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March 28, 2003

 

Ohio super DOMA would cancel benefits

New LGBT group hires lobby firm to work against measure

Columbus--Quietly trying to garner support for the measure, State Sen. Lynn R. Wachtmann is shopping around a �Defense of Marriage Act� identical to one that passed the state House of Representatives in the last legislative session.

Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, is currently seeking co-sponsors in a bid to fast-track the legislation in the Senate, where last year�s bill died. His office confirmed that a request for co-sponsors went out March 25.

Last session�s bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, was called a �super DOMA� by Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch.

It was written broadly enough to block all domestic partner benefits, like ones passed last year in Cleveland Heights and being considered in Columbus and Toledo. It could also void custody and visitation orders and financial benefits granted in other states.

Ohioans for Growth and Equality, a non-partisan LGBT advocacy organization formed last year, is opposing the bill.

According to interim chair Tim Downing, a Cleveland attorney, the group has retained the services of State Street Consultants, the capital�s most prestigious lobbying agency.

�We have been raising money very quietly for the last six months,� Downing said, saying that OGE would be increasing their fundraising efforts to turn back the DOMA attempt. �We are working to stop this before it even gets a bill number assigned to it.�

State Street Consultants is headed by Republican Neil Clark and Democrat Paul Tipps.

�Clark and Tipps are the top lobbyists in Columbus,� Downing said, noting that their party affiliations allow them to reach both sides of the aisle in their lobbying efforts.

If Wachtmann is successful in getting a number assigned to the bill, it stands a good chance of being passed bicamerally this year, since the House is more conservative than it was during the last session and the Senate leadership is more sympathetic to the measure.

After getting a bill number, the Senate leadership would assign it to a committee, where it would have hearings. If passed by the committee, it would then move to the floor of the Senate for consideration.

Downing said his group will try to siphon away Republican support for the bill, since Democrats are outnumbered 2-1 in the Senate. Even if all 11 Democrats vote against the measure, it would handily pass unless at least six Republicans vote against it.

�It�s a tough road,� Downing said.

Downing pointed out that the bill is unnecessary, since Ohio law already defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

He believes that, even beyond the human rights ramifications if the bill passes, it would also have an adverse effect on the economy of the state, already in shambles.

�God knows this state has enough problems without this ridiculousness. The state has a major budget crisis and this is what they�re working on?� he asked. �We can�t attract businesses already because they think this state is a backwater.�

One possible motivation for the legislation may be to appease the state�s conservatives. Wachtmann, whose District 1 covers Ohio�s rural northwestern counties, voted on March 25 to increase gasoline taxes and car registration fees, a move that could draw the ire of Republicans normally opposed to tax increases.


 

 

 

Justices question lawyers on Texas sodomy law

Washington, D.C.--Oral arguments were heard by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26 in a matter that could overturn all laws against oral and anal sex.

As late as 1960, all fifty states had so-called �sodomy� laws. Now, only 13 remain. Four of those apply only to gays and lesbians. The others include sexual acts between heterosexuals, though they are almost exclusively used to paint gays and lesbians as criminals.

Ohio repealed its sodomy law in 1972.

The case heard is an appeal of the 1998 arrest of John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston, Texas.

Following a false report of an armed intruder, police burst into Lawrence�s apartment and found the men having anal sex. They were arrested for violating the state�s �homosexual conduct� law, and paid a $200 fine and $141.25 in court costs after spending the night in jail.

With its decision to hear this case, the Supreme Court also decided to reconsider its controversial 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision giving states the right to pass and enforce such laws.

Lawrence and Garner are represented by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which maintains that Texas� sodomy law, which applies only to same-sex participants, is �constitutionally indefensible.�

Oral arguments were made by openly gay Washington attorney Paul M. Smith, who specializes in cases before the Supreme Court. Texas was represented by Harris County District Attorney Charles Rosenthal, Jr.

Can consensual sex be regulated?

Oral arguments are given half an hour for each side. Smith spoke first.

He was questioned primarily by the conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Early discussion was centered around whether or not consensual sexual behavior can be regulated in light of the court�s decisions in the 1960s and �70s allowing the sale of contraceptives.

