Committee on Household Benefits chair Philip Cass separates the audience into small working groups. Half of them left at this point. Photo: Eric Resnick
Organizers cite financial difficulties,
by Anthony Glassman
Akron--For the first time in five years, northeast Ohio will have an autumn without the Out in Akron cultural festival.
Organizers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender festival cited financial hardships, both independent of and related to the September 11 attacks, as well as the difficulties associated with bringing in a national-caliber headliner. They also note the vast amount of time the board members must dedicate over the course of the year to organizing the festival.
"Every one of those is the truth, and all of them together is why there won’t be a festival this year," said steering committee member and Out in Akron founder Chris Hixson.
Out in Akron last year made the city one of Out magazine’s "places to be" in October. Last year’s festival was headlined by filmmaker John Waters and was viewed as "a success on many levels. The financial results, unfortunately, were disappointing," according to the steering committee of the festival.
The board is looking at a number of options for the future of Out in Akron, many of which would have the focus of the festival changing.
One of the possibilities would be a project to document and archive the history of the LGBT community in Akron and the surrounding area. Out in Akron would apply for grant funding from the Ohio Humanities Council, which is already producing a series of histories of various communities in the state.
"Isn’t that another way of celebrating LGBT contributions to northeast Ohio?" Hixson asked.
Out in Akron could also function in more of an advisory capacity, helping other non-profit organizations design programs for and market to the gay community.
Another idea would be to reduce the scope of the festival. Instead of four days of events featuring forums, headliners, film festivals and cabarets, perhaps a single day of activities focusing on more local or statewide talent.
"There is no one on this board who doesn’t want to see a festival of some sort in the future," Hixson noted. "This year may just be an anomaly."
"When we had the first festival, Akron didn’t have the Pride Center, didn’t have the community endowment fund," he continued. "There’s so much going on in Akron and Cleveland now that you can find something to do outside of the bars every week."
Besides finances, another central problem in putting on the festival annually is the amount of time board members and volunteers must put in. When the festival started, Hixson was self-employed and had an office manager who could help with some of the clerical tasks, as well as making preliminary phone calls to entertainers and speakers.
Now, most members of the board work full-time in corporate jobs, and many travel for work a good deal of the time.
"What we don’t have on the board are people with a lot of flexible time," Hixson concluded, noting that an influx of additional board members would aid in that department.
"It may be time for Out in Akron to look at itself and take a different approach," he surmised.
by Eric Resnick
Columbus--A public meeting on proposed health benefits for household members of city workers produced many comments opposing them, but few in favor.
Mayor Michael Coleman appointed an eight member Joint Committee on Household Benefits in May to recommend a plan for the city to extend city employee health benefits to household members not currently covered.
The committee, headed by Phillip Cass of the Columbus Medical Association, held the first of two public meetings June 25 to solicit citizens’ opinions on what the proposed coverage should include.
The committee’s report to council will include public comment. Once the report is made, council can pass an ordinance based on it, or do nothing.
The benefits could be extended to the same-sex and different-sex domestic partners of city employees, as well as dependent grandchildren, children of partners, dependent parents, and others with no current access to health benefits.
About 120 of the city’s 8,043 workers are eligible.
Coleman spokesperson Mike Brown said the effort to expand benefits results from a 1999 promise by Coleman to address the problem of the 130,000 uninsured Columbus citizens.
Brown said the decision to appoint the committee has nothing to do with the city’s need to settle the Community Relations Commission’s February 26 ruling that the city is violating its own civil rights ordinance by not providing insurance benefits to the partner of Health Department employee James Hartman.
"Complaint or no complaint, we would have had to come to grips with this problem," said Brown.
Hartman filed his complaint in 1997, and the commission agreed with him that under the 1994 law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, "the city must allow coverage to domestic partners of homosexuals."
In 1998, Columbus became the first city in Ohio to pass an ordinance granting such benefits. Immediately, Christian conservatives, led by attorney Jay Meena, began collecting petition signatures to put a repeal referendum on the ballot. To avoid this, which would require a second referendum to undo, council repealed the measure two months later.
