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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 24, 2003

 

Supreme Court begins review of sodomy laws

Washington, D.C.--The U.S. Supreme Court�s review of a case that could overturn all laws against oral and anal sex got under way January 16 as the plaintiffs filed arguments against the measures.

As late as 1960, all fifty states had so-called �sodomy� laws. Now only 13 remain. Four of these only apply to gays and lesbians. The others include heterosexual oral and anal sex, but are almost exclusively used against gays. Ohio repealed its sodomy law in 1972.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund represents two men appealing their convictions under Texas� �homosexual conduct� law.

Houston police, following a false report of an armed intruder, burst into an apartment on September 17, 1998 and found John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex. The two were arrested and paid a $200 fine plus $141.25 court costs after spending the night in jail.

The high court agreed to hear the case on December 2. In doing so, it will reconsider its widely-criticized 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision giving states the right to pass such laws.

Lambda argues that the men�s convictions are �constitutionally indefensible.� It says that the Texas law, which went into effect in 1973, and the ones in other states �trample on the substantive liberty protections that the Constitution erects in order to preserve a private sphere shielded from government intrusion. Here, where the state authorizes such intrusion into the homes and lives of only same-sex couples, the constitutional injury is especially clear and disturbing.�

According to Lambda�s brief, there are three questions of law before the court:

Whether the Texas law violates the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws by criminalizing same-sex intimate behavior, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples;

Whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects liberty and privacy in one�s home for sexual intimacy;

Whether Bowers v. Hardwick should be overruled.

Lambda cited 105 U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. circuit court, and state supreme court decisions to support their case--51 of which were rendered since Bowers v. Hardwick.

Lambda also included the 2002 American Law Institute�s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, which says family law should include same-sex couples, as well as statements on homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association and Psychological Association.

To support the claim that sodomy laws �brand gay men and lesbians as lawbreakers and fuels a whole range of further discrimination,� the brief cites a 1998 Newsday article on the murder of Matthew Shepard.

It also brings to the attention of the high court two recent, notable cases where sodomy laws were used to deny gays and lesbians rights others take for granted.

Cited are the 1995 Bottoms v. Bottoms Virginia Supreme Court decision where a lesbian mother was denied custody of her own child, and the 1997 Shahar v. Bowers (the same Bowers named in the Hardwick case) 11th Circuit decision upholding Georgia�s right to use the criminality of sodomy to deny a lesbian public employment.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision upholding women�s constitutional right to have an abortion is cited three times in the current case because it supports the concept of a fundamental right to liberty and privacy that states cannot violate, especially in terms of sexual conduct.

Also figuring prominently in the argument to find sodomy laws unconstitutional is the 1996 Romer v. Evans decision handed down by the same nine justices.

In Romer, the court ruled that gays and lesbians as a class could not be denied equal protection under the law due to animus or social constructs. The ruling voided a Colorado constitutional amendment banning gay civil rights laws. (Shortly afterward, the high court allowed to stand a ruling upholding a nearly identical Cincinnati charter provision on the grounds that it was a local measure.)

�The bare negative attitudes of the majority, whether viewed as an expression of morality, discomfort, or blatant bias, cannot take away the equality of a smaller group,� asserts Lambda in the brief.

Dozens of other groups also filed �friend of the court� arguments against sodomy laws.

The state of Texas and its �friends of the court� have until February 15 to file briefs supporting the laws.

The court will hear oral arguments in the case on March 26. A decision is due by the end of June.


Hearing set for Covington human rights ordinance

Covington, Ky.--A proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city�s human rights ordinance is set for a public hearing February 11.

The measure was introduced in the City Commission January 21 by Rev. Don Smith, who chairs the Covington Human Rights Commission and pastors the Community of Faith Presbyterian Church there.

The process of changing the law began about a year and a half ago, said Charles King, a member of the commission and of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance, which works on equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,

Currently, Covington�s ordinance protects people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex or age. Complaints are heard by the city manager, but there are no penalties for violations.

The commission wants to add sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital or parental status, and place of birth. Under the new proposal, the commission would hear the complaints and be given enforcement powers.

Churches and religious organizations are exempt from the measure.

The City Commission is made up of four commissioners and the mayor, all of whom will vote on the ordinance.