�I haven�t conceded it,� said Scalia, referring to Smith�s suggestion that sexual behavior should not be regulated.

Noting the history of legislative repeal of sodomy laws, Scalia said, �Suppose all states have laws against flagpole sitting. Then a majority of states repeal the laws. Does that make flagpole sitting a fundamental right?

�No, your honor,� answered Smith.

Scalia also questioned Lambda�s claim that sodomy laws are selectively enforced.

�What do you mean lack of enforcement?� said Scalia, �You mean police turn a blind eye?�

Smith answered that sex acts have never been treated the same as drug use in one�s home.

�An act in private,� said Scalia, �police respect that, unless they are there already and happen to see it.�

Compared to rape laws

Justice Stephen Breyer said that in colonial times, people were prosecuted for sex crimes, but not same-sex crimes.

Smith agreed and said that is another reason why the Texas law is unconstitutional.

�That fundamental protection [against police intrusion] doesn�t exist. It is illegal only for same-sex couples.�

�What about rape law?� asked Scalia. �Would you support a rape law that applied only to male-female rape?�

�If it excluded classes of people, not just contact,� said Smith.

�Suppose the rape law was only about heterosexual rape?� asked Scalia. �Would you think that was unconstitutional?�

Smith responded that states should not be able to single out minorities for less protection just because the majority wants it to be that way.

�What about bigamy?� asked Scalia. �If not for moral perceptions, who are you to tell me that I can�t have more than one wife?�

�Bigamy laws protect the institution of marriage,� said Smith, �but this is a criminal statute, not a contract between two parties, and the equal protection analysis applies.�

Smith told Justice Sandra Day O�Connor that Texas has not provided any other rational basis for their sodomy law except that the state wants it that way.

Can state prefer heterosexuals?

He also spoke about �collateral effects� of sodomy laws criminalizing people who identify as gay and lesbian. He spoke about cases where custody of children was denied, and people were excluded from employment opportunities.

�So, the state could not prefer heterosexual to homosexual to teach kindergarten?� asked Rehnquist.

�They could if their justification was disapproval of homosexuality,� answered Scalia. �The children could be induced to follow homosexuality.�

�They would have to have more reason than just �we prefer people to be heterosexual,� � said Smith.

Scalia also asked Smith about laws prohibiting adultery, and whether or not they are constitutional.

�Adultery is different,� said Smith. �There is a state interest in protecting a marital contract that people voluntarily take.�

No right to sex outside marriage

Rosenthal, speaking for Texas, opened by saying that the state�s sodomy law does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because the Supreme Court has never given anyone the right to engage in sex outside of marriage.

�And the Constitution does not address the issue of privacy or sexual conduct,� said Rosenthal, �so we have to look to the courts.�

Rosenthal said that there is nothing in the record to indicate that Lawrence and Garner are homosexual, and said that one act does not make one homosexual.

�So, until that issue is defined, the court cannot give [Lawrence and Garner] any relief,� argued Rosenthal.

�At the time of their arrest, weren�t they engaging in homosexual contact?� asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

At the press conference following the hearing, Rosenthal explained that heterosexuals in prison may engage in homosexual acts, but would not be entitled to protection claims based on their homosexuality.

�A straight answer, please�

Rosenthal told Justice Anthony Kennedy that Texas traces roots of its anti-gay law to history, and the belief that homosexuality is against the fabric of American values.

The courtroom erupted into laughter when Rosenthal told the justices that Americans have come to accept homosexuals, but not homosexual activity.

�Didn�t Bowers prove to be harmful to thousands and thousands of people, in that it is repressive in the hands of prosecutors? asked Justice Steven Breyer.

�In Texas, homosexual conduct is a Class C misdemeanor,� said Rosenthal.

�A straight answer, please,� said Breyer, again to laughter.

Ginsberg asked if Texas permits same-sex adoption.

Rosenthal said he did not know the answer.

Stevens asked if adultery was illegal in Texas.

�Adultery is not penalized in Texas, but not condoned in Texas, either,� said Rosenthal.

Breyer pressed Rosenthal to come up with justification other than �because they want to do it� as the rational basis for the law.

