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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
September 7, 2001

University Hospitals to offer domestic partner plans

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland�University Hospitals will become Ohio�s first major hospital and one of the state�s largest employers to offer domestic partner benefits to employees and their same-sex partners.

An August 24 human resources memo states that "the decision has the thorough and complete support at the highest levels of the administration" including CEO Farah Walters.

At press time, employees of Cleveland�s second-largest hospital system had not been officially informed of their new benefit, but according to spokesperson Eric Sandstrom, they will be notified prior to benefits open registration in October.

The new benefit includes health care and other insurance, similar to that offered to opposite-sex married couples. It will take effect January 1, 2002.

Sandstrom said the hospital administration has not yet worked out the details of the plan, but that committed same-sex couples who have been together a year or more will be eligible. Those interested will need to sign an affidavit and produce evidence of financial responsibility for each other, such as a mortgage or lease.

The new benefit will cover all 25,000 employees and physicians at the University Hospitals campus and seven affiliate hospitals located throughout Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, and Geauga counties. Those hospitals are Bedford Medical, Brown Memorial, Geauga Regional, Laurelwood, Memorial Hospital of Geneva, St. Michael, and Richmond Heights Hospital.

Employees at the four hospitals in partnership agreements with University, Mercy Medical Center in Canton, St. John Hospital in Westlake, St. Vincent Hospital, and Southwest Medical Center, have separate benefits through their own employers, and are not eligible for the same-sex domestic partner benefits.

Sandstrom said that a small group of employees had formed two years ago to present the administration with a proposal for the benefit.

The proposal contained information gathered from the Human Rights Campaign web site and from surveying out-of-state teaching hospitals, many of which have offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples for years.

The effort was helped by Case Western Reserve University�s decision a year ago to offer similar benefits to its employees.

University Hospital is not owned by Case, but serves as its primary medical research and teaching facility.

Forty other Ohio employers offer health-care benefits to domestic partners, including Federated Department Stores, Key Corp., Nationwide Insurance, NCR Corp., Lexis-Nexis, The Limited, Progressive Insurance and TRW, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Some of these also offer benefits to opposite-sex unmarried couples. University Hospitals will limit theirs to same-sex couples.

Sources close to the negotiations said that the hospital administration was never opposed to offering the benefit, but there were some matters that had to be worked out before it was agreed to.

The primary one was cost. Although this is expected to be very small, the hospital has been cutting the size of its staff, and there was fear that people would claim that the new benefit was the cause of the layoffs.

Neither the administration nor advocates of the benefit have a sense of how many will sign up for it. They note that many partners who would be eligible are already covered by their own employer�s benefits. Also, some hospital employees will choose not to come out at work to sign up, even though University Hospitals includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy.

The hospital regards its decision as one of fairness.

"The administration felt it was the right thing to do," said Sandstrom. "It�s all about employees being treated equally."

The hospital also believes that this benefit will help recruit professionals in areas and specialties where there are shortages, such as nursing.

"There was an awareness that no other hospitals in the area are doing this," said one of the negotiators, "and that was a selling point. At the time, they didn�t realize they were the first in Ohio. But the administration just had the sense that this was the right thing to do."

The hospital will make the benefit known to prospective employees in its recruiting materials and advertisements.


 

26-way race for council
includes one gay man

by Doreen Cudnik

Cincinnati--In a year marked by racial turmoil, strained police-community relations, and calls for major changes in the way the city does business, 26 people have entered the race for Cincinnati City Council hoping to become a part of making that change.

Among the candidates who have filed for the election is 37-year-old architect John Schlagetter, an openly gay man who owns a home in Cincinnati�s racially diverse Price Hill neighborhood with his partner of almost ten years, Lester Freeman.

Schlagetter says it is the city�s unique challenges that prompted him to run.

"My belief has always been that you can�t expect other people to do everything for you," Schlagetter said. "You�ve got to contribute. You�ve got to help make your neighborhood a good place to live. You�ve got to be part of the solution and not run away from the problem."