Mayor Butch Callery said the commission would not vote on the measure until at least one public hearing was held.

"If there is a big turnout [Feb. 11], we may hold a second hearing," he told the Kentucky Post.

The Feb. 11 hearing is set for 6:30 pm at City Hall. The location may be moved if a large crowd is expected, King said.

The measure is opposed by the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati, across the Ohio River from Covington. They sent 300-400 packets with letters signed by CCV president Phil Burress to churches, pastors, and elected officials earlier this month in an attempt to rally additional opposition.

Ten years ago, CCV campaigned for a voter initiative to ban all Cincinnati gay and lesbian civil rights ordinances. Issue 3 passed by a 62-38 percent vote and is now Article 12 of the city�s charter.

More recently, they are behind the Defense of Marriage Act that passed the Ohio House last year, and crossed the state to oppose health benefits for the partners of Cleveland Heights city employees.

Two other Kentucky cities include sexual orientation and gender identity in their human rights ordinances. They are Lexington and Louisville, which include all of Fayette and Jefferson counties. The western Kentucky town of Henderson repealed a newly-passed ordinance two years ago after an opponent replaced a supporter on council.


Stonewall Columbus board
changes gender rules

Male� and �female� seats reduced, 7 �at-large� ones added

Columbus--By unanimous vote, the board of directors of Stonewall Columbus on January 15 decided to change the gender makeup of the board.

The previous formula for the 21-member board included ten seats for men, ten for women, and one seat for a transgender person. The transgender board seat was added two years ago.

The limitations led to problems when a female seat was open but the only candidates stepping forward were men.

�Because it�s evenly divided, sometimes we have open seats we have trouble filling because we have qualified candidates that are the wrong gender,� board president Rob Berger noted.

�Beyond that, if a transgender member wanted to fill a seat on the board, they would have to fit one or the other,� he continued.

The new formula for the board will be seven male seats, seven female, and seven at-large seats.

Berger points out that it gives the board more flexibility in selecting new members, as well as the potential for greater transgender representation on the governing body.

�A prospective board member now doesn�t have to be cubby-holed into a specific gender identity,� he noted. �My philosophy has always been, try to make it as open as possible.�

Berger also indicated that there are still open seats on the board, and that the organization would especially welcome more female board members, as well as people of color.

Even if someone did not want to join the board, he said, their input would still be welcome on issues like minority recruitment for Stonewall Columbus, often a difficult and contentious issue for any LGBT organization not specifically aimed at people of color.

Berger suggested that those interested in board seats or joining a dialogue on minority representation or other issues should go to the Stonewall Columbus Community Center at 1160 N. High Street, or contact the board via e-mail at board@stonewall-columbus.org.

 


Louis Escobar is elected to lead Toledo city council

Toledo--City Council has unanimously selected their only openly gay member to lead the body. Louis Escobar was elected president of council on January 7.

In the first round of voting, all seven Democrats on council, Escobar included, voted for him for council president, while the two Republicans, Rob Ludeman and George Sarantou, voted for Ludeman. The two switched their votes to Escobar for the second round of voting.

Escobar, a former priest who has been a member of council since 1997, is currently the only openly gay elected official in a large city in Ohio. Gene Hagedorn of the Oregon city council, Skeeter Hunt of Bloomdale�s council and Mayor Kenneth W. Fallows of Haskins, all in northwest Ohio, are the only other openly gay or lesbian elected officials known to be serving in the state.

Escobar�s first priority is to streamline the efficiency of council, improving communication between council members and between the council and Mayor Jack Ford.

The council�s Democratic majority decided the leadership within their ranks, negating the need to make deals with council Republicans. Michael Ashford, Wade Kapszukiewicz and Wilma Brown threw their support behind Escobar�s bid, giving him a majority in the Democratic caucus, including his own vote.

Escobar replaces Peter Ujvagi, who has been elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.

�I like Louis a lot,� said Skeeter Hunt, who shared a table with Escobar at the Community Christmas Dinner in December, a benefit for the nascent Toledo Area Pride Center. �I think he�s concerned about the rights of all people.�

Hunt, who is a former executive director of the AIDS service organization David�s House Compassion and a current member of both the TAP Center and the Men of Color boards, continued in her praise of Escobar.