Rosenthal argued that homosexual acts were unhealthy and argued that states could make laws that have no rational basis. The health argument was avoided in Texas� brief.

No longstanding tradition

�When did Texas change its law to single out homosexuals?� asked Souter.

�1973,� said Rosenthal.

�So, it doesn�t have to be a longstanding tradition,� said Souter.

Souter said the law doesn�t seem to have anything to do with morality, because if it did, heterosexuals would not be excluded.

�Heterosexual sex can lead to marriage and procreation,� said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal said this case is distinguished from the high court�s 1996 Romer v. Evans ruling that overturned Colorado�s constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian civil rights laws. That ruling said that a state can�t make a group �a stranger to its laws� out of �animus� against it.

�Texas welcomes all into the political debate,� Rosenthal said.

He also noted that Texas passed a hate crime law that includes sexual orientation. �You can�t say that Texas discriminates against homosexuals as a group.�

Ginsberg countered, �And if a gay person were to run for office, couldn�t the argument be made not to vote for them because they are a lawbreaker?�

In closing remarks, Rosenthal said that if the court ruled against Texas, it would undermine states� ability to regulate marriage and age of consent.

In his closing, Smith noted that Texas did not include the health argument in their brief, but said that even if it was true, Texas� law regulates sexual activity that is safe, and leaves many unsafe acts unregulated.

According to the American Bar Association, the case has �enormous significance� for the Fourteenth Amendment and for the legal, political, and cultural status of gay Americans.

A decision will be handed down by June 30.

 


Wide support seen at second hearing for Covington ordinance

Covington, Ky.--The largest city in Northern Kentucky is poised to expand its human rights ordinance to protect LGBT people after the proposal received wide support at a second public hearing on March 25.

The first hearing, held on February 11, brought 40 speakers in favor of the measure and three opposed to it, while the second meeting saw over 30 people speaking in favor and 14 opposed, many of them from outside of the city.

�I thought it went very well last night,� Covington mayor Irvin �Butch� Callery said the next day. �We had over 250 attending, and 49 people spoke.�

According to Callery, the legislation is being revised to address the concerns of the citizenry and business organizations in order to make it stronger when it comes up for a vote before the city commissioners.

�We�re getting to the point where we�ll have a final draft ready within two weeks,� he said, noting that a first reading will be held on April 15 with the proposed legislation being voted on April 29.

Callery called for the second public forum on the bill after the first ended before everyone could address the issue. The second meeting, held in the Latonia Elementary School gymnasium, allowed those people to speak first, followed by other Covington residents. Callery said that he wanted to make sure the public was �well informed� on the ordinance.

Charles D. King, a member of the Human Rights Committee that suggested the changes to the city commissioners, said, �The mayor handled the meeting excellently.�

Citizens for Community Values, a suburban Cincinnati anti-gay group, has threatened to sue the city on behalf of any citizens who feel that their religious freedom is jeopardized by the measure.

Callery, however, dismissed the threat from the organization and its offshoot, Equal Rights Not Special Rights.

�I�m not worried about that,� he said. �I�ve always tried to be fair to everyone. I want to do the right thing, that�s why we�re going forward.�

Equal Rights Not Special Rights led the 1993 initiative campaign to add Article 12 to Cincinnati�s charter, which bans any civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation.

In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the proposed Covington ordinance would expand the city�s human rights ordinance to include marital, parental and familial status, disability, and place of birth to the existing classes of age, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, and national origin. It would add employment and public accommodations to the existing housing protections.

The measure has already been modified to lower fines and increase the number of workers an exempt business may have from two to six. The civil rights commission is also examining whether some of the characteristics can be included in the single word �ethnicity,� like race, color and place of birth.

Religious organizations would be exempt from the sexual orientation and gender identity provisions.

The measure is set for a first reading at the April 15 council meeting, and a final vote on April 29.

�I think we�re going to come up with something that will address the concerns of people who aren�t quite opposed to it but don�t know what it will do,� Callery surmised.



Cast member shares his life after the Real World

Cincinnati--Real World cast member Danny Roberts shared some of his real life experiences with over 300 students, faculty and guests at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University on March 24.

