by Eric Resnick
Toledo--Three openly gay or lesbian Ohioans will be sworn in as members of city councils after winning elections November 6. Two other openly gay Ohio candidates did not win election.
All three are in the Toledo area: openly gay incumbent Toledo at-large councilmember Louis Escobar, Gene Hagedorn in suburban Oregon, and Skeeter Hunt in Bloomdale, north of Findlay.
Escobar was first elected to the Toledo council in 1997, becoming one of the first openly gay office holders in Ohio.
This year, Escobar was endorsed by the Lesbian and Gay Victory Fund in Washington, D.C. During his first term, Escobar, a Democrat, is credited with passing Toledo’s human rights ordinance. The measure protects against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Escobar garnered 39,536 votes, making him the fifth-highest vote-getter in a race where the top six are seated.
Openly gay Republican Dennis Lange received 14,356 votes in his bid for an at-large seat on Toledo city council, putting him in ninth position in the total field of 12.
In Oregon, Gene Hagedorn, long-standing member of the Log Cabin Republicans of Northwest Ohio and founder of the Gays and Lesbians United "Decked Out" fundraiser, was narrowly elected to the city council.
Seven seats were open, and Hagedorn came in 83 votes ahead of Edwin Beckman, the highest-ranked person who did not make the cut.
Hagedorn felt that, after his years of working with northwest Ohio’s LGBT community, he had done all he could in that milieu, having been instrumental in the passage of Toledo’s antidiscrimination ordinance. He decided to run for Oregon City Council on a platform emphasizing responsible development in the area.
Hagedorn teaches at Owens Technical College.
In Bloomdale, 15 miles southeast of Bowling Green in Wood County, Skeeter Hunt was elected to the village council.
Hunt was first appointed to the council in July 1994 to complete the term of an outgoing member. She was re-elected to the seat in November, 1995, making her the first openly gay elected official in the state, two years before the elections of Escobar in Toledo and Mary Wiseman in Dayton.
Hunt, Carol Kirby and Virginia Gray were among candidates who were attempting to break the mayor’s hold on the Bloomdale council, an effort that bore fruit with the election results. Hunt came in just ahead of Sheila McNally, and far in front of Verlin Wagner, knocking both off the council.
"I’m really happy," she said. "We’re doing good in this town."
Again, zoning ordinances and development were at the heart of the race, and Hunt and her allies were opposed to ordinance changes that would have benefited those changing the ordinances but not the town itself.
Hunt was recently named executive director of David’s House, the leading AIDS service organization in northwest Ohio.
In Cincinnati, openly gay John Schlagetter finished 21st in a field of 26 in a non-partisan race for city council. Only the top nine were elected. Schlagetter got 10,269 votes.
James Moore-McDermott, the first openly gay candidate in Ohio to declare candidacy this year, finished last of five running for three Bucyrus City Council seats, with 439 votes.
Moore-McDermott earned the endorsement of the Bucyrus Telegraph and several other community organizations.
With the endorsements and help of the GLBT community, three major cities elected new mayors. For the first time in the state’s history, all six of Ohio’s major cities have Democratic mayors.
Jane Campbell, endorsed by the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, was elected Cleveland’s first female mayor. Campbell has marched at Cleveland Pride, and has a good record on GLBT issues as a state senator and Cuyahoga County commissioner. Campbell supports adding domestic partner benefits for city employees.
Campbell defeated opponent Raymond Pierce, who also had wide support within the GLBT community, 58,219 to 49,062.
Dayton also elected its first woman mayor, Democrat Rhine McLin, over anti-gay Republican two-term mayor Mike Turner 18,540 to 17,444 votes.
Currently a state senator, McLin had the endorsements and support of the GLBT community. She said she would support passage of a gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance. Turner led the opposition to such a measure when it was introduced in 1999 by openly lesbian city commissioner Mary Wiseman.
