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January 30, 2004

City partner registry opens smoothly

Twenty couples sign up on the first morning

Cleveland Heights--The first voter-initiated domestic partner registry in the nation opened January 26, with one couple camping out in their truck overnight in a bid to be the first to register.

Dawn Fasick and Deborah Thompson, who intend to join in a Vermont civil union on July 3, arrived at city hall at 11:30 pm on Sunday, January 25.

However, the first couple to actually register were Fran Twomey and Nancy Thrams, both members of Heights Families for Equality, the group that organized the petition drive to put the registry on the ballot.

Thrams is also the treasurer of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center and one of the founders of Liberation Soulforce of Cleveland, which strives to stop �spiritual violence� against the LGBT community.

Fasick and Thompson �generously allowed us to go first,� Twomey said.

The second couple to register were also involved with HFE, Keli Zehnder and Deb Smith. They were followed by Fasick and Thompson.

�We didn�t want to step in on something they worked so hard with,� Fasick noted. �Without them, we wouldn�t be able to register.�

Twenty couples registered on the first morning, gathering outside the city council chamber to wait their turn. Each was given a number to go into an inner office to sign the forms.

�It went very smoothly,� said Susanna Niermann O�Neil, director of community services for Cleveland Heights. �We had worked hard on it being well-organized. We were really pleased with the way it went.�

�I was glad we had the time after the ballot initiative to do the research with other cities and make sure it was done absolutely correctly,� O�Neil continued. �That�s why it went so smoothly.�

About 50 other cities register domestic partners, but this is the only one in Ohio. Three states, Vermont, California, and New Jersey, also recognize domestic partners.

Thirty-four couples registered in the first two days, O�Neil said. On the first day, two heterosexual couples signed up for the registry, and on the second day one more opposite-sex couple registered. Between the two days, nine couples from outside the city registered as domestic partners.

Couples can register at City Hall, or download the registration form from the city�s web site, Downloaded forms can be notarized and mailed to the city, which will register the couple and send back a certificate. The fee for residents is $50, for non-residents $65.

The registry conveys no immediate legal benefits, although some companies may accept the certificate of partnership as proof of a relationship for employment benefits.

Fasick, who works for Ford, believes that her employer will take her domestic partnership certificate as proof of her relationship with Thompson, for instance.

David Caldwell, one of the founders of HFE, was thrilled about the opening of the registry, although he could not attend as he was representing HFE in a radio interview.

�It really made it a lot more real for me, and I think it made it a lot more real for the couples,� he said. �The city staff did a great job. They tried to execute the provisions of the law in as convenient and kind a way as possible.�

�I�m really impressed with the professionalism of the people who work for my city.�

The idea for the registry was born on a year before it opened, Super Bowl Sunday 2003, as the members of Heights Families for Equality met in the basement of Church of the Redeemer.

The group formed in 2002 to fight off an attempt, spearheaded by city council member Jimmie Hicks, to force a referendum to repeal domestic partner benefits for city employees.

When Hicks� effort failed to raise enough valid signatures, the group organizing the petition drive sued. The case went to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled against them.

At the meeting in the church basement, HFE members were worried that the anti-gay forces in the city felt they had the momentum, and might continue with petition drives and other attempts to repeal the benefits or pass other anti-gay measures.

To show that there was no momentum for the anti-gay forces, it was decided that HFE would gather signatures for a referendum on a domestic partner registry. The group gathered more than the number needed, campaigned for the measure, and in November won a 55% victory at the polls.

When asked what HFE�s next goal would be, Caldwell was not sure, although he has some ideas.

�We are really excited about assisting other communities that want to do this work,� he said. �Maybe in working with other communities around the state, we can change the climate, in time.�



Taft to sign marriage and benefits ban

House vote delayed for State of the State speech

Columbus--Ohio governor Bob Taft says he will sign the �defense of marriage act� passed by the Ohio Senate last week. But a final House vote on it was delayed by Taft to avoid diverting attention from his �State of the State� speech January 28.

Orest Holubec, spokesperson for the governor, said once the Ohio House concurs next week with amendments made by the Senate, Taft will sign the bill after a review that may take another week.

�The governor has said that if he is satisfied that the bill doesn�t interfere with the private sector�s ability to extend benefits to employees, he will sign it,� said Holubec. �Now we are satisfied� of that.