The 25-year-old Georgia native was an openly gay cast member during the ninth season of MTV�s pop culture reality television show, which was set in New Orleans. During his stop in Cincinnati, sponsored by Xavier�s Rainbow Alliance, Roberts shared stories about his time on the show and spoke about his life since stepping out of the spotlight.

The evening featured Roberts telling his story, followed by an open dialogue with the audience that covered everything from coming out, to Roberts� on-air relationship with his Army captain boyfriend Paul, to a critique of Showtime�s Queer as Folk.

�I hate it!� Roberts commented. �When a show becomes nothing more than one stereotype after another, there�s something wrong with it.�

Roberts was �22 na�ve years old� when he was originally cast for MTV�s Road Rules. But needing more space than an RV with five other roommates could provide, he held out for a spot on Real World. Getting picked to live his life on camera persuaded him to do something he had been putting off--coming out to his mom and dad.

He came out on Christmas Eve, only two weeks before the show began filming.

�It wasn�t easy, and my parents had the expected reactions, but I figured it was my life and I was going to live it for myself,� he said.

Being on camera 247 took its toll, as it does with many Real World cast members.

�Throughout the entire process you have zero privacy--you don�t even have a door on your bedroom. The toughest part was being in a new relationship with Paul during the show and trying to have our time. It would come down to sneaking away from the house and going to stay in a hotel room just so we could have our time.�

Additionally, because of Paul�s status as an Army officer, and the military�s �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy, there was a huge risk involved for him once the couple began to get recognized publicly.

�We were always hiding, always sneaking around,� Roberts said.

After his stint on the show was over, Roberts �took a year to put the eggshell back together.�

�I went from having a really negative outlook about what I had done to myself to turning it around and doing something positive with it, and that�s what I�m doing tonight.�

Today, Roberts has no regrets. Three years later, he and Paul--now retired from the Army after eight years of service--are still together, and the couple just purchased a home in the Seattle area.

Roberts plans to keep telling his story on college campuses around the country.

�My life hasn�t been always easy,� he said, �But the struggles in my life have made it all the more interesting.�


Court says Pride Day flag burner needed a permit

Columbus--A state appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling that a flag-burning by an anti-gay street preacher was protected by the Constitution, saying a city has a right to regulate open burning.

The 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled March 20 in the case of two men who burned a gay-pride rainbow flag during the Columbus gay and lesbian Pride parade in June, 2001.

The men, Charles Spingola, 47, and Thomas Meyer, 49, both of Newark, Ohio, had been charged with open burning, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by as much as six months in jail.

But former Franklin County Environmental Judge Richard Pfeiffer ruled in November 2001 that the flag-burning was protected under the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Spingola and his followers travel to college campuses around Ohio to decry homosexuality through a bullhorn. They have protested every Columbus Pride event since 1991. He had 25 people with him during last year�s parade.

Two days after Pfeiffer dismissed the open burning charge, a jury acquitted Spingola of assault and aggravated menacing charges stemming from the same flag-burning incident.

Shortly afterward, Spingola served a five-day sentence for tearing a rainbow flag off a Statehouse flagpole during the 1999 Pride event.

Tom Condit, attorney for Spingola and Meyer, said it is a �virtual certainty� he will appeal the latest ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The appellate court said regulating open burning �is unquestionably within the city�s constitutional power.�

�Requiring that one obtain a permit before engaging in such conduct places only a minor restriction on free expression,� visiting Judge William Harsha wrote for the court in a unanimous opinion.

The fire code does not prohibit flag-burning, he said, but does ban ceremonial burning without a permit.

The appeals court sent the case back to Franklin County Environmental Court Judge Harlan Hale.

Ray Vasvari, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said that as long as the fire code takes no position on the message a flag burner is trying to convey and spells out the reasons a permit can be approved or denied, then it is constitutional.

--Associated Press and staff reports

 


Student testifies gays were harassed in Boyd GSA hearing

Ashland, Ky.--A student who led the effort to create Gay-Straight Alliance at Boyd County High School said on March 18 the need was obvious because of instances of intolerance.

Tyler McClelland, 17, a senior, said his classmates who participated in a mock legislative session last year approved a measure to have open hunting on gay students.

