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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 2, 2001

‘Defense of marriage’ passes Ohio House

by Eric Resnick

Columbus--The Ohio House voted 66-29 to pass the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" on the late afternoon of October 31--a day after the Civil and Commercial Law Committee approved it 8-2.

If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it will deny recognition in Ohio of same-sex unions made in other states and same-sex marriages from other countries.

The measure may also affect the rights of other non-married couples, such as parental rights after a divorce.

The bill, introduced by first-term Cincinnati Republican Bill Seitz, is a collaborative effort between the House Republican caucus and the Citizens for Community Values of Cincinnati, which organized the 1993 petition drive that put the city’s anti-gay Issue 3 charter amendment on the ballot.

Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, a Democrat from Shaker Heights who sits on the committee, offered an amendment in the committee and on the House floor. Defeated in committee 7-3 and on the floor 62-35, the amendment attempted to strip the bill of the language denying benefits to all unmarried couples.

During committee debate, Seitz objected to Lawson Jones’ amendment on the grounds that it would not prevent people from "shacking up." Earlier, during committee hearings, Seitz’s logic was a little different. He argued with witnesses raising the issue that his bill would not do anything to deny benefits to unmarried couples. He also told the Gay People’s Chronicle in April that only purpose of his bill was only to see to it that the state did not recognize any marriages not currently recognized by law.

Lawson Jones and Euclid Democrat Ed Jerse were among the members who spoke in opposition to the bill on the floor.

Jerse called the bill "an attack on the gay community."

Activist Frank November of Cleveland described Lawson Jones’ floor speech as "incredible."

During that speech, Lawson Jones told the House that it should not seek to punish people who, by accident of birth, formed same-sex couples, denying them rights and opportunities equal to those enjoyed by him and his wife.

Lawson Jones told legislators that since same-sex couples cannot now marry in Ohio, passage of Seitz’s bill would "add insult to injury."

The House committee, chaired by bill co-sponsor John Willamowski, a Lima Republican adopted five "technical" amendments to the bill the day before. All were offered by Seitz, the committee’s vice-chair. The entire process took less than a half hour.

One of Seitz’s adjustments clarifies that marriage can only be entered into between one man and one woman. This resulted from the possibility that polygamy could be legal under the previous version.

Another amendment attempts to clarify the previously controversial term "specific benefits of legal marriage" to read "specific statutory benefits of legal marriage," presumably to limit the measure to those benefits in the Ohio Revised Code.

Seitz’s third amendment narrowed the bill to more clearly limit it to state laws, with less ambiguity about how it would affect local domestic partner ordinances.

In this committee, amendments that are not objected to are adopted with no further discussion or vote.

All five of Seitz’s amemndments were adopted without objection.

Committee Republicans joining Seitz and Willamowski voting for the bill as amended were Jeff Manning of North Ridgeville, Anthony Core of Rushsylvania, Timothy Grendell of Chesterland, Bob Latta of Bowling Green, and Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora.

Womer Benjamin is the former chair of the committee and is generally credited with not giving previous "defense of marriage" legislation a hearing when it was before her committee in 1997 and 1999.

During an appearance at Stonewall Akron’s 2000 Candidates Night Out event, Womer Benjamin publicly expressed concern with the idea of DOMA legislation.

Joseph Sulzer of Chillicothe was the only Democrat that voted for the bill. Democrats Lawson Jones and Jerse voted against the bill.

Rep. Jack Ford of Toledo was not present for the committee vote, but opposed the bill on the floor.

The gay and lesbian Ohio Human Rights Bar Association says Seitz’s bill could put hospital visitation rights and health care benfits of unmarried partners at risk.

"The bill might as well be called the Unmarried Families Discrimination Act of 2001," said OHRBA spokesperson and Cleveland attorney Tim Downing.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Leland called the bill the "Defense of Bigotry Act" in a memo to House Democrats, adding that the bill is clearly an assault on gay and lesbian families in Ohio.

Ohio Freedom to Marry spokesperson Karen Anders pointed out that the anti-gay Family First PAC, a right wing Christian political action organization, contributed $30,000 to the campaigns of the bill’s sponsor and co-sponsors.

Opponents have formed a bi-partisan coalition made up of more than 50 human rights and political organizations across the state, including Ohio Freedom to Marry, the Ohio Democratic Party, Stonewall Democrats of Cleveland and Columbus, Log Cabin Republicans of Cleveland and Columbus, Parenta and Friends of Lesbians and Gays chapters, Stonewall Columbus, Stonewall Akron, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland, and the Ohio Psychological Association.

"People across the state need to contact their senators immediately, and get involved in the grassroots attempt to defeat this bill," said November.

So far, there has been no introduction of the bill in the Ohio Senate.

Joe Andrews, assistant press secretary for Governor Robert Taft, said the governor has not yet considered the bill.


Longtime activist seeks suburban council seat

He joins five other gays and lesbians running for office in Ohio

by Anthony Glassman

Oregon, Ohio—The election is fast approaching, and it may put in office a longtime Toledo-area LGBT activist.

Gene Hagedorn, a founding member of Log Cabin Republicans of Northwest Ohio and a prominent member of Gays and Lesbians United, is running for Oregon City Council.