Asked how Taft defined �interfere� and if that meant he thought the bill would not invite lawsuits against public and private employers, Holubec replied, �We don�t dispute anyone�s right to bring a suit under this.�

Holubec inferred that Taft was relying on language put in the bill by amendment in the House by Rep. Mike Gilb of Findlay that he says makes clear that the law is not to be used against private employers.

Attorneys and large corporations, however, were not swayed by the amended language. NCR Corporation of Dayton, a large employer that offers domestic partner benefits, opposes the bill even with the changes.

Tim Downing, a Cleveland employment attorney and president of the GLBT lobby group Ohioans for Growth and Equality, said Gilb�s amendments �pretty up the language but don�t do anything.�

Holubec was asked if the governor was concerned about the bill being used to bring lawsuits against Ohio municipalities that offer the benefits. He was told about a letter sent by the bill�s author to the city of Cleveland Heights last week, saying he intends to sue the city to stop its new domestic partner registry.

�It�s not applicable to political subdivisions,� said Holubec, denying the possibility.

The House passed the bill, H.B. 272, 73-23 December 10, and sent it to the Senate, which passed it 18-15 January 21 after making two minor amendments.

The House was scheduled to vote to concur with the Senate amendments January 27, but the vote was postponed one week.

Rep. Mike Skindell, a Democrat from Lakewood, said the decision to postpone the vote was due to Taft�s State of the State speech the next day.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, confirmed this, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Taft wanted the bill delayed so that the news media's focus would be on the State of the State.

�Business leaders believe the bill will hurt job creation in Ohio,� said Skindell, adding, �If the bill passed again today, it would be on the front pages the same day the governor gives his speech� which was largely about the state�s economy.

�[Republicans] don�t want that to happen,� said Skindell.

Skindell also said that a number of Democrats are planning to speak against the bill when it hits the floor again.

�It�s our last chance,� said Skindell.

Senate staffers wear rainbow stickers

Senate floor debate on the bill lasted more than three hours before last week�s vote.

Discussion included 20 speeches, six in favor, 14 opposed, and three attempts by Democrats to amend the measure.

People in the audience opposed to the bill wore large rainbow stickers and triangles. But in a striking move, they were joined by about one in five of the senators� staffers, who sit in a semicircle around the senators. According to one staffer, this was the first time many of them had come out to their boss� colleagues.

Democrat C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland also wore a large rainbow sticker as she rose to speak against the bill.

Prentiss, who is African-American, spoke for 20 minutes, expressing indignation that the Senate dealt with the bill two days after commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

�This is not progress, it is discrimination,� said Prentiss. �Good, old-fashioned discrimination.�

�I, C.J. Prentiss, was born into the struggle for civil rights, and I have a dream that our society will be accepting of all, gay and straight, because all are precious in the Creator�s sight. That�s my dream,� said Prentiss.

Comparing the bill to old laws banning interracial marriages, Prentiss said, �Today, we are not allowing persons different from us to be whole persons.�

�This bill is about lack of acceptance of some by others without regard to the Constitution,� said Prentiss.

�How ironic that we face religiously-based discrimination in our country so that a few can impose their religious views on others,� said Prentiss, �We, who fled that very thing 500 years ago.�

�This is not gay-bashing�

Republican Bill Harris of Ashland told senators that the bill merely �closes a potential loophole by defining marriage as one man and one woman and making it strong public policy.�

�This guards against the judicial acts of other states and countries,� said Harris.

Sen. Jay Hottinger of Newark, a Republican who sponsored DOMA bills in 1997 and 1999, told senators that Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada �pose a threat� to Ohio.

�Ohio has to be able to make its own laws,� said Hottinger, �not other states and countries.�

�This is not grandstanding. It is not gay-bashing. It is not demagoguery,� said Hottinger.

Democrat Eric Fingerhut of Shaker Heights offered an amendment to strip the bill of all sections denying benefits.

