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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 4, 2003

State LGBT civil rights bill debuts

Columbus--For the first time ever, a bill to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ohioans from discrimination has been introduced in the Ohio Statehouse.

Ohio House Bill 147 was introduced March 26 by Democrat Dale Miller. Representing Cleveland�s west side, Miller is the House minority whip.

Miller said he was inspired by the passage of a similar law last year in New York.

Presently 13 states have laws against discrimination by sexual orientation and two by gender identity, which covers transgender people. Another one including both awaits the governor�s signature in New Mexico.

Eleven Ohio cities, covering a sixth of the state�s population, have similar local ordinances.

State Sen. Dan Brady, whose district includes Miller�s, is scheduled to introduce a similar Senate bill later this month. The Cleveland Democrat�s measure is not as broad as Miller�s. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment.

Joining Miller as House co-sponsors are State Reps. Dixie Allen of Dayton, Peter Ujvagi of Toledo, Catherine Barrett of Cincinnati, Joyce Beatty of Columbus, Michael Skindell of Lakewood, Dan Stewart of Columbus and Minority Leader Chris Redfern of Port Clinton. All are Democrats.

Miller spokesperson Sally Rickert noted that State Rep. Shirley Smith of Cleveland, also a Democrat, contacted Miller�s office to be added as a co-sponsor shortly after the deadline.

�It�s worth noting,� said Rickert, �that four of the co-sponsors are African-American women, perhaps because they have a personal understanding of discrimination.�

Rickert said she believes some Democrats avoided co- sponsorship of the bill due to �concerns with their conservative constituencies.�

Miller�s bill amends all sections of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with discrimination by adding �sexual orientation� everywhere other protected classes such as race, religion, and national origin are currently listed.

In the bill, �sexual orientation� is defined as �heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, or transgenderism, whether actual or perceived.�

The areas of the law affected are those dealing with employment, labor organizations, housing, selling and renting, credit, financial assistance, and public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants or other commercial establishments open to the public.

According to Miller�s proposal, all claims and violations are to be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which handles claims covered by current state law.

The commission surveys and studies the existence and effects of discrimination currently covered by law. Miller�s bill requires that sexual orientation, as defined, also be studied and the results published.

Miller�s bill also directs the commission to work with the Ohio Department of Education to educate students in ways to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Neither Miller�s nor Brady�s bills are expected to move in the current legislature, which is controlled by socially conservative Republicans.

Both say they will re-introduce their bills in the next legislative session if needed.

�This legislature has poor understanding of GLBT concerns,� said Miller.

Miller said that he hears colleagues around the Statehouse dismiss GLBT concerns by saying, �People can change their orientation and should be encouraged to do it.�

�A lot of educational work will need to be done before the bill can be passed,� said Miller. �Ohioans need to become aware that for most people, sexual orientation is more a matter of discovery than a matter of choice.�

The bill was assigned to the State Government Committee, which may schedule hearings.

Co-sponsor Stewart is on that committee with fellow Democrats Annie Key of Cleveland, John Boccieri of New Middleton, Dean DePiero of Parma, and Sylvester Patton of Youngstown.

Chairing the committee is Republican Jim Carmichael of Wooster.

Other Republicans on the committee are Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, Stephen Buehrer of Delta, Gary Cates of West Chester, Patricia Clancy of Cincinnati, Larry Flowers of Canal Winchester, Jim Hughes of Columbus, Jon Peterson of Delaware, and James Trakas of Independence.


Theater says Corpus Christi will go on, despite protests

Cincinnati--A contemporary theatre company housed in a church in the heart of Cincinnati�s poorest neighborhood has become the target of a campaign against its plan to stage Terrence McNally�s play Corpus Christi in June.

Jay B. Kalagayan, director of the Know Theatre Tribe, said the theatre has received over 4,000 postcards from a conservative Catholic group in Pennsylvania called America Needs Fatima.

The printed postcards call McNally�s play �blasphemous� and are hand-signed by individuals from all over the country, Kalagayan said. Ninety-five percent of the cards are from outside the Cincinnati area. Postcards have also been sent to the Cincinnati Post, Cincinnati Enquirer and other mainstream news outlets.

Part of the cards� message says, �To portray [Jesus Christ] as a homosexual, or even to insinuate it, is an unspeakable blasphemy, which I reject with all my soul.�

The cards also warn the theatre that if they proceed with the production they can �be sure many thousands of Catholics will oppose it in a massive peaceful and legal protest.�

Set in the 1950s in Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally�s play is about a character named Joshua who flees the anti-gay scorn and isolation of his hometown, gathering a group of like-minded �disciples� along the way.