"One of the criticisms in 1998," said Brown, "was that it excluded public debate on the issue. That’s why the committee wants the public to speak, so they can play a role in defining the policy."
The initial public meeting drew nearly 100 people, more than half of whom left immediately after Cass’ opening statements, when the group split into four smaller, facilitated working groups.
Of those who stayed, the biggest objection to the proposal came from Meena and other Christian conservatives. They said that if the proposal included domestic partner coverage, the city would be endorsing cohabitation and giving such relationships a status equivalent to traditional marriage.
Opponents presented a May 7 resolution passed by the Columbus Baptist Pastors’ Conference supporting expansion of benefit eligibility only to those in the household related by blood, marriage, adoption and legally recognized guardianship. It opposed any action "that has the purpose or effect of endorsing, promoting, recognizing, or legitimizing live-in, heterosexual or homosexual cohabiting relations, under any circumstances or for any reason."
The only other concerns expressed were over the cost of such benefits, which have been estimated to be 1 to 5 percent more than the city’s current health benefit budget of $63 million.
Columbus can have unlimited flexibility in deciding who gets covered because it is large enough to be self-insured.
Cleveland Heights, which began offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees on May 31, has been criticized for not extending their plan to other household members. But their carriers will not write such policies.
Opponents of the Cleveland Heights benefits mounted a petition drive and have sued to stop the benefits.
Currently, the cities of Atlanta and Rochester, N.Y. offer similar extended-household plans, as does Columbus-based Nationwide Insurance for its employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 131 cities offer domestic partner benefits, along with 4,349 other employers.
Rob Myers of Grove City told his working group, "Taxpayers should not be responsible for people who choose to live together unmarried."
Shawn Hardin said the city should not be recognizing relationships that aren’t recognized by God.
While some supported the overall concept, there were no observed comments in favor of extending the benefits to domestic partners.
Meena criticized the mayor for appointing Stonewall Columbus board member Susan White to the committee without also appointing a member of the Baptist Pastors’ Conference.
"It’s all about the homosexual agenda," said Meena, "and the committee contains a member of the Stonewall board, but no Baptists."
Meena said he does not know whether or not he will oppose the plan if it recommends coverage of domestic partners. "I’ll have to wait and see," he said.
Scott Varner, the director of communication for city attorney Janet E. Jackson, said Hartman’s complaint against the city is not affected in any way by the work of the Extended Household Benefits Committee.
A second public meeting on the benefits is set for noon on Friday, June 28. The committee’s report is due in July.
In addition to White, who is also a medical services researcher, the committee includes council members Michael Mentel and Charlete Tavares, Mark Huddy of the Columbus Catholic Diocese, Bishop Timothy J. Clarke of the First Church of God, Bessie King representing both the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging and the American Association of Retired Persons and Donna James of Nationwide Insurance.
Only Cass, White, King and James attended the meeting.
by Milla Rosenberg
Columbus--The eighth annual Matter of Pride conference brought together LGBT-affirming social service and mental health providers and consumers at Franklin County Veterans Memorial on June 21.
About 150 people from around Ohio attended workshops which addressed counseling approaches for substance abuse, support for LGBT youth and internalized homophobia. The conference offered three different tracks: introductory, advanced and school/youth.
Jim Broyles, co-owner of Grove City Psychological Services, said that the youth programs, a more recent addition, have great potential for outreach.
"It is a way that we can impact the broader society," he said. "This year, we marketed the program more toward educational and guidance counselors."
Broyles led a workshop on "Counseling Approaches for LGBT Youth." He is a member of the LGBT Service Providers Coalition, a ten-person committee in central Ohio, which plans the annual event. Amy Crawford, program director for Women’s Outreach for Women, coordinated the conference.
Ray Irion, a counselor at Southeast Recovery and Mental Health Care Services led a morning session on chemical dependency among LGBT people. Irion emphasized that a variety of cultural factors, including the time that person has been out in the community, must be respected within the treatment process.
Melissa Murray, program and volunteer coordinator for Women’s Outreach for Women, said that the evaluations from participants highlighted a successful program.
