Thursday, September 18, 2014

Philadelphia Police Begin Interviewing Witness To Anti-Gay Attack While Calls Grow For Pennsylvania To Expand Hate Crime Legislation To Include Sexual Orientation, Mississippi Governor Bryant Intervenes In Case Involving Woman Wanting State To Recognize Same Sex Marriage So She Can Legally Divorce, Missouri Attorney Apologizes Awkwardly For Anti-Gay Letter, Transgender Teen Humiliated After Being Laughed At By Woolworths' Employess

In Pennsylvania, the Inquirer reports that as investigators interviewed more witnesses and reviewed additional video footage of a Center City assault that sent a gay couple to the hospital last week, calls began anew for Pennsylvania to expand its hate-crimes law. A law enforcement source said that police are still taking statements from men and women involved in the September 11 incident near Rittenhouse Square. The couple and police have said members of a group of 10-12 people hurled antigay slurs, held and punched the gay couple, and beat one man so severely he had to undergo surgery and have his jaw was wired shut. A law enforcement said Thursday that detectives have interviewed several persons of interest who say the incident was merely a fight that developed after both groups exchanged angry words. "We are continuing our interviews, trying to be as thorough as possible on exactly what took place," the source said. "We are trying to find out who participated in the actual attack, and who stood by, and who was merely a witness." No arrest have been made, and the investigation, the source said, could stretch into the weekend. Meanwhile, City Councilman James Kenney called for the federal government to bring hate-crime charges against anyone arrested in the attack. Crimes based on sexual orientation are not covered under hate-crime laws in Pennsylvania, but they are covered under federal law. Kenney called the incident "a violent and vicious attack on two human beings because they are gay," his statement adding, "It's a crime of violent bias that calls for the full weight of federal prosecution by the United States Department of Justice." Caryn Kunkle, a friend of the victims, said the two men are recovering from their injuries, and have been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support from the community, including the efforts on Twitter to send tips to police. "They're just very touched by the positivity," she said. She said she believed it was clear that the attack was motivated by the fact that her friends are gay. The two victims have told news reporters that one of them bumped into a member of the larger group, which resulted in another member that group asking whether the two were dating, followed by the attack. During the assault, one of the gay men dropped his bag containing his cellphone and wallet with credit cards, police said. When police approached, a member of the larger group grabbed the bag and fled with the rest of the group, police said. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not include crimes motivated by sexual orientation in its hate-crimes law, an absence that Kenney commented on in his request for the U.S. Attorney's Office to press federal charges. Patricia Hartman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, said the office is "aware of the matter," but declined to comment further. Federal hate-crimes laws were amended in 2009 - through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act - to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Shepard, a gay man from Laramie, Wyoming, was killed in 1998 by two men who tied him to a fence and beat him into a coma. He died six days later. His killers were not charged with a hate crime; at the time, federal hate-crimes law did not include provisions for crimes based on sexual orientation. Byrd was killed in 1998 after three men beat him and dragged him behind a pickup truck for more than two miles. Two of the men convicted in his death were members of a white supremacist group. But the federal law that applies to hate crimes involving sexual orientation and gender identity says charges can only be filed when the crimes affect interstate or foreign commerce or occur on federally owned or protected property. Since the federal law was passed in 2009, the U.S Attorney's Office in Philadelphia has not charged anyone with a hate crime based on sexual orientation, Hartman said. From 2002 to 2008, Pennsylvania's hate-crimes law did include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender and gender identity and disabilities. But that law was repealed after the Commonwealth Court ruled that it was unconstitutional - not on its merits, but because legislators had not followed the correct procedure in submitting it. State Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia, has submitted bills that would add provisions for sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disabilities twice already - in 2011 and 2013. Each time, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and no further action was taken. "Perhaps now with this ugly incident, it will, frankly, embarrass those legislators who are against it - it will embarrass them enough to finally move on this and schedule it for a vote," Boyle said. Nurit Shein, the CEO of the Mazzoni Center, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender wellness center in Philadelphia, said she hopes the incident will "galvanize people to work together and help create a change." She called the incident "inexcusable." She said Mazzoni Center often treats patients who say they have been victims of antigay violence, and that many do not report it to police out of fear. "The impact of this stress, this feeling like victims - it's really the mental health, the physical health, the whole well-being of individuals," she said. "We see how they are compromised because of this." Kunkle has started a Change.org petition calling for Pennsylvania to include crimes motivated by victims' sexual orientation in its hate-crime laws. Her friends, she said, "have said over and over that they don't want this to happen to anybody, ever again."

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant is intervening in a case involving a woman who wants the state to recognize her same sex marriage in order to grant a divorce. The Clarion-Ledger reports that the Republican governor, represented by Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, is opposing Lauren Czekala-Chatham's appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The high court said Monday that it would hear the case instead of assigning it to the Court of Appeals. Tuesday, justices approved Bryant's motion to intervene. It's unclear if the court will hear oral arguments or when it might rule. In 2013, DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. ruled that the Mississippi Constitution and statutes prevented him from granting a divorce to Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon. The women married in San Francisco in 2008 and bought a house in Mississippi before separating in 2010. They could divorce in California, but Czekala-Chatham says she shouldn't be treated differently than straight couples. Melancon objected to the divorce but later agreed to a binding settlement splitting the couple's property even though the divorce was denied. It's possible the state high court could await guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court. Wesley Hisaw, Czekala-Chatham's lawyer, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the nation's high court may agree to hear Utah's appeal of a ruling striking down that state's ban on gay marriage. In his own brief, Hisaw cites the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It enabled the federal government to start granting benefits to married same sex couples. He argues that the U.S. Constitution requires Mississippi to recognize a legal California marriage, despite another still-standing part of the Defense of Marriage Act that grants states an exemption from such recognition. He also argues that equal protection requirements of the 14th Amendment require recognition. "If it is wrong under the Fifth Amendment for the federal government to treat legally created same sex marriages as 'second class,' then it is wrong under the 14th Amendment for a state government to treat legally created same sex marriages as 'second class,'" Hisaw wrote. Attorney General Jim Hood, in his response, said the Supreme Court ruling doesn't void Mississippi's gay marriage ban, although 10 lower courts have cited it in overturning state bans. "The United States Supreme Court's ... decision did not create any new right to enter into same sex marriage or to require states to recognize same sex marriages authorized in other jurisdictions," Hood's office wrote. Bryant argues in part that Mississippi's ban should be upheld because states should be allowed to make their own rules. "Mississippi is free to define and recognize marriage only as the union of a man and a woman," wrote Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom. "To declare otherwise would turn state sovereignty on its head." Hisaw tries to leave a path for the court to grant Czekala-Chatham a divorce without overturning the gay marriage ban. He said Wednesday such a limited ruling could lead to Mississippi granting privileges to same sex couples married elsewhere, even if Mississippi refuses to join them.

