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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 11, 2002

Two held in bashing that left man in permanent coma

by Eric Resnick

Huntington, W.Va.--Two men were presented to a West Virginia grand jury January 9 following their arrest for the November 18 robbery and beating of a man walking home from a gay bar.

The crime left artist Michael Fiffe, 28, in a coma with little hope of recovery.

According to Sgt. Rocky Johnson of the Huntington Police Robbery and Homicide division, Fiffe was frequently at the Driftwood bar and followed the same routine going home each time.

"After the bar closed," said Johnson, "Fiffe walked to the Speedway [gas station] and got a cup of coffee, then headed home."

Around 3:00 that morning, Fiffe got his coffee and headed across a bank parking lot toward his nearby house.

According to Johnson, the perpetrators, Eric Young, 18, and Jonathan Scott Hensley, 21, both of Huntington, and a third person, a juvenile, drove past Fiffe in an SUV, yelling at him.

There were witnesses, and a bank surveillance camera captured much of what happened.

"You can see in the video where Fiffe dodged to his left trying to get away from the SUV," said Johnson, "but they pulled right up to him, and three guys got out and started kicking and punching him."

Johnson said that a fourth person who stayed in the SUV said they also robbed Fiffe of $20.

"They beat him worse than anything I have ever seen and left him for dead," said Johnson.

Fiffe was found unconscious around 7:00 that morning.

Initially, he was unable to breathe adequately on his own, but he has since stabilized.

Fiffe has been moved to a secure, long-term care facility. Reportedly, he sometimes opens his eyes, but does not respond to any thing around him. Doctors do not expect him to improve.

Because Fiffe survived the attack, Young and Hensley have been charged with malicious wounding, a felony that carries a sentence of 2-10 years. Information on the juvenile involved was withhheld.

If Fiffe dies within a year, and it can be proven that the beating was the cause of the death, West Virginia law allows the charge to be upgraded to felony murder.

Like Ohio, West Virginia does not have a hate crime law covering sexual orientation, so the case is not considered a hate crime.

Police have not been able to determine whether anti-gay bias was a motive, or whether the crime was a robbery, but Johnson said he was shocked by the severity and the number of times Fiffe was kicked and punched, even after he was down.

The FBI suggests that such severity is a primary characteristic of a hate crime, because it comes from the perpetrator’s belief that the victim is less than human and unworthy of any humanity.

Johnson said he is confident that they arrested the right people and since they were indicted, he expects the trial to take place within six months.

Huntington, population 58,000 and home to Marshall University, is across the Ohio River from the southern tip of Ohio.


 

Vote on county rights ordinance is delayed

by Eric Resnick

Erie, Pa.--A proposed ordinance to add gays and lesbians to Erie County’s civil rights ordinance will not be voted on until at least February.

The Erie County Council voted 5-2 to table the controversial ordinance at a special meeting January 8.

The measure, drafted by the county’s Human Relations Commission a year ago, includes protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

A courtroom used for the meeting was packed with 120 people, evenly divided between opponents and proponents. The session, which lasted 2½ hours, was later described by council president David Mitchell as "the roughest meeting I ever ran."

The motion to table initially frustrated council members and concerned parties on both sides, as the measure has been in process for over a year and 12 drafts.

Following the public hearing, council member Fiore Leone, a Democrat who appears to have changed his position on the ordinance from uncertainty to support, expressed anger at the thought of more delay.

"I’m tired of the games being played," said Leone, "The delay is ridiculous. It is time to get it on, not move to table."

Member Joy Greco, made a moving appeal to pass the bill, then made her strategy clear. A Republican, she is the bill’s primary sponsor and worked closely with the human relations panel on its language.

Greco made the motion to table the vote for 30 days "as a courtesy" to the new county executive Rick Schenker, who took office the day before, and his new solicitor. Greco then promised that if the bill did not move on its own from there, she would force it back for a vote at that time.

