Lakewood to have final vote on partner law
by Denny Sampson
Lakewood, Ohio--If all goes as expected, Lakewood City Council will approve domestic partner benefits for city employees, according to a co-sponsor of the ordinance, Councilmember Michael Skindell, D-at large.
"I am confident the ordinance will pass," said Skindell, "Now I am trying to get it passed with as much consensus on council as possible."
If approved, the ordinance will extend spouse-related benefits, such as health care coverage and bereavement leave, to the domestic partners of city employees in this Cleveland suburb.
Originally the legislation covered homosexual couples and heterosexual couples who choose not to marry. However, the ordinance will be amended to cover same-sex couples exclusively, according to Skindell.
"We have heard from a number of people throughout the community that they want this done from a same-sex context," said Skindell. "With the amendment, we should gain the support of one council member."
A Rules and Ordinances Committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 15 to answer questions and concerns about the ordinance from council members and the general public. The meeting is 7 pm at city hall, 12650 Detroit Ave.
"Unless something unforeseen happens, we will take a final vote on Monday, December 20," said the measure�s co-sponsor, Councilmember Nancy Roth, D-4. "It is time for a vote. We have had hearings. We have had interviews and meetings. It is time to do this."
The ordinance was approved on its first reading at a vote of 5 to 2 on February 16, and on the second reading at a vote of 6 to 1 on November 15.
Roth said that, if approved, the ordinance goes into effect on March 1, 2000.
"This will give the human resources departments enough time to make the necessary changes and contacts," said Roth.
Columbus passed a similar ordinance a year ago, but repealed it before it took effect. If approved, Lakewood would become the only city in Ohio to have domestic partnership legislation.
Council to vote on Dayton civil rights ordinance
Dayton--The city�s non-discrimination ordinance will soon include sexual orientation if openly lesbian commissioner Mary Wiseman has her wish.
Wiseman has prepared an amendment to the current ordinance to add sexual orientation and source of income. Her measure is scheduled for first reading December 15, and to be voted on for passage or rejection December 22. Wiseman said she has met with the other four city commissioners and they have copies of the amendment.
Wiseman publicly announced her plans December 4 at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Metropolitan Community Church Dayton Parish. On hand to cheer the announcement was national MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry of West Hollywood, Calif.
"Much of the opposition to this amendment is coming from the far right faith-based community, so it was very powerful to hear a person of the cloth come out supportive," said Wiseman of Perry.
Wiseman said Dayton�s current non-discrimination ordinance has not been amended since 1979, and needs to be updated.
Wiseman says the amendment language is inclusive of transgender and gender identity. Additionally, it corrects inconsistencies in the ordinance created by a previous amendment and protects people on the basis of source of income.
"It is still a problem in Dayton that landlords advertise �Section 8 need not apply�," said Wiseman. "Often, it is not a case of insufficient income, but simply where that income came from."
Many people with HIV and AIDS receive public housing assistance and would benefit from a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of income source.
Wiseman is "hopeful" of the passage of her amendment, which is known commonly as the "equal rights, not special rights amendment," but says two of the five commissioners are resistant.
One is Mayor Mike Turner, the only Republican on the commission, whose core support, according to Wiseman, comes from the extreme right wing religious community. In Dayton, the mayor has no veto power over legislation.
The other opposing commissioner is Idotha "Bootsie" Neal.
Opposition in the community is coming only from Christian conservatives.
"In October and November, we saw a spike in calls to the commission. We learned that right wing religious leaders, most of them in the suburbs, had encouraged congregations to flood us with calls," said Wiseman.
Wiseman added that talk radio hosts were urging people to call the commission during drive time, too.
"Most of these calls were full of misinformation," said Wiseman. "It was their usual stuff, plus some that was pretty creative, including that my amendment would legalize same-sex marriages and churches would be subject to lawsuits if they didn�t perform them."
"Most people who got the correct information became supportive," said Wiseman.
"I met with one of the pastors that was a source of the misinformation, too," she said. "I want people to know that I will step up and go to the source of the misinformation."
Wiseman said support from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community has been great.
"People are constantly asking what they can do to help. I tell them: Live your lives. Be out and be proud," she said.
"This vote is not going to be decided by who makes the most calls or sends the most faxes," said Wiseman. "It will be determined by the commissioners core values and how those values go into making public policy. The most just cause will win."
Part two of a three-part series
In the period of time between 1986 and 1995, medical research failed to produce an effective treatment for AIDS. The antiviral drug AZT was prescribed as the treatment of choice for AIDS patients, although in the long run its toxic effects usually outweighed its benefits. Since doctors were powerless to cure AIDS, the GLBT community fought to regain its own power through an unprecedented period of political activism.