In Missouri, a prominent Springfield attorney who came under fire for a letter he wrote about gay rights is now acknowledging the letter was "harsh" and apologizing. Dee Wampler wrote a letter to several people with the Ozark Fire Department regarding a decision not to extend health benefits for same sex spouses, including to the female captain who was pushing for benefits for her wife. Thursday morning, Wampler issued a statement in which he states his support for the state's law banning gay marriage, but apologizes for the letter. "My recent words in support of a local fire board decision, expressing that view should have been left unsaid and were harsh and ill-advised," he wrote. "I did not intend to personally demean, but I am man enough to apologize to all those I have offended, and I ask all to accept my apology." Wampler's letter congratulated the board for upholding the constitution, but also said he was "tired of promo attempting to cram homosexuality and lesbians down our throats." Capt. Andi Mooneyham, who had been pushing for the benefits for her wife Tara Muck, received one of the letters. She declined to comment. The board decided earlier this month not to extend benefits after an attorney told them they didn't have the authority. A majority of the board had previously supported extending benefits before the attorney's advice led them to let the motion die. Wampler said he often sends letters, almost daily, to people on a variety of subjects.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that a Wollongong transgender teen was left disgusted by supermarket staff who laughed at him because he no longer resembled a driver's licence photo taken before his gender transition. Ben*, 19, has been transitioning from female to male for 10 months. He attempted to buy cigarettes from Woolworths at Figtree on Monday afternoon. After being asked for identification, he said he was refused sale because the cashier did not believe his story of being a transgender person. "She looked at me funny, and said it wasn't me in the photo," Ben said. "I've got a bit of facial hair from testosterone I'm taking, and in my photo I haven't got any. She laughed in my face when I told her my situation." Ben has been out of work after losing a childcare traineeship and could not afford to update his identification since starting his transition. He showed the cashier several other forms of identification as supporting evidence, but to no avail. "She burst out laughing. She may have thought I didn't look like my licence, but it was uncalled for to laugh," he said. Ben said he regularly used the licence to buy cigarettes and enter nightclubs with no such drama. He said after the exchange at Woolworths, he walked to another store and bought cigarettes without incident. Ben said he tried to discreetly inform the Woolworths cashier of his situation, but that she spoke so loudly up to 20 people in the vicinity heard the exchange. "I'm transitioning and I don't want everyone to know yet. She was so loud everyone turned around. I was so embarrassed," he said. "I was disgusted." Figtree store staff declined comment, but a Woolworths spokesperson defended the cashier's actions. "As the staff member was unable to satisfactorily verify the age of the customer the sale was refused," a statement read. "Our understanding is the customer did not explain their situation ... the customer has made contact with us and we will discuss it directly with them." Ben said he was worried another transgender person in his situation may not take the confrontation so well. "I'm a strong person, but I wouldn't want this to happen to someone not as strong-willed as me," he said. "Transitioning is an emotional thing to go through, without any extra drama." (The source changed the name of the teen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Alberta's New Education Minister Scrutinized Over Connection To Anti-Gay Church, Philadelphia Police Question Several In Connection To Attack On Gay Couple As Archdiocese Confirms Termination Of One Suspect Who Worked As Assistant Basketball Coach, Federal Judge Reinstates Four Same Sex Couple's Claim Against Indiana Governor Over State's Refusal To Recognize Gay Marriage Performed Elsewhere, ACLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Four Same Sex Couple Who Legally Wed In Wisconsin Following Federal Ruling Striking Down State Gay Marriage As Unconstitutional, Missouri Gay Rights Activists Alarmed At Attorney's Letter Written Following Decision Not To Extend Benefits To Same Sex Spouses Of Fire Department

In Alberta, the province's new education minister is working fast to quash any suggestion that he will not protect the rights of LGBT students. Critics have questioned whether Dirks should head up the education portfolio because of his past work as an evangelical pastor. According to CBC, at a news conference on Tuesday the New Democrats said Gordon Dirks' appointment as education minister is inappropriate. “You know Albertans have only his track record, his past, to go on. And it clearly shows that there is, he has been affiliated with institutions that discriminate based on sexual orientation,” said NDP education critic Deron Bilous. Dirks and Premier Prentice spent part of Tuesday meeting with a prominent gay rights activist in Edmonton. Later on social media, Kris Wells, a professor at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, said Dirks signaled a commitment to support bullying prevention efforts and supports for LGBT youth. Wells says he hopes Dirks will repeal a section in Alberta's human rights legislation that requires school boards to notify parents about courses that deal with sexuality, religion or sexual orientation. “Well, if he can't reconcile his role as a minister of education that has to be there representing the needs and concerns of all students, then he's going to have a problem,” Wells said. “He's no longer a pastor. He's a government minister responsible for government public service and that service must be non-discriminatory. Full stop.”

An update on a previous post: In Pennsylvania, police say they are questioning several people in connection to an attack on two gay men in the Center City Philadelphia area. 6ABC was there as one of those people walked into Central Detectives with his attorney. We blurred his face because he hasn't been named as a suspect or charged with a crime. "The investigation is in progress. We are cooperating with it. I think we would all be wise to wait the outcome of it," said Brian McVan, attorney. Though, no suspects have been identified, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia confirmed that one of the people suspected in the attack worked as an assistant basketball coach at Archbishop Wood High School. The Archdiocese went on to say that person was terminated on Wednesday evening and will not be permitted to be a coach at any other Archdiocesan school. Earlier Wednesday, the Archdiocese released a statement saying that several former students of Archbishop Wood are suspected in the attack: "Earlier today, Archbishop Wood High School became aware that some of its former students were allegedly involved in the assault of two men in Center City last week. This afternoon, administrators communicated with the entire Archbishop Wood school community to make it emphatically clear that the school does not, under any circumstances, tolerate or condone the violent and hateful behavior displayed by those who took part in this senseless attack. Administration also stressed that Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable. They are not an accurate reflection of our Catholic values or of Archbishop Wood High School." The attack happened at 10:45 pm on Thursday, September 11th near Rittenhouse Square. Investigators say the victims, a 28-year-old man and a 27-year-old man, were in the 1600 block of Chancellor Street when police say they were approached by a group of "unknown males and females." The group of 10-12 people approached and, according to police, "made disparaging remarks about their sexual orientation." The group then pounced, with some of the suspects holding the victims while others punched them in the face, head and chest. One of the victims dropped a bag containing a cell phone, wallet and credit cards. As police approached the scene, investigators say one of the suspects picked up the bag and the group fled. Both victims were taken to the hospital with multiple injuries. Police say one victim was treated for fractures and deep lacerations to his face requiring surgery. His jaw has been wired shut. While many are calling the incident a hate crime, 6ABC has learned that even after the suspects are caught, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office says the incident cannot be prosecuted as a hate crime. That's because sexual orientation is not on the list of hate crimes in Pennsylvania. The state did pass a hate crime law in 2002 that covered the LGBT community but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck it down on a technicality. Legislation was re-introduced in 2009 but failed to make it out of committee. The case has outraged the community, and it ignited social media. Hours after authorities released surveillance video, Twitter users were credited by Philadelphia Police for searching online for the identities of people from a group seen in the video. Twitter user fansince09 told 6ABC he was disgusted by the attack. Apparently many of his followers were, too, and they joined in the effort. Fansince09 tweeted the video to his thousands of followers, and soon re-tweeted a picture apparently taken of this group at a nearby restaurant. He looked on Facebook to see who had checked into that restaurant, and started clicking links, matching pictures to the video. His effort resulted in a picture of a large party dining at a Center City restaurant. Police sources say that photograph is now part of the investigation. Fansince09 was commended on Twitter by police for his detective work. Philadelphia police describe the suspects as "a group of approximately 10-12 white male and females all in their early 20's, clean-cut and well-dressed." One suspect is described as having a husky build, brown hair, wearing a brown shirt and shorts. 6ABC has learned the restaurant Pennsylvania 6 at 12th and Sansom Streets has put up $10,000 for information leading to the suspects. The Citizens Crime Commission is also offering a $1,000 reward. Anyone with information was being asked to contact Philadelphia Police at 215.686.TIPS (8477), text a tip to PPD TIP or 773847 or visit PhillyPolice.com.

