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December 16, 2011

News Briefs

Six Ohio firms hit 100 on harder HRC equality list

Washington, D.C.--The number of companies receiving a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index dropped from 338 to 190 this year, although the HRC noted that the lower number was due to more stringent rating criteria than a drop in pro-LGBT policies.

The new criteria also take corporate giving and transgender health care coverage into account, which was not previously done. Still, half of the top 20 Fortune-ranked companies received 100 percent scores, and there were higher percentages in the various categories than in previous years, like domestic partner benefits and gender-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

Despite the new, more stringent criteria, there were still a number of Ohio companies with 100 percent rankings. They are Abercrombie & Fitch in New Albany, Cardinal Health in Dublin (both towns are Columbus suburbs), Limited Brands and Nationwide in Columbus, Toledo’s Owens Corning, and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Cleveland.

The Corporate Equality Index also noted that the number of companies providing insurance coverage for employees’ sexual reassignment surgery more than doubled in the last year, from 49 in 2009 to 85 in 2010 and now 207 in 2011.

Gay man becomes Belgium’s PM

Brussels--Belgium has beaten out Iceland as the most populous nation with an openly gay head of state.

Elio di Rupo became prime minister during the second weekend of December, the first Francophone prime minister in over three decades and only the second openly gay head of state in the world, after Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of Iceland.

The country has been without an official government for a year and a half while the various parties wrangled for control. The head of the Socialist Party of Belgium and mayor of Mons mediated a six-way agreement between various parties to form a coalition government and institute reforms.

In a country strongly divided between those who speak French and those who speak Dutch, di Rupo was considered a long shot, given his shaky grasp of Dutch.

Dow Jones Newswires quoted political adversary Vincent van Quickenborne describing di Rupo as “the American dream, in Belgium . . . He’s someone who had to work very hard.”

Puerto Rico may drop LGBT hate law

San Juan, Puerto Rico--Lawmakers are considering removing LGBT protections from the territory’s hate crime legislation.

The Senate already passed the measure in November, and it is now under consideration in the House of Representatives. The current government has come under fire for eroding LGBT protections.

Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate anti-LGBT hate crime on the island in the face of the current government’s unwillingness to do so. Under the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act, the Department of Justice can step in to investigate hate crime federally even if a state or local authority will not.

Ricky Martin, currently one of the most prominent Puerto Ricans in the nation, expressed his displeasure in a blog post on his website.

“Today when great nations are focused on providing their citizens basic rights, some politicians in my country promote inequality and hatred,” the openly gay singer said. “They should do a little homework and review the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . which says, “Everyone (citizens) are equal before the law and entitled without distinction to equal protection of the law.”

Macy’s fires clerk for barring TG patron

San Antonio, Texas--Retail giant Macy’s fired a clerk after she refused to allow a transgender woman to use the ladies’ changing room.

Natalie Johnson stopped the teenager, who she allegedly described as a man in makeup and women’s clothing, from going into the fitting room.

Management told Johnson to allow transgender customers to change in whichever dressing room they wished; Johnson claimed it violates her religious beliefs.

The store fired her in early December, and she then went to the Liberty Counsel, a religious-right law firm that takes many anti-LGBT cases.

Macy’s, ironically, came under fire last year after a Los Angeles store was sued by an employee who is transgender. She said she was harassed while working at the store.

Plea deal rejected in Clementi suicide

New Brunswick, N.J.--Dharun Ravi, the student accused of driving his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi to suicide by secretly broadcasting one of his dates over the internet, has rejected a plea agreement on 15 charges.

The Middlesex County prosecutor offered a plea bargain December 9 that would have avoided jail time with community service, counseling and probation, and would have provided assistance in fighting any possible deportation orders. Ravi is an Indian citizen.

He is charged with invasion of privacy, witness tampering and evidence tampering, but not directly with Clementi’s death. He has a month to reconsider his plea.

Clementi came out to his parents two days before he left for Rutgers, and they said in an interview that when they drove him to school, Ravi would not even look at him, in stark contrast with claims from Ravi’s attorney that his client has no problems with gay people.

Ravi had found out online that Clementi was gay, and had mentioned it on Twitter. On September 19, Clementi asked Ravi if he could have the room to himself, and Ravi set up a webcam so he and his friend Molly Wei could monitor it from her computer. Clementi was kissing another man on the video, and they put it up online.

Three days later, Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge.

Michigan lawmakers ban DP benefits

Lansing, Mich.--The Michigan legislature approved a bill that would bar domestic partner benefits for state employees, although whether it would affect public universities is unclear.

The state senate approved the bill on December 7, and the Michigan House of Representatives followed suit the next day. However, the senate version included an amendment specifically exempting public universities, which under the state constitution have a great degree of autonomy and the power to make their own policies.

House leadership, however, says that the senate exemption is meaningless, since their version of the bill uses the Public Employees Relations Act’s definitions of public employees, which includes colleges and universities.

The schools’ constitutionally-granted powers, however, make it extremely likely that the legislation would be challenged if signed into law, which is why the senate specifically exempted their employees.

Michigan’s Civil Service Commission approved domestic partner benefits in January, and they are offered at 10 public universities, three schools districts, and five cities and counties in the state.

Anti-gay Perry ad raises a flap

Ames, Iowa--Texas Gov. Rick Perry, running for the Republican presidential nomination, is airing a campaign ad in Iowa questioning why the president is waging a “war” on religion while allowing gays to serve in the military.

That and other anti-gay positions he has espoused recently, like contradicting the importance of fighting anti-gay bias across the globe, have led to a backlash against Perry, who is slipping in his party’s polls.

At a town hall meeting in a coffee shop in Ames, hecklers yelled, “Why do you hate gay people?” and “Go back to Texas.” Plus, one of the heads of GOProud, a far-right gay group, outed Perry’s strategist Tony Fabrizio.

Jimmy LaSalvia, the executive director of GOProud, and Christopher R. Barron, the group’s board chair, issued a statement following LaSalvia’s nasty tweet about Fabrizio, saying, “From the time this organization was founded we have been clear in our opposition to outing. We would never intentionally out anyone. However, in the case of Tony Fabrizio, top pollster and chief strategist for the presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry, we did not believe there was any question about his sexual orientation--nor did the reporters who called us ask about his involvement in Perry’s anti-gay campaign strategy.”

“Let us be crystal clear . . . Tony Fabrizio has lined his pockets for years with money from gay groups and is now one of the chief architects of a campaign strategy--not just an isolated television ad--intended to demonize gay people in order to score political points,” their statement continues.

LaSalvia also said that he thought Fabrizio was already out, given his work with the Log Cabin Republicans and another gay group.

Compiled by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.














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