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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 10 , 2002

Foust loses his bid for the Ohio House

Lacey and Skindell win;
Sawyer loses in upset

by Eric Resnick

Columbus--Openly gay Ohio House candidate Chad Foust was defeated in the May 7 primary. The race had become one of the most hotly contested races in Franklin County.

Foust got a total of 1,380 votes in the newly-created 25th District, or 34.8 percent of the vote. His opponent Dan Stewart got 2,584 votes, or 65.1 percent.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the district, which includes Columbusí Short North neighborhood, is the gayest House district in Ohio.

Stewart was endorsed by the Franklin County Democratic Party, mostly because he is a former labor union president and had been active in the party for 25 years. By contrast, the 28-year-old Foust moved to Columbus from Allen County.

"And besides," said Franklin County Democratic Party chair Dennis White, "On gay issues, there is no difference between Foust and Stewart."

Foust was heavily supported by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, both financially and with volunteer labor. He was endorsed by the Lesbian and Gay Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C. political action committee.

Gay community leaders are wary of a non-gay person representing that area of Columbus. The last two officeholders, Democrat Mike Stinziano and Republican Amy Salerno, courted the powerful gay community to get elected, then cast anti-gay votes once in the Ohio House.

Foust said he has "no regrets" about the way he campaigned.

"We didnít win, but we sure as hell didnít lose, either," said Foust, referring to his ability to engage people in the process who had not been involved before, and his campaignís reputation for operating on a high ethical level.

"We did get in their face, and we did piss them off," said Foust of the Franklin County Democratic Party, "but we challenged Dan and made him a stronger candidate for it."

Foust said he will not pursue an Ohio Elections Commission complaint against Stewart over Stewartís party affiliation.

Foust was considering the complaint because Stewartís campaign literature said he was a Democrat, while his voter registration card listed him as an independent.

"We have six months now to reclaim this seat for Democrats," said Foust.

Stewart will face Republican David Dobos in November.

Stewart came to Foustís post-election party held at the Havana Club. Foust gave him the opportunity to address his supporters, and pledged his personal support to Stewartís campaign.

Lacey to join central committee

Joe Lacey, an openly gay candidate for Democratic State Central Committee from the Dayton area, handily defeated his opponent Clinton Dorsey. Lacey garnered 4,254 votes, or 63.6 percent to Dorseyís 2,431 votes, or 36.4 percent.

The central committee is primarily responsible for recruiting Democrats to run for office and deciding whom the party will endorse.

Lacey could not be reached following his victory, but told the Gay Peopleís Chronicle earlier that he will represent the interests of the GLBT community in this capacity.

Lacey ran unsuccessfully for the Ohio House in 1998 and 2000, earning his place in history as the first openly gay person to run for a seat in that legislative body.

Skindell defeats Fitzgerald

In a race of interest to the GLBT community, Michael Skindell defeated fellow Lakewood City Council member Edward Fitzgerald for the chance to run against Republican Ryan Patrick Demro in the newly-created 13th House District.

Skindell was a primary sponsor of the attempt to pass a domestic partner benefit for Lakewood city employees in 2000. Fitzgerald had opposed the benefits. Skindell was heavily supported by the GLBT community and had the endorsement of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats as well as the AFL-CIO and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Skindell got 3,810 votes, or 59.0 percent to Fitzgeraldís 2,638 votes, or 40.9 percent. The district covers Lakewood and parts of Clevelandís west side with many gay residents, including the Edgewater neighborhood.

Sawyer loses U.S. House seat

In what is arguably the biggest upset vote in the state, longtime gay-affirming U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer, who now represents the 14th congressional district, lost his bid to represent the new 17th district to State Sen. Tim Ryan.

Sawyer is a sponsor of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and has been a 100 percent voter on the Human Rights Campaign scorecard for years. Sawyer had the HRC endorsement in 1998, 2000, and 2002. Ryan has not been tested on GLBT issues.

Ryan will face Republican Ann Womer Benjamin and independents James Traficant and Warren Davis in this district, which stretches from the east side of Akron to Youngstown.


 

Panel to study Ďhousehold benefitsí
for city workers

by Anthony Glassman

Columbus--Mayor Michael B. Coleman and city council president Matt Habash appointed an eight-member committee on May 6 to draft legislation granting household benefits to city employees, including same-sex partners.

The goal of the panel is to create a measure that provides health insurance for anyone who has lived with a city employee for six months or longer and is dependent on his or her income. The insurance benefits would be subsidized by the city. The committee has no deadline to finish.

