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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
July 26, 2002

Suspect charged in Short North attacks

ColumbusA man believed to be behind a series of robberies and possibly one rape in the Short North area was indicted on June 24.

William Coffman, a 42-year-old African American man, was arrested on May 2. He is being held in connection to two robberies, and is now a suspect in the April 7 rape of a man.

“The guy’s an absolute predator and he doesn’t care who gets in his way,” Sgt. David Clark of the Sexual Assault Squad said of Coffman.

A string of March and April robberies in the ten-block commercial district surrounding High Street north of downtown brought warnings from the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Project and a flurry of police activity to stem the attacks.

BRAVO executive director Gloria McCauley noted that, while Coffman has only been charged in two robberies, his description and modus operandi matches the others, and no further robberies occurred after he was arrested.

Coffman has spent much of the last twenty years in correctional facilities. In 1983, he was sent to the London Correctional Institution for over three years on charges of burglary and petty theft. Four years after being released, he was in the Orient Correctional Institution on an 11-year stint for burglary, robbery and aggravated robbery.

Since being released on November 13, 2001, he has been arrested twice, in January on drug charges and resisting arrest and in March for littering.

Coffman was indicted on two counts of robbery and one count of aggravated robbery. Police and prosecutors were looking into filing additional charges in connection with other robberies in the Short North, but that would be dependent on the people who were robbed coming forward and identifying Coffman.

The situation in the Short North came to a head shortly after midnight on April 7 when a man was abducted at knifepoint, a common factor in the robberies. The robber stole his money, but instead of letting him go as in most of the other cases, the perpetrator raped him.

BRAVO believes that, while the rape separated the April 7 attack from the others, the same person did it.

BRAVO outlined their suspicions to members of the Sexual Assault Squad of the Columbus Police Department on July 18.

Swabs were taken at the hospital following the rape, but, according to Sgt. Clark, no DNA evidence was found. Clark said that connecting Coffman to the rape would be dependent on the survivor of the attack identifying his assailant in a photo array. Police are currently trying to schedule such a line-up.

Coffman is currently being held in lieu of $20,000 bond.


Heat can't wilt Day in the Sun picnic

Green, Ohio—Pine Valley Lake Park provided a verdant backdrop for the Akron Pride Center’s second annual Day in the Sun picnic, bringing 294 people out on July 21 to support the center.

“If it had been ten degrees cooler at noon, another 100 or 150 would have attended,” theorized Pride Center outreach chair H. Paul Schwitzgebel. “That is not an actual scientific survey, but it’s pretty near the truth.”

“Oh, it was too hot,” agreed Pride Center chair Mark Myers.

The heat, however, did not deter those who braved it from having fun.

“It was a great day,” Myers added. “The bands were great.”

With Ann E. DeChant, Neecy Brown & the All-Star Blues Band and the Wayne Project performing, Pride Center supporters got an earful.

Two food booths also ensured that attendees got a bellyful, while the 12 other information and community organization tables served to fill the minds of the picnickers.

Estimates of the fundraiser’s earnings were not available at press time. While ticket prices ranged from $16 to $18, some of the 294 picnickers were children admitted free.

Running from noon until 11 pm, the picnic provided an entire day’s entertainment. After dark, Canton’s Iron Eagles leather-Levi group provided a bonfire, adding to the intimate atmosphere for the few dozen remaining in the park.

“We had a great time,” Myers said. “There was a lot of camaraderie. Even some of the seasonal residents from the campgrounds came over.”

“I’ve not talked to anybody who didn’t have a good time,” he concluded.

“The neat thing about this picnic, this year and last, is the conviviality of the folks,” Schwitzgebel noted. He added that the official attendance tally was lower than the actual number of people at the picnic, since those who came over from the campground were allowed in for free.

“It was neat,” he opined. “Not many of them, but they mixed well.”


 

13 is lucky number for Garden Party fundraiser

Cleveland—Defying superstitions about the number, the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center’s 13th annual Garden Party on July 21 proved to be a lucky one for northeast Ohio’s oldest and most prominent LGBT service center.

Held for the second year in the gardens of the Hay mansion at the Western Reserve Historical Society, over 425 people braved 90-degree heat and blazing sunlight to attend the center’s largest fundraiser of the year. The event grossed over $47,000.

Marigold Catering provided the hors d’oeuvres and sumptuous lunch for those in attendance, including Chinese pot-stickers, an array of salads, bite-size deep-dish pizzas and hand-carved roasts.

A benefactor reception began at 11:30 am, providing those purchasing the higher-priced tickets a chance to sample the appetizers, place early bids on silent auction items and enjoy two exclusive performances by this year’s host, Raven. The sassy starlet first performed in her fabled “peacock” gown, complete with extendable tail, then later in the reception in a selectively-torn skin-tight off-white ensemble.