Wiseman, who did not run for re-election this year, will be succeeded by Dick Zimmer.
Democrat Jack Ford will become the next mayor of Toledo, beating his opponent Ray Kest 47,346 to 30861.
State Rep. Ford has close ties to the GLBT community. As minority leader, he introduced a controversial bill putting money into programs to stop teen suicide. The bill was killed in committee by Republicans who objected to the provisions serving gay youth.
Campbell, McLin, and Ford join the re-elected Charlie Luken of Cincinnati, Akron’s Don Plusquellic, and Michael Coleman of Columbus as the mayors of Ohio’s six largest cities, all with strong ties to the GLBT community.
In other races of interest, incumbent Jimmie Hicks was re-elected to his city council seat in Cleveland Heights, and domestic partner benefits ordinance sponsor Michael Skindell was re-elected to his Lakewood council-at-large seat. Both Cleveland suburbs have large LGBT populations.
A month before the election, Hicks responded to a Stonewall Cleveland candidate night invitation with an e-mail that said he would "not support nor endorse any proposals to change laws, just to fit your lifestyle."
Bay Village voters elected Republican David Tadych to fill the Ward 1 council seat. Tadych is a founding member of the Log Cabin Republicans of Cleveland. He defeated his opponent Chad Waffen with 651 to Waffen’s 611 votes.
In the Toledo school board race, Becky Berry, perhaps the state’s most vehemently and vociferously anti-gay candidate, came in 8,000 votes behind the lowest-ranked winner. Three seats were in contention on the school board and, as expected, two of them were won by incumbents. Anita Lopez was the only non-incumbent to win a school board seat.
Berry gained notoriety by sending a letter to virtually all members of the clergy in Toledo saying that God had called her to minister to the school district. She argued that sex education was not working to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and that the solution was for the schools to only teach abstinence.
She also attacked the Phoenix Project for giving a presentation at East Toledo Junior High, arguing that, since a gay group was allowed to speak, a group with the opposite viewpoint should also be asked to speak.
‘Issue 3’ clones fail, but Houston ban on partner benefits passes
by Anthony Glassman
Kalamazoo, Mich.—Three Michigan cities backed civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by wide margins in the November 6 election, defeating anti-gay issues by wider margins than in the past.
They joined Miami Beach, Florida, where voters supported two measures granting domestic partner benefits to city employees.
Only in Houston did an anti-gay issue succeed. A ballot initiative to ban domestic partnership benefits for municipal employees passed by a 4-point margin. Fifty-two percent of voters approved Proposition 2.
In Miami Beach, voters gave an enthusiastic nod to the two measures. In a 2-1 vote, residents approved the first ordinance, which the city commission unanimously put on the ballot earlier this year.
A second measure in the city granting survivor benefits to the partners of police officers and firefighters was approved by an even larger margin, with 68.5% of those voting casting their ballots to expand the survivor benefits.
The law’s support appears to be a reaction to the on-duty shooting death of a lesbian Tampa police officer. Her partner, also on the police force, will not be given the full widow’s pension, equivalent to her partner’s salary. The pension would pay annually; instead, she gets a one-time payment of about $50,000 from a state crime victims’ fund.
Cincinnati-type issues lose
Two of the three Michigan cities were facing ballot measures similar to Issue 3, a Cincinnati charter amendment passed in 1993 banning the city from enacting any antidiscrimination laws for gay people. The measure has been upheld by the courts, and is now Article 12 of the city charter.
Both Traverse City and Kalamazoo voted on amendments patterned after Issue 3 to withstand court challenges.
Fifty-eight percent of voters in Traverse City opposed the ballot measure, whose supporters sent out post cards with pictures of children in Boy Scout uniforms claiming that gay civil rights laws endanger Scout funding.
The local Boy Scout council distanced themselves from Traverse City Citizens Voting Yes for Equal Rights not Special Rights, who organized the drive for Proposal 1. The group’s main support came from the Michigan and national chapters of the American Family Association.