The Indianapolis Star reports that a federal judge has reinstated four same sex couples' claim against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence over the state's refusal to recognize gay marriages performed out of state. Judge Richard Young said in a ruling Tuesday that he had initially dismissed the couples' claim against Pence, but he reinstated part of the lawsuit because Pence had shown he had power to enforce the ban despite claims that he had no such control. "The Governor is vested with the executive authority in Indiana and has exercised his authority to declare how state executive agencies should act," Young said in his eight-page ruling. Young says Pence demonstrated his authority in a pair of memos sent from his office to executive agencies instructing them on what to do following a ruling that struck down the ban. A federal appeals court also overturned the ban, and Indiana has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The lawsuit on which Young ruled Tuesday is a separate case. State officials said they disagreed with Young's order. "By law a governor exercises authority over the executive branch of government. Governor Pence has a duty to uphold the laws of the state and will continue to do so while respecting the courts' rulings, but that does not make him a proper party in every lawsuit against the State of Indiana," Pence spokesperson Christy Denault said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. Young did not reinstate a part of the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the ban's basic provision that only opposite-sex couples may marry in Indiana. Jennifer Drobac, a professor at Indiana University's McKinney School of Law who specializes in sexual orientation legal issues, said that part of the ban is enforced by county clerks, who were not named in the suit, while the part concerning out-of-state marriages is enforced by the state. Hundreds of couples were married from June 25, when Young struck down the ban, to June 27, when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the decision on hold. Pence's office initially told agencies to abide by Young's ruling. Then on July 7, he instructed executive branch agencies "to execute their functions as though the June 25 court order had not been issued." Pence's decision, announced in memos from chief counsel Mark Ahearn, applies to state agencies that report to the governor's office and affects services controlled by those agencies, such as food stamps or the ability to file jointly for state taxes. "It is clear that through these memoranda, the Governor is issuing instructions to state agencies regarding compliance with court orders," Tuesday's ruling said. Spokesperson Bryan Corbin said in a statement that Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office also disagreed with the ruling. Corbin said Tuesday's ruling does not require any change in policy by county clerks, who are not overseen by the governor.

In Wisconsin, four same sex couples who married in June, during the week after a federal judge declared a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage to be unconstitutional, filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking that their marriages be legally recognized by the state. The couples married in Winnebago County, Brown County, Waukesha County and Milwaukee County between June 6 and June 13. On June 6, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the state's Marriage Amendment is unconstitutional. During the week that followed, more than 500 same sex couples married in courthouses across Wisconsin, but that ended on June 13, when Crabb stayed her ruling. The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, asks a federal judge in Madison to declare that the state's refusal to recognize the marriages violates the due process and equal protection rights of all same sex couples who married and to order the state to stop refusing to recognize those marriages as valid. The judge assigned to the lawsuit is not indicated in court records. According to the lawsuit, the four couples and their families "are now being denied the dignity, recognition, privileges and benefits that all couples legally married in Wisconsin and their families deserve and are entitled to under the law." Their marriages were "legal, valid and recognized by state officials acting in good faith within the scope of their duties under Wisconsin law when the plaintiffs entered into the marriage between June 6 and June 13," the lawsuit states. "Equal protection and due process protect these marriages from being retroactively invalidated by the state, regardless of what ultimately happens in the separate litigation challenging Wisconsin's ban on marriage for same sex couples." In that battle, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Crabb's findings on September 4. The state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. By seeking to withdraw the validity and legal recognition of the same sex marriages that took place in June, the lawsuit states, "the governor of Wisconsin and other state officials have placed plaintiffs and their families in an intolerable state of legal limbo that threatens their well-being, health, financial security and family integrity, and denies their dignity as free and equal citizens." Dane County issued more than 210 marriage licenses to same sex couples between June 6 and June 13.

In Missouri, the News-Leader reports that gay rights activists are raising issue with language used by a well-known Springfield attorney in his letter about same sex benefits within the Ozark Fire Department. Prominent defense attorney Dee Wampler sent the letter to several people involved in the issue. It includes language about gay rights being pushed "down our throats." One of the letters went to Capt. Andi Mooneyham, an Ozark firefighter who recently pushed the board to allow health benefits for her wife and any other same sex couples who may work for the department in the future. The board decided earlier this month not to extend benefits after an attorney told them they didn't have the authority. Wampler's short letter says he agrees with the board's decision to follow the Missouri constitution, as well as state statutes, that say marriage is only between a man and woman. "I am tired of promo attempting to cram homosexuality and lesbians down our throats," the letter says. "You have followed the law and I congratulate you. Now — back to fighting fires." Reached by phone Wednesday, Wampler said he often sends letters to people "congratulating them or not congratulating them" often based on stories he reads in the newspaper. "Whatever I wrote, I believe," he said. Wampler said he doesn't believe those who support same sex benefits should take issue with him, but rather with those who would need to change the state's constitution. Mooneyham declined to comment on the letter, but PROMO, the state gay right's advocacy group that Wampler's letter references, has posted a photo of the letter on social media sites. The post on Facebook has the accompanying text: "Think discrimination doesn't exist?" As of about 11:00 am, the post had been shared 132 times. Wampler said his letter, and PROMO's online response, were both speech protected by the 1st Amendment. A.J. Bockelman, executive director for PROMO, also sent a letter to State Auditor Thomas Schweich, asking him to denounce Wampler's letter. The connection PROMO is making is that the Wampler letter came on the firm's letterhead, which also includes Attorney Joseph Passanise, who is the treasurer for Schweich's campaign committee. "While we know neither you nor Mr. Passanise authored this letter, we call on both you and your campaign treasurer to denounce this bigoted action," the letter says. "As a statewide office holder, you stand for all Missourians, including the LGBT community." A majority of Ozark Fire Board members said they supported the change at an August meeting, but advice from attorney Todd Johnson led them to let the motion die. Johnson said the law is specific about who it allows fire protection districts to provide with benefits. About 40 people attended the meeting earlier this month in which the board declined to vote on the motion. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, which has led to changes in how the state writes policy in regard to same sex marriages. A group of 10 same sex couples are part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union pushing for marriage recognition in Missouri.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Transgender Teen Girl Found In Hartford Connecticut After Escaping Therapy Program, Philadelphia Couple Attacked In Center City Speak Out As Police Release Surveillance Video Of Group Of Men And Woman Wanted In Connection To Hate Crime Assault And Robbery, Portland Tennessee Billboard That Quotes Anti-Gay Biblical Passage Renewed For Six More Months, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Rules Lesbian Couple's Adoption Of Two Children Constitutional, Safe-Search Filter Symantec Ends Practice Of Blocking Links To Gay And Lesbian Advocacy Groups