Schlagetter said he also recognized by attending City Council meetings that he had "skill sets to contribute that were lacking on the current council."

"It seemed like the right opportunity and the time to introduce myself to politics."

Schlagetter, who is endorsed by the Charter Committee of Greater Cincinnati and the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants, has chosen three themes to sum up his campaign goals: "Courage to do what�s right, teamwork to ensure win-win outcomes, and results--to deliver value for your tax dollar."

His web site, www.john4council.com, has had over 35,000 hits to date. On it, Schlagetter outlines in detail how he intends to help create "a more compelling vision for Cincinnati." It also provides links to all of the other candidates� web sites.

"I try to speak well of other council candidates as often as I can," he said. "People are really responsive to you as a candidate if you�re willing to speak well of others, because it portends the way you intend to govern."

All nine seats on the at-large city council are up for election, with seven incumbents among the 26 candidates. A September 11 non-partisan primary is not binding; candidates will decide based on that vote whether or not to remain in the November 6 general election.

Schlagetter officially kicked off his campaign in February of this year. He has distinguished himself from the very large pack of council candidates by attending community council meetings in many of Cincinnati�s predominately African-American neighborhoods. As a result, he has created a valuable and diverse "word of mouth contingent."

"I�m out there and listening to people, and if I get asked to do things I follow up and do it," he says. I�m really working in the black community to listen and understand issues of importance to blacks as defined by blacks. So it�s not a white guy coming in and telling folks how to live. I�m listening to what people have to say and seeing what I can do about it."

His nearly decade-long relationship with Freeman, who is African-American, has undoubtedly taught him much about listening to other people as they define their own issues.

As a result of the four days of civil unrest in April, which followed the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white Cincinnati police officer, questions about improve police-community and race relations in the city are often among the first ones posed to council candidates.

Some of the answers, Schlagetter says, are as simple as requiring police to be residents of the city and equipping them with proper technology.

"For years, you�ve been able to rent a car and when you return it, they record all your data on a little handheld unit, give you a receipt and wire it off," Schlagetter said. "The police are filling out 8� by 11 racial profiling data forms. We should be able to do that electronically. If we make it easier, they�ll do it, and that�s more time they can spend on the street. We don�t necessarily need more police."

Schlagetter said Cincinnati�s problem is "not black and white, it�s North and South."

"We have a mentality among some white Cincinnatians that African-Americans are still three-fifths of a person, that their lives are less valuable, that they are somehow less human than we are.

He noted a promotion on radio station WLW 700 AM as proof of this mentality. The station offered a free casket to the 100th black shooting victim. Schlagetter was outraged, and pointed out that the station would not have begun to joke about offering a casket to the "next white teenager that died while driving drunk."

"The fact that anyone thought that it would be okay to do that indicates the real institutionalized racism that we have in this city," Schlagetter said. "There is a belief that permeates some of our white neighborhoods that blacks are somehow "less than" or "other than"--not even American at this point."

Schlagetter is aware that his strong advocacy for the African-American community may alienate some white voters, but he plans to continue engaging in "respectful talk" with voters of all races wherever the campaign trail takes him.

"I don�t think there�s as much malice out there as there is ignorance and fear," Schlagetter said, "fear of something that�s different, fear of change, fear of displacement."

While his staunch support for issues of importance to the African-American community may affect the way some white voters perceive him, Schlagetter�s sexual orientation may be a factor to voters of all races, given that the city has anti-gay discrimination written into its charter. Schlagetter hopes that this will not be the case and asks voters to judge him on the issues, not his personal life.

"I�m a candidate who�s gay, I�m not a gay candidate," he says. "Don�t vote for me because I�m gay, don�t not vote for me because I�m gay. Listen to my ideas. Listen to what I bring to the table."

Schlagetter is not ruling out the prospect of an "October surprise" if his candidacy threatens another candidate heading into the November election.

"If anyone�s going to make my sexual orientation an issue, I wouldn�t expect them to do it until the last weeks of the campaign," he said.

