Columbus--An Ohio state senator is preparing to introduce a civil rights bill to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans in March.
Democrat Dan Brady, whose District 23 includes Cleveland�s west side and west suburbs, says he has been discussing plans with LGBT community leaders and developing the proposal�s principles and language.
�I know that I would like to see consensus around equality in the workforce of both private industry and state employees,� said Brady, �especially since the governor killed the executive order for state employees.�
Gov. Bob Taft eliminated a 16-year-old order banning job bias for sexual orientation when he took office in 1999.
Brady doesn�t expect his bill to get very far in the current Ohio legislature, which he describes as �having very reactionary legislators in key positions.� But he feels the debate it will generate is good to have.
�That�s why I want to work with the [LGBT] community, and not be out on my own,� said Brady. �But I want to push the envelope as far as we can, maybe even around what is commonly known as �gay marriage�.�
�This is like during the civil rights movement,� he added, �where progress and decisions were made, and not always the next day. But at least we will have it out there for discussion, which will force the conservatives to face their prejudices.�
Presently 13 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in their civil rights laws. Two include gender identity. Eleven Ohio cities have similar ordinances, covering a sixth of the state�s population.
Some of the state measures took a long time to become law. New York�s, which passed in December, spent three decades in the legislature. A 29-year-old Illinois bill may pass this year.
�There are people down here that need to be confronted with different points of view,� said Brady, �and it is time to put the right on the defensive and make them answer questions as to why they don�t support basic civil rights.�
Due to term limits, Brady cannot run for re-election to his current seat.
�But I have four years to go,� he said, �and I feel comfortable going forward with this.�
Brady said references to gender identity in the proposal could prove more difficult, but �I�m not ruling it out. As far as I�m concerned, civil rights are civil rights, and I understand the issue. I just want to make sure that with whatever we have, the argument is focused enough that it can�t be broken into tangents.�
Brady also feels that his proposal could be a good counter to another Defense of Marriage Act that will likely be introduced as well.
�You would not have seen a DOMA bill 20 years ago,� said Brady, �It is a reaction to the growing acceptance of gay people and gay civil rights, just like Confederate symbols showing up on state flags and buildings in the 1950s as a reaction to Brown v. Board of Education.�
Brady said that Democrats and fair-minded Republicans �have been playing defense long enough� on LGBT rights.
�And there has been good reason to play defense,� said Brady, �But sometimes the best defense is a good offense.�
Cincinnati council to vote on expanding their ordinance next week
Cincinnati--The city�s final homicide of 2002 is driving an effort to add gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders to Cincinnati�s hate crime ordinance.
Gregory Beauchamp, a 21-year-old black gay man, was shot to death from a car around 9 pm on New Year�s Eve. He had been walking to Venus nightclub in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood with a group of friends, two of them in drag.
According to survivors of the attack, anti-gay epithets were shouted from the car before the gunfire.
Police consider the murder an anti-gay hate crime, but neither Cincinnati or Ohio�s hate crime laws include sexual orientation, so no sentencing enhancements would be possible in the case.
But Cincinnati�s �institutional intimidation� ordinance could change if city council approves a bill sponsored by member John Cranley.
Cranley introduced a bill January 23 that would add gender, age, disability and sexual orientation to the ordinance. �Gender� is defined to include gender identity. The measure presently includes race, color, religion, and national origin.
The ordinance was originally proposed in 1999, but did not pass.
�Cranley has a fire in his gut� because of Beauchamp�s murder, said former Stonewall Cincinnati board member Bill Bridges. He is leading the effort for the ordinance with current board member Doreen Cudnik.
�The primary intent is to stop the violence and the culture of hatred and bigotry against people based on their sexual behavior as well as disability and gender,� said Cranley.
Cranley is joined by co-sponsor David Crowley. There are nine members of Cincinnati�s city council, requiring five votes to pass any bill. Six are Democrats, two are Republicans, and one is a member of the Charterites, a local party.
Currently Cranley, Crowley, Jim Tarbell and David Pepper are solid votes for the ordinance. Three other members indicated opposition: Alicia Reece, Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel.
According to Bridges, the remaining two, Minette Cooper, and Paul Booth, have not yet said how they will vote. They continue to talk with Stonewall Cincinnati and other GLBT leaders about the measure.
