by Eric Resnick
Erie, Pa.--The election of a former Christian Coalition director to the office of county executive puts a civil rights ordinance that includes sexual orientation in jeopardy.
County executive-elect Rick Schenker said he would veto any such bill passed by the council. Overturning such a veto requires five of the seven members’ votes.
The council voted 6 to 1 on December 18 to hold a first reading of the ordinance. A vote on the measure itself will be held at the second reading, at the next council meeting January 15.
Erie County borders Ohio and includes the city of Erie, the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania.
Schenker, a Republican who narrowly won election November 6, will replace outgoing Democrat Judy Lynch on January 7. Lynch, who held the office for 20 years, favors the inclusive ordinance.
According to gay activist Michael Mahler, voters didn’t pay much attention to Schenker’s background during the campaign.
During Schenker’s tenure with Pennsylvania Christian Coalition, he proclaimed on television that gay people are "living a demented and depraved lifestyle." Schenker also worked on Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign.
The ordinance originated in the county’s Human Relations Commission, which voted unanimously to add sexual orientation as it updated all the sections of county law dealing with discrimination.
Currently, six Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and York, have rights ordinances that include discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Yet Schenker claims that his position is based on "legal and economic" reasons, not his personal religious beliefs.
"My concern is the potential lawsuits and the ability of the county appear customer-friendly to attract business," Schenker told the Erie Times News.
Human Relations Commission chair William McCarthy countered that if Schenker’s concern about lawsuits was true, the other cities with such laws would be reporting disastrous results.
Also opposed to the legislation is Rev. Pat Kennedy, associate pastor of the First Baptist Church in North East, Pa. Kennedy made a name for himself last spring by telling his followers to boycott a lesbian-owned restaurant.
He testified before council December 18 that "sexual orientation is a choice of people choosing a sexual lifestyle. We’re not talking about people being born a particular color or coming to a particular country. This is a lifestyle choice they are making."
Mahler said that supporters of the ordinance outnumbered opponents about three to one at the hearing.
Although the ordinance was drafted nearly a year ago, Mahler believes council tabled it until after the election to see if Schenker would win the seat. The council is comprised of four Republicans, including its president, and three Democrats.
Family tragedies, toll of rights battle are among her reasons for leaving office
by Eric Resnick
Dayton--Ohio’s first openly lesbian official in a major city will step down from her post January 5. City Commissioner Mary Wiseman chose not to seek re-election following her four years of service.
Wiseman, 40, was elected in 1997 to be one of five commissioners. It was the first time she had sought public office.
Openly gay Louis Escobar was first elected to Toledo’s city council that year, and the two were quickly recognized as leaders of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the state. Escobar was re-elected this year. (Ohio’s first openly lesbian or gay elected official, Skeeter Hunt, won a Bloomdale council seat in 1995 and was elected again this year.)
Wiseman and Escobar served their cities with distinction, and both attempted to pass civil rights ordinances that would include gays and lesbians. Escobar succeeded in Toledo, while Wiseman met with powerful opposition and a hostile mayor.
The battle over the ordinance took its toll on Wiseman, personally and politically, but she says that was only "one factor of many" contributing to her decision not to run for re-election despite her still relatively high popularity.
"I didn’t want that experience to be the turning point, but it certainly tipped the scale," said Wiseman. "Even outsiders say to me ‘My God, that [ordinance] fight was brutal.’ But mostly, I was driven by my desire to spend time with my family."
Since her election, Wiseman has entered a committed relationship with Michelle Richey. The couple celebrated their third anniversary in October.
Richey brought two children to the relationship, a son, 11, and a daughter, 19.
"There were times when I was sitting in a meeting or briefing thinking I would rather be watching my son play ball," Wiseman added.
Wiseman said over they year, she and Richey have dealt with family tragedies that took away her energy to campaign.
In June, Wiseman’s older brother, a police officer in Indianapolis, committed suicide. Shortly after that, her father entered hospice care. He died in November. Two days later, Richey’s father died.
Wiseman said she will remain a backer and strategist of future lesbian and gay candidates for office, sharing her knowledge and experience, but that she prefers to continue to do her work on issues "behind the scenes."
In November, state senator Rhine McLin, a Democrat with a gay-affirming record, defeated Wiseman’s foe Republican Mike Turner to become Dayton’s new mayor.
Wiseman said she is happy for McLin, and had her family not had so many tragedies, her election may caused Wiseman to have second thoughts.
But Wiseman added that even with a supportive mayor and a new majority on the commission, she doubts that her civil rights ordinance will pass any time soon.
Citing the distrust created between the LGBT community and the African-American community over the ordeal, Wiseman said, "Our community needs to do a better job of educating the community and elected officials about the religius right and issues of non-discrimination."