"He has a good chance of winning," said Dave Schulz, president of Log Cabin Northwest Ohio. "He would do a good job of representing gay Republicans."

Hagedorn joins four other openly gay men and one lesbian seeking city council seats in Ohio. Two are in Toledo: Dennis Lange and incumbent Louis Escobar are both running for at-large seats. Skeeter Hunt, executive director of David’s House in Toledo, is seeking re-election to council in Bloomdale. In Cincinnati, architect John Schlagetter seeks an at-large seat, as does James Moore-McDermott in Bucyrus.

Hagedorn is perhaps best known as the organizer of Decked Out, a June shipboard dance event that is Gays and Lesbians United’s primary fundraiser. Decked Out, Hagedorn’s dream, hit its fifth anniversary in 2000, and the 2001 event continued its string of successes.

Hagedorn was one of the core of people who helped Toledo pass its sexual orientation-inclusive civil rights ordinance in 1998, and the success of that measure made Hagedorn think of other arenas in which he might battle.

"Obviously, I’ve been very active in our community," he noted. "I’ve done all I can for the Toledo gay community, now I think I can best serve as an example for others as a member of the Oregon City Council."

One of the biggest issues in his campaign is not sexual orientation, it’s unrestrained developing in Oregon.

"I want to see my suburb thrive through controlled, proper growth," Hagedorn stressed.

In terms of sexual orientation, Hagedorn believes that, as an issue, it is best served by not letting it become an issue.

"I don’t mention that I’m part of our community, but it’s understood," he related. "We’re very diverse in the Toledo area, and there’s an air of more tolerance than in other parts of the state. When the community is made up of all minorities, there’s more of an air of tolerance."

Hagedorn also has the pedigree to lead his town. Both his uncle and his first cousin are former mayors and city councilmembers, and his family has lived in the area for four generations.

"My great-grandfather had a log cabin near here," he recalled.

Despite his success with Decked Out, he will not be taking as much of a hand in it for 2002, though.

"I’ve seen it to where it’s established," he confided. "I think it’s a survivor."

Hagedorn is running without the benefit of endorsement from the Lucas County Republican Party.

"They only endorse in the city, not in the suburbs," he noted. "The Republican Party should seek suburban candidates, that’s where their strength is."

He does, however, have the Log Cabin endorsement. He was also honored recently at a Log Cabin brunch coinciding with Rep. Jim Kolbe’s visit to Toledo honoring gay veterans in the Toledo area.

"Our LCR group is probably the most active part of the GOP here," Hagedorn said.

His associates, regardless of their political affiliations, seem to believe that Hagedorn is a good choice for Oregon.

"I think it would be a big plus for Oregon to have him on the city council," said Tom Meinecke, co-chair of GLU.


McDonald’s must pay man $5 million for AIDS bias

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland--A Cuyahoga County jury has ordered the McDonald’s hamburger chain to pay a gay Akron man with AIDS $5 million on his claim that the company discriminated against him due to his illness. The jury heard nine days of testimony, then decided the case in three hours on October 26.

Former store manager Russell Rich, 37, claimed that McDonald’s forced him to resign his position in October 1997 following 21 years of outstanding service, once they learned of his status.

Rich had worked at McDonald’s franchise operations and corporate-owned stores since high school. He held nearly every position, and worked at a number of stores, including a franchise store in Hudson, near Akron, that is on the management track.

McDonald’s corporate headquarters was so impressed with him that they hired him to run their store in Minerva, east of Canton, in July 1997.

Two weeks later, Rich was hospitalized for an illness related to AIDS. McDonald’s said he could continue to work only if they reviewed his medical records. Although this practice is considered illegal and improper, Rich agreed.

According to Rich’s attorney Paige A. Martin of Columbus, this act became a critical piece of evidence of misconduct against McDonald’s during the trial.

Rich argued that after looking at his medical records, McDonald’s operations supervisors refused to allow him to complete his duties as a manager and began disciplining him unjustly for job abandonment. Rich also claimed that those supervisors no longer had time to hear his complaints or concerns related to the store.

Early in 1998, Rich became ill again. When he wanted to return to work, McDonald’s told Rich he had to transfer to a store in Lodi, west of Akron. There he would become co-manager of the store and receive his previous salary, but his duties would be limited to selling hamburgers at the front counter "for the rest of his career."

Following another period of illness, Rich filed suit against McDonald’s in October 1998.

People with HIV and AIDS are protected from workplace discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and state laws. Although most similar cases are heard in federal courts, Martin chose to keep this case in Common Pleas court because "there are no caps on damages there."

Martin said the jury awarded all of the $5 million as compensatory damages. Visiting Judge John Angelatta did not charge the jury to award punitive damages because Rich was unable to meet the high legal standard of malice required to do so.

Martin said the case took so long to conclude because of the company’s unwillingness to settle and Rich’s health. She also said that McDonald’s fought the case "tooth and nail," filing pre-trial motions to suppress evidence and delay the proceedings.

McDonald’s attorney Aubrey Willacy did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him for comment.