The group is bound together by Joshua�s �message of love and the most Christian of values, tolerance,� according to the theatre�s notes about the play.

America Needs Fatima is a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Prosperity. According to their web site, the group was founded in 1974 to �resist . . . the liberal, socialist and communist trends of the times and proudly affirm the positive values of tradition, family and prosperity.�

The society claims a membership of 300,000, a staff of 75, and hundreds of volunteers throughout the country. It has offices in Spring Grove, Pa., a small town near the Maryland border south of Harrisburg.

The group has a long history of opposing pro-GLBT art and theatre and pro-gay legislation. In 1999 they carried out 300 protests at community theatres against the �blasphemous film� Dogma. In 2002, they targeted a lesbian-themed rock opera titled �Jesus Has Two Mommies� in Somerville, Mass., saying that the production �mocked the Virgin Birth and the Holy Family� by showing the �child Jesus born to two lesbians--Mary and Josephine.� That theatre received over 200,000 postcards.

When Vermont was poised to pass their historic same-sex civil union bill in 2000, then-governor and current Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean found his name on the top of a newspaper ad that linked him with �support for pedophilia, providing contraceptives to children, and public funding of artificial insemination for lesbians.�

The society paid for the ad, and sent over 10,000 postcards to Vermont lawmakers asking them to �defend God�s law and the American family� and vote against the �horrors of same-sex marriage.�

America Needs Fatima director Robert Ritchie did return a phone call, but quickly said he �needed to take a call on the other line� after being told he was talking to the Gay People�s Chronicle.

The Know Theatre Tribe is not changing their plans to stage Corpus Christi during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. After some initial concerns about negative publicity and potential vandalism, Salem United Church of Christ, where the theatre is located, put their full support behind the production.

Kalagayan has assembled an advisory committee consisting of ministers, lawyers and GLBT civil rights activists to create a plan to counter any potential protest. Kalagayan and other members of the theatre staff have also begun meeting with city council members and District I police, to make them aware of the potential for demonstrations and public controversy leading up to and during the play�s run.

Looking ahead, the theatre also plans to hire private security, which Kalagayan said means �the actors are working for next to nothing.�

�Part of the theatre�s mission is to reach out to and represent under-represented populations,� he said, �and the GLBT community here in Cincinnati is definitely one of those. Some people may not like this particular show, but that doesn�t change the fact that we have a right to put it on.�

Know Theatre Tribe�s artistic director Matthew Pyle echoed Kalagayan�s sentiment.

�Some of the people opposing this play are very ignorant of it--they have not read the play, so they have no idea what they are protesting. I applaud their right to engage in peaceful protest, but I would hope the next step would be to come on in, see the play, and then let�s have a dialogue.�



Race relations project asks people to dig deep

Columbus�With an inaugural town meeting, Stonewall Columbus has begun a dialogue on race and racism.

The March 27 event, co-hosted with YWCA Anti-Racism and Race Relations Program staff, drew nearly 40 people to the introductory session of a series of sessions.

Stonewall executive director Kate Anderson opened the meeting. She reminded people that during the public forum prior to her hiring, community members raised the issue of Stonewall�s ability to reach the entire LGBT community.

�We want to look at ourselves first,� she said. �The community made clear the importance of this issue.�

After introducing Stonewall board members and staff, she gave the floor to Frankie Nowlin, director of the YWCA�s Anti-Racism program. Nowlin gave some of the background on the anti-racist initiative.

�In the early 1970s, the YWCA took a stand against racism across the nation,� she explained. �In the mid 1990s, Columbus began offering Racism Study Circles, based on a social justice model.�

Recently, the program was renamed Racism Dialogues. The Stonewall session is centered on �Reaching Common Ground.�

�Our thrust is the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary,� Nowlin said.

�We engage groups, specifically and intentionally, in focusing on racism,� she said. �We begin by talking, and we end in the last session by taking action.�

The program splits into two groups that meet for six sessions, one on Tuesday nights and the other on Saturday mornings.

Elliot Fishman, a volunteer consultant with YWCA�s program, explained the guidelines, which include confidentiality, role and status suspension, and active listening. Anti-Racism program coordinator Alison Babich divided the group into two and then had members rotate around the room.

Each pair had to answer questions in turn. They included, �When did you first become aware of your skin color?� �How did your parents influence your view of race?� �Describe the first time that you witnessed or stood up to a racist comment or action.�

After the paired activity, the group met back in a circle and discussed some of what they learned. Many shared painful memories of childhood. One young African-American man remembered that while walking by a white family sitting in a car, he heard the doors lock. He was five years old at the time.