Following the ordinance’s defeat, Wiseman and fellow Democrat commissioner Dean Lovelace, who is African-American, worked together to attempt to repair the damage done to both communities. Wiseman says their efforts were "lightly successful at best."
"We were not as successful as we could have been or should have been," said Wiseman. "Both sides tend to forget that their issues overlap."
"Before they try to pass it again, we, meaning the LGBT community, will have to demonstrate that those bridges have been built," Wiseman said.
Wiseman is leaving office pleased with her accomplishments.
"If you listened to Turner’s campaign, you heard him brag about all sorts of accomplishments during his term," said Wiseman, "but everything he claimed came about as the result of a team effort, and I was part of that team."
In Dayton, the mayor has no more authority than any other commissioner.
"The downtown revitalization would not have happened without me," said Wiseman. "I was the person able to go behind the lines and find routes around the obstacles."
"I am most proud of how Dayton now looks and how it feels about itself," said Wiseman.
Wiseman said she initially ran for office because of her concern for the city of Dayton. "I live here, and I thought the commissioners were doing stupid things, and I thought I could do better than that."
As a lesbian, Wiseman also feels like she made a contribution to the community.
"Four years ago, people said they didn’t know anyone gay," Wiseman began, "but now, 180,000 people say they at least know Mary Wiseman, and they may know all sorts of things about me. They may have heard me speak or had dinner with me."
Wiseman says the basic act of coming out is the most important thing future LGBT leaders can do. "The bigger your outing, the bigger the impact."
Wiseman now says she wants to finish her term without any controversy, then take a nice vacation with her family.
"My job is done," she said.
by Eric Resnick
The year about to pass was one in which our movement matured. It was the first year in many where our successes outnumbered setbacks, and we began to examine ourselves, our institutions, and our definition of pride.
Though we cannot rest on these laurels, we are seeing signs that we are winning the cultural war waged against us. Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, president of the Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, admitted so in Cincinnati.
Despite the inauguration of a president in whose administration we can no longer take representation for granted, we can point to the tragedy of September 11 as evidence that our gains in the 1990s were real and will continue to grow.
The mainstream media reported that some of the victims were gay and lesbian, and recognized their partners. This would have been unheard of, even a couple of years ago.
Mainstream America has also embraced the debate about partners of gay victims’ entitlement to federal benefits.
More significantly, most Americans view openly gay Mark Bingham as a hero for his part in fighting hijackers on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. They also rebuked Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for saying, two days after the attacks, that gays and lesbians were to blame for them.
More Americans than ever before are covered by some civil rights law that gives gays and lesbians equal protection. Ordinances in Ohio cover 1.7 million people, representing one sixth of the state’s population.
Nationally, 117 million people live under such laws, representing 40 percent of the population.
In Ohio, the city of Cincinnati has taken some concrete steps with broad community support to overturn its anti-gay 1993 charter amendment.
Ohio’s 1972 "importuning" law, making it a crime for someone to ask another person of the same gender for sex, has been ruled unconstitutional by an Ohio court of appeals. This clears the way for the Ohio Supreme Court to follow suit, possibly in early 2002.
Lawsuits were filed in 2001 in Ohio that have the potential to achieve employment protection for gays and lesbians in Ohio, and for transgender people in the entire country.
A suit filed in January in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court by Barry Tenney of Warren against General Electric could force the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on whether an employer can fail to protect gay workers by claiming that state law doesn’t require them to.
A federal suit filed in Cleveland by a transgender woman in May might give all transgender employees protection under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
On the legislative front, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ohioans face another threat to our civil rights since the Ohio House passed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act on Halloween, hoping to make any same-sex civil union and marriage against the strong public policy of Ohio. The proposed bill also denies all unmarried couples, same-sex and different-sex, any of the legal benefits of marriage.
GLBT activists and allies have formed a statewide alliance called Equality Ohio to raise funds, lobby the legislature, and fight passage of the DOMA bill.
Now, activists say there needs to be at least one openly gay member of the Ohio legislature, causing three openly gay men to step forward as likely candidates.
In 2001, Ohio had a record nine openly gay candidates for various elected offices. Three were elected, raising the number of openly gay Ohioans in public office from two to a new record of three.
What is most striking about all nine races was that the public and the mainstream media, even in small towns, treated all of them with respect, and gave each a platform to talk about issues.
It has not been very long ago that openly gay candidates were publicly gay-baited and treated like spectacles by a public more concerned with the candidate’s sexual orientation than their positions on issues.
GLBT Ohioans played a major part in electing gay-affirming mayors, all Democrats, to all of Ohio’s seven largest cities--four of them in 2001. All were proud of their relationships with the GLBT community and support from many GLBT groups and individuals.
