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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 28, 2003

 

Petitions seek Ohio�s first partner registry

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland Heights--A group of citizens will attempt to make this Cleveland suburb the first city in Ohio with a registry for domestic partners.

According to David Caldwell, chair of Heights Families for Equality, his organization will be ready to circulate petitions to create a non-binding registry of same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners by March 4.

They will need to collect about 3,570 signatures, and present them to council.

Caldwell said council could pass the ordinance then, but his organization prefers that the measure get put on the ballot. It would be the first time in the nation that a petition drive has been used to create a domestic partner registry.

�The reason why we want to take this directly to the voters is that the opposition will just try to force a referendum to repeal it if council passes it,� said Caldwell. �The voters will vote on it anyway, so we want to avoid the middle step.�

The registry would be open to both same-sex and opposite sex unmarried couples, whether or not they live in the city. It would be kept by the city clerk, with any cost to be offset by a fee.

Last year, Cleveland Heights became the first city in Ohio to give health insurance to same-sex domestic partners of city employees, same as spouses.

Council member Jimmie Hicks, who opposed the benefits, led a group backed by the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values and American Family Association of Ohio, both of Cincinnati, in a petition drive to repeal the measure before it could take effect.

The petition drive failed to collect enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the benefit opponents.

Heights Families for Equality formed to defeat the anticipated referendum and began raising public awareness and money. Members were trained in �voter identification,� canvassing neighborhoods to identify voters who supported the benefits and get them to vote.

According to Caldwell, voter support for the ordinance was �very positive.�

Caldwell said that after the repeal effort failed last fall, HFE members felt they were in a strong position to do something positive.

�The community was familiar with the term �domestic partner� now,� said Caldwell, �and the registry seemed like the best thing to do.�

Caldwell said the proposed ordinance would take away some of the arguments the opposition attempted to use against the benefits ordinance.

�There�s no cost to the city and it is open to heterosexuals,� said Caldwell. �And if it is on the ballot, the opposition can�t claim that they didn�t have any say in it.�

Caldwell said that as soon as the measure is passed, he would expect city council to �tidy up its own laws,� for example, allowing domestic partners to get a family membership at the city recreation center.

Caldwell also hopes that the school system, which serves Cleveland Heights and University Heights would also honor the registry.

�Having the registry makes it easier for institutions that want to do the right thing, to do the right thing,� said Caldwell of the best reason for the registry.

Caldwell noted that there are no hospitals in Cleveland Heights, but said they are an institution needs to identify domestic partners.

�If there�s a registry,� said Caldwell, �the hospital doesn�t have to do any work, so we would hope they would honor it, too.�

Caldwell said the core members of HFE invited the seven members of council to discuss their plans for a registry in early February. The six council members who voted for the partner benefits ordinance, including Mayor Ed Kelley, met separately with HFE members.

�I came out of that meeting undeterred and satisfied that we are doing the right thing for this city,� said Caldwell.

Hicks, the lone council member against the benefits, did not respond to Caldwell�s inquiry about meeting.

So far, there is no organized opposition to the plan. Tracie Moore, who spoke for the repeal backers last year, did not return repeated calls for this report.

Caldwell said they will not use professional signature gatherers for their petitions.

�We want honest conversation with the voters,� said Caldwell. �If people agree with us, they will sign, and we will use that time to continue to build our support base.�

Caldwell said that unlike last year�s repeal referendum, there is no deadline to collect signatures for a new measure, so �we will control when it gets on the ballot.�

According to Cleveland Heights� charter, a repeal referendum requires 15 percent of the voters to sign. An initiative requires only 10 percent.

�It is likely to be there in November, 2003,� said Caldwell. �We would prefer not to have a special election for this.�

Cleveland Heights will elect three of its seven city council members in the November election.

Caldwell said that while the benefits were passed without any city employees expressing interest in them, �there are couples who want to sign up and are willing to make it known that they want the registry.�

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Cleveland Heights has the highest percentage of unmarried partner households, both same-sex and opposite-sex, of all cities with more than 10,000 population in Ohio.

About 60 other cities and counties around the nation have domestic partner registries; the nearest of these is Detroit. Two states, California and Hawaii, also have them. |


Koran Phillips, left, boxes up Da Real T CDs while Darnell Green spreads the word on his cell phone. Photo: Anthony Glassman

Taskforce social marketing
program wins NFL award

Cleveland--Da Real T, a social marketing program of the AIDS Taskforce, won an NFL Charities Junior Quarterback Award on February 18.

The National Football League award was given to 11 social service projects across the nation and brings with it national recognition and a $10,000 endowment.

�Basically what we wanted to do was raise awareness of HIV and AIDS education in African American and Latino MSM communities and we wanted to do this in a fun and creative way,� said Da Real T member Darnell Green, one of four young men at the AIDS Taskforce who put together the concept.

