool Corp., a recent ruling where Justices Pfeifer and Resnick "hinted" that it could under current Ohio law.
Sobecki believes Tenney�s case, if taken to the Ohio Supreme Court, could force the Court to rule that sexual orientation discrimination could not be excluded under current law. He said the case could be in court for years, but is willing to stick with it through the Ohio Supreme Court if it is necessary and Tenney wants it.
The suit asks for compensatory damages and punitive damages, both in excess of $25,000.
Tenney, who continues to work at GE, wants justice, which in his mind, means full retirement.
"Every time I walk through those doors, I get physically sick," said Tenney. "I can�t use the restrooms. I know what it says under the paint on those walls."
by Anthony Glassman
The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and the AIDS Housing Council have completed their merger, and are one organization under the Taskforce�s name as of January 1.
"This has been an extraordinary endeavor," ATGC board of trustees president David Feldt said. "We came to a mutual decision to merge on October 10, and the merger was legally complete on December 31-only 54 working days later."
The question on the minds of people in Cleveland, however, is how will this affect people with HIV/AIDS? For instance, will there be fewer case workers now that the two organizations have merged?
According to the AIDS Taskforce, all AHC social work case managers, aides and housing staff will remain in place with the new organization. The AIDS Taskforce will also be keeping the separate offices for the social services and housing services branches for the near future, as neither location is large enough to house a staff that now exceeds 60 people.
"This is...an historic opportunity," said ATGC executive
"I think the fact that we merged in 54 days and saved every program and all the staff is really remarkable," Pike continued. "I don�t think our clients realized that the first day was January 1, and that�s good. There was no disruption of services."
The budget for the combined organization for this year will be over $3 million, fairly equivalent to the combined budgets of the two separate entities after the Carey facilities opened. However, since a number of duplicated expenses have been eliminated, it amounts to a net increase in funding for the group.
To streamline the operation, and offer better service to clients, all case management services have been integrated into a single department under the direction of Katherine Caruso, ATGC�s director of social services. The new department of housing services will be under the control of Bill DiTirro, who was the executive director of the Summit AIDS Housing Corporation. His department will manage Kamana Place, Hebron House, and the Carey East and West facilities.
In addition, four of the members of the AIDS Housing Council�s board of trustees, board president Roger Lynch, Denis Weber, Michael Abdenour and Steve Bass, have joined the AIDS Taskforce board.
Pike warns, however, that there is still a struggle ahead.
"How can we fund AIDS services when public interest in AIDS is declining?" he asked. "We�re a long way off from the end of this epidemic; we�re looking at a third and fourth generation. We need the community to hang with us in the long haul."
by Eric Resnick
The Vatican-Despite the ominous presence of police, 24 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and allied protesters delivered a demand to the Roman Catholic Church on January 5 to stop spiritual violence against LGBT people.
The non-violent action was organized by the inter-faith group Soulforce and the LGBT Catholic group, Dignity USA to coincide with the closing of the Jubilee year by Pope John Paul II. Most of the protesters were Catholic.
The Catholic Church teaches that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and can never be approved. LGBT Catholics cannot be ordained and are often denied the Eucharist, which Catholics believe represents the body of Christ.
Priests and nuns are often disciplined for serving LGBT Catholics.
The Vatican has declared same-sex unions "a deplorable distortion" and adoption by gay parents "a grave danger."
The Soulforce and Dignity coalition staged an act of civil disobedience in November at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC in conjunction with the National Catholic Bishops Conference. That action resulted in 104 arrests.
Protesters went to the Vatican expecting to be arrested, although no one was.
But Rome police, who have an agreement with the Vatican that no demonstration of any kind is allowed in or near the Vatican, were never far from the demonstrators, and, at times, restricted their movement.
The protest marked the first time in history that an LGBT group staged a demonstration inside St. Peter�s Square and the first time in decades that a group of any kind had at all.
The official protest occurred over four days, January 3- 6, and included Soulforce and Dignity pilgrims bringing gifts for blessing, which is customary for pilgrims to do.
Vatican officials blessed the gifts of the thousands of other pilgrims, which has great significance to Catholics.
The Vatican blesses many gifts that are controversial, including the Christmas tree given this year by Austrian Fascists.
The gifts brought by the Soulforce and Dignity group included socks, toiletries, toys and candy to be given to people with HIV and AIDS and orphans.