Mayor Charlie Luken said in a January 28 email to Bridges that he will sign the measure if it passes.
Beauchamp�s murder would not have been covered by the new measure, as city ordinances can only cover misdemeanors. But it would provide enhanced penalties for anti-gay assault, menacing, telephone harassment, and vandalism.
Bridges said a key to passage is working through leaders of the African-American community to influence members of council. Doing that has meant mobilization of black lesbians and gays.
Organized opposition to the bill is coming from the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values and the Republican Party, according to Bridges.
CCV is also currently opposing a human rights ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender in Covington, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The group�s leadership was the driving force behind a 1993 initiative that added Article 12 to the city charter. The article forbids any city ordinance that gives �minority or protected status to people based on sexual orientation or preference.�
Bridges said support for Article 12 is diminishing, so CCV is �busing people in� to oppose the hate crime ordinance, which they say violates it.
CCV Vice President David Miller said, �The question that needs to be asked is whether the life or property of the person who identifies himself as homosexual is more valuable than the life or property of someone who is heterosexual.�
�This ordinance is saying that the lives of homosexuals have more value than the lives of other people.�
�Hate crime legislation is not meant to stop the crimes from occurring, but to prevent people who think homosexuality is immoral from speaking out against it,� said Miller.
�That�s it,� said Bridges of Miller, �He�s trying to divide the issue along the lines of are you better than we are?�
Cranley said in a statement accompanying his motion to council that crimes have always been punished differently by considering the motivation.
�We all know that premeditated murder carries greater penalties than impulsive murder, while both are rightly severely punished,� Cranley said. �Similarly, hate crime bills are used when racial prejudice is present.�
Cranley added that Article 12 should be repealed because it gives the impression that Cincinnati is not a tolerant place for gay or lesbian people to live and work.
Also attached to the bill is a 1999 opinion by City Solicitor Fay Dupius saying that it does not violate Article 12 because it changes the status of the criminal, not the victim.
But the ordinance has also �created more of a buzz to get Article 12 repealed� according to Bridges.
Stonewall Cincinnati has been preparing a campaign to repeal the amendment in 2004.
�This is seen as a barometer as to how an Article 12 vote will go,� said Bridges.
Public comment on the bill will be heard by the Law and Public Safety Committee at 3 pm next Tuesday February 4, and if voted out of committee, could be considered by the entire council February 5.
Cranley will meet with the GLBT African-American community to enlist support and testimony for the ordinance at 6 pm Sunday, February 2 at Club Chica, 5800 Colerain Ave.
Presently five other Ohio cities include gays and lesbians in their hate crime ordinances. They are Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Lakewood and Athens. Toledo�s measure includes gender identity.
Cleveland--The sophomore outing of the Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend tripled last year�s fundraising while expanding the range and number of activities it presented.
With events ranging from a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Super Bowl party and a Kinky Kabaret to the opening night reception and bar crawl and the eponymous Saturday night party followed by a dungeon party, the event raised roughly $15,000, which will be divided between the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, Northern Ohio Coalition, Inc., the Leather Archives and Museum and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.
��It was a huge success,� said Robert Miller, Mr. Leather West Michigan 2001 and one of the event organizers. Speaking before the final bookkeeping had been completed, he said, �We definitely doubled what we did last year.�
About 500 people attended this year�s event, up from 300 last year, said Dennis McMahon, who is a former Mr. Cleveland Leather and another CLAW organizer.
Events also covered more of the city than the previous year�s inaugural effort. Union Station/Bounce/Pump, the Grid, the Leather Stallion, the Nickel, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Haus of Berlin and even the Days Inn in Lakewood were all scenes of the upsurge of support for the weekend, which brought together a diverse range of people.
�We were also successful at bringing the different sections of the community together,� Miller noted. �The pansexuality of the event continued to widen.�
�We had more women than last year, more deaf people, more straight people than last year,� he continued. �We�re building bridges between communities in the leather and fetish world.�
Dozens of leather titleholders were present, including William Bam Coleman, International Mr. Deaf Leather 2002, International Ms. Leather Russ Cosgrove, International Bootblack Michael Lanzini, Borisz Mos and Rebecca Harbert, first runners-up for International Mr. and Ms. Leather, as well as a multitude of past and regional titleholders.