Schlagetter shared his deep belief that the city has changed since voters passed the Issue 3 charter amendment in 1993.

"We�re living in a different world eight years after the voters passed Issue 3," he said. "I think that Cincinnatians simply don�t care about my sexual orientation. They want to hear what I can do for them. I�m a homeowner; I�m going to be celebrating the ten-year anniversary of my relationship in November. I�m a productive, law-abiding citizen, and I care deeply about Cincinnati. I want to earn that $56,000 a year making people�s lives better."

Schlagetter joins six other gay men running for city council seats in Ohio. Dennis Lange is running for an at-large council seat in Toledo, where incumbent Louis Escobar is seeking re-election at large and Scott Robinson seeks a District 4 seat.

James Moore-McDermott is running for an at-large seat in Bucyrus.

In Cleveland, Joe Santiago and Michael "Buck" Harris are running in Wards 14 and 17, respectively. Edward Hudson-Bey has dropped out of the Ward 8 council race.

Ohio�s only other openly-gay elected official, Dayton city commissioner Mary Wiseman, is not seeking re-election.


Cincinnati suburb to consider
gay civil rights measure

by Anthony Glassman

Covington, Ky.�The Rev. Don Smith, a member of the Covington Human Rights Commission, said that the commission will recommend in six months the addition of sexual orientation to the city�s anti-discrimination ordinances.

The move would bring the Cincinnati suburb, just across the Ohio River, into line with Lexington, Louisville, Henderson and Jefferson County, Ky., which all passed gay-inclusive civil rights measures in recent years. Henderson�s "fairness law," passed in 1999, was repealed by a newly-elected city council in 2000.

According to Smith, who is the pastor of the Community of Faith Presbyterian Church, the commission, at his behest, has been studying the issue for almost two years.

"I don�t believe gays and lesbians should have more rights than other people, but I don�t believe they should have fewer rights, either," Smith told the Kentucky Post. "I feel like our community should make a statement about fairness and justice."

According to Rev. Smith, the new ordinance, which has not been drafted yet, should include provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as to prohibit discrimination based on region of origin, protecting people of Appalachian descent, in addition to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.

The measure would also outlaw discrimination in housing and employment for all groups covered in the ordinance, and would impose penalties against transgressors. The commission has not yet begun discussions on the levels of penalties put forward by the proposal, but Smith said that the commission would probably also recommend a mediation program to lessen the need for penalties.

"There ought to be some consequences when the rights of our citizens are violated," Smith said.

The ordinance would also serve a less noble, but no less practical, purpose: it would open Covington up to businesses and conventions that do not want to deal with Cincinnati because of Article 12, the city charter amendment preventing Cincinnati from passing any form of gay civil rights protections.

Article 12, according to Cincinnati�s convention bureau, has cost the city over $6 million since voters passed it in 1993 as "Issue 3" to cancel a gay equal rights ordinance.

Eleven other Ohio cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, now include gays in their equal rights measures.

Covington�s move accompanies efforts in Cincinnati to repeal Article 12, which Mayor Charlie Luken said he would support if the public favored it, as well as a stepped-up effort by the Kentucky Fairness Alliance to inform lawmakers about anti-gay discrimination. The alliance�s efforts have given State Rep. Kathy Stein an optimistic view of the chances for a change to Kentucky�s laws granting protection from discrimination to gay men and lesbians.

"There are countless teenagers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky who are harassed and made fun of daily in our public schools and other schools," Stein said. "That�s just a chief priority. We need to establish a fair and equitable society. We�re not talking about special rights, just equal rights."


Federal judge upholds Florida lesbian-gay adoption ban

 

by Brendan Farrington
Associated Press

Miami�A federal judge upheld Florida�s ban on adoptions by gays August 30, accepting the state�s argument that married heterosexual couples provide a more stable home for children.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King said that two gay men who challenged the law failed to demonstrate that "homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families."

The ruling drew sharp criticism from civil rights groups, who said an appeal is likely. An organization devoted to "traditional family values" praised the decision in the closely watched case.