Activism in a time of crisis, 1986-95
By the end of 1995, 332,249 Americans had died of AIDS, including several celebrities: Liberace, Amanda Blake, Michael Bennett, Arthur Ashe, Robert Reed, Rudolf Nuryev, Halston, Randy Shilts, and Paul Monette.
As more of its heroes revealed that they had AIDS, the American public were forced to reassess their perceptions of incurable illness. For example, in 1991 basketball player Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive. Since he was neither gay nor an IV-drug user, he had apparently become infected during sex with a woman.
"Nearly an hour before the news conference aired on the East Coast, the lights on the switchboard began to dance. The callers were mostly men, most of them heterosexual, all eager--and some desperate--to know when they could be tested for the virus that can end in AIDS," wrote Anne Reifenberg in the Dallas Morning News.
In spite of the public�s improved understanding of AIDS, homophobia thrived. Shortly after announcing that he had AIDS, Johnson incited wild applause on the Arsenio Hall Show when he said, "I�m nowhere near homosexual."
Special challenges for gay PWAs
While all people with AIDS, or PWAs, faced a devastating illness, gay PWAs had an additional set of problems. Gays were often forced to face discrimination and rejection from their own families. Consequently, gay PWAs were forced to cope with loneliness and social isolation, in addition to a life-threatening illness.
Jackie Figler, executive director of Violets Cupboard in Akron, tells the story of her first client in 1987:
"He was a young man, and his parents said he should die on the streets because he was gay. He had no way to buy his medication. He had to put his dog in a kennel. He was living in his car and he had no money. I tried to find help for him, but at that time there was no place for him to go. Finally, a gay activist in the area found him a room above a bar. It certainly wasn�t an ideal situation, but it was better than nothing."
In response to the AIDS crisis, the gay and lesbian community pulled together in a number of ways. They organized community-based support networks, sponsored grassroots fundraising events, lobbied Washington for federal funding, fought for faster drug development, and developed programs to raise AIDS awareness. Across the country, programs to provide services directly to PWAs were established, and Ohio was no exception.
One of the earliest direct service programs in Cleveland for PWAs was the Free Clinic Early Prevention Program, which began offering anonymous AIDS testing in 1987.
"The Free Clinic filled that role at a time when here weren�t a lot of options out there for gay men," said executive director Marty Hiller.
Caracole, Inc. is a direct service agency in Cincinnati that has provided housing for PWAs since 1988.
"The gay community came forward, raised money and organized a number of direct care agencies," said Caracole executive director Sue Butler. "One of the good things about that was that the delivery systems were set up by people who weren�t used to the bureaucracy. The agencies were set up to work, not the way they had always been done. They didn�t know you �couldn�t do it that way�."
Mourning and the AIDS Quilt
Since so many gay men had died of AIDS, especially in large metropolitan communities, many survivors found themselves in a state of perpetual mourning. Mardi Fritz, a psychotherapist in New York, said, "By the time you close the circle of grief for one person, four others--or ten others--have died."
Richard Starn, a volunteer at David�s House in Toledo said, "I first realized AIDS was affecting me greatly was when my two best friends got AIDS. It was hard to watch them die. After they passed away, I dropped out of the scene for three years. I couldn�t watch people die any more."
The AIDS quilt began in 1987 to fill the need to honor those who had died during the epidemic. Sponsored by the Names Project Foundation in San Francisco, the quilt allowed friends and family to express their grief by creating a commemorative three-by-six-foot panel using personal artifacts, pieces of clothing, and mementos for a person who has died of AIDS. The quilt is now the size of several football fields, and serves as a reminder that there are people behind the numbers.
Political activism with a bite
The AIDS crisis brought about a new era in gay activism. Frustrated with traditional lobbying, gay and lesbian activists formed new organizations dedicated to direct political action. They began staging more radical demonstrations, and often ended up on the front page of the newspapers.
One such organization, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was founded in 1987. ACT UP used nonviolent political action and civil disobedience to apply political pressure in order to speed up drug development, allow patients access to experimental drugs, and promote prevention strategies.
"Whether it�s 1,500 people besieging the FDA campus in Maryland with smoke bombs or eleven people handcuffing themselves to the New York office of a Japanese Pharmaceutical firm, ACT UP gets results," wrote David Handleman in Rolling Stone.
"AIDS came late to Cleveland, compared to New York City. It didn�t really hit us until 1989, and Cleveland took a long time to take any action," said Bob Bucklew, health outreach coordinator for the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center. "In 1994 and 1995, some major changes happened. The mayor showed up at an AIDS walk and he was booed. ACT UP marched on City Hall. The first time Cleveland did anything about AIDS was in 1995 when the first AIDS coordinator was hired." Bucklew was the city�s second AIDS coordinator, from 1996 to April, 1999.
