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December 30, 2011

News Briefs

John G. Lawrence dies at 68; case ended sodomy laws

Houston--The man whose name will forever be linked to the end of sodomy laws in the United States passed away on November 20.

John Geddes Lawrence, 68, came to national attention in 1998, when police came to his apartment after receiving a report of an armed intruder. When they got there, they reportedly found Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex, and arrested the men for violating Texas’ law against same-sex intercourse.

The case eventually resulted in the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case, which struck down all laws prohibiting “sodomy,” the legal term for both oral and anal sex.

The neighbor who called in the weapons disturbance was charged with filing a false report, but Lawrence and Garner were held overnight and let out after paying a $200 each. They challenged the law, but the courts cited the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick ruling, which had upheld state sodomy laws.

When the case made it to the Supreme Court, however, a six-to-three ruling created new precedent and decided that the laws were an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

He died from complications from a heart condition, according to his partner, José Garcia. He is also survived by a brother, Charles, and a sister, Mary Jane Rodriguez.

Obama congratulates newlyweds

New York City--A Brooklyn couple received welcome, if belated, well-wishes on their July marriage, as they received a December 8 letter from Barack Obama congratulating them on their nuptials.

Matt Katz, 32, and Aaron Lafrenz, 36, had a ceremony in Katz’ family home in Brooklyn on July 23, and the next day, when same-sex marriage became legal in New York, went to the Brooklyn borough hall and were officially married.

When the letter came, however, they were both confused, as they are not major political activists, nor do they have strong ties to advocacy groups.

Katz discovered that Arlene Weinstock, a friend of the family, had requested the letter. She had heard that the administration would take requests for congratulatory letters after New York’s marriage law took effect, so she sent in the request. However, when it did not come over the summer, she just assumed her request was denied.

The White House regularly sends out congratulatory letters, but cannot comply with the sheer volume of such requests.

Cardinal backs off gay-KKK comparison

Chicago--Facing calls for his resignation, Francis Cardinal George stepped back from a December 13 statement likening gay pride parades to Ku Klux Klan rallies.

In the earlier interview, he spoke with WFLD Channel 32 about efforts by the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to have this upcoming June’s Gay Pride Parade route or start time changed. The pastor expressed his fear that the route and timing might prevent his parishioners from getting to morning mass.

“Well, I go with the pastor. I mean, he’s telling us that they won’t be able to have church services on Sunday, if that’s the case. You know, you don’t want the Gay Liberation Movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism,” he said. “So, I think if that’s what’s happening, and I don’t that it is, but I would respect the local pastor’s, you know, position on that. Then I think that’s a matter of concern for all of us.”

Despite the backwardness of his statement, Cardinal George supports AGLO, a gay and lesbian outreach group that meets at the church.

He later clarified that he was comparing the effects of the parades--preventing people from getting to church--and not comparing gay people to KKK members.

The Chicago Pride parade’s route was changed for this year after spectators overflowed narrower sidewalks at the 2011 event.

Not to be outdone, San Francisco’s Archbishop George Niederauer forced the pastor of a church in the Castro with a heavily LGBT congregation to cancel three gay-friendly clergy who were to speak at pre-Christmas evening services. Niederauer said that he thought the speakers would be inappropriate for Advent.

While church officials said that the archdiocese does not usually micromanage the church, a story in the California Catholic Daily about the speakers made the series impossible for the archbishop to ignore.

Lawyers point to Manning’s gender ID

Fort Meade, Md.--Lawyers for Private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking secret documents to the website WikiLeaks, pointed to his struggles accepting his sexual orientation and gender identity in a military hostile to LGBT people under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

He is accused of leaking war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, State Department cables and a military video of a helicopter attack to the web site, which promotes an end to government secrecy.

On Saturday, December 17, prosecutors started presenting witnesses for Manning’s court martial. The hearings included the first references to Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who befriended Manning and encouraged his alleged confession to leaking the documents.

The court martial also heard from the defense about the problems Manning’s sexual orientation and gender identity caused for him. He wrote to a superior officer that he believed he had gender identity disorder, and it was affecting his ability to work and deal with things rationally.

An investigator said that those questions were irrelevant, as they knew before they arrived that Manning is gay.

The defense argued against prosecution objections, saying that Manning’s frame of mind is very important if they are going to assert that he intended to leak secret information.

Other witnesses said that Manning’s delicate emotional state and erratic behavior should have been warning signs, and his security clearance should have been revoked.

TG man barred from locker room

Johnstown, Pa.--A 22-year-old computer science major could be banned from participating in extracurricular activities for using the men’s locker room.

Seamus Johnston, a junior at University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, was born with female genitalia, but has been undergoing hormone therapy after beginning to identify as male two years ago. Johnston has not had sexual reassignment surgery.

The school found him guilty on December 2 of violating a locker room ban, trespassing in the men’s locker room and disorderly conduct. Sanctions were expected to be handed down on December 9; no information was available, however, at press time. Johnston said, though, that he would appeal any sanctions passed down by the university.

Johnston has been trying to get the university to change his gender in their records.

Johnston has been using a men’s locker room for a year for a weight training course he is taking at the university. He was told on September 9 that he could no longer use that locker room due to complaints from other students, but was offered the use of a locker room used by officials during games, which could be locked from the inside and had a single shower. Johnston began using the men’s locker room again on October 24, before being banned from it again on November 16.

Indiana has nation’s first LGBT plates

Indianapolis--The first license plate featuring the logo of an LGBT organization will go on sale in Indiana in February.

The new plates feature the logo of the Indiana Youth Group, and cost an extra $40.  Of that, $25 will go directly to IYG, which has a youth center in Indianapolis, works with gay-straight alliances across the state and provides cultural competency training for schools and social service agencies.

The organization was also auctioning off low-number plates, from 1-99, for donations ranging from $500 to $5,000.

Prop. 8 repeal is cleared for signatures

San Francisco--Love Honor Cherish, a group working to repeal California’s Prop. 8, the 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, has been cleared to begin gathering signatures to put a repeal on the November 2012 ballot.

Approval came on December 16, and the group has until May 14 to gather over 800,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Prop. 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote in 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court mandated that marriage be opened to same-sex couples. Allegations of petition-gathering fraud and a massive influx of money from the Mormon Church swirled around the campaign to pass the amendment. Since then, it has also been struck down by a federal court; that case is currently before an appeals court.

The current initiative would state that “marriage is between only two persons and shall not be restricted on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion,” according to the California attorney general’s summary. It also precludes clergy from being forced to perform marriages that run counter to their religious beliefs.

“Obviously we are hoping that [the court case] succeeds in overturning Prop. 8,” said Love Honor Cherish interim executive director Eric Harrison. “But we need to be prepared to put this on the ballot in case the court case doesn’t go well. We are approaching this with an offensive strategy and sending a message that we’re not just going to be reactive anymore.”

48 states have out elected officials

Washington, D.C.--Only two states do not currently have out LGBT elected officials, according to the Victory Fund, an organization that helps LGBT candidates get elected.

The two states without openly LGBT representation are South Dakota and Alaska, although the Victory Fund and Leadership Institute points out that it simply means they have no LGBT politicians in office who have stated that they are gay or trans in speeches or in interviews.

“It’s important that people know there are LGBT people serving in public office, especially in their own communities,” said vice president for programs Tiffany Muller. “That doesn’t mean that LGBT issues are front and center in their work. In some cases, just being open and honest about that part of our lives has great potential to deepen understanding of our community, and that makes a huge difference.”

Compiled by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.












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