Oh, say can you see?
Mary Ann Brandt does a spirited rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and gets a boost from a fellow performer at Drag 101, her class for non-drag performers. Her final class will be at 9 pm on May 20 at Axis in Columbus. Andy Scahill, OutinAmerica.com.
Suit may strengthen TG worker rights
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland--A transgender woman who was called "Mrs. Doubtfire" by co-workers has filed a federal suit against United Consumer Financial Services.
She was fired because she would not answer supervisors’ questions about her sex, according to the suit filed May 7 in the Northern Ohio District federal court.
The case has the potential to make federal law stronger in protecting the rights of transgender workers, and may bring aspects of gender identity disorder under the scope of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit, filed May 7, alleges that UCFS fired the woman on July 11 even though she had gotten satisfactory performance reviews. She was working as a temp-to-hire worker through Reserves Network.
The woman and UCFS agreed to mediation, which did not produce acceptable results.
"They offered me $1,500, which is about the price of one of their Kirby sweepers," said the woman, who cannot be named because of her charge that UCFS violated her privacy.
UCFS, with offices in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, is the credit arm of Scott Fetzer Co. It finances consumer purchases of the company’s Kirby vacuum cleaners, World Book encyclopedias and Ginsu knives.
The 59-year-old woman was hired to do collections work.
She sought employment with the temporary agency following her dismissal from her job as a supervisor with Cuyahoga County for issues related to discrimination. Her case against the county is pending in another court.
Case notes kept by Reserves Network personnel indicate that the woman was doing satisfactory work, and noted things out of the ordinary with the way UCFS was conducting its background check.
"Reserves Network is not a party to this suit, and their personnel will be called as witnesses," said the woman’s attorney, Randi Barnabee of Northfield Center, Ohio.
According to Mike Trnian, controller for UCFS, background checks for collection workers include a driver’s license check, validation of the social security number, and a criminal record check.
But in this case, the company went farther, and gives no explanation why.
The woman was summoned to a July 10 meeting with collections manager Brian Davis, personnel officer Debbie Woodworth, and UCFS vice president William Ciszoson.
During that meeting, the woman was told that the personnel department was having difficulty verifying her high school records.
The woman graduated in 1960 with a male name. In 1973, she legally changed her name to a female one when she began her transition to female.
According to the woman’s statement, Ciszoson "proceeded to ask numerous probing questions as to whether I was a man dressed as a woman" and "What gender are you?" The statement says that Ciszoson told her that by looking, he could not tell, and asked if she had an operation.
The woman protested, saying that nothing asked was appropriate and had nothing to do with job performance.
At that, Ciszoson allegedly told her that an employee complained four days earlier that there was a "man dressed as a woman using the ladies room."
The woman then presented Ciszoson with her drivers license showing her sex, her court documents from her legal name change, and her Ohio notary public ID.
Ciszoson said that was not enough, and demanded to see her medical records.
The following day, Woodworth informed Reserves Network that the employee had been terminated.
Case notes from the temporary agency show that on July 7, an agency representative visited UCFS to check on the placement and was asked by Woodworth if she "noticed anything peculiar about [the employee]."
Woodworth told the representative, "Employees here have named her Mrs. Doubtfire . . . but they don’t say it to her face."
The suit lists eight counts of violations of U.S. civil rights law, including sexual harassment, unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, failure to accommodate a disability, invasion of privacy, and wrongful discharge.
Barnabee says this suit has a chance to be successful, even though neither Ohio law nor federal law specifically protect transgender employees from such discrimination. It will be brought under the little-used 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which prohibits discrimination for not conforming to the gender stereotype behavior expected by another person or social norms.
Barnabee says many employment discrimination cases on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation could be tried successfully under this decision, except that many people have not yet figured out how to do it. She believes what happened in this case is pretty clear.
"UCFS engaged in sex-stereotyping," said Barnabee. "UCFS tipped their hand when they asked her questions about her sex and admitted that employees were mocking her because she is not as feminine as they thought she should be."
UCFS is represented by attorney Lee Hutton of Duvin, Cahn, and Hutton of Cleveland. During mediation, he asserted that the employee was fired because her condition makes her unable to do the essential functions of the job.
The woman, who describes herself as a "quiet type individual," has never been an activist prior to this suit. She is currently working for another Cleveland-area collection agency, where she is the office’s top performer.
She described what happened at UCFS as "very much an intrusion into my privacy."
"I decided to fight because I’m getting older and I am tired of these injustices."