In Connecticut, the transgender teenager whose transfer to an adult prison made national news slipped away Tuesday from a therapy program at Hartford's Institute of Living after being transported there from a secure youth facility by the Department of Children and Families. She was found in good health several hours later, by a Hartford patrol officer, near 517 Park St. She was taken into custody, and detectives with the Special Investigation Division were speaking with her, said Deputy Police Chief Brian J. Foley. She will be turned back over to DCF. "She was just walking down the street and she was very compliant with officers," Foley said. "We are relieved that she is not injured," said DCF spokesperson Gary Kleeblatt, "and we want to thank the Hartford Police Department for their diligent and effective work." The 16-year-old girl has been identified in court papers as Jane Doe. Kleeblatt said she "escaped while attending her first day at a therapeutic program. Attendance at this program was approved by all the parties, including her attorneys and her guardian ad litem. This was part of the ongoing treatment that all involved agree that Jane Doe needs to overcome past trauma and the latest example of the agency's commitment to providing the necessary care for her." Kleeblatt did not reveal the location of the program. Hartford police immediately assisted in the search and issued a silver alert for the missing juvenile. Jane Doe left the IOL program Tuesday morning. She is living and receiving treatment in a unit by herself at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, which houses about 145 boys. She was not mixing with other residents at CJTS. The facility is near the Pueblo unit for girls. Jane Doe was transferred to CJTS from Pueblo on July 12, after she was involved in a fight along with three other girls. Jane Doe and a second girl were arrested and charged as juveniles in that fight. At least one other girl in the fight was administratively sanctioned by DCF. Tuesday was Jane Doe's first day at the IOL's therapy program. "It's unfortunate but not surprising,'' said Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, who is reviewing assaults and the use of restraints and seclusion at Pueblo and CJTS. "This is what kids who are traumatized do." Now that she has been found, the hope is to "continue to engage her in the treatment programs that can help her heal from the many traumas she has experienced," Kleeblatt said. The escape was the latest twist in an eight-month-long saga that has attracted national attention. DCF in April won permission from a state judge to transfer the youth to adult prison, citing her history of assaulting staff members in several juvenile treatment settings, including a serious assault against a treatment worker in a Massachusetts facility in late January. When Jane Doe returned from the Massachusetts program in late January, she was housed by herself in Building 2 at CJTS. Meanwhile, lawyers for DCF argued in court that the department could no longer care for her because of her history of assaults and aggressive behavior. A Superior Court judge granted the transfer of Jane Doe to the York Correctional Center for women in Niantic, an adult prison. The fact that she was sent to prison, with no criminal charges pending against her, prompted widespread outrage from children's advocates and civil rights groups. The American Civil Liberties Union and others argued that DCF was her statutory parent had an obligation to continue to care for her in DCF facilities. In May, the youth was moved from the prison's mental health unit to a cottage on the York prison grounds, formerly used for conjugal visits, with a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. She was then moved to the Pueblo unit, a locked DCF treatment facility. The unit had opened in March over objections from advocates, who said, at the very least, more time was needed to shape an effective treatment program there. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz successfully argued to the legislature that she needed a place to treat girls who had run away from, or disrupted, every other program they'd been in. Katz said the 12-bed unit had to be locked, so that the girls could remain long enough for the treatment to have an effect. The Hartford Courant on August 7 and on this past Sunday reported on safety concerns among staff at Pueblo and what Eagan and the child advocate's office viewed as the excessive use of improper restraints. Eagan's office phoned into DCF's hotline four separate instances of suspected child abuse by the Pueblo staff after viewing dozens of hours videotapes of restraints in the unit from April through July. Those four cases are under investigation by DCF, although a department official told the Courant that some administrators had already viewed the tapes and did not consider the conduct to be abusive. Eagan has called for an independent review. DCF officials have said that, of the 22 girls who have been through the Pueblo unit, four girls have accounted for 77 percent of the incidents at the facility. The officials said that the unit was otherwise stable and accomplishing its treatment goals. Advocates say that DCF lobbied to open Pueblo for the purpose of dealing with, and providing treatment to, the most troubled girls in state care. There was to be a meeting Tuesday afternoon of the CJTS Advisory Board, which monitors CJTS and Pueblo, and makes recommendations to DCF. Department officials cancelled that board meeting, saying that CJTS officials had to work the phones during the search for Jane Doe, said Supervisory Public Defender James Connolly, chairman of the advisory board. Connolly said he questioned DCF's decision to cancel the meeting, where further discussions about the use of restraints were scheduled. Connolly is one of Jane Doe's lawyers.

In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia police continue to investigate the attack in Center City late last week in which the victims were allegedly targeted because they were gay. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says they don’t take this type of incident lightly. “We do take it super seriously, but you’ve got a lot of ignorant people out there,” he said Monday. The incident took place Thursday night at 16th and Chancellor Streets. Police say two men, ages 27 and 28, were walking together when a group of males and females approached. Police say someone asked the two men if they were together. Their answer was yes and, authorities say, the group attacked. Monday night, both men spoke with CBS 3 Eyewitness News on condition we wouldn’t reveal their identity or show their faces. “Three guys just started pummeling me, and knocked me to the ground. I hit the ground hard and I was out hard,” one victim said. With a large cut and bruises to his face and his jaw wired shut due to severe orbital fractures, the 28-year-old man and his 26-year-old boyfriend were both determined to tell their story. “We want to find these people, because we don’t want this to ever happen to somebody else again.” It was Thursday night the two men were walking near 16th and Chancellor Streets in Center City. Just before 11:00 pm, they say a group of about 12 people, men and women, who were white, well dressed in their early 20’s randomly confronted them. “’What is this your fucking boyfriend?’ and I said ‘yes this is my fucking boyfriend,’” the 26-year-old man said. And with that the couple says they were pummeled by the group. Some were yelling gay slurs. Commissioner Ramsey says the suspects will be tracked down. “You got a lot of ignorant people out there. And whereas government’s attitude and the majority of the people’s attitude, as very open, but you do have some ignorant people out there that choose to engage in this kind of conduct. And, if convicted, hopefully they get very stiff sentences so the word spreads,” Ramsey said. The 28-year-old victim, hospitalized since Thursday night, just got out Monday morning. His jaw will be wired shut for eight weeks. “In this day and age it’s just surprising this stuff happens in the middle of Center City Philadelphia,” he said. The victims tell CBS 3 Eyewitness News police have surveillance pictures of the suspects and they believe it is a matter of time they identify them or someone who knows them comes forward. Commissioner Ramsey says when the suspects are caught it will be up to the District Attorney’s office to decide if they will be charged with a hate crime. “Looking at witness statements, it looks like a hate crime, but the DA will charge officially once we bring these people into custody,” Ramsey said. “And I’m sure will.”

Tuesday, meanwhile, the Inquirer reports that police released surveillance video showing the alleged suspects in the hate-crime beating and robbery of the gay couple. The video shows a group of about a dozen white men and women in their early 20s who are "clean cut" and well-dressed, police said. About 10:45 pm Thursday in the 1600 block of Chancellor Street, two men, ages 27 and 28, were approached by the group, police said. The group made disparaging remarks about their sexuality, police said. Someone in the group asked whether the men were a couple, Capt. Frank Banford, commanding officer of Central Detectives, said last week. "Yes, do you have a problem?" one of the men replied, Banford said. The group then attacked the couple, holding them while members punched the victims in the face, head, and chest, police said. During the attack, one of the victims dropped a bag containing his mobile phone, wallet, and credit cards, police said. One of the attackers picked up the bag. The attackers then fled and were last seen heading north on 16th Street toward Walnut Street. Both victims were taken to Hahnemann University Hospital. One of them was treated for bone fractures and cuts to his face. He underwent surgery and had his jaw wired shut. The video can be viewed here. Police ask that anyone with information about the suspects call 215-686-TIPS (8477) or text a tip to PPDTIP (773847).

In Portland, Tennessee, a towering billboard quotes a Leviticus passage from the Old Testament: "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination." Ronnie Monday, a Vietnam veteran, is the man behind the message. He commissioned the billboard and paid for it with donations from some friends. It has been up for four months. "When the president came out and indicated that he thought that gay marriage was okay, that was pretty much the last straw," Monday said. Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, a group that supports gay rights, said, "It's a free country. The man has the right to put it up there. We're not questioning that; we're questioning whether it's the right message." Sanders said he would have preferred the billboard send a more positive message, a message of tolerance. "We hate to see anything in a community that encourages that kind of divisiveness, picking on people," he said. Reactions of residents has been divided; regardless, the contract on billboard has been renewed for another six months. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And he says it's wrong. And in my opinion, that's what it is, it's wrong," Monday said.