�It passed almost unanimously,� he testified in federal court. �It was pretty bad.�

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing McClelland and six other students, asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to grant an injunction that would force the school district to allow the group to meet on the school�s campus in Cannonsburg, near the southern tip of Ohio.

Bunning set aside two days for testimony. Attorneys for the school district called witnesses on March 19. These included several school officials who claimed that stopping the gay-straight alliance was an attempt to protect the students from the �true hatred� in the eyes of about 70 people who opposed the club during a school council meeting in October of last year.

The ACLU claims in a lawsuit filed in January that the school district violated students� rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment. The access act, passed in the 1980s to allow school Bible clubs to meet, requires schools to allow all non-academic clubs if it allows any.

The local school board voted to suspend all nonacademic clubs in December in an effort, the ACLU contends, to prevent a group of about 25 students from forming the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Winter Huff, an attorney representing the school district, said the school board was acting in the best interest of all students when it voted to suspend club meetings.

�They did so to return the school district to its basic mission,� she said.

Huff said the high school was consumed by the issue of whether a Gay-Straight Alliance should be allowed to meet on campus. At one point, students walked out to protest formation of the club. A local minister held rallies against it in a church parking lot.

The ACLU contends school officials have permitted many clubs, including the Beta Club, drama club, student council, cheerleaders and sports teams, to continue to meet since the school board�s decision.

Tamara Lange, one of three ACLU attorneys representing the students, said school board members refused to allow the group to meet on campus because they disagreed with the students� viewpoint.

Lange asked for an injunction that would allow the Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on campus immediately. She said the students should not be required to wait for a decision because the organization will be meaningful only during their school years.

Besides claims under federal law, the lawsuit charges that the school board also violated the Kentucky Education Reform Act by usurping the authority of the school site-based decision-making council that voted to recognize the Gay-Straight Alliance.

 


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New Mexico passes lesbian, gay and
TG anti-bias law

Lawmakers also send hate crime bill to governor

Santa Fe--A bill to outlaw discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity won final approval in the New Mexico legislature and was sent to Gov. Bill Richardson on March 21.

The day before, lawmakers sent the governor a hate crime law that also includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Richardson has pledged to sign both measures into law. When he does, New Mexico will become the 14th state to extend anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians, and the third granting protections based on gender identity.

The hate crime bill allows a judge to give a first-time offender an extra year in prison, and a second-time offender two added years if the court finds their crime was motivated by hate. Such crimes are defined as those committed because of the victim's actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

New Mexico was one of five states that have no hate crime law, according to the gay and lesbian Human Rights Campaign. (Ohio�s �ethnic intimidation� law does not include sexual orientation.)

The anti-bias legislation would broaden the state�s Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation--defined as heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality--and gender identity. It would make it illegal to discriminate in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and union membership.

The measure cleared the legislature when the Senate voted 22-20 to accept a House-passed version of the bill. The House had approved the proposal 32-26.

It will exempt businesses with fewer than 15 workers when it comes to employment discrimination.

Supporters say the law is needed because it�s now legal to refuse to hire someone, or to fire someone, because he or she is gay--or because of the perception that the person is gay.

Opponents argue that passing the measure would invite lawsuits as well as burden businesses.

Rep. Daniel Foley, R-Roswell, offered the provision to exempt companies with fewer than 15 workers. He said it would reduce the burden on small businesses.

During Senate debate, Sen. Don Kidd, R-Carlsbad, objected to the small business exemption because he said that provision made it �okay to discriminate against you, if you only have 15 people.�

Supporters pointed out that 13 other states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination laws.

Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said �it�s time to be tolerant and understanding of people that are different from you, and I think that�s what this bill does.�

The other states with sexual orientation protections are New York, which passed its law last fall; Hawaii, California, Nevada, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and Wisconsin, the first state to pass such a law in 1982.

Along with about 130 cities and counties with similar measures, these states and New Mexico cover 44% of the U.S. population.

The two other states with gender identity protections are Minnesota and Rhode Island.