This is the second effort by Columbus to introduce domestic partner benefits for city employees. In 1998 an ordinance was passed with little notice, only to be repealed three months later under the threat of a referendum.

The northeast Ohio suburb of Cleveland Heights passed a domestic partner benefits ordinance in April that would grant benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. A petition drive to force a referendum on the measure is currently under way.

The Columbus panel will be headed by Phil Cass, CEO of the Columbus Medical Association.

Susan White, former president of the Stonewall Columbus board of trustees, will also be on the panel. She will join Mark Huddy of the Diocese of Columbusí Department of Social Concerns; city council members Michael Mentel and Charleta Tavares; Bishop Timothy J. Clarke of the First Church of God; Nationwide Insurance executive vice president Donna James and Bessie King Jackson of the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.

"Weíre very excited that the mayor is looking at all configurations of family with these benefits," said Stonewall Columbus, executive director Kate Anderson. "This would address domestic partners, elderly parents living with city employees, adult children with health problems."

"We applaud him for his visionary approach," she continued.

Susan White noted that her position on the panel is due to her experience as a health care actuary and statistician, not because of her role in the LGBT community. White works for Cleverley & Associates, a firm that studies financial concerns in the health care industry.

"The reason Iím on this panel is not to represent this community," White stressed. "Itís more for my expertise in the health care field."

"There is a serious health care access issue," she noted, "and the uninsured could become a huge burden to the city and state if this is not addressed."

"The committee looks pretty balanced," Anderson mused, "and Iím sure theyíll come up with the best program the city can offer. This is about whatís good for city employees."

"Itís the right thing to do," she concluded.


Dutch gay political maverick Pim Fortuyn is shot to death

by Rex Wockner

Hilversum, The Netherlands--Openly gay Dutch political maverick Pim Fortuyn, 54, was assassinated May 6 outside a radio studio in Hilversum, seat of the Netherlandsí broadcasting operations. He was shot six times.

Police captured a suspected gunman, a 33-year-old "white man of Dutch nationality," but have not provided information on his identity or motive.

The Dutch media, which does not name criminal suspects, identified him as Volkert van der G., abbreviating his last name, and said he is married, has a child, works for an organization called Environment Offensive, and lives in Harderwijk, 30 miles east of Amsterdam.

Fortuyn (pronounced "For-town") was campaigning on an anti-immigration platform and had angered some Muslims by criticizing their conservative and anti-gay beliefs. His followers were expected to win the second-largest number of seats in parliament in the May 15 national election, which would put them in the new ruling coalition.

A recent poll of readers of the magazine De Gay Krant found that more planned to vote for Fortuyn-affiliated candidates than for any other party.

"It still feels totally unthinkable, and it feels like our democracy and our way of life have been deeply wounded," veteran Dutch gay activist Grada Schadee said May 7.

"I was much against his political ideas but I deeply respected him on his openness [as a gay man]. He was so sharp in his debating techniques. He was serious yet also caused much laughter with the public."

"The whole country is in shock," said Alex Kröner, publisher of the Amsterdam magazine Gay & Night. "He won one-third of the votes in [the] Rotterdam [local elections] and they expected that he would show at least 20 to 25 percent nationally. People are bringing flowers to his house and where the shooting was and also in Amsterdam at the national square."

"Itís difficult to generalize," said Gay & Night editor Hans Verhoeven. "You either loved him or you hated him. One of the things that was important, he was very openly gay. He talked on public radio about his visits to dark rooms [gay bar backrooms] and he told about the rent boys he employed at his home. He was very open and that was, strangely enough, accepted by the whole society and made him an example for gay people, not only about being out but about how to explore your gay life."

"The general feeling here is one of disbelief. It is the first time since 1672 that we had a political assassination," Verhoeven said.

Fortuyn--a former sociology professor and magazine columnist--was thrown out of the national party Livable Netherlands in February because of his anti-Muslim statements. He then formed the Pim Fortuynís List party. In March, his local party, Livable Rotterdam, captured 37 percent of that cityís council seats.

"Islam is . . . simply a backward culture," Fortuyn said in one of several similar interviews. "I would simply say, no more Muslims can come in! . . . Holland is full."

Many media outlets dubbed Fortuyn a right-winger, but he disputed that.

"I find it intolerable that I am being compared with statesmen such as [Joerg] Haider and [Jean-Marie] Le Pen," he said April 8, referring to right-wing politicians in Austria and France. "My policies are multi-ethnic and certainly not racist."

Dutch Muslim clerics were threatened with criminal prosecution last year for calling homosexuality a "shameless," "scandalous," "intolerable" "sickness" that "could destroy society."