Special gifts were arranged for Saturday-the day the Pope officially closed the Jubilee year. Each protester carried a photo of themselves to be placed at the great nativity scene with the gifts of other pilgrims, as a gift to the Catholic Church.
Soulforce president Rev. Jimmy Creech, the Nebraska Methodist minister defrocked for performing same-sex unions, is not gay, so he carried a special gift - a photo of Alfredo Ormando. Ormando was a gay Sicilian man, who, in January 1998, set himself on fire in St. Peter�s Square and ran toward the door of the basilica in an act of protest.
Notes left by Ormando indicated that he felt ostracized by the Church and not accepted by his family, in part because of Church teachings about homosexuality.
Ormando died committing his act of protest.
The gifts brought by the Soulforce and Dignity group were not blessed on any day.
"The only difference between us and the other pilgrims bringing gifts was that we were wearing t-shirts proclaiming that we are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith," said Soulforce spokesperson Laura Montgomery Rutt.
The shirts worn by the Soulforce and Dignity delegation said in English and Italian, "God�s Gay Children Bring Gifts: Bless Them."
In order to be able to enter St. Peter�s Square, the Soulforce and Dignity delegates had to act like ordinary pilgrims until inside, where they assembled, put on their shirts and began to hold vigil.
In addition to no Vatican blessing of the gifts, the police refused the delegation permission to place their photos at the nativity scene.
"The police surrounded us, at times locking their arms to prevent our movement, but we held our ground," said Rutt.
"Each time we asked to approach the nativity scene, police told us to turn around and go home," said Rutt. "Each time, we told them �no.�"
That was not the only incident with police. Earlier that morning, six Catholic delegates attempted to attend the Te Deum mass celebrated by the Pope as he officially closed the Jubilee doors for another 50 years.
The six were acting as Catholics, not as part of any group. According to Mary Louise Cervone, president of Dignity USA, members Bill Carpenter and Peter Larson were detained by police and forbidden to attend the mass because one of the police recognized Carpenter, whose picture appeared in an Italian newspaper the day before.
Police told Carpenter and Larson that they wanted to be sure they didn�t start any protests during the mass.
Cervone emphasized, "That was never our intent."
On the first day of vigil, the delegates were ordered by police to take their banners down, because they were being photographed by media with St. Peter�s Basilica in the background.
The second day, it rained hard, so there were no police.
The third day, according to Rutt, a group of 15 police approached the vigil "marching in high step". At the time, Soulforce director Mel White and Cervone were being interviewed by Dutch television.
"Mel quickly turned and ran to us, telling us to go," said Rutt, "so we did."
Before leaving, Cervone flung an envelope containing the statement of the demands of Soulforce and Dignity onto Vatican grounds.
Rutt said that each day, about 20 people learned what the protesters were doing and joined them, including a PFLAG family from Philadelphia who were vacationing.
Additionally, Rutt said many took pictures of the vigils and listened to what was being said by the LGBT delegates through translators.
Cervone pointed out that people watching the vigils were engaged as long as they were watching and listening, but when they were asked to join the vigil, they quickly dispersed.
"There we were, 24 pilgrims, so small in the enormity of the Church," said Cervone, "Yet, I felt so powerful, even though it was like being in the shadow of the Vatican. It is just like being a gay Catholic - hidden."
Cervone said that was what the spectators must have been feeling, too, "because once they were asked to come out of the shadows, they say, �oh no, I can�t.�"
As a Catholic who loves her church, Cervone has mixed feelings about the Vatican not blessing their gifts. "First I feel anger," she said, "because the Church blesses so many gifts and the only reason they wouldn�t bless ours was that that we were out and proud."
"Why are my gifts any less worthy of such a blessing?"
"On the other hand," said Cervone, "I shrug my shoulders and say �I don�t need your blessing.�"
"What would that blessing do for me, anyway?" asks Cervone. "Even with a blessing, they would still exclude me from Eucharist, therefore, the blessing means nothing."
Cervone said of watching the Holy Jubilee doors, "As a lesbian, those doors have always been closed to me."
Cervone added that going to the Vatican gave her a new perspective on her church. "I understand more clearly the roots of my oppression. Not that I feel any more positive toward the Church, I just understand more."