At the national level, the march on Washington in 1987 marked a new milestone in gay history as hundreds of thousands of lesbians, gays and their supporters marched on Washington, D.C. demanding a federal war on AIDS and an end to homophobic discrimination.
"We vow to spend our dollars, our votes, and our nights in jail to make the violence and the injustice that stalk our lives vivid to our nation," said Virginia Apuzzo, former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
During the Bush administration, federal spending on AIDS increased significantly. However, George Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, ignored the epidemic for the most part.
The Clinton presidency brought a more sympathetic response to AIDS issues. Bill Clinton created a White House Office of National AIDS Policy and a special panel to speed up the development of new drugs. However, critics argued that, even during the Clinton administration, federal funding for AIDS service organizations was inadequate. A Project Inform publication from 1994 stated, "At best, AIDS has provided an occasional photo-opportunity for a few people to pose with the president."
In 1996, protease inhibitors were approved for use in the United States. This new class of drugs promised to markedly prolong the lives of those with HIV, and they dramatically changed the face of AIDS.
Next week: Life with the cocktail.
Cleveland�The operator of an unlicensed low-power radio station is awaiting the outcome of a trial that could result in silencing the station, or permission to stay on the air.
Jerry Szoka, who has broadcast Grid Radio from his downtown gay nightclub of the same name since 1995, appeared December 3 in federal court seeking to keep his station on the air.
Szoka�s station airs music from the Grid�s dance floor, plus other programming targeted to the gay community, on 96.9 FM.
Under federal law, the Federal Communications Commission may confiscate equipment used for unlicensed radio broadcasts, and can charge fines up to $75,000, depending on the circumstances. The FCC can also impose a jail sentence for "willfully and knowingly" operating a radio station without a license.
Szoka said that he has tried to operate Grid Radio legally, but the FCC will not license low-power "micro" broadcasters. The agency has shut down hundreds of unlicensed micro radio stations and confiscated their equipment over the past few years, including four others in Cleveland.
Szoka said buying an existing station was out of the question.
"A [commercial] radio station costs $46 million on the average. Even a millionaire couldn�t buy one. You would need a group of millionaires," said Szoka.
FCC regulations require a minimum power of 1,000 watts to get an FM broadcasting license. Grid Radio operates on 50 watts. (Commercial FM broadcasters typically use thousands of watts.) The station can be heard in a radius of just over 10 miles, covering most of Cleveland, but fading in the suburbs.
The FCC sent Szoka two letters in February and June 1997, warning him of the possible penalties for unlicensed radio broadcasts, and that he could be fined $11,000.
Szoka responded to the agency, asking that they allow him to remain on the air until regulations to license micro broadcasters could be enacted.
The FCC is presently considering new rules to allow such stations, but Szoka said that commercial broadcasters are strongly opposing the move.
The agency denied Szoka�s request in June, 1998. They then filed a lawsuit, seeking an injunction to take Grid Radio off the air. That case was heard December 3.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion to intervene in the case, hoping to represent a local group, the Citizens United to Save Grid Radio, as well as other individuals and organizations who want the station to continue operating.
However, U.S. District Judge Kathleen O�Malley, who is presiding over the case, denied that motion.
"The lawyers for the FCC argued that I never tried to apply for a waiver" to broadcast until the new rules are enacted, said Szoka. "But their web site says that they are taking no applications for waivers. The judge got them to admit that they had only issued two waivers to micro radio stations, and none in the last five years."
Szoka stressed that his station does not interfere with any other radio services, including aircraft navigation. He said the FCC, at the December 3 trial, acknowledged that they have received no complaints of interference from the station.
Mark Wallach, Szoka�s attorney, said that judges have ruled against other stations in many similar cases, but this one may be different.
"We think we have an unusually strong defense, because of the First Amendment issues here," he said.
"When I was on the stand, I said that Grid Radio is one of a very few media events available for the gay community. said Brooke Willis, a member of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Trans Pride festival committee, and a witness for Grid Radio. "The station is especially important to people who are too closeted to pick up a copy of the Gay People�s Chronicle or to go to a gay meeting."
Cleveland Pride festival coordinator Brynna Fish said, "I testified that if we lost Grid Radio, our community would lose the opportunity to educate the listeners, especially the straight folks. The listeners have a First Amendment right to get that information. Also, as a representative of Pride, I told them we would lose an opportunity to promote our events."
"The lawyers for the prosecution didn�t even ask me any questions," said Willis. "Their point was that our testimony was irrelevant because Jerry was operating without a license."
Szoka said, "The judge is going to make me a test case. I am on pins and needles, but she didn�t tell me to turn the station off. My attorneys said we could have her decision in anywhere between a couple of weeks to months."
Wallach said O�Malley could rule in several ways, including to shut down the station, deny the government�s injunction and allow it to remain on the air, or stay the injunction until the FCC has completed rulemaking for micro stations.
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