In Kalamazoo, 54% voted against a similar measure which would have prevented the city from giving "preferential treatment" to gays.
The move in Kalamazoo was sparked by City Manager Pat DiGiovanni’s policy granting domestic partner benefits to city employees. Lawyers for the city pointed out that the wording of the charter amendment would not have voided that policy.
Almost 70% support Woods law
Huntington Woods saw 69% of voters approving an ordinance enacted earlier this year by the city commission banning anti-gay discrimination.
The ordinance includes gender identity, which led its opponents to describe it as allowing men to use women’s restrooms.
Voters didn’t accept the tactic, making Huntington Woods the second city in Michigan, after Ypsilanti, to successfully defend an already-enacted LGBT civil rights measure at the ballot box.
(Ypsilanti is now facing a second attempt to repeal its measure.)
Huntington Woods is now the 11th city in Michigan to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sean Kosofsky, the director of policy for the Triangle Foundation in Detroit, Michigan’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, was enthusiastic about the election results.
"Michigan has sent a loud message that anti-gay ballot measures won’t fly here," he said. "This is a state that stands for tolerance. We have a lot of diversity and a large gay community."
Referring to anti-gay groups in general and the American Family Association in particular, Kosofsky said, "This state will not be their battleground. Future ballot measures in Michigan and around the country can start winning now."
"The religious right might learn to stop using the ballot box as a cheap tool to fight their battles," he continued, pointing to deceptive language in ballot measures, and used during petition drives and campaigns.
The Triangle Foundation says it has seen numerous instances of dishonesty in political campaigns waged in Michigan with the aid of the American Family Association.
Triangle also just unveiled a new web site, http://www.afaexposed.com, on the tactics of the organization.
Three gay-friendly Republicans voted for the measure, passed with ‘a lot of arm-twisting’
by Eric Resnick
Columbus--Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists remain cautiously optimistic that the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" passed by the Ohio House of Representatives on October 31 can be stopped in the Ohio Senate.
The bill, which was introduced by first term Cincinnati Republican Bill Seitz, passed the House 66-29, largely along party lines, Republicans in favor, Democrats opposed.
Among Republicans, only former lieutenant governor Nancy Hollister of Marietta voted against the measure, designed to deny recognition and benefits to same-sex couples, and to civil unions made in other states.
Nine Democrats voted for it: John Boccieri of New Middletown, Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, William Hartnett of Mansfield, Anthony Latell of Girard, William Ogg of Sciotoville, Derrick Seaver of Minster, Daniel Sferra of Warren, Joseph Sulzer of Chillicothe, and Charles Wilson of Bridgeport.
Democrat Jack Ford, who was elected mayor of Toledo on November 6, opposed the bill but was not present for the vote. Republican Lynn Olman of Maumee was also not present for the vote.
Tax strategy may be behind bill
The marriage ban bill was drafted by Cincinnati attorney David Langdon, who represents the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values organization and the American Family Association of Ohio. Langdon also serves on the board of the Family First Political Action Committee, also an anti-gay group, that contributed over $30,000 to the campaigns of members who sponsored and supported the legislation.
The Republican House leadership favored passage of the bill, and according to party insiders, "forced [moderates] to vote for the bill against their conscience."
An October 31 item in the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggested that passage of the DOMA bill and three other conservative measures are part of a larger strategy to raise taxes in Ohio. All four bills were passed the same day.
One bill, backed by the tobacco industry, makes it impossible for local governments to enforce strong anti- smoking laws. Another protects the constitutionality of the death penalty by banning use of the electric chair. The third mandates a moment of silence in public schools.
The Plain Dealer concluded that this "wish list" of social conservatives was pushed by Speaker Larry Householder in order to provide political cover for Republicans who will ultimately have to vote for the $1.5 billion tax increase he proposed a day earlier.