A few judges have not caught up to treating GLBT citizens as equal, though.
In Butler County, probate judge Randy Rogers denied an otherwise uncontested name change to Belinda Lou Priddy and Jennifer Lane Bicknell, a committed couple of ten years.
"Divine edict" was the reason cited by Rogers, who also denied a transgender woman a name change claiming it would create confusion. Both cases are under appeal.
In February, an appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that Shelley Zachritz could not be a legal parent to her partner’s children. And in October, an appeals court in Lima denied two gay men custody of a daughter born to one of the men’s sister in a surrogate-mother agreement. That case is also on appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In Jefferson County, Judge Joseph Corabi allowed a videotape of every man using the restroom at an Ohio highway rest stop to be used as evidence. The cameras were placed as part of a sting operation, and allowing them goes contrary to U.S. Supreme Court rulings guaranteeing the right to privacy in public restrooms.
The operation netted 13 suspected or known gay men, including one who had never been at the rest stop. Men who drove up with a woman, then walked around the room with their genitals exposed, were not arrested.
One of the men arrested, James Henry of Empire, is appealing his public indecency conviction on the grounds that the evidence was obtained illegally.
We really are everywhere, and the results of the 2000 census proved it. Released in August, the census showed that lesbian and gay couples live in 99.3 percent of American counties, including all 88 of Ohio’s. Fifteen percent of same-sex couples live in rural areas, dispelling the myth that we are concentrated in large metropolitan areas.
The census also showed that by concentration of same-sex couples, Cleveland Heights is the "gayest city in Ohio" of communities over 10,000. With smaller towns included, Yellow Springs wins that title. Of Ohio households, .75 percent are same-sex couples. That is slightly below the national average of one percent.
A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that although 74 percent of lesbians and gays surveyed have been the victims of prejudice and discrimination, 76 percent say they feel more accepted now than even a few years ago.
The Boy Scouts and the United Way felt heat over their relationship, and the scouts’ discriminatory policies, but not enough heat for anything to change.
United States Surgeon General David Satcher, a Clinton appointee, issued the most comprehensive report ever done on sex education June 28. It said that sexual orientation is set early in life and cannot be changed. The Bush administration promptly distanced itself from Satcher.
In November, the largest and wealthiest GLBT organization announced it was going ahead with plans to purchase an eight story building just north of DuPont Circle in Washington D.C. to use as its headquarters.
The Human Rights Campaign immediately came under fire, with a Washington Blade editorial calling them "irresponsible" for going forward with the capital campaign in this fundraising climate and "insensitive to the needs of other gay and AIDS organizations."
In 2001, another debate for our movement surfaced. Following the 2000 Millenium March on Washington and the way it was organized, the question has been raised: "Are we going to be a movement or just another group to be marketed to?"
In the world, Paris elected a gay mayor. The Netherlands gave full marriage rights to same-sex couples, and Egypt prosecuted 52 young men for homosexual behavior.
AIDS continues to be a serious problem for gay men. In 2001, medical advances were made, but the Bush administration and Ohio legislature have threatened to withhold AIDS prevention funds from programs that talk about sex.
AIDS epidemiology reports continue to show rises in the numbers of gay men, age 18-24 who are being infected with HIV. Barebacking, or unprotected anal intercourse, has become popular among young men who see AIDS as a manageable disease, and do not remember the horrors of the early days of the epidemic.
A study released in February by the Centers for Disease Control shows that 30 percent of the young gay African- American male population living in cities is HIV positive. Compared to 15 percent of the same age group among Hispanics, 7 percent of whites, and 3 percent of Asians, this shows the growing racial divide of the AIDS epidemic.
Same-sex domestic partner benefits for employees are on the rise across the nation. Some of the notable additions in 2001 were Cincinnati’s consumer goods giant Proctor and Gamble, Cleveland’s University Hospitals main campus, and the city of Washington, D.C.
Every major Ohio city had a Pride event this year. GLBT cultural festivals like Out in Akron also thrived in 2001.
With the resignation of Pat Robertson from the Christian Coalition as evidence, our foes from the religious right of American culture have begun to weaken in 2001, while the American public has become more resistant to their anti-gay message.
The challenge for 2002 will be to continue to strengthen our movement, while exploiting the weaker position of our enemies to push them farther to the fringes of our culture.
Since the condition of the American economy will make fundraising more difficult, as well as divert employers’ attention away from things like domestic partner benefits, the task ahead still remains formidable.
But if the cultural sea changes in our favor in 2002 as much as it did in 2001, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will again have reason to be very proud.
by Marco C. Baker
Philadelphia-The owner of the National Women’s Football League says an openly lesbian player has "undermined" her marketing scheme for the fledgling league.
