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

Picketers decry reversal of $5 million AIDS bias award

Lakewood, Ohio--Protesters gathered in front of a McDonald�s restaurant October 18 to express displeasure with the fast-food chain and the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals.

The 14 protesters were angry with McDonald�s for forcing former manager Russell Rich of Akron out of his job of 20 years when it learned he has AIDS. They promised more demonstrations.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed Rich�s $5 million award against the chain on October 9. The court ruled the judge in the 2001 case had made an error, and they ordered a new trial.

The amount of the compensatory award had been figured by the jury to pay for Rich�s medication for the rest of his life. They did not award any punitive damages.

McDonald�s has not paid anything to Rich to date. He currently depends on drug assistance programs to provide the 30 pills and two injections he needs each day.

Those programs are not reliable, and Rich said he misses doses when the medicine runs out, causing him to become resistant to the drugs. He had a life-threatening hospitalization in 1999 after three months without medication.

The majority of cars passing the demonstration on West 117th Street at the Cleveland border honked horns in support of the protesters and Rich.

McDonald�s manager Elizabeth Lawrence said she was aware of why the group was in front of her store, but declined further comment.

�My anger is with both McDonald�s and the court,� said Cleveland State University law student Victoria Stephens.

�McDonald�s because they discriminated against [Rich] because he has AIDS,� said Stephens, �and the judges because they took the easy way out. They looked for excuses with elections coming up, not to offend big business.�

�I am a living Philadelphia story,� said Rich of the 1993 AIDS discrimination drama. �Only difference is, I�m going to live long enough to see justice done.�

 


May this man marry this woman?

Court hears case of couple denied marriage because the groom is transsexual

Warren, Ohio--A three judge panel of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals heard the appeal of a heterosexual couple denied a marriage license because the would-be groom is transsexual.

The hearing, held October 22 in Trumbull County, could overturn two earlier decisions of that county�s probate judge, Thomas A. Swift, to deny Jacob Nash and Erin Barr a marriage license in 2002.

Nash was born female. The state of Massachusetts corrected his birth certificate to show he is male upon completion of reassignment surgery.

Swift only knew Nash is transsexual because he granted his 1999 name change from Pamela to Jacob.

Nash and Barr are represented by Macedonia attorneys Deborah Smith and Randi Barnabee. Barnabee is a woman born male, and the two are married. Their marriage license was not challenged because Barnabee�s birth certificate says she is male.

Earlier, the appeals court told Swift, who is represented by the county prosecutor, he could not join the suit as a party in opposition to the couple.

At the same time, it told the Cincinnati Citizens for Community Values and Rev. David R. Black of Warren that their attorney David Langdon would not be permitted to appear at oral argument.

Both were permitted to file briefs against the marriage as friends of the court.

The oral argument was heard for 15 minutes by Administrative Judge Donald R. Ford and Judges Dianne V. Grendell and Judith A. Christley.

Ford asked Barnabee why Nash had been instructed not to answer Swift�s questions about his genitalia or the nature of his surgery. She replied that Ohio has no jurisdiction to question the sex recorded on his Massachusetts birth certificate.

�Ohio has no strong public policy against recognizing birth certificates from other states,� Barnabee said, citing her own marriage to Smith as an example.

That answer brought a question from Grendell on the Ohio legislature�s three previous attempts to pass a �defense of marriage� act before the current bill was introduced.

Grendell is a former Republican member of the Ohio House and is married to current Rep. Tim Grendell, a staunch DOMA supporter who took his wife�s seat when term-limits prevented her from seeking re-election.

�Absence of legislative action does not create public policy,� said Barnabee.

Barnabee and Ford then exchanged thoughts on what determines sex, in order to establish the standard Swift used to determine Nash�s.

Barnabee said science has developed to the point where what is in the brain matters more than what is in the chromosomes.

�Doctors determine sex, too, with a cursory examination,� said Barnabee. �When a baby is born the doctor looks between its legs and if there�s one there, it�s a boy. If not, it�s a girl. But that doesn�t mean its right.�

That later led to a discussion between Barnabee and Ford on Ohio law that allows birth certificates to be corrected.

