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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
July 12, 2002

 

Singers have a GALA
time at regional festival

But chorus association warns of bankruptcy

by Jeff Woodard

Cincinnati--Neither red ink, white-hot temperatures nor the Queen Cityís blue history of minority acceptance could stifle the Independence Day celebration held by 35 choruses and ensembles last weekend at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Eastern Regional Festival.

A half-dozen concerts with six choruses in each, myriad workshops, a riverboat cruise and a banquet headlined by comedian Suede brought the GLBT movement and 2,000 of its favorite followers to the banks of the Ohio River in an unmistakably unique fashion.

Muse: Cincinnatiís Womenís Choir and the Cincinnati Menís Chorus kicked off the five-day festival July 3 with an opening-night performance that drew a crowd of more than 1,000 to the state-of-the-art Aronoff Center. The Coastliners--the small ensemble of Clevelandís North Coast Menís Chorus--led off the July 4 concert, which also featured Windsong, Clevelandís feminist chorus, and the Columbus Gay Menís Chorus. Sing Out Toledo and the North Coast Menís Chorus took the stage July 6.

The holiday weekend played out as a roller coaster of emotions for the GALA Choruses movement. Gay, Lesbian and Supportive Singing (GLASS) Youth, an 11-member teen choir from Vancouver, British Columbia, provided a spiritual high point, performing during a Friday noon rally on Fountain Square and later that afternoon at the Aronoff Center.

Their presence helped to temper repeated announcements by officials throughout the festival that the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses may be on the brink of bankruptcy. The 20-year-old group survives largely on revenue from its festivals, and the past three--the 2000 international Festival VI in San Jose; the Western Regional Festival in Seattle two months ago; and the one in Cincinnati--have all lost money. Officials say $100,000 is needed in the next month just to keep the organization solvent.

GLASS Youthís presence at the festival underscored the crucial role that GALA Choruses plays in nourishing and bringing together GLBT choruses.

"Weíre talking about these kidsí future," GLASS Youth director Carol Sirianni told a warmly-and-wildly appreciative audience. "But itís also their present."

GALA Choruses board member Sue Coffee, artistic director of Sound Circle and the Denver Gay Menís Chorus, is taking an optimistic approach.

"There are too many smart, passionate people in this organization to let it die," she said.

The next major GALA Choruses event is the international Festival VII, to be held in July 2004 in Montreal.


 

Toledo may consider partner benefits

Council member Louis Escobar has assembled a panel to study a measure

by Eric Resnick

Toledo--Ohioís only openly gay member of a city council says his city may offer benefits to the domestic partners of its employees as early as December. The benefits would be similar to those given to married spouses.

Toledo city council member Louis Escobar says he has assembled a committee headed by University of Toledo law professor Rob Salem to study the domestic partner benefit ordinances passed by other cities and make recommendations for an ordinance he will introduce no earlier than December.

Escobar said it will take that long to build the community coalitions needed to ensure that the ordinance is not threatened by a referendum.

"There are enough votes in council to pass it now," said Escobar, who was recently elected council president pro tempore, "but we need to do the work."

Two other Ohio cities have been threatened with referendums over partner benefits. Columbus repealed a 1998 ordinance to keep it from being put to a vote, and is now in the process of developing a new measure. Cleveland Heights is being sued by a group that wants to force a vote on its benefits (see page 2).

Escobar said he is following the same community coalition-building formula he used to pass Toledoís 1998 civil rights ordinance giving protection to gays, lesbians and transgender people.

"And that process took 12 months," Escobar added.

With the help of Gays and Lesbians United in 1998, Escobar cultivated support for the civil rights ordinance among the cityís religious and business leaders as well as among civil rights advocacy groups. He hopes GLU will be able to bring the coalition back together in support of his domestic partner benefits ordinance.

Escobar said the early reaction to his announcement that the ordinance was coming has been positive.

"So far, there have been only two calls and two e-mails in opposition," he said, "and the callers didnít even leave their names."

Escobar does not know whether his ordinance will cover unmarried different-sex couples as well as same-sex couples, how many benefits will be offered, or how they will be administered.

"Thatís what [Salemís] committee is researching," said Escobar, adding that there are some members of the committee that feel that different-sex couples already have access to the benefits through marriage.

Though Escobar talked about the introduction of such an ordinance with the Gay Peopleís Chronicle in August while he was running for re-election, he said the events of September 11 motivated him to get it done faster.

"There were couples who lost all benefits and security that day, and some of them have children," said Escobar.

"People who work for the city give of their talents and gifts," said Escobar, "and their partners and families should also share the benefits. Itís about fairness and justice."