Mississippi and Utah also ban adoptions by same-sex couples.

But the Florida law is considered the nation�s toughest, prohibiting adoptions by any gay or lesbian individual or couple. It was passed in 1977, the same year former beauty queen Anita Bryant led a crusade to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays.

In the two cases, Steven Lofton and Douglas Houghton challenged the law as discriminatory after being told they could not adopt children in their care.

Lofton, a foster parent, wanted to adopt a ten-year-old boy he has raised since infancy. Houghton is the guardian of a nine-year-old boy.

Lofton is a 41-year-old nurse. He and his partner of 15 years are the foster parents of three children ages 8 to 12. The men have raised the children since birth. Two of the children were born HIV-positive and now have AIDS. The three children still remain wards of the Florida Juvenile Court, which last year allowed the men and the children to move from Miami to Portland, Ore.

The judge acknowledged that the men have developed close bonds with the children--"as close as those between biological parents"--and formed "a deeply loving and interdependent relationship" with the boys.

However, he said, "given there is no fundamental right to adopt or be adopted, there can be no fundamental right to apply for adoption."

Casey Walker, an attorney who represented the state of Florida in the case, said the right to decide whether gay men and lesbians should be allowed to adopt belongs to state lawmakers.

"The law is perfectly constitutional as a legislative policy choice," Walker said.

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said he supports the ruling.

Florida officials have displayed little enthusiasm for the adoption ban. The Department of Children and Families, for example, takes no public position on the measure.

Plaintiffs� lawyer Elizabeth Schwartz called the law "blatantly homophobic."

Lisa Bennett, who tracks gay-related family issues for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C. gay lobby, said numerous studies have shown that adopted children raised by gays are just as likely to become happy and healthy adults as those raised by heterosexuals.

"This was a decision based on prejudice, not facts," she said.

The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition, applauded the ruling, saying, "We cannot risk creating a nation of sexually confused children by experimenting with homosexual adoptions or homosexual marriages."

The state had argued that it is in a child�s best interest to be raised in home with a married mother and father.

The judge noted that state officials consider families with a mother and a father to be important for a child�s well-rounded growth and development. He also said primary consideration is given to couples who have been married a "sufficient length of time."

The judge did discount the state�s argument that the ban is legitimate because it reflects the state�s disapproval of homosexuality. "The court cannot accept that moral disapproval of homosexuals or homosexuality serves a legitimate state interest," he wrote.

Opponents have little hope that the Florida Legislature will revoke the ban.

"The legislature could remedy this the first day they meet in the next session, but given the level of hostility toward gay people by members of our legislature, I frankly don�t expect that," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.


 

Special master will decide if
Maryland will vote on rights

by Anthony Glassman

Annapolis, Md.�An Anne Arundel County judge on August 28 ordered a special court master to review petitions and signatures collected to force a referendum on a gay civil rights law.

Circuit Court Judge Eugene M. Lerner will appoint the court master to check the petitions and signatures for legality and validity and make a recommendation to the court. If the state election officials and the plaintiffs in the case agree on the recommendations, the contentious battle over the petitions will be over.

The fight started July 19, when takebackmaryland.org, a group opposed to a gay-inclusive antidiscrimination law signed by the governor in May, turned in over 56,500 signatures to force a referendum on it. Election officials certified 47,539 of them, about 1,400 more than was required.

Proponents of the law filed suit against the petitions, alleging several irregularities with them. Witnesses, who are suppose to sign completed petitions, had signatures dated earlier than voter signatures, the suit claims; petitions did not contain all the information legally required, and signatures were obtained under false pretenses.

The suit also says that, while the county boards of elections certified their signatures, the state board of elections simply accepted the county numbers without independently verifying the petitions.

Secretary of State John T. Willis held the law, which was slated to take effect October 1, until after the 2002 referendum or the outcome of the court case.

The special master will rule on which petitions and signatures are legally viable. Charles J. Butler, a Washington, D.C. lawyer representing 25 plaintiffs from across the state, and Assistant Attorney General Michael Berman were ordered by the judge to confer and select a special master for Lerner�s approval. If the two sides cannot agree, each will submit a list of candidates to the judge.