Two of the questions on the evaluation were: "How much knowledge did you have of the LGBT community coming into the conference? How much knowledge do you have after the conference?"
"Everyone moved up," Murray said.
Murray also noted that everyone responded well to the keynote address by Patrick Califia.
Califia’s talk, entitled "Beyond Gatekeeping: Improving Mental Health and Social Services for Transgendered People," recommended that providers take a holistic approach to counseling transgender clients.
"Gender may not be the primary issue for which trans-people seek counseling," Califia said. "Counselors should address three major areas: ego strength; issues of ethics, values, and spirituality, and issues of sexuality—that transgenders have some need for pleasure, to form intimate relationships and friendship networks."
Murray attended Califia’s morning workshop on "Working with Sexual Minority Clients.
"I think that Patrick’s idea of a holistic approach for transgender people, looking at the whole person, is very useful," she said.
Other workshops included homophobia in the workplace, support for children of LGBT families, and alcohol, tobacco, and drug prevention for LGBT youth.
A fair booth in the building’s foyer gave participants the opportunity to learn more about sponsoring and participating organizations. Sponsors included Women’s Outreach for Women, Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, Columbus Health Department, Ohio Association of Social Workers, Southeast and Stonewall Columbus.
Murray said that LGBT Service Providers Coalition is open to people from outside of central Ohio, as long as they can attend meetings. The coalition will begin planning next year’s conference in the autumn.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
Five charged in Riverside knife slaying
Riverside, Calif.--Five reputed gang members pleaded innocent to murder and hate crime charges in connection with the stabbing death of a gay activist outside a bar earlier this month.
The five entered their pleas June 25 in Superior Court. Viviano Cruz Marin Miguel Angel Ramos Ramin Meza Rabago, Dorian Lee Gutierrez and David Martinez were charged with murder, plus gang and hate crime allegations. All five defendants are scheduled to return to court July 18.
Authorities said the defendants attacked Jeffrey Owens outside a Riverside bar June 5 because he was gay. His friend, Michael Bussee, also was beaten and stabbed but survived.
Owens was rushed to a hospital where he died.
Prosecutors allege that Gutierrez stabbed Owens and Bussee. Police have found a knife that may have been used in the attack.
Charges also have been filed against Wendy Plasier, 26, of Riverside, who worked next door to the bar where Owens was killed. She is accused of harboring or concealing felons.
Meanwhile, officials at Riverside County Regional Medical Center are investigating the hospital care given to Owens. Hospital officials declined to elaborate on the investigation, but results could be released as early as next week.
Sgt. Shelley Kennedy-Smith, a spokeswoman for the county coroner’s office, said the cause of Owens’ death is "open and pending." The cause of death would not be released until after toxicology tests come back.
Owens had been stabbed at least four times and needed surgery. Doctors performed a second surgery three hours after the initial examination. Owens died 2˝ hours later.
Ashcroft assailed for Pride event
Washington, D.C.--Two conservative groups assailed Attorney General John Ashcroft on June 20 for allowing his top deputy to speak to a group of gay, lesbian and bisexual Justice Department employees.
Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson spoke briefly at a Pride event June 19 night in the department’s Great Hall, where most formal events are held. The group, named DOJ Pride, gave awards to career employees who have contributed to fair treatment for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Also honored was a Washington police officer who works with gays and lesbians.
Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, said her organization felt betrayed after fighting vigorously for Ashcroft’s confirmation.
Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, also challenged the administration for allowing the celebration.
Some members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual group were also dissatisfied with Thompson’ s appearance.
DOJ Pride board member Mark Hegedus said the group was divided between happiness that the administration allowed a representative to speak, and disappointment that Thompson didn’t focus on gay and lesbian issues.
"He could have given that speech to a bunch of tourists, " Hegedus said.
New trial ordered in outing suicide
Philadelphia--A federal judge has ordered a new trial in a suit accusing police of violating the privacy rights of an 18-year-old who killed himself after officers allegedly threatened to tell his family he was gay.
A jury in November cleared three police officers in a civil lawsuit filed by the boy’s family.