"Enabling anti-tax Republicans to court voters with a package of high profile social issues could make it easier for the lawmakers to vote for the tax increases," said the Plain Dealer.
"I feel like we got horse-traded," said Columbus attorney Mary Jo Hudson, who is a leader of the marriage bill’s opposition, "and I take it personally."
Hudson said Republican lawmakers "completely shut the door to us" when lobbying attempts were made to stop the bill’s passage.
"The stakes for them were high, and there was a lot of arm twisting," she said. "For many of them, it was not a vote of conscience."
Three surprise votes for DOMA
Three House GOP members seen as gay-friendly have damaged their relationship with the Log Cabin Republicans by voting for the bill.
Log Cabin Columbus spokesperson Mark Krause said the vote shows that the conservative-controlled Ohio Republican Party is in charge of the Statehouse agenda.
Cleveland Log Cabin Republicans spokesperson John Farina said, "The speaker traded our support with the right-wing caucus in order to get what he wanted, and to get what the right wing of the party wanted."
Farina called the trade "unfortunate."
Two representatives that the Cleveland Log Cabin Republicans have consistently supported voted for the marriage ban. Farina said he thought Sally Conway Kilbane of Rocky River and Jim Trakas of Independence had "no real choice" as to how they voted.
Trakas is backed by the gay Republicans because he has, as Cuyahoga County Republican Party chair, attempted to make the party more diverse. He has spoken at Cleveland Pride events.
Kilbane has been supported, in large part, because her daughter Sarah is openly lesbian.
Farina said his group has "no plans to walk away" from the representatives, but support for them might be a little less enthusiastic.
The Columbus Log Cabin group has been a strong supporter of Amy Salerno since she first ran in 1994. Salerno, who also voted for the measure, lives in and represents the Short North neighborhood, which has a very high concentration of gay and lesbian residents. Log Cabin members have contributed thousands to Salerno’s campaigns over the years.
Salerno is running for Franklin County commissioner in 2002, and according to Krause, "she couldn’t get the nod from the [GOP] central committee, which she needs, if she didn’t vote for the DOMA bill."
Krause described Salerno as "ripped up" during conversations about the vote with Log Cabin officers. He also said that Salerno had worked behind the scenes to keep the bill from being passed in previous sessions.
Neither Kilbane nor Salerno returned numerous calls for comment on this report.
Calls 10 to 1 in favor of bill
Trakas denied any grand plan behind the measure’s passage.
He is the majority whip, and in that leadership capacity it is his duty to secure votes for bills the party wants.
Trakas called the linking of the conservative votes to a tax hike "complete coincidence."
"I was never instructed to go find votes for this [DOMA] bill," said Trakas.
Trakas said he supported the bill because calls and letters to his office ran ten to one in favor of it. He said that once the bill was amended in committee to avoid affecting local ordinances, it was "more palatable."
"The intent of the bill was fairly well known," said Trakas, "and gay people can’t get married now, so I thought nothing would change if this passed."
When asked, Trakas said he did not know about the provisions in the bill that deny all unmarried couples, same-sex and different-sex, "specific statutory benefits of legal marriage," such as hospital visitation and child custody.
"Seitz just told us the bill would prevent the state from recognizing gay marriages, and that’s all," said Trakas.
"Once the bill was changed in committee, it was not offensive to me," said Trakas.
When the provisions denying benefits were described to Trakas, he said he would support removing that language in conference if the bill passes the Senate.
No Senate sponsor yet
So far, no state senator has come forward to sponsor the legislation through the Senate.
Sens. Jay Hottinger of Newark and Jim Jordan of Urbana have sponsored similar DOMA legislation in 1997 and 1999.
Hottinger legislative aide Susan Wittstock said no one in her office has talked about sponsoring it yet.
GLBT leaders say that it will be easier to stop the bill in the Senate, if a strong, organized effort is made.
