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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 20, 2002

Feeling the holiday spirit, George Oberdorf puts food in a donation box in Body Language to help out the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland�s food pantry.
Photo: Anthony Glassman

 

Brightly-wrapped boxes help fill pantry for the holidays

Cleveland--One of the city�s most important holiday traditions continues this year, with brightly-wrapped boxes being seen all over town.

These are not, however, presents for the bars and stores where they appear. They are receptacles for the goodwill of the patrons of the establishments, collection boxes for Jon Brittain�s annual food drive to benefit the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland�s food pantry.

�I have been doing this for about 15 years,� Brittain said. �We have been able to collect up to about $10,000 worth of food, money and toiletries. That was at its biggest years.�

According to Brittain, donations are now less than half of their peak, despite the fact that the number of food bank clients has tripled.

�I started the trophy for the retail businesses two years ago, to help stimulate interest,� he said of the prize given to the company that turns in the most donations. The Tool Shed has taken the trophy home both years, with donations of over $1,600 in food, supplies and money. Flex, a downtown bathhouse, came in a close second with around $1,500.

�This year I am starting a second trophy for clubs, groups and organizations,� he noted.

The boxes, which Brittain delivers starting Thanksgiving weekend, stay out until just after the New Year, although he says that if they get full, he picks up the old one and replaces it with an empty receptacle.

In addition to Flex and the Tool Shed, which will hold a special event on Dec. 27 to draw more donations, boxes are also located at Deco, the Leather Stallion, Union Station, Longevity, the Nickel, MJ�s Place, Rockies, Body Work Productions, Body Language, the Hawk, the Grid, Muggs, Diverse Universe, Club Cleveland and Lakeland Community College�s Gay-Straight Alliance.


 

Hudson not named to Columbus council

Columbus--An openly lesbian community leader will not become the newest member of Columbus City Council.

Attorney Mary Jo Hudson, 39, was passed over in favor of another attorney, Patsy A. Thomas, 42, to fill the seat of Jennette Bradley, who will become lieutenant governor in January.

Hudson and Thomas were among the five finalists from a field of 17 applicants screened by council members December 13. Both are Democrats.

Hudson is employed at the large law firm Arter and Hadden and is an advisor to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. She is his appointed representative to the city�s Community Relations Commission. Thomas is an assistant city attorney and supervising attorney of the office�s environment division.

Council President Matt Habash cited Thomas�s work in that office as the reason why she was chosen.

�Patsy Thomas is at the forefront of cleaning up blighted neighborhoods and shutting down crack houses,� Habash said in a written statement released late December 17.

Hudson has served the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in many capacities, including efforts to defeat several Defense of Marriage Acts in the state legislature. She is an organizer of the Human Rights Campaign, is involved with the new statewide group Ohioans for Growth and Equality, and worked on a 1998 attempt to pass domestic partner benefits for Columbus city employees.

Thomas will stand for election in November, 2003.

Hudson could not be reached for comment for this report.

Presently Ohio has four openly gay or lesbian elected officials. These include city council members Louis Escobar of Toledo, Gene Hagedorn of Oregon, a Toledo suburb, and Skeeter Hunt of Bloomdale, north of Findlay.

Kenneth Fallows, mayor of Haskins, south of Toledo, is most likely Ohio�s first openly gay elected official. He is entering his 16th year in that office.

Columbus city council will likely face a vote on a bill to give health benefits to all members of households of city employees, including same-sex partners, during Thomas� tenure.

 


 

 

New York becomes 13th state with
lesbian-gay bias law

Albany, N.Y.--New York became the 13th state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation on December 17, thirty-one years after the bill was first introduced.

The State Senate voted 34-26 at 3:30 pm to send the measure to Gov. George Pataki, who signed it three hours later. The state Assembly had approved the measure in January, as it has every session since 1993. The law will go into effect thirty days from signing, on January 16.

Pataki had received an endorsement for re-election from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the largest gay and lesbian group in the state, after the Republican state Senate leadership said in October they would take up the bias bill.

The measure will protect people from abuse, harassment and discrimination in employment, housing, education and public services based on their sexual orientation.