�I hope you listened to Harris and Hottinger,� said Fingerhut, �that the sole purpose of the bill is to clarify the definition of marriage.�

�If that were so, we would stop there,� said Fingerhut. �But the bill doesn�t stop there.�

Referring to committee testimony given by openly gay Statehouse employee Joel Flint, Fingerhut said, �It�s too bad that the entire Senate was not able to hear testimony given by our employee about how this affects his life.�

�Let�s take out the sections that are denying benefits to our employee,� said Fingerhut. �That way, at least what [Harris and Hottinger] claim will be true.�

Four Republicans vote against bill

Republican Senator Randy Gardner of Bowling Green moved to drop Fingerhut�s amendment.

Gardner�s motion passed 18-15. All 11 Democrats plus Republicans Jeff Armbruster of North Ridgeville, Robert Gardner of Madison, David Goodman of Columbus, and Steve Stivers of Columbus opposed the motion to stop discussion.

The same four Republicans joined the Democrats in favor of discussing two other amendments, and opposing the final vote on the bill.

Democrat Ray Miller of Columbus offered the next amendment to exempt state universities who want to offer domestic partner benefits.

Miller told senators that Ohio State University once wanted to offer the benefits, and that a student representative had testified against the bill in committee.

�Colleges and universities want to attract the very best,� said Miller, �We are putting them at a distinct disadvantage.�

Gardner again moved to table the amendment. The vote to table was 18-15.

My son will one day judge my vote

�This is a bad day for me in the Senate,� said Goodman as he took the floor.

Goodman said his opposition to the bill came from his five-month-old son, whom he said would one day judge him for his vote on the bill.

�Some day he will want to know why we passed this bill,� said Goodman, �and I want him to be proud of me for the vote I cast.�

�I am not threatened by others with different thinking,� he added, �and we don�t need to defend ourselves from folks who are different.�

Democrat Senator Marc Dann of Youngstown made a third motion to prevent the bill from denying bereavement benefits for unmarried partners.

�At least we can offer this gesture of humanity,� said Dann.

Gardner again moved to table, and the vote was again18-15 to do so.

�This is really about sex�

�All of us are a little uncomfortable here today,� said Democrat Robert Hagan of Youngstown, �because this is really about sex. Marriage is a side bar issue.�

�It�s troubling to me,� said Hagan. �It�s a divisive bill, a bill of hate.�

�And you should be uncomfortable, because you want to dictate what people do in their bedrooms,� said Hagan.

�I�m not going to be a part of this,� said Hagan, �and I�m not going to be a part of letting you say that it�s not about politics and the presidential election, because it is.�

�I don�t understand the obsession of some here with denying gays civil rights,� said Cleveland Democrat Sen. Dan Brady.

�I think the majority would prefer not to be voting on this today,� said Brady, �and it doesn�t speak highly that this senate can be taken over and run by a few.�

Democrat Senator Teresa Fedor of Toledo said, �This will be a hard bill for all of us to have to explain someday.�

Republican Senator Jim Jordan of Urbana, who has sponsored previous DOMA bills, told senators of a polygamist using last June�s U.S. Supreme Court decision that sodomy laws are unconstitutional to argue that his marriages should be allowed.

�It�s no different from gay sex,� said Jordan. �That is why this bill is so important.�

Armbruster agreed that the issue is important.

�It�s one of the most important debates ever on this floor,� said Armbruster. Adding that his children are ages 6 to 36, �I try to teach and live diversity with my children. They look at our extended family, and some of them are gay.�

�Some of our friends are gay and raising children,� said Armbruster. �My children accept that.�

�I have a problem when we cross the line and start hurting each other,� said Democratic leader Senator Greg DiDonato of Dennison, �and this bill crosses that line.�

�It�s a shame it came to the floor,� said DiDonato. �It�s not easy, but dig in and do what�s right here. Oppose this bill.�

Republican Senator Ron Amstutz of Wooster spoke for the bill. �It is about excessive self-interest. People have to learn that they cannot always be about what I, I, I want, that there are consequences.�

�I know my family will lose friends because I vote yes,� said Dayton-area Republican Jeff Jacobson, protesting that opponents were �ascribing motives� to those who favor the bill.

�Children need to grow up to do the same as their parents,� said Jacobson. �Marry and have babies.�

�This is not about choices,� said Jacobson. �It is about recognition of what the ideal marriage is about.�

The vote to pass the bill, again 18 to 15, was taken at 6:05 pm.