However, he argued at trial that McDonald’s did not know Rich had AIDS. He also argued that Rich could not have been considered disabled because he looked good; and that because he was not sick for four months he had no right to protection during that time.

Willacy also said that Rich did not know the system at the corporate stores, which is more computerized than the system at the franchised stores.

"They couldn’t prove any deficiency in court," said Martin.

"In fact," said Martin, "Rich saw himself as a McDonald’s employee, and he had an outstanding record. He was the best of the best."

McDonald’s spokesperson Lisa Howard said her company disagrees with the jury and is considering an appeal or request for a new trial.

"I don’t know what they could appeal on," said Martin.

"The judge ruled in their favor most of the time, and they were able to get a great deal of evidence suppressed."

One piece of evidence McDonald’s was able to suppress was expert testimony on Rich’s life expectancy, and how his health could be affected by the hostile work environment.

Martin said she is considering filing a motion for pre-judgement interest, which would add another $2 million onto Rich’s award because "McDonald’s is still not acting in good faith."

"The jury understood the case was about a company that destroyed a man’s life," said Martin, "and there is no way to put that together."

Following discharge from McDonald’s, Rich worked for two other restaurant operations, and is now employed by Summa Health Systems in Akron.


Drag sentence is criticized by community leaders

by Anthony Glassman

Coshocton, Ohio—Two young men walked down Main Street in drag on the afternoon of October 26, choosing that over 60 days in jail.

The unusual sentence by Coshocton Municipal Court Judge David Hostetler has drawn criticism from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders, who say it equates crossdressing and the status of women with jail time.

The sentence stemmed from an October 13 incident when the two men, Jason Householder, 23, and John Stockum, 21, were riding with a friend in a car. They stopped next to another car carrying a man and a woman, and one of the two called out to the man, "Hey buddy, can I have your bitch?"

The couple in the car ignored the taunt and drove away, and the car with Householder and Stockum followed them. The two then threw beer bottles at the car, denting it.

Hostetler on October 18 gave them the choice of sentence deliberately, knowing they would choose the walk in the dresses, putting them in their victim’s shoes.

"I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse," he said. "If they had taken jail, I would have had to let someone else out who probably did something worse."

Coshocton County Jail, with a capacity of 36 people, now holds 52, which Hostetler says makes him creative with his sentencing. He often orders those convicted of minor offenses to write essays that require research, and he sentenced people who threw eggs to write "I will not throw eggs" 1,000 times.

"The whole point is a simple one, really," Hostetler explained. "What can I do to make them feel how [the woman in the car] felt?"

Unfortunately, the feelings brought forward by the sentence extend far beyond Coshocton, 60 miles east of Columbus and 75 miles south of Cleveland. LGBT groups across the state found the sentence offensive to women and transgender people.

BRAVO, the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization, was the first out with a press release on the sentence, which reported by the Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press.

"I really felt like we needed to make a statement about this," the group’s executive director, Gloria McCauley, said. "I’m not sure that a sentence like this will really enlighten them as to why their actions were wrong."

"To utilize crossdressing as a punishment just feels wrong," she continued.

"I believe this was heartfelt with him, I’m really not blaming the judge for not knowing any better," McCauley opined. "I understand his desire to have these guys walk in her shoes, I’m just not sure it was the best way to do it."

She pointed to the apparent amusement on the faces of Stockum and Householder as they did their forced march, indicating that they were not embarrassed, rather they were enjoying the spectacle.

McCauley does believe, though, that some of the less-publicized facets of the sentence might have an impact on the men.

"I’m hoping, with the addition of a letter of apology and essay on why it was wrong, they will actually be able to see this woman as a human being and not as an object," she said. "At the very least, they probably won’t act this way as publicly in the future."

Hostetler stands by his sentence, which also included a $250 fine.

"The intent was not to offend anyone but [Householder and Stockum]," he insisted. "If others are offended, I’m sorry, but I think they’re missing my point."

"The instruction to the probation officer was that they could not dress in a way that was demeaning to women," he noted. "I put them in a position to make them feel the way they made her feel."


 

‘A mom with an opinion and a story'

Judy Shepard shares the journey her family has taken since Matthew’s death

by Doreen Cudnik

Cincinnati-Judy Shepard came to Xavier University on October 22 not as a celebrity speaker, but simply as a mother--"a mom with an opinion and a story."

The story she told to the sold-out auditorium at the Schiff Family Conference Center was of her gay son Matthew--his life, his coming-out, and his untimely death on October 12, 1998, from injuries he suffered during an anti-gay hate crime.

The rest of Shepard’s story was about herself, her family and their sometimes painful, but often healing journey since Matthew’s murder. This quiet, unassuming woman also found time to inspire the audience of nearly 800 people to continue to speak out and work against hate, so that no other mother will have to endure what she has.

The evening’s program began with two videos. The first, Fighting Words, about the power of anti-gay rhetoric, was produced by MTV in conjunction with GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. After scenes of Matthew Shepard followed by the words "murdered--because he was gay" appear on the screen, Judy Shepard is shown in the video saying, "Next time, think about what those words mean."