�He�s very interested, which I fear a lot of our larger politicians aren�t,� she noted. �He wants to make a difference, and he wants to make it better for everybody.�

Hunt stressed Escobar�s even-handedness and sense of fairness. Escobar had reportedly asked his friend and mentor Ford to stop calling council members in support of his bid for council presidency, insisting that he be selected internally.

�Although he fights for the rights of minorities, he�s fair,� Hunt continued. �He cares about what�s best for everybody, not just special interest groups.�

�I admire him because he�s out and he�s willing to fight for some controversial issues,� he concluded. �He�s more interested in what�s right than taking the safe road. Toledo is very lucky to have someone like Louis in the lead.�

 



Kissing gets two men thrown out of Greyhound station

Columbus--Like many couples, T.J. Williams and his boyfriend hugged each other and kissed while waiting for the bus.

Unlike many couples, they were thrown out of the Greyhound station for it. Williams missed his bus, and as a result, lost his job.

The 30-year-old Youngstown man has filed a complaint with the Columbus Community Relations Commission, saying that Greyhound and its security company violated a city ordinance against sexual orientation discrimination.

On the morning of June 15, 2002, Williams said the pair waited at Gate 7 of the Greyhound bus terminal for the bus to take him home.

�My arms were around his neck, and his arms were around my waist,� said Williams, �and there were a few pecks of kisses.�

Suddenly, according to Williams, they heard �Security to Gate 7� over the public address system and Michael Forney, a security guard employed by Global One Security and assigned to Greyhound, approached them.

Williams said Forney told the couple to �stop the freaky-deaky shit� or get out of the terminal. By Williams� account, a Greyhound manager had also arrived on the scene by then.

�I reminded them that they were breaking [Columbus�] ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination. They responded by saying that this was their station.�

Williams, who is African-American, said he called Forney, who is also African-American, a �bigot.�

He said Forney pointed to the skin on his arm and said, �It�s not an issue of being a bigot. It�s an issue of you being true to your own kind.�

Williams said he thinks the remark was both anti-gay and racially motivated since his boyfriend, whom Williams asked not be named, is white.

At that time, according to Williams, bystanders began to defend him against Forney and the unnamed manager, and seven have given statements to the commission in support of his claim.

One bystander told Forney, �I just kissed my girlfriend, why not throw me out?� according to Williams. Forney replied, �It�s different. They�re gay. You�re not.�

Williams said the manager told him again, �You�re nothing but trouble. Get out of my terminal,� which Williams refused to do until he had collected contact information from the bystanders.

Williams filed a police report that day. Missing the bus home caused him to lose his job, and delayed a TV interview he was supposed to tape for Chicago Pride.

�That was a Saturday,� said Williams, �and I didn�t feel safe returning to the Greyhound station again. They could have arrested me for trespassing.�

Williams� ticket had been paid for by the Ohio Department of Health so Williams could participate in a state HIV prevention planning group.

The following Monday he filed a complaint with the commission. The next day, health department personnel went with him to the station and asked that Greyhound honor the three-day-old ticket. They did.

Williams said it appears his complaint �has the strong possibility of going to hearing� since he has failed to come to a settlement with Greyhound.

Williams is asking for $252,000 in damages from the bus company, which he says are derived from his loss of employment, humiliation, and the exacerbation of an unhealthy relationship with his sister when he had to stay at her home in Columbus.

Greyhound offered him $500 on November 13, which the commission accepted, but Williams turned down. He said he refused the offer because it doesn�t make Greyhound change any of its policies, or find ways to protect sexual minorities who ride their buses.

Greyhound spokesperson Kim Plaskett said the company �has a policy of zero tolerance for discrimination.� Where local law includes sexual orientation, they abide by it.

�Persons who work at Greyhound know the policy,� she said. �It�s part of their training.�

Plaskett added that Greyhound no longer employs Global One.

Williams is representing himself before the commission, but has since enlisted attorney Randi Barnabee of Macedonia to protect his federal civil rights interests in the matter.

A commission hearing has not been scheduled.


News Briefs

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

ACLU sues Boyd schools for banning gay-straight club

Ashland, Ky.--The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Boyd County, Ky. school district, saying it must allow a student gay-straight alliance to meet at the high school.