Ohio Democrats elect 14 gay convention delegates

Ohio Democrats elected 14 openly gay and lesbian delegates and 12 alternates to the national convention in July in Boston, more than have ever been chosen before.

The delegates were selected during caucuses held January 12 in each of the state�s 18 congressional districts. Votes were cast by registered Democrats who attended the caucuses.

The Ohio Democratic Party set a goal of five openly gay convention delegates in 2000, and sent four. That goal was set as the result of lobbying by lesbian Columbus activist Lynn Greer, who had been the only openly gay delegate in 1996.

Additional slots were also designated in 2000 to be filled by Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, and youth, in order to reflect the population of Ohio.

Not all of the 14 gay and lesbian delegates will go to the convention. Each represents a presidential candidate, some of whom� have already dropped out of the race.

Final delegate selection will be proportional to the number of votes each remaining candidate receives in the Ohio primary election March 2.

Ohio will send a total of 159 delegates to the convention, 91 of whom are chosen through the primary process, according to Ohio Democratic Party communication director Dan Trevas. The rest are appointed by the party and the leading candidates.

All who go to the convention will work on the party�s platform as well as cast votes for the candidate they represent.

Openly gay delegates committed to candidate Dennis Kucinich are Joe Lacey of Dayton, Leonard Rojas, Jr. of Dayton, and Janet Malecki of Lorain.

Openly gay delegates committed to Howard Dean are Anthony Warmuth of Cleveland, Ryan Beam of Hudson, Wendy Norris of Lakewood, Joe Santiago of Cleveland, and Nathan Nickens of Bowling Green.

Openly gay delegates committed to Joe Lieberman are Steven McQuillen of Westlake and Timothy Rinehart of Wilmington.

Openly gay delegates committed to Wesley Clark are David Ralston of Cambridge and Kristina Herzog of Dayton.

John Kolesar is an openly gay delegate committed to John Kerry, and Jennifer Roberts of Athens was committed to Richard Gephardt before his departure from the race.

�We are proud of the participation of [the gay and lesbian delegates] and of the diversity their participation represents,� Trevas said. �It shows we have an energized party.�

Celebrity owner hits snags with new club in Vegas

Dayton--The owner of Celebrity, a popular gay show bar, has met with a pair of possibly anti-gay roadblocks in his attempt to open a similar club in Las Vegas.

Donald Troxel, Celebrity�s owner, and manager Dwight Key have been looking at two spaces in the center of Las Vegas. Negotiations were underway for a space in Neonopolis, a 250,000-square-foot entertainment and shopping center that opened less than two years ago but has many vacant spaces.

Their real estate agent recommended downtown, since the city wants to create an entertainment district there. The city�s famous Strip is south of downtown.

Troxel liked the 11,000 square foot spot on Fremont Avenue, in what is known as Old Las Vegas. He has spent a great deal of time and effort securing a liquor license, preparing changes to the facility and arranging for permits from the city.

In November, however, the company that manages the $100 million facility, one-third of which was financed with taxpayer money, canceled his lease proposal and returned his $10,000 deposit.

Troxel, however, had already put in nearly $200,000 to prepare the space, funds he will most likely be unable to recover. His liquor license will be transferable to any location in the city that he secures for his club.

According to Troxel, Neonopolis� general manager told him over the phone that the mall�s owners were uncomfortable with a gay business.

A similar sentiment has delayed, perhaps torpedoed, Troxel�s efforts to obtain a space in the nearby Fremont Street Experience.

A large restaurant space one block away from Neonopolis, formerly inhabited by Race Rock Caf�, is vacant, and Troxel has been negotiating with the Fremont Street Experience owners for the location.

Diana West, an executive assistant with Neonopolis, told Troxel that the board was uncomfortable with placing a gay bar there. Troxel, his real estate agent and his architect were all present when she made the statement.

The new president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience, Joe Schillaci, said Troxel�s request is not the only one they are considering for the space, and any decision on who will be awarded the lease must wait until he had settled into his position, which he assumed at the beginning of December.

Troxel counters that everyone he dealt with knew going into negotiations that he was aiming for an opening in spring, and he has tried to make a presentation before the board members since November.

Foot-dragging and possible anti-gay bias aside, plans for a Las Vegas club, which Troxel expects to pull in $2-$3 million in its first year, are still underway.