�This lays the foundation for winning full equality under the law in areas such as taxation, protections for gay youth and transgender people and recognition of our families,� said Matt Foreman, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

A proposed amendment to add protections for transgender people failed 19-41. Had it passed, the amendment would have killed the bill for another year, since the Senate had returned for a special session to consider it, but the Assembly was not meeting. The Senate had to approve the same version of the bill that the Assembly had passed.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno voted for the bill, as did 12 other Republican senators. Bruno�s opposition has held the measure up numerous times in the past, keeping it in committee and not allowing it to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Twenty-one Democrats also voted yes.

�The time has come to move on in our lives put this behind us,� Bruno said before the vote. �People can live their lives the way they see fit.�

Cheers and applause from bill advocates sitting in the Senate gallery greeted the announcement of the final vote total.

Usually, bills that make it onto the floor are predestined to pass in the Senate, where Republicans dominate 37-24 and the GOP controls the flow of legislation. The fate of this one, however, remained unclear until the voting began.

The bill�s opponents included both religious organizations and transgender people, who argued that they should be included in the measure.

�I think it would be an absolute and utter tragedy if this passes� without protecting transgender rights, said Charles King, co-president of Housing Works.

New York City resident Melissa Sklarz accused Empire State Pride Agenda of abandoning transgender people. �They have closed the door on us time and time again,� she said.

Many transgender people preferred that the bill be voted down without the gender identity amendment proposed by Sen. Thomas Duane, the chamber�s only openly gay member.

�We are fighting among ourselves,� said the Manhattan Democrat. �I promise the transgender community I�m not going to forget. The battle for that begins right away.�

Joe Tarver, communications director for the Empire State Pride Agenda, insisted that transgender people were not being left behind, and that a two-pronged strategy to ensure civil rights protections for them was already underway.

�Two lawsuits are testing the category �sex� in the civil rights laws to see if it covers transgendered people,� Tarver said, noting that his organization is working with the state attorney general�s office on the matter. He also pointed to Ren�e Richards� lawsuit to play as a woman in the U.S. Open tennis tournament, a case which established that post-operative transsexuals were indeed covered under existing civil rights protections in New York.

The second effort underway is to mobilize a broad coalition of civil rights organizations in the state to modernize the civil rights commission and update the wording of the current civil rights laws to better protect all groups.

�We intend, if there�s a determination made that transgenders are not covered under current law, to make sure that they are added to the civil rights laws,� Tarver insisted.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now have anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation. These include all of New England except Maine, plus New Jersey, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, California and Hawaii.

A third of the U.S. population is covered by these state laws. Adding roughly 140 city and county measures that include sexual orientation brings the number closer to half the nation�s people: 43.69%.

 


Court removes possible 2nd-parent ban from ruling

Columbus--The Ohio Supreme Court modified a ruling on shared custody December 13 to remove language that could have prevented second-parent adoptions.

The original August 28 ruling gave juvenile courts the ability to grant shared custody agreements for same-sex parents. It was not intended to be a ruling on second-parent adoption, a subject the court has never addressed.

That 5-2 decision was considered a victory for Teri Bonfield and Shelly Zachritz of Cincinnati and their six children.

The couple attempted to file a shared parenting plan with the Hamilton County Juvenile Court in 1999 following the birth of their sixth child.

The court rejected the plan, saying parents can only be natural or adoptive. The First Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed, adding that the state legislature has limited the definition of �parent� so as not to include unmarried partners.

In doing so, the lower courts denied Zachritz any legal right to make decisions about the children�s daily lives, or do simple things like pick them up at school or ask a doctor about health matters.

The couple did not ask the court for a joint or second-parent adoption, because Ohio law does not currently allow them for same-sex couples. In a second-parent adoption, one partner can acquire parental rights without the other relinquishing theirs.

The same-sex prohibition is based on a 1998 decision by the Summit County Court of Appeals known as In re Adoption of Jane Doe, which denied a petition for a second same-sex parent adoption.

That year, the Ohio Supreme Court declined 4-3 to accept the Doe case for review.

But according to the rules of the court, by letting the Summit County decision stand it did not shut the door to deciding the matter in a later case.

However, in writing for the majority in August, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer noted that �because second parent adoption is not available in Ohio, Shelly [Zachritz] cannot adopt the children.�

This prompted Cincinnati attorney Sallee Fry Waterman, who represented the couple, to ask the court to remove the comment from the ruling.

Waterman also explained to the court that half of the states allow second parent adoptions under their current adoption laws.

The court agreed and granted the motion, replacing its original decision with the amended one. In doing so, Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who previously dissented, joined Moyer and justices Andrew Douglas, Alice Robie Resnick, Francis Sweeney, and Paul Pfeifer in the majority.