Cervone and Rutt point out that success of this event cannot be measured by anything that happened there. "It�s about the people we touch and empower just by being there," said Rutt.
"The effect of the witness is to change the minds and hearts of the Church," said Cervone, "and that means its people, not the Vatican and its policies."
The action was also used by Soulforce to mark the beginning of the second stage of their campaign, which is to ask all LGBT people and allies to withhold offerings, tithes and special gifts to churches not welcoming of LGBT people and sending a note to the pastor explaining why.
"Taking this small stand is really about you," says White. "It�s an opportunity to work for justice where you live."
by Anthony Glassman
New York City, N.Y.�MTV, the cable giant whose programming appeals
primarily to 13 to 25-year olds, has brought
Anatomy of a Hate Crime: the Matthew Shepard Story, an MTV original movie, explores the events leading up to the murder of Shepard, whose death in 1998 galvanized nationwide efforts to include LGBT people in hate crimes legislation.
The telefilm first aired at 8 pm, Wednesday, January 10. It will be replayed four times in the next week. Following the broadcast, and replaying repeatedly in the future, was a special featuring Romaine Patterson of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who knew Shepard.
"As a friend of Matthew�s, it concerns me to think of his story as entertainment," she told the Gay People�s Chronicle. "It�s also good to see it viewed as education, and it is appreciated by Matthew�s friends."
The original broadcast of the movie and the Fight For Your Rights special was followed by 17 hours of details of hate crimes scrolling down the screen. MTV played the Fight For Your Rights scroll commercial-free, at an estimated cost of over $2 million in lost advertsing revenue.
"I think that, given [MTV�s] demographics, this can be a very educational tool," Patterson said. "A lot of people committing the crimes are teenaged males."
The cablecast of the film, along with the special and the "going dark," kicks off a year of programming and events sponsored by MTV and a number of national anti-hate organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
MTV plans to air over 200 hours of original programming designed to counter hate crimes and discrimination over the course of the project. There are also plans for a number of regional workshops to educate youths on the topic.
The movie itself, starring newcomer Cy Carter in the role of Matthew Shepard. The film opens with Carter as Shepard walking towards the fence to which he was tied and beaten, asking the viewer, "They called my murder a hate crime. Where does that kind of hate come from? Are there moments in people�s lives that create that hate?"
The movie then goes back to the bar in Laramie, Wisconsin, where Matthew Shepard met his murderers, and goes from there. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two men who beat Shepard to death, are played by Brendan Fletcher and Ian Somerhalder, respectively.
MTV is the first of three films on Shepard to air. NBC is working with Shepard�s family on a biopic, and HBO is currently in production on a filmed version of Moises Kaufman�s The Laramie Project, his off-Broadway play focusing on the reaction of people in town to the murder.
Anatomy of a Hate Crime: The Matthew Shepard Story which was re-broadcast
The cable network also unveiled a companion website to the yearlong effort to counter hate crimes and discrimination at: http://FightForYourRights.mtv.com.
Man remains in critical condition after beating
Ashburn, Ga.-Residents of this rural South Georgia town have always accepted Robert Martin, even though he often wore dresses and women�s wigs.
Martin remained hospitalized in critical condition January 9, two days after he was found lying outside an abandoned school with head injuries from a beating with a blunt object. He was not wearing a dress at the time.
"He had friends all over Ashburn," said Richard Byrd. "I don�t know of anybody in Ashburn who would want to do it. I hope he lives to be able to identify who it was."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was investigating, but had no suspect and no motive.
"The focus of our investigation is the assault on him," agent Tom Davis said. "The focus is not his sexual preference."
Gov. Roy Barnes signed a hate crime bill into law last year that would impose stiffer penalties if a jury determined that a defendant singled out a victim because of bias or prejudice.
Ashburn is in Turner County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
Court hears sodomy law challenge
New Orleans, La.-Louisiana�s anti-sodomy law "denies homosexuals the right to have sex" and should be declared unconstitutional, a lawyer for a gay and lesbian group told a state appeals court Monday, January 8.
Lawyers for the Attorney General�s office filed a written brief defending the 196-year-old law but waived their right to speak before the court.
The Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians Inc. is appealing a 1999 ruling by Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson that upheld much of the state�s "crimes against nature" law.
John D. Rawls, LEGAL�s attorney, argued before the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that the law, which makes anal and oral sex illegal between consenting adults, discriminates against gay men and lesbians.