According to Butler, there are no limits on who could be selected as a master.

Tres Kerns, the head of the organization behind the petition drive, has repeatedly denied the allegations of wrongdoing. He also says that his group may try to join the suit as an interested party to insure the fairness of the proceedings, since Gov. Parris N. Glendening favors the law and the attorney general�s office is part of the executive branch.


 

News Briefs

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

A half-year later, police speak with bashing victim

Rifle, Colo.�Seven months after the incident, police were set to interview a 17-year-old boy who says he was beaten by four assailants because he is gay.

The interview was to take place the week of September 3, said Calvin Lee, an attorney hired by the boy�s family. Kyle Skyock and his mother so far have declined police requests that he be interviewed without any family members present.

Skyock was found unconscious along U.S. 6 early on February 11. He had a fractured skull, burn blisters, a black eye, three broken ribs and a bruise on his stomach in the shape of a two-by-four.

"From the extensive, brutal injuries that Kyle sustained, the fact that he was left in the road by his assailants to die in the middle of winter and along with the fact that the assailants� motivation was gay-bashing--all this makes for a case that cries out for prosecution," Lee said.

District Attorney Mac Myers said it is standard police procedure for a potential victim to be interviewed outside the presence of family members.

Myers said Skyock�s family has refused to cooperate with police.

He was optimistic that Lee could help the family and police make some progress.

Skyock told police he left the Elks lodge in Rifle, where he works, to party with four boys--two pairs of brothers--on the night of February 10. He said the boys suddenly turned on him as they drove around drinking and smoking marijuana.

Rifle police say that a drunk Skyock left a party at the boys� house at 12:30 a.m. and fell about a half mile into his walk home. The side of the road where Skyock fell is rocky and he could have been hurt by his fall, police said.

The brothers are not suspects, police said.

 

HIV came from chimps

Yaounde, Cameroon�Scientists believe they have pinpointed the start of the AIDS epidemic, finding further evidence that HIV was first introduced into the human population in west-central Africa seventy years ago, from chimpanzees.

Dr. Beatrice Hahn, studying the origins of the disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was given organs from a chimpanzee that died ten years ago, and found close similarities between a virus in the chimp�s organs and HIV-1 in humans.

For the last decade, scientists have gotten conflicting evidence on primates and HIV. Some chimpanzees had been infected with viruses almost identical to HIV-1, while others had viruses distantly related to HIV-1, leading researchers to question whether chimps had spread the disease to humans, or whether both chimps and humans had been infected by a third animal.

This third chimpanzee, coupled with two more infected chimps found in the wild in Cameroon, has convinced much of the medical community.

Researchers, noting that the virus mutates steadily over time, have also looked at the diversity of the virus to estimate that the first transmission in the current epidemic occurred about 1931, with a fifteen-year margin of error.

According to researchers, since people in the area have eaten chimpanzees for centuries, there could have been numerous transmissions to humans that never spread beyond a few people. The late 20th-century urbanization of parts of Africa allowed the virus to take hold and grow into the epidemic first noticed 20 years ago. The earliest human HIV sample dates to 1959, from a man living in Kinshasa, Congo.

 

Gay judge may seek Helms� seat

Charlotte, N.C.�Superior Court Judge Ray Warren, who came out two years ago and then quit the Republican Party, said August 31 he plans to join the race to succeed Sen. Jesse Helms.

Warren, now a Democrat, was elected to a term that runs until the end of 2002. He said he will resign from the bench in about a month. Until then, rules of judicial conduct bar him from officially announcing his candidacy for another office.

The Charlotte resident began his political career in 1985 as a conservative Republican member of the state House of Representatives.

In 1996, he nearly unseated Burley Mitchell as chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Two years later, Warren lost another close race for the state court of appeals.

Soon afterward, Warren came out, making him the first openly gay judge and Republican officeholder in the state�s history.