Justice Deborah Cook continued her dissent.

In the original Supreme Court case, Bonfield and Zachritz were opposed by a group of �friends of the court� which included Christian conservative organizations and eight anti-gay Republican members of the Ohio legislature. Anti-gay attorney and Ohio �defense of marriage act� author David Langdon of Cincinnati wrote their briefs and was allowed to argue in opposition to Waterman by special permission of the court.

Langdon also filed a brief in opposition to Waterman�s motion to amend the decision on November 1.

Waterman said she felt the court �must have misunderstood part of the case or just made an oversight� by including the second parent adoption language.

She said the amended decision helps LGBT families further because no one can use the removed language to prevent them from getting future court approval for second parent adoption.

 


Bar owner, raided for prostitution, claims gay bias

Cleveland--An Ohio City neighborhood tavern owner says neighbors and law enforcement are targeting him because he�s gay.

Marshall McCarron�s Tavern was raided and boarded up June 10 after Cleveland police and Cuyahoga County sheriff�s deputies investigated charges of male prostitution, pornography and drugs.

The restaurant and bar on the corner of John and Randall Aves is still boarded up, as is owner Lyn Ernsberger�s home next door.

Ernsberger, 61, faces a total of ten charges of compelling prostitution, one of theft, three for drugs, and one of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Three other men have also been charged, including a Catholic priest indicted December 4.

Ernsberger�s attorney, John Paris of Cleveland, said, �The way it�s being portrayed, there may be something to [Ernsberger�s claims.]�

�It�s being blown out of proportion,� said Paris, �People are trying to make this seem like a child pornography ring.�

Paris called Ernsberger �a nice guy who opened his door to people who were otherwise homeless.�

�He took in a guy, his buddy, and his buddy�s girlfriend,� said Paris, �and we have evidence to suggest he thought the guy was 18.�

�They are using the gay card against him,� said Paris, �I don�t know that any of this would have come up if the youths were girls.�

Lieutenant Doug Burkhart, who heads the Cuyahoga County Sheriff�s sex crimes unit, said the bar�s name turned up in a spring 2001 investigation of sexual misconduct at the Parmadale Family Services youth home, run by Catholic Charities in suburban Parma.

Though none of the boys in the Parmadale investigation were ever involved with men at McCarron�s, they told detectives what they had heard about it.

�The boys knew that they could find a place to stay or money for sex at a West Side bar� that was unnamed, said Burkhart. �We thought it was a gay bar, but it turned out to be Marshall McCarron�s.�

Burkhart said that his department then learned that word was out among runaways at Edgewater Park, an area known for gay cruising, and on the internet that McCarron�s was a place for boys to go to get what they needed to survive on the streets.

The undercover investigations that followed at the bar netted indictments of four patrons for compelling prostitution. One of the men is Rev. Daniel McBride, 76, a priest at St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Northfield Township.

McBride, who is described by Burkhart as a �regular patron� of McCarron�s, is accused of taking a boy he picked up at the bar to Chautauqua, N.Y., and paying him for sex.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor has been widely investigating Catholic priests for sexual misconduct. McBride is their only indictment in that case.

According to Burkhart, it was the indictment of McBride that has brought attention back to the bar, even though it was raided six months ago by his officers, Cleveland police, and the Ohio Bureau of Liquor Control and closed as a public nuisance.

Paris and Burkhart both said that one of the charges on the public nuisance order was an ongoing pattern of sales of alcohol to minors. However, Paris noted that Ernsberger was never before cited for underage sales.

Burkhart said one of the two boys believed to be living with Ernsberger in the rented home next to the bar was there during the raid. That youth, age 16, was also wanted by juvenile authorities. Neither of the boys was from Parmadale.

According to Burkhart, most patrons of the bar would never suspect the activity that neighbors were increasingly complaining about.

�If you stopped in after work for a burger and a beer, you would never know,� said Burkhart. �It was very late and after hours that the johns met at the bar to discuss the boys.�

Neighbors complained of late night comings and goings of teenage boys, sex acts on the patio, boys urinating out of second-story windows, drugs and trash.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor filed a corrupt activities lien on the property December 5, and is attempting to seize it.

Ernsberger, who is out on bond, has agreed to sell the property, and has obtained access to it for the purpose of selling it.

Paris said that Ernsberger is not responsible for the activities of his patrons or guests, and he was not running a prostitution ring.