"This law says that gay people are perverts; it says that gay people are sex offenders," Rawls told panel of three judges. "That is cruel, excessive and unusual punishment," he told the court.
The state�s attorneys say the law punishes immoral conduct. In an interview after the hearing, assistant attorney general Charlie Braud said the statute is not discriminatory because it makes anal and oral sex illegal for everyone. The law, however, is rarely used to prosecute heterosexuals.
The appeals court judges gave no indication when they would issue a ruling.
Gill-Jefferson�s 1999 ruling said, in part, that the anti-sodomy law violates the state�s guarantees of privacy. The state appealed that portion of the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which sent the ruling back to Gill-Jefferson for clarification. Gill-Jefferson has scheduled arguments for March 9.
Scouts� incompatible with Judaism
New York City, N.Y.-The New York Times reported January 5 that the Joint Commission on Social Action of the governing body of Reform Judaism sent a memo to synagogues telling them that the Boy Scouts of America�s stance on gays is incompatible with Reform Judaism�s views on gay men and lesbians.
"The policy is "incompatible with our consistent belief that every individual-regardless of his or her sexual orientation-is created in the image of God and is deserving of equal treatment," according to the memo.
The memo went on to recommend that all congregations sever ties with the Scouts or least vocally protest the Scouts� anti-gay policies.
Reform Judaism is the most progressive of Judaism�s three main branches, which also includes Orthodox and Conservative.
Reform Judaism allows the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, and the Reform rabbinate issued a statement last year encouraging the formation of a Jewish framework for same-sex unions.
"Being a Boy Scout really had an influence on my life, and it was a painful decision to have to write that letter," Rabbi Paul Menitoff, vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the governing body of the sect, said. "I felt it was untenable to support or be part of an organization that discriminated against a group of people."
Jewish groups sponsor almost 300 Scout troops, and Reform Judaism makes up around 40% of the Jewish population in the country.
Mass gay wedding to be in Holland
Amsterdam, The Netherlands�Fourteen couples have announced plans to stage a mass wedding on April 1, the day a new Dutch law allowing full gay marriage takes effect.
The Netherlands are the first country to allow full gay marriage, but it will not make that much of a difference in this progressive Scandinavian country. Dutch law established a partnership registry in 1998, and the country has long had a history as being in the vanguard of gay civil rights laws.
The new laws, however, will give gay and lesbian couples the same rights in adoption as their heterosexual counterparts.
Legal gay marriage set for Toronto
Toronto, Ontario-The first legal same-sex weddings not relying on legal loopholes in the definition of transgender will be performed Sunday, January 14.
The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto�s Rev. Brent Hawkes discovered an old law in Ontario that allows people to bypass the normal marriage license process, and instead have a bann performed in their church. A bann involves the statement of intent to marry being announced by the minister on three occasions, with the opportunity being given for anyone to raise legal objections.
The two couples to be married are Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa, and Elaine Vautour and Anne Vautour.
Hawkes discovered that Section 5 of the Ontario Marriage Act allows churches to use banns, part of an ancient Christian tradition, instead of going to a municipal clerk to get a marriage license. Municipal clerks in Ontario have refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Following the ceremony, Hawkes will issue marriage certificates to the couples, and they will be sent to the Registrar-General of Ontario for registry. If the Registrar-General refuses to register the certificates, Elliott will then file suit.
A suit has already been filed in Ontario court over the refusal of municipal clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman, Brian DeWitt and Patti Harris
Loss within Loss:
The new book Loss within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS is an extraordinary achievement of witness, memory and love.
Edited by noted novelist Edmund White and created in cooperation with the Estate Project for Artists With AIDS, Loss within Loss has brought some of America�s most eloquent writers together, from Maya Angelou to Brad Gooch, to remember the lives and the art that were stolen from us by AIDS. I had not realized how much I needed to read a book like this right now. Amid the cultural zeitgeist that would have us sweep HIV/AIDS under the carpet as old business of the end of the last century, I was struck by the bracing avalanche of feelings of pride and sorrow I felt for these fierce lives lived with such heat and joy. Raphael Kadushin of University of Wisconsin Press said of Loss within Loss, "What struck me about the book was the fact that it was never depressing or maudlin. It�s not really about death and dying. In the end it�s about the act of living, and how exhilarating it was (and is) to be a truly gifted artist as a young man."