Another council member, Wade Kapszukiewicz, also indicated he was exploring the possibility of introducing a domestic partner ordinance of his own.

Escobar said that since he announced his plans, Kapszukiewicz has thrown his support behind Escobarís efforts.

 


 

 

Downtown bar Remoís robbed
before Pride weekend

by Anthony Glassman

Columbus--Violence marred the beginning of the cityís Pride Holiday weekend, as two armed men robbed the downtown gay bar Remoís on June 27.

The robbery occurred at roughly 8:30 pm. Two men entered the bar through separate doors and pulled out handguns. Ordering bar patrons to the floor, the men took money from the bar and demanded some of the patronsí wallets.

The two men then ran out the back door of the bar, at 1409 South High St.

Although one of the robbers fired a shot into the air, nobody was hurt in the robbery. Byron Adams, the owner of Remoís, believes the robber was startled when he saw movement in the barís back room.

The men are both described as being white, 20 to 30 years old, about 165 lbs with brown hair. One of the men is described as having a tattoo on his right bicep, the other man has long hair.

Adams said he has heard of other bars in the area being robbed in recent months, but Remoís was the first gay bar. The two men made off with just $32 from the bar, in addition to a few customersí wallets. The robbers came in the early evening when there was little money on hand, and the bartenders make periodic cash drops.

Adams noted that the police were attentive and polite to his customers, which surprised him.

"The cops were very good," he noted. "They were very friendly. They did a great job."

The randomness of the robbery makes it difficult to single out specific elements of the bar that could be changed to increase security, but Adams already has at least one idea.

"Weíre going to make the back door emergency exit only," Adams said, noting that one of the two men came through the back door while his accomplice came in through the front.

"You canít stop every person at the door to see if they have a gun," he noted. "Itís one of those things that I donít know how to prevent."

 

 


First TG case under 1964
Civil Rights Act is settled

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland--A transgender woman called "Mrs. Doubtfire" by co-workers has settled an employment discrimination case against United Consumer Financial Services of Westlake to her satisfaction and strengthened TG worker rights in the process.

The case was the first to hold that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers sexual stereotype non-conformity. After mediation, it was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties on June 28, said attorney Randi Barnabee of Macedonia, who represented the 60-year-old Cleveland woman.

UCFS finances consumer purchases of Kirby sweepers and World Book encyclopedias.

Because the initial complaint alleged that UCFS violated the womanís right to privacy, her identity has not been made public and the amount of the settlement is also confidential.

Prior to filing the federal civil rights suit, the woman turned down UCFSís offer to settle for $1,500.

Barnabee told the Gay Peopleís Chronicle in May 2001 that she felt the case had merit and would not allow her client to settle for less than a substantial amount.

UCFS fired the woman July 11, 2000 after she had worked ten days as a temporary worker through Reserves Network. The case was filed in the United States District Court of Northern Ohio in January 2001.

Notes kept by the temporary agency were used to document the womanís satisfactory job performance and the unusually thorough background check conducted by UCFS. The notes also record UCFS personnel officer Debbie Woodworth asking a Reserves Network representative if she "noticed anything peculiar about [the employee]."

Woodworth then told the representative, "Employees here have named her Mrs. Doubtfire . . . but they donít say it to her face."

Woodworth was also present at a July 10, 2000 meeting with collections manager Brian Davis and UCFS vice president William Ciszozon.

At that meeting, Ciszozon asked the woman if she was a man dressed as a woman, and what her gender was because, "by looking at [her], [Ciszozon] canít tell." Ciszozon also wanted to know if she had an operation.

When the woman protested the line of questioning, she was told that another employee had complained that "a man dressed as a woman was using the ladies restroom."

UCFS notified Reserves of the womanís termination the following day.

UCFS was represented by attorney Lee Hutton of Duvin, Cahn, and Hutton of Cleveland, who asserted during initial mediation that the woman was unable to perform the essential functions of the job.

Hutton filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act cannot protect transsexuals. He said a court ruled in a 1984 case, Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, that Congress had a narrow definition of "sex" in mind, excluding transsexuals, when the act was passed.

However, Judge Kathleen McDonald OíMalley rejected Huttonís motion, finding that the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins says a person cannot be discriminated against for not conforming to the gender stereotype behavior expected by another person or social norms.

This was the first time a court allowed a transgender person to sue an employer for discrimination on the basis of sexual stereotype non-conformity, according to Barnabee, who is transgender herself.

According to Barnabee, this case, "opens the door a little bit" to protect transgender workers, who otherwise have no discrimination protection.