Warren said he doesn�t think his sexual orientation will be a major issue.

"I would think it would be of some interest to some people, but less in the Democratic primary," he said. "While we are thinking about the November race, our focus right now is on the May primary."

 

Sodomy law is out for whole state

Minneapolis�The Minnesota attorney general�s office will not appeal a district judge�s ruling that every adult in Minnesota is covered by her decision that the state�s sodomy law is unconstitutional.

The deadline to appeal was August 31.

"Because of the non-appeal, it�s over," said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.

Hennepin County District Judge Delila Pierce ruled in May that the state�s ban on oral sex and other intimacy between consenting adults violated privacy rights under the Minnesota Constitution.

Alan Gilbert, chief deputy attorney general, said they consulted with Gov. Jesse Ventura�s office and decided an appeal would be "lacking in merit."

The plaintiffs in the case were a group of gay and straight Minnesotans whose jobs, homes or relationships with their children were threatened by the sodomy law.

In July, Pierce certified her ruling as a class action so there would be no doubt that it applied throughout the state.

However, Jordan Lorence, who said he was acting as attorney for the Minnesota Family Council, said the class-action status will not necessarily keep city and county attorneys from prosecuting sodomy cases.

"I don� t think they�ve knocked the law off the books the way they�ve intended to do," he said.

Minneapolis attorney Timothy Branson, who represented the eight people who challenged the law, agreed that local prosecutors are not barred from bringing sodomy cases. But he said the Hennepin County ruling will give defendants "more than a 90 percent chance" of prevailing.

 

Slain officer�s partner denied pension

Tampa, Fla.�The police pension board denied a slain lesbian officer�s pension benefits to her partner, opting instead to pay $50,000 to the officer�s estate.

The board voted 8-0 on August 28against Mickie Mashburn�s claim to the pension of Lois Marrero. The women had been together for ten years, and both were officers on the Tampa police force.

Marrero was shot July 6 by a fleeing bank robber, setting off a chain of events that has the city re-examining the way it handles the pensions of gay and lesbian officers.

Kevin Durkin, the president-elect of the police union, is said to support in principle allowing officers to select a beneficiary for their pensions, who would receive lifetime benefits following the death of the officer. Currently, lacking a "surviving spouse" under Florida law, the pension plan repays the officer�s contribution to his or her estate.

Marrero�s mother, who was present but did not speak at the meeting, opposed Mashburn�s claim to the funds. Marrero�s family have claimed that the women�s relationship was failing and that Marrero was in love with a woman in Texas.

Mashburn said she would appeal the board�s decision, which she described as a minor setback.

In July, Florida attorney general Bob Butterworth awarded $25,000 from a crime victim�s compensation fund to Mashburn.

 

Virginia GOP gay-baits opponent

Richmond, Va.�The races for governor and lieutenant governor in Virginia have become bitter, with the Republican candidates making accusations that their Democratic opponents are in favor of gay marriage and against the Boy Scouts.

The Republican campaign, using direct mail and radio ads in rural areas, accuses Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Timothy M. Kaine of wanting to kick the Boy Scouts out of Richmond schools, favoring gay-straight alliances in public schools, and promoting gay marriage in Virginia. The latter accusation sparked a Republican motto, "Virginia values, not Vermont values," referring to Vermont�s civil unions for same-sex couples.

Keane, the Richmond mayor, has said that gay couples should have the same property and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples, but has also spoken publicly against changing the state law to allow gay couples to marry or unite in civil unions. Keane also has two children in the Scouts and has said that their ban on gays is "not an issue for the common 10- and 8-year-old," according to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Log Cabin Republicans in Virginia have expressed concern to the state party�s leadership, stressing that the Republican Party must be inclusive if it is to grow.


 

The material show girl

Madonna admits she may not be the best singer, but she does
put on the best performance

by Kaizaad Kotwal

"She is the original size queen!" proclaimed David Frego, who gathered with friends to watch Madonna�s "Drowned World Tour."