Da Real T, a slang term for honest information, was created by Green, Koran Phillips, Michael Brown and Nestor Marrero as part of a competition to see which one of two campaigns would win a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant aimed at HIV education for black and Latino gay, bisexual and transgender youth. The quartet�s plan, which combines an informative video, a CD of original music, posters, stickers, water bottles, a hotline and an internet site to bring AIDS prevention information to young men of color who have sex with men, won the grant.

�We knew, when we finished designing the campaign, that it was going to be effective and exciting,� said Brown, �but it�s thrilling to get this kind of recognition.�

The announcement of the NFL award came just days after the group gave a presentation at the Ryan White Youth AIDS Conference in Dallas, Texas, over Valentine�s Day weekend, where they also handed out copies of their recently-completed soundtrack CD with singing and rapping about HIV. Da Real T will be handing out CDs around the Cleveland area at bars and events.

The group has also been working with the Stopping AIDS is My Mission program at the Taskforce, and plans to work with other youth-oriented groups like PRYSM at the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center and BlackOut Unlimited�s Club 1722.

�We�re about to start anew with the $10,000,� Green said of the NFL award grant, �and we just hope that Da Real T prospers and continues to help people in the community.�

�They�re a fantastic, dedicated group of young adults,� said Robert K. Burns, program coordinator of the Brother 2 Brother program at the AIDS Taskforce. �They�re really the future of HIV education and activism in the city, and the future is in good hands.�

Da Real T�s hotline number is 216-6210766 ext. 231, and their web site can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DaRealT.


 


Celebration reclaims God and
religion for all people

Columbus--Bringing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people together in faith and advocacy was the goal of a Sunday evening celebration last weekend.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Shepherd Initiative sponsored the February 23 celebration, titled �Spirits Rising,� at the King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus.

The event was emceed by Chuck Gurney, openly gay meteorologist at WBNS Channel 10. Choral ensembles and soloists from First Congregational United Church of Christ, Maynard Avenue Methodist Church, New Creation Metropolitan Community Church, North congregational United Church of Christ, and the King Avenue United Methodist Church, all GLBT-friendly congregations, performed throughout the evening�s celebrations.

Gurney said that the crowd had gathered together to �embrace new ideas about community and commitment because we all have something to bring to the table.�

He added that the evening was meant to �inform, inspire and invite people to learn about GLBT faith and advocacy so that we can all join together to make change.�

Reverend Grayson Atha, pastor of the King Avenue United Methodist Church said that �the church is sometimes slow� in making change, but that �once she makes up her mind to change you can take it to the bank.�

Atha argued that the church had been too slow in speaking out against slavery, the right of women to join the ministry and the rights of GLBT people to be accepted into houses of worship.

Matt Christman-Lees, executive director of the Shepherd Initiative, said that we should all �celebrate the progress we have made.� He said that many �so-called Christians have used anger, self-righteousness and even doctrine to keep us out,� and that there is a lot of work yet to be done for the GLBT community to �reclaim God and religion for all people.�

The Shepherd Initiative works to reconcile relationships among people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Christian community.

�I thank you for the loving and gracious image of God you present to the world every day,� Christman-Lees concluded, referring to the GLBT folk and their allies in the congregation.

Jeff Jones spoke on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, thanking the faith community for being so supportive. He said that HRC was working very hard to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed nationally. He urged those present to �challenge the very conservative within the varying faiths because they are the ones who have the ears of the legislature right now.�

William Brownson, national chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans, gave a personal testimonial about how he had been chased away from the church by its anti-gay agenda, and how three years ago, he had found a home again with the King Avenue United Methodist Church. �The church gave me peace, humility, energy, promise, and a community,� he said. �These are all priceless gifts.�

After the service, the crowd enjoyed refreshments and got information from over a dozen faith and advocacy groups who had set up booths to allow people to seek help or sign up to help others.



Florida TG man�s marriage ruled valid,
he gets children

Self-identity trumps chromosomes, judge rules

Clearwater, Fla.--A circuit court judge ruled February 21 that Michael Kantaras, a transsexual man, was legally married to his wife, and granted him custody of his two children.

Kantaras� now ex-wife, Linda, alleged that Michael Kantaras was not a man, and that their marriage was not valid since Florida does not allow same-sex marriage. She had argued that she should have sole custody of the couple�s two children.

Kantaras was born in Youngstown in 1959 as Margo Kantaras. He underwent hormone therapy and, in 1987, had surgery to remove his breasts, ovaries and uterus while sculpting a male chest, although he did not have phalloplasty, or surgery to create a penis using skin grafts and fat transplants.

Linda Kantaras testified that she was aware he was transgender during their courtship. They married in 1989, and Michael Kantaras legally adopted her 3-month-old son. In 1992, Michael�s brother donated sperm so the couple could have a child together, a daughter.