"There has been a fundamental change in House leadership this session," said Farina, noting that previous speaker Joanne Davidson was more moderate than the current leadership.
"But the Senate has not seen a shift to the right," said Farina. "The leadership has not changed."
In 1999, Senate President Richard Finan met with a group of LGBT activists and allies during the Equality Begins at Home lobbying day. At that time, a DOMA had been introduced in the Senate.
Finan told the lobbyists that he wasn’t anxious to support that bill, and would not move it quickly to the floor of the Senate. The 1999 attempt to pass DOMA failed in the Senate without committee action.
Finan was out of the country and could not be reached for comment for this report.
Aaron McLear, spokesperson for Governor Robert Taft, said he is not ready to comment on the bill yet.
by Kaizaad Kotwal
Columbus--Four hundred fifty people gathered at the Center for Science and Industry on November 3 to celebrate Stonewall Columbus’ 20th anniversary, and to honor individuals who have made the city a better place for GLBT folk.
Dr. Michael Para received the President’s Award for his work with HIV and AIDS. He accepted the award while acknowledging the many others who work with him "tirelessly, towards a better tomorrow."
Dr. Michael Para
Columbus City Attorney Janet Jackson was presented with the Rhonda R. Rivera Human Rights Award for her leadership and determination in Charles Spingola’s trials for burning rainbow flags, and other issues that impact the GLBT community.
The award’s namesake was present to give this year’s keynote address. Rivera, who now lives in Arizona, presented a moving assessment of the state of LGBT affairs in Columbus over the past 20 years. She helped with the founding of Stonewall Columbus while she was teaching at law school, and pioneered many of the legal and advances that are taken for granted these days.
She spoke of the how people like Jerry Falwell use homophobia to raise money. In Rivera’s assessment, they "are no different than Osama bin Laden."
The occasion was also used to announce the formation of the Legacy Fund of the Columbus Foundation. The fund will be used to create interest from an invested endowment, which will in turn be used to provide stability for existing organizations while supporting new and ongoing needs of the community.
Rivera, at the end of her speech, presented a donation of $1,000 to the Legacy Fund on behalf of herself and her partner, Margaret. She urged all present to follow suit and start the new fund off on a strong note.
by Anthony Glassman
Toledo--David’s House, northwest Ohio’s top AIDS service organization, has a new head to lead them into the new millennium.
Skeeter Hunt stepped into the executive director post on October 1, bringing both business and social work training and experience to the post. (She was also elected November 6 to another term in the Bloomdale, Ohio city council.)
Hunt has a bachelor of science degree from Bowling Green State University in psychology, as well as a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. In addition, Hunt has two professional certifications; she is both a licensed social worker and a professional counselor.
Until earlier this year, she was a partner in and CEO of Behavioral Care Management in Sylvania, the only for-profit clinic in the area accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, and was also accredited by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
"The knowledge that I got from the experience is indispensable," Hunt said. "My two partners were completely silent, all the hats were mine."
It also gave her a close look at one of the major problems facing people with HIV and AIDS: insurance companies. The clinic had unpaid invoices from insurance companies that had authorized the treatments dating back two years.
As a non-profit, however, David’s House can ask for money, unlike her clinic. Th difference is joyfully described by Hunt, who points out that all donations are also tax-deductible.
"The only thing David’s House needs is funding," she said. "I share with other AIDS agencies concern over government funding under the current administration. Grants are very specific, and we need unrestricted operating capital to fill in the gaps."
She also noted that donations to all non-disaster relief agencies had dropped precipitously since September 11.
"Everyone gave money to September 11 relief, but charitable causes go on and still need help," she stressed. "September 11 should be over and above what is given to local non-profits."
Another priority for her stewardship is increasing HIV and AIDS education programs. During her first week, she went to a production at Owens College whose host was a member of the David’s House speaker’s bureau. He asked if any of the teenagers in attendance had learned about AIDS prevention, and only one raised their hand.