There are about 800,000 Muslims in the Netherlands, many from Morocco and Turkey. They are about five percent of the population.

Fortuynís web site describes him this way: "His lifestyle is noble, his thinking utterly non-conformist, he is a romantic at heart. Literature and ideals, fury and doubt, hedonism and compassion: Pim Fortuyn is a multi-cultural country all by himself. Aesthete and grass-roots democrat. Privileged child and desperado. Dadaist with a gladiatorís head. Rebel with a cause."


Party gets court order to
stop Foust campaign mailing

by Eric Resnick

Columbus--Ohioís only openly gay candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives was ordered by a judge to stop distributing campaign literature that the Franklin County Democratic Party says looks too much like theirs.

Chad Foust, who lost a primary race to become the Democratic candidate for the newly-created 25th District House seat, was ordered to immediately cease and desist distributing his sample ballot by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer L. Brunner on Sunday, May 5--two days before the primary election.

The complaint filed by the Franklin County Democratic Party, Foustís opponent Dan Stewart, and Stewartís campaign committee alleges that Foust and his campaign injured the party by attempting to "mislead the voters and to affect the outcome of the election."

The party endorsed Stewart in the race.

The party took action when Foust mailed his sample ballot card to all 7,800 Democrats in the district a week after the party mailed its "official" sample ballot.

Both sample ballots list all of the endorsed candidates for state and county offices--including Judge Brunner--except that Foustís mailings substituted his name for Stewartís.

"We found [Foustís] piece to be misleading to Democrats," said Franklin County Democratic Chair Dennis White.

"We have to protect the trademark of the Democratic Party sample ballot just like Pepsi would protect their trademark," said White. "When his ballot mirrors our ballot, it weakens our ballot." The motion filed with the court calls Foustís ballot "substantially identical to the official sample ballot . . ."

Foust said he consulted with the Ohio Elections Commission and the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee prior to creating the sample ballots.

"They both said as long as you donít use words like official and endorsed, you will be fine," said Foust.

"If it was my intention to deceive," said Foust, "I would have made them look the same [as the partyís.] Instead, we made them look as different as they possibly could."

Foustís sample ballot is blue. The partyís is red. They are printed on different paper stock and are different sizes. They use different typefaces and layout styles.

The partyís says, "Official Sample Ballot of the Franklin County Democratic Party" across the top. Foustís says, "Democratic Sample Ballot."

Foustís says, "Paid for by Friends of Foust." The partyís says, "Paid for and authorized by the Ohio Democratic Party."

Asked about these dissimilarities, White replied, "[Foustís ballot] mirrors those we have used in the past, not this yearís."

White said he switched the colors of this yearís ballot from blue to red because he "suspected someone would try to do this."

Copies of the 2001 and 2000 Franklin County Democratic Party sample ballots submitted to the court as evidence are more similar to the current one than Foustís, with the exception of the color.

White and Stewart also say that Foust asked Guy Lehky of Pfeifer Printing if the party was going to order sample ballots for this primary. According to Whiteís statement filed with the court, Lehky told him that Foust had a layout that was "strikingly similar" to the 2000 and 2001 ballots he had printed for White.

There is no sworn statement from Lehky in the court filings.

In granting the restraining order, Judge Brunner did not weigh the validity of the evidence filed as that would fall to the Ohio Elections Commission, if White and Stewart would file a formal complaint.

According to White, the matter is considered "over" regardless of who won the election.

"I only want to make sure that [Foustís campaign] doesnít pass any more of them out at the polls," he said.

Foust responded by saying, "The fact that he is not willing to take this matter to the Election Commission is the sign that he isnít serious about what he is accusing me of, and that he only wants to throw this obstacle in my way right before the election."

The Franklin County Democratic Party got a similar restraining order against Roberta Booth, also a candidate for the Ohio House, in 1992, for distributing sample ballots.


 

Officially fabulous

David Howard, co-owner of Diverse Universe in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, was honored at the May 6 city council meeting for the storeís efforts in renovating its storefront.

A series of bars had occupied that location, but in recent years the space had been boarded up. Prior to opening, the interior was remodeled and the original tin ceiling and trim painted silver. The Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board noted that Diverse Universe and its sister store, City Dweller, had both brightened the block and brought a good deal of business to the city. Photo: Anthony Glassman

 


 

 

Both sides gear up for
referendum on partner benefits

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland Heights--A city ordinance giving health benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees has sparked campaigns both for and against it.

Opponents of the measure, including council member Jimmie Hicks, have formed a group called Families First. They are circulating petitions to force a special election to repeal it, and have until May 15 to present 3,984 names to city council.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists and their allies have organized a campaign called Heights Families for Equality to urge people not to sign the petitions.