Devo-ation from the norm
Four members of the HIS Kings drag troupe whip it at a benefit for the Ohio AIDS Coalition on May 11 at the Wall Street nightclub in Columbus. The Second Coming: A Drag King Reunion raised funds for HIV-positive people to attend Healing Weekends, retreats emphasizing an holistic approach to living with the disease. Photo by Gregg McConnell, OutinAmerica.com
by Eric Resnick
Cleveland—The Cleveland Rockers will not be joining other Women’s National Basketball Association teams’ attempt to woo lesbian fans.
The Rockers front office points to success they have had with a different marketing strategy.
"Our marketing is exclusive to women of all kinds," said Rockers vice president of communications Ed Markey, "We don’t pare it down to fine points such as that."
The WNBA, founded in 1997, is the arguably the most successful women’s pro team sports league. Some teams have seen significant increases in attendance following marketing campaigns to the lesbian community.
It is a widely held belief, but never officially recognized by the league, that lesbians comprise a significant percentage of tickets sold to WNBA games.
The Los Angeles Sparks made a media splash earlier this month when they recognized their lesbian patrons in a May 4 event promoting a "Gay Pride Kick Off" for a June 14 game.
At the event, team members showed up at the Factory bar in West Hollywood with pennants and basketballs. The largest lesbian club in the U.S., 12,000-member Girl Bar Los Angeles, is a sponsor of the Sparks. The Sparks logo appears on the club’s web site.
The event drew fire from the anti-gay activist community and made its way to sports talk shows and columns, where the team is being criticized for being "morally offensive."
At least two other WNBA teams actively seek lesbian fans. The Phoenix Mercury regularly places advertisements in publications targeted to lesbians, and occasionally contributes to events around the LGBT community.
Miami Sol players have made team-sanctioned appearances at lesbian bars. The team also advertises in lesbian-gay publications.
Markey said the Rockers are pleased with attendance at games, which averages 8,000 or more, and said the marketing approach with the Rockers is similar to that used by Cleveland’s NBA team, the Cavaliers.
The Rockers are owned by the Cavaliers. It is the only WNBA team in Ohio.
By contrast, the Los Angeles Sparks rank 14th in attendance in the 16-team league, averaging 6,600 fans per game.
"We market to Rockers fans of all stripes," said Markey. "Other than they are women, we don’t know whether they are black, or senior citizens, or you name it. They are just Rockers fans."
A pro women’s basketball team in Ohio once did reach out to lesbian fans.
Starting in its first year of 1996, the Columbus Quest made appearances at lesbian bars and held benefit nights for Stonewall Columbus. Team members judged floats at Pride, and officiated at Stonewall’s "Columbus Questionable" drag basketball games.
That all ended in December 1998 when the American Basketball League went out of business, shutting down the Quest and eight other teams.
by Anthony Glassman
Waynesville, Ohio—Thirteen men have been arrested in the last month at Caesar Creek State Park southeast of Dayton, prompting strong statements from Stonewall Cincinnati aimed both at gay men cruising the parks and at the police making arrests.
Eleven of the men face only misdemeanor charges, but two are also charged with fleeing and eluding police, which are felonies.
The sweep of Fifty Springs Picnic Area officially ended May 10, but police activity in parks across the state is expected to increase as spring turns to summer and more people use the parks.
A Michigan man arrested in the Caesar Creek sting pleaded guilty to sexual imposition; he was fined $500, banned from county and state parks for five years, put on five years’ probation and given a six-month suspended sentence.
Many men who are arrested in these circumstances do not fight the charges, fearing personal or professional repercussions because of possible publicity.
Out of 635 arrests for sexual activity in the Cleveland Metroparks in 1999, only 20% of the people identified themselves as gay. Many of the men arrested in park sweeps fear that fighting the charges would expose their activities to their families.
One of the charges used in park sweeps is importuning, an Ohio law that bans people from soliciting sexual activity from a member of the same sex if the other person would be offended by the offer. It does not apply to heterosexual solicitation.
Eric Thompson, an Ashtabula County man, is currently appealing an importuning conviction to the Ohio Supreme Court, alleging the law violates the equal protection provisions of the Ohio and United States constitutions.
There are many reasons to avoid cruising in parks beyond the danger of arrest, said Stonewall Cincinnati executive director Doreen Cudnik. Cruising a park can lead people into danger; a man was sentenced to over fifteen years in prison in April for killing a man he alleged made a pass at him in a park.
"We’ve heard way too many times about people who engaged in this behavior and ended up missing or dead or with some communicable disease they may have avoided otherwise," Cudnik told the Kentucky Post.