Schenker is a former executive director of the Pennsylvania Christian Coalition who has said on television that gay people are "living a demented and depraved lifestyle." He initially vowed to veto any bill sent to him that expanded non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation.

Greco explained that four of the seven members are now supporting the bill, so it could have passed at the special meeting.

"But if we had approved the ordinance tonight," she explained, "the new executive could have vetoed it on the basis that he had no time to study it."

It takes five votes of the council to override an executive’s veto, and Greco is not certain that she has the fifth vote.

"If a veto isn’t overturned," Greco explained, "we will be back to square one, and cause it to continue to drag on."

Bill backers plan to use the 30 days to either secure a veto-proof majority of votes on the council, or come to terms with Schenker.

Neither will be easy, as the issue has become quite controversial, made more complicated by becoming the first item on Schenker’s agenda.

William McCarthy, who chairs the human relations panel and has fought pressure to remove the sexual orientation language from the bill, believes that Schenker’s position may be softening.

"It’s all politics," said McCarthy. "[Schenker] and I spoke about this twice today, and he seems to be looking for language that would cause him to appear as though he hasn’t turned completely around, but still allow the bill to become law."

Bill supporter and gay activist Michael Mahler agreed, saying, "[Schenker] doesn’t want to alienate his constituency, but he also doesn’t want to get tagged with the label ‘Jerry Falwell, Jr.’ "

The issue has also become defining in the arena of partisan politics. The council is comprised of four Republicans and three Democrats. The four current votes in favor of the bill are the three Democrats and Greco.

Council president Mitchell, a Republican, has indicated that he will vote no on the bill, but only because he believes that lesbians and gays are already protected from discrimination under the category of "sex."

Bill supporters believe that once Mitchell learns he is incorrect he will have to favor the bill, too, or risk looking disingenuous.

Erie County Democratic Party Chair Ron DiNicola released a statement January 6 that made the front page of the Erie Times News. DiNicola made it clear that he and the party strongly backed the ordinance, and suggested he would make it a campaign issue against Republicans who were opposed.

Another Democrat, member Joseph Giles, also spoke to the bill and the motion to table. Referring to mail he and other members received on the bill, he said, "I am shocked that people have nerve to sign the stuff. It is un-Christian and embarrassing, and it proves that prejudice [against gays and lesbians] is real. It is the most disgusting rhetoric I have ever seen, and if anything, it means that we have to do something."

Then Giles explained that under Robert’s Rules of Order, a person voting against a motion to table a matter may not bring it up again if the matter is tabled. "I counted the votes, and I will vote with the majority to table, so I can bring it back up in the future."

During the public hearing, Mitchell said that he thought everything that could have been said about the bill was presented in previous hearings, but said the council would hear up to five speakers representative of each side for three minutes each.

But after ten speakers, both sides protested that the speakers were 6-4 in favor of the other side, so Mitchell eventually opened the meeting to anyone who wanted to speak.

A total of 27 speakers addressed the council, 14 against, 13 for passage.

Those speaking for passage countered Schenker’s claims that passage would make Erie County unfriendly to businesses.

Mahler presented a study by the Brookings Institute that found a correlation between a city’s economic success and the number of gay people living there.

Realtor Jim McCall said passage would give more protection to realtors.

"We are always taught to treat everyone equally," he said, "but sexual orientation can be a gray area, and passage would help achieve fairness for everyone."

McCall was backed up by Erie Housing Authority executive director John Horen, who said that passage would send a message to Housing and Urban Development that Erie is serious about affirmative action and the elimination of discrimination, which would lead to more federal housing dollars for the area.

Rev. Charles Mock of the Erie Shiloh Baptist Church said he was against homosexuality as a behavior, but favors passage because it would protect people’s basic rights to employment and housing.

Western Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union president Robert Cogan accused those opposed to the bill as having a "morbid or prurient fear of others’ private behavior."