It is true. If nothing else, Madonna has never known what it is to live life pint-size. In her world, from punk girl and geisha girl to cowgirl and beyond, the Material Girl has always lived life in its largest dimensions.

Her most recent tour is no exception. Spanning 48 concert dates in over 20 cities across Europe and the United States and a live HBO special, her show is a theatrical extravaganza.

Sold out within hours, the Material Girl�s tour has lived up to her nom de guerre, raking in the big bucks, with ticket prices ranging from $65 to $250 via legitimate ticket outlets, and reportedly between $5,000 and $50,000 from scalpers.

Her August 28 show at the United Center in Chicago drew fans from as far away as Maryland. (The tour has no Ohio performances.) In true diva style the show began almost an hour late, but some of that delay was due to a malfunctioning spotlight. After all, what self-respecting star would go on stage with her visage only half lit? A member of her entourage confided that she was regularly late by about an hour and sometimes even more. The only show that started on time was the concert in Detroit, her birthplace, which was broadcast live on HBO on August 26.

But true fans would wait as long as she would ask them to. Besides, if you�ve plunked down several hundred dollars to get you and your loved ones there, you really don�t have much choice but to wait for the Material Girl to materialize. When she did, she put on a show that had the audience on their feet for almost the entire hour and forty-five minutes that she performed.

Madonna has admitted that she is not the greatest singer in the world, saving critics from the embarrassment of pointing that out. But what she is the best at, bar none, is putting on a performance.

Her concert, like some classical theatrical epic, was divided into four distinct acts, each with its own theme, its own aesthetic and its own style, substance and significance.

In homage to her punk days and her bad girl persona, also as a tribute to her recent marriage to Scotsman Guy Ritchie, she emerged at the start of the show in what can be best described as Mad Max meets Rob Roy.

Adorned in a ragged kilt of gray plaid encrusted with rhinestones, her legs snuggled into bondage-style pants, her feet in black boots and her torso sheathed in a tartan top with a sheer back, she emerged from under the stage on a rising platform, wreathed in clouds of swirling mist. The opening number, "Drowned World," allowed her to showcase her now-mature and well-honed voice.

The first set included "Impressive Instant," "Candy Perfume Girl," and "Beautiful Stranger." She ended her opening act with her popular dance tune "Ray of Light." This set of five numbers harked back to her days as the bad girl of pop and the modern diva of dance as she stomped about the stage and interacted with her dancers dressed in what can be best described as apocalyptic punk with dark garb and black gas masks with lights mounted on the skull. In a sort of parody of Courtney Love, she banged on her guitar, slammed her head around and proclaimed the expletives that are Love�s trademark.

The transition to the second act, her paean to all things geisha, was a long recording of "Paradise Not For Me" in which four dancers, suspended by their ankles from the rafters, emerged from fabric cocoons and did some amazing acrobatics--sort of Cirque de Soliel. This overly long break was to give Madonna enough time to transform into Geisha Girl.

She emerged from the bowels of the stage in a stunning black kimono with red highlights designed by Arianne Phillips and Jean Paul Gaultier. Each sleeve was a gargantuan 26 feet long, spanning almost the entire width of the stage, eventually detaching and being carried across the stage like some revolutionary flags and banners.

This set included "Nobody�s Perfect," "Mer Girl," and "Sky Fits Heaven." One of her best renditions of the evening was given in "Frozen." In this set she also paid tribute to Japanese anime, used on the rear projection and the video screens strewn across the stage. In a segment that could be called "Crouching Diva, Hidden Virgin," Madonna performed a ballet-like dance sequence, heavily influenced by martial arts, suspended and floating via a Peter Pan-style harness system.

Her third, and probably most motionless sequence, except for her riding a mechanical bull, was dedicated to her most recent musical persona--that of urban cowgirl. Dan and Dean Caten designed the look for these six songs, including "Human Nature," "Secret," "You�ll See," and "Don�t Tell Me." Dressed in jeans with stretch suede chaps encrusted in rhinestones and a sequined American flag tank top under a leather shirt, she blended the trashy with the chic, something she pulls off with style and grace.

