Pelosi and Pryce will affect LGBT issues in the House
Washington, D.C.--Though incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is seen as more moderate than outgoing leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, there will probably be no difference in how he handles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Frist was chosen by his fellow Republicans to replace Lott on December 23 after Lott made embarassing, racist remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond�s 100th birthday party.
Lott is also noted for his comments on the Senate floor equating homosexuality with alcoholism, sex addiction and kleptomania.
Frist, who was first elected to the Senate in 1994, is a practicing heart surgeon and devout Presbyterian. By contrast, Lott is a lawyer and a Baptist.
As Senate majority leader, Frist will share leadership of the Republican Party with the president and speaker of the House. He will set the Senate�s agenda, appoint committee chairs, and use his power to control which presidential appointees get confirmed.
Frist�s voting record on LGBT issues is virtually identical to Lott�s, according to the Human Rights Campaign. On funding care of people with AIDS, which is also figured into HRC scorecards, Frist scores higher.
But since the demographics of HIV infection have moved the disease into the broader non-gay male population, and many anti-gay Christian churches have ministries caring for people with AIDS, those votes have little to do with an official�s position on civil rights for LGBT people.
Like Lott, Frist�s HRC score in the congressional session just ended was zero. Both oppose the federal gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as an attempt by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to add sexual orientation to the Senate�s standing rules on employment practices.
Frist has refused to adopt a policy of non-discrimination in his own office since coming to the Senate. He has also opposed all attempts to add sexual orientation to federal hate crime laws.
Unlike Lott, Frist voted to confirm Dr. David Satcher to the post of surgeon general in 1998. Satcher was welcomed by civil rights groups, as well as those advocating for people with AIDS.
Groups working for civil rights in the broader population as well as LGBT people see little difference between the two Republicans.
The American Civil Liberties Union scores the two identically, going back three sessions of Congress.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 180 civil rights organizations including HRC and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, scores Frist lower than Lott for the session just ended, due to his failure to support increased spending for Pell student grants and education for disabled people.
But in 1998, Frist scored higher than Lott by supporting Clinton nominee Marsha L. Berzon to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Berzon, who was confirmed, was endorsed by the civil rights community, including HRC.
Over three sessions of Congress, Frist scored slightly lower than Lott as measured by the conservative, anti-gay Eagle Forum.
In addition to the Berzon vote, the Eagle Forum disfavored Frist for his 1997 vote to confirm another Clinton nominee, Sonia Sotomayor to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and his support of the National Endowment for the Arts, also that year.
Pelosi, Pryce shape House direction
Two women will help shape the direction of the House of Representatives, and may have influence over what that body does on LGBT issues.
Democrats elected Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to be the House Minority Leader November 14, making her the first woman elected to lead either party in either chamber of Congress.
Pelosi noted this by saying, �I have been waiting for this for 200 years.�
Since her election in 1987, Pelosi has chalked up a nearly-perfect record on all issues of civil rights, including those of concern to LGBT Americans. Her HRC score has remained 100 percent since 1995, when HRC began the scores.
Pelosi has been a reliable and strong voice for LGBT rights, even on politically difficult votes including military service and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The other woman in the House that may have some effect on bills of LGBT interest is Republican Deborah Pryce of Columbus. She was chosen by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and incoming Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to be the chair of the House Republican Conference.
The position is considered to rank fourth in influence within the party, and is responsible for reconciling the versions of legislation passed by the House and Senate in order to send a single version to the president.
Pryce first entered the House in 1992. Her HRC score has climbed steadily from 29 percent in 1994 to 83 percent currently. Though lower than most Democrats, that score is higher than most Republicans, and earned Pryce endorsements by HRC in 2000 and 2002.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and ACLU ratings, however, show Pryce�s voting consistent with Republicans, especially from the Midwest.
It is unclear how Pryce will influence LGBT matters among Republicans, though, as she has become increasingly favored by both HRC and anti-gay religious conservatives.