Miller said CLAW was very grateful to the titleholders for being there and making the weekend such a great event, but also wanted to thank the volunteers who stepped in, both from Cleveland and visiting for the weekend. He also thanked volunteer coordinator Paul Lopez, who shuttled nine titleholders and the editor of the Leather Journal around for the weekend.
Miller noted that the dozen or so members of the fledgling group New Age in Leather stepped up and took care of many logistical needs throughout the weekend, as did Xanadu Boutique, who were instrumental in putting on the Kinky Kabaret on Sunday night, mixing the best of the leather and drag communities.
�Body Work Productions was very generous,� Miller continued, extending his organization�s gratitude to another business that was instrumental in keeping the weekend going. �Every time we asked them for something, they gave it to us.�
Jan Cline, former assistant executive director of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center and current development director for three social service organizations, helped organize the silent auction items at the main CLAW party on Saturday night.
Miller also thanked Post Chicago for their design, print and advertising work on the weekend, attracting people from across the world.
�One of the great things about CLAW,� said McMahon, �is that it�s one of the few events where the leather community can get together and socialize without a competition. That�s what people really liked about it last year. Usually when we get together, it�s to compete.�
Akron--Raids of instant bingo parlors and indictments for illegal gambling have gained much media attention in northeast Ohio over the past year. But the games also involve many gay bars, a community center and at least one AIDS service organization, and extend farther through the state than the indictments show.
A federal grand jury in Cleveland indicted 19 people and six organizations December 18 on multiple counts including illegal gambling and money laundering. The charges came from instant bingo games played at parlors and bars in northeast Ohio, including many that cater to the GLBT community.
The indictments resulted from a 20-month investigation by a task force headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Bulford, with law enforcement officials from the state of Ohio, four counties and the IRS. The task force raided bars and bingo parlors in Cleveland and Akron in February 2002.
The 34-page indictment alleges that non-profit charities, including some serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and people with AIDS, were illegally taken over and run as private businesses by operators of the gambling games.
Of the 19 indicted, Chester L. Simons pleaded no contest January 17 to 11 gambling-related charges. He will be sentenced May 1, and still faces 71 more charges, mostly for money laundering.
A second investigation led to a raid at the home of Jim Jackson in November 2000. The Akron instant bingo operator pleaded guilty to charges of gambling, money laundering and racketeering on January 18. He is working out a deal with prosecutors to testify against others in exchange for a lighter sentence.
A third, smaller operation involved six people, including Richard Husarick, owner of the gay Tool Shed, Crossover and Man�s World bars in Cleveland. He was found guilty of gambling-related misdemeanors on December 30, was fined $600 and forfeited $7,500.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, more than 100 people, bars and charities throughout Ohio have been indicted on racketeering, money laundering, and other gambling-related charges.
The games are being played throughout Ohio, often with tax and charter documents of GLBT charities and AIDS organizations being used without their knowledge or permission. The charities are shown as recipients of money they never get.
Owners of GLBT bars selling the tickets generally refused to speak on the record for this report. This reporter was repeatedly warned that those being indicted were not necessarily the top leaders of the operations, and that investigating and reporting the story was �dangerous.�
Gay and AIDS charities �duped�
Akron�s Community AIDS Network is mentioned in the December 18 indictment as a victim of the alleged criminal activity.
�They were duped,� said Bulford.
According to the grand jury, a parlor in Meyers Lake Plaza in Canton was opened using CAN as the front charity in March of 1999. That parlor is currently open, benefiting the Natural Health Foundation, which is one of the charities indicted December 18.
Jonathan Adee, who was the executive director of CAN at that time, said Chad Bush approached him with the possibility of opening the parlor as a way to generate funds. Bush is one of the 19 indicted and the owner of Babylon, a gay bar in Akron�s Highland Square.
�The law was vague and there was no case law,� said Adee, who holds a law degree, �so we decided to try it.�
Adee said CAN received checks totaling around $1,000 during the month or so that they were involved.