Barnabee has submitted OíMalleyís opinion to be published in the Federal Supplement, a collection of opinions used as guidance by federal courts.

Barnabee believes facts of the case had merit, too, but said that had a jury found in UCFSís favor, it could have weakened the persuasive value of OíMalleyís opinion on future cases.

Barnabee stressed that the major success of this case was OíMalleyís opinion replacing the old Ulane decision and allowing Title VII to protect transgender people.

"Itís helpful, too," said Barnabee, "that [OíMalleyís court] is part of the Sixth Circuit, which is notoriously conservative."


City, elections board ask high court to dismiss benefits suit

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland Heights--The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and the City of Cleveland Heights have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by a group seeking to force a referendum on health benefits for the same-sex partners of city workers.

City council passed the benefits April 15, and anti-gay activists, calling themselves Families First, began collecting signatures to put them on a ballot. But they did not collect enough by the May 15 deadline, and their petitions were rejected.

Families First leader Tracie Moore of Cleveland Heights filed suit June 14 in the Ohio Supreme Court. Represented by anti-gay activist attorney David Langdon of Cincinnati, she contends that the elections board inflated the number of signatures needed, and that the city charter entitles her group to an additional 15 days to gather them.

Moore hopes the high court will compel Council Clerk Thomas Malone to certify the petitions her group submitted May 15, and accept additional ones that he refused 15 days later.

Mooreís group is claiming that the elections board gave them inaccurate information, saying they received several different numbers of signatures needed. The board has said that only their final, certified number is applicable under Ohio law, and the others, some given by telephone, are not valid.

In separate briefs filed July 10, both the city and the elections board say the suit should be dismissed as a matter of law.

Cleveland Heights First Assistant Law Director Laurie Wagner said the city challenges Langdonís interpretation of its charter. They cite a 1937 ruling by the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, which covers Cuyahoga County.

That case, Hubbell v. Miller, dealt with a city charter similar to that of Cleveland Heights and another groupís attempt to get a referendum on the ballot.

Wagner says the justices should dismiss Mooreís suit because, even if the elections board gave Families First wrong information, it doesnít justify giving them the additional 15 day "cure period." That period is to correct signatures rejected for wrong addresses or other flaws, not simple failure to gather enough, the city contends.

As for the number required, "They should have gotten the correct information in the first place," said Wagner, "as [city law director] John Gibbon did May 13."

Gibbon is representing the city in the matter. Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Reno Oradini is representing the Board of Elections.

Oradini said his motion to dismiss is based on four points of law and fact.

Number one is that Families First waited too long to sue. They seek a "writ of mandamus" to force a public official to act. These must be filed within days, not the weeks that Families First took.

Oradini also claims that Families First was given the correct number of registered voters in Cleveland Heights on May 10 and 13, both prior to their filing deadline, so they knew the standard they had to meet.

Oradini said there is clear case law that says the only reliable figures from the Board of Elections are certified, and no other numbers can be relied upon.

"By their own admission," said Oradini, "they were given four different figures on four different dates. When they saw this was happening, they should have filed suit immediately."

"[Families First] is asking the court to make us say that the figure of 12,221 registered voters [on November 6, 2001] is correct, but it is incorrect," said Oradini. The figure is the number of people who actually went to the polls that day.

The Board of Elections certified that the number of registered voters at the time of that election was 35,699.

"They want us to defy the Ohio Revised Code and say the wrong number is right," said Oradini, "and that alone should be enough to get this case dismissed."

Wagner said that even if the motions to dismiss are not granted, it doesnít mean that the city and elections board have lost. "It will only mean that the court wants more information, and at that point we would file additional briefs."

The court has no timeline to rule, but usually decides writs in one to two months. The losing side can file a motion to reconsider within ten days of the decision.

The ordinance took effect June 1, and the one-month open-enrollment period for the health benefits began July 1.

 


ĎWe are only at the beginning
of the AIDS epidemicí

14th world AIDS conference opens with prediction of 68 million dead

by Rex Wockner

Barcelona--The statistics were sobering as the biennial 14th International AIDS Conference got under way here July 7.

More than 20 million people have died of AIDS and some 40 million more are HIV-infected. By the year 2020, another 68 million may be dead, says UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS. The drugs that keep HIV from progressing to AIDS are mostly unavailable around the world. Only about 700,000 of the 40 million people infected are believed to have access to an antiretroviral cocktail. Thatís less than 2 percent.

The problem is, for the most part, cost. Drug companies charge $12,000 to $15,000 a year per person for treatment--far beyond the means of everyone except the wealthy and people with full access to First World health-care systems.

