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March 9. 2012

News Briefs

Schools settle bullying suit after Justice Dept. steps in

Coon Rapids, Minn.--The Anoka-Hennepin School District on March 5 yielded to the U.S. Justice Department and local groups and students who sued it for failing to stop physical and verbal anti-gay bullying in its schools.

The school board voted 5-1 in favor of a settlement that ends federal civil rights investigations and the lawsuit filed by a half-dozen students and former students last summer.

For the next five years, the Departments of Justice and Education will work with the district to create programs to improve the situation in the schools.

Kathy Tingelstad, the only dissenting vote, resigned from the board afterwards, complaining about the cost of the plan and federal involvement in local school policies.

In 2009 and 2010, a number of students killed themselves, some of whom were either gay or were thought to be gay, and had reported instances of bullying. The district’s policy, as it stood at the time, required staff to keep a neutral stance on issues around homosexuality.

The six plaintiffs will split a $270,000 lump sum payment from the district’s insurance company. The settlement also calls for a consultant to review the district’s policies, the development of a plan for preventing harassment in middle and high schools, increase staff and student training, and hire a mental health professional to focus on the needs of students who are bullied, specifically in terms of sex and sexual orientation-based bullying.

The suit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The district settled the suit after the Justice Dept. got involved.

“No one should have to go through the kind of harassment that I did,” said Dylan Frei, one of the plaintiffs. “I am happy this agreement includes real changes that will make our schools safer and more welcoming for other kids.”

“Harassment by or against students in schools is unacceptable, and not a ‘rite of passage’ to be endured by anyone,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Human Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “We hope the district will become a model for schools nationwide by providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for all students, free from bullying and harassment.”

Chad Griffin named HRC president

Washington, D.C.--The Human Rights Campaign appointed Chad Griffin as their new president on March 2.

Griffin will step into the role on June 11; until then, outgoing president Joe Solmonese will continue to lead the group.

Griffin came to prominence in the LGBT community as a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group sponsoring the lawsuit against Proposition 8 in California. He will remain on AFER’s board while serving as HRC’s president.

“We’re ecstatic to have someone of Chad’s caliber as our next president,” Tim Downing and Sandra Hartness said. Downing, of Cleveland, is co-chair of the HRC board, while Hartness is co-chair of the HRC Foundation. “His superior credentials and achievements, both as a visionary and strategist, make him uniquely qualified to lead this organization forward.”

“Chad has a proven track record of consistently delivering results during his career. That’s something that our community rightly expects and deserves,” they concluded.

He is a founding partner of Griffin Schein, a communications and campaign firm, and led successful ballot initiatives in California. He was also part of the communications team in the Clinton administration.

“I’m honored by the board’s confidence in my ability to lead HRC,” Griffin said. “While there’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous progress on the road to equality, we must not forget that millions of LGBT Americans still lack basic legal protections and suffer the consequences of discrimination every day.”

Sheriff is sued by his ex-boyfriend

Florence, Ariz.--Jose Orozco, the man who accused Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu of threatening to deport him if he did not sign a non-disclosure agreement about their relationship, filed notice that he is suing Babeu and the county for $1 million in damages.

The claim cites abuse of power, malicious prosecution, defamation, conspiracy and other violations of Orozco’s civil rights in the aftermath of his four-year relationship with Babeu.

The two met in 2006 and dated, then began seeing each other again in 2007. Their relationship then ended on September 1, 2011 after an argument, and after Orozco turned over control of websites and a Twitter account for Babeu’s congressional bid, the sheriff’s attorney allegedly contacted Orozco suggesting the non-disclosure agreement.

In the aftermath of Orozco’s claims, which surfaced on February 17 in the Phoenix New Times, Babeu has denied everything, except that he is gay. He has also accused Orozco of crimes, and wrote to a neighboring county sheriff asking that he be investigated.

Rhode Island considers full marriage

Providence, R.I.--After passing a civil union law last year, a full same-sex marriage bill has been introduced into the legislature for this session.

Three pro-LGBT measures were introduced on February 16, including State Rep. Art Handy and State Sen. Rhoda Perry’s Equal Access to Marriage Act.

Another measure would repeal the clause in the civil union law that allows hospitals, schools and other institutions affiliated with religious groups to ignore civil union status.

The third bill would allow same-sex couples who married in other jurisdictions to divorce legally in Rhode Island courts.