“If I had known you would be here,” Raven told the sign-language interpreter, “I would have made you a matching outfit.”

Jan Cline, the center’s acting executive director, and board president Janet Kuster both thanked the throngs for turning out to support the agency. They also singled out former executive director Linda Malicki for thanks, allowing her to hide in the audience and enjoy her freedom after six years in charge of the center.

Malicki’s permanent replacement will be selected soon, most likely within weeks.

The party proper and lunch began at 1 pm, with flautists Linda White and Sean Gabriel providing a pastoral aural backdrop for the afternoon.

Following lunch, Raven also served as the emcee for the live auction. The live and silent auctions, featuring items as diverse as 19th-century Chinese carvings, an Oz Season 1 DVD boxed set and packages to bed and breakfasts across the country, alone raised $21,400.

“The center’s special events this year were incredibly successful,” said communications director Tim Marshall, “and the Garden Party was no exception.”

With sponsors ranging from Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, a national company, to Thom Rankin’s Real Estate Mortgage Corporation, the Garden Party brought out the best in everyone.

“It’s nice to be able to work in the community,” said Marigold Catering president Joan E. Rosenthal.


State universities avoid partner benefits, fearing backlash

Columbus--Fearing a backlash from conservative lawmakers, Ohio’s public universities are bucking a national trend to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of employees similar to those given married spouses.

No institution of higher learning in the Buckeye State that is funded by the state legislature offers the benefits. All except Central State University in Wilberforce say that they have been part of union negotiations for up to ten years.

Presently, 167 colleges and universities nationwide give health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of employees. The list, kept by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C. gay political group, includes eight in Ohio, all privately funded.

All of the labor unions representing Ohio’s teaching and non-teaching university employees, including some students who work for the schools, have proposed domestic partner benefits in initial contract talks.

The unions include the American Association of University Professors, the Communication Workers of America, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, and the Police Patrolmen’s Association.

None of the unions have pushed hard for domestic partner benefits because they think the issue would become a “contract breaker” with university boards of trustees. Public university trustees are appointed by the governor.

“The trustees are worried about backlash from conservatives in the legislature who think that domestic partner benefits are not correct for state agencies to have,” said Ohio State University Associate Vice President for Human Resources Larry Lewellen.

Public universities received nearly $2 billion from the state’s treasury to cover operating expenses in fiscal year 2002. University administrators fear that Governor Robert Taft and Republican conservatives in control of the legislature are looking for reasons to reduce that amount to help close holes in the budget, and don’t want domestic partner benefits to become ammunition against them.

A high-ranking university official who spoke to the Gay People’s Chronicle under condition of anonymity said there is nothing formally communicated between the legislature and the universities threatening funding cuts if domestic partner benefits were offered, “but we all understand the climate, and it doesn’t take much to figure out that there would be retribution.”

The Ohio Board of Regents is the agency responsible for the distribution of the state money to the campuses. Chancellor Roderick G.W. Chu, also a gubernatorial appointee, refused to comment on the matter.

University of Toledo spokesperson Tobin Klinger said that language in the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act passed by the Ohio House of Representatives was a factor in his university’s recent contract negotiations.

Should it become law, language in the DOMA bill would prohibit the state from granting financial benefits to non-married couples similar to those given to married couples. That language concerned Stanley Dobry of Warren, Michigan, who conducted the fact-finding between the University of Toledo and its unions.

In his April 2002 report, Dobry wrote “the union’s proposal to include benefits for domestic partners to the health care plan cannot be adopted” in part due to the legislature’s actions.

Dobry made a strong case in favor of domestic partner benefits, while sending a strong signal to negotiators that it is an issue that, for reasons outside their control, should be avoided.

Dobry wrote, “As the unions point out, a great many corporations and national universities have already put [domestic partner benefits] in place . . . The university [of Toledo] would do well to follow their example.”

“Ultimately, I also believe that the time is not yet ripe,” continued Dobry. “This is a serious issue and a change in course for the university’s benefit plan. Importantly, no public university in Ohio has yet granted it. At the state level, the legislative process continues to debate related issues.”

Dobry inferred that the influences outside the university administration and employees are significant enough that he concluded, “Whatever the fact finder’s personal views of the issue may be, he does not believe that it is appropriate at this time to recommend inclusion of the benefit, since it will likely jeopardize the efficacy of the rest of the fact finder’s report.”

The universities have been less reluctant to adopt personnel policies that protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Initially, all state employees were protected under a 1983 executive order signed by then-Governor Richard Celeste. That order remained in effect until Taft, in his first act as governor, allowed it to expire in January 1999.

All but two state universities, Central State and Youngstown State, include sexual orientation in their equal employment opportunity policies.