Those voicing opposition to the bill included Rev. Pat Kennedy, associate pastor of the First Baptist Church in Noth East, Pa, who made a name for himself last spring by telling followers to boycott a lesbian-owned restaurant. He told the council that gay men have as many as 50 sex partners a night, cited AIDS statistics, and said passage of the ordinance would "promote dangerous homosexual behavior."

David Rodgers, a self-described "ex-gay" and one of Kennedy’s followers, said his church’s acceptance of him is proof that he and the others were "not here to attack homosexuals."

Rodgers said he was opposed to the bill because it would cause "frivolous legal action" and "contained ambiguous terminology."

Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania, continued Rodgers’ "ambiguous terminology" theme, and cited the words "employee" and "employer" as examples.

Gramley added, "To approve this ordinance will, in essence, give special rights to a very small percentage of the population . . . They have not suffered the same kind of legal injustices as black Americans have. To vote in favor of this ordinance is a vote to validate a very dangerous lifestyle."

Another leader of the opposition, Lee Coleman, representing the Erie Citizens for Decency told the council that two lawyers from the American Center for Law and Justice looked at the bill and told him that the term "sexual orientation" is "too broad."

Coleman said the ordinance would protect pedophiles and sado masochists who hurt women.

"If passed," said Coleman, "this ordinance would make Megan’s Law meaningless, and pedophiles would flock to Erie County to get jobs."

Opponents believe that passage of the ordinance would force them to hire gay people, even though doing so is counter to their religious mission.

Greco says that claim is unfounded. "There are religious exemptions, and state law permits religious and fraternal organizations an exemption [from the ordinance.]

Gay activist Jeff Hill said the meeting showed more positive signs than he expected.

"The county council is starting to move more toward passage," he said, "and the rhetoric by the other side is showing them to be prejudiced and mean, and that isn’t helping their case."


 

Crazy Ladies bookstore and center to close, become a café

by John Zeh

Cincinnati—One of the country’s last lesbian-feminist bookstores and its affiliated women’s center will close by the end of January, with a January 12 fundraiser set to start raising money to seed a planned renaissance.

Crazy Ladies Books and Center, in the heart of one of Cincinnati’s busiest gay and lesbian neighborhoods, will shut its Northside doors, but expects to be reborn as a cyber-café come spring.

Crazy Ladies Center planners kicked off its drive by raising $75,000 from supporters in the community, board member Sue Mehl told the Gay People’s Chronicle. This will open a capital and operating campaign of $500,000. Details of the January 12 benefit were not available at press time.

The for-profit bookstore’s nemeses were tax and financial challenges, said Linda Ray Robel, a member of the steering panel planning the organization’s reopening as the Women’s Resource Center.

She talked to a reporter from Xray, a one-year-old progressive arts and culture publication spun off from http://www.CincyRing.com and http://www.goxray.com.

The paper reported January 1 that the new incarnation will build on its current mission, empowering women as well as its mixed neighborhood. It will continue to house the Ohio Lesbian Archives, which operates upstairs as a central resource for preserving Cincinnati women’s history and their changing status in society.

The not-for-profit Crazy Ladies Center, also upstairs from the bookstore, offered inexpensive meeting space and was a hub for a variety of progressive area groups.

"The new umbrella entity will have a broader reach and will improve on what we’ve been doing already," Robel told Xray. "It’s a reorganization and a rebirth."

The planning group hopes to offer more than a half-dozen computer terminals, inexpensive access to the World Wide Web and affordable beverages no later than May.

The new center will stress cooperation between the many small businesses and community groups in the neighborhood to focus on improving the areas still in rough shape. Residents of the community have included Appalachians up from Kentucky hills and African-Americans, as well as gay men and lesbians who first began buying and rehabbing vintage homes years ago.

The bookstore and center grew as a maternal mainstay in the neighborhood, overcoming some neighbors’ concerns about having an open lesbian presence. The coming changes are expected to only solidify the center’s role as a Northside leader and re-attract women who have recently used online and big chain bookstores and non-lesbian cafes with computers.