At the end of this segment she said that she was previewing a new song with the audience. Speaking in an over-the-top southern drawl, she sang about not grieving the killing of her daddy who had made her what she was today. Madonna clarified that the song, although true, was not about her father. It was the show�s most puzzling moment and yet it was quintessentially Madonna. Was she embracing the audience in her humor and humanity or was she slyly telling them to fuck off with a smirk and a wink?

For the final act, Madonna slipped into her Spanish/Ghetto Girl incarnations. Dressed in a gorgeous John Paul Gaultier outfit, her hair pulled back into a bun, she embodied the ancient and the modern all in one. Her costume change was enabled by an instrumental interlude of "Don�t Cry For Me," from her star turn in Evita. It was too bad that she didn�t sing that number, but she more than made up for it with an all-Spanish rendition of her controversial song "What It Feels Like For a Girl" ("Lo Que Siente la Mujer"), one of the highlights of the evening.

Her male dancers adorned in bras and her female dancers in the sleek and sexy aesthetic of drag kings, Madonna brought a freshness for the nostalgia of years past when she shocked and subverted the status quo. In the show�s sexiest and most romantic moment, she tangoed magically with two of her female dancers dressed as men. It was nice to see that marriage and motherhood has not completely sobered up this radically chic maven of modernity.

She followed that up with one of her old dance favorites, "La Isla Bonita," accompanied by a male flamenco dancer who stunningly stomped his way into the audience�s hearts.

The old, dancing and gleeful Madonna was back for the last number, "Holiday," and the encore, "Music."

Overall, the concert was more a theatrical experience than it was musical one. The tour, which carts around over 100 tons of equipment with a traveling crew of over 200 people, makes Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera look like mini-tours by comparison. Eight years after her last tour, fans were ready to see her again and for the most part she delivered with great gusto and gumption.

However, for the kind of money she was charging she could have done a few more numbers, especially from her older oeuvre, and satisfied those craving for Madonna nostalgia.

Also, while the dancers were uniformly good, the show could have used more choreography to keep the energy up and moving. Finally, the show was so tightly scripted that it didn�t allow her to banter more with her fans. It would have been nice to have seen more moments where she allowed herself to ad lib, to go off the beaten path and to truly connect with the audience. It was so tightly scripted that at times it just seemed like it was another day at the office for her, business as usual--punch in, punch out and pick up the paycheck on the way to tuck Lourdes and Rocco into bed.

Nevertheless, Madonna has always thrived by reinventing herself. Here her reinvention seems to be saying, "There�s little bit of the old, here�s quite a bit of the new. If you don�t like what you�re sold, well then fuck you!"

Thibault Schilt, originally from Nancy, France, now living in Columbus, found that the experience was very intense and left him speechless. "I am always wondering what she�s going to do next," said Schilt.

"I have seen all her concerts and it�s been eight years since her last one so I was waiting to see if she was going to be able to meet all my expectations."

For him "she really did. I was mostly impressed with the Japanese tableaux which was flawless." For this fan, "she is the best entertainer in history," something most of her true-blue fans would agree with one million percent.

Sean Gaddis, originally from Columbus and recently back from a year away in Japan, was among the few who wasn�t quite as blown away. He said, "One of the things is that her voice has definitely gotten better, it has matured over the years. However, I wasn�t that impressed with the concert." Gaddis added, "She is now the mother of two and she�s still trying to be an angst-filled youth." He was also turned off by the "faux Texas accent, which was pretty awful." Gaddis agrees with David Frego that she had "put more effort into the costume designs than into her guitar lessons."

Paul Gillilan liked the whole fake Southern bit. "I�m not a huge Madonna fan," he said, "but I came to watch the concert because I like her music." For Gillilan, Madonna "puts on a great concert" and "she�s so in charge of her own world doing exactly what she wants to do. She played exactly what she wanted to even though her fans might have wanted to see her do different stuff."

Doubtless, Madonna will continue to dance to the beat of her own drummer for years to come.

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