"The danger is beyond arrest," said Edele Passalacqua, a Cleveland attorney who has defended men arrested in parks. "There are a lot of gaybashers; it is personally threatening, as well as the threat of arrest."
Another of the laws invoked against against men arrested for park sex is sexual imposition, referring to the perpetrator touching an area of the victim’s body such as the breasts, crotch, or buttocks.
"There cannot be a conviction based on the testimony of the victim himself," Passalacqua noted.
Since few people realize this legal point, she said, many accused of imposition plead guilty instead of fighting the charge. The claim of imposition must be corroborated by a third party for a court to correctly convict someone on the charge.
The men in the parks might not be the only "guilty" parties in the busts, however. Accusations have surfaced again this year alleging that plainclothes police officers aggressively pursued some of the men they arrested, entrapping the men into engaging in the conduct for which they were arrested.
Allegations of entrapment are common and hard to prove. It is a familiar scenario for a police officer to go undercover to an area known for its cruising, target a man who shows any interest, and go beyond what is legally allowable for the officer to do to make an arrest.
"I have found, from what my clients have told me, the rangers in the Metroparks system have presented themselves as very interested," Passalacqua said. "It’s a fine line between entrapment and good police work . . . I think peace officers, when they do their undercover work, they get into the role."
People have accused police officers of displaying their genitals, grabbing other people’s groins, and other activities that would indicate that the police officer was seriously interested in sex.
Further allegations arise that police unfairly target gay men and ignore heterosexuals who might be engaged in sexual activity in the parks.
"If the police’s issue is to clean up the parks and make sure nobody is engaging in irresponsible behavior in the parks, certainly that makes sense, as long it’s across the board and not a violation of people’s basic civil rights," Cudnik said.
"But if they’re there to target a specific group, we have a problem."
"It is nothing to see a heterosexual couple making out in a car with the windows steamed up and not get arrested," Passalacqua noted. "But if two gay men were kissing like that, they would get in trouble."
It should be noted that, of the 635 arrests on sexual charges in the Cleveland Metroparks in 1999, only one of the cases resulted in a jury acquittal. All the other cases that came to a jury trial resulted in conviction.
by John Hanna
Topeka, Kansas—The state court of appeals ruled May 11 that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman is not a same-sex marriage, and thus is valid under Kansas law.
Attorneys involved in the case and some observers believe it could have national impact.
The decision is counter to a Texas ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last year. That court held that a person’s gender is determined by their chromosomes at birth, and cannot be changed.
A 1996 Kansas statute banned same-sex marriages, but the law doesn’t deal with transsexuals, nor had a Kansas appellate court dealt with the question until now.
A unanimous three-judge appeals panel overturned a Leavenworth County District Court ruling that declared the September 1998 marriage of Marshall and J’Noel Gardiner invalid because she once was a man.
The legal question was whether J’Noel Gardiner, as his widow, was entitled to half of Marshall Gardiner’s $2.5 million estate after his death in 1999. He left no will.
The lower court had ruled that J’Noel Gardiner remained a man, despite the surgery, in line with the Texas decision.
In the Texas Littleton case, that state’s court of appeals ruled that a transgender woman could not sue for the wrongful death of her husband. The Texas court declared her marriage invalid, saying that she was still a man despite her surgery.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear that case last year, in effect letting the Texas ruling stand.
A lesbian couple with one transgender partner has since been legally married in Texas, under the court’s "once a man, always a man" ruling.
But the Kansas court declared the Texas decision "a rigid and simplistic approach to issues that are far more complex than addressed in that opinion."
The three-judge panel said that, in determining whether a marriage is valid, a district court must look at more than whether a person was born male or female. Instead, it must determine whether a person is male or female at the time of the marriage.
The ruling sent the case back to district court to rule on Marshall Gardiner’s estate.
"This is precisely where we wanted to be," said Sandy Krigel, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney representing J’Noel Gardiner. "We wanted J’Noel to have the opportunity to explain why she is a woman."
The case was being watched nationally by gay and transgender rights groups and attorneys.
Shannon Minter, senior attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, called the ruling "fantastic" and described it as precedent-setting because of the lack of similar rulings across the nation.
"This case will be hugely influential all over the country," Minter said. "This case is going to be pointed to as a turning point in state courts."
Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project in New York City, said the ruling suggests that individuals have a right to control their identities and that gender can change and be controlled.
"It’ll be looked at in contexts far greater than in estates and marriages," he said. The ACLU filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of J’Noel Gardiner.
Bill Modrcin, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney representing Marshall Gardiner’s son who challenged the validity of the marriage, compared the ruling to Vermont’s recognition last year of civil unions for same-sex couples. He described himself as shocked.