At press time, the project’s new web site was under construction, but supporters can sign up for updates at http://www.gcwrc.org.

Cincinnati native John Zeh writes for CincyRing.com and GoXraycom. He edits GayCincinnati.com’s Rainbow News on the Internet, and can be reached at JohnZeh2@aol.com.


 

New gay theater is having a rough time opening

 

by Anthony Glassman

Cleveland—Exactly how fast the city can gain and lose a theater, as well as whether the city is targeting the theater because of its gay slant, is at the heart of a controversy involving the new Westside Playhouse, the city of Cleveland and the weekly alternative newspaper Free Times.

Charles Lago, a former London police officer, bookstore owner and producer of performances by Quentin Crisp, brought the play Party to Cleveland as part of a national tour last summer. He and his business partner Chris Johnson were so impressed with the response of the city to the play, they decided to open a theater here.

Lago and Johnson were introduced to Jeff Ramsey of the Detroit Shoreway Development Corporation, which owns the Gordon Square Arcade building currently housing the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center. Detroit Shoreway offered them a good lease on an empty storefront that used to be a grocery, and Lago and Johnson jumped at the opportunity.

"Cleveland is a great town," Lago said. "People always say to us, ‘Why are you in Cleveland?’ "

"Those are Clevelanders," he continued, explaining the move from his former home in San Diego. "San Diego is an outdoor town; people are always going to the beach. Cleveland is much more arts-oriented."

Lago lined up a season of productions, a mix of plays from other cities and performance artists including Straight, written and performed by David Schmader, a look at conversion therapy and "ex-gay" groups, the west coast hit The Masseur by Robert Joseph, Naked Boys Singing, which packed houses wherever it played, and Beautiful Thing, the play upon which the successful British coming-of-age film was based.

Then came their first press coverage, in the Free Times.

"A full season of full frontal," said the January 2 headline. "Westside Playhouse: Cleveland’s newest (and nudest) theater company."

"The slant was, a gay theater automatically means nudity and sex," Lago argued.

He viewed the article as being sensationalistic, and the Westside Playhouse responded with their own volley, sent out over the Northeast Ohio Performing Arts e-mail list.

"As we are so outraged by the total misquoting and the deliberate sensationalistic tone of the article, we feel we must explain to the theatre community of Cleveland what has happened here," their e-mail, sent to over 1,200 journalists and theater professionals across the area, begins.

"The Westside Playhouse is not a nude theatre as the Free Times would have you believe. We will be presenting a wide array of productions that will be of interest but not limited to the gay community," the e-mail continues.

The day after the article first appeared, Lago and Johnson were told by Kevin Franklin, the chief building inspector for that area of the city, that the city had scheduled an inspection of the theater following dozens of complaints from citizens. The theater has also received a number of anti-gay phone calls, telling them they aren’t wanted here and peppered with homophobic epithets.

On January 4, Robert Vilkas, the building and housing commissioner for the city, told them that the theater needed a number of renovations before they would be allowed to open, including installing a new sprinkler system, increasing the capacity of their air conditioner, replacing the front and back walls and changing their risers to concrete or specially-treated fire resistant wood.

"It was all from the tone the Free Times took," Lago said. "The city reacted to dozens of complaints from citizens who don’t want a porn theater."

According to Ramsey, Lago and Johnson also failed to file a request for change of zoning, since the space is zoned commercial and not assembly, which a theater would require. The paperwork for the change has since been filed.

Lago and Johnson, with the future of their January 24 debut production and of the theater itself in jeopardy, sent out a call looking for other theater spaces available in which they might put on The Masseur by Robert Joseph, a play about a heterosexual businessman who develops a love/hate relationship with his massage therapist.

So far, Lago has had no success in finding another spot for the production.