Alissa Wykes of Bensalem, who plays fullback for the Philadelphia Liberty Belles--the 2001 National Women’s Football League champions--came out publicly in the December/January issue of Sports Illustrated Women.
But league founder and owner Catherine Masters says an out lesbian is bad for business.
"This is a business, we’re new," she said. "I want to go after mainstream sponsors. They’re concerned with the lily-white thing."
"Alissa’s coming out in a national publication was inappropriate and was certainly more harmful than helpful," Masters added. "I don’t know of any major corporation trying to speak to the gay demographic."
The three-page magazine article touches on Wykes’ sexual orientation three times.
"Of course I am a lesbian. I’ve had a partner for six years, and it’s been awesome. I guess you can call this my coming out party," said Wykes, 34, in the article.
Wykes says that after "Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Philadelphia Liberty Belles!" hit newsstands, the magazine’s editors began receiving negative e-mails and letters on Wykes’ coming out.
The 5-foot, 6-inch, 209-pound Wykes, nicknamed "A-Train," also says she received a phone call from Masters, who chastised her as "stupid" and "dyke" for coming out in the article.
Masters denies calling Wykes "dyke" or "stupid."
Masters, a Nashville, Tennessee businesswoman who has been in entertainment marketing for the past 25 years, formed the NWFL last August. She says she wants to market the women’s football league "like the WNBA" basketball league.
"Could you imagine one of those players doing this?" she asked.
But Masters emphasizes the NWFL is "not a gay or a straight thing; it’s about football," and that she is trying to build a league that will attract "the big ones"--sponsors like Pepsi--and provide role models for girls.
NWFL players aren’t paid. Wykes, a quality control manager for manufacturer Polymeric Systems, and her colleagues at the Liberty Belles haven’t signed a contract that would officially confirm their association with Masters’ parent organization.
Masters plans to ensure the players sign contracts.
"There will be a clause in the contract about ‘maintaining a level of professionalism’ to the public," she said.
Next season, NWFL players should anticipate a "media guideline" booklet, Masters says.
"I blame myself for not teaching my players how to handle the media better," Masters said. "Poor thing [Wykes] just didn’t know how to say ‘off the record.’ "
Initially cautious of coming out in the article, Wykes says she told family and co-workers, as well as Liberty Belles owner Marie Olsen that she was coming out in the magazine, and only agreed to do so if Sports Illustrated Women would present her sexuality in a matter-of-fact-way.
"We agreed that it would not be the focus of the article," she said.
Masters calls magazine writer Michael Silver "blatant," the story "trashy," and Wykes "ignorant."
But the Liberty Belles owner has a different view.
"I felt the article was informative, amusing and had great pictures," Olsen said. "I think everyone, well, most everyone, saw it as that."
Olsen defended Silver.
"I believe it’s a writer’s job to get the reader to read their articles, even if they do get people to say things that might be seen by some people as controversial.
"Yeah, he [Silver] may have written things that were not needed, but the story got read," Olsen added.
"If she were married with five children, that would have been okay to say, and talented women football players are excellent role models for young girls," said the Liberty Belles owner, whom Wykes calls "supportive" and "sweet."
Olsen, who says she’s willing to go "pretty far" to support her MVP player, says Masters also reprimanded her because she didn’t "inform her team how to do interviews" and wasn’t present during the magazine interview.
"I didn’t feel I had to be a baby sitter," the owner said.
Wykes says she and her girlfriend, a chemist, are both "disappointed" by the negative responses to the article, as well as Masters’ reaction, but the couple has had such "a vast majority of support that the negative things are not important."
The National Women’s Football League is adding three new teams in its second year. Among them is the Cleveland Fusion, which begins their first season April 20 against the South Bend, Indiana Golden Hawks. The Fusion’s first home game is May 25 against the Detroit Danger, at a location to be announced.
The league’s web site is www.nwflcentral.com.
Marco C. Baker is an editorial assistant for the Philadelphia Gay News.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
Saudi Arabia beheads three gay men
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—Three Saudi men were beheaded January 1 for committing acts of sodomy and "seducing young men," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Ali bin Hatan bin Saad, Muhammad bin Suleiman bin Muhammad and Muhammad bin Khalil bin Abdullah were executed in the southwestern mountain resort city of Abha in Asir province, according to the statement.
The three men "committed acts of sodomy, married each other, seduced young men and attacked those who rebuked them," the statement said.
The men are the first people to be executed this year in Saudi Arabia, where beheadings are performed in public with a sword. Last year, at least 81 people were executed. Six men were beheaded in 2000 for gay sex.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam and imposes the death penalty for murder, rape, drug trafficking, armed robbery and homosexuality. Iran and Taliban-era Afghanistan have also executed men for gay sex.