In Wisconsin, a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday that a lesbian couple’s adoption of two children was constitutional, according to the State Journal. The couple was married in Iowa, and Judge Shelley Gaylord ruled that people in such marriages should be constitutionally allowed to adopt under state law. The scope of the ruling may include only the lesbian couple, though, because it is unlikely the couple will appeal to a higher court. Dana Brueck, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s spokesperson, said in the article a trial court judge’s ruling does not necessarily set the precedent for other courts. The Department of Justice previously declined to defend state adoption laws unless the case goes to an appeals court. The couple, Kat and Teresa Riley, gave birth to a boy and a girl respectively, with the help of a sperm donor. The adoption gives each child benefits from both parents. The ruling holds a level of urgency for Kat, a Madison Police Department detective. Under the ruling, if she is killed in the line of duty, financial and state benefits go to both children instead of just her biological child. The Rileys are not the first couple to have this ruling, but, most proceedings take place behind closed doors, making it difficult to be certain. "We look forward to years from now when we'll be talking about it with the kids and laughing about how ridiculous this was that we were adopting our own kids," Kat Riley said.

In California, a popular online safe-search filter is ending its practice of blocking links to mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups for users hoping to avoid obscene sites. For several years, top Web-filtering services have been resolving a security over-reach that conflated gay rights websites with child porn, blocking both from web surfers using safe-search software. Now Symantec, one of a handful of key players in the content-filtering market, is joining the push. Online security firm Symantec told the Associated Press that while customers can still set their search to block offensive websites, there will no longer be an option to block websites just because they relate to sexual orientation. "Making this change was not only the right thing to do, it was a good business decision," said Fran Rosch, executive vice president, Norton Business Unit, Symantec in a Tuesday announcement. "Having a category in place that could be used to filter out all LGBT-oriented sites was inconsistent with Symantec's values and the mission of our software." Symantec's shift, which came after customers at an Au Bon Pain cafe and bakery blogged in January that the free Wi-Fi was blocking access to advocacy groups, is the latest in a series of Internet-filter revamps prompted after frustrated Web searchers found human rights campaigns and gay advocacy groups were being grouped together with child porn sites by some Web-content monitors, which then prevented users from clicking on them. Internet filters are mandatory in most public schools and libraries, and they are frequently used as well by anyone offering Wi-Fi, from airports to cafes. They can limit students and patrons from browsing obscene or inappropriate content. But many of those filters have blocked appropriate and important content. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a "Don't Filter Me" campaign specifically aimed at getting public schools to allow students to look at non-sexual websites about LGBT issues and organizations. ACLU attorney Joshua Block said that at the time, they had "a gazillion complaints" about Internet filters and little opposition, but in recent months, as many software firms have revised their systems, they've heard few grievances. "Symantec is a little bit behind the curve on this," said Block, who helped lead that campaign. "Most of the leading Internet-filtering companies have already eliminated these sorts of filters from their own systems." GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization, along with The Trevor Project, a youth suicide prevention program, were among those that until now were blocked by Symantec's software, and they are still blocked by several major systems. GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said the change shows that "Symantec gets it," adding Monday in advance of the announcement that, "It's time that our software reflects our values, and that means filtering out discrimination." Web-filtering systems, including McAfee, Blue Coat, Websense and Netsweeper, divide millions of Web addresses into categories like nudity, marijuana, cults or war games and then allow the network owner to select what categories they want blocked from their systems. Symantec's Web-content database, which is used by its Web-content filtering and parental-control programs, dates to 1996 and is one of the largest in the industry, including billions of Web pages from around the world. Symantec, the fourth-largest software company in the world, said the lifestyle-sexual orientation category has been removed from its databases, but that it's still being implemented in some products. The Mountain View, California-based firm said it's also taking a broader look at all of the categories in this database, and it will be eliminating any others that are similarly outdated.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Under Ontario Human Rights Commission Settlement Hockey Canada Agrees To Allow Minor Players To Chose Dressing Room Based On Gender Identification, Kazakhstan Politician Asserts "Blood Tests For Degeneratism" Can Identify Gays While Calling For Homosexuality To Be Made Illegal, 29-Year-Old Lesbian Murdered In St. Petersburg Russia, Ecuador Gay And Lesbian Couples Begin Registering For Civil Partnerships, Federal Appeals Court Continues Stay On Same Sex Marriage In Indiana, Arkansas Asks State Supreme Court To Uphold Same Sex Marriage Ban, 19-Year-Old Republican Candidate For Wisconsin Assembly Jacob Dorsey Apologizes For Vile Anti-Gay Christmas Day Tweet, Minnesota Vikings Reinstate Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer Suspended For Making Anti-Gay Remarks

In Ontario, minor hockey players are now able to choose a dressing room based on whether they see themselves as male or female following settlement of a human rights complaint against Hockey Canada. According to the Canadian Press, the agreement, which also includes an educational component, is aimed at protecting young transgender players from discrimination and harassment. Jesse Thompson, 17, of Oshawa, Ontario, who filed the complaint in August last year, said he was pleased with the result. “I just hope that kids can see this and know that they don’t have to hide any more,” Thompson told the CP. “They can come out and play their sport that they love, and they don’t have to stop playing it just because of how they are or who they are.” The new policy, which applies to all minor players in Ontario under the auspices of Hockey Canada, also calls for the organization to educate its trainers and coaches on discrimination and harassment as well as on gender identity and expression. In addition, players are entitled to be addressed by their preferred name, as well as by the pronoun that corresponds to their self-identified gender. For Thompson, an avid hockey player now in Grade 12, the issue became acute about four or five years ago when he hit puberty. “I’m just a boy. I’m just like any other kid out there growing up. I’m just a teenager,” he said. “(But) once you get to a certain age, you are forced off into a different room, or basically a closet — sometimes they didn’t even have change rooms for girls.” Thompson’s mother, Ailsa Thompson, said it was “very upsetting” when a coach booted her son from the boys dressing room on the basis that “she’s a girl.” Other parents could also show a lack of understanding, she said. “Parents would come in and kick Jesse out of the girls change room because it was for girls only.” Hockey Canada refused to discuss the settlement but gender rights activists both inside and outside the sports world applauded. Patrick Burke, co-founder of You Can Play, said he was grateful to Hockey Canada for agreeing to the changes and expressed admiration for Thompson. “His courage will allow transgender hockey players to feel welcome and supported in their locker rooms,” Burke said in a statement. “Hockey is a game meant for everyone and we are excited for the day when all LGBT athletes feel secure in their ability to live their lives openly.” Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, called the change “another great milestone.” Hockey Canada has also agreed to provide information about its amended policy to everyone involved with the organization and to post its new dressing room policy on its Ontario websites. “I hope other hockey organizations around the world can see there’s a big change coming,” Thompson said. “It needs to be open to everyone to play, to feel comfortable, and to not feel like they’re going to be discriminated against.” Lawyer Brenda Culbert, with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, praised Hockey Canada for sending a strong message of inclusiveness that should resonate with communities across the country.

In Kazakhstan, a politician has claimed “blood tests for degeneratism” can identify gay people while calling for homosexuality to be made illegal. Dauren Babamuratov, leader of the nationalist “Future” or “Bolashak” movement, held a meeting on Thursday petitioning to ban so-called “gay propaganda” in the country, Tengri News reported. Standing in front of a poster reading "homosexuality is a threat to the nation", he urged the Government to change the law to stop gay people holding public offices and serving in the Kazakh army. “We have stooped so low that LGBTs no longer hide their orientation,” Mr Babamuratov said, claiming he could identify gay people because they wore coloured trousers. “This means they no longer hide their (sexual) orientation,” he continued. “I think it is very easy to identify a gay person by his or her DNA. A blood test can show the presence of degeneratism in a person.” Kazakhstan’s anti-sodomy laws were only dropped in 1998 and the Bolashak movement has complained about difficulty “suppressing activities of the LGBT community” in the former Soviet nation. David Cameron with the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev David Cameron with the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev Mr Babamuratov said there were around 14 gay clubs and bars in the largest city, Almaty, calling it “the gay capital of Central Asia“, and expressing his outrage at the fact that "open discussion of the issues related to LGBT community is treated by the society as a natural process." An advertising poster for a club in the city provoked outrage earlier this year when it depicted a gay kiss between the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly. Local politicians and the Secretary of the People’s Communist Party have come out in support of Bolashak’s calls for the illegalisation of homosexuality. Parliament is also changing parts of the country’s Marriage and Family Code, which already bans gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, to imitate Russia’s anti “gay propaganda” laws. There have been no pro-gay rallies or pride parades in Kazakhstan, according to activist and journalist Zhanar Sekerbayeva. “There is no gay 'propaganda' in Kazakhstan, but there is homophobia,” she said.