�We�re still looking at a property there,� Key said. �We had some people at the club Saturday who own a hotel and casino.�

Doug Lein, who manages the Las Vegas business development office, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, �Giving people a diversity of entertainment venues . . . will create a destination point that will bring people into the area who aren�t there now. Don [Troxel] is a good businessman and we think he can do a lot for downtown.�

Troxel and Key have contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about the possibility of filing a discrimination complaint, which Key says is �in the lawyers� hands� now.

Nevada state law has a provision barring anti-gay discrimination in public and private employment only, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. No municipalities in the state include sexual orientation in their civil rights codes.

How the candidates stand on LGBT issues

With the Ohio Democratic presidential primary a month away, the Gay People�s Chronicle asked each candidate�s campaign about issues of interest to the LGBT community.

In previous issues we have profiled five of the� candidates: Carol Moseley Braun, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards and John Kerry. Braun and Richard Gephardt have since left the race. This week, we review the final three candidates, in alphabetical order.

Dennis Kucinich

Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich has played the same role on LGBT issues that he has on some others during the campaign. Kucinich takes difficult positions that �mainstream� Democrats believe and would like to own, but won�t, fearing backlash.

Kucinich totally supports same-sex marriage and totally rejects civil unions as �kind of a limbo with regard to governmental functions such as taxation, pension protections, and provision of insurance for families.�

Kucinich was elected to Congress in 1996, due in part to his full endorsement by the Human Rights Campaign and support from the LGBT community in his Cleveland-area district.

Kucinich points to the HRC emblem hanging in his Washington office, telling visitors it was the first thing hung on the wall when he got there. His HRC legislative scorecard is 100 percent.

Kucinich is the only Democrat candidate to endorse the entire platform to prevent and treat AIDS in the U.S. and globally.

As a candidate, Kucinich has also used campaign events to organize constituency groups that are not typically allied. At a December event called �Queer Eye for Justice at H&M,� the campaign demonstrated against a New York City department store that caters to LGBT clientele and had a reputation for abusing workers.

LGBT and labor activists draped an inflated skunk in a rainbow flag in front of the store.

Kucinich is a co-sponsor of the gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and supports the Local Law Enforcement Act federalizing anti-gay crimes. He supports the Permanent Partner Act to allow same-sex couples to sponsor their partners for immigration. He also supports legislation to include families headed by same-sex partners in family and medical leave, and eliminate the federal taxation on domestic partner health insurance coverage.

Kucinich says that if Congress refused to pass ENDA during his presidency, he would issue executive orders to protect federal LGBT employees from discrimination. His office�s non-discrimination policy also includes gender identity.

Kucinich hires and appoints openly LGBT people in his office and to his campaign.

Kucinich states that he would not appoint a judicial nominee who would not uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing reproductive privacy that has been used in LGBT rights case before the high court since.

Kucinich said if elected he would call on Congress to repeal the military �don�t ask don�t tell� ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers. If Congress refuses, he would issue executive orders to reduce the harassment gay servicemembers face.

Kucinich opposes the 1997 Solomon Amendment denying federal funds, including student financial aid, to universities who deny military recruiters access due to their gay-inclusive non-discrimination policies.

Kucinich has proposed a cabinet level Department of Peace, which would also be charged with promoting domestic diversity and tolerance. He sees this department as responsible for creating and enforcing initiatives to protect LGBT school children from discrimination and harassment.

According to Kucinich, a same-sex couple legally married in another country, where one spouse is a U.S. citizen, should be able to make their home in the U.S. and obtain citizenship for the other spouse as heterosexual couples can now do.


Joe Lieberman

Former vice presidential candidate and Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman calls himself �tough on defense, strong on the economy, and socially progressive.�

Lieberman�s record on LGBT issues has steadily improved according to the legislative scorecard of the Human Rights Campaign.

A perfect score since 2001, Lieberman has in the past voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act and refused to implement a non-discrimination policy in his office that is LGBT inclusive.

Lieberman, the most conservative of the Democrats, is still elusive on which parts of his �socially progressive� agenda would apply to LGBT families.

The former Freedom Rider is a co-sponsor of the gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and opposed housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in Connecticut as early as 1975.

Lieberman also supports the Local Law Enforcement Act federalizing anti-gay crimes, and led the 2000 opposition to anti-gay senator Jesse Helms� amendment forcing public schools to give free space to the Boy Scouts.