"I think Kansas is the first state to declare that you can change your sex for the purposes of marriage," he said. "In my view, this puts Kansas to the left of Vermont."
The son can appeal the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court. Modrcin said he is considering an appeal.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
Voters defeat equal rights law
Royal Oak, Mich.—Residents of this suburban Detroit community defeated by a 2-1 margin a measure that would extend civil rights protections based on, among other things, sexual orientation.
In a special election held May 15, with 25% of registered residents voting, the result was 8,864 against the ordinance, 4,296 for it.
The battle was joined in earnest in February when city commissioners voted to put the issue to a referendum, opening a floodgate of outsiders bringing money and other resources into the city to fight the proposed ordinance.
Tom Monahan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, poured money into the campaign against the ordinance, and the anti-gay American Family Association of Michigan sent out fliers and made phone calls to residents urging them to vote against "special rights."
Gary Glenn, the executive director of the Michigan AFA, admitted in a February column in Detroit’s Metro Times that he misrepresented the ordinance to drum up opposition. One of the claims he made was that it would force non-profit Christian organizations to hire gay men and lesbians despite the groups’ religious beliefs, which he later conceded was a lie.
In two other Michigan cities, Kalamazoo and Traverse City, voters will decide November 6 on proposals similar to Cincinnati’s Issue 3 that bans the municipality from ever passing rights protections for gays and lesbians.
Nearby Huntington Woods recently passed a civil rights ordinance protecting gay men and lesbians by a unanimous vote of the city commission.
Texas governor signs hate crime bill
Austin, Texas—Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a hate crime bill May 11 that strengthens the penalties for offenses against minorities, gays and others.
The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act was named for a black man who was dragged to his death from a pickup truck in 1998 by three whites.
Perry’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had refused to support the measure two years ago, saying all crimes are hate crimes.
The act, which received final legislative approval May 10, ended years of debate.
Two years ago, a similar bill passed the Texas House but was turned down by the Senate when critics complained it created unnecessary distinctions for gay men and lesbians. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Democrats attacked Bush for refusing to support the measure.
Texas already has a hate-crime law that increases penalties if a crime is proven to be "motivated by bias or prejudice," but it does not list specific categories of people who would be protected. Prosecutors have said it is too vague to enforce.
Man pleads guilty to gay bar shooting
Roanoke, Va.—Ronald Edward Gay pleaded guilty to murder and other charges May 10 for killing one person and wounding six others at a gay bar.
Gay, 55, faces a maximum of four life terms plus 60 years in prison for the shooting at the Backstreet Café last Sept 22.
Gay agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and six counts of malicious wounding. In return, prosecutors dropped eight firearms charges, reducing the maximum penalty by about 33 years in prison.
He has vilified gay men and lesbians, and told police he was upset that his last name made him the victim of jokes. He also said that he was humiliated that three of his sons changed their last names.
A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled. If Gay is sentenced to prison, he will be eligible for geriatric parole once he turns 65.
On the night of the shootings, police said Gay checked into a hotel in downtown Roanoke, then asked directions to the local gay bar.
He was directed to one, but found the Backstreet on the way there. He walked in, ordered a beer and sat down. He spoke to nobody.
Across from him, Danny Lee Overstreet was talking to a friend. When the two hugged each other, Gay stood up and shot both in the chest. He then opened fire on the crowd, hitting five other people. Overstreet, 43, died at the scene.
Pitt to study partner benefits
Pittsburgh—The University of Pittsburgh will create a panel to study health benefits for same-sex couples in agreement with seven current and former employees that are suing the school.
A decision on benefits for domestic partners could be made in the next six months, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported May 9.
In exchange, the seven have agreed to suspend their lawsuit.
The issue came to the forefront at the University of Pittsburgh five years ago when a legal writing instructor was refused health insurance coverage for her partner.
Deborah Henson filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, saying the school violated the city’s 1990 gay equal rights ordinance.
Six current and former employees joined in the complaint.
University of Pittsburgh charged in 1999 that the city law exceeded the scope of the state’s Human Relations Act.
Official pays couple he defamed
Hollister, Calif.—A former city council member who posted a web site alleging that the lesbian owners of a local newspaper were involved in pornography and molested children has apologized to the women and paid $48,000 in damages.
Joe Felice put up the web sites to attack Tracie Cone, publisher of the Pinnacle, Hollister’s weekly newspaper, and her lover Anna Marie dos Remedios, the paper’s editor. The women, both former San Jose Mercury-News writers, bought the paper in 1999.
