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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 22, 2003

A beautiful day, but turnout light at 25th
We Are Family picnic

A beautiful day, but turnout light at 25th ‘We Are Family’ picnic

Cleveland--Despite beautiful weather, lush decorations, a presidential candidate and entertainment that made full use of the warmth and sunshine, the 25th annual Northern Ohio Coalition, Inc. “We Are Family” Picnic brought in fewer people than expected on Sunday, August 24.

Exact numbers will not be available until early September, but organizers expressed disappointment at the seemingly small crowds at the German-American Cultural Center in Parma. A reporter estimated between one and two hundred people at the event, which drew 2,500 in 1997.

One of the reasons for the drop in attendance may have been three competing events the same day. The North Coast Men’s Chorus picnic and the North Coast Athletic Association’s softball championships were both held on the same day. In addition, the Traditionals Lowrider Show at the Michael Zone Recreation Center was a fundraiser for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, but that event was not aimed at the LGBT community.

Last year, the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats’ picnic occurred during the early hours of the NOCI one, and the Stonewall Democrats encouraged people to go afterward to the NOCI event.

NOCI president Katie Devring said she has heard complaints that the event now takes place in Parma. Until 1999 the picnic was at Wildwood Lake Water Park in Columbia Station, seven miles away.

“Wildwood is no longer, so we don’t have a choice,” said NOCI second vice president Renée Dunn. She pointed to a year-long search for a replacement for Wildwood that resulted in the move to the Parma location, noting that one potential spot in Strongsville would not let NOCI use the indoor facilities once they found out it was an LGBT group.

The news was not all bad for the picnic.

“It was a beautiful day, and a couple people came up and told me they liked the changes we made,” said Devring, “like having the dancing and entertainment outside. We had a lot of people who showed up for the first time.”

Dunn said that some of the freshmen came from out of state, mainly Michigan and Pennsylvania, to enjoy the entertainment and complimentary soda and beer.

“We did what we can do,” Dunn stated. “We put on the best picnic we can. We had balloons, a fashion show, DJs and entertainers. We just don’t get the support we used to and I just don’t know why.”

While support from the public may have waned, support from other quarters was strong.

Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich came to the picnic, walking around and talking to the attendees and staff of the booths. Ohio State Rep. Dale Miller was also there, manning the Kucinich campaign’s booth.

Chain Link Addiction, a punk and fetish apparel store, returned with their booth for a second year. The store also sponsored and organized a fashion show at the picnic.

Chris Helmink of Amazing Vase, a flower shop in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, created stunning balloon arrangements that decorated the grounds of the picnic. The large decoration near the front gate could be seen from York Road, hundreds of yards from the entrance to the cultural center.

DJ Freeze returned to spin again, and was joined by Mary Lopez and DJ Maude, who does karaoke at Muggs. The three women kept the music running from 11 am until dusk.

The picnic was dedicated to the memory of Greg Ammell, a longtime member of NOCI who passed away in July.

This year’s Tommy McComsey Awards were presented to Patrick Shepherd, president of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, and Chuck Graley, publisher of Outlines, a gay club magazine.

The Ozzie Awards went to Sharon Cemp, owner of Muggs, and Randy Austin, former Mr. Gay Cleveland. Greg Ammell had been a previous recipient of the Ozzie Award.

While NOCI will continue its work raising funds for various community organizations, the future of the picnic is in doubt.

“We’re sad to say, because of the lack of support, we may not have a 26th,” said Devring. “We publish when we’re going to do our picnic, but it seems that everybody always schedules something on the same day.”

Dunn addressed the concerns of some about the aggressive patrolling of Parma police.

“Everybody’s afraid of Parma,” she said. “The Parma police don’t bother a soul.”

Regardless of whether the picnic returns next year, NOCI continues to schedule a full slate of fundraising events throughout the year. Their next event will be a benefit for NOCI’s Hilliard Smith Fund at the Tool Shed bar on September 6.

“Greg Ammell had it planned, and [his partner] David Laws is going through with it,” Devring said. “He was a great guy and we’re going to miss him.”

NOCI will also be having a pumpkin auction in October, also at the Tool Shed.

 

 


Prospects dim for marriage limit amendment

Washington, D.C.--The odds of passing a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to a man and a woman got a little longer this past week. The key element was word from Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., that he opposes the amendment at this time.

Sensenbrenner is important because he chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over proposed amendments to the Constitution.