Both groups campaigned outside primary election polls on May 7. As Families First asked voters to sign their petitions, Families for Equality countered them, handing out orange flyers headlined "Support Diversity, Decline to Sign."

The Equality group had 30 volunteers at the cityís polling places that day, organized at a May 4 meeting at the home of Rev. Tracey Lind. Their next meeting is 6 pm Sunday, May 12; call 216-647-7437 for location.

Families First had a community meeting May 2 in the City Hall atrium. Organizer Tracie Moore began by leading a group of five women in prayer, calling for "sinners to turn from their ways."

Hicks and three of the five Families First organizers, Moore, Rev. Cecil Gamble, and Bonnie Dolezal registered voters, answering questions, and recruiting petition signature gatherers. Zoe Tyler was there briefly. Joseph Grassy did not attend.

Nearly 80 people came and went during the course of the gathering. Some dropped off petitions, others asked questions.

James Redhed sat at a table with his computer and printer, altering the signed petitions people were turning in.

The original petition forms, those printed on 8 by 14 inch sheets, did not have a notary block. Redhed was printing one onto them before a notary swore the signature gatherersí affidavits.

The new petition forms are 11 by 17 sheets folded in half and have spaces to sign on all four sides.

Meeting organizers also conducted a training of signature gatherers, which was attended by lesbian attorney Karen Schneiderman.

Schneiderman observed that Moore and others were willing to give petitions to anyone who asked, until they figured out who she was.

"It was clear by the conversations they were having off to the side that they knew we had them in the crosshairs," said Schneiderman. "After that, they stopped handing out petitions and began taking names and phone numbers on a sheet they ripped off a legal pad, saying they would come to the peopleís houses with petitions."

Schneiderman said Moore, who was the trainer, "had a prepared curriculum" that included all the legal information and telling the gatherers what to say.

"They instructed people not to quote the Bible, and not to engage in debates about the pros and cons of homosexuality," said Schneiderman.

"They told them to stick to the claim that this referendum was only about giving people the vote," said Schneiderman.

"I think the voters of Cleveland Heights would be insulted if they knew full agenda of these people," said Schneiderman, "which is, and they have said it repeatedly in other places, that if you allow this ordinance, it will destroy the institution of marriage."

Eighteen-year-old Mark Rodney came to register to vote and ask questions about the referendum.

Gamble told him, "We are circulating this petition because city council took it on itself to pass the ordinance."

Rodney asked Gamble how much it would cost the city to extend the benefits.

Gamble answered, "We donít know what the benefits are going to cost, but we know that AIDS has cost us millions."

Hicks told Rodney that the only reason for the ordinance was lobbying by the Stonewall Democrats.

"Thatís a very liberal group, right?" asked Rodney.

"Council would be more honest if it said the ordinance was because of the Stonewall Democrats," said Hicks.

Hicksí comments on the issue vary. To some groups, he says he opposes the ordinance because it doesnít include grandparents taking care of grandchildren or others in the household.

To others, Hicks says he opposes the ordinance because of the Stonewall Democrats endorsement process.

During a May 6 interview on WCPN 90.3 FM in Cleveland, Hicks said, "[The ordinance] is not about health need, as much as it is about promoting the homosexual agenda."

Hicks downplays his own involvement with Families First, calling it a "grassroots group."

"This can all run without me," said Hicks.

But all five other leaders of Families First refer questions to Hicks, and callers to city hall seeking information are directed to Hicks at his insurance company office.

Hicks also claims that he has not introduced an ordinance that would include all non-traditional families, as he says he would prefer, because he does not have the power to initiate legislation.

"The other six have already done what they wanted to do, and I have no power," said Hicks.

Hicks is a member of the city councilís Administrative Services Committee where the ordinance originated. According to Mayor Ed Kelley, any member of council can initiate whatever legislation they want, and request that the law director draft it.

Ordinance sponsor Nancy Dietrich, who chairs the Administrative Services Committee and is also on the Community Relations and Recreation Committee with Hicks, said Hicks initiated a measure to put a skateboard course in Cain Park, as well as other ordinances.

Kelley, who works for Cuyahoga County as a human resources officer, said neither of the providers of Cleveland Heightsí health insurance, Kaiser and Emerald, will allow them to offer the coverage to grandparents of dependent children, as Hicks wants.

Dietrich said Hicks did bring up covering other non-traditional families during committee discussion--a point Hicks also has denied to the press and those he spoke to at the May 2 meeting.

"We discovered there were other ways to cover all those people," said Dietrich.