 


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News Briefs

 

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

Military kicked out fewer gays last year

Washington, D.C.--The number of people forced to leave the military last year for being homosexual fell to the lowest level since 1996, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians in the military said March 25.

Discharges of gay service members typically decline during times of war or conflict, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which released its annual report on the Pentagon�s �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy.

�When they need lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans most, military leaders keep us close at hand,� said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the advocacy group. The group said thousands of gay troops are now serving in the Middle East.

The �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy, in effect since 1994, allows gay men and lesbians to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in �homosexual acts.�

The military dismissed 906 people last year for homosexual conduct or for stating their homosexuality, compared with 1,273 in 2001, the report said, citing figures provided by the service branches. In 1996, 870 people were dismissed from the military for homosexuality.

This year�s dismissals include seven gay linguists who were training in Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.

Reports of harassment of gays also declined from 1,075 in 2001 to 802 last year, the report said.

Rights repeal measure is withdrawn

St. Paul--A proposal to remove protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Minnesotans from discrimination was put on hold indefinitely March 21 by the bill�s sponsor.

�It won�t come back up this session,� conceded Sen. Michael Jungbauer.

Despite the failure, he said he was proud of the progress he had made in transforming the bill. An earlier version, backed by Republican Rep. Arlon Lindner in the House, demanded a full repeal of any reference to sexual orientation in the state�s human rights statutes. The latest proposal simply would have allowed an exemption for people who had �a conscientiously held belief� that conflicted with the law.

Critics said his proposal and the original bill would have essentially the same effect: allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

�I think this is absolutely a victory,� said Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat who is one of two openly gay members of the Legislature.

He said he�ll be watching closely to make sure something similar isn�t quietly slipped into another bill.

State must put 2 moms on certificate

Montpelier, Vt.--A lesbian couple from Vermont won a fight to have both their names listed on the birth certificate of a boy adopted from Mississippi five years ago.

A Mississippi judge ordered the state Bureau of Public Health Statistics to issue a revised birth certificate reflecting the name of the boy and his parents, Holly Perdue and Cheri Goldstein of Worcester, Vt.

Perdue and Goldstein filed suit in the fall of 2001 in Hinds County, Miss. Chancery Court asking the judge to order the state to issue the birth certificate showing them as the boy�s adoptive parents.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay civil rights advocacy group, and a Mississippi attorney represented the couple.

The Bureau of Public Health Statistics held up the the birth certificate because they noticed on documents that both adoptive parents were female.

But in his decision, Chancery Judge William Hale Singletary said there was nothing in state law at the time of the adoption saying what gender the parents should be. Mississippi has since outlawed adoptions by gay couples.

The validity of the adoption was never at issue in Vermont, where a court approved it in April 2000.

Minister�s church trial set for April 8

Cincinnati--The trial in the Cincinnati Presbytery of Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church will begin on April 8, with pro-gay forces rallying behind the minister.

Van Kuiken is accused of ordaining openly gay deacons and elders and presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies, both of which are forbidden by Presbyterian law.

Paul Rolf Jensen filed a complaint against Van Kuiken last year. Jensen has filed complaints against dozens of churches in the denomination as part of a campaign by arch-conservatives to move the denomination to the right.

The investigating committee of the Cincinnati Presbytery filed two charges in February, and they will be settled at the trial, which will begin at 6 pm on Tuesday, April 8. The trial will be held at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 3445 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati.

The gay and lesbian interfaith group Soulforce will hold a vigil outside the tral. The group will hold training in nonviolent civil disobedience and protests at 7 pm on April 7 at Mt. Auburn Church, 103 William Howard Taft in Cincinnati.

From 1 pm to 4 pm on the day of the trial, Soulforce will hold a spiritual renewal and preparation for the protest at Mt. Auburn, followed by a press conference and vigil at Immanuel.

Soulforce has no plans to have members arrested at the vigil, as it has done in other demonstrations.

Three to stand trial for Araujo slaying

Fremont, Calif.--A judge ordered three men to stand trial March 18 for the slaying of a transgender teen who was beaten and strangled at a party after suspects discovered she was born male.