In some more positive news for the theater, though, the Jan. 9 Free Times printed another story about it, more solid in tone, explaining the situation and, for all intents and purposes, retracting the earlier story.

"They were very accommodating," Lago said of Free Times editor Lisa Chamberlain and the writer of the second piece, Pamela Zoslov.

According to Lago, with the change in administration over the last weekend, so has the city.

"The new administration is really pushing for it to be resolved," Lago noted.

Inspectors, accompanied by Ward 17 council member Matt Zone, were slated to tour the theater and discuss the possibilities with Lago and Johnson on January 9.

The theater might not need the renovations originally stated; if their seating capacity is changed 98, instead of the original 120, different safety rules would apply. Or, a fire marshal could be present to ensure safety at productions, giving them a stop-gap to allow the theater to open on time. The results of the meeting were not available at press time.

The Masseur is slated to open January 24, although if the city does not allow them to use their space at 6602 Detroit Avenue and they are unable to find another venue for the production, it, and the theater itself, may be cancelled.

"I don’t know how I’ll feel about this city any more," Lago said, indicating that his high opinion of Cleveland may be tarnished by the hurdles being thrown in his way.


 

Donations help bring AIDS medications to Africa

by Anthony Glassman

Cleveland—Akida K. Sababu, former director of the Jeffrey Heard Center here, now works to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa.

Sababu, who is back in Cleveland until March, has spent much of the last four years in sub-Saharan Africa, holding AIDS education workshops and bringing millions of dollars of donated HIV medication to those living with the disease in countries where millions of people are infected but are too poor to afford the drugs.

"Combivir and Sustiva are each 1,700 rand [over $200] per month in a country with 60% unemployment," Sababu said of South Africa. "When someone is diagnosed, they are given antibiotics and vitamins."

Many of the region’s governments, with the exception of South Africa’s, are also very homophobic, blaming the disease, which until recently was almost exclusively heterosexual on the continent, on gays.

According to Sababu, though, the gay communities in African nations are quietly organizing. In Zambia they are especially making their voices heard and standing up for more progressive AIDS policies.

Sababu is the founder of Mission of Hope Ministries. He can be reached at 216-767-0991 for more information.


 

 

Federal nursing care plan won’t include partners

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--A program giving all federal employees long term care insurance will not cover domestic partners, according to the plan put into effect by the Bush administration.

The benefit, which became available to all of the nation’s 1.8 million federal employees December 18, covers the cost of long term nursing home and home health care for federal employees, including military service members, and selected members of their families. The plan also includes federal and military retirees.

The legislation for the program, called the Long Term Care Security Act, was passed unanimously by the House and Senate in July, 2000, and signed into law by President Clinton two months later. It is retroactive to federal employees and retirees to January 1, 1987.

The legislation specifies the categories of relatives that are covered, but leaves broad discretion for the director of the federal Office of Personnel Management to add others.

Qualified relatives named in the legislation include spouses, parents, step-parents, parents-in-law, children, and step-children of federal employees and retirees.

According to Office of Personnel Management spokesperson Edmund Byrnes, at least 20 million Americans are eligible for coverage.

At the request of the administration, Congress on December 31 extended coverage to federal employees whose retirement benefits were deferred.

But OPM director Kay Cole James has decided that the plan will not cover domestic partners, same-sex or different- sex, of federal employees, at least for the forseeable future.

Byrnes says domestic partners "are not being singled out," pointing to the fact that the director also decided not to cover foster children.

"Gay or straight, domestic partners don’t have full benefits," said Byrnes, "that’s just the way it is."

"This is a huge program," Byrnes continued, "and we want to see that the program gets up and running properly before adding anyone else to it."

Byrnes said the office will take a "wait and see" approach to adding categories of eligibility in the future.

Byrnes would not give a timeline for the office to evaluate the things it is "waiting" to "see," or define what the factors are.

"It’s just so big," said Byrnes, "and we don’t want to add anyone else to it until we see how well it works."