"Thereís kinship care, and guardianship care, and the Child Health Insurance Program," said Dietrich.

"We arenít trying to correct all ills with this ordinance," said Dietrich, "just a glaring bit of unfairness that exists that we can correct."

 


T minus zero

Cleveland--Jerry Szoka thanks the throng of people who came to the grand reopening of his Grid nightclub on May 1.

The bar, formerly on West 9th Street in the Warehouse District, moved to 1437 St. Clair Ave.. A year was spent preparing the two-story building to house the Grid and Orbit, an attached dance club.

After the May 1 première, the bar opened to the public on Friday, May 3.

--Anthony Glassman


TG former inmate, attacked in
prison, loses safety suit

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

Cincinnati--A federal court jury on April 30 rejected a civil lawsuit filed by a transgender former prison inmate who alleged that corrections officers failed to keep her safe from attack.

Traci Greene, who identified and dresses as female at the time, was sent to the Ohio Reformatory for Women after being convicted of misusing credit cards in Toledo in the mid-1990s.

Prison officers discovered that Greene was biologically male and undergoing hormone treatments as part of gender reassignment. She was transferred to the male Warren Correctional Institution, where another inmate beat her with a mop handle and a fire extinguisher in July 1996.

The Warren facility mixes maximum and minimum-security prisoners together, which Greeneís attorney, Alphonse Gerhardstein, said is a recipe for disaster.

"Thatís just wrong," he insisted. "This is a very clear violation of classification principles."

He continued, "The formula for this attack was pretty clear. A maximum-security inmate, a well-known predator, was placed next to a well-known, vulnerable inmate."

Greene sued Gayle Bowles, Richard Kemp and other corrections officers, but all but Bowles and Kemp were dismissed from the suit. A U.S. District Court jury said that Greene did not prove her claims against Bowles and Kemp.

"I think that the jury had trouble understanding what the trigger for liability was," said Gerhardstein. He pointed to possible confusion among the jury between an active role on the part of corrections officials versus "deliberate indifference to the possibility of harm," the requisite for finding for Greene in the case.

Eight out of 18 prospective jurors were dismissed before the case began when they admitted that they could not judge the case impartially.

"While we work hard during jury selection to remove people with prejudices against gay people, transgendered people, prisoners and African-Americans, itís always a challenge," Gerhardstein noted. "The jurors might have seen a little of all of these in Traci Greene."

Since her release in 1997, Greene, 35, has completed her gender reassignment and moved to Michigan.

"She was very disappointed with the outcome," Gerhardstein said. It has not been determined if the verdict will be appealed.


Detroit Danger defeats
Cleveland Fusion 20-6

by Anthony Glassman

Pontiac, Mich.--The Fusion, Clevelandís womenís professional football team, lost the second game of their inaugural season in a tough battle against the veteran Detroit Danger.

Over 1,100 fans showed up for the WNFL game, Detroitís home opener.

The Fusionís defense shut down the Danger in the first quarter, but Detroit broke through in the second quarter with a touchdown and the extra point.

Detroit scored near the beginning of the fourth quarter, then the Fusionís Lori Johnson brought in a pass from Mary Deitrick for the touchdown. Just before the clock ran out, Detroit brought home another TD, for a final score of 20-6.

Detroitís Laurie Aaron credited the victory to careful scouting of the visiting Fusion, pointing to the Dangerís diligence in watching videotape of their opponents.

Another factor in the game was the fact that the Danger had played in the WNFLís inaugural season last year, while the Fusionís first game as a team was a few weeks ago.

The Fusion opens their home season on May 18 at Bedford Stadium. For more information on the Cleveland Fusion, log onto http://clevelandfusion.com.



News Briefs

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

Watered-down partner bill passes

Hartford, Conn.--Same-sex couples would be guaranteed certain legal rights--including the right to make medical and end-of-life decisions for their partners--under a bill approved May 3 by the state House.

The bill, which passed 94-51, now goes to the Senate.

Gay and lesbian couples are not mentioned in the bill. The legislation instead says any person can legally designate another to make decisions for them, such as health care choices and organ donation.

The bill also would allow for private nursing home visits between the two people and would require employers to allow emergency phone calls from the legally designated person.

A bill to create Vermont-style civil unions was approved by a House committee earlier this year, but missed a deadline to be considered by the full body.

"This bill immediately addresses certain basic rights," said Rep. Michael Lawlor, the chief legislative supporter of the bill. "It does solve the problem on a temporary basis."

The bill also includes a study by the Judiciary Committee on the issue of civil unions and same-sex marriage.