"I’d really like to increase educational outreach; I want at least one more full-time person and to increase the size of the speaker’s bureau," Hunt said. "Parents are not providing the necessary information."
Hunt also wants to increase the size of the food pantry, which currently gives a bag of groceries to clients once a month. She would like to see it expanded to a capacity where clients could get food once a week and to provide assistance to more people.
For more information on helping David’s House in their work for northwest Ohio, call 419-244-6682 or 419-243-7400.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
Court says man can inherit partner’s estate without a will
Olympia, Wash.—Gay civil rights and women’s groups applauded a state supreme court ruling that gays may be entitled to the estates of partners who die without wills.
The justices on November 1 reversed a lower court ruling, ordering a new trial for Frank Vasquez, who is claiming the $230,000 estate of his longtime partner. A lower court had found the claim invalid because same-sex marriage is illegal in Washington.
"Equitable claims are not dependent on the ‘legality’ of the relationship between the parties, nor are they limited by the gender or sexual orientation of the parties," Justice Charles Johnson wrote in the unanimous decision.
Lisa Stone, executive director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center, called the ruling "a wonderful step forward in establishing that all families are the same before the law."
"Too often, when a relationship between unmarried couples ends, the woman, who typically has lesser economic power, was left out in the cold," Stone said.
Vasquez, 64, shared a house, business and financial assets with Robert Schwerzler, who died without a will in 1995.
Vasquez claimed the estate, which consisted mainly of the house. His claim was challenged by Schwerzler’s siblings, who described Vasquez as a housekeeper and said they never saw the men display affection.
High court to rule on sodomy law
Little Rock, Ark.—The fight over Arkansas’ 24-year-old anti-sodomy law has reached the state’s supreme court, which has been asked to decide whether activity that is legal for heterosexuals should be illegal for gay people.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund of New York, representing seven gay and lesbian Arkansans, filed papers October 29 responding to state efforts to keep the law alive.
Arkansas law, the group said, "singles out gay men and lesbians for criminal condemnation for engaging in the very same conduct freely permitted heterosexuals."
Pulaski County Circuit Judge David Bogard ruled for the seven in April. He said the legislature erred when it barred consensual, noncommercial oral and anal sex between people of the same gender.
Although no one had been prosecuted under the law, the seven plaintiffs said they feared being charged or convicted or losing their jobs or professional licenses.
The measure was passed in 1977, two years after the legislature repealed one that applied to everyone. It carries a penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Two other states, Texas and Louisiana, have gay-only sodomy laws, and ten more have measures that apply to heterosexuals as well.
Rights foes to pay for signature review
Annapolis, Md.—Opponents of a gay civil rights law will have to pay part of the cost of reviewing signatures collected during a petition drive to put the law before the voters.
Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner directed the three men on October 31 to pay $4,000 of the $40,000 cost. The three intervened as parties in the suit so they could oppose attempts by supporters to invalidate enough signatures to keep a referendum on the law off the ballot next year.
The measure, passed by the legislature last April, would add sexual orientation to an existing law that prohibits discrimination based on other factors such as race, religion and gender.
It was scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, but was blocked when opponents filed petitions with 47,539 signatures to put the proposal on the ballot and let voters decide next November if it should become law. The petition contained 1,411 signatures more than required.
Supporters of the law responded by challenging the validity of thousands of signatures, and Lerner appointed Walter Childs as a special master to review the signatures.
Childs issued a report that found potential problems with about 7,500 signatures.
Lerner scheduled the next hearing for December 17 and indicated he would rule then on how many signatures are valid.
Student alliance sues to keep name
Indianapolis—Members of a gay and straight student group have sued Franklin Central High School for asking the group to change its name in order to meet during school hours.
The Franklin Central Gay-Straight Alliance filed the lawsuit this month in federal court in Indianapolis with assistance from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
One of the group’s founders, senior Amy Obermeyer, 17, told the Indianapolis Star that school officials wanted the group to change its name in order to meet during study hall on Thursdays like other clubs.