I could not stop reading Loss within Loss once I started. The variety of the lives remembered � as well as the powerful and varied approaches each of the writers employed to mark the loss of one individual � made reading the book a memorable journey of great depth. Searing in their honesty, full of feeling and pissed-off, these essays uncover new truths about one of the horrific events of the 20th century. The writing is endlessly surprising and is a huge contribution to acknowledging the psychic and emotional scars of the last two decades.
Though there have been a number of AIDS memoirs in the last fifteen years, many of them among the most powerful writing done on any subject in recent memory, Loss within Loss invites us anew to ponder the swath of genius and creativity that was taken from us so early. The book accumulates great force from the breathtaking variety among the pieces. The reader is pulled from a stately and deeply felt funeral oration by Alan Gurganus on James Merrill to the angry and irreverent missile that Craig Lucas� launches on our complacency as he ponders the men in his life that have been ripped from him.
In his deeply felt and eloquent introduction to the book Edmund White details the heat of that love and loss that fills these memories in Loss within Loss. "When I hold these essays in my hand I can feel the heat rise off of them� the intense, baked terra-cotta heat of longing and desire, or the headachy, sobbing heat of grief writhing on the mattress, pounding it like a defeated wrestler. And I can feel the simple, blunt fact of the heat of human presence, of eyelashes brushing the pillowcase, of breath held, heart bursting, of another head on the pillow, drinking it all in, a bit stunned by such voluminous and cruel information but observant nonetheless, memorizing the moment."
I had conversations recently with Edmund White, editor of Loss within Loss, and Patrick Moore, director of The Estate Project for Artists With AIDS who planted the seeds of this inspiring collection.
Tim Miller: How did Loss within Loss come to be?
Edmund White: Patrick Moore had the title and the whole project and approached me to edit the collection. I suggested about half the people and the Estate Project already had picked about half. I was brought in to write an introduction and to edit the pieces. People were eager and excited to do it. Some of the writers, Alex Chee for example, brought lots of unresolved feelings of passion and love for painter Peter Kelloran. He was also worried that the painter might be completely unknown otherwise. That was really part of the thrill for people was to have a chance to write about friends and lovers who had meant so much to them. That was the excitement of this project, to have a forum for discussing all these richly lived lives that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.
Patrick Moore: I had hoped that these essays would be deeply personal and subjective discussions of both the artists lost and their work. We worked together for nearly two years to solicit the essays and present them to publishers. Whether we have reached a new period of hope with AIDS or are just experiencing a lull, it is the right time to look back at the impact of what happened during the first wave. We Americans seem not to be very interested in remembering and learning from crisis. It is my hope that the book will help us see just what we�ve already lost. Loss within Loss was a title I came up with to acknowledge that, with the death of these artists, we face a loss not only of the person but their work as well.
T.M.:The enormous ongoing mourning of this event can be overwhelming. It hit me as I read the book how much unfinished business there is with marking the huge losses we have faced from HIV/AIDS. What did you discover or learn about the ongoing process of mourning and memory through putting the book together? What�s our job right now? The book sets a strong challenge to acknowledge what has gone on.
E.W.: I think that people have become quite willfully blasé about HIV-AIDS. With my own last novel The Married Man I had an awful lot of gay journalists, no straight ones, who said to me "How can you write about this tired old material? Why did you choose to write about AIDS when it�s over?" I think that anything that dealt such a huge wound as the AIDS epidemic has to be acknowledged for another fifty years at least. The book is some link to a future consciousness. What do we need to be doing right now? The Estate Project for Artists with AIDS is doing a great thing because they are digitalizing all the art work of artists that died of AIDS. That�s a tremendously useful thing, because especially those who haven�t achieved fame are terrified that their work would be dispersed, destroyed, sold off, painted over after their deaths. The idea of total erasure is one of the most frightening ideas for an artist. The only reason to make all these sacrifices is that maybe your artwork will linger on for a while. This book is in a tiny, minor way preserving a lot of these lives and hope it will suggest that people do other books that are similar. I do think their stories show some of the range of gay life and the experiences that the AIDS epidemic inflicted on people.