Lawlor, the panelís House chairman, said the study is needed because the issue will likely reappear in the legislature.

An effort to drop the study was defeated on a voice vote.

Sept. 11 victimsí claims made easier

Albany, N.Y.--State leaders voted on May 6 to amend several laws to make it easier for LGBT victims of the World Trade Center attacks and their families to make compensation claims.

The legislation, which was announced jointly May 2 by Gov. George Pataki, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, passed by unanimous votes in both the state Assembly and Senate.

The measure, prompted by questions about the interplay between state laws and the federal victimsí compensation fund, provides guidance to the federal fund master on New Yorkís definition of gay and lesbian domestic partners.

It also clarifies that insurers cannot terminate workersí compensation benefits to those seeking the federal money or having a lien against federal compensation; rules that the federal fund payments are exempt from all state and local taxes; makes issues of probate easier and less costly, and ensures that personal representatives of those killed will not be held liable for "reasonable and good faith actions" taken in seeking fund payouts.

While the law does not put same-sex partners on equal footing with married spouses of Sept. 11 victims, it is the first New York state law to recognize domestic partners in any context.

"This is a whole new area for the legislature," said Ross Levi of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "While it has yet to clearly recognize the equality of our families with statutory language, we have definitely begun the debate."

Vote on gay deacons and elders set

Cincinnati--The presbytery of Cincinnati, the local governing body of Presbyterian congregations, will vote on May 14 on a request to force Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church to either stop ordaining gays and lesbians as deacons and elders or remove itself from the denomination.

Mount Auburn officials insist that the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus. They also say that the denominationís law allows for church members to be guided by their consciences.

An national measure to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians failed earlier this year. Mt. Auburn is among a growing handful of congregations that has formally registered their intent to engage in "non-compliance" with the proscription against ordaining non-celibate gay men and lesbians as deacons, who lead congregational care, and elders, who govern individual churches.

Madeira-Silverwood Presbyterian Church filed the request with the Cincinnati presbytery to force Mt. Auburn to comply or leave.

According to Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn, around 40% of its elders and deacons are gay or lesbian, reflecting the face of the congregation, which has 275 members.

Reno supports adoption, hate laws

Atlanta--Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said May 4 that laws banning adoption by gays and lesbians are illogical.

"In my state, a gay or lesbian may have the privilege of being a foster parent, a guardian, a pediatrician or a pediatric nurse," Reno said. "But they canít adopt. That makes no sense."

Reno, one of several Democrats in Florida running to unseat Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, was speaking at a fundraising event for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C. gay and lesbian political group.

Noting the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay student from Wyoming, Reno said legislation must be passed to give gays the same protection against hate crimes as racial and ethnic minorities.

"We have got to do more so that discrimination against people because of their status is ended in this country," she said.

Polls show Reno leading attorney Bill McBride in the race to the Sept. 10 Florida primary. Other Democratic hopefuls include House Minority Leader Lois Frankel and State Sen. Daryl Jones.

Fraternity evicts Michigan State house

East Lansing, Mich.--The national council of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity has voted to evict all of the members of its Michigan State University chapter for what some call anti-gay actions.

The unanimous vote, held May 1, followed a temporary suspension issued April 10 by the national organization and disciplinary action taken against the Michigan State chapter by a school fraternity system panel.

The fraternity was punished after some of its pledges wore pink, sleeveless T-shirts to two cafeterias on April 1 and April 2 that had anti-gay phrases written on the back.

Stephen Whitby, assistant executive director for the North Carolina-based national fraternity, said violations of the temporary suspension influenced the councilís decision.

There are about 55 members of the Michigan State fraternity, with between 35 to 45 men living in the chapter house.

None of the men will be allowed to live in the house after finals week, and all have been removed from the fraternity.

The Michigan State Greek panel found Pi Kappa Phi violated the systemís anti-hazing and anti-discrimination policies and ordered the fraternity to write letters of apology and attend educational seminars. The panel also suspended the fraternity for one semester, prohibiting social gatherings at the house.

U.N. wonít readmit gay group

New York City--The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations voted April 30 against reinstating the International Lesbian and Gay Associationís observer status with the U.N.

Members of the European Union led the charge for the groupís classification as a non-governmental organization affiliated with the Economic and Social Council, with the notable exception of Spain, a traditionally conservative Catholic nation.

Other countries who strongly opposed the ILGA application were Egypt, which has prosecuted a large number of men in gay-related cases over the last year, Uganda and Zimbabwe, whose presidents have spoken vociferously against gays and lesbians, and Qatar, Iran and Sudan, Muslim nations that outlaw sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex.