"And you know when they show it?" she asked. "Right after an Eminem video. Young people are a very important demographic group to reach since they are the ones that are going to make things change."

The second video, produced by the U.S. Department of Justice, makes the important connection between hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation and hate crimes committed on the basis of race. This video features the Shepard’s story along with the family of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man who was dragged to his death while chained to the back of a pickup truck.

There was absolute silence in the room after the videos were shown.

One of the first things Shepard acknowledged was the fact that the people who came to hear her at Xavier, like the audiences at so many of the places she is invited to speak, are "probably not the people who really need to hear me."

"They don’t invite me to come," she said. "They don’t want to hear what I have to say."

When her husband once asked her, "Are you worried that most of your audiences are only going to be ‘the choir?’ she replied, "Even the choir needs to rehearse. Even the choir needs to be reminded why they’re a choir, and why they need to remain a choir."

Shepard admitted that she did not know that Cincinnati had anti-gay legislation on the books, which she deemed a "really terrible thing."

"It makes me very sad that your representatives regarded the gay community so cavalierly. But they’ll have their minds changed, right?" she said, which was followed by loud applause.

Shepard took time to speak of her love for the people of Saudi Arabia, a country where she and her husband and youngest son had lived for some time. Because of her affection for her foreign home, Shepard said she has had mixed emotions since the September 11 attacks on the United States.

She called the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon hate crimes because they were carried out "solely on the basis of the terrorists’ hatred of America." But she cautioned against discrimination or prejudice aimed at Muslim or Arab-American communities, and expressed sadness that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes have already taken place.

But most of her address was moving and very personal account of the time right before her son died, the painful days, weeks and months that followed, and her decision to become a spokesperson for equal rights for LGBT people.

"I will never understand why anyone would want to hurt Matt; to act with such cruelty, with such complete disregard for another human being," she said, reflecting on her loss.

She described the grueling, seemingly "eternal journey" she and her husband and youngest son Logan made from Saudi Arabia to Fort Collins, Colorado after they received the call about Matthew’s injuries.

"Our best-case scenario was Matt’s full recovery, our worst case scenario was that he would just hang on until we could get there," she said.

Logan, she said, refused to go into his brother’s hospital room once they arrived—"he didn’t want that image of Matt to be the one that would appear when he would think of his brother. He wanted the smiling laughing bright-eyed handsome young face."

But Logan soon realized that this would probably be his last opportunity to say goodbye.

"I’ll never forget that look of terror on his face," Shepard said. Watching him on a nurse’s monitor from another room, she said her heart was breaking as her younger son was "talking to Matt, stroking his face, and holding his hand."

Soon, friends and other family members joined them, and they prayed, supported each other and eventually let Matthew go.

"There was a sense of relief that Matt’s suffering was over, but there was also the realization that our suffering was just beginning. All of our hopes and dreams for Matt were killed--for $20 and some twisted reason known only to his killers."

As her suffering eased, her activism on behalf of LGBT causes increased.

"In the beginning we were not sure that we wanted Matt to be the ‘martyr for the cause’," she said. "But the more we learned, the more we knew we had to speak out. Not to would not be fair to Matt."

She has since become a spokesperson for federal hate crime legislation, and has worked with national LGBT rights groups like GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation on a variety of issues.

Shepard touted the important work of P-FLAG, Parenta and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She pointed to the strong Cincinnati chapter, founded by Marian Weage, a mother of two lesbian daughters and one gay son. Unlike some groups, Shepard said, P-FLAG gives parents of gay, lesbian and transgender children the support they need to fully accept their child.

"For a family to force their child out of the home because they are gay is something that I will never understand," she said. "We’d give anything to have Matt back. To give him up voluntarily? No--never."

Shepard said she has seen progress in the area of LGBT civil rights since her son’s murder in 1998, and simply "to be able to discuss these issues openly in a public forum now is amazing to me. A few years ago it would not have happened."

She predicted that in ten years or so years "things will definitely be going the correct, humanitarian way" since "white males over 65 aren’t going to be the voting public any more."

"Now that doesn’t mean that all discrimination and prejudice is gone, but legally and legislatively, the gay community will have its rights."

Shepard shared a conversation she had once with Matthew on same-sex marriage.

"We were talking about Hawaii, and he said, "Do you think it will ever happen?" And I said I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, I hope it happens in your lifetime. Well as it turns out my lifetime is much longer than his, and we didn’t see Hawaii. However, we got Vermont, and the lesson there is when you want a kitty, ask for a pony."

Money that was sent to the Shepards while Matt was in the hospital and following his death gave the family funds to start the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an educational and philanthropic organization dedicated to their son.

"We decided that we would use that money to try to make something positive come from something so completely devoid of humanity," Shepard said. "It is one way we can honor our son."

Another way she honors her son’s memory is by encouraging people to come out in all aspects of their life, and to continue to "talk about hate, ignorance and fear of anything that is different."

"Because this has to stop--this hatred that we experience every day. It’s everywhere in our world today and we need to address it."

When it comes to our differences, Shepard said, "It doesn’t really matter in the way of things--we’re all part of the same family, the family of man. And the sooner we start treating each other like the brothers and sisters that we are, the sooner we’ll be in a world where hate doesn’t exist."