In 1999, Michael Kantaras had his Ohio birth certificate changed to indicate that he is now male. Transgender activists focus on that aspect of the case, since Ohio does not allow gender markers on birth certificates to be changed.

Ohio�s policy has resulted in a number of ostensibly same-sex marriages involving transsexuals.

Circuit Court Judge Gerard O�Brien wrote in his 809-page decision that the birth certificate change was the result of clerical error, but that the document was still binding.

O�Brien�s ruling cited a great deal of research and testimony dealing with transgender medicine, psychology and anecdotal experience.

�To our knowledge, this is the first transgender marriage case in the U.S. in which extensive medical evidence was presented,� said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, �including testimony from three of the foremost experts on transsexualism in the country.�

O�Brien also ruled that Florida law �provides that marriage shall take place between one man and one woman. It does not provide when such status of being a man or a woman shall be determined.�

Kantaras is a neuter male, O�Brien said, and the laws of Florida do not define the genders, nor do they require that couples be fertile.

O�Brien also asserted that, contrary to decisions in Texas and Kansas, chromosomes are not the only, or even the best, arbiter of sex. The judge stated in his ruling that self-identity should not be overruled by chromosomes.

�I think the Kantaras case is very important, not just for people in Florida but for people across the country and internationally,� said Ohio attorney Randi Barnabee, who specializes in cases involving the LGBT community. �[Rulings on transgender issues] are still not concentrated enough to provide any one jurisdiction with timely case law.�

The Kantaras ruling, being the most recent and by far the best-researched and most well-documented decision on transgender issues, will be cited extensively in future cases.

Barnabee said the decision was longer than she had ever seen for a case other than one dealing with corporate law.

�It will be referred to favorably by proponents for equality for transgendered people because it�s so complete,� she noted.

The extensive research and exhaustive reporting in the decision will also help it stand up to an appeal, according to Barnabee. Some observers believe that Linda Kantaras will appeal, although her decision has not yet been made public.


News Briefs

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

HIV vaccine tests have disappointing results

San Francisco--An experimental AIDS vaccine failed to protect most people from the disease in its first major trial.

The overall expected rate of infection was not reduced in the high-risk people who volunteered to take AIDSVax, its maker VaxGen Inc. said February 23.

However, according to VaxGen, the expected infection rate for the 314 black volunteers who received the vaccine was reduced by 78 percent, a finding researchers said was unexpected. The rate was reduced by 67 percent for all nonwhite volunteers other than Hispanics, the company said.

While the vaccine failed in its overall testing, the company must now determine whether the apparent benefits for non-whites are the result of a statistical fluke. VaxGen plans to continue developing the vaccine and will examine more closely why it appeared to work better in blacks and Asians than it did in whites and Hispanics.

Very low percentages of the subjects in the study were black or of other racial minorities, leading to concerns that the data is deceptive. VaxGen said that the vaccine needs to be studied using a larger statistical sample of non-whites. The company�s critics are calling for independent clinical trials of the vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration told Vaxgen it would consider approving its vaccine even if it was only 30% effective. AIDSVax did not reach that reduced threshold. Most approved vaccines are more than 80% effective.

The company is also conducting a test of 2,500 intravenous drug users in Thailand, with results to be released later this year.

Man wasn�t kept from dying partner

Baltimore--A jury has rejected a claim that the Shock Trauma Center of the University of Maryland Medical System prevented a gay man from contact with his dying partner.

The six-person jury returned the verdict February 24 in the claim brought by Bill Flanigan of San Francisco, who was the domestic partner of Robert Daniel, 32. Daniel died Oct. 19, 2000 at Shock Trauma.

Flanigan had accused the trauma center of discriminating against him by ignoring his power of attorney and not letting him see Daniel until he was unconscious, because the men were a gay couple.

William B. Whiteford, who represented the hospital, said they treated Flanigan no differently than any other family members.

�Mr. Flanigan was given access to Mr. Daniel when medical personnel felt the unit was capable of receiving family members,� because of the patient load and staff duties, Whiteford said.

Before reading the verdict, however, the jury said that it felt sorry for Flanigan�s loss and thought the University of Maryland Medical System could have communicated better with him.

New Mexico rights bill advances

Santa Fe, N.M.--A proposal to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation was approved by the House on February 24, and supporters say they are hopeful the measure will be enacted this year.

It was the first time the proposal had passed the House despite more than a decade of debate over whether New Mexico should extend anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians.

The legislation will broaden the state�s Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation, making it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and union membership.

The bill passed the House 39-27 and goes to the Senate, where a committee recommended its passage on February 6.

Linda Siegle of the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico said she was confident the Senate will approve the measure. Gov. Bill Richardson has pledged to sign the bill into law. If he does, New Mexico would become the 14th state with such a measure.