ILGAís opponents claim that the group has ties to pedophiliac organizations like the North American Man-Boy Love Association, one of ILGAís founding members. However, ILGA expelled nambla and two European groups with similar views in the mid-1990s, shortly before the U.N. ended its membership on the council.

Opponents also noted the groupís refusal to turn over it membership list to the council. ILGA co-secretary general Kursad Kahramanoglu explained that the group was afraid that the list could be used to persecute members of organizations in nations that prosecute gays.


 

Paradise found

Director Tom Bezucha discusses
his gay film festival favorite Big Eden

by Rick Urban

Big Eden is a uniquely American fable about Henry, a successful but lonely New York artist who returns home to Big Eden, Montana to care for his grandfather. There, he encounters the unrequited love of his life, Dean, as well as a shy Native American store owner named Pike who develops his own feelings for Henry.

Tom Bezucha directed the gay romance, which opened in limited engagements around the country in 2001 after collecting numerous "best film" prizes on the festival circuit, including the Cleveland International Film Festival. Big Eden was released on April 30 by Wolfe Video.

Rick Urban: Guess what Iím playing right now? [The song "Donít Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" is playing over a DVD trailer for Big Eden.]

Tom Bezucha: Iíve heard that song once or twice.

RU: What was the genesis of this movie for you?

TB: Well, actually I was working for Ralph Lauren in New York, and Iíd been there for eight years. My passion was always movies, and that was sort of all I cared about. I just had this idea that started with the Henry character. I think Iíd been in New York for maybe 15 years at that point, and was just feeling itchy, and like, "I want to get out of here!" I had this fantasy about moving to Montana, and decided to write about it instead of doing it. (Laughs) I guess thatís how it started.

RU: It seems that sometimes we think that out in the west, in the country, people are a lot less tolerant. A lot of the reviews of Big Eden described it as being a fairy tale or fantasy, saying "It would be great if small towns were like this." Were you thinking at all about it as sort of an antidote to the whole Laramie/Matthew Shepard view of the West?

TB: Oh, absolutely, and thatís was one of the things that sort of hurt my feelings most about the Roger Ebert review, that anybody could assume that I donít know who Matthew Shepard is, and that it didnít factor heavily into where I decided to base the film.

Of course I know that, and part of it was really a desire to confound peopleís expectations and place it in the least likely location I could think of where people would accept the story as happening. Because I sort of wanted to present the "fantasy" in a realistic way, so that itís not tipped one way or another. I wanted people to walk away going "What if?" or "It should be that way!"

Iím disappointed by people who say, "That could never happen." If somebody says that, I wanted them to ask the next question, which is, "Why not?", and thatís really the way itís predicated.

One of the things thatís been remarkable over the course of going to all these festivals and having it play in small towns across America is getting e-mails and letters from people who grew up in small towns who say, "Thank you for telling my story." Thereís something sort of remarkable. Something that I even considered being unrealistic, for a lot of people out there, is not so far from their experience.

RU: Would you say this is strongly autobiographical?

TB: No, this is the weirdest part, itís not. I grew up in Massachusetts, not on a lake, both my parents are alive, and I came out to my parents when I was in high school. I have a very supportive family.

I think the only part of it that is vaguely autobiographical is that, like most gay men I know, I had an unrequited crush on a guy in high school. Thatís about it. I donít know any Native Americans, I donít cook.

RU: Itís interesting the way youíve taken the eternal love triangle and stood it on its ear.

TB: Right. A lot of it was looking at the movies I loved the most, that I watch again and again, the ones from the í30s and í40s. We wanted to take one of those old George Cukor-Preston Sturges type movies, and sort of play with it.

RU: So, how did you go about making this movie?

TB: I was extremely lucky. It took me about five years. Once I had a draft that I didnít feel was humiliating, I showed it to somebody. I gave it to six people that I knew were tangentially involved with independent filmmaking in New York. I had a dinner after they read the script, and said, "What do you think I should do?"

This one woman, Jennifer Chaiken, said, "Well, stop showing it to people and letís just go make it!" Easier said than done. I spent a year with Jennifer, trying to get the money together. None of the mini-majors would touch the script, so we ended up raising all the money independently out of San Francisco.

The ting is, we got to make exactly the movie we wanted.

RU: So why didnít the studios want to make this movie?

TB: Too soft. I think if thereíd been nudity . . . I went to enough meetings with executives, and more and more I had the feeling that if Pike cut Henryís throat, then theyíd want to make the movie. There was a sense, every step of the way, that they donít understand the gay market, and really underestimate the variety and scope of stories that gay audiences are open to.