The conservative Sensenbrenner is not exactly a champion of gay and lesbian civil rights. He made clear to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on August 25 that he opposes marriages and civil unions for same sex couples. He supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes, and believes that legislation is sufficient.

Amending the Constitution “is very strong medicine,” he said. “It’s been done only 27 times in over 200 years.”

Tammy Baldwin, the only open lesbian member of Congress, also represents a Wisconsin district and sits on the Judiciary Committee. She called Sensenbrenner’s statement “very significant.”

Both she and gay former Wisconsin Rep. Steve Gunderson are in long-term relationships. Their example and quiet lobbying may have affected Sensenbrenner’s decision.

The chairman’s opposition makes it unlikely that hearings will be scheduled on the marriage amendment. That makes it much more difficult for House Republican leaders to bring the measure up for a vote on the floor, even if only as a marker for interest groups to use on their rating scorecards.

Reinforcing the case against the amendment was an August 21 column in the Washington Post by former Georgia GOP Rep. Bob Barr, author of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Marriage is a quintessential state issue,” Barr argued. “The Defense of Marriage Act goes as far as is necessary in codifying the federal legal status and parameters of marriage. A constitutional amendment is both unnecessary and needlessly intrusive and punitive . . . the Constitution is no place for forcing social policies on states.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has announced that he will hold a hearing on the measure, likely in September, though no date has yet been set. That subcommittee includes conservative Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., whose support of the amendment was made clear in a policy paper from the Senate Republican Policy Committee that he chairs.

Another member is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who signed on as a cosponsor of the amendment in 1999 when he was a member of the House. However it is unclear whether that was from deep conviction or for political expediency in his upcoming Senate race. The then 46-year-old and never-married candidate was gay-baited by his Democratic opponent during the 2002 campaign to succeed Strom Thurmond.

The Democratic side of the subcommittee includes Russell Feingold (Wis.), Ted Kennedy (Mass.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard Durbin (Ill.), all of whom are strong supporters of the gay community.

 


Charge of police beating leads to city investigation

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland--City safety director James Draper said an investigation of police conduct has begun over allegations that a gay man was beaten and called an “AIDS-infested faggot” by police while in their custody.

The alleged incident marks the second charge of Cleveland police abuse of gay men in their custody from January 2002 to February 2003.

The other case involves a gay man who says he was allowed to be raped by another prisoner in a Cleveland jail while jailers allegedly stood by doing nothing. The victim filed a federal suit against the city in June.

In the current case, Jerry Ellsworth, 44, an openly gay HIV-positive man, says he was repeatedly punched in the face, thrown down, and called an “AIDS infested faggot” while being booked into the Second District jail on February 1.

Police say Ellsworth was beaten because he resisted arrest. Ellsworth says he just tried to find out why he had been arrested.

Police learned of Ellsworth’s HIV status when he tried to explain to arresting officer Erwin Eberhardt that he takes medication causing frequent urination.

Eberhardt, who is also the officer Ellsworth says punched him 4 or 5 times in the face, had refused Ellsworth the opportunity to relieve himself earlier, causing him to urinate on himself.

Ellsworth was arrested for an outstanding traffic warrant while he was riding with his partner’s brother Tony Weiss. The two men had been drinking and Weiss was arrested for driving under the influence.

But according to Ellsworth’s attorney Wayne Marta of Cleveland, police never told Ellsworth why he was arrested, and that he first learned of his charges 60 hours later at his arraignment in Cleveland Municipal Court.

At the arraignment, the old traffic charges were dropped for the two days served, but not before Ellsworth was formally charged with resisting arrest.

The trial was held before Municipal Court Judge Robert Triozzi, who found Ellsworth guilty.

Marta said he regrets not trying that case before a jury, but said Ellsworth was unable to afford the $400 fee for a jury trial.

Ellsworth was fired from Penske Trucking in 2000 and has not worked since. He sued the company for AIDS discrimination and according to Marta, the case was settled “favorably” without going to trial. But Penske’s settlement check had not yet arrived.

Marta said Eberhardt lied on the stand, claiming that Ellsworth grabbed at guards and that no cop punched him, despite a police report to the contrary.

During the trial, Assistant City Prosecutor Gina Villa told the judge that if acquitted, Ellsworth would sue the city.

Generally, such remarks are considered speculative and improper and are rejected by the judge. But Triozzi allowed the comments over Marta’s objection.

In June, Ellsworth was given a 60-day suspended sentence, one year of probation, 60 hours of community service, and an additional $500 in fines and court costs.