Paris said that in order for prosecutors to convict his client, the jury will have to believe the testimony of the two boys living in the house.

�It comes down to the credibility of two kids,� said Paris, �Two young kids with sordid pasts and history of drug use.�

Tom Harlor, who lives next door to the tavern and is also in the restaurant business, said Ernsberger�s neglect of the property was what got him into trouble.

�I think the [prostitution and drug] charges are a bit trumped up,� said Harlor. �If he had run a decent business, he could have gotten away with whatever was going on. Instead, he drew attention to himself by being a goofball operator.�

�The building was condemned,� said Harlor, �but it was for nickel-and-dime stuff, and I think some of this was added to bring him down and put him out of business for good.�

Noting that the neighborhood was quieter during the summer since the tavern was boarded up, Harlor added, �Lyn blames the neighbors for his problems, but I never called the cops. It wasn�t until he wanted the zoning variance that I spoke up, and then it didn�t matter because he opened the patio anyway.�

Neighbors organized against Ernsberger when he attempted to get a zoning variance in 2001 to serve alcohol on the patio.

Ernsberger�s trial is scheduled for January 27 before Judge Peggy F. Jones. Burkhart said they expect a fifth bar-related indictment soon.

 

 


Rainbow band helps light up Hoffner for the holiday

CincinatiRoughly a hundred Northside residents braved the chilly temperature on Sunday, December 8 to participate in a holiday lighting ceremony at Hoffner Park.

The park is located on Hamilton Ave. between two Cincinnati gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender� community institutions, Crazy Ladies Bookstore and Women�s Resource Center and the Gay and Lesbian Center. It took on a festive feel as neighbors gathered to wish each other happy holidays, enjoy hot spiced cider and cookies, and show off their dogs, many decked out in holiday-themed sweaters. Two dachshunds loudly alerted the crowd to the strange man with the funny outfit and beard, as Santa Claus entered the park to give presents to the children there.

�Northside is known for its diversity, both in people and dogs,� said new resident Darryl Foster, �which is why I chose to live here. This event is a great way to bring people together before the holiday gets too hectic.�

Performing at the event was the gay and lesbian Queen City Rainbow Band and Flag Corps. The group made their Cincinnati debut at the same park during the 2002 Pride festivities. Their program mixed holiday classics with several well�known GLBT community anthems.

When the band and flag corps began to perform �We Are Family,� one spectator commented with a smile, �Only in Northside.�

Rainbow Band clarinetist Cathy Fletcher helped organize the event, with support from the Northside Business Association and the neighborhood Community Council. �Family-owned� establishments Bullfishes and Jacob�s on the Avenue were among the businesses that supported the effort.

A representative of the business association assured the environmentally-conscious crowd that �no evergreens were injured in the creation of this display� when it came time to flip the switch on the lights. After a few miscues, the lights finally came on, bathing the park in a warm glow.

�It�s nice to live in a community that welcomes a gay and lesbian marching band to perform at the holiday tree-lighting ceremony,� said Crystal Alexander, sipping hot cider. �It�s a good feeling.���������

 


Cincinnati neighbor considers lesbian-gay civil rights ordinance

Covington, Ky.--Next month the Covington Human Rights Commission will consider a proposal to expand anti-discrimination protection against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

�The passage of this kind of ordinance sends a clear message to everybody that Covington is a friendly place for business [and] a friendly place for conventions,� said the Rev. Don Smith, commission chairman.

Covington Mayor Butch Callery has said he will call for a public hearing before voting on the proposed changes.

Covington is directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, whose Article XII city charter amendment bans the city from passing any anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation. The measure, passed by voters in 1993 as Issue 3, has cost the city an estimated $64 million in convention business that went elsewhere in protest of the ban on civil rights ordinances. No estimates have been released on the number of businesses and individuals that have relocated to northern Kentucky.

The timing of Covington proposal was intended to keep gay civil rights controversies seen in other towns from affecting elections, supporters say.

Last year, in the western Kentucky town of Henderson, city council voted 3-2 to repeal a year-old ordinance protecting gays and lesbians. The vote came after a supporter of Henderson�s fairness ordinance opted not to seek re-election, and a gay civil rights opponent filled his seat.

To avoid a repeat of the Henderson situation, members of the Covington Human Rights Commission opted to wait until after the recent city elections before proposing legislation that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace and community.