RU: Has it been successful? I guess Iím asking monetarily, I think itís definitely a successful film.

TB: Monetarily, for never being on more than ten screens at a time, we did remarkably well. Itís something of a source of frustration, because you feel like if youíd had the opportunity to get on 50 screens, you really would have done something. But I think we always knew that it would find its home on video and DVD.

RU: It came out April 30 on Wolfe Video. They obviously have a lot of faith in this film, I think, because theyíre giving you a double DVD.

TB: They were the ones who pushed for that. Kathy Wolfe, who owns Wolfe Video, was at the screening that we had at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It was sort of the most stupendous screening we ever had, because there were like 1,400 people. It sold out, there was this crazy 5-minute standing ovation . . .

She really followed the film and was dogged about it. I think she just knew how important it was to people. They were the one who really talked us into doing the double disc thing, and going back and doing interviews with the cast, so theyíve been fantastic.

RU: When did you complete the film?

TB: We shot in the fall of 1999, then finished our sound mix in January 2000, and premiered at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival that April.

RU: Did it start to wear on you after a while? You loved doing it, but at the same time it seems that thereís only so long that you can champion one thing before you want to move to the next.

TB: I think the only frustration is wanting to get to the next thing, and itís exhausting, definitely, to go to all the festivals, but at the same time I would say I never tired of hearing peoplesí stories. Thatís sort of the point.

RU: I think youíre going to get quite a response to this on video, because it only played in about 50 cities, so I think youíve got a lot of people yet to discover this film.

TB: I think the achievement Iím most proud of is when somebody comes up to me and says, "Finally, this is the movie I can show my mother," or "This is the movie I can show my father."

Thatís what makes me think it will find its home on video, and itís very much why we worked really hard to get a PG-13 rating. I knew I didnít want it to be an R-rated movie because of that.

RU: Whatís next for you? Iíve read that youíre working on something called Fucking Hate Her.

TB: Itís just called Hating Her now. Itís sort of a romantic comedy about a family. We spent the last six months trying to cast it, and we ended up not being able to get the money together for right now, but weíll shoot it this fall, and Blythe Danner has signed on to do that.

RU: Is this a gay-oriented film at all?

TB: Well, the love story at the center of the film is a straight love story, but the lead male has a brother whoís gay and deaf, and thatís an important part of the story, and heís got a black boyfriend . . . sort of in an effort to again show that gay people come in all sorts of different ways . . .

RU: Do you have anything down the road that youíre really passionate about, that youíre dying to do once youíve got more clout and more money?

TB: Yeah, there is a script Iíve written called The Tree Army, which is about the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Itís all set in Montana and itís about a gay love story that takes place back then.

RU: Cool. So obviously youíre not concerned about becoming pigeonholed as a "gay director."

TB: Uh, no! (Laughs) I donít think that that stuff. You know, if youíre good at something, it doesnít matter--or (laughs) if youíre bad at something, it doesnít matter!

RU: I just read an article by a British writer who asked, will gay literature survive, or is it going to be assimilated into the culture at large now that mainstream culture is actually changing. In casting, thereís this Hollywood "A-list" level, where you still hear that the whole issue of being gay as if itís the most defining feature, and you have to be in closet or else youíre going to lose your career.

TB: I think the directing thing, or anything behind the camera, is really different. Itís really, really, really different. Yeah, the actor thing, itís a whole other kettle of fish. Thank God itís not my problem!

RU: Youíve come from a background that is extremely visual, and youíre into designing the "look" of things. I hope Iím not insulting you here, but I would say that itís a very straightforward movie, there arenít a lot of stylistic flourishes to it. Is that something you are planning to invest more time in for your future work? Do you have a whole side you want to explore that you didnít have the money to do?

TB: Well, obviously we were on a tight budget, but I also think that the choices that you make are based on how you want to tell the story. I donít think a lot of bells and whistles would have made it any better. I think straightforward was the best way to do it. You know, itís not The Matrix!

RU: Right, and it sounds like youíre going to continue in the vein of more relationship-oriented stories.

TB: Well, the weird thing is that Iím finishing another spec script right now that is actually a teen horror movie, but I think itís always the characters that I care about the most. If you donít care about the people, thereís not much point.

RU: Have you gotten any interest from Hollywood to do other kind of work: polishes, TV directing?

TB: Yeah, Iíve been approached by a number of people, and Iím working with a couple of them to try to develop a television show, so that may be in the future.

RU: I think youíd be a good choice for Six Feet Under.

TB: Right, Iíve spoken with them, theyíre unbelievably great people.

Rick Urban is a reviewer for Out in America.

 

 

 

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