According to Adee, the CAN board decided to �pull the plug� on Bush and instant bingo when they learned that money was being diverted to other bank accounts. This included $29,000 to $30,000 sent to an account in Arizona.
Adee said CAN later learned that their IRS documents were being displayed at more than one Cleveland bar to give the appearance that the instant bingo played there was supporting CAN, even though it was not.
Foundation helped HIV+ men
Akron�s AIDS Holistic Services director Jackie Figler said she sent clients to the Natural Health Foundation, of which Bush is the president, for services including nutritional supplements and massages, and they were served.
Figler said that her agency also received $500 per week for eight weeks in August and September, 2002, as well as two freezers from Natural Health Foundation.
Natural Health Foundation targeted HIV-positive men as consumers of its vitamins through advertising in gay bar publications. Those ads were always accompanied by separate ads for instant bingo parlors.
According to Expos� editor Michael Petrack, whose magazine published both ads from July 2001 to February 2002, the checks for both ads came from the Natural Health Foundation. Petrack said they were signed by Vicki Losh, who has been charged with three counts of money laundering.
Columbus games listed Akron center
Under it previous ownership, the Akron GLBT bar Cocktails sold tickets for still another charity, the Firestone Park Athletic Association II. Sales continued until February 2002 when the association was indicted along with Bush, Losh, Simons and others.
An official of the Akron Pride Center, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said his organization was approached by Jackson in 1999 to become a recipient of instant bingo proceeds.
According to the official, Jackson wanted to use the center�s tax-exempt status �to make [the games] look acceptable in gay bars.�
The official said that Jackson wanted to pair the Pride Center with another of his charities, the United Saghbeen Society.
�All the money would first go to Saghbeen,� said the official, �and we would get a rebate, after Jackson took 50 percent off the top for administrative purposes.�
The center received $8,481 from Jackson�s operation over 16 months before ending the arrangement in January, 2001.
The official said the center got calls from people who played bingo games at Columbus bars, who said that the Pride Center was listed as the beneficiary there.
This was a complete surprise to the center, which thought their name was only appearing in two Akron bars, Adams Street and Lydia�s.
One box for charity, one box for the bar
Vince Morvatz of Akron said Jackson recruited him to help get tickets placed in gay bars in the Cleveland and Akron area.
Morvatz said he left Jackson when he discovered that well-known Akron organizations such as the Blind Center and Weaver Workshop had never heard of Jackson�s Child Care Corporation, which claimed to support them through the money it raised selling tickets.
When police raided Jackson�s Tallmadge home in 2000, they found $3.6 million in the freezer, basement, and garage.
Morvatz explained that bar owners were given two boxes of tickets. Proceeds from one went to the charity, but money from the other was kept by the bar owner �as a thank you.�
Three bar owners, who would speak only off the record, confirmed this.
For bar owners to get any money from instant ticket sales is illegal, even if they comply with all other requirements.
Canton games benefit elusive church
Though Akron and Cleveland GLBT bars discontinued instant bingo games after Bush was raided on February 11, 2002, games continue elsewhere. These include ticket sales in Canton that are not related to the others.
Until owner Jeff Melton removed the ticket machine as a result of this investigation, his Boardwalk gay bar sold tickets for the East Side Baptist Church, as did the 540 Club. According to the papers at each bar, the church is located at 1951 Third Street N.E. in Canton.
The address is a small storefront building which is padlocked, even on a Sunday morning.
A listing in the Canton Yellow Pages shows a different address for the church, a house on the same street a few doors to the west. A man and a woman who answered separate phone calls there made it clear that they are not a church.
The East Side Baptist Church had its charter dropped by the Ohio Secretary of State in 1982. This usually occurs when a non-profit organization dissolves, and ceases filing tax-exempt statements. But 18 years later, on January 12, 2000, the church�s charter was reinstated.
The pastor of the church is Rev. Clennie L. Lee, who also pastors St. Timothy Bible Way Church, which lists a different address.
Neither Lee nor Ed Todd of Massillon, who through All American Novelty supplies the tickets sold for the church, were eager to answer the Gay People�s Chronicle�s questions.
By the time the Chronicle reached him, Todd was irritated that Melton had taken the machine out of Boardwalk.