Under pressure, some companies have lowered the price of their AIDS drugs in some Third World nations, but not enough that people can afford them. An exception is Brazil, which ignores international patents and produces generic AIDS drugs.

"We are only at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic," said UNAIDS Director Peter Piot. "Collectively, we have grossly, grossly underestimated how bad this was going to be . . . Itís frightening. It is by far the biggest epidemic that humanity has known in absolute terms."

As the conference got under way, therapeutic vaccines and entry inhibitors were generating some buzz.

Therapeutic vaccines are given to people who are already infected to stimulate their immune systems to battle HIV.

Entry inhibitors will be the next class of anti-HIV drug to arrive on the market, joining the protease inhibitors and reverse transcriptase inhibitors now available. Entry inhibitors, which must be injected, work earlier in the infection process than other drugs, thwarting HIVís attempt to attach to an immune-system cell in the first place.

T-20 is expected to be the first entry inhibitor to become generally available, probably in less than a year.

Just prior to the opening of the conference July 7, several hundred protesters calling themselves ATTN (AIDS Therapeutic Treatment Now) marched on the conference site.

A flyer said their demand was "antiretroviral treatment for 2 million people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS before the 2004 International AIDS Conference in Bangkok."

This could be achieved, they said, via drastic reductions in the prices of AIDS drugs or by lifting laws that prevent generic copying of the drugs.

The organization also is demanding lower prices in the developed world, where health-care costs continually increase significantly faster than the inflation rate due, in large part, to the price of pharmaceuticals.

ATTN was created by the Network of AIDS Communities of South Africa, the Uganda Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles and the foundationís Global Immunity project.

The opening plenary session was unremarkable except for the speech by Spanish Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs Celia Villalobos. No one heard what she said because several hundred Spanish delegates screamed and blew whistles throughout her entire address.

They were upset at reports that some Third World delegates experienced major complications in securing visas to attend the conference, and that Spain has only budgeted for 21 percent of its promised 50 million euro ($51 million) contribution to the worldwide fight against AIDS. Other speakers included the city council president, the mayor of Barcelona, the president of Catalonia (the autonomous region in which Barcelona is located), Her Royal Highness Infanta Elena (the kingís daughter) and various international AIDS officials.

In the U.S., said a spokesman for the Washington, D.C. lobby group AIDS Action, one of the biggest AIDS-related problems nowadays is barebacking--gay men deliberately not using condoms during casual sexual encounters.

"There is the whole notion that AIDS is over in the United States, that itís not a problem any more," AIDS Actionís Scott Brawley said in an interview after the opening plenary.

"Prevention messages are not working. We do have gay men barebacking. We have risk groups sharing needles again. Weíve got heterosexuals that have no idea whatís going on. We have a whole generation of people under the age of 30 that donít remember the AIDS epidemic, that think itís nothing more than, ĎHell, you take a couple of pills and youíll be fine.í "

Brawley said he did not really have any good ideas on how to stop gay men from barebacking.

"My honest response, as a gay man, is that things are going to have to get worse again before theyíll ever get better," he said. "Resistant HIV, an explosion of HIV, something that may go wrong with the medications. You never know when medications will fail."

The conference runs until July 12, when the closing plenary session will be addressed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who is the advisory board chair of the International AIDS Trust, and former South African president Nelson Mandela, who is honorary co-chair of the International AIDS Trust.

 



Arkansas Supreme Court
strikes down sodomy law

by Caryn Rousseau
Associated Press

Little Rock, Ark.óGay civil rights advocates won a victory in court on July 5 with a ruling that called a law banning sexual relations between same-sex couples an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

One of the seven plaintiffs who brought the case before the Arkansas Supreme Court said the ruling came with a price.

"It is satisfying that we are no longer considered criminals," Randy McCain said. "Iím sure all of us would rather have not brought a part of our intimate lives to the public, but we felt we had to because of fear of this law being enforced."

The legislature passed the law in 1977, but apparently no one has ever been charged under it. However, these so-called "sodomy" laws--a dozen states still have them--are often used to paint gays and lesbians as lawbreakers in employment and child custody cases.

The seven plaintiffs who challenged the law said they donít want their lives to be considered illegal.

"We agree that the police power may not be used to enforce a majority morality on persons whose conduct does not harm others," the court said in the ruling.

"A fundamental right to privacy is implicit in the Arkansas constitution" and the state has a tradition of protecting that right, the court wrote.

A judge had ruled in 2001 that the law was unconstitutional, but the state appealed. The attorney generalís office argued that the legislature should be allowed to consider moral judgments when creating laws.