The commission decided the city�s human rights ordinance needed to be broadened after receiving two complaints since the commission was formed in July 1998.

Although Covington�s human rights law outlines a process whereby the city manager can resolve complaints without taking them before the commission, Covington City Manager Greg Jarvis said the two complaints he presented to the commission are the only two he recalls receiving.

Smith said members of the human rights commission were concerned that the lack of complaints meant there were too few protected categories, so they sought to broaden the ordinance.

�A lot of people think there�s no reason to complain, because they�re not even covered� under Covington�s human rights ordinance, said Covington resident Charles D. King, a commission member. King, who�s also a member of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance�s steering committee, said he has gotten five phone calls in the past year from gay people who have had their houses vandalized or who have suffered from �in-your-face-name calling,� but have nowhere to turn for help.

Covington�s current human rights ordinance also carries no penalties, so there�s no incentive for offenders to correct an unfair situation, said John C.K. Fisher, local field office supervisor for the Kentucky Human Rights Commission.

Should Covington officials decide to add anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, they would join Lexington and Fayette County and Louisville and Jefferson County, where similar provisions were added to their human rights ordinances within the past four years.

--Associated Press

 


 

Court dismisses religious freedom suit against rights law

Louisville, Ky.--Ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in Louisville and Jefferson County will be in place next month when the two governments merge following a December 13 federal appeals court ruling.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a Louisville gynecologist�s lawsuit that challenged the ordinances.

The court�s decision did not address the particulars of the ordinances but said that the gynecologist, Dr. J. Barrett Hyman, did not have standing to file the lawsuit.

Hyman contended, in part, that his religious beliefs were in conflict with the ordinances so much that he could not comply with them--including the hiring of a gay or lesbian employee--and that he thus risked prosecution based on his faith, which is protected by the First Amendment.

Hyman didn�t have standing when he filed the lawsuit in September 1999 because he didn�t have �an immediate or projected need� to hire an employee, according to the seven-page opinion written by Judge Alice M. Batchelder.

The opinion also said that �because his views were known in the community, he did not have any real expectation that he would have any homosexual applicants for employment in the future.�

Because he could not show that he was being harmed or had a sizable chance of being harmed, the judges said Hyman didn�t have standing.

The ruling vacated an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson III, which said the ordinances did not violate Hyman�s rights. The lawsuit was filed against the city and the county.

The Fairness Campaign, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed to become involved in the case in support of the ordinances.

Leslie Cooper, a lawyer for the ACLU, said she would �be surprised� if the Supreme Court agreed to hear Hyman�s case.������ |

Hyman�s case �was always about trying to strike down a law with which the plaintiff didn�t agree and a law that protects the civil rights of lesbians and gay men,� Cooper said.

Dan Farrell, a former Fairness Campaign board member, said the decision is a victory even though the appeals court judges didn�t address the merits of the ordinances.

--Associated Press


Bush signs order allowing �faith-based� discrimination

Washington, D.C.--President Bush is enacting by executive fiat key pieces of his divisive �faith-based� initiative, including one that lets federal contractors use religious favoritism in their hiring.

Hoping to involve churches and religious organizations more deeply in government efforts to address social ills, Bush on December 12 signed an executive order aimed at giving those groups a leg up in the competition for federal money, administration officials said.

The order would also allow organizations working with HIV and AIDS to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

�The Bush administration is giving away special privileges to bigoted institutions,� said Chad Johnson, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, the largest organization of LGBT Democrats. �This rule opens the door for federally-funded charities to cloak anti-gay prejudice in the form of religious discrimination.�

The president began pushing the issue on Capitol Hill in his second week in office but ran into a fierce debate over how religious groups could get government money without running afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.

He was successful in the House but the Senate wouldn�t even give him a watered-down version that mainly increased tax breaks for charitable giving.

By far the most contentious of the changes is Bush�s executive order informing federal agencies that religious organizations refusing to hire people of any faith can still win contracts. The exemption for religious organizations would also allow them to deny employment to LGBT people on the basis of �religious conviction.�

Additionally, new regulations being unveiled from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Housing and Urban Development also preserve the right of religious groups providing certain government-financed services to hire based on religion.

The hiring issue was one of the central disputes as lawmakers considered Bush�s proposals before. Civil rights law bars discrimination on the basis of religion, but constitutional problems arise when government money is involved.

Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said religious groups would be allowed to discriminate in hiring while other groups could not.