Seven other states, including Ohio, are considering measures to add sexual orientation to civil rights laws. Two, New York and California, have bills to add gender identity. Minnesota has a bill to repeal an existing gay and lesbian human rights law.

One pleads guilty in Araujo slaying

Fremont, Calif.--One of four defendants in the October slaying of a transgender teen pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter February 24 and agreed to testify against his friends.

Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, will get 11 years in prison in the slaying of Eddie �Gwen� Araujo under the agreement reached with prosecutors. He had faced a murder charge. His plea came during a preliminary hearing into whether Nabors and the other three should stand trial.

Jose Antonio Merel, 23, Michael William Magidson, 22, and Jason Michael Cazares, 22, still are charged with murder in the beating and strangulation of Araujo at Merel�s house in suburban Newark, California.

About two weeks after the slaying, police say, Nabors led them to the body in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills about 150 miles east of Newark.

Araujo was found buried--wrists and ankles bound--in the miniskirt she was last seen wearing.

Prosecutors say the 17-year-old Araujo was killed after Nabors and his three friends confirmed their suspicion that the person they knew as �Lida� was biologically male.

Witnesses told police Araujo was beaten, dragged half-conscious into a garage and strangled with a rope, according to court documents.

The plea came on what would have been Araujo�s 18th birthday.

Pap test recommended for gay men

San Francisco--Researchers at the University of San Francisco Medical Center are recommending that gay men receive regular anal Pap tests.

According to researchers at UCSF as well as ones at Stanford, Harvard and other major medical centers, men with a history of passive anal sex have 30 times the risk for anal cancer. HIV-positive men are at even greater risk if they have engaged in receptive anal sex.

The test, which involves taking a sample of cellular material from the rectal area, is similar to the standard Pap tests which screen for precancerous cells in women�s cervixes.

Cervical and anal cancers can be found with Pap tests, as well as �dysplasia,� or cell abnormalities that can lead to cancer. All three are connected with the human papilloma virus. Over 20 million people in the U.S. are believed to have HPV, an often asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease.

Treatment of cervical dysplasia has been shown to reduce the occurrence of cervical cancer, although the same link has not yet been proven with anal dysplasia. Treating anal dysplasia requires burning off or surgically removing the abnormal cell growths.

Dr. Joel Palefsky at UCSF recommends Pap smears every 2-3 years for HIV-negative men who have anal sex with men and every year for HIV-positive men.

Panel hears of marriage, civil union

Hartford, Conn.--Dozens of people testified on two bills seeking to extend marriage or civil unions to Connecticut same-sex couples.

The February 24 hearing in the legislature�s Judiciary Committee also drew supporters of a proposed Defense of Marriage Act, which would require the state to only recognize marriage between a man and a woman.

Supporters of same-sex marriage accepted a compromise law last year that allows partners to make medical decisions and end-of life choices. The compromise also included a legislative study of civil unions.

An overflow crowd of more than 200 packed the large hearing room in the Legislative Office Building for the six-hour hearing.

Supporters of same-sex rights pointed out that the law has been changed over the years to sanction interracial marriages and extend the rights of married women.

Opponents of same-sex marriages frequently cited religious and moral reasons for rejecting the legislation.

Several public figures testified in favor of extending marital rights, including State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, State Treasurer Denise Nappier and State Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia.

Judiciary Committee co-chairman Michael Lawlor said the committee�s extensive study on the issue indicates there is no reason to reject the legislation.

The only state that now gives same-sex couples the rights and duties of marriage is Vermont, which created civil unions in 1999. Massachusetts is also considering a same-sex marriage bill as well as civil unions. Washington has a civil union bill in its legislature, and California is looking at a measure to expand its partner registry to become civil unions in all but name.

Six hate crime bills are doomed

Charleston, W. Va.--Six bills aimed at adding sexual orientation to existing hate crime laws have been introduced, but appear doomed.

Around 25 people turned out for hearings on the issue on February 24 before the House Judiciary Committee.

The opposition to the bills came from religious conservatives.

The bills are expected to fail. House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores noted that the makeup of the committee is very similar to its composition the last time an expansion of hate crime laws was brought up, when the addition was defeated 14-10 in the committee.

Ammiano will run for mayor

San Francisco--Board of Supervisors president Tom Ammiano announced his candidacy for mayor February 19.

Ammiano, who forced current Mayor Willie Brown into a runoff as a write-in candidate in 1999, said as mayor he would attempt to make a �city that is going to work for everyone.�

If elected, Ammiano would be the first openly gay mayor in San Francisco�s history, and the nation�s first openly gay big-city mayor.

He will face fellow supervisor Gavin Newsom in the race, along with former supervisor Angela Alioto. Six others are also running to replace Brown, who is limited to two terms.

 

 

 

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