The federal government does not currently offer health care benefits to domestic partners, but the Long Term Care Act, because of the broad discretion left the OPM director, was seen as an opportunity to begin offering some benefit parity to domestic partners.

The administration’s decision not to include domestic partners runs counter to trends in the private sector.

Currently 150 Fortune 500 comapnies offer benefits, including long term care coverage, to domestic partners of employees.


 

News Briefs

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

Brothers seek to retract guilty plea in neighbor’s bashing

Middleburg, Pa.—Two brothers who beat their neighbor nearly to death because they believed he was gay are now seeking to withdraw their guilty pleas, and one is accusing his attorney of intimidation.

A judge was scheduled to hear their request January 9.

On December 18, the second day of their trial, Todd and Troy Clinger accepted a standing offer from the district attorney and changed their innocent pleas. Todd, 21, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit third-degree murder, and Troy, 19, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter.

But less than a week later, Todd Clinger wrote a letter to the Daily Item of Sunbury, Pa. in which he said his attorney, public defender Brian Ulmer, intimidated and coerced him into changing his plea.

James Best, who represented Troy Clinger, confirmed that his client also was seeking to withdraw his guilty plea.

The brothers were drinking with their neighbor Michael Auker, 41, at Troy Clinger’s trailer outside Middleburg, about 40 miles north of Harrisburg, on March 6 when the beating began.

Troy Clinger's girlfriend, Nikki White, testified that she heard Todd Clinger say Auker grabbed his crotch and that the brothers talked about killing Auker. Court records indicate both brothers punched and kicked Auker, then carried him unconscious to his trailer, where they left him.

Auker was found by a co-worker two days later, in a coma and near death. He remained in a coma for several weeks and still suffers several effects from the beating, including limitations on speaking, walking, short-term memory, cognitive function and problems using his left arm and hand.

 

Civil union challenge rejected

Montpelier, Vt.—The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the civil union law granting same-sex couples many of the rights and benefits of marriage.

In a December 26 order signed by all five justices and released January 3, the court turned aside claims brought by taxpayers, legislators and town clerks.

They had made two main claims: One asserted that the civil union law is invalid because 14 Vermont House members supporting it bet on the outcome of a preliminary House vote. In the other, town clerks argued that the law is unconstitutional because it forces them to violate their religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong by issuing civil union licenses to couples.

The high court said it was up to the House to decide whether the legislators who placed the $1 bets should have been disqualified. It said the dispute involved "matters constitutionally entrusted to the sound and exclusive judgment of the House, not to this court."

The justices did not rule directly on the claim that the law violates town clerks’ religious beliefs. But it described as "highly questionable" the "proposition that a public official . . . can retain public office while refusing to perform a generally applicable duty of that office on religious grounds."

The court said the law accommodates the town clerks’ concerns by explicitly permitting them to appoint an assistant to issue the licenses.

The civil union law, passed in 2000, gives lesbian and gay couples the closest thing in America to marriage. No other state has such a law.

 

Gay man tapped for vice-governor

Boston, Mass.—Acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift has chosen a 33-year-old openly gay staff member and former suburban mayor as her running mate in the 2002 election.

Swift, 36, announced her selection of Patrick C. Guerriero on January 3.

Guerriero will challenge millionaire James Rappaport, the former state GOP chairman and the only declared Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, in the September primary. Swift has publicly stated she does not want to run with the more conservative Rappaport, citing personality differences.

Guerriero, an advocate for gay civil rights, works as a liaison with municipal officials, and helped persuade Swift to delay cuts in local aid last year.

He is also an established Republican, twice elected mayor in the Boston suburb of Melrose. He also served three terms in the state House.

Candidates for lieutenant governor and governor do not run as a ticket in state primaries, but for the past decade, Republicans have teamed up for political and financial strength.

Lesbian state senator Cheryl Jacques, a Democrat, had earlier filed papers to run for lieutenant governor, but has decided instead to seek reelection to the Massachusetts Senate.