The Pinnacle and the city’s planning commission both opposed Felice’s developing plans for the city, favoring a slower expansion.
The settlement was signed April 26 and announced in the May 10 issue of the Pinnacle.
Boy taken by grandpa returns to dads
Palm Springs, Calif.—The ordeal of a child kidnapped by his grandfather from his gay uncle and his uncle’s partner is over, with custody of the boy being granted to the gay couple.
Paul Washington Jr. and Tim Forrester were granted custody of ten-year-old Miguel Washington on May 11. Miguel has been raised by his uncle since birth, after his mother was declared incompetent.
The case got national attention in October when Paul Washington Sr., Miguel’s grandfather, kidnapped the boy after picking him up for a weekend fishing trip. The elder Washington filed for temporary custody of the boy, alleging that his son and Forrester were abusing the child and failing to live up to an earlier agreement by not providing women in the boy’s home.
According to Paul Washington Jr., court-mandated therapy sessions revealed the attempt to take the boy was a result of his family’s homophobia, but they were working out their issues.
School drug ring is Motor City sleuth’s latest puzzle
When Evil Changes Face
Reviewed by Anthony Glassman
Brett Higgins, Therese Szymanski’s tough-as-nails lesbian underworld outlaw and occasional, if reluctant, good Samaritan, is used to drugs in the big city. She grew up in Detroit, went to school there, became part of the mob there, and drugs were an everyday fact of life. She had seen one too many friends and loved ones get caught up in them to sell or use them herself, but they were a part of life in the big city.
Alma, Michigan, is not a big city. It’s a small town an hour or so northwest of Detroit, and it’s the last place you’d expect to find a drug ring operating. That’s why Brett and her girlfriend Allison are so surprised when their friends Leisa and Madeline come to them, asking Brett to use her criminal know-how and Allison to call on her former life as a police officer to go undercover in Alma and fight out who is peddling drugs.
There is a catch, one that could be potentially as dangerous as any drug: They have to go back to high school.
That is the plot of Szymanski’s latest Motor City thriller starring Brett Higgins. At the end of the last novel, When the Dancing Stops, Brett Higgins had saved the girl (Allison) and faked her own death to escape her life in organized crime, now, for all intents and purposes, a thing of the past.
As this novel opens, Brett and Allison are living in a hotel while looking for an apartment. Alma seems like a nice place to live. It’s out of the way, quiet, and somewhere Brett would be unlikely to meet anyone who might recognize her, since she is supposed to be dead.
However, Leisa, a teacher at Alma High School and a friend of a friend, has grave concerns about the school. The signs of a drug trade are popping up, and it seems like a teacher might be involved. Brett is reluctant to return to the scene of adolescent horrors that still haunt her nightmares, and the fact that she will masquerade as Allison’s twin brother doesn’t help.
And, of course, as Brett and Allison get closer to untangling the Gordian knot of crime in the school, death could be waiting in the next row of lockers for both of them.
Having moved to Ohio a year and a half ago from Detroit, where Therese Szymanski is a local dyke hero, I’m not too sure how popular she is here. Also, being from Detroit, the setting resonates for me. Places she mentions are the scenes of childhood exploration and adolescent exploitation. Some of that would be missing for readers unfamiliar with Detroit and the recent history of its gay community.
What would not be lost is Szymanski’s writing. The woman is damn good. In fact, she officially gets my Red Herring Award, for the best use of misplaced and misinterpreted clues. It always seems, in her books, like the reader has figured out the who and what halfway through, even if the where and why escape us.
The reader is, however, usually wrong. It’s not an Agatha Christie sort of thing, where Hercule Poirot doesn’t mention having found the mustache wax in the puddle of blood, leaving the reader unable to solve the mystery. No, Therese Szymanski simply shines a light into dark corners, falling invariably on those who are innocent, however unlikable they may be, before finally spotlighting the criminal behind the horrid events that fill the book.
Szymanski also likes playing with the butch/femme dichotomy, since Brett is the tough guy and Allison the glamour girl, even though Brett can be as insecure as any other character, and Allison is no shy flower after her years on the police force.
And Szymanski, just to test her protagonist’s mettle, throws in the one person who could unravel Brett’s plans to solve the case: Detroit homicide detective Randi McMartin, Brett’s old nemesis, who believes her dead. With every page, the plot thickens.
By the way, Szymanski gives good love scenes. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but she’s good.
This book is a good example of why Detroit gets a bum rap. People don’t realize how good the Detroit Institute of Arts is, how good the Eastern Market is, or how good the lesbian mystery writers are. If you read this book, you’ll want to pick up her others. It’s a good thing they’re still in print.
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