Franklin Township School Board attorney Tom Wheeler said officials were concerned that gay students would be singled out by others because of the group’s name. A "diversity club," he told the newspaper, could address the same issues "from a more holistic basis."
An advocate for gay youth said he had heard similar arguments before but believed it was really the word gay that intimidated officials.
Wheeler told the newspaper that the school cannot discriminate on the basis of the club’s name or issues, and it is currently reviewing the status of all clubs.
‘Pretty’ killer gets new trial
West Palm Beach, Fla.—A 19-year-old who stomped a gay man to death in 1998 will get a new trial, after an October 31 ruling by the Florida Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bryan Donahue was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of 29-year-old waiter Steven Goedereis.
Donahue and William Dodge, who received a sentence of 25 years for the killing, beat and kicked Goederis after he allegedly grabbed Donahue and said he was pretty.
The court ruled that Circuit Court Judge Harold Cohen erred by not allowing Donahue’s attorney to introduce testimony that paramedics at the scene had been unsuccessful in intubating the victim, clearing his airway so he could breathe. When they arrived, he was choking on his own blood.
The defense suggested that the failed intubation may have been a factor in Goederis’ death.
State Attorney Barry Krischer, expressing frustration at the ruling, noted that Goederis would not have needed intubation had the two teens not severely beaten him.
A footnote in the ruling said that Dodge would also be entitled to a new trial.
Methodist court upholds gay ban
Nashville, Tenn.—In a case arising out of Seattle, the highest court of the United Methodist Church has affirmed that the denomination’s Book of Discipline forbids the appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as church pastors.
However, in a small victory for gay pastors, the nine-member Judicial Council ruled a bishop cannot strip away such an appointment without going through established church procedures that are designed to give pastors due process.
The decision, released October 29 after oral arguments October 25, unifies both the judicial and legislative branches of the nation’s third-largest denomination against accepting gay pastors.
The United Methodist General Conference, which sets policy for the denomination, voted last year to maintain its doctrine that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
The Judicial Council ruled the denomination’s book of laws does not contradict itself on the appointment of openly gay and lesbian clergy to congregations.
The panel said a Seattle minister’s statement that she is "living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship with another woman" is sufficient to merit a review of her status as a minister.
However, the council said a bishop cannot deny a ministerial appointment based solely on such a declaration. It affirmed established church procedures to ensure that a pastor gets a full hearing on whether he or she has broken church law and is therefore no longer a minister in good standing.
Unions may strike over partner plan
St. Paul—Members of Minnesota’s two largest state employee unions may strike if Republican opposition to domestic partnership benefits foils the ratification of their contracts.
Tentative contracts were ratified on October 14 between the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.
The two unions had asked for health and dental benefits for unmarried gay and heterosexual partners of state employees. The state countered with an offer of same-sex domestic partnership benefits.
The two unions had waged a two-week strike before accepting the tentative contract, and union officials believe that the state’s House of Representatives will ratify the contracts rather than become the targets of another strike. The state’s senate, which is controlled by the Democrat-Farmer-Labor party, is expected to approve the contract by a wide margin.
by Kaizaad Kotwal
Gay playwright Terrence McNally is the Woody Allen of live theatre. Both are prolific auteurs, churning out works at a lively pace, and both can produce genius or mediocrity. Yet somehow, even their mediocre work tends to be compelling.
McNally’s most popular work is probably the Tony award-winning Love! Valor! Compassion! It was turned into a mediocre film starring Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame.
His A Perfect Ganesh, although not a gay play in the strict sense of the word, has many of his hallmark themes--the loss of love, the violence meted out to gay and lesbian people on a daily basis, and the community’s struggle with AIDS. He has won a Tony award for Ragtime, and his Master Class, based on the life of opera diva Maria Callas, bridges the worlds of music and dramatic literature in a superb way.