Charleston, W. Va.--The West Virginia attorney general�s office has cut lesbians and gays out of an anti-bullying program for public schools. The changes came after conservative groups claimed that the program promoted homosexuality.
The state Board of Education voted in October to halt the Civil Rights Team Project, pending an investigation. The investigation has not been completed, but in December the board adopted a revised student code of conduct that prohibits bullying, intimidation and harassment.
The Civil Rights Team Project was designed to teach students to recognize and prevent bullying.
Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said the revised program will not specify groups of children who could be bullied or harassed.
�We just want to prevent children from being targeted, period,� she said. �We won�t focus on why, just that they are and we hope to do something about it.�
Publications that referred to hate crimes based on sexual orientation or that encouraged students to serve as support systems for gay students have been removed from the program, she said.
Some of the material that was removed was provided by the National Education Association, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
�The materials were not prepared in our office and as soon as they were brought to our attention, we studied them,� Hughes said. �We decided to pull them out of the schools because we didn�t think it was a matter our office should be involved in.�
Hughes said she plans to include parents and groups such as the anti-gay American Family Association in discussions about the revamped program.
�We want to emphasize how we are alike rather than how we are different,� she said. �We all have a share in humanity and don�t want to single out specific groups.�
The West Virginia chapter of the American Family Association had criticized the Civil Rights Team Project as having a hidden, �anti-Christian� agenda that promoted homosexuality. In August, chapter president Kevin McCoy called it �nothing short of the indoctrination of children to accept the homosexual lifestyle.�
McCoy said he was pleased with the program�s revisions. He said his biggest objection was references to hate crimes against gays.
Supporters of the program were upset by the board�s suspension, and view the new program with a great deal of suspicion.
�It doesn�t hurt anyone,� teacher Donna Jo Young said of the Civil Rights Team Project. �It�s not like a police force, it�s about coming together.�
Paul Sheridan, the head of the attorney general�s civil rights division, started the project after hearing of the success of a similar program in Maine.
�We teach kids how to react to incidents of intolerance, that there are thing that they can do to prevent it, that putdowns, slurs and bullying behavior is unacceptable,� he said.
The program had spread to over twenty schools in West Virginia. In Maine, it is used in around 190 schools, over half the schools in the state.
Principal David Book of Liberty High School, one of the participating West Virginia schools, said that opposition to the program was �misinformed.�
�To have young people attempting to set an example for their peers has far greater impact than anything we as adults do,� he said, brushing aside allegations that the program was creating a �politically-correct thought police.�
High court dismisses suit over lawmakers� failure to vote on the measure
Boston--Massachusetts� highest court on December 30 upheld a ruling dismissing a lawsuit against outgoing Senate President Thomas Birmingham over a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw gay marriage in Massachusetts.
A group called Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage sued Birmingham as a private citizen, claiming he acted unlawfully in failing to bring the amendment to a vote.
In July, a joint legislative session adjourned without voting on the measure. The amendment would have required just 25% of legislators in favor of it to go forward, but 51% of lawmakers had to vote against adjourning the session to keep the measure alive.
A single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the lawsuit in October. On December 30, the full court upheld that decision, rejecting the lawsuit.
The high court ruled that as a private citizen, Birmingham had no official duties.
Acting Governor Jane Swift said on December 23 that she has no plans to break a legislative stalemate over the fate of the proposed constitutional amendment.
On Dec. 20, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the legislature had not taken final action on the three questions, as required, before the House and Senate adjourned a joint Constitutional Convention in July.
But the court refused to say whether Swift was required to call the lawmakers back into joint session. The court indicated that Swift might be able to avoid that call if she decides it would be futile.
Swift said she was waiting to see if the legislature would voluntarily reconvene. She said her decision hinged on whether she decided that calling the lawmakers back into the joint session would be a waste of time. Both Senate President Thomas Birmingham and Swift oppose the antigay marriage question.