Alameda County Judge Kenneth Mark Burr ordered Jason Michael Cazares, 22, Jose Antonio Merel, 23, and Michael William Magidson, 22, held for trial - and ruled there was probable cause to believe the three killed 17-year-old Eddie �Gwen� Araujo in a hate crime on Oct. 4.

Jaron Chase Nabors, 19--initially charged in the slaying--pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after agreeing to testify against his friends.

Defense attorneys had claimed the men were provoked by finding out they had been deceived, that the woman they knew as Lida--and with whom two of the men had sex--was biologically male.

Attorney Tony Serra described the case as a classic crime of passion. Prosecutor Connie Campbell countered the three defendants killed slowly and in cold blood, allegedly by kicking, choking, beating and strangling Araujo.

According to Nabors, the four met Araujo last summer and became increasingly suspicious of her gender. They confronted Araujo at a party at Merel�s house, where Araujo was slapped, put in a choke hold, hit with a can and a skillet and kneed in the face so hard her head left an indentation in the wall. She was then tied up and strangled.

Nabors said Magidson and Merel carried out the brunt of the attack, but he prevented the teen from leaving the house at one point. He also testified Cazares intervened three times on her behalf, but that Cazares admitted hitting Araujo twice on the head with a shovel after she had been bound and strangled.

Indiana okays 2nd-parent adoption

Indianapolis--The Indiana Court of Appeals has rejected a lower court ruling that two women can�t both adopt three children because the women aren�t married.

Amber Crawford-Taylor of Gary wants to adopt her domestic partner�s children. The March 18 ruling sends her case back to Lake juvenile court. Her partner, Shannon Crawford-Taylor, adopted an Ethiopian boy and girl and a Chinese girl in 1999. All three adoptions were processed as single-parent international adoptions.

The appeals court says the state�s adoption statutes don�t specifically address the issue of second-parent adoptions. The court found that a second parent sharing legal responsibility for children in a nurturing environment is in the best interest of the children.

State house passes rights bill

Olympia, Wash.--The Washington House passed a civil rights bill March 17 that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and financial transactions.

The bill sailed through the Democratic-controlled House 59-39, but faces a big hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Still, Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a gay lawmaker, said he�s cautiously optimistic that Washington will become the next state with a nondiscrimination law that includes gays and lesbians.

Similar legislation has passed the House twice before, most recently in 1994, but died in the Senate.

Murray and Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, another gay lawmaker, were the bill�s primary sponsors.

All 52 Democrats voted for the bill and were joined by seven Republicans. The 39 no votes were all Republicans.

Church upholds meeting refusal

Kansas City, Mo.--A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) panel has upheld the denominational leader�s refusal to call a special meeting where conservatives wanted to push for greater enforcement of a ban on gay clergy.

The Permanent Judicial Commission still rebuked the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, however, saying March 19 that he overstepped his authority by asking people who signed a petition for the meeting to reconsider.

Abu-Akel, an Atlanta minister, is the church�s moderator, the elected head of the 2.5 million member denomination.

In January, a Presbyterian elder in California presented a petition seeking a �special assembly� to address the gay clergy issue. The petition had the required number of signatures from clergy and lay members to force the meeting under church law.

But Abu-Akel wrote to petitioners, lobbying against the special assembly he said would cost $500,000 and divert attention from other church work. He also noted that the special meeting would be held days before the church�s regular annual assembly.

The flap underscored tension within the denomination, where conservatives have been critical of what they view as the refusal of top church officials to discipline congregations that are willing to ordain non-celibate gays in defiance of church bans.

Butler can sue hotel for harassment

Washington, D.C.--The Supreme Court on March 24 turned down an appeal in the case of a gay butler allowed to sue after he was allegedly harassed on the job at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

Medina Rene worked with an all-male staff on the hotel�s VIP floor, where he claimed co-workers grabbed his crotch, mocked the way he walked, whistled and blew kisses at him and called him �Sweetheart.� They told crude jokes, gave him sexually explicit gag gifts and forced him to look at graphic photographs, Rene claimed.

After other courts ruled that he could not sue the hotel for sexual harassment, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, saying that he did have standing to sue under sexual harassment laws. The hotel appealed to the Supreme Court, and its refusal to hear the case now sends the suit back to a trial court.