Michael Kantares, a transsexual Ohio native whose child custody case was aired on national television, had his birth certificate corrected by a Mahoning County magistrate after surgery.

�Isn�t that law meant for clerical errors?� asked Ford.

�It is for the recognition that there was an error to begin with,� replied Barnabee.

Christley said Ohio law has a �gaping silence� on the correction of birth records, adding that non-Ohio documents are valid in Ohio, even for administrative proceedings.

Barnabee pointed out that Swift had arbitrarily changed the standard he would use to determine Nash�s sex after the previous one was met.

�The trial court shifted the target,� said Barnabee. �It was a shell game. We never knew what the standard was.�

Barnabee told the judges that the trial court �acted like an adversary,� which is generally not permitted by judicial ethics codes.

�The trial court was hostile [to Nash and Barr] from the very beginning,� said Barnabee.

Swift�s magistrate Susan Lightbody was present for the hearing with the 27 others who came to support Nash and Barr. She later refused to comment on Barnabee�s arguments.

Barnabee told the judges that at one point Swift wrongly used the 1987 Stark County probate decision In re Ladrach to deny the license.

Barnabee called Ladrach �an advisory opinion.�

Ladrach isn�t binding,� said Barnabee, �and it is only used to the detriment of transsexual people. It should be moot.�

�Right now,� said Barnabee, �There are 52 jurisdictional districts in the United States. When Ladrach was rendered, two thirds of them denied transsexuals the right to correct their birth certificates. Now, Ohio is one of only three that does.�

�I urge this court to bring Ohio into the 21st century,� said Barnabee.

�Isn�t that legislating?� Ford shot back. �That�s not for a court at this level to do.�

�To do what you want us to do would mean legislating,� added Grendell.

�But the legislature hasn�t done it,� interjected Christley.

Barnabee then directed the argument to the U.S. Constitution�s requirement that Ohio grant �full faith and credit� to Nash�s Massachusetts birth certificate, which says he�s male.

�If a court can deny full faith and credit to this matter, what else could they deny?� said Barnabee. �And Ohio can�t pass a law not to honor a birth certificate from another state.�

Barnabee noted in a brief that Ohio�s constitution goes even farther than the U.S. one on full faith and credit.

In summary, Barnabee said, �Those in opposition would like to portray this as a same-sex marriage, but I say it is not.�

Pointing to Nash and Barr seated in the audience, Barnabee said, �They are like every other heterosexual couple you would meet, and I don�t agree with the notion [from Swift] that they need to prove their heterosexuality.�

Barnabee said later she was pleased with the hearing.

�We got in everything we wanted to,� said Barnabee.

A decision is expected within 150 days.

If Barr and Nash prevail, their marriage license will be granted retroactive to August 7, 2002, the day it would have taken effect had Swift not intervened.

If the marriage license is not granted, Barnabee said they will appeal either to the Ohio Supreme Court or to federal court on the full faith and credit issue.


Anglican leaders stop short of action against gay bishop

London--The world�s Anglican leaders issued a statement warning that election of a gay bishop might jeopardize the church�s unity, but did not take action to stop his consecration on November 2.

The statement by the 37 primates, or national leaders, came after an emergency meeting on October 15 and 16 called by the Archbishop of Canterbury over the Episcopal Church�s approval in August of Canon Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

The primates were urged by American conservatives to declare moderates in the Episcopal Church schismatic, but they did not do this. However, U.S. conservatives said October 17 that they intended to form their own association of churches.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. province of the Anglican Communion. Its right wing, under the banner of the American Anglican Council, aligned themselves with a number of provinces in developing nations. The most vocal of these is the Church of Nigeria, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The Anglican Communion is a confederation, however, and the primates do not have much authority over other provinces. The only punitive action that could be taken by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the communion, would be to declare the U.S. church to be outside of Anglicanism. This also was not done.

The primates� meeting also discussed a decision by the diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to approve a rite for blessing same-sex relationships.

The statement, released after the meeting, toes a fine line. It calls for study of the issue and of the Archbishop of Canterbury�s role in solving immediate problems in the communion. The document asks that the study be completed in a year.