Larry Kramer gets a liver transplant
Pittsburgh--AIDS activist and author Larry Kramer was listed in serious condition but was expected to be moved out of intensive care following a liver transplant operation December 21.
A nurse supervisor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that Kramer was expected to be moved to a private room on December 26. His doctors have said his condition was progressing as expected.
Kramer, 66, spent seven months on a waiting list. He moved to Pittsburgh in early November to wait for an organ to become available.
While many transplant centers oppose the surgery for HIV-positive patients, UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute has performed ten liver transplants on HIV-positive patients since 1997. Eight of the patients have survived.
Kramer’s HIV has been relatively well controlled, but he suffered from end-stage liver failure caused by hepatitis B.
Kramer is the author of the plays The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, and books about the front line of AIDS and gay activism.
He also helped found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, and later helped create ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.
Doctors said Kramer would remain in the hospital for about three weeks.
Egypt jails two more gay men
Cairo, Egypt—Two Egyptian university students have been convicted of offering gay sex on the Internet and sentenced to one year in prison, judicial officials said December 18.
The Boulaq misdemeanor court on December 12 convicted Sherif Abu Bakr, from the Cairo engineering college, and Khaled Mohammed, from the science college, of indecent acts. The two were charged with setting up a web site offering gay sex for 100 Egyptian pounds per hour, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, but a wide range of laws covering obscenity and public morality are punishable by jail terms.
Last month, an Egyptian court convicted 23 men of contempt of religion and debauchery, seen as a euphemism for homosexuality. They were arrested in May on a Nile boat restaurant.
Mohamed Abdel Fatah, a 15-year-old who was sentenced to three years in prison in that trial, had his sentence cut to six months on December 19. Court officials are planning on releasing him because of time already served. The court lessened the sentence because it determined his young age made him incapable of determining right and wrong.
Torchbearer inspired her partner
Arlington, Virginia—An open lesbian from Chesapeake carried the Olympic torch on December 21 as it makes its way to Salt Lake City for the winter games.
Terry Hayes is one of 11,500 torchbearers selected out of 210,000 nominees.
The theme of this year’s relay was inspiration; people nominated those who had inspired them and the runners were chosen by a committee and sponsors Coca-Cola and Chevrolet.
Hayes was nominated by her partner, Freda Routt.
The 43-year-old Hayes was studying to teach deaf children when she contracted viral pneumonia, causing her to have a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body for over 12 years. No longer able to use sign language, she returned to school and got a degree in elementary education, eventually getting a job teaching special needs students.
She was diagnosed with the debilitating disease systemic lupus in 2000, which forced her to retire. Returning to school, she got a graduate certificate in assistive technology, and hopes to start a consulting firm, dealing directly with families who have infants and young children with disabilities.
Turned away at the funeral home
Houston—A gay man says he will ask state regulators to investigate a funeral home that refused to cremate his partner because of his sexual orientation.
David Diehl said a male employee at the Garden Oaks Funeral Home told him their policy was to refuse potential customers who were gay because state law does not recognize gay couples.
Texas law does not recognize gay partnerships as a marital or legal relationship that would establish the partner as next of kin.
Diehl’s partner of ten years, Bobbie Blanton, had designated in a will and in a separate legal directive that he wanted Diehl to control the disposition of his remains.
The Texas Health and Safety Code says just one of these legal documents would be enough to allow Diehl to legally request the cremation.
Diehl said the Garden Oaks employee in southwest Houston, who also talked to the hospice nurse tending to Blanton, never asked if there was a legal document that would establish Diehl as Blanton’s representative.
Chet Robbins, executive director of the funeral commission, said he had never heard of someone turning away business based on a person’s sexual orientation.
He said the commission will investigate when it receives Diehl’s formal complaint later this week.
Mom’s wrongful death suit resumes
Houston—A federal appeals court has reinstated a woman’s suit against the Houston police alleging that they failed to protect her son from his ex-lover despite repeated complaints to the police.
The December 13 decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier federal ruling the held that Marc Kajs, as a gay man, did not belong to a protected class.
Kajs died after he was was shot eight times by his ex-lover Ilhan Yilmaz, who then killed himself, on March 29, 1998.
The federal judge hearing the case dismissed it last March.
The ruling by the appellate court opens the door for Kajs mother, Gloria Swidriski, to resume her suit against the city on equal protection grounds, but leaves standing the earlier decision that the police did not create the danger in failing to protect her son.
At one point, Yilmaz chased Kajs into a police station and threatened him in front of officers, who then sent Kajs back out because the station’s domestic violence unit was closed on weekends. Kajs was dead hours later.