McNally is also prone to controversy because his plays tend to push the limits of the images that he creates as well as the issues he puts out in bold and provocative ways. To date, his most controversial play is Corpus Christi.
In this play, McNally retells the story of Jesus and his disciples in the modern day milieu of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. He has chosen to tell this story through a gay lens, referring to the fact that homosexuality was not an alien concept to the messiah and his followers.
The play, much like Nikos Kazantzakis’ provocative The Last Temptation of Christ, has been attacked by the religious right for taking liberties with Jesus and his life’s work.
When the play opened at New York’s Manhattan Theatre in 1998, the producers received bomb threats and metal detectors had to be installed. Audiences were also greeted each night by a large and vocal group of protesters. This attention only helped boost the play’s ticket sales, and once again McNally had a hit on his hands.
Act Out productions in Columbus is set to take on the play and any ensuing controversy to follow. Act Out artistic director and director of the play, Frank Barnhart, said that he chose to do this play because he "liked the play and what it had to say."
Barnhart is not too worried about any scandal that may follow his production. He understands that a "lot of Christians have a problem with homosexuality to start with" and that to retell Jesus’ story with parallels to modern gay issues could lead to a backlash.
However, he is also certain that most of those who oppose the play "haven’t read the play or seen it."
For Barnhart, "sexuality is not the point of the play." Rather, the play is about "what Jesus taught" about universal love and acceptance, that is truly radical even today. The play is a retelling of that life and message. Ironically, Jesus’s teachings about such love and understanding got him into trouble in his own day because the powers that be were not interested in everybody getting along and everyone loving one another.
"There were people back then, like today," argued Barnhart, "who didn’t want to see a God who loved everyone."
Joseph Bishara and Jeremy Richter, who play Judas and Joshua respectively, agree with Barnhart’s assessment of the play.
Bishara was drawn to the character of Judas right from the start because he "appreciated how McNally had written that part." Judas in this play is in love with Joshua, who is the Jesus character in the play.
Judas’s love for Joshua, according to Bishara, is a total love, encompassing the physical and spiritual spectrum of that particularly complex emotion. "Judas loves Joshua for who he is," explained Bishara, "because Joshua is everything that Judas is not."
Moreover, in this play, Judas betrays Joshua, also with a kiss, "because Judas can’t have Joshua completely."
Richter, who plays Joshua, loves "the play because it is a great retelling of the story and puts a lot of things into perspective." According to Richter, the play is not only a challenge for the actors but also for the audience. In the play, "Joshua needs something to belong to just as the apostles do and it takes him a long while to accept that he is indeed the son of God."
Richter reiterates Bishara’s assessment of the relationship between Judas and Joshua. Richter believes that "Joshua loves Judas very much and on a few different levels."
"He loves Judas with a brotherly love," Richter explained, "as well as with a physical love and in the way lovers love one another."
Barnhart refers to contemporary scholars who have pointed out "that it is very naive to believe that Jesus and Judas and his followers didn’t have a sexual identity and didn’t have to struggle with that."
When asked if, in the light of the horrific events of September 11, one had to be more careful not to put out works that could be so deeply provocative and divisive, all three emphasized that, particularly in times such as these, a play like Corpus Christi has a lot to say.
"It becomes even more relevant," argued Barnhart, "because in the aftermath of all this we have realized that we are a country who should have been paying more attention to each other."
"We are in a time period," he continued, "when we are realizing that we should be accepting of people for who they are."
For Richter, "the message to be more tolerant with everyone holds weight no matter when one chooses to spread that word."
McNally’s Corpus Christi will play in Columbus at the Shedd Theatre in the Davis Discovery Center, 549 Franklin Avenue. The play will run November 9, 10, 16 and 17 with all shows at 8:00 p.m. For more information and reservations call 614-263-9448 or e-mail email@example.com.
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