A dissenting opinion by two justices said the court should not act because there was no criminal case brought under the law.

The law carried a penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Arkansas was one of four states that criminalized only gay and lesbian sexual conduct. The others are Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Nine other states outlaw oral and anal sex between unmarried heterosexuals as well as same-sex couples. They are Idaho, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

The laws in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama are currently being challenged in the courts.


 

Because itís hot

An interview with the Lammy-nominated
author of Why Things Burn

by Ragan Fox

A few weeks after the Lambda Literary Foundation announced the finalists for their 14th annual awards celebrating excellence in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature, Lesbian Poetry nominee Daphne Gottlieb, author of Why Things Burn, discussed her nomination, feminism, and what makes poetry powerful.

Ragan Fox: What was your initial response to the nomination?

Daphne Gottlieb: Absolutely shocked. Delighted, amazed, and shocked.

I found out about it through a friendís online diary, and checked out the Lambda Literary site to make sure it was really true. Except for my girlfriend and my mom, I didnít tell anyone for about three days, since I was sure it was a mistake and theyíd change it. Fortunately, they didnít.

RF: Whatís your favorite poem in Why Things Burn?

DG: Itís hard to say.

RF: Come on, which poem would you would wear as a crown if you were able to?

DG: There are a lot of pieces that I love for different reasons.

RF: Iíll tell you my favorite . . .

DG: Okay.

RF: "You Never Forget Your First."

DG: Why?

RF: You really explore something radical concerning sexual abuse in this poem. Your response to the abuse is unlike anything Iíve ever read or heard. Itís gritty and real. You really capture something carnal. It may even confuse people who havenít "been there."

DG: I think that thereís a need to testify, but Iím less interested in chronicling the real than pushing against the boundaries. Thereís something important about not making these experiences palatable. Iím not interested in flattening that experience out into "rape is bad" or "I shouldnít have been drunk." To me, those seem fairly obvious and not useful.

RF: The way you tackle the issue is so unique. You confront the sexual abuse with the way it has impacted your sexual being--the person you have become serves as your response. Itís as if you attempt to use your sex to combat the abuse, almost as if youíre fighting fire with fire--Why Things Burn--how fitting.

DG: Thatís nicely said. I like that you say "fire with fire." I think that inevitably, we live with the effects of violence far after the episode is over.

RF: You do a lot of fighting fire with fire in Why Things Burn. In "Feminine Protection," you re-appropriate items that typically signify the enhancement of femininity, and use these items to protect women against patriarchy. What was your inspiration to do so?

DG: I think it came from the name itself. I was outraged one day when I realized that what we call "feminine protection" is used to catch blood. We refer to condoms as "protection," too, but thatís to avoid pregnancy and disease. "Feminine Protection" is to protect clothes, not women. It sort of went from there, until the "constraints" of female gender, the tools we use to signify, could be re-appropriated as weapons.

RF: With the goals of the feminist movement becoming increasingly fragmented, what are the goals of your own written work?

DG: I think to provoke, primarily. We live inside a culture in which we are at the mercy of very powerful myths--about family, about love, about race and gender and money. Theyíre deep, and theyíre just slightly buried, slightly transparent. It doesnít take much to torque conventional "stories" and make them reveal much more about power, etc. than they might otherwise, from Cinderella and Mama Bear to people who bear the effects of violence.

RF: Do you think the feminist stance you take in many of your pieces may exclude a potential male fan base?

DG: I donít believe it does. At least, thatís not been my experience of men reading the book, because Iím certainly not trying to exclude anyone in my work, or to champion one gender at the expense of another. I think men are as damaged by controlling power relations as women.

RF: You are so wonderful when you do persona work. Youíre always wonderful, but particularly so in pieces like "Speaking Siamese." What inspired you to write it?

DG: The twin piece came about because my girlfriend, Miriam, saw the story in the newspaper and clipped it out for me. I started thinking about it, the experiences we have of body(ies), and realized that whether or not you believed the twins were one or two depended if you believed that was one or two lives, and thereís no representation, linguistically, for two bodies that are one life. Therefore, in some ways, our language necessitates their separation--language as the means by which we regulate the social.

RF: Now that I think about it, this could be used as a metaphor for love on the margins.

DG: Absolutely. Iím absolutely fascinated by the idea of monstrosity -- that which sits just at the border of what is representable, what can be spoken, and what needs to be suppressed, whatís too dangerous for us to articulate. In some way, monsters exist to allow us to normalize.

Daphne Gottlieb is a spoken and written word artist living in San Francisco. The Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian poetry went to Adrienne Rich for her collection Fox.

 

 

 

 

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