Last year, a marriage bill was introduced, but House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, pulled it when it became clear it did not have the votes to pass. The Senate president, another Democrat, opposes full same-sex marriage.

Anti-gay principal quickly resigns

Haywood, Tenn.--The principal of the local high school resigned on March 1, days after she came under fire for anti-gay remarks she made.

Former Haywood High School principal Dorothy Bond threatened to expel students who showed affection for members of the same sex at school, and said that gay students were “ruining their lives” and “not on God’s path.” The school district has a discipline policy for public displays of affection on school property that is gender-neutral, and did not call for expulsion.

Bond is also alleged to have said that “life is over” for girls who become pregnant. The American Civil Liberties Union also said that Bond exhibited a pattern of anti-gay remarks and policies, and proselytized and prayed at school events. Students were once threatened with discipline if they did not bow their heads in prayer, and Bond once told a lesbian student she would go to hell.

The ACLU sent a letter to the school asking them to clarify students’ rights to identify as LGBT, to acknowledge LGBT youths’ relationships, to express pro-equality views and to be free of religious indoctrination by school officials.

“Haywood County School District’s swift action makes it clear that they do not condone the type of harassment and targeted discrimination that was taking place at the high school,” said ACLU of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg.

‘Your typical homecoming photo’

Honolulu--A four-year friendship that blossomed into romance via mail and email culminated with a kiss on February 22--which made headlines and front pages across the country.

Sgt. Brandon Morgan returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan to be greeted by his boyfriend Dalan Wells, who he started dating long-distance during his time overseas. When they saw each other at the Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, Morgan jumped up into Wells’ arms for a lip-lock, and their friend David Lewis took a photo with his cell phone.

That picture now has over 40,000 “likes” on Facebook, and exemplifies the post-“don’t ask, don’t tell” world, where gay men and lesbians in the military are free to show their love for their partners, as their heterosexual compatriots have been since the beginning of the United States military.

They missed out on the first open and out military homecoming kiss, however. That honor goes to two female Navy sailors in December when they were reunited after one was away for 80 days at sea.

A Marine Corps Base Hawaii spokesman said of Morgan and Wells’ embrace, “It’s your typical homecoming photo.”

A second judge rules against DOMA

San Francisco--A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge ruled on February 22 that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The ruling, handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White, found that it merits heightened scrutiny as the Department of Justice has suggested, and that the section, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for any purpose, might not pass the lowest levels of scrutiny.

The Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA from challenges to Section 3 after the president and Attorney General Eric Holder decided last year that the portion of the law was unconstitutional. The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group then voted along party lines to take up defense of the law in court, using taxpayer money to hire private attorneys to appeal rulings against the law and defend it in court in the Golisnki v. Office of Personnel Management suit, which is the one before Judge White.

Karen Golinski, a federal employee, challenged the law after she was denied health insurance benefits for her wife, to whom she is legally married.

In his ruling, White noted, “Although the Court finds that DOMA is subject to and fails to satisfy heightened scrutiny, it notes that numerous courts have found that the statute fails even rational basis review.”

A similar ruling was handed down in July 2010 by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. United States. Both of those cases, which were bundled together, are awaiting appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Tenofovir may cause kidney damage

San Francisco--One of the most widely-prescribed drugs to treat HIV may increase the risk of kidney damage by 34 percent each year it is taken, a new study shows.

The study, which followed 10,000 HIV-positive veterans, was conducted by the San Francisco V.A. Medical Center. It examined tenofovir, a daily antiretroviral that is used on its own as Viread, as well as combined in a two-medication pill known as Truvada and the three-drug pill Atripla.

Antiretrovirals were acknowledged to carry the risk of kidney damage, but this is one of the first studies quantifying that risk. In the short term, while preventing the development of full-blown AIDS is considered worth some increased risk of long-term damage to kidneys, prolonged usage of the drug as HIV is viewed more as a chronic condition could leave people in more dire situations as years elapse.

It also calls into question the prophylactic use of HIV medications in healthy people to prevent infections.

In a recent study of 2,500 men given HIV medications as a prophylaxis, only a few evinced signs of kidney damage, and those symptoms cleared once the drug was halted.

Researchers are not calling for people using tenofovir to stop; the risk of developing one of three signs of kidney damage increased 11 to 34 percent for each year on the drug, but still had a relatively low risk of long-term kidney damage.

Compiled by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.









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