�It�s not equal treatment,� he said. �It�s special treatment for religious groups . . . In essence, the government is going to be funding religious discrimination.�


Go to Discussion Forum Top of Page

 

News Briefs

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

School council goes against board, votes to keep GSA

Cannonsburg, Ky.--The Boyd County High School�s decision-making council rejected a county school board recommendation to suspend all non-curricular clubs to keep a gay-straight alliance from meeting at the school.

The county school board voted on Dec. 16 to recommend suspending all extracurricular clubs as a way to end the controversy over the GSA. The board�s recommendation would have nixed clubs including the pep club, the human rights club, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes through the end of the school year.

The on-site council, however, voted the next day to allow extracurricular clubs to continue to meet.

The gay-straight alliance formed in October, and the council was faced with immediate controversy. It twice voted against allowing the group to meet at the school, until it received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union noting that it was violating federal equal access laws. The council then voted to allow the group to meet, instead of suspending all extracurricular groups.

Superintendent Bill Capehart, to whom some parents had gone to protest the formation of the club, refused to selectively ban the GSA, but recommended to the school board the suspension of all clubs as a way to end the controversy.

The school board can still attempt to override the council�s decision and suspend all groups.

Cannonsburg is about ten miles south of the Ohio River near the West Virginia border.

Three plead innocent in Araujo murder

Fremont, Calif.--Three men pleaded innocent December 13 to killing a 17-year-old after finding out the young women they knew as Lida was biologically male.

Police say Gwen Araujo was killed Oct. 3 during a party held at suspect Jose Merel�s house in Newark, a San Jose suburb. In mid-October, another suspect, Jaron Nabors, 19, led police to Araujo�s body, buried in a shallow grave 150 miles east of San Francisco in the Sierra foothills, according to police reports.

Nabors pleaded innocent in early November. The three remaining suspects, Merel, 23, Michael William Magidson, 22, and Jason Cazares, also 22, pleaded innocent during a brief court appearance. The judge set a preliminary hearing date of Jan. 29.

Araujo, born Eddie, commonly went by the name Gwen but was also known as Lida.

Authorities charged the murder as a hate crime, which means the defendants could get a few extra years in prison if convicted.

High school named for Bayard Rustin

Philadelphia--A suburban school board has voted to name a new high school after Bayard Rustin, the gay civil rights activist known both as an aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and for taking controversial political stances.

In a 6-3 vote December 16, the West Chester area school board decided to name the school after Rustin, despite critics who objected to naming it after a man who was gay, briefly a member of a Communist youth group in the 1930s and who was a conscientious objector during World War II.

The school board voted last spring to name a new $63 million high school after Rustin, who graduated from the district in 1931. It reopened the discussion after some members said they were not fully aware of his past.

For a half-century, Rustin was a relentless solider in the civil rights movement, although much of his work was conducted behind the scenes out of fear that the public wouldn�t accept an openly gay activist.

As a lifelong Quaker and a pacifist, Rustin wasn�t obligated to serve in the military, but he drew a three-year jail term in 1943 when he also refused to perform alternative service in a non-combat role.

In 1955, he was one of King�s key aides during the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that became a landmark civil rights victory. He was the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, at which King gave his �I Have a Dream� speech, considered by many historians to be the pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. Rustin died in 1987.

Condoms are recalled

New York City--Lifestyles Condoms has issued a voluntary recall on two of its product lines, warning that certain batches of their condoms have a higher risk of breakage.

The two brands are Lifestyles Assorted Colors and Lifestyles Luscious Flavors. The wrappers for the condoms have �Made in India� printed on the back, and expiration dates between 11/02 and 06/06.

These condoms should not be used. They should be discarded and replaced immediately.

If either brand, within the expiration date range, have been used without breakage, there is no additional risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. However, the remaining condoms should still be replaced.

�As always, if a person is using a condom and it breaks, they should immediately stop sexual activity and replace the broken condom with a new, unused one,� said Brian Thornton, community health advocate with the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center. �All sexually active people are recommended to get HIV tests every six months, as well as regular sexually transmitted disease screenings.�

Free condoms are available at many bars, and are given out by virtually every AIDS service organization across the state.

State has three couples� bills

Boston, Mass.--The Massachusetts legislature will, in one way or another, discuss the issue of lesbian and gay partners in the next legislative session, thanks to three separate bills being introduced.