That sentence has been appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

Marta says Penske had paid its settlement, and his client now has the money to go back into federal court against the city of Cleveland and Eberhardt if he wants to.

“He has litigation fatigue,” said Marta of Ellsworth, “and he hasn’t decided if he wants to go through it again against the city. Right now, the important thing is to get this conviction overturned.”

Marta also said that Triozzi’s sentence handed down was close to the maximum allowed and excessive under the circumstances.

Cleveland Safety Director James Draper said he was unaware of the matter until he read about it in a weekly newspaper.

Draper met August 22 with Chief Public Health and Safety Officer Craig Tame and AIDS Taskforce director Earl Pike over the incident.

Pike said he is concerned because of reports that a person with AIDS was mistreated and he is worried that nothing would be done.

Pike said Draper and Tame “seemed appropriately concerned and appropriately committed to seeing it through.”

“I initiated an investigation to see if it’s credible,” said Draper. “We can’t have that kind of activity taking place.”

However, Draper declined to answer further until the investigation was completed by internal affairs.

Police conduct in the earlier jail rape case was not investigated, and Draper would not comment on that, either.

Asked why so many problems of abuse of gay men by Cleveland police, Draper objected to the premise of the question.

“Two cases in two years is not an epidemic,” said Draper, “though one is too many.”

 


LGBT groups join in events honoring march’s 40th year

 

Washington, D.C.--For the first time in the 40 years since Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I have a dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, LGBT groups were included in the march’s anniversary observance on August 23.

An estimated 2,500 LGBT people attended a rally honoring Bayard Rustin, the openly gay man who organized the 1963 event and was one of the prime movers behind the civil rights movement at the time. Rustin, who died in 1987 at the age of 75, was openly gay, but kept himself in the background as much as possible so that his sexual orientation could not be used against the movement.

Among the LGBT groups participating in the anniversary events were the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Association of Black and White Men Together. NGLTF and HRC were among the groups acting as “conveners” for the 40th anniversary March on Washington, finding themselves alongside such strange bedfellows as the National Council of Jewish Women and the Nation of Islam.

“This is the first time ever that our community has been invited to participate in the March and be represented at the rally,” NGLTF executive director Matt Foreman said. “I was honored to walk with my African American brothers and sisters in this inclusive 40th anniversary of our nation’s historic civil rights March on Washington and I am proud of the LGBT community, who came together from across the country to support it.”

Other openly gay speakers at the event included Mandy Carter, the executive director of Southerners on New Ground, one of the groups organizing the event, and the executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, Phil Wilson.

“As a black woman and a lesbian, I think it’s important to not only emphasize equal civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a whole, but specifically for LGBT people of color as well,” Carter said. “It’s unfortunate that Bayard Rustin couldn’t bring all of his identities to the table in his fight for civil rights.”

“We are not only proud to be a part of this 40th anniversary march, but we are extremely proud to be honoring Bayard Rustin for his work from decades ago,” she said.

As part of the celebration, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a documentary on Rustin’s life, screened at the Kennedy Center on Friday, August 22. In addition to the recent release of the documentary, which played on PBS as part of the network’s POV series, John D’Emilio read from and signed his book Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, released earlier this year, as was Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.

Peter Sprigg, an anti-gay activist with the conservative Christian organization Family Research Council, went to the media, claiming that the LGBT community had co-opted the civil rights movement.

“Time and again, pro-homosexual activists have attempted to forward their political agenda by associating themselves with the civil rights movement, much to the dismay of many African-Americans, who fought long and hard for their rights,” Sprigg said, pointing to the gay groups’ presence at the weekend’s events.

The NGLTF was invited by Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow. She has stepped in before to stop anti-gay groups from using her husband’s name and likeness in their publicity materials.

In Ohio, reaction was very negative to the comments by Sprigg, who is Caucasian.

“I have two words for him: Bayard Rustin,” said Jon Everett, interim executive director of Blackout Unlimited in Cleveland, perhaps the most active organization in the state for African American LGBT people. “For anyone to assert that the LGBT community did not play a part in the civil rights movement is as absurd as saying that no one other than African Americans participated in the civil rights movement.”

“If you look at the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the work currently being done by his family in support of the LGBT community, you’ll realize how stupid an inaccurate Peter Sprigg’s remarks are,” Everett continued. “Personally, I’m offended that he is speaking out about the civil rights movement. If I were to follow his line of thinking, I would say he doesn’t deserve to be the table or be involved.”