However, Lieberman�s positions on immigration issues that are faced by same-sex couples, and taxation penalties on domestic partner health benefits are unclear.

What is clear is Lieberman�s opposition to same-sex marriage and his position that the states, not the federal government should decide whether or not to recognize civil unions.

�Although I am opposed to gay marriage, I have also long believed that states have the right to adopt for themselves laws that allow same-sex unions,� Lieberman said after the November Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling changing the definition of marriage in that state.

But, he added, �I will oppose any attempts by the right wing to change the Constitution in response to today�s ruling, which would be unnecessary and divisive.�

During a July candidate forum sponsored by HRC, the audience hissed at Lieberman when he said marriage in America is a right reserved for men and women.

Lieberman has led the fights to block right wing judicial nominees by the current administration, but does not say what he would look for in his own nominees.

Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have long expressed concern with Lieberman�s positions on First Amendment matters and his affiliation with right wing activist Lynne Cheney, the vice president�s wife. In 1995, the two co-founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a major fundraiser and contributor to higher education.

ACTA says its mission is promotion of academic freedom. The organization published in December 2001 a list of 117 �anti-American statements� made on U.S. campuses by 40 academics, that critics call a �blacklist.�

Civil rights groups also express concern with Lieberman�s serving as the honorary chair of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, a group founded by the largest and most influential right wing foundation in the U.S., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which also heavily promotes the anti-gay �faith-based initiative� of the current administration.

The Lieberman campaign acknowledged all of the Gay People�s Chronicle�s requests for information, but did not provide any.


Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton says he�s running for president to increase political consciousness and awareness,� and to raise issues that would otherwise be overlooked.

His campaign has broad appeal to segments of the population disenfranchised by the mainstream political campaigns. This was clear when Sharpton won 34 percent of the vote in the Washington, D.C. primary on January 13, a close second place.

Sharpton, a social activist who has been arrested for his outspokenness, has never shrunken from issues seen as controversial or unpopular. This is a trait that has played out in his campaign through his strong support of same-sex marriage and sharp condemnation of those seeking to limit rights for LGBT citizens.

Sharpton�s campaign was courteous to the Gay People�s Chronicle, but unable to answer most of the questions asked.

Spokesperson Rachel Noerdlinger said there was no one who could speak to the issues other than Sharpton. She attempted to arrange an interview with �The Rev,� as he is known, but it did not materialize. Sharpton was preaching in South Carolina.

The Washington Post described Sharpton�s campaign as �a pell-mell, seat-of-the-pants campaign, with few policy papers and a staff that often has no particular idea where he is going or what he is going to do.�

Following the November Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision changing the definition of marriage in that state, Sharpton said, �I applaud the Massachusetts court for having the courage to make the correct finding that all human beings should have equal access to civil rights and institutions, including the right to marry.�

Sharpton�s campaign has also been focused on building progressive coalitions to work for social change. He specifically includes gay, lesbian, and transgender people in those coalitions.

Sharpton has never been elected to political office, so he has no record, though his campaign statements in favor of LGBT equality have been among the boldest in the race.

Sharpton said during a July candidate forum by the Human Rights Campaign that simply granting civil unions is �like saying we�ll give blacks or whites or Latinos the chance to shack up, but not marry.�

Later, Sharpton drew the strongest applause of the event when he said asking if he supports gay marriage �is like asking me if I support black marriage or white marriage. The inference of the question is that gays are not human beings and cannot make a decision like other human beings.�

�I would use the bully pulpit of the White House to set a tone,� said Sharpton, �Congress must vote [on LGBT rights] in a climate that�s different.�

�Young lady, it is time for the Christian right to meet the right Christians,� Sharpton told an anti-abortion protester at a National Abortion Rights Action League rally celebrating the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Sharpton�s overall platform intersects progressive LGBT issues, even if there is no direct reference. It is centered around three proposed Constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to a public education of equal high quality, the right to health care of equal high quality, and the right to vote. The latter, Sharpton is fond of pointing out, does not exist in the current Constitution.

Sharpton says the current inequality in those areas is caused by the current �states� rights� system, a theme he transfers to the disparity of LGBT rights among the states.