In Russia, a lesbian tango teacher was found in St. Petersburg with her throat slashed in what police surmised could have been suicide and LGBT activists called a possible hate crime. The body of Yekaterina Khomenko, 29, was found in her car in the city's north last week, Rosbalt.ru local news website reported. She had a nine-centimeter wound to the neck. The car's engine and lights were on, and the vehicle had several dents. Police initially considered suicide or drug abuse as possible reasons for Khomenko's stabbing, Piter.tv local television said, citing her father Valery. But the incident is being investigated as murder, Rosbalt.ru said Friday. No motive or suspects were announced. Regional news website Rrnews.ru speculated Monday that Khomenko's death could be linked to her being openly gay. But it provided no backing for that theory beyond a wave of hostile comments posted on Khomenko's page on social network Vkontakte in the wake of her death. Comments are currently disabled on her page. Khomenko was known in the St. Petersburg community as an instructor in queer tango, a same-sex rendition of the Argentinian dance originally known for strict gender roles for each pair of performers. Anti-gay sentiment is on the rise in Russia, with homophobia fueled by a 2013 law against "homosexual propaganda" and the government's increased adherence to ultraconservative rhetorics. Physical attacks on openly gay people are not uncommon, and at least two members of the LGBT community were murdered in 2013 in confirmed hate crimes, according to anti-xenophobia watchdog Sova.

In Ecuador, after years of political battle, homosexuals couples in lined up Monday to register their unions on their national identity cards like heterosexual couples. Dressed in bridal white with a garland of flowers, transsexual Diane Rodriguez, the head of rights group Silueta X, registered alongside partner Nicolas Guamanquispe at the civil registry office in the southwestern city of Guayaquil, opening a new era for gay rights in the South American country. "We are the first couple to register a de facto union. We dedicate ourselves to that," Rodriguez told AFP. Same sex marriage remains a remote goal for Ecuador`s gay-rights activists, but they celebrated the new regulations, allowing them to register common-law unions, as a major victory. The rule change came after President Rafael Correa ordered civil registries to add gay couples and change their ID cards accordingly, in line with the 2008 constitution`s promise of equal protection for common-law unions and civil and religious marriages. British expatriate couple Nicola Rothon and Helen Bicknell, who made headlines for their unsuccessful battle to register as joint legal parents after their daughter was born in 2011, have also registered their union in the capital Quito, officials said. Latin America has been one of the most progressive regions on gay marriage rights -- Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have all legalized same sex weddings, as has Mexico City -- but Ecuador looks unlikely to do so under Correa. The Catholic leftist has repeatedly said he opposes gay marriage and adoption.

The 7th United State Circuit Court of Appeals Monday continued the stay on same sex marriage in Indiana until it is addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The order was expected after the state of Indiana requested a stay last week on a federal appeals court decision upholding a lower court ruling that Indiana's ban is unconstitutional. Same sex marriages in Indiana have been on hold since June 27, when the 7th Circuit Court first issued an emergency order stopping weddings pending appeal. Days earlier, on June 25, same sex marriages in Indiana briefly became legal after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young threw out the state's ban, leading to more than 800 marriages in courthouses across the state. The legal status of those marriages is still uncertain. Although state officials argue the continued stays make them invalid, couples in similar situations in other states have received federal recognition. Meanwhile, two same sex marriages have been recognized by the state of Indiana because of court orders or agreements. Earlier this year, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, of Munster, were granted an emergency request for recognition of their out-of-state marriage. After Young's ruling was stayed, the couple's attorneys successfully asked that an exception once again be made for the couple pending the outcome of the case. Last week, Veronica Romero and Mayra Yvette Rivera, of Whiting, were similarly granted recognition of their marriage performed in Illinois earlier this year. Both Rivera and Quasney have ovarian cancer. The Supreme Court could hear Indiana's same sex marriage case soon. Last week, the Supreme Court scheduled same sex marriage cases from five states — including Indiana — for consideration at its September 29 private conference. The court could agree to hear one or more cases this year, deny all of them, or put off its decision until later. All same sex marriages performed in Indiana or elsewhere will not be recognized by the state — not including the two exceptions — until the case is resolved.

In Arkansas, a county judge was wrong to find that the state's ban on same sex marriage violated the state and federal constitutions, the attorney general's office argued Monday as it asked the state's highest court to uphold the prohibition. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked the state Supreme Court to find the ban constitutional, arguing the state's voters have a right to define marriage. The state is appealing Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's May decision striking down a 2004 constitutional amendment and earlier law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Piazza's ruling led to 541 gay couples receiving marriage licenses before the decision was suspended by the state Supreme Court. In its brief, the attorney general's office argued that Piazza was wrong to find a part of the state's constitution was itself unconstitutional. Voters approved the ban by a 3-1 margin in the 2004 election. "As a matter of well-established Arkansas law, a constitutional provision cannot violate earlier provisions of the constitution," the brief said. "Where there is an inconsistency between an earlier provision of the Arkansas Constitution and a later amendment, the amendment, being the more recent expression of the will of the people, prevails." The gay and lesbian couples challenging Arkansas' ban have until October 15 to file their brief in the case, and it's unclear when the court will rule. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, who issued gay marriage licenses after Piazza's ruling, urged the court to strike down the ban. Crane, a defendant in the lawsuit over the ban, argued prohibiting gay couples from wedding deprives them of rights declared elsewhere in the state's constitution. "The intended and actual effect of Amendment 83 is to forever banish those in same sex committed relationships to an inferior and unequal status," Crane's attorney wrote in the brief. "The reasons offered by the state cannot be squared with our constitutional guarantee of equality." The attorney general's office also cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, enabling the federal government to start granting benefits to married same-sex couples. McDaniel's office argued that ruling allows Arkansas to define marriage. "The federal law at issue in Windsor was unconstitutional because it interfered with the right of New York citizens to define marriage for their community. Likewise, Arkansas citizens have the right to define marriage for their community," the brief said. McDaniel, a Democrat serving his final year in office, announced earlier this year that he supports gay marriage but would continue defending the state's ban in court. A group of same sex couples is also challenging the ban in federal court.