 

Gores give $50K to HRC

Washington, D.C.—Former vice president Al Gore ended the year by donating $50,000 to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

The donation, made by Gore and his wife, Tipper, was, according to HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch, the Gores’ first private gift.

According to an internal HRC letter dated Jan. 4, the funds will be applied to the group’s FamilyNet.

"We’re very honored by it," HRC spokesman David Smith said.

HRC FamilyNet is, according to the group’s web site, "the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families."

 

Straights and gays equally happy

Bowling Green, Ohio—A study conducted by researchers at Bowling Green State University indicates that gay and straight adults are equally happy with their lives.

The study, whose results were published in the Journal of Sex Research, took data from seven surveys which asked participants their sexual orientation and had them evaluate their moods, satisfaction with their lives and their overall physical and mental health.

Researchers noted that the surveys did not ask self-identifying gay men, lesbians and bisexuals if they were out, and that those who were not may have a slightly lower quality of life.

Two psychiatrists with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association had very different views on the report.

Former GLMA president Dr. Robert P. Cabaj expressed concern at the difficulty in assessing overall quality of life, and pointed to lower expectations among LGBT people, indicating that, if they expect to lead hard lives, they may have overlooked difficulties in answering the questions.

Dr. Jerrold Polansky, the education committee chair for GLMA, though that the results made sense, and said that he agreed with them, provided the methodology in the study was solid.

 

Civil rights bill gets a hearing

Dover, Del.—A bill to add sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, bottled up in committee since last March, will get a hearing on January 28.

Rep. Bill Oberle Jr. is the chief sponsor of House Bill 99, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, "whether real or perceived."

According to Oberle, people should not be denied employment or services based on their sexual orientation.

The bill squeaked by the House by one vote in March, then was bottled up in the Senate Small Business committee. Committee chair Sen. Robert Venables has agreed to hold a hearing on the bill January 28.

Opponents of the measure say gays don’t deserve any special protections beyond those enjoyed by other citizens.

But Oberle said the bill does not create any special class and is consistent with an executive order issued by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner last year.

 

Kramer released from hospital

Pittsburgh—AIDS activist and author Larry Kramer has been discharged from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, two weeks after the HIV-positive playwright and activist underwent a liver transplant.

Kramer, 66, will remain in Pittsburgh for a few more weeks so doctors can monitor his condition until he’s well enough to return home to New York, hospital officials said. Kramer suffered from end-stage liver failure caused by hepatitis B and underwent a 12-hour surgery on Dec. 21.

"He’s doing extremely well," said hospital spokeswoman Lisa Rossi.

He left the hospital around 8:30 p.m. January 2, accompanied by friend and primary caregiver Rodger McFarlane, the former director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS organization Kramer helped found.

Kramer took up temporary residence in Pittsburgh in early November to wait for an organ to become available. UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute has performed ten liver transplants on HIV-positive patients since 1997.

 

Billy can’t deliver for UPS

Atlanta—Attorneys for the United Parcel Service are on the warpath over a novelty doll marketed to gay consumers bearing a uniform resembling that of a UPS delivery person.

"BPS Billy," one of a number of anatomically-correct foot-high dolls in the Billy series, wears a brown uniform with a logo resembling a parcel.

BeProud.com, a web site selling the dolls, maintains that it is a compliment to UPS, since Billy dolls also come dressed as firemen and policemen, American icons.

Attorneys with King & Spalding, however, charge that it is not an honor or homage, it is copyright infringement and tarnishes the connections people have with the UPS logo and company.

The first letter sent to BeProud.com and Totem, the British company that makes the Billy dolls, referred to the toys as "noxious."

A Totem distributor reported that the company would stop producing the BPS Billy dolls, but BeProud.com has refused to send their stock of BPS Billy doll outfits to King & Spalding to be destroyed.

 

 

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