Drug-resistant HIV is widespread
Washington, D.C.—Alarming numbers of people with HIV have strains that are resistant to at least one drug used to slow the virus, researchers reported on December 18.
The study, which used blood samples taken in 1999 from over 1,600 men and women with HIV, showed that over 75% of the samples exhibited resistance to at least one medication, and slightly over half were resistant to more than one class of drugs.
The study, according to researchers, indicates an immediate need for better drugs to treat HIV infection and highlights the need for more research into a vaccine.
The study also casts a harsh light on the perception of HIV infection as a "manageable" condition, a view that has become more popular in recent years with the introduction of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), a combination of medications that has been increasing the life spans of people with the virus.
The researchers note that, while seemingly effective now, as resistant strains of HIV spread, the multi-drug treatments will become less useful, and that it is as important as ever to have safe sex to inhibit the spread of the disease.
Secret Service looks at P-FLAG notes
Detroit—The U.S. Secret Service is investigating slips of paper resembling dollar bills placed in Salvation Army donation kettles as a sign of protest.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or P-FLAG, has been urging the public to protest the Salvation Army’s policy of not giving benefits to same-sex partners of employees.
Many members placed what they called a "reminder" in the charity’s Christmas collection kettles instead of a cash donation. The reminders said the giver was withholding donations because they didn’t agree with the benefit policy.
But some of the reminders may have looked a little too much like real money.
Salvation Army officials in Flint, Michigan, where the protest began, said they were contacted by a Secret Service agent investigating the phony bills as possible counterfeiting. In addition to the pre-printed $5 bills available on P-FLAG’s web site, photocopied dollar bills with changed wording have turned up in donation kettles.
Another Secret Service agent left his card on the door of protest organizer Mary Scholl before Christmas. Scholl, president of the Genesee County chapter of P-FLAG, said she had not called the agent yet.
Scholl said a $1 note, which had been on P-FLAG’s web site, did look similar to real currency but had obvious differences.
Man confesses to murder
Miami—Police have arrested a man for one of two murders of older gay men in the area.
Oscar Cruz, 30, was arrested December 30 for killing Ward Everitt, 59, who was found dead in his northeast Miami apartment the day before.
Another man, Elso Morales, 70, was killed in a similar manner as Everitt on Dec. 6, eight blocks away.
Both men were openly gay and lived alone, said Lt. Bill Schwartz of the Miami Police Department.
Cruz had been in a drug rehabilitation program, being mentored by Everitt, in November. He then served a thirty-day sentence for strong-arm robbery, and was released in December.
Both Morales and Everitt were known to help people who were "down and out" by bringing them into their homes, Schwartz said.
Both victims’ cars were missing when the bodies were found, though Morales’ was also recovered.
Police said that Cruz admitted to Everitt’s murder shortly after being brought in for questioning, clearing two other suspects in the case.
Police are warning that it is too early in the investigation to decide if Cruz had also killed Morales.
Cruz was charged with first degree murder, grand theft auto and armed robbery.
Partner can seek visitation rights
Pittsburgh—The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who helped raise a child with her former lesbian partner can seek visitation rights with the child even though the couple has separated.
Although the 5-2 ruling December 28 does not grant visitation rights, her attorney said the court’s decision was important because the court recognized that she had legal standing as a parent.
"It applies the same rules to lesbian and gay parents that apply to other parents," said Patricia M. Logue, attorney for the woman, who was identified in court documents only as "T.B."
Both women’s identities were being withheld to protect the child’s identity.
T.B. and her estranged partner L.R.M., both formerly of Ebensburg, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, began an exclusive relationship in the late 1980s, according to court documents. After buying a home together, they decided to have a baby and L.R.M. became pregnant through artificial insemination in 1992.
The women raised the girl together until August 1996, when they separated. After they broke up, L.R.M. refused to allow T.B. to see or talk to the child.
In August 1997, a trial court allowed the child’s biological mother to have sole custody of the girl, but granted T.B. visitation rights. However, the biological mother requested and received a stay pending appeal.
Suit seeks to stop Miami referendum
Miami—Backers of Miami-Dade County’s gay-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance have filed a lawsuit to toss out anti-gay petitions they say are riddled with fraud.
Save Miami-Dade, the gay rights group that lobbied for the 1998 ordinance, refers in their lawsuit to the petition drive to force a referendum to repeal the measure as "an orchestrated fraud," according to the Miami Herald.
They filed suit on December 28, ten days after county elections supervisor David Leahy certified the petitions, a year after they were handed in. Leahy had to use statistical sampling to come up with enough valid signatures to certify the petitions; 27% of signatures that his staff checked were invalidated.