The GSA was approved in October after the ACLU sent a letter to the school district noting that their earlier votes against allowing the group were in violation of the federal Equal Access Act. The act says schools must treat all student clubs equally.

The board in December banned all non-curricular student groups for the remainder of the school year, after parents and two ministers waged a campaign against the group.

The suit, filed January 22, says that the district still allows many clubs, including drama, sports and cheerleading teams and the student council, to meet. The lawsuit also contends that the school board is violating the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

The ACLU is also suing Klein High School in suburban Houston. There, officials changed the requirements for clubs immediately after students applied to form a GSA. The students re-applied under the new rules, but have not gotten a response from the school.

Vatican says gender can�t be changed

Vatican City--Gender reassignment surgery does not change a person�s gender, says the Vatican.

A letter secretly sent to papal representatives in 2000 and sent openly to the leaders of bishops� conferences in 2002 says that church baptismal records are not to be altered to indicate a change in sex, nor can transsexuals become members of the clergy.

The Vatican also ruled that transsexuals cannot marry.

Man charged in Erie bar robbery

Erie, Pa.--A man charged with killing a suburban Philadelphia man and his pregnant wife has been charged with beating a bartender during a robbery at an Erie gay dance club.

Matthew Eshbach, 27, of Pottstown, worked with three other men to rob the Zone on October 22, Erie police said. Eshbach beat bartender Aaron Whitman before the men fled with $700, Detective John Holmes said.

Eshbach is being held in Chester County Jail without bond for the Nov. 22 deaths of Kerry and Katherine Schadler. Michael McGrory, 29, also was charged in the couple�s murder.

Police linked Eshbach to the Erie robbery through a cellular phone that Eshbach allegedly left at the scene.

Pottstown is in eastern Pennsylvania, 350 miles from Erie.

Court strikes unmarried sex ban

Atlanta--The Georgia Supreme Court kicked the government out of bedrooms and struck down a 130-year-old law banning sex outside of marriage.

The court ruled January 13 that Georgia�s long-standing but little-enforced �fornication� law was unconstitutional because it invaded on the privacy rights of anyone old enough to consent to sex.

The law could be used to prosecute same-sex couples, since same-sex marriage is not legal in the United States.

The case involved two 16-year-olds who were having sex in the girl�s bedroom in the middle of the night when her mother walked in on them in September 2001. Under Georgia law, the age of consent is 16.

Nine states and the District of Columbia still have active laws regulating fornication, said Gerry Weber, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case before the Georgia Supreme Court.

In 1998, the state high court overturned the Georgia sodomy law, ruling it violated the state constitution�s privacy guarantee. That law had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 decision which the court is now revisiting (see page 1).

California pioneer Morris Kight dies

Los Angeles--Morris Kight, a pioneering leader in Southern California�s gay civil rights movement, died in his sleep on January 19. He was 83.

Kight, who served for more than 20 years on the Los Angeles Human Rights Commission until retiring last year, had been in declining health in recent weeks, suffering from liver cancer, heart trouble and other ailments.

Kight co-founded the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and was a key organizer of the West Coast�s first Gay Pride parade in 1970.

One of his best-known protests was a weeks-long 1970s demonstration outside Barney�s Beanery, a West Hollywood restaurant that for years had �No Fags Allowed� written on its matchbooks and in its bar. The slogan was eventually removed.

He is survived by his partner of 25 years, Roy Zucheran; two daughters, Carol Kight of Claremont and Angela Bonin of Texas; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Remember the hours

Three lives intertwine around Virginia Woolf�s �Mrs. Dalloway�

Stephen Daldry has made only four films, but with each one he has hit a home run. With Billy Elliot, Daldry told a movingly funny and immensely heart-felt story of a young, provincial British lad who chooses ballet over boxing.

Now, with The Hours, he has crafted a film so sublime that one can�t wait for his next venture and yet, one can�t help but worry as to how he can get even better.

Based on Cincinnati-born Michael Cunningham�s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1998 novel of the same name, The Hours is an existential inquiry into the trials and tribulations of ordinary people leading what on the surface seem ordinary lives. In reality, these lives are nothing short of extraordinary.

The Hours masterfully interweaves the lives of three disparate yet similar women living in different time periods, whose lives are inexorably linked to the literary masterpiece Mrs. Dalloway.