In Janesville, Wisconsin, the Republican candidate in the November 4 election for the 44th Assembly District apologized Thursday for using “unacceptable and hurtful language” in a post on Twitter about same sex marriages. Five months before announcing his candidacy, Jacob Dorsey tweeted “fags need 2 leave my favorite state alone.” The tweet, posted at 1:30 am Christmas Day, was Dorsey's response to a U.S. Circuit Court's rejection of Utah's request to stop same sex marriages. Dorsey, a 19-year-old Parker graduate, in May announced he is challenging Rep. Deb Kolste (D-Janesville) in the November election. Neither was challenged in August's primary to represent the district, which covers most of Janesville. “I regret using unacceptable and hurtful language on social media last year and sincerely apologize for doing so,” Dorsey said in a statement to the Gazette. “I recognized the inappropriateness of the tweet shortly after sending it and promptly deleted it. I am a staunch supporter of traditional marriage, but the language I used is not in keeping with my character, family values and Christian upbringing, and I fully acknowledge that.” While Dorsey's Twitter account has been deactivated, a screenshot of the Christmas Day tweet started circulating Wednesday from NOManiacs, a group that characterizes the National Organization for Marriage as an anti-gay organization fostering misinformation and hate speech about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning community. After announcing his candidacy in May, Dorsey told The Gazette he would take this semester off from his studies at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, to run his campaign. If he wins the election, Dorsey said he would take more time off as needed. His campaign finance report filed with the state at the end of July—the most recent reporting period—showed a cash balance of about $1,100. Kolste, who defeated Republican Joe Knilans in 2012, had a cash balance of $13,506. Asked for a comment Thursday on Dorsey's tweet, Kolste said "Janesville is a welcoming and open community with lots of diversity and lots of great people." Dorsey in May said he wants to be an active participant in the state's legislative process instead of an armchair critic. He wrote in the May news release that he wants to advocate for fiscal responsibility and embrace policies that help strengthen the middle class. Dorsey in May said he would concentrate on issues that directly affect Janesville residents, primarily job creation, budget reform, tax relief, reducing the size and intrusion of government, family values and education reform. Dorsey said that while he embraces traditional values and beliefs, he wants to bring a fresh perspective to the table and approach the issues without relying on demagoguery and divisive partisan politics. He said in his May news release he is not what he calls a “stereotypical” Republican. He said he “genuinely cares about the middle class and does not identify with large corporations or the wealthy elite. I am just a regular guy who values honest, American hard work, and Christ-like love for one another, regardless of party lines.”

According to the Associated Press, suspended special teams coach Mike Priefer is rejoining the Minnesota Vikings staff as soon as possible. The Vikings reinstated Priefer after he missed the first two games of the season for making anti-gay remarks. Priefer was initially suspended three games after an independent investigation into the claims made by former punter Chris Kluwe found that the coach made several offensive remarks at practices and in meetings while working for the team. But the Vikings left open the possibility that Priefer could have the suspension reduced to two games if he completed a program of individualized anti-harassment, diversity and sexual-orientation sensitivity training. "The decision by Vikings ownership follows extensive conversations with the independent professional consultants retained to conduct individualized anti-harassment, diversity and sexual orientation training with Coach Priefer," the Vikings announced Sunday night, a few hours after a 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots. "Those consultants have conveyed to the team that Coach Priefer was fully and thoughtfully engaged throughout the process and successfully completed the program." Kluwe used Priefer's comments to illustrate an accusation of an intolerant workplace while the punter was employed by the team. He also accused the team of cutting him for his outspoken support of gay rights, but the investigation found no evidence to corroborate those allegations. The Vikings agreed to donate $100,000 to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups after the investigation was concluded and later reached an additional settlement to avoid a lawsuit from Kluwe. Under that deal, the Vikings will donate an undisclosed sum of money to five gay rights-related charities over the next five years. Kluwe said he won't receive any money as part of the settlement.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

German Gay Rights Activist Hospitalized In Critical Condition After Being Beaten In Belgrade As Serbian Police Announce Arrest Of Three, 20-Year-Old Gay Photographer Tyler Maddick Left Blinded In One Eye After Attacker In Wales Calls Him "Faggot" Before Dousing Him With Gasoline, Irish 32-Year-Old Douglas Purcell Pleads Guilty To Multiple Charges After Calling Police Officers Gay And Exposing Himself, Federal Judge Rules Arizona Must Recognize California Marriage Of Fred McQuire And Spouse George Martinez Who Died In August, Transgender Student Named Homecoming Queen in Colorado Springs But Some Parents And Students Of Sandy Creek High Raise Concerns

In Serbia, a German man who took part in a gay rights conference suffered life-threatening brain injuries when he was severely beaten in downtown Belgrade on Saturday, police and gay activists said. The identity of the 27-year-old man has not been released. The identity of the 27-year-old man has not been released. Police said later Saturday they have arrested three suspects. Jovanka Todorovic, from the Labris gay and lesbian group, told the Associated Press that the man was attacked early morning by a group of young men who beat him with a glass ashtray and shouted: "We don't want foreigners in Belgrade!" Doctors at Belgrade's emergency hospital said the man suffered internal bleeding and head injuries. "He had a surgery and his condition is serious," said Dusan Jovanovic, deputy director of the hospital. The German ambassador to Serbia, Heinz Georg Wilhelm, said that "he is awake, so that is already very good but it is still early to say something," Wilhelm adding, "The doctors told us that the first 24 hours you can't say very much, but he is awake and that is positive." Serbia, which has a long history of attacks by far-right groups against gay activists, has repeatedly pledged to protect human rights as it seeks European Union membership. Protesting the attack, hundreds of gay rights supporters marched in downtown Belgrade on Saturday carrying signs "Stop the Violence" and "Your Policies, Our Blood." A heavy anti-riot police force presence protected the demonstrators. "If it's true that the attacker said that he does not want foreigners in Serbia, that gives a new xenophobic dimension to the whole incident," Wilhelm said. Serbia's Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic pledged that police will identify the attackers. "I ordered an intensive investigation so the attackers are brought to justice soonest," he said.

In Wales, a gay photographer was blinded in one eye by an attacker who branded him a “faggot” before throwing gasoline in his face in a “horrific” incident. Tyler Maddick fell victim to the shocking late-night attack just days after moving home to Wales. The 20-year-old was walking home from Swansea city centre late on Thursday when a car drew up alongside him and he heard a homophobic insult moments before being covered in liquid. He told WalesOnline, “I’ve just moved back to Swansea and I went out to see some friends. Basically I left my friend at the train station and I started to walk up towards Penlan area. I got to a road crossing and I heard this car stop up behind me. I was on my own, my phone had run out of battery and I heard this homophobic slur. Next thing I knew I’d got this liquid in my face. I ran home but I couldn’t call anyone because my phone had died. I washed it out as my eye was starting to burn up.” When he went to hospital the following day he was dealt the terrible blow about the loss of his sight. “Four years ago I had a bacterial infection on my optic nerve and my left eye lost 90% [vision] but now I can’t see anything,” he said. “I was told there and then I’ve lost all of my vision in my left eye. There was just something about that day. Me and my other friend – she’s transgender – were out and somebody threw water at me and her on High Street before the petrol, at least two or three hours before.” Tyler never thought he would be the victim of a hate crime. He said: “To be fair I think I was more angry than anything. I’m quite a strong-minded person and it wasn’t so much that they had done it, it was the fact that they targeted me because if they can pick on me they can pick on anyone.” When it comes to his sexuality Tyler said: “With me it’s quite obvious so I guess they must have just picked up on it.” Andrew Davies, of The LGBT Unity Project Wales, said: “This is quite horrific.” Tyler, who is originally from Somerset but moved to Swansea when he was four when his family inherited his grandmother’s, house has been living away from Wales and had only moved back a few days ago. He added: “I thought at first it was water because of the shock. I didn’t quite realise. I could smell petrol but I thought that was from the car then I started walking for a bit longer and my face started to burn up. I’ve always thought ‘It’s never going to happen to me.' I’ve lived in Swansea for 15 years and I’ve never had a problem. I moved back about three or four days ago.” Tyler, who is currently looking for work, has been a freelance photographer and has photographed weddings. He studied at the London College of Fashion. He said is determined not to let the attack stop him pursuing his passion, but admitted he was shocked by the incident and added: “The only ever grief I have had has been people shouting from their cars.” He said he had received dozens of messages of support following the shocking attack. “I have had so many messages, I think I have had at least 40, my friends are being very supportive.” Mr Davies added: “It is unusual to see anything that violent. There’s still a lot of hatred that goes around. Recently Plaid Cymru have talked about the increase in hate crime in South Wales but it’s not an increase in crime – it’s an increase in people reporting it. And there’s been better relations between the LGBT community and the police.” Earlier this year Jeff Cuthbert AM, at the time Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, launched an initiative to tackle hate crimes. Speaking at the launch of Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: A Framework for Action at the Millennium Stadium, Mr Cuthbert said: “My message to victims of hate crime across Wales today is that we want you to have the confidence to report [what has happened] and that action will be taken. Hate in any form will not be tolerated. A culture where victims feel they have to suffer in silence is not going to be tolerated any longer.” He added: “We want our young people and children to grow up in a Wales where people are accepted for who they are and are not judged for the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their disability or their age.” The All-Wales Hate Crime Reporting Centre received 1,810 reports in the 2012/13 financial year but Mr Cuthbert added: “We also know that this is the tip of the iceberg and many people don’t report hate crime.” A South Wales Police spokesperson confirmed officers were investigating the incident and said: “I can confirm that we are investigating an incident where a man has reported that he has had petrol thrown at him while walking along Pentregethin Road, Gendros, in Swansea at approximately 22:30 pm on Thursday night.”