Birmingham said the ball was in Swift�s court. He said the only other way the Legislature could come back into formal session is by unanimous consent, and at least two senators have told him they would object.
If the state legislature did not act before the end of the day on December 31, the initiative will be dead, although supporters are threatening to file another lawsuit to keep it alive. It was expected that the proposed amendment would be left untouched at the end of the year.
To go on the ballot in November 2004, the voter-initiated amendment had to be approved by 25 percent of the 200 state lawmakers by Dec. 31, 2002, and again during the 2003-2004 legislative session.
An interview with Dr. Michael Lederman
As we approach 21 years of HIV and AIDS, with millions dead and millions more infected, eager discussion has been focused on vaccine research. To shed some light on the subject, I recently interviewed Michael Lederman, MD, Principal Investigator at the Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals of Cleveland AIDS Clinical Trials Unit--one of the nation�s leading researchers in the filed. Throughout our conversation, Dr. Lederman stressed his optimism and hopes for a vaccine . . . but in a timeframe that is as yet unknown.
William Tiedemann: With the first worldwide AIDS vaccine clinical trial nearing completion, and preliminary results to be released in spring of 2003, what is your predication: will we finally have a vaccine to prevent HIV?
Michael Lederman: That�s hard to say � at best, the answer is complex. Early in 2003, the AIDS community is going to hear some important news. Vaxgen, a San Francisco biopharmaceutical company, will announce results of the first large-scale human trial of a vaccine designed to prevent HIV infection or delay disease. The candidate vaccine is called AIDSvax, and one formulation is being tested in over 5,400 people in North America, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. Results from a separate trial in Thailand, testing a different formulation of AIDSvax, will be available later in 2003.
WT: Does it show promise?
ML: No one will really know until all the results are in. If AIDSvax shows at least some ability to prevent HIV infection, it will be cause for celebration. A widely available AIDS vaccine with at least some degree of efficacy could prevent millions of new HIV infections and help bring the global AIDS epidemic under control. But we need to be careful how we celebrate: no vaccine is 100% effective.
WT: What do you mean?
ML: Let�s talk first about vaccines in general, and than what we�re looking for in a HIV vaccine. Disease-causing organisms have at least two distinct effects on the body. The first effect is very obvious: we feel sick, exhibiting symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and many others. Although the second effect is less obvious, it is this effect that generally leads to eventual recovery from the infection: the disease-causing organism induces an immune response in the infected host. As the response increases in strength over time, the infectious agents are slowly reduced in number until symptoms disappear and recovery is complete.
The disease-causing organisms contain proteins called �antigens� which stimulate the immune response. The resulting immune response is multi-fold and includes the synthesis of proteins called �antibodies.� These proteins bind to the disease-causing organisms and lead to their eventual destruction. In addition, �memory cells� are produced in an immune response. These are cells that remain in the bloodstream, sometimes for the life span of the host, ready to mount a quick protective immune response against subsequent infections with the particular agent that induced their production. If such an infection were to occur, the memory cells would respond so quickly that the resulting immune response could inactivate the disease causing agents, and symptoms would be prevented.
WT: What are we looking for in an HIV vaccine?
ML: Current research is concentrating on both therapeutic vaccine as well as a preventative vaccine. First let�s look at the preventative vaccine.
The strategy is to create a vaccine that will teach the human body to create �neutralizing antibodies� against HIV so that the virus, if introduced into a human being, will be prevented from infecting cells. But it�s not easy. The difficulty in creating a universal preventative vaccine for HIV is considerable. HIV mutates constantly, and there are different strains, subtypes or clades of HIV throughout the world. So the difficulty in vaccine research is to create a vaccine that will bind to viruses from other regions, suggesting that a vaccine made for the strain found in the U.S. might not protect people in South Africa. The best possible form of vaccine we can hope for right now is a therapeutic vaccine. A therapeutic vaccine will not prevent infection but would delay onset of serious illness. In theory what we are looking for is a vaccine to sterilize the virus.