Just a guess

Ani DiFranco chats about her new CD

I said Venice and you heard Vegas/Now I say either way, baby, let�s go.� Thus begins the journey of �Bliss Like This.� Placed in the center of Ani DiFranco�s new release, this line encapsulates the perpetual fluidity of the artist.

However, it metaphorically traces DiFranco�s current musical turn in reverse. She has moved from busy-ness to simplicity with Educated Guess, just out on her own Righteous Babe Records (, and she is utterly alone--playing, singing, recording, and mixing a powerful potion of spoken word and song.

For a singer-songwriter who believes a strength of her career has been to disengage from the long view and discover day to day experience, major shift is par for the course. A shift it is, after the full band with horn section on her last release, Evolve. Some of her newly found aloneness, too, inevitably comes from the always unabashedly queer-identified artist�s split with her husband of six years, Andrew Gilchrist.

�Well, it�s just the way my life is these days,� she said, speaking of her solo recording from her home in Buffalo, N.Y. �I live alone and I�m alone on stage again now that I�ve bid farewell to my beloved band. I forgot . . . how much solitude I need to even become myself, so it was the natural thing to document these songs that I had written alone about the turn in my life.�

Some lesbian and gay fans complained that she was no longer was queer when she married Gilchrist, then her sound engineer, and that she should not be counted among artists from the community. DiFranco heard little of the hubbub directly, believing the commotion to be more media hype than reality.

A statement she made nearly a decade ago in On Our Backs still crystallizes the crux of the matter:

�When I wrote �In or Out,� naively my intention was to throw off all labels . . .� Being labeled as bisexual can be a drag, though, because you're never quite part of the inner circle. But I'd rather suffer the consequences of truth than of silence.�

Educated Guess leaves in all the rough edges that would never fly for the major labels with whom DiFranco refuses to dance. An intimate affair, we get to be privy to guitar string squeaks, unexpected and beautiful harmonies, recording clicks, Beat and street-influenced poetry, and atonal moments that bring nearer to the listener the possibility of meeting the raw emotion in the tracks head-on. It is well worth the trip and not for the faint of heart.

The angular acoustics of �Swim,� merge with and challenge its declaration of inner contentment: �I finally drove out where it�s dark enough to see stars/And found I miss no one.��Swim� explores the double-sided coin of strength and vulnerability and as does �Origami,� a song written and performed live long before it landed as a recorded track.

��I am a paradox as we all are and have strengths and weaknesses and those are always coming out side by side in my music,� she said of this recurring theme.

In �Origami,� the lines �men are delicate origami creatures/who need women to unfold them� cause wild responses from audiences.

�I had no idea how that would strike people. Women have much greater emotional prowess than men, and when it comes to the reality of their interactions with other people, [men] are delicate and not very well-equipped, often. All the women start screaming and cheering. I couldn�t believe how much hetero female anxiety was being released!�

The title song, �Educated Guess,� will appeal to those who like less edge to their music, but is not without its exploration into wonderfully odd harmonies not too far removed from something Zappa�s Mothers might invent, and mixed with the musical essence of classic folk protest tunes.

�Animal� is an anthemic offering with a moving melody that looks unflinchingly at the human condition through a uniquely American, universally wise lens. Anyone concerned with U.S. politics or the survival of humanity ought to listen up.

�It was a very difficult one to write,� Difranco said, �because mostly I try to uplift . . . so to sing from a place of shame and frustration and powerless and anger, it�s hard. Often times you have to speak to the difficult, to the dark things to get through them to the light.�

DiFranco wrote �Grand Canyon,� the spoken word piece that follows, as a balance to its indictments.

�I love [this] country. Because I love the people, because I love the land, because we have a powerful history of art and activism and everything beautiful about this nation was fought for by activists.�

Educated Guess is for those up for the challenge of really listening, engaging life, and bearing witness to the continuing evolution of a woman growing, learning, and loving with each word. Spoken with power by a woman alone: �I learn so much about my world by standing up in it and making noise.�

Ani DiFranco will perform on Saturday, January 31 at the Swasey Chapel of Denison University in Granville, Ohio. For more information, call 740-5875637.

Robin Ren�e is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter living in southern New Jersey. Her most recent CD is �All Six Senses,� and she can be reached via her web site,

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