Shepard’s speech was followed by a question and answer session and a reception for VIP guests and Alliance members.

Co-sponsoring the event with the Xavier Alliance was the new president of Xavier University, Father Michael Graham, and the university’s Residence Life, Campus Ministry, Office of Mission and Ministry, Office of Diversity, Student Senate, Student Activities Council, Office of Leadership and Development, and Career Services.

Pride! Kent’s 30th anniversary

Three days later, on Thursday, October 25, Shepard was in Kent to speak as part of Pride! Kent’s 30th anniversary celebration.

Shepard was given a reception by Kent State University president Dr. Carol Cartwright, who later introduced her for the assembled crowd of 700.

Shepard’s presentation mirrored the one given at Xavier, and she expressed her two dreams for the LGBT community, that the media stay for the entire gay pride parade instead of the first three or four rows of marchers, and the everybody comes out.

According to Cartwright, Pride! Kent is the longest continually-running organization at KSU, and is the third oldest LGBT student organization in the country. It was founded in 1971 as the Kent Gay Liberation Front.

The event was co-sponsored by Pride! Kent and the Akron Area Pride Committee.

 


 

School board candidate criticized for ‘gay agenda’ letter

by Anthony Glassman

Toledo—Anti-gay comments by a school board candidate have sparked controversy and nearly cost her the endorsement of the Toledo Chamber of Commerce.

Becky Berry, a mother of three, has been taken to task by the Log Cabin Republicans of Northwest Ohio for a letter she wrote to local clergy which surfaced in September.

She is one of six candidates seeking three seats on the Toledo school board.

In the letter, Berry writes about her faith in Jesus Christ and warns of the "homosexual agenda" in schools, citing the Incentives for Excellence program held in a number of area junior high schools.

The program had representatives of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, among its speakers. Berry took offense that there was no one there to present an "opposing" view.

She also noted a resolution the National Education Association debated last spring, but did not adopt, calling for a curriculum more inclusive of LGBT issues.

The Log Cabin Republicans, while aware of Berry’s beliefs since the beginning of her campaign, had decided to adopt a "hands-off" policy on her candidacy, and had endorsed a different candidate for the school board post. The letter to the clergy, however, was more than the group could bear.

"In the Republican Party, we have to be tolerant of those views as we want others to be tolerant of ours," Log Cabin Northwest Ohio president Dave Schulz explained. "We spoke up when it crossed the lines and we were attacked. She showed herself for what she is—a bigot."

For instance, Schulz noted, Berry has railed against the Phoenix Project, a group dedicated to developing the potential of youths and building self-esteem. Berry believes that the organization is trying to brainwash children into a "homosexual lifestyle."

Berry was called before the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Fund, which endorses and supports candidates, to explain her views and the letter.

Although the Chamber of Commerce left her endorsement intact, Berry still lashed out against Log Cabin.

"I’m disappointed [the Log Cabin Republicans] has so much power that they can sway a powerful group to withdraw their endorsement," she told the Toledo Blade.

Berry also, in the letter, accused "homosexual activists" and "radical feminists, abortion advocates, and haters of Christianity" of working against the family unit.

She indicated that the current levels of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases indicate that sex education is not working, and that schools should only teach abstinence and leave everything else to the family.

"I’ve read her letter," said Tom Meinecke, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians United, Toledo’s largest LGBT organization. "I find it very difficult to believe someone can run for school board saying God has called her to run, and be a bigot and teach discrimination at the same time."

Meinecke referred to a line in Berry’s letter quoting from the biblical Book of Isaiah, where God would call someone "from the East" to take up his cause. Berry is from East Toledo.

Meinecke also noted that Berry’s letter was sent to virtually every member of the clergy in Toledo, with the exception of those at Good Samaritan Parish MCC and Eagle’s Wing MCC, two primarily LGBT congregations.

"As far as Becky’s things about homosexuals, if kids would learn about our lives, maybe we wouldn’t have so much discrimination," Meinecke noted. "Maybe we wouldn’t be second class citizens, maybe we would be treated like regular people."


Sailor in Ohio navy to find out: Will Taft let him stay?

Sailor in Ohio navy to find out: Will Taft let him stay?

by Eric Resnick

Kent, Ohio--A gay man’s desire to serve his state in the wake of the September 11 attacks will test Ohio Governor Robert Taft’s commitment to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Todd Mashlan, 37, a graduate student and employee of Kent State University, has re-enlisted in the Ohio Naval Militia, which is an all-volunteer state defense force under the control of the governor.

Mashlan was officially sworn in October 21, and has been scheduled to interview with the militia’s commandant during a weekend retreat November 17. If he passes the interview, Mashlan will be authorized to complete officer training school.

The Ohio militia cannot be federalized, and is not under the authority of the U.S. Defense Department, so the Pentagon’s "don’t ask don’t tell don’t pursue" policy on gay servicemembers does not apply in Mashlan’s case. However, state militias tend to follow the lead of national forces and honor their personnel traditions.

Governor Taft has not yet weighed in on the issue.