Like local governments have discovered, state universities know that offering domestic partner health benefits is quicker to raise the ire of anti-gay advocacy groups who routinely assert that the benefits are a step toward recognizing same-sex marriage.

Four of the state schools, Ohio State, Kent, Wright and Central State, offer minor partner benefits such as family and medical leave, and access to life insurance paid for by the employee. Because these have no cost to the school, they do not require board of trustees approval.

The eight private colleges and universities in Ohio that offer health benefits for domestic partners are Antioch, Baldwin-Wallace, Oberlin, Kenyon and Hiram colleges; the College of Wooster, Denison University and Case Western Reserve University.


Who is the enemy?

Singer-songwriter Sonia Rutstein sees a shift to the right after September 11

My interest in the band disappear fear began in 1991. Sisters Cindy Frank and Sonia Rutstein, along with three other female musicians, took the stage of a little club in Johnson City, Tennessee, filling every corner with their heartfelt, sincere and provocative lyrics from the album Echo My Call.

Recently, I had the opportunity to photograph Sonia at the same venue. She has now offered the rest of the world a chance to hear her perform there, too, with the album Live at the Down Home.

DN: As an artist, would it be safe to say the incidents on September 11, 2001 have left you seeking, searching for something to bring community members to a better level of understanding?

S: I think the events did that all by themselves and the media, of course, were the material glue. Nine-eleven demonstrates the fragility of life that is so precious, and what a rude wakeup call . . . but watching it on TV is so, so much different from losing a loved one directly. My heart goes out to all the victims’ families, and then some more.

DN: You have sung one particular song now about 9-11; on two occasions I was in the audience to hear it. What is the song’s title and how can it heal?

S: The song is called, “I am the Enemy.” I think the difference between World War II and George’s World War III is that intelligent people can see our country justifies many of its international military maneuvers under the guise of morality, when truthfully the reasons are economical.

With Hitler there was no choice, and it has become an embarrassment that Roosevelt waited so long to stop Hitler. Now, we have choices and some time.

Osama bin Laden, like Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the early days wanted no part of Israel to exist in the Middle East. Today, we live in a world where most Western countries have adjusted to live in relative peace with one another inside our country, finding that our countries’ immigrants are a large resource of color, talent and intelligence making us rich with diversity.

I believe Israel will experience this again, and on a much longer, greater scale a trust will be recreated between tribes.

Clearly, the conflict resides in a myopic position that all people living in some particular area must conform to a particular doctrine of law at the expense of personal choice. If Afghanistan was the only country in the world and the people there--including al Qaeda--had nothing to compare themselves to . . . and there was no life communication between nations, then maybe their way of life as extreme and fanatical as it is would go untested, unchanged.

Here in this glorious millenium, we are a fluid planet churning and sharing with each other in every way at every moment in every country. And we are destined to be attracted to each other’s ways of life. That is the nature of being.

The answer is to empower people to feed themselves--literally, spiritually, financially--so they can make good choices. Indeed, just the realization that they have a choice is great start. But, back to the song.

There was a great rabbinical scholar, not as well known as Jesus, but still very wise. His name is Hillel, and the lyrics of the third verse for “I am the Enemy” are from his wisdom.

I don’t know how songs heal, except that truth is so powerful and the words I choose are from my heart and my heart is open so maybe it is this love that pours out to the audience that is healing.

It’s my hope people hear the song and love the music and use the words to reflect on the best possible way to live their lives, to dream their dreams and to nurture this planet.

DN: How has September 11 made you stronger?

S: I think September 11--like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “Now America is Israel”--has given us a first-hand experience of what it’s like to be just living our lives and have someone with an agenda for our death because of the life we live, just threaten our reality.

Most Americans have never known this experience, but gay people and Jews have long feared--and to varying degrees experienced--this kind of threat to personal survival.

For me, it’s not as radical yet, it is an earthquake to my nation. For that reason, a more fascist dictatorship seems to be the way America is “buying” the solution. I am speaking specifically about the harassment of Muslims and profiling of most Middle Easterners living in the U.S. In some cases, these individuals have been treated like the Japanese were treated during World War II--like they are guilty until proven innocent.

This is wrong. And, the perpetual derailment and censorship of the media in the name of “national security” is also so backward. It seems no different than what we were taught in regard to the old Soviet Union. A media controlled so tightly by the government points to a government that is selling its citizens lies--I believe that’s what is happening in America to some degree. I have and will always speak my soul . . . I do think more people are listening.

DN: I’ve noticed several upcoming dates being labeled as reunion dates for disappear fear. Is your sister, Cindy, signing up for a new disappear fear album? What’s next for you?

S: Yes, there are several reunion dates--however, I can’t say exactly when--but Cindy and I are doing some new songs that will eventually be a disappear fear recording and hopefully a tour.

Making music with Cindy truly illuminates my soul.