U.S. District Judge Arnold C. Rapoport of the Eastern District in Allentown granted the motion for a new trial last week. A copy of his memorandum was not immediately available.
Marcus Wayman, a football player in Minersville, Pa., committed suicide in 1997 shortly after an incident during which officers allegedly threatened to tell his grandfather he was gay.
Wayman’s mother, Madonna Sterling, filed a civil suit over his death, charging that the town and three officers--Scott Willinsky, his father Police Chief Joseph Willinsky, and Thomas Hoban--violated his right to privacy.
In April 1997, officers approached Wayman and a 17-year-old friend in a car near a beer distributor. Scott Willinksy and Hoban took them to the station on underage drinking charges.
Scott Willinsky later testified that the boys said they stopped to have sex. Willinsky allegedly asked if they were "queer" and threatened to tell their families they were gay.
Wayman told his friend he was going to kill himself. A few hours later he unlocked a gun cabinet in his home and shot himself in the head, according to court testimony.
Officers’ partners can get 9-11 benefit
Washington, D.C.--President Bush signed legislation June 24 that allows death benefits for public safety officers killed Sept. 11 to go to a beneficiary other than an immediate family member, including same-sex partners.
The measure, named after fallen gay New York City fire department chaplain Mychal Judge, also makes chaplains eligible for the federal public safety officers’ benefits program.
Up to now, the federal $250,000 death benefit was paid only to spouses, children and parents of fallen officers.
The loophole would have penalized survivors of Judge and a handful of other legally single, childless firefighters and police officers killed in the World Trade Center collapse. Judge died administering last rites to firefighters Sept. 11.
In the absence of such a relative, the new law ensures the benefits will go to the beneficiary named in the officers’ life insurance policy.
Some conservative Republicans opposed the measure because it would let gay surviving partners collect benefits. However, it passed both chambers of Congress easily.
Hate murder suspect tries jailbreak
Redding, Calif.--A white supremacist responsible for burning three synagogues in 1999 and who is currently awaiting trial on charges that he murdered a gay couple, allegedly beat a jail guard during a botched escape attempt, police said.
Matthew Williams hid in a shower stall June 22 at the Shasta County jail with inmate Paul Gordon Smith, police said. The two attacked officer Timothy Renault with a handmade weapon while he was making his routine checks about 4 a.m. Other officers responded to his calls for help.
Renault was beaten on the head with the crude device and suffered a fractured skull. He underwent surgery at Mercy Medical Center in Redding and was listed in serious condition.
Williams and his younger brother, Tyler Williams, are in the Shasta County jail awaiting trial Oct. 8 on charges they fatally shot a gay Happy Valley couple in the couple’s home on July 1, 1999.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the hate crime shootings of Winfield Mowder and Gary Matson.
In November, Matthew Williams was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for arson at three synagogues and an abortion clinic in Sacramento. Tyler was sentenced to 21 years and three months for the same crimes.
Air Force still ‘asks’ recruits
Washington, D.C.--The Air Force Reserves are violating the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy in their applications for candidates, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
The SLDN on June 21 contacted the Air Force, demanding that an application predating the policy by six years be removed from use.
The application asks "Are you a homosexual or bisexual?" and "Do you intend to engage in homosexual acts?"
According to the SLDN, the application appears to be used by Air Force Reserve offices across the country and is also available on the Air Force Command Publication and Forms web site.
"There is no excuse, nine years after "don’t ask" was placed into law, for this application to still be in use," SLDN legal director Sharra E. Greer said. "The Air Force’s compliance with its own policies is long overdue."
New Jersey couples sue for marriage
Jersey City, N.J.--Seven gay and lesbian couples sued the state on June 26 for the right to legally marry.
The suit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court, urges the state to grant the couples, who have been together between ten and thirty years apiece, the full array of rights and benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.
The suit is based on the New Jersey constitution, giving the state’s supreme court ultimate authority in the matter. New Jersey state law mentions marriage, its benefits and obligations over 850 times.
Joining the couples in the suit are Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the National Organization for Women’s state chapter and numerous religious and civil rights leaders.