Later in the evening, the dialogue focused on the persistence of racism in the gay community.

Patrick Gallaway, development director at Stonewall, asked why there are some parties that are exclusive to African-Americans only. Kevin Wilds answered that the city lacks a club or bar that caters primarily to the black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

A Stonewall volunteer noted that Thursday nights have become the time when black gays traditionally go out for the evening, and bars actively market toward this.

�That�s an ingrained part of Columbus that does not seem to be going away,� he said.

A woman recalled that years ago at Wall Street bar, as soon as a lot of black people would arrive, the DJ would change the music.

Rob Berger, Stonewall board president, remembered that when he attended Ohio State in the early �80s, some gay bars would strongly discourage black gay men from attending.

�You could see a blanket policy: If you were black and gay, you better have two IDs at the door,� he recalled.

Still, Aaron Riley, client services director of Columbus AIDS Task Force, noted that groups like Black and White Men Together have been successful in challenging white gay racism.

�In Memphis, we took political action and boycotted several bars,� he said.

While the problem of racism in the GLBT community exists, participants reminisced on the early organizing in central Ohio.

James Joyce talked about the group Diversity of Ohio, which formed in the early 1990s. Phil Martin, then director of Stonewall, had hired Sharifa Williams, the first and only African-American employee of the organization, to reach the minority community.

�We had people coming from Dayton, Cleveland, and other areas,� Joyce said. �We were a social and political force.�

The group in attendance, though mixed, was largely white and black. Center coordinator Kellye Pinkleton reminded people to invite people of all backgrounds.

�We want everyone to have a say: Asian-American, Latino, Arab-American,� she said.

The Tuesday group meets at Stonewall, April 8, 15, 29 and May 6, 13, 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. The Saturday group meets at the YWCA, 65 South 4th St., Room 405, April 12, 19 and May 10, 17, 31, and June 7, 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 614-299-7764.


Indiana same-sex marriage
case has first day in court

Indianapolis--A Marion County Superior Court judge heard arguments on March 31 on the motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Indiana�s law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The suit was filed last August by two lesbian couples and one gay male couple. They are being represented by an attorney from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

Thomas M. Fisher, representing the Indiana attorney general�s office, argued that the law does not discriminate arbitrarily, and that there are differences between same-sex and opposite-sex couples that justify banning recognition of the latter, primarily the ability to procreate.

A similar argument was rebuffed in a gay marriage case in Qu�bec, Canada, when Justice Louise Lemelin noted in her decision in favor of allowing gay marriage, �We don�t deny marriage to elderly women!�

Attorney Ken Falk, representing the couples, argued that there is no evidence that only opposite-sex couples create stability in society and for children, nor did the state explain why allowing gay people to marry would cause heterosexuals to turn away from marriage and having children.

Judge S. K. Reid gave the attorneys 30 days to file written briefs supporting or opposing the motion to dismiss the case, but gave no indication when she would rule in the matter.

One of three state marriage cases

The Indiana case is one of three same-sex marriage cases currently before courts in the U.S.

In Massachusetts, the state�s highest court is hearing the appeal of a ruling against seven same-sex couples who sued after being denied marriage licenses. Arguments have already been heard in that case, and the Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule on the matter in a few months.

During oral arguments, justices asked why the ban on same-sex marriage was different from earlier bans on mixed-race marriages and how the law could be changed to allow same-sex marriages without allowing polygamy and other unions that are considered outside of societal norms.

In New Jersey, seven couples have filed suit against their state�s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The couples achieved a minor victory on March 31 when Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg denied motions to allow three anti-marriage parties to enter as co-defendants.

Five right-wing legislators argued that a court ruling in the matter could undermine their legislative authority, while an attorney for the New Jersey Family Policy Council said that his organization did not believe the attorney general�s office would adequately defend existing marriage statutes against the challenge. In addition, an attorney representing two businesses wanted to join the case, arguing that redefining marriage would require that spousal benefits be given to more people.

Feinberg, however, said the attorney general�s office was capable of doing its job without their assistance.

A motion by the New Jersey attorney general�s office to dismiss the suit entirely is expected to be heard in May. The suit was filed last June.

 


News Briefs

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

Texas judge vacates divorce of couple�s Vermont civil union

Austin, Texas--A Beaumont judge vacated an order on March 28 that had granted a divorce to a gay couple who entered into a civil union in Vermont last year.

His original order had been the first time a Vermont civil union had been recognized in another state.

State District Judge Tom Mulvaney ordered a new trial two days after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott determined his order was illegal.