Mashlan served the Ohio militia in 1988-98 following his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1983 for "homosexual activity."

When Mashlan first served the militia, they were aware of the reason for his Navy discharge. An executive order signed in 1983 by then-governor Richard Celeste prohibited state agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

That order was allowed to expire when Taft became governor in January 1999.

At the time, Taft insisted that a person’s sexual orientation was not a matter he was concerned with, and that allowing the orders to expire was done only for administrative purposes. Taft said that he would not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Ohio government.

"I have no stake in this other than to serve the state," said Mashlan. "I want to become a chaplain."

Mashlan said he was motivated by the events of September 11 to re-enlist because, "It is more likely that the militia will be activated."

Unlike most gays discharged from the U.S. armed forces, Mashlan was honorably discharged, instead of administratively discharged. He credits two things for that.

"I was part of the Cryptological Technical Interpretive corps, which is an elite unit doing naval security and intelligence work," said Mashlan, "and during the 14 months I was there, I volunteered for other duties. I formed a drill team and a choir."

"I also would not divulge the names of others who were gay, and I think they saw that as an act of integrity," said Mashlan. "It was during the Reagan years, and witch hunts were a big thing. I believe I was implicated by someone else. But when they asked me if I had engaged in sexual activity with another man, I told the truth, then said I would not tell who with as a matter of honor."

Because of an error with records, the militia did not have a copy of Mashlan’s Navy discharge papers when he re- enlisted, and only asked if his discharge was honorable.

Mashlan believes that by the time he is interviewed for officer training, the papers will have come through, and militia command will know he is gay, and need to decide whether or not it is relevant to him being commissioned.

Mashlan is not worried about being discharged from the militia.

"I have already been sworn in, and I served before. They would be hard pressed to revoke it now," he said.

Taft’s assistant press secretary Joe Andrews could not get a definite answer as to whether or not Taft would support Mashlan’s commission as of press time, saying his office needed more time to consider the matter.

Mashlan hopes his commission is "no big deal," and has not yet sought legal counsel, but says he will fight for it if necessary.


 

Woman, demoted for dating
co-worker, sues chain

by Eric Resnick

Mount Vernon, Ohio--The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of Ohio has granted a Mount Vernon woman the right to sue a convenience store chain for demoting her because she was seeing a woman who worked at the store she managed.

Former United Dairy Farmers manager Gretchen Pittman filed the charge of sex discrimination October 3, saying that she would agree to mediation if UDF is willing. Without hearing the case, the commission granted Pittman the right to sue on October 23. Pittman and her attorney, Randi Barnabee of Macedonia, said the suit will be filed in federal court under Title VII.

Pittman alleges that UDF discriminated against her on the basis of sex, because she did not conform to their gender stereotype expectations that she should be seeing a man.

United Dairy Farmers has no policy prohibiting employees from dating one another, even between superiors and subordinates.

Pittman said other store employees date each other, "and my ex-girlfriend was my first assistant manager. We lived together, and my boss knew about that."

Pittman said she went to Columbus on December 8, 2000 for a meeting with her immediate supervisor, Teresa Cartnal.

Before she left the office, Cartnal told her that zone manager Ron Brewer wanted to see her.

"Are you seeing Barbara?" Brewer asked Pittman.

"First, I thought that isn’t a question he should be asking me," said Pittman, "but then I said, ‘Yes sir, I am.’ Then he told me that he heard rumors that Barbara and I were kissing in the back office, and said that when I made the decision [to become involved with Barbara] I lost control of the store."

"He never asked whether or not the allegation was true, he just accepted it," said Pittman. "Then he said since I lost control of the store, I should step down as manager."

Pittman said she didn’t think she had a choice at that point, and agreed to take a job in a store 28 miles away in Sunbury as a first assistant manager, earning $2.50 less an hour. She later learned that Brewer, Cartnal, and the Sunbury store manager had arranged the deal for her beforehand.

Prior to that, Pittman was a model employee, rising to management in less than six months.

Pittman later resigned from United Dairy Farmers, and says she will sue for monetary damages. "

I want them to admit that they were wrong," said Pittman.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not prohibited by United Dairy Farmers, nor by Mount Vernon ordinance, state law or federal law. Barnabee said this case is not a matter of statutes.

"They constructively discharged her for behavior, not statute," said Barnabee. "They demoted her because of who she is seeing."

Barnabee added, "They didn’t ask her if she was gay, they simply made the choice that her off-duty partner was inappropriate for their company."

Brewer declined comment.

United Dairy Farmers senior vice president Frank Cogliano said he was unaware of the specifics of this case, but indicated that his company does not tolerate any discrimination of any kind.

"Discrimination here in any form is intolerable," he said.

Cogliano added that the company has set up toll-free phone numbers for employees to use to report any suspected discrimination, which then would be investigated by human resources personnel.


 

News Briefs

Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.

California court may void all second-parent adoptions

San Diego—A California appeals court has struck down an administrative procedure used by gays and lesbians to adopt the children of their partners.

The American Civil Liberties Union and gay civil rights advocates denounced the October 26 decision, saying it jeopardizes the financial and emotional well-being of children who have been adopted via the procedure.