Therapeutic vaccines are a little complicated. First, HIV is a retrovirus, and retroviruses insinuate their genetic material into the cells that they invade, causing viral genes to become a permanent fixture in the infected cells and in the offspring of those cells. Retroviruses also reproduce rapidly and sloppily, providing ample opportunity for the emergence of mutations that allow HIV to shift its identity and thereby give the immune system or antiretroviral drugs a hard time. HIV�s biggest opposition, though, is our immune response, which consists of antibodies and cytotoxic or killer cells--T-cells that are responsible for destroying virus-infected cells. So the theory behind a therapeutic vaccine is to create a substance that will boost the response of the cytotoxic cells to kill HIV.
The challenge in vaccine research is again to create a vaccine that will not only recognize all different viruses but to boost immune response as well.
WT: Are there any side effects from vaccines?
ML: Vaccines may use substances that can cause side effects on their own, such as soreness at the vaccine site and fever, but in general the benefits outweigh the side effects.
WT: So how much vaccine research are we doing now?
ML: There are numerous vaccine studies underway. The best way to learn more about AIDS clinical trials and specifically vaccine studies is to utilize the Internet. Many sites have information on HIV vaccines and vaccine research in general. Just type in �HIV vaccines� and you�ll be linked to numerous sites.
WT: What vaccines are we studying here in Cleveland?
ML: We have clinical studies on Vaxgen or AIDSvax and the Merck vaccine. In addition, the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at University Hospitals is looking into microbicides, which are being tested as a preventive substance that would kill HIV, acting like a spermicide.
WT: As a leader in HIV treatment and the fight against AIDS, what�s is your message to our audience?
ML: First, I am not sure when we will have a vaccine. I hate to give a time frame. So with that in mind, be safe out there, use safe sex practices, don� t share needles, and if you�re not being safe get counseling, get the support you need to stay safe.���������
William Tiedemann, LISW, is manager of the capacity building initiative at the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland, and chairs the community advisory board of the University Hospitals AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.
Young lesbians take more risks than gay men, study finds
Philadelphia--College-aged bisexual and lesbian women are more likely to use drugs, engage in unsafe sex and attempt suicide than their male counterparts, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Western Kentucky University.
Dr. Lisa L. Lindley and her associates interviewed 927 LGBT people attending college and found some disturbing results, many of which contradict conventional wisdom on the topic of LGBT outreach.
The women surveyed reported a higher instance of recent unsafe sexual activity than did the men, which was compounded by the fact that a larger percentage of the women identified as being attracted to both sexes than was the case with the men. The women also, on average, came out and began engaging in same-sex activity later than men.
The researchers found it even more disturbing that 10% of the women, compared to only 4% of the men, had reported attempting suicide in the last year. In addition, the rates of drug use, from tobacco and alcohol to marijuana and heavy hallucinogens, were much higher among the women than the men. An example given was that 25% of women had tried LSD, compared to 13% of the men.
In explaining the results, Lindley noted that earlier studies had indicated that bisexuals engaged in riskier behavior than gay men or lesbians. Since more women identified as bisexual than men, it may have slightly skewed the results. She also indicated that society�s fixation on masculinity may be responsible for women coming out at a later age.
�If a guy is effeminate, I think he�s almost pushed out of the closet earlier than women,� she told Reuters news service, referring to society being harsher with feminine males than masculine females.
Lindley argued that the results of the study indicate that more efforts need to be geared towards women who have sex with women, and that sexual education should start dealing with sexual orientation and sexual differences at an earlier age.
�You�re going to have kids, even in elementary school, who may not know it yet, but may be gay and lesbian,� she said. �And to exclude them at such a young age, you�re setting them up for problems.�
Los Angeles--Openly gay photographer Herb Ritts, who shot celebrities ranging from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Madonna, died December 26 of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50.