The lawsuit requests that the state circuit court order Leahy to individually certify each of the 51,000 signatures. The suit would also block the referendum from going forward until all the signatures were certified.
The signatures that were invalidated were thrown out on technical grounds or because they were not from registered county voters.
Save Dade also charges that Take Back Miami-Dade, the organization behind the petition drive, engaged in a scheme to manufacture signatures, a claim currently being investigated by the state attorney’s office.
Romania repeals gay sex law
Bucharest, Romania—Article 200, the communist-era law outlawing gay and lesbian sexual activity, was removed by the country’s legislature on December 21.
The removal was part of an effort by Romania to be accepted into the European Union, which bans all forms of anti-gay sodomy laws from its member nations.
The Orthodox Church immediately attacked the move.
"We want to join the European Union, not Sodom and Gomorrah," bishop Vincentiu Ploisteanu was quoted by Planet Out.
During the communist regime, laws against homosexuality and organized religion were used to harass and arrest thousands of people, although the police were more likely to turn a blind eye to religious practitioners.
2001 was a fantastic year for GLBT films
by Kaizaad Kotwal
It’s a brand new year, and while many will be glad to see the last one relegated to the annals of history, there were many good things about 2001. It was a fantastic year for LGBT films, from the independent to the mainstream, from the small screen to the big screen, and from the obvious to the not-so-obvious.
I am starting a new tradition of listing the best among GLBT films and awarding the newly created Prism Awards for Excellence in Celluloid. This being the first year, the awards will be given out in nine categories.
So without further ado, welcome to the first Prism Awards. The envelope please!
Best Supporting Actor
A tough and highly contested category. There were some marvelous performances and here are the top six.
In Big Eden, George Coe played Sam Hart, a grandfather who tries to help his grandson come to terms with his sexuality and his unrequited love for the jock from his high school years. In The Deep End, there were two noteworthy performances by Jonathan Tucker and Josh Lucas. Tucker plays Beau Hall, an angst-filled teenager who gets seduced by the suave yet smarmy Darby Reese, played to slimy perfection by Lucas.
In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Michael Pitt does a stunning rendition of a spoiled and confused boy rock star, Tommy Gnosis, the object of Hedwig’s affection. In the moving and charged Together, Ola Norrell plays Lasse, a jilted man whose wife leaves him to follow her lesbianism. Lasse eventually finds that he too can find fulfillment in a gay relationship.
Norell shares this Prism with British veteran actor Brian Cox in L.I.E. Cox plays a pedophilic predator who creates a monster without cliché and with a sense of pathos and empathy.
Best Supporting Actress
Another hotly contested category with Together garnering three nominations. In All Over the Guy, Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) turns in a funny yet moving cameo as a health clinic receptionist who philosophizes on the nature of love. In Big Eden, Nan Martin is the eccentric and affecting Widow Thayer. She seems to be of the old world, but turns out to be very open minded as she tries to match-make her gay neighbor with some of the eligible men in Eden.
Together was an actress’s dream film and three shone through. Lisa Lindgren plays Elisabeth, a battered woman who movingly comes to terms with her feminism, her motherhood and her sexuality. Emma Samulesson plays Eva, a precocious teenager who cannot understand the free love and communal ways of her mother’s generation as she tries to retain her sanity while coming into puberty in this chaotic environment.
The Prism goes to Jessica Liedberg, as the lesbian Anna, turning in a masterful portrayal of a married woman who is freed by owning up to her sexuality and yet must have her heart broken by the woman she falls in love with.
The nominees are Frank DeMarco for his quirky and colorful playfulness in Hedwig; Rodrigo Lalinde for his gritty and seductive camera work in Our Lady of the Assassins, capturing an unusual gay love affair in Medellin, Columbia; Romeo Tirone for his equally gritty and beguiling cinematography in L.I.E.; and Pascal Poucet whose steady and subtle work in the French Come Undone sweetly and softly captures the joy and angst of two teens falling in love over one fateful year.
The award goes to Giles Nuttgens for his brilliantly metaphoric and magical work in The Deep End, where his camera takes us into the dark world of murder and a mother’s uncompromising needs to protect her son from being convicted.
The best of the year include Fernando Vallejo for a stark and brutally honest script in Our Lady of the Assassins, an unusual tale of love between an older poet and a young gangster assassin; Stephen M. Ryder, Michael Cuesta and Gerald Cuesta for their provocative writing in L.I.E. where they create a world of suburban opulence gone wrong, with latchkey kids falling prey to prostitution and the disarming seductions of the local pedophile; Francis Verber for his hilarious plot twists and poignant humanity in The Closet, where a straight man must come out of a closet he was never in, to keep his job.