An appeal is being planned.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in its decision said the procedure, which has been used for more than a decade to allow "second-parent" adoptions in same-sex families, was illegal.

Without it, state law requires a biological parent to give up all parental rights before an "unrelated" person--one not married to them--can adopt their child.

In its 2-1 decision, the court noted that the state’s new domestic partners law provides a method for such adoptions.

However, activists pointed out, it does not provide a remedy for existing second-parent adoptions where the couple has moved out of California, the biological parent has died or if there has been a split in the relationship.

The case involved a lesbian couple, Sharon Silverstein and Annette Friskopp, who broke up while Friskopp was adopting Silverstein’s son, who is now 2.

Silverstein sued to block the adoption, claiming the procedure was illegal, even though Friskopp had adopted Silverstein’s first child, who is now 5.

A trial court had sided with Friskopp and gave her visitation rights with the boy. The appeals court reversed the decision and noted that the state legislature in recent years has declined to write the "second-parent" adoption method into law.

When the state’s new domestic partner benefits take effect on January 1, 2002, partners will be able to adopt each other’s children using the more streamlined "step-parent" adoption procedure.

State legislator Carol Migden, who sponsored the partner bill, said October 29 she will introduce a measure to "grandfather in" all existing second-parent adoptions. The state adoption code also protects any adoption more that a year old from challenges.

 

Jury absolves officials in prison rape

Erie, Pa.—Officials at a northwestern Pennsylvania federal prison were not responsible for the alleged rape of a transsexual inmate, despite warnings from a judge and the inmate’s feminine appearance, a jury has found.

An Erie federal court on October 23 turned away claims that John Cuoco was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment at the Bradford facility, about 70 miles east of Erie, because officials ignored the risk that an effeminate inmate would be raped by fellow prisoners.

Cuoco has been taking female hormones since 1991 and developed feminine characteristics such as breasts and wider hips.

While Cuoco identifies as a woman, the government considers Cuoco to be a man. Cuoco was placed in the general prison population. It was there where Cuoco was allegedly raped on Oct. 20, 1993, and twice allegedly sexually assaulted.

Cuoco, who is serving 14 years in prison for robbing New York area post offices, claims a feminine appearance and a 1992 recommendation from New York judge should have prompted prison officials to place Cuoco in a protected area.

During sentencing in 1992, U.S. District Judge Gerard L. Goettal in White Plains, N.Y., recommended the Bureau of Prisons place Cuoco in a cell separate from violent inmates.

A medical examination five days after Cuoco was allegedly raped showed no evidence of an assault and no inmates were charged with rape after an FBI investigation.

 

President Ford supports couple rights

Rancho Mirage, Calif.—Former president Gerald Ford went on record as the highest-ranking Republican to favor equal rights for gay couples.

In an interview for syndicated lesbian columnist Deb Price’s October 29 piece, Ford, who succeeded Richard Nixon in the White House in 1974, said unequivocally that he supported full rights for same-sex couples.

"I think they ought to be treated equally. Period," Ford told Price.

He also referred to social security, tax and other benefits as "a proper goal."

"I applaud that President Bush has appointed three people who are gay . . . That is a big step in the right direction. The atmosphere was totally different 25 years ago, and the issue never arose," he said in response to a question about gay or lesbian appointments he may have made.

"I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party," he continued. "I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections."

 

Civil union law proposed

Sacramento—By granting gay and lesbian couples the same rights as traditional married couples, California would conquer the "final frontier in equal rights," Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz of West Hollywood said October 24.

Koretz, who’s sponsoring a bill that would expand California’s legal rights for gay couples, told a state assembly committee that his Family Protection Act of 2001 would include child custody and visitation, unemployment insurance and health coverage.

So far, only Vermont has such a law, which took effect in July 2000 and offers gay couples almost all the same spousal rights as married couples.

Thirty-five states and the federal government have passed "defense of marriage" laws and restrict marriages to a man and woman. While Koretz’s measure would not give domestic partners the right to marry, it would allow them to enter into a civil union recognized by the state.

Even with the March 2000 passage of Proposition 22, which restricts marriage to a man and woman, the Koretz bill is permissible under California law, said University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chermerinsky.

That’s because Proposition 22 doesn’t forbid giving legal protection to gay people, it just specifies marriage between a man and a woman, Chermerinsky said.

 

‘Hell House’ shut down

Detroit—A fundamentalist Christian haunted house was shut down in suburban Warren on October 30, in part due to protest efforts organized by the gay and lesbian Triangle Foundation.

"Hell House" is a haunted house based on a nationally-distributed script. It follows a religious right agenda, with an abortion in progress, a gay man dying of AIDS and other scenes aimed at adolescent patrons. Similar "Hell Houses" appear across the country each autumn, often sparking controversy due to the offensive nature of the displays.

Wayne City Planner Matthew Miller and the city’s fire marshal inspected the facility and discovered several fire hazards. The organization putting on the event also had not secured a special events permit.

 

2006 Gay Games will be in Montreal

Montreal—The city will play host to the 2006 Gay Games, beating Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles for the honor.