The statement also notes the decision of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that �all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.� But it counters that by saying that if the consecration of Robinson, an openly gay priest in a long-term relationship, goes through, �the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognized by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church.�

At the same time, the document acknowledges that different provinces will interpret Scripture in different ways, noting that the differences do not �mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more lightly than others.�

Robinson has indicated that he will not step down, and Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the head of the Episcopal Church USA, has refused to ask him to.

�I think what happened at Lambeth is what Lambeth could do,� said the Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, the cathedral of the Diocese of Ohio. She said the primates� response to the situation were mostly limited to discussion and offering pastoral oversight.

One of the possibilities brought up in the document and pressed as a �second-best� option by American conservatives in the church would be to have either a second Anglican branch paralleling the Episcopal Church for those who did not agree with its more progressive actions, or to have �flying bishops� who could handle the administration of congregations whose policies and beliefs clashed with those of their bishops. The current structure is based solely on geography.

Lind, who is lesbian, noted that this is not the first time that the Episcopal Church has dealt with the issue of gays filling pastoral positions. In 1996, a church trial found that there was no heresy in ordaining a gay priest. She believes that, if gays can be ordained as priests, there is no doctrinal reason why they cannot be consecrated as bishops.

�Probably some churches in the U.S. will choose to leave,� she opined, and �some provinces will probably choose to disassociate from the U.S.�

The Church of Nigeria has already disassociated itself from the Diocese of New Westminster over the same-sex commitment rites.

Lind acknowledged that there are similarities to the response when the church first allowed African Americans in, or started ordaining women, as well as when the Episcopal Church took stands against the war in Vietnam and against apartheid in South Africa.

�I think whenever the church stands for justice, people are afraid it will tear the church apart,� she said.

The Lambeth statement, while expressing the primates� �regret� at the actions taken in New Westminster and New Hampshire, also used some gay-friendly language. It carefully stated that the rites approved by the Canadian diocese were for �those in a committed same sex relationship,� and that Robinson himself is �a priest in a committed same sex relationship.�

One of Lind�s primary concerns, however, is the possible use of the LGBT community as a scapegoat in the crisis.

�I do not think one can blame the gay and lesbian community for schism in the church,� she said. �No one is asking anyone to leave, we�re asking to be let in.�


Song helps stop cancer

Victoria Fliegel, left, and Alexis Antes perform at BreastFest on October 15, the third annual benefit concert for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The show at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland benefited the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

While breast cancer is a concern for all women, lesbians may be at increased risk due to a number of factors. These include a higher incidence of smoking, not having children and seeing a doctor less often, either due to trust issues or because there is no perceived need for regular gynecological care for birth control and childbearing. Photo: Patti Harris


Candidate sponsors anti-gay church resolution

Lakewood, Ohio--A candidate for city council in this Cleveland suburb has sponsored a resolution to dissociate his church from the Episcopal Church over its election of an openly gay bishop.

Ryan Demro, 24, who has in past elections been endorsed by the Cleveland gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans and Progressive Republican Caucus, offered the resolution to the vestry of the Church of the Ascension on October 12.

Demro offered the resolution on behalf of a group of church members angry with the Episcopal Church for its election of openly gay V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

The resolution calls for Ascension to �repudiate and dissociate� from the �consent of the 74th General Convention� for its election of Robinson and �recognizing and tacitly approving the blessing of same-sex unions� and calls on other parishes to do the same.

Demro is one of 12 vestry members at the church. Only members of the vestry can offer resolutions.

�It is not a majority group,� said Demro, �And I don�t perceive myself as the leader. This [the resolution] was done as a group.�

�I was asked on behalf of a group of parishoners to offer the resolution,� said Demro, �If the other side would have asked, I would have offered one for them.�

Demro added, �The church is on the edge financially, and my goal is that we find a statement that holds the parish together.�

�But yes, I do support the resolution,� said Demro, adding that he is looking for a new church.

Demro says he recognizes that as a council candidate, his offering the resolution could be seen as an anti-gay act, but added, �It is not the sole representation of who I am. People know what I�m about.�

Demro said he would, as a member of council, sign on to resolutions just for the debate, and cited the June resolution declaring Pride month and flying the rainbow flag at city hall offered by Denis Dunn as an example.