Abbott said John Anthony, 34, and Russell Smith, 26, both of Beaumont, could not be divorced because under Texas law they really weren�t married.

�Texas law does not provide for a dissolution of a civil union, and a divorce cannot be granted where a marriage never existed,� Abbott said.

Mulvaney had granted the dissolution of the civil union on March 3.

Vermont�s civil union law, passed in 2000, specifies that its benefits are valid only in that state. No state sanctions same-sex marriages, although the nations of Belgium and the Netherlands do.

Smith, who petitioned for the divorce, said getting the union dissolved in Vermont would have required one of them to live in Vermont for at least a year.

His attorney, Ronnie Cohee, said even though Texas law refers to a husband and wife when talking about marriage, state law refers to �parties� when addressing dissolution.

Accused killer must take drugs

Columbus--Michael Jennings, the man accused of murdering popular drag performer Brazon, was ordered on April 1 to take his anti-psychotic medication.

Jennings was ruled incompetent to stand trial last December in the murder of Gary McMurtry, better known in his drag persona of Brazon.

A psychiatrist who is giving Jenning his court-mandated treatment testified that giving him anti-psychotic medication should make him competent to stand trial within three months of starting treatment.

McMurtry was killed on May 17, 2002, when, according to police, Jennings broke into his home dressed �like a ninja,� attacked his roommate with a three-foot sword and then went upstairs, where he killed McMurtry.

After the attack, which injured the hand of McMurtry�s roommate Brian Bass, police picked up both Jennings and another young man. Both were dressed in black. The other man was later released when police determined that he was simply a teenager skipping high school.

Jennings, who stripped under the stage name Devon, had been hired by McMurtry to do some shows at the Eagle.

�Civil union� bill advances

Sacramento, Calif.--The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved two bills on April 1 designed to grant same-sex relationships more of the legal benefits given to married opposite-sex couples.

AB 205, which extends many state-level marital benefits to couples on California�s domestic partner registry, passed the committee by a vote of 9-4. The bill would grant virtual civil unions to those who register domestic partnerships. Members of the state�s five-member gay legislative caucus decided that it would have a better chance if they didn�t use the term �civil unions.�

A companion bill, AB 17, passed 10-2. This would require state contractors to give the same benefits to employees� domestic partners that they give to married spouses. Similar measures are on the books in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, already covering over 14% of the state population.

Both bills now move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Couple �s killer gets 29 years to life

Redding, Calif.--A white supremacist who admitted killing a gay couple was sentenced March 27 to 29 years to life in prison.

James Tyler Williams, 32, will serve the sentence after he completes a 21-year federal sentence for firebombing three synagogues and an abortion clinic.

Williams was sentenced after pleading guilty in the shotgun slaying of civic activists Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40. The two were killed while sleeping at their home in July 1999.

Williams� older brother, Matthew, said the couple was killed because God didn�t approve of homosexuality. He committed suicide in jail last November while awaiting trial for the murders. The younger Williams pleaded guilty to the killings on February 28.

School denies abusing student

Jacksonville, Ark.--The Pulaski County school district denied that it violated a gay student�s constitutional rights when it forced him to read Bible passages on homosexuality and sent him to the principal�s office after he told a fellow student he was gay.

The district admitted that forcing 14year-old Thomas McLaughlin to read from a religious text was wrong, but claimed that he was sent to the office for speaking in class and disruptive behavior, not for talking about being gay.

The American Civil Liberties Union and McLaughlin�s parents, however, say that the ninth grade student has been systematically harassed by school staff for the last 18 months. At that time, a school counselor called McLaughlin�s mother and told her that he was gay, against his wishes.

�We haven�t decided exactly what we�re going to do, but something is definitely going to happen,� Chris Hampton of the ACLU�s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project told the Jacksonville Patriot.

No death penalty for burning man

Santa Barbara, Calif.--Prosecutors won�t seek the death penalty against a man charged with murdering a gay neighbor by setting him on fire.

Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley said March 26 that seeking a death sentence wasn�t warranted in this case.

Martin Thomas Hartmann, 39, who remains in jail without bail, is charged with murder, arson and committing a hate crime. He is accused of setting 37-year-old Clinton Scott Risetter on fire while he was sleeping on Feb. 24, 2002, allegedly because Hartmann hated gays.

Hartmann has denied the allegations. His lawyer, Greg Paraskou, argued that Hartmann has mental problems.

Judge Joseph Lodge said it was unclear from the testimony and evidence presented during a January hearing whether the crimes were motivated by homophobia.

 

 

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