It is not clear how much money that machine raised, but according to Morvatz, a machine is only worth installing if the monthly sales exceed $3,000.
Melton said Todd left a bag with $600 for prize money under his bar, �and some nights we would run out a couple of times.�
�What do you care? We have taken them out of your [gay] bars anyway,� said Todd, who then said the bar owners were upset because �they make a couple of bucks on this.�
Melton said he never received any money from the machine while it was in Boardwalk, and Todd also signed a letter saying that.
When pressed, Todd described the East Side Baptist Church as �in transition,� which he explained meant it was a �street ministry for the last year� and �had purchased an old auto parts store on Lincoln Way East.�
The Stark County auditor�s office lists 50 real estate properties, mostly single houses, under the names of Lee, his wife Frances and both churches, but no record of property on Lincoln Way East.
Todd said Lee was �mad that [the Chronicle] got the machine out of Boardwalk and he doesn�t want to talk to you.�
When contacted, Lee could not answer questions about the East Side Baptist Church, including where it meets, how many members it has, or if it belongs to one of the Baptist conventions.
�I won�t talk to you on the phone,� Lee said. �If you want to talk to me, you come here and talk to me face-to-face.�
This reporter declined that demand. After more questioning, Lee said the church is �independent� and has members from Canton to East Liverpool to Akron.
Later, he said the church was �a mission.�
Neither the Stark County sheriff�s metro unit nor the Canton police are investigating bingo games benefiting the East Side Baptist Church, said spokespeople for both.
Bingo is legal if it is done right
Under a law signed January 2 by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, instant bingo in storefront parlors must end by April 3. But selling tickets in bars will remain legal as long as 100 percent of the proceeds go to the named charity. The only benefit the bar owner may receive is the increased bar traffic the tickets generate.
Also, according to Ohio Licensed Beverage Association attorney Mark Myers of Columbus, the liquor permit holder must act as an agent for the charity, which must be recognized by the state of Ohio and the Internal Revenue Service.
Records of cash in and out as well as the names of $100 winners must be kept and made available for inspection.
Myers stressed that bar owners have some liability if the charity turns out to be false.
�If I were a liquor permit owner, I would check the charity out very carefully,� said Myers, �because if the charity turns out to be bogus, the Department of Public Safety could cite the owner for illegal gambling.�
Instant bingo tickets are also distinguished by law from the state-licensed bingo played in churches and other non-profit facilities.
Nominee stays off AIDS panel after phobic views revealed
Washington, D.C.--A religious conservative with extreme anti-gay views was chosen by the White House for a presidential AIDS advisory panel. But Jerry Thacker, who had called the disease a �gay plague,� withdrew his name last week after his positions were revealed in the press.
The administration had chosen Thacker to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS. He was to be sworn in along with other new commission members this week by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
On January 23, however, Thacker said that he would not accept the appointment, administration officials said.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, while neither confirming nor denying the withdrawal, issued a stern rebuke of Thacker�s statements.
�The views that he holds are far, far removed from what the president believes,� Fleischer said. �The president has a total opposite view. The president�s view is that people with AIDS need to be treated with care, compassion.�
The administration�s choice of the Pennsylvania marketing consultant had come under severe criticism from gay civil rights groups and others.
Like the Bush administration, he promotes abstinence from sex as the way to prevent HIV infection. �For the unmarried, the only truly �safe sex� is not to have sex,� Thacker has written.
Absinence until marriage would not have prevented Thacker�s HIV infection. He contracted the virus from his wife after she was infected by a blood transfusion.
Thacker is a graduate of the anti-gay Bob Jones University who later ran a radio station at the school, and his web site at one point referred to AIDS as the �gay plague.� He also referred to gay people as practicing a �death style,� rather than a lifestyle. He has described homosexuality as a condition that can be cured by Christianity.
In September 2001, Thacker returned to his alma mater to give two �chapel messages.� As once summarized on the university web site, the speeches focused on the �sin of homosexuality� and his family�s struggle with AIDS and its association with gays.
A number of web sites with anti-gay statements by Thacker were altered once he was nominated for the panel. Virtually all anti-gay references have been excised.