�I would have supported debate and voted with Seelie on the flag issue,� said Demro.

Council president Robert Seelie said he supported the part of the resolution declaring June Pride month, but voted against it in its entirety on the flag issue.

Demro also opposed the 2000 attempt to pass an ordinance providing health benefits for the domestic partners of city workers.

The candidate said he believes in a clear separation of church and state. He pointed out that his opponent, Daniel T. Brennan, would not have to answer questions on his church affairs because the Roman Catholic Church�s position on homosexuality is already known.

�By leaving my opponent�s views out and his church out, it�s not a fair article,� said Demro.

Brennan was asked of his positions on the LGBT-related matters that have come before Lakewood city council.

On domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of city employees, Brennan expressed concern about the scope of the benefits, whether they would cover unmarried opposite-sex partners and, if not, was that fair.

He said that the domestic partner registry on the ballot in Cleveland Heights is a good idea, and would facilitate extending benefits to partners of city employees.

Brennan also said that, more importantly, a registry would enable partners to visit each other in the hospital.

�I have more empathy for that part from the beginning,� he said, noting that if he were kept from his wife in an intensive care unit, it would upset him greatly.�

Brennan noted that he had no problem with the city issuing a proclamation declaring June as Pride Month, but is against flying the rainbow flag in front of city hall.

�I believe the flagpole should be down,� he said. �It is not because the flag that has been flown, but because of the flags that could be flown.�

He mentioned the possibility that an organization whose values were significantly opposed to those of the community, like the Ku Klux Klan, could petition for its flag to be flown and then sue it their request were denied.

Brennan said that the only flags he believes should be flown on municipal property are the U.S., state and city flag.

�No matter what your sexual preference is, you are a United States citizen,� he noted.

Anthony Glassman contributed to this report.

 

 


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Being out in the public eye is different, celebrities say

Columbus--The ups and downs of being out of the closet in the public eye was the focus of an Ohio State University panel discussion on October 8.

�Being an Out Celebrity� included comedienne Suzanne Westenhoefer, Channel 10 weather forecaster Chuck Gurney and Sophia Pasquis from Season 10 of MTV�s reality show Road Rules.

The panel was attended by about 150 people, mostly college students.

�I love to dance,� Pasquis said, �and sometimes when I am out grooving, someone will walk up to me and start to ask me questions and it turns into an impromptu therapy session.�

Gurney, who came out in the late 1980s, said, �In those days it was not hip to be out, there was no Will and Grace.� Once he came out as a gay weathercaster in Buffalo, he found that when he went to new cities his reputation preceded him and made people unsure how to talk to him or how to approach him.

He added that today in Columbus, �all the weathermen on the network affiliates are gay,� jokingly adding, �and the ones that aren�t should be.�

Westenhoefer said that she came out well before �k.d. lang and Ellen and before this pop culture explosion with Will and Grace.� But, she said, �Being on television gave me legitimacy.�

�There is a lot of that,� Westenhoefer said of gay celebrities being treated as spokespeople for the community, �because people expect me to speak for all gay people but I can�t speak for gay men, for blacks, for Latinas.�

Pasquis said that not only did she feel pressure to speak for all black people, but that now people expected her to speak for all gay people as well. She recounted her experience from Road Rules when �one of the guys asked me how I was sure that I was lesbian if I hadn�t been with any guys. He wanted to know how I knew I wouldn�t like being with guys if I had never slept with one,� she said. �So I asked him how he knew he didn�t like sleeping with guys if he had never slept with one.�

Gurney mentioned a news director who was curious about a ring Gurney wears, sometimes on his index finger and sometimes on his middle finger.

�He asked me if wearing it on my middle finger was some kind of gay code. So I told him to put it on his middle finger and if it fit, it meant he was gay,� Gurney added.

The discussion went on for over an hour with students asking questions from the floor. While many students were GLBT, there were also many who attended for extra credit.