The Federation of Gay Games made the announcement October 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Roberto Mantaci, co-chairman of the federation's site selection committee, said, "The politicians of Montreal, Quebec, and Canada have stated their support openly, including financial commitments to support the project in the next five years."

Montreal's bid committee estimated that government support will reach $1.3 million.

The Gay Games began in San Francisco in 1982 with about 50,000 spectators. While it's not a requirement, participants in the eight-day event are mostly gay men and lesbians.

The 2002 Gay Games will be held in Sydney, Australia next November.

A week earlier, the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses announced that Montreal would also host their quadrennial festival in 2004. Montreal edged out Cleveland for the event, which is expected to bring up to 8,000 chorus members and guests from North and South America, Europe and Australia.

 

State won’t issue birth certificate

Jackson, Miss.—A lesbian couple from Vermont is suing the state of Mississippi over health officials’ refusal to issue a birth certificate to the son they adopted four years ago.

Cheri Goldstein and Holly Perdue of Worcester, Vt., filed suit October 25 in Hinds County Chancery Court. The two are asking the judge to order the state to issue the birth certificate showing them as the boy’s adoptive parents.

Officials are holding up the birth certificate because they noticed on documents that both adoptive parents are female, said Perdue. The couple has eight adopted children.

Without the document, the boy, now 4, cannot enroll in school or be given a Social Security number.

Hector Vargas, of the gay and lesbian Lambda Legal Defense Fund, said an adoption agency in Mississippi contacted the couple in 1997 when the child was born to a mother who wished to give him up for adoption. A Vermont court approved the adoption in April 2000.

Goldstein and Perdue claim that since the adoption, the state of Mississippi has refused to issue an amended birth certificate for the boy, now 4 years old.

They claim the state is obligated by law to issue the document.


Fishing for Herring

by Anthony Glassman

Cleveland—From the earliest days of formalized art, sexual orientation has always factored into it.

Michelangelo’s statue of David has been seen for centuries as a study in desire and the beauty of the human body. Many artists used their younger lovers, or their patrons’ paramours, as the models for paintings and sculpture.

"The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian," for instance, almost always has some very attractive young man tied to a post, arrows piercing his flesh in some sort of sadomasochistic tableau combining sex and religion in a potent mix. Why? The model for St. Sebastian was almost invariably the lover of the artist or his patron.

Art has since moved on from its roots, and sexual orientation is now more central to art, or beside it altogether, instead of creeping into it in the choice of models and the poses of the people in it.

The Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art has two exhibits running through late November that illustrate the interplay between sexual orientation and art at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

Oliver Herring, born in Germany and trained as a painter, moved off from the more established art form when shaken by the death from AIDS of an East Village performance artist he admired. They had never met, but the man’s work and life had a profound effect on Herring. Some of Herring’s work is on display in an exhibit entitled "Sleepless Nights."

Herring started to sculpt instead of paint, and his sculptures were as far from regular sculpture as sculpture is from painting. He started knitting, first using Scotch tape, then moving to Mylar, the pretty stuff they use to make those silver balloons.

His first works were flowers and jackets, funereal and empty, signifying loss. He has since moved into more abstract constructions, like large silver globes or circles lying on the floor.

Herring also makes video art, strange montages of stop-motion images. He invites people to his studio to be in the videos as a way of expanding his social circle, being a shy and quiet man. He also scores the videos himself, sitting at his computer watching the video frame by frame, adding the soundtrack.

Starkly different from Herring is New York artist Nicole Eisenman, whose work is on display in the larger exhibit "Threads of Vision: Toward a New Feminine Poetics," dealing with women in art from around the world.

Eisenman is the only open lesbian in the exhibit, but her works run the gamut from playful and cartoonish to more serious and descended from social realists like Diego Rivera.

The pieces in "Threads of Vision" represent her social realist work, paintings filled with meaning into which the viewer can delve and make his or her own judgements.

"A lot of people look at her paintings and immediately dismiss her as a man-hating lesbian," said Kristin Chambers, the curator of the two shows.

"There’s so much more to the paintings than that, though," she said, urging the crowd at an October 25 program on queer influences in contemporary art to look at the faces of the women in Eisenman’s paintings.

For instance, she noted, in the piece Hunting, which has two men sitting in the foreground while a group of Amazonian women approach them with spears, only one of the women looks angry. The others are apathetic at worst, confused or curious at best. These women, who recur in many of the artist’s paintings, have their own society in some arctic clime, and these men are not their enemies; the men are simply completely foreign to them, outside of their experience.

"This is the world that Nicole has created, and these men are outsiders," Chambers noted.

In addition to Chambers’ talk, held in conjunction with the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, a number of other events, including an artist talk by Herring on October 4 and a Sept. 11 benefit on October 26 accent the exhibits, as well as the constant efforts of the CCCA to bring contemporary art out of the realm of aesthetes and into people’s everyday lives, demystifying current art movements and making them more accessible to the public.

"Threads of Vision: Toward a New Feminine Poetics" and "Oliver Herring: Sleepless Nights" will both be on display at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave, until Nov. 25. CCCA can be reached at 216-421-8671 or online at http://www.contemporaryart.org.

 

 

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