The decision to file a same-sex marriage suit in New Jersey was based on the progressive nature of state supreme court decisions in the last few years, including the rights of same-sex co-parents and decisions ruling the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay members and leaders illegal under the state’s constitution.
30 years since UCC’s gay ordination
Seattle--The United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns celebrated the 30th anniversary of the denomination’s first ordination of an openly gay man on June 25 at their national gathering.
The gathering, which ran from June 24 to 27, was held at Seattle University.
In 1972, William R. Johnson sought ordination in the United Church of Christ. Forming the Coalition to advocate on behalf of LGBT people, Johnson battled through hearings and questions from the delegates of the UCC General Synod.
On June 25, 1972, the 96 delegates voted 62-34 to ordain Johnson, opening the door to ministry for gay people in the United Church of Christ. Thirteen years later, the denomination voted to be open and affirming, and in 2000, it established the William R. Johnson Scholarship Fund for LGBT seminarians, which has received over $100,000 in pledges and gifts.
Johnson is currently a minister for HIV and AIDS concerns with the Wider Church Ministries at the denomination’s Cleveland headquarters.
Teaching is this tenor’s first love, but he’s pleased
by Richard Berrong
Lyric Opera Cleveland opens its twenty-ninth season of opera and musical theater in English with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the story of a man who devotes his life to making new sexual conquests. So consumed is he with this passion that he even hires someone to keep a catalogue of all the names and places.
With Mozart’s work, Lyric Opera begins its first season in the Drury Theater of the Cleveland Play House. It has moved for the hall’s better acoustics, so that audiences will have no difficulty hearing the words. Gay tenor J.R. Fralik, one of the stars, recently spoke about both the production and his own career.
Fralik had a lot of praise for the production. He emphasized that it is remarkable in that all seven of the principals have outstanding voices and know how to act. Baritone Dominic Aquilino, the Don Giovanni, caught the attention of Cleveland audiences four years ago when he appeared as another wolf, the one in Lyric’s production of Into the Woods. Soprano Adele Karam, the Donna Elvira, has sung frequently in area opera and musical productions, such as Cleveland Opera’s recent ebullient Cenerentola. Fralik assured me that the other leads are equally convincing dramatically as well as vocally.
He also praised Jonathon Field for his direction, which, Fralik explained, keeps the story clear and always moving. Field has updated the action to the 1930s, linking that era’s elegant attire with Mozart’s elegant music. Fralik is happy about having the chance to sing his role, Don Ottavio, in English. He finds it easier to perform when he knows that the audience understands what he is singing. It allows him to "keep the subtle things subtle," he said, and not have to exaggerate to put them across.
One of the aspects that this new Clevelander likes about the city is the number of such opportunities to perform that it affords him. He has just completed his first year as a professor of voice at the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory, and teaching remains his first love. He continues to perform, however, both because he feels that he needs to keep in the profession for which he is training his students and because he enjoys it. Since he has a full-time teaching position, he appreciates the luxury of being able to perform because he wants to, rather than because he has to.
As a teacher, Fralik concentrates on helping his students be true to themselves. Often, he explained, students focus on a favorite performer, and perhaps unconsciously start to sing like them. This can only lead to trouble, Fralik assured me, and he sees it as his role to help students discover the natural sound of their own voice and what it can do beautifully. He works on giving them technique, but they need to find and develop their own true vocal selves.
Coming out five years ago has helped Fralik in a similar fashion. Since he is no longer acting a role in his daily life, he explained, he finds that he feels more comfortable on stage, more sincere and more relaxed. Now that he is no longer afraid of people seeing him as he is, he feels free to focus his acting skills on creating characters on stage rather than a personal mask.
In the future he hopes to perform comedy roles, most of which are not written for tenors. For that reason he is working on German cabaret songs from the 1930s. Until then, Cleveland audiences can enjoy him in a serious role in one of Mozart’s masterful blends of comedy and high drama. While Don Giovanni opened June 19, there is one performance remaining on Sunday, June 30 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets call the Cleveland Play House box office at 216-795-7000 ext. 4.
Richard M. Berrong is a freelance writer living in Hudson, Ohio.
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