Everett concluded, “Maybe it would be more appropriate for him to be involved in the Million Idiots March.”


News Briefs

Compiled by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman Eric Resnick and Patti Harris.

Appeal set for heterosexual couple denied marriage

Warren, Ohio--A heterosexual Trumbull County couple twice denied marriage licenses because the groom-to-be is transsexual will have their case heard by three appeals judges October 22.

The Eleventh Ohio District Court of Appeals will hear the appeal of Jacob Nash and Erin Barr at the Trumbull County Courthouse in Warren at 9:30 am.

The couple is appealing the denial of their license by Probate Judge Thomas A. Swift in 2002. The appeal was filed last February, on Valentine’s Day.

Swift ruled that, since Ohio does not recognize reassigned gender for marriage purposes, theirs would be a same-sex marriage prohibited by law.

The appeal says that the U.S. Constitution requires that Ohio give full faith and credit to Nash’s gender-corrected Massachusetts birth certificate.

Former top JAG says ban should end

New York City--A former Judge Advocate General of the Navy has called the military’s policy on gays “odious.”

Retired Rear Adm. John D. Huston wrote in the August 11 issue of the National Law Journal that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “virtually unworkable in the military.”

In his role as the Judge Advocate General of the Navy from 1997 to 2000, he was the highest military attorney in that service, overseeing the 750 lawyers in the JAG offices around the world.

Hutson referred to the policy as a “quintessential example of a bad compromise,” saying that it was a “charade” that “demeans the military as an honorable institution.”

“At the time,” he told the University of California-Santa Barbara Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, “we thought the sky could fall. To completely overturn the policy ran the risk of undermining our ability to complete our mission.”

Hutson said that he believes the country now has a “somewhat more enlightened population, particularly among younger people,” and could handle the complete removal of proscriptions on gays in the military.

FBI nabs sex blackmailers

Lexington, Ky.--The FBI has arrested three men for blackmailing a wealthy businessman by threatening to send his wife pictures of him having sex with one of the blackmailers.

On July 14, Abraham Scott, using the name Alan Barker, invited the married man to a hotel room to have sex.

The two men met again 12 days later, and Russell Erickson and Damian Thomas Jennings allegedly videotaped and photographed their sexual encounter.

The following day, the victim received an e-mail with a picture of himself and Scott having sex. The message told him that for $75,000, the picture, a video of the lovemaking and other information would not find their way to “the wrong hands.” The note also said that if he told anyone, his wife, children and others would get the pictures, and he would be in danger.

The man went to the FBI, who traced the e-mail to an America Online account. They set up a sting where the victim dropped off the money, then agents followed the motorcyclist who picked it up. He led authorities to Jennings’ apartment, and Jennings and Erickson were arrested.

The trio planned to target other wealthy men in the Lexington area.

Jennings was to be arraigned on August 25, Scott faces a preliminary hearing on September 5, and Erickson, who pleaded not guilty, is due in court on October 15.

Lutherans won’t delay gay decision

Milwaukee--The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the country, turned back an attempt on August 16 to delay action on the involvement of gays in the church.

Delegates to the biennial meeting of the denomination voted 526-462 against a proposal to delay a decision on blessing same-sex unions and ordaining sexually active gay men and lesbians.

The decision is scheduled to be made in 2005, following the release of a four-year study on the issue. The defeated amendment would have pushed the decision back to 2007, when the denomination’s study on human sexuality will be released. Debate on the amendment waged for 30 minutes.

A preliminary update on the status of the report on homosexuality was given, consisting of an update on how the study was being conducted, its budget and timeline. Interim findings are set to be released to congregations in September.

Delegates also defeated a measure calling for ELCA to cut ties with the Episcopal church, which ordained its first openly gay bishop and approved same-sex commitment ceremonies earlier this month at its General Convention. ELCA and the Episcopal church have a “full communion pact” that recognize and share each other’s sacraments and clergy.

The motion to sever ties with the Episcopal church was soundly defeated by a vote of 832-139. The full communion pact has been in place for four years.

Partner bill clears another hurdle

Sacramento, Calif.--A bill that would extend almost all of the state benefits of marriage to same-sex couples cleared another hurdle on August 25.

Assembly Bill 205 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 7-4 vote, and now heads to the full state senate.

Gov. Gray Davis announced earlier this month that he will sign the measure if it passes the senate. It has already passed the state assembly.