 

Lost in the woods, lost in life

Gus Van Sants latest is no gerry at all

Gerry, the latest film from openly gay director Gus Van Sant, is more than simply a piece of cinema. It is an all-embracing experience--vivid, stark, poignant, and mesmerizing.

As a director, Van Sant has already amassed an important body of work, including the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, the subversively witty To Die For, the gritty Drugstore Cowboy, and the haunting My Own Private Idaho.

With Gerry, he has made his most daring film yet and the result is nothing short of spectacular.

The word gerry is slang for anything or anyone that is fucked up. In the film, two close friends, both of whom refer to the other as Gerry, decide to set off one afternoon for a hike down a wilderness trail. They soon take a detour, certain that they will be able to trace their way back to where they have parked their car. Armed only with some cigarettes and matches, these two Gerrys (played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) don�t realize that they are about to commit the biggest gerry of their lives. They get lost and hours turn into days as they try to find their way back again.

Welcome to a contemporary Wizard of Oz, where there are no ruby slippers to click together and where the evil witch is Mother Nature herself.

Van Sant plays with notions of cinematic as well as literal time and space in inventive and nail-biting ways. He is not so intent in traditional clich�s of storytelling and plot development as he is in exploring how things unfold in organic and natural ways.

In this film, Van Sant takes the dictum of �less is more� to its most beautiful and terrifying extremes. Gerry is both a buddy flick and a road film, unlike any other you have ever seen.

Gerry begins, like My Own Private Idaho, on a lonesome road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The two Gerrys are driving to the wilderness trail in their muddy and dirt-laden Mercedes. They don�t say a single word. Yet in that silence, like many others in the film, volumes are being spoken to each other as well as to the audience.

Once they begin their hike, a lighter mood sets in as they joke with each other and share mindless banter. But nothing in this film is out of place or accidental. Damon�s character begins to narrate the stupid mistake a contestant made on the game show Wheel of Fortune. He tells of how the player, with only the L missing in the puzzle, still could not come up with the final answer �barreling down the road.� It is, in the world of the hikers, something to pass the time. It is, in Van Sant�s hands, an ominous foreshadowing of the journey that is beginning to go terribly awry.

Once they realize they are lost, the two Gerrys maintain a lot of optimism that they can find their way back. But Mother Nature is unrelenting in her determination to beat the boys down. With none of the special effects of Hollywood schlock like Twister or Asteroid, Van Sant portrays the wilderness as brutally dangerous, unrelentingly seductive and infinitely beautiful. What allows Mother Nature to grab the audience by the gut while watching this film is that Van Sant doesn�t hurry through his narrative at all.

On their first night, although they are lost, the two are still carefree and brimming with optimism as they share the warmth of a fire. Reminiscent of the amazingly scene between the late River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho, this campfire scene in Gerry is once again evocative in both what is spoken and what is left unsaid.

The film is also about friendship and wounded masculinity. Van Sant explores the turbulent and often tragic geographies of human loneliness. Affleck�s Gerry, meeker and milder than Damon�s alpha Gerry, longs for connection, physical and emotional. Damon�s Gerry is unable to provide it until the end, when the two do connect physically, in a climax that is as shocking as it is tragically human.

Written by Van Sant, Affleck and Damon, the sparse script is compelling because it knows exactly what to say and precisely what to leave unsaid. The silences themselves are powerful, and in turn the quietness of the film makes the verbalized moments even more prescient.

The two performances are equally exemplary in their minimalism and focus. Damon imbues his Gerry with just the right amount of machismo and brute force. Affleck (a more modulated performer than his brother Ben) is painfully real as he slowly but surely surrenders to Mother Nature and his all-consuming loneliness.

Van Sant�s directing is imbued with the complexities of human nature from the first to last frames. His film is meticulously paced and spaced, allowing the viewer time to think, to reflect, and to experience the film in its totality.

Take a risk and go see this film. It is the cinematic equivalent of Edvard Munch�s expressionist masterpiece �The Scream�: bold, daring, mesmerizing, and so true about the vastness and smallness of the human condition all at once.

This film is, to use the vernacular, no Gerry at all.

 

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