�I am digging Ohio State right now,� Westenhoefer said, �because you get to come see the queer folk and then get extra credit for that.�

 


 

A big fat gay movie

This knockoff of last year�s Greek comedy is fun and entertaining, but nothing new

Since the astounding and mostly unexpected success of last year�s film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (the TV series tanked like a production of Medea with Joan Rivers playing the tragic heroine), there have been many, many other knockoffs seeking similar fame and big box-office bucks.

In that vein comes an indie film from Canada that tries to spice up the genre by changing the ethnicity and changing the sexuality of the two protagonists in love. In a game of one-upmanship, Mambo Italiano tries to tell us that being Italian, being gay and falling in love is far more prone to ethnic and sexual comedy than being Greek and heterosexual.

Maria (Ginette Reno) and Gino (Paul Sorvino) immigrated to Montreal from Italy in the 1950s and found themselves married after their arrival in �the new world.� They seem never to be able to get used to their surroundings, even after all these years. The fresh-off-the-boat-after-decades syndrome may be good for cinematic laughs but it is clich�d and stereotypical nonetheless.

Maria and Gino�s familial world is shattered when their son Angelo (Luke Kirby) decides to move out and get a place of his own. While this too is another ethnic stereotype, more and more adult children have been finding themselves living back at home in the past decade.

�What is so wrong with living with your parents until you get married?� they ask in genuine disbelief, tinged with ample ethnic guilt.

These protective parents are greatly relieved however, when Angelo�s childhood buddy, Nino (Peter Miller), decides to move in with their son. After all, Nino is an old family friend and he�s a respectable cop.

Their euphoria is short lived, as they find out that Nino and Angelo are much more than mere roommates--they�re lovers. The pressures and mayhem come from all sides as these two lovers try to stay true to who they are and to each other. The family goes into overdrive trying to figure out what went wrong, Pina, a voluptuous vixen, tries to seduce Angelo, and Canada for once, doesn�t seem such a laid back and live-and-let-live.

Mambo Italiano blends slapstick funniness with emotional poignancy, and for the most part it succeeds. Adapted from the successful autobiographical play of the same name by Steve Galluccio, the movie explores issues of an ethnic family trying to bridge different worlds, ethnically, culturally, and sexually.

There are many, many laughs to be had in this film as director Emile Gaudreault navigates his cast of clowns through some hilarious situations. Due to the immense success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this Big Fat Gay Movie never strays from what�s expected and what�s mainstream.

The film is never as daring as one hopes it will be, but for filmmakers trying to replicate the stellar box-office grosses of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there�s no chance that this indie film will be truly independent.

Nevertheless, Mambo Italiano is well worth a viewing.

Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno get the most laughs as Angelo�s parents, as did the father and aunt in Greek Wedding. These two characters may seem eerily familiar to those who grew up in tight-knit ethnic communities in western lands where the pressures to conform and the pressures to assimilate are overwhelming and omnipresent.

Lead actor Luke Kirby is up to the job and displays the range of his character with depth and a good feel for both drama and comedy. He is exceptionally likable and the film works because he carries it off on his charm and endearing persona. Peter Miller, too, is good, but he has the unenviable job of playing a gay guy who needs to protect his outward image by keeping up appearances.

The over all mise-en-scene of the film is bright, vivid and perfect for its genre. In this, Mambo Italiano works better than Greek Wedding.

Mambo Italiano is definitely worth watching. It will make you laugh. It may even make you howl in parts.

Ethnic and sexual stereotypes have been mined for laughs throughout the history of celluloid and Mambo goes to bat with the best at times. It�s just that as queer cinema matures, the hope is that will offer newness and not simply the guise of an indie that has been wholly subsumed by the mainstream.

Mambo Italiano is a perfect date film. It is a laugh-a-minute most of the way and it is one of the more polished indie gay films in a while.

The 1950s song of the same name by Bob Merrill goes: �But take some advice, paisano: learn-a how to mambo. If you gonna be a square you ain�t-a gonna go nowhere.�

Mambo Italiano, the film, is kinda square in that it delivers nothing new. But the comedy, the performances and some of the production values keep it from going nowhere. It�s just that gay and ethnic are not so edgy any more vis-�-vis cinema. You want daring, demand a film titled My Big Fat Gay Republican Wedding to a Big Fat Gay Iraqi. Now that would be edgy.

 

 

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