Bills to allow full gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partner benefits to state employees are being sponsored in the state legislature, in what lawmakers are calling a three-tiered system. If marriage fails, try for civil unions, and if that fails, go for public employees� domestic partnership benefits.

The civil marriage bill simply says, �Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.� The bill, if passed, would entitle same-sex married couples to all state and federal benefits allowed to heterosexual married couples.

The civil unions bill, like Vermont�s, would grant only state benefits.

Go to Discussion Forum Top of Page

Viva la Ridiculous

Biography charts the rise of a comic genius and the theater he founded

Ridiculous!
The Theatrical Life and Times
of Charles Ludlam

by David Kaufman
Applause, $29.95 hardcover

Being ridiculous is something most people avoid. Charles Ludlam, however, made it his life�s work, and triumphed.

In his new biography of this singular artist, David Kaufman conjures the unusual degree to which Ludlam�s life and work in the theater mixed.

�Ludlam lived a life that encapsulated and helped engender the impulses and upheavals of his time,� says Kaufman of the playwright, director, star performer and theater troupe leader.

Ludlam began his theater in 1967 when he was fired from his own play. Breaking away from John Vaccaro�s Play-House of the Ridiculous along with a good many of the actors, he formed his own theater troupe that eventually came to be called the Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

�Almost everyone who performed with Charles in the early years, certainly every male, had sex with him,� Kaufman offers as an example of how Ludlam�s life and work co-mingled. �In fact, Charles only half jokingly told a couple of people that it was so hard for him to run the company because he had to sleep with them all to get them on board.�

�If one is not a living mockery of one�s own ideals, one has set one�s ideals too low,� Ludlam, the embodiment of the Ridiculous, wrote. An approach to theater and life that traces itself to Jack Smith and his internationally infamous 1963 flicker Flaming Creatures, the Ridiculous aesthetic shoots through such mid twentieth-century phenomenon as glam-rock and performance groups such as the Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company and the Cockettes. Today it beats in the work of acts like Kiki and Herb.

Ridiculous humor takes a revolutionary comedic stance: the deviant ridicules the bourgeois. The truly Ridiculous approach may seem all surface camp but a deathly serious undercurrent rages directly beneath its shiny, brittle shell.

Kaufman�s comprehensive biography traces Ludlam�s life from childhood on Long Island to the New York Times page one news of his death from AIDS at age 44 in 1987. The rise of his outrageous Ridiculous company from their early days playing porn theaters and gay bars in 1960s New York City to their ultimate success as an acclaimed if off-kilter repertory theater forms the book�s core.

�What�s astonishing about him,� remarks Kaufman, �is that everything he brought together reflected much more traditions from the past than from that revolutionary period. Such things as commedia del arte primarily, but also vaudeville and burlesque. Many of these things were considered tacky. But in bringing them together, Ludlam put his imprint on them and gave them a new vitality.�

Under Ludlam�s obsessive control as playwright, director and star performer, the troupe of bohemian players combined the kitsch with the sublime, the glitter with the garbage and the recondite with the obvious to forge a serious yet salacious style. The 29 plays Ludlam wrote for the company over the next two decades range in topic from the search for �a third and gentle genital� in Bluebeard to a satirical indictment of the cutting-edge and their uncomprehending and boorish patrons in Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde.

Ludlam received widespread praise and support for his work during his lifetime, and today, his two-actor, quick-change, penny-dreadful inspired The Mystery of Irma Vep stands as one of the most produced plays in the world, and the longest running one in the history of Brazil.

Biographer David Kaufman hails from the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. He notes that several key Ridiculous players also have Ohio roots, including John Brockmeyer, Bill Vehr and John Vaccaro. Ludlam biography complete, Kaufman is now toying with the idea of writing a biography of a performer he feels wrongly ridiculed�Doris Day.

The Ludlam biography project began by chance for Kaufman. An editor at Interview magazine wanted a story to coincide with the publication of Ludlam�s complete plays in 1989. The writer assigned to it could not commit and Kaufman got a call. His article sparked interest from a book publisher. While he had seen and reviewed several of Ludlam�s plays and even met him once in passing, Kaufman had never considered a biography. Add 12 years of research plus interviews with over 150 people and a biography is born.

�Many of the people conveyed to me that Ludlam was the first genius they had met and that he would also be the last,� Kaufman says. �He helped define for them what genius was. They recognized that what he was doing was different and significant.�

Joe E. Jeffreys is a freelance writer living in New York City.

 

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