Among the rights and responsibilities the bill would extend to domestic partners are child custody, child and spousal support obligations, the right to make funeral arrangements, community property and mutual responsibility for debts.

The measure is as far-reaching in its effects as Vermont’s civil unions law, but avoids the term “civil unions,” which received a poor response in polls.

Like Vermont’s law, AB 205 would confer no federal rights or duties, such as joint income tax or inheriting Social Security benefits.

One in eight Americans lives in California, and would be covered by the bill if it becomes law.


 

An odd way to roast wieners

This summer-camp movie is not typical teen fare

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.

That refrain from childhood still echoes in people’s ears years after they no longer need note the end of the school year, a haunting reminder of the hell that is youth.

The idea that being young is no bowl of cherries, is at the heart of dozens of teen comedies from Heathers to American Pie. Seldom has youth been portrayed as, forgive the pun, so queer a time, however, than in Camp, the freshman directorial effort from Todd Graff, who also wrote the screenplay.

The plot is simple. At the beginning of summer, all the most talented “drama fags” from New York area schools converge on Camp Ovation, a musical theatre summer camp in which the students hone their skills.

The camp is based on Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, where a younger Graff cut his acting chops and returned as a counselor, taking a young Robert Downey Jr. under his wing. Much of the movie is filmed there.

Being a musical theater camp, there are three things that can be taken for granted:

There will be a large number of young gay men;

There will be musical numbers;

There will be comparisons to Fame.

All three are true, although some explanations may be in order.

Out of the five or six boys that the film looks at for more than an instant, most are really, really gay.

Of the two main male leads, one is gay and one is straight. Unlike the usual teen film, however, the straight boy is not the hero. He’s more an anti-hero, and his pseudo-girlfriend and the gay boy are far more sympathetic characters than he is.

The straight boy, Vlad (Ohio native Daniel Letterle), was inspired to go to the camp because musical theater one-hit wonder Bert Hanley (musician and producer Don Dixon, who has worked with REM, the Smithereens, and dozens of others) will be teaching this summer.

Michael (Robin de Jesus), who was beaten up when he showed up for his junior prom in drag, is returning to Camp Ovation because it is the only place he really fits in, much like Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), the young woman who seems to spend all her time around gay men.

Vlad winds up being the center of attention as Michael, Ellen and a couple of others swoon over him. However, in trying to please everyone, he may alienate them instead.

The camp puts on a slew of shows over the course of the summer, so a single musical number from a few different shows are thrown in, including the best rendition of “The Ladies who Lunch” ever caught on film. The numbers tend to throw off the pacing a bit, though, since they are concentrated in the middle of the film.

Another side plot is Vlad’s attempt to make something out of Bert, his idol, who has slipped into alcoholic mediocrity after failing to live up to the hype of his only hit show.

And no, the movie never explains why the hell someone in the United States would name their child Vladimir.

The film brings out the comparisons to Fame on its own terms, with a bitterly funny line referring to Debbie Allen’s speech at the beginning of the older movie.

For a first-time director, Graff did an incredible job with this strange, slightly twisted and evilly humorous film. For an accomplished screenwriter, however, one could expect a little better in terms of pacing and some of the characterization. The film is a little weak in Bert’s sudden transformation into an actual human near the end and Vlad’s at times uneven character.

However, the frank way Graff deas with adolescent sexuality while eschewing the prurient delights of American Pie or similar teen films is commendable. At times, the film seems like it might actually be a little too intelligent for his self-declared target audience, the 12- to 17-year-old freaks. Perhaps, though, the freaks are the ones who are smart enough to get the jokes.

And jokes there are aplenty. Some of the theater references are for die-hard Broadway fans or actors, but they are usually couched in a larger joke that will please the more mass-market audiences.

An even more interesting feat is that Graff pulled this film together with a cast of unknowns, producing it outside the studio system. One of the production companies, Killer Films, produced Boys Don’t Cry, the film that won Hilary Swank an Oscar, and Far from Heaven, featuring Dennis Quaid’s performance as a gay man in the 1950s.

The cast really shines. Some of the acting is not what audiences have been trained to expect from a film, but there also is a lot more sincerity. The actors also seem to be enjoying themselves, getting into their roles far more than one would expect from a Hollywood film.

Most amazingly, Graff nabbed musical theater deity Stephen Sondheim in his first film appearance.

In the end, Camp is a trip to a magical place where you have to be at least a little weird to fit in, where the jocks have no power and the teachers don’t look at you like a kid, but rather, as a star.

 

 

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