"Thacker was right to step aside and we hope that future administration appointments will reflect a commitment to epidemiology, not fringe ideology," said Human Rights Campaign political director Winnie Stachelberg. "It is important that the administration bolster [the AIDS panel�s] credibility by avoiding divisive figures, such as Thacker, who distract the panel from doing the important work of fighting against HIV and AIDS.�
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
West Virginia scraps anti-bully program that included gay students
Charleston, W.Va.--West Virginia�s attorney general�s office is dropping an anti-bullying program for public schools that conservative groups had alleged promoted homosexuality.
�A program that has aroused so much controversy and objection is no longer useful. If it�s going to be successful, it needs the support of parents and the community,� said Managing Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes.
Hughes said the attorney general�s office has no plans to revive the project.
The Civil Rights Team Project operated in about 20 public schools until October, when parents and conservative groups complained to the state board of education. The board halted the program until a committee of board members could review it. A report is due in February.
In January, the board adopted a statewide student code of conduct that prohibits bullying, harassment and intimidation and doles out penalties. The new code does not name any specific categories like race or sexual orientation.
Under the attorney general�s program, a handful of students from each school served as role models and reported and stopped harassment.
Some of the program�s material, which was removed by the attorney general�s office late last year, suggested that role model students wear T-shirts with slogans like �Straight but not narrow� and use words like �parent� instead of mother and father or �date� instead of boyfriend or girlfriend.
Hughes said the program�s goal was to prevent the bullying and harassment of every student, not to single out specific groups.
�Our true message had been overshadowed,� she said. �Homosexuality had become the issue.�
Panel ousts judge they tried to out
Richmond, Va.--The judicial career of the first black woman to become a circuit court judge in Virginia ended after lawmakers used a sexual harassment allegation to make an inquiry into her sexual orientation.
The fight over Judge Verbena Askew�s reappointment divided the General Assembly along racial lines. A House committee voted 137 on January 22 not to certify Askew for another eight-year term. A Senate committee later voted 10-5 against Askew.
One Askew supporter said the House hearing was filled with hearsay, innuendo, rumor and conflicting testimony.
�The combination of these things smells bad,� said Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, �with the undercurrent of questions about sexual orientation and lesbianism, all of this rolled together.�
There was a documented pattern suggesting Askew tried to undermine Brenda Collins at work after she filed a sexual harassment complaint, said Delegate Robert McDonnell, chairman of the House committee.
McDonnell earlier told reporters that, were Askew a lesbian, her violation of state sodomy laws might make her ineligible to serve on the bench. This drew criticism that the hearings were an anti-gay witch hunt.
McDonnell also questioned Askew�s friendship with a female reporter, asking one witness how close the two were sitting to each other at a recent dinner.
The city of Hampton paid $64,000 to settle Collins� complaint. Askew has denied the allegations and had no part in paying the settlement to Collins.
9-11 fund awards partner $500,000
Washington, D.C.--A federal fund created to compensate Sept. 11 victims has awarded $500,000 to the lesbian partner of a Maryland woman who died in the attacks.
Sheila Hein, 51, a civilian Army management analyst, died when a hijacked American Airlines jet slammed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
Under Virginia laws, Peggy Neff, her partner of 18 years, was not eligible for state aid.
But the head of a U.S. Justice Dept. fund established after the attacks concluded that Neff was entitled to compensation.
Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, wrote on Nov. 26 that Neff had accepted $557,390.
Neff�s lawyers called the decision �a huge step forward for the federal government.�
It was unclear whether the decision set a precedent for other partners of those who died in the attacks.
According to gay civil rights advocates, it is significant that the compensation awarded by Feinberg gave Neff�s relationship a status similar to that given a wife or husband.
Bid fails for meeting on gay clergy
Louisville, Ky.--Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have failed in their bid to force the denomination into a showdown over enforcing a ban on gay clergy.
Thirteen people who had signed a petition for a historic national meeting on the issue withdrew their names, church leaders said Jan. 27. That left conservatives short of the minimum number of signatures required under church law to call the meeting. It would have been the first ever held by the 214-year-old denomination.
�There are no winners in this situation,� said the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, an Atlanta minister and the denomination�s moderator. He said he prayed for �unity in the midst of our diversity.�
Abu-Akel had written to petitioners, lobbying against the special assembly that he said would cost $500,000 and divert attention from other church work.