One of the women in this richly textured story is the author of Mrs. Dalloway herself, the enigmatic and tempestuous Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman. She is living in a London suburb in the early 1920s while trying to recover from the deep depression that plagued her entire life. While in this idyllic (yet claustrophobic to her) environment, Woolf is struggling to begin writing Mrs. Dalloway.

Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is the second woman in The Hours, a young wife and mother in post-World War II Los Angeles who is just starting to read Woolf�s novel. Brown is consumed by the book. Struggling with her own mental illness, she is beginning to question the entire storybook existence she has chosen for herself.

The third woman in this tale is Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). Living in New York in 2001, she seems to have become Mrs. Dalloway herself. She is planning a party for her friend and former lover Richard (Ed Harris), who is in the final stages of AIDS-related mental and physical breakdowns.

Two themes are prominent in Woolf�s Mrs. Dalloway: the idea that all lives are somehow intertwined, literally, cosmically, karmically and in many other ways, and that even the most ordinary lives are truly extraordinary to those living them. These two themes are the theses upon which The Hours builds its existential angst and augury.

Daldry and screenplay writer David Hare have taken Cunningham�s non-linear masterpiece and created a cinematic tapestry that is breathtaking in the subtle ways which it takes disparate threads and stitches them all together.

As the film moves fluidly between the lives of the three main women and their supporting characters, it shows us how they resonate in one another and how gestures, events and even entire lives can echo with bitter pain and with profound joy.

The supporting cast here is supremely matched to the three leads and as such, the entire ensemble is one of the most accomplished and stunning ever assembled in contemporary cinema.

Ed Harris, who plays Richard, Clarissa�s ex-lover, is made to look depressingly frail and sickly. Yet his performance, which is often a bit too theatrical, seems to be the only false note in an otherwise perfect film. He isn�t bad, he�s just not as modulated as the rest.

Allison Janney (The West Wing) plays Clarissa�s lover Sally. Janney never disappoints, and she and Streep together paint a vivid portrait of a contemporary, urban lesbian couple trying to make life seem more meaningful than it often seems.

While the entire supporting cast is stunning, it is Stephen Dillane�s turn as Leonard Woolf, Virginia�s stern yet supportive husband, that is a dazzling piece of acting. Dillane�s subtle displays of love coupled with his outbursts of frustration at his wife�s inability to get better are heartrendingly real. Dillane�s performance here is a real revelation and while Harris is getting all the supporting actor nods thus far, it will be a shame if Dillane is not recognized for his brilliant work here.

And then, there�s the three leads themselves. Each one is supreme in her own right and to have all three in the same film seems like a cinematic guilty-pleasure of hedonistic proportions.

Kidman isn�t afraid to deglamorize herself with a prosthetic nose, wrinkled and freckled hands, and a raspy, base voice. She is simply getting better with each role, and here she brings depth and dignity to one of the most recognizable feminist icons.

Julianne Moore, who has already turned in one of the year�s best performances in Todd Haynes� dazzling Far From Heaven, gets to play yet another 1950s woman, struggling with repression and the stifling claustrophobia of suburban motherhood and domesticity.

Then there�s Streep, who with this role should become the most Oscar nominated actor (male or female) of all time. Her Clarissa is such a complex muse of a woman who is struggling with the seemingly exorbitant ennui of her everyday existence. Streep is an actor of such subtlety and depth that one expects greatness from her, and yet one is always amazed at simply how much depth and layering she is able to imbue her characters with.

Philip Glass�s score is evocative and moving, though at times it seems just a little bit too over the top, drawing undue attention to itself.

Daldry�s directing is sure-footed, well-paced, and dazzlingly fluid. He is clearly emerging as an important director of contemporary cinema and I for one can�t wait to see what he has to offer next.

The Hours will leave you breathless, not only by the artistry of cast and creative team, but also by the humanity that it explores with such sensitivity, humor and soulful depth. The film�s exploration of life, death and depression is so attentively dealt with that by the end one leaves the cinema completely uplifted. As Woolf herself believed, sometimes someone has to die to remind others how to live.

Virginia Woolf�s voice-over ends the film with this: �Remember the hours. Always, remember the hours.�

 

 

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