Ritts, who was raised in Los Angeles, got his photographic start in 1979 when he and friend Richard Gere got a flat tire on a road trip. After Gere changed the tire, Ritts suggested an impromptu photo shoot of the then-unknown actor.
Gere gave the photos to his publicist, and when his career took off shortly afterward, Ritts� photographs began appearing in magazines across the globe.
Ritts worked every side of business, shooting layouts for magazines, ad campaigns for designers, music videos for singers. He won two MTV Video Music Awards in 1991: best female video for his work with Janet Jackson, and best male video for Chris Isaak�s �Wicked Game.�
�He had a very key ability in observing human beings, finding a characteristic unique to them and making it beautiful,� his friend and gallery representative David Fahey told the Los Angeles Times. �Sandra Bernhard and her mouth, Jean-Paul Gauthier�s hair, Elizabeth Taylor�s scar. He would grasp the subject�s essence.�
�His purpose was always to make you look good,� Gere told the New York Times. �He had an extremely elegant aesthetic. Some photographers are working so hard to be elegant that they pummel you with it, but to Herb it came effortlessly.�
Herb Ritts is survived by his partner, Erik Hyman, his mother Shirley Ritts and his three siblings.
Style almost upstages this mysterys cast of top French actresses
Openly gay director Francois Ozon�s new film 8 Women is a stylish murder mystery that brings together eight of France�s greatest actresses spanning a few generations.
Ozon had wanted to make a film with only women in it for a long time. When he saw George Cukor�s The Women again, he thought it might be the ideal project to remake. The rights to the 1939 film, however, had been locked up for several years by Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan.
Then Ozon stumbled upon a relatively obscure 1960s crime play, 8 Femmes, by a mostly forgotten writer, Robert Thomas.
Building on the play, Ozon has drawn inspiration for his film from the Technicolor extravaganzas of Vincente Minnelli�s musical comedies and Douglas Sirk�s flamboyant melodramas.
Set in 1950s France, the film has eight women stranded over the holidays in an isolated mansion during a heavy snowstorm. The celebrations are cut short by the murder of the beloved family patriarch. The killer has to be one of the eight women.
Is it the patriarch�s powerful wife? Is it one of his two young daughters? Perhaps it is the sister-in-law, a spinster. Maybe the miserly mother-in-law did it. It could even be the chambermaid or the housekeeper. Being stranded in the mansion allows these women to try and figure out who committed the brash crime.
Ozon uses the stylishness of the 1950s to the hilt. He punctuates the melodrama and the comedy with musical numbers which serve as inner monologues for each of the women as they push and pull at the others to determine the identity of the murderer. Being caged, as they were, in this dazzling mansion, the women soon begin to get claustrophobic and the tension builds.
Ozon injects his story with some strange motivations and a series of interesting character interactions, including lesbian overtones between some of the housebound suspects.
The eight actresses, one of the most dazzling ensemble casts ever assembled (winner of a Silver Bear Award at he 2002 Berlin International Film Festival) include Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, along with Danielle Darieux, Virgine Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, and Firmine Richard. All eight seem to be having a marvelous time, both in their solo moments and as an ensemble.
The costumes in the film by Pascaline Chavanne are absolutely stunning; Arnaud de Moleron�s sets are equally fantastic. Jean Lapoirie�s cinematography frames each image preciously and allows the sets and costumes to shine even more.
Therein lies the problem. Ozon�s masterful film often has style trumping substance. Technically the film is almost infallible. But the plot, the storyline and the premise of the film sometimes seems hollow and merely a facade to showcase the designing nostalgia of a very colorful and stylish era.
Nevertheless, 8 Women is a fun film with plenty of eye candy and visual panache. While the film may not deliver completely as a successful mystery, it more than makes up with its florid mise en scene and over-the-top musical comedy. Besides, there may not be another cinematic event in which one gets to share the august company of eight such beautiful, brilliant and enigmatic women.
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