Alex Metherell, the California layman who spearheaded the petition, accused church officials of putting intense pressure to recant on the 26 clergy and 31 lay elders who signed the petition.
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Canton, Ohio also filed a complaint on Jan. 21 arguing that the delay in calling for a special meeting violated the denomination�s constitution.
Three to be tried in bat attack
Beverly Hills, Calif.--A judge has ordered three men to stand trial for a September baseball bat attack on a gay actor in West Hollywood.
Superior Court Judge Richard Stone ruled January 17 that Larry Walker, 29; his brother, Vincent Dotson, 18; and Torwin Sessions, 19, will be tried on felony charges of assault, robbery and conspiracy.
The three defendants have pleaded innocent. They remain jailed and are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 31.
The case became a rallying point in the gay enclave of West Hollywood after district attorney Steve Cooley decided not to file hate crime charges. Prosecutors have said the motive for the attack was robbery and not the victim�s sexual orientation.
The judge ruled after a four-day hearing in which the victim, actor Treve Broudy, 34, testified that he has lost half his vision since the attack and has trouble reading.
Edward Ulett testified that he and Broudy had just hugged on the street when a car approached and two men, one armed with a bat, began attacking Broudy and himself. Ulett identified Sessions as the one swinging the bat.
Broudy was in a coma after the attack and was hospitalized for about 10 weeks.
Pope warns of �inauthentic� families
Vatican City--Pope John Paul II warned January 26 against �inauthentic� versions of the family, stressing that a union between a man and woman was the only true one in God�s eyes.
The pope made the comments after the conclusion of the Roman Catholic Church�s world conference on families in the Philippines a meeting dominated by exhortations from Church officials against divorce, abortion and same-sex marriages.
The pontiff, speaking from his studio window above St. Peter�s Square, said the meeting reaffirmed that the family based on union between man and woman was the authentic signal �of life and hope for humanity.�
In defining what he meant by family, he said: �It�s certainly not that inauthentic one based on individual egoism.�
Pitt back in court over partner benefits
Pittsburgh--The University of Pittsburgh and the ACLU are heading back to court nine months after a school panel recommended the university not offer same-sex partner health benefits.
Pitt filed a motion on January 21 seeking to permanently bar the city from hearing a lawsuit involving seven former and current workers who say the university discriminated by denying their partners such benefits.
Seven years ago, former Pitt employee Deborah Henson filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, saying the school violated the city�s 1990 ordinance prohibiting discrimination by sexual orientation. Six others later joined her.
In 2000, Pitt won an injunction from Allegheny County Judge Robert Gallo to bar the commission from hearing the lawsuit on the basis that the city law exceeded the scope of the state�s Human Relations Act.
The school also noted a state law passed after the lawsuit began that exempts public universities like Pitt from local laws requiring partners benefits.
The Human Rights Campaign estimates that 23 higher education institutions offered some form of domestic partner benefits in 1993. The number has grown to 179, said HRC education director Kim I. Mills.
Our age has epitomized the cult of the celebrity criminal. From O.J. Simpson and Winona Ryder to the ever-burgeoning saga of Martha Stewart, celebrity criminals are our culture�s guilty pleasure. They appeal to us so because we build them up and we get to tear them down.
When Kander and Ebb�s musical Chicago opened in the 1970s it was quite a flop. No one was ready to believe that celebrities had criminal potential or that in criminality lay the power of celebrity.
When Chicago was revived on Broadway in the mid-1990s all of a sudden its prescient foreshadowing from the 1970s had manifest itself into powerful and palpable reality.
The success of the Broadway revival and the many tour shows made Miramax Films salivate at the idea of turning it into a film.
But musical films are not necessarily good box-office draws, and Chicago provided its own unique challenges in going from the stage to screen. Several stars from Madonna to Charlize Theron had been mentioned but the project never took off.
Then came veteran Broadway stage director and choreographer Rob Marshall. His scintillating and sexy film does the musical ample justice and adds levels to the piece that are logistically impossible on stage.
Openly gay executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron had worked together with Marshall on his Emmy-winning TV musical of Annie. Here they collaborate once again to breathe new life into one of the most fun musicals of the America theatre.
Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is in prison for a crime of passion. She has been transformed into a celebrity by her fast-talking, slick-willy of a lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Along comes Roxie Hart (Rene Zelwegger), who kills a lover who is simply using her for sex, never keeping his promise to make her a nightclub star. Flynn takes on Roxie�s case and Velma is left to stew in the possibility of the sudden demise of her celebrity.
But when another crime of passion by a sultry Chicago socialite (a great cameo by Lucy Liu) threatens to depose Roxie�s celebrity, she must think hard and fast to keep the spotlight on herself.
Chicago not only lambastes the cult of celebrity, but it also ridicules how complicit the media and the legal system are in creating these monsters in the spotlights. In particular, Marshall�s visualization of �The Press Conference Rag,� where Flynn completely manipulates the media into how to write Roxie�s tale of innocence and redemption, is one of the most stunning cinematic sequences in recent memory.
As the daring Velma Kelly, Catherine Zeta-Jones is a cinematic revelation. Her singing and dancing are energetic dynamites all the way through, and the quiet-cunning that she displayed as the resourceful wife of a drug-dealer in Steven Soderbergh�s Traffic are fully manifest in her sly and powerful Velma. She is particularly fabulous in the opening number �All That Jazz� as she commands the screen with a dangerous power and all-knowing visage.
This is not to take anything away from Zeta-Jones� performance, but Bebe Neuwirth, who originated the role in the Broadway revival, would have been the perfect choice for the role if only she had the Hollywood star-power of her cinematic replacement.
Billy Flynn, played to perfection by Richard Gere, reminds us how charisma and manipulation don�t give the law a chance in hell of triumphing towards the betterment of society. Gere charms and energizes his way through the film with a sexuality and bravado that is simply mesmerizing. And yet, Gere doesn�t flinch from taking on the comedy to create a more likable guy. To watch him strip in the tongue-firmly-in-cheek number �All I Care About is Love,� is worth the price of admission alone. But Gere�s show stopping number, a brilliant tap dance, comes towards the end of the film, as Flynn works the jury like a glove-puppet in getting Roxie exonerated for her crime. Gere�s dancing and Marshall�s directing are simply sublime here.
John C. Reilly as Roxie�s doormat husband is quietly effective as he always is. His rendition of �Mr. Cellophane,� reminiscent of an Al Jolson show-stopper, is a real heartbreaker.
Queen Latifah, as Matron Mama Morton, the prison warden, displays her acting, singing and dancing chops to their fullest here. Mama Morton fills up her piggy bank with money from the inmates in return for favors and the intimacy of their friendships. Kander and Ebb wrote the role with some very clever lesbian overtones and Latifah works these in sly and subtle ways. Latifah is immensely sexy and funny when she intones all the double-entendres in her dazzling rendition of �When You�re Good to Mama, Mama�s Good to You.�
But the film belongs to Rene Zelwegger who is a musical theatre revelation as she imbues Roxie with such human strength and manipulative vulnerability that it is impossible to take one�s eyes off her. With no prior singing or dancing experience, Zellweger takes center stage with such confidence and aplomb that one can only hope to see her live on Broadway someday soon, singing and dancing her heart out as she does here.
John Myhre�s production design, Colleen Atwood�s costumes, Martin Walsh�s editing and Dion Beebe�s cinematography are all splendid. Bill Condon, who previously won a screen writing Oscar for the very queer �Gods and Monster�s� has created a very imaginative screenplay for this musical, allowing the artifice of musical theatre to work on celluloid.
Marshall�s direction and choreography (based on the original by Bob Fosse) are superb. Marshall, along with Condon and Walsh have worked to create a film in which the musical numbers are all a part of Roxie�s lurid imagination. The numbers jump back and forth from lurid fantasy to exaggerated realism and the film works because of this.
One note of disappointment. The musical version has a very funny character, a press sob-sister by the name of Mary Sunshine, who eventually reveals herself to be a man in drag. Marshall, for some strange reason, decided to do away with that device and make Sunshine into a female, played very well by Christine Baranski. Oh, the complete perfection Chicago could have been with Nathan Lane as Mary Sunshine. That is the only dark note, the only misstep in an otherwise supreme film.
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