P.M.: I discovered that mourning and time are enormously healing but I also discovered that we are almost all willing to speak ill of the dead. I think that AIDS deaths carry with them an enormous amount of unresolved emotions that are pretty clearly seen in these essays.
T.M.:That complexity moved me
E.W.: We were all thinking of cutting that one and actually my boyfriend, Michael Carroll read it and said "are you kidding this is the most lively and honest piece in the whole book". Thank God he spotted it and we all came around to his way of thinking. I think a lot of American AIDS fiction has been kind of sentimental, full of death-bed scenes where everyone is behaving in this noble way. What�s great about these essays in Loss within Loss because they�re non-fiction they tend to show the nitty-gritty of people�s lives in way that is a lot less sentiment than American fiction.
T.M.:Did you encourage that forthrightness or did the full mix of positive and negative memories need to come forward as the only way to authentically remember someone we have lost?
P.M.: We only encouraged the writers to write at a deeply personal level. That the process of remembering these loved ones elicited mixed emotions is not so surprising. What I find interesting is that the writers were honest enough to present these complex portraits.
E.W.: I think one thing that is due to the dead is absolute honesty.
There is such a tendency to have a kind of piety that sets in almost automatically when someone dies. It�s part of all our rituals. Yet it seems to me that�s particularly insulting to these artists who had such vivid and quirky lives that they should be obliterated by some kind of alabaster monument. I think really one of the strong points of the book is that the writers kept in their own mixed feelings towards the subjects and showing in most cases how these weren�t well-rounded people who had lived a full span of life. These were lives that had been rounded off and can be honored best with unflinching truthfulness. The writers get that quality very well of these lives and creative projects that we�re brutally cut off. A lot of these artists represented a last gasp of American bohemianism that has gone out of the world. One of the good things about the book is that it puts the reader in touch with these people who didn�t care that much about money or fame but in the quality and integrity of their art.
TM: The book conjures a powerful sense of what we have lost, the void created by these artists who never got to fulfill their visions. There is a tangible void from those voices loss. The book made me deeply aware of this empty space and feel the loss keenly.
E.W.: I think that we all wanted that to happen. There are very few artists from the past that we would know if they had died before forty. That being the case, since all these lives were cut short, we do have to confront that we mostly have shards and not too many realizations.
T.M.: I especially was struck by some of the surprising corners of the book as in the story of Bruce Kelly, the landscape architect of Strawberry Fields in Central Park. When faced with the enormity of how many artists we have lost to AIDS, how did you face the daunting task of choosing which life/art stories to include in Loss within Loss?
P.M.: We thought mostly about the writers who we felt would have something interesting to say. We did try, with differing degrees of success, to also strike a balance between performing arts, visual arts and literature.
T.M.:Where does Loss within Loss fit in within the mission of the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS?
P.M.: We are basically historians at the Estate Project. Who was lost? What was made? What does it reveal about our culture? I think that there have been very few non-fiction books written about AIDS that take such a subjective view. Whether it is a film, a video, a dance score, a painting or this book, we hope that someone many years from now will understand the actual experience of AIDS rather than just the facts.
T.M.: What would you hope the book will bring to the readers lucky enough to encounter Loss within Loss? Especially maybe the young reader who might be encountering these stories for the first time
E.W.: I think for the gay community in general we need to really see the biggest problem looming in the world right now is AIDS in Africa. I�m not sure that gay AIDS organizations like GMHC can do much in a concrete way for Africa. But there are skills we can share. I hope that a reader who spends some time with Loss within Loss can find that empathy for these lives that were lost and maybe encourage in someone an ability to imagine ourselves into other people�s lives who are dealing with AIDS right now all over the world.
For a younger reader, I hope that it makes the disease and its consequences and the actually experience of living and dying with AIDS intensely vivid.
The average age of person becoming infected with AIDS globally is fifteen.
I�m not saying lots of fifteen-year-olds are going to buy this book, but I hope it gives everybody, young or old, a new vivid reason for trying to stay negative.
P.M.: First and foremost, I hope the reader finds a recognition of what richness artists bring to our lives aside from the relative importance of their art work. America is so caught up in success that I think we often forget about the great value of individuals just living their lives. AIDS compresses a life so much that we need to measure an individual�s accomplishments in a different way.
Tim Miller is a solo performer and the author of Shirts & Skin, published by Alyson. He can be reached at http://hometown.aol.com/millertale timmiller.html
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