The writing Prism this year is shared by two drastically differing scripts: Hedwig by John Cameron Mitchell, which brilliantly captures the topsy-turvy world of a person with a botched sex change procedure, and Together by Lukas Moodysson which captures the realities and disillusionments shared by a group living on a commune in Sweden during the 1970s.
Three GLBT documentaries stand out. Vicky Funari and Julia Query’s Live Nude Girls Unite, Sandi Simcha DuBowski’s Trembling before G-d, and Tom Shepard’s Scout’s Honor. T
he Prism goes to Shepard for his powerful and moving film about the Boy Scout’s ban on gays and the movement started by teenage Scout Steven Cozza, who has been working to overturn that ban.
There weren’t as many lesbian films as gay films this year, and yet there were some amazing performances in competition for this category.
In the quirky British comedy Blow Dry, Natasha Richardson and Rachel Griffiths play lovers who run a hair salon in a sleepy little town. These two actresses are moving as they struggle with keeping their family together during the cut-throat hairdressing championships and while Richardson’s character is dying of cancer. In I’m the One I Want, Margaret Cho is unabashedly funny and unapologetically honest as she tells tales of her life, many of which are centered around gayness and her drag queen friends.
Dame Judy Dench turns in a masterful performance in the recently-released Iris, as famed writer Iris Murdoch whose sexual shenanigans, some with women, are legendary as is her eventual struggle with Alzheimer’s.
The Prism unequivocally belongs to the amazing Tilda Swinton, whose portrayal as Margaret Hall in The Deep End is pitch perfect every moment of the film. She never falters in her honesty and in her subtlety as she shows us a mother who is trying to protect her gay son from being convicted of murder while falling in love with a mysterious and enigmatic blackmailer.
Probably the most hotly contested category this year. Daniel Auteuil was moving and immensely funny as he pretended to be gay in The Closet. In the Spanish Nico and Dani, Fernando Ramallo is sweetly charming and precociously manipulative as Dani, a young boy who is in love with his best friend Nico, who seems to have eyes only for the girls. Ramallo captures the angst of teen gay love and heartbreak with a maturity far beyond his years.
Our Lady of the Assassins had two leads worthy of recognition. German Jarmillo plays Fernando, an elderly poet who comes home to Medellín, Colombia to die and finds himself falling in love with Alexis, a young gangster assassin played to brutal perfection by Anderson Ballesteros.
Here too the Prism is shared by two very different performances. The first is Paul Franklin Dano as the young Howie in L.I.E. Dano is moving and powerful as a gay teenager who slowly learns how to survive a broken family, a self-destructive best friend, and the Machiavellian manipulations of the town’s potbellied pedophile.
The award is shared by John Cameron Mitchell as the inimitable and indomitable Hedwig. Mitchell’s is a tour-de-force performance as he takes us into the world of a heart-broken transvestite who would so like to be a woman, except for the nagging, angry inch of manhood left behind.
John Cameron Mitchell for Hedwig, David Siegel and Scott McGhee for The Deep End, Michael Cuesta for L.I.E., Barbet Schroeder for Our Lady of the Assassins, and Lukas Moodysson for Together.
The Prism is tied between Mitchell and Moodysson, both who tackle their subject matter with total honesty, poignancy and humor, allowing the sheer humanity of their characters and the worlds they inhabit to shine through with luminosity and lucidity.
The nominees are The Closet, The Deep End, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, L.I.E., Our Lady of the Assassins, and Together. All these films, in their own unique ways, deserve an award. They each had a lot to say about LGBT folk and their struggles and accomplishments. They also celebrated the amazing diversity of the GLBT spectrum.
However, this year’s Prism (drum roll please) goes to Together, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The former is an amazing return to the chaotic and contradictory 1970s where the aspirations towards freedom and equality for all were immensely noble and yet fraught with the vagaries of human folly and individual foibles. Together is unsentimentally honest and the story-telling is sharp and focused every minute of the way.
Hedwig is an amazing celebration of life told through a very unusual lens and its cult-like status is well deserved. Hedwig also reinvents the musical and deserves kudos for that as well.
A couple of closing notes. Many of the awards this year were ties for two reasons. First, it was really impossible to narrow down some of the categories to one winner. Second, because we are not actually handing out trophies yet (they are being designed by one of the top firms on Madison Avenue) there is no real cost.
Finally the amazing Moulin Rouge, which also completely reinvents the musical film genre, is absent from the nominations. This is not really a gay film and yet, its entire sensibility is oh so gay! So I would like to give Moulin Rouge and director Baz Luhrman special Prisms for film and direction. In addition I would like to give its actors Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh special acting Prisms, and a most special Prism for music and the overall mise-en-scene to the film as well.
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