In Ireland, a man accused of threatening a police officer, telling him all officers are "gay" and flashing his buttocks pleaded guilty to charges. UPI reports that 32-year-old Douglas Purcell pleaded guilty in Blanchardstown District Court to charges of disorderly conduct and failing to follow directions of police after the court heard he shouted abuse at a member of the Garda Siochana, Ireland's national police force. The court heard Garda Stephen Walsh was on routine patrol May 21 in Finglas when Purcell exited his home and started shouting obscenities at him. Purcell allegedly exposed his buttocks to the officer and yelled that all garda are "gay," allegedly shouting, "I'll get you on your own and I'll kill you." Walsh said Purcell thrashed around in the back of his car and stripped off his clothes at the station, tossing them at another officer. The motive for Purcell's actions was unclear. Judge David McHugh delayed sentencing for three weeks to allow Purcell, a married father of three, to get his affairs in order.

In Arizona, a federal judge on Friday ordered the state to recognize the California marriage of a gay man whose spouse died from cancer last month, a ruling that could foreshadow a decision on Arizona's same sex marriage ban. Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ruled that Arizona must prepare a death certificate for George Martinez that lists him as being married and names partner Fred McQuire as the surviving spouse. The ruling by Sedwick, a visiting judge in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, would enable McQuire the ability to seek various death benefits. "Today's order means that Fred can grieve his husband with dignity and a lot less worry about his own future," said Jennifer Pizer, plaintiff's attorney for Lambda Legal Education and Defense Fund. "George would have been thrilled with this outcome. All he ever wanted to do was take care of Fred, and Judge Sedwick's order will make sure his last wish is fulfilled." State officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The judge's ruling is limited and applies only to the couple, not the broader issue of same sex marriage bans being played out in courtrooms across the nation, including Arizona. The same judge is considering a separate challenge to Arizona's ban on gay nuptials, which opponents say violates constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. "The court has decided that it is probable that there is such a conflict so that Arizona will be required to permit same sex marriage," Sedwick wrote in his 14-page opinion. The decision in Arizona comes as Wisconsin and Indiana this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold their bans on gay marriages after an appeals court ruled that they were invalid. Gay marriage cases in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma are pending with the nation's highest court. More than 30 courts overall have ruled in favor of gay marriage since a Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 struck down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to same-sex married couples. Same sex marriage is legal in 19 of the 50 states and in Washington, D.C.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, Scarlett Lenh was officially crowned the 2014 homecoming princess for Sand Creek High School during Friday night's football game. Scarlett, however, reports the Gazette, is biologically a guy. She was born Andy Lenh and this school year started identifying as a female transgender. "It was really exciting. It felt really good. I couldn't stop smiling," Scarlett said after she found out at an afternoon assembly that the majority of the junior class had voted for her over three other candidates. Two of the other girls who were nominated by their peers were "extremely supportive," Scarlett said, and the other "was really upset." Scarlett, 16, has dressed in girls' clothing for the past few weeks and also uses the girls' bathroom at Sand Creek, which is on North Carefree Circle in Falcon School District 49. Both issues are concerning to some adults and students. "It's craziness," said Jana Neathery, whose granddaughter attends Sand Creek. "Originally, it was a joke that he was going to be nominated for homecoming princess, but he got a lot of nominations," she said, referring to Scarlett, "and now there are a lot of upset girls because a spot was taken from them. "I'm very sympathetic that he's transgender, but he should be on the boys' side, not the girls'." Scarlett said that being in the running for homecoming princess was no joke to her. "One of my friends mentioned it, and I didn't think anything of it because I didn't think I'd be nominated. But, now, it really matters to me," she said. "This is something I've wanted to do since my freshman year. I want people to be themselves and not feel uncomfortable in their own body and mind." But Scarlett's behavior does make some uncomfortable. "I think it's wrong because he's actually a guy, he's not a girl, and he hasn't been doing this his entire life - he's only been recently doing it," said Jarrod Clarke, a junior at Sand Creek. "We know him pretty well," another Sand Creek student who asked not to be identified said of Scarlett. "He's only cross-dressing, putting on girls' clothes." Sand Creek student Michael Carl said he has been a friend of Scarlett's since the seventh grade. "He has always been there for me and is truly a good person," Michael said. "I support him because it takes a lot of courage and a lot of character to do what he is doing." Scarlett said she has gotten positive and negative comments after recently coming out as transgender, from "Do your thing," "Be yourself" and "We have your back" to "This isn't right" and "It shouldn't be like this." D-49 spokesperson Matt Meister said he could not comment on the issue due to student privacy laws but in a statement said, "The leaders at Sand Creek High School and in District 49 respect the decision of the Scorpion student body in electing their homecoming court." The statement went on to say, "Our board policy sets the standard that we do not exclude any person from participating in any program or activity on the basis of gender identity and gender expression." Neathery also is mad that Scarlett uses the girls' bathroom. "It's ridiculous - he's interested in girls, and they're allowing him to use the girl's bathroom," she said of Scarlett. When asked by the Gazette if she is attracted to girls, Scarlett said, "For the last year and a half, I haven't been attracted to anything." Neathery said that when she complained to the principal, he told her if a girl feels uncomfortable in the bathroom when Scarlett is in there, the girl should leave. "I suggested he go to a nongender-specific restroom, whether it be in the office or the teachers' lounge," Neathery said. "I said, 'So my granddaughter can put on jeans and say I feel like a boy today' and go into the boys' restroom?'" In June 2013, at another local school, a transgender first-grader who also was born a boy but identifies as a girl won the right to use the girls' restroom at Eagleside Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. Coy Mathis' parents took the case to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, claiming the district's refusal to allow Coy to use the girls' bathroom violated Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act. The division ruled in favor of the girl, saying keeping the ban in place "creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive." Still, it's strange to have a student who has a male body in the girls' restroom, some students say. "We thought he was doing it as a joke. He's a guy and doing this for whatever reason. But he's still a guy," Jarrod said. Scarlett said her high school counselor told her he would speak with administrators to "figure out a solution," Scarlett adding, "For a while, I tried to avoid using the bathroom as much as I could at school. But when I do, I have used the women's restroom. I didn't make a big deal about it." Scarlett said she has known since she was 7 or 8 years old that she felt like a girl and not a boy. "It was always in the back of my mind. In middle school I tried to block it out. This year, I got serious about expressing it," she said. "I see it as a great thing. I hope it helps people understand if they want to be something and work hard at it, it can happen."
Scarlett told her family this week. "It was really hard," Scarlett said. "My mom didn't like it, but she wants to support me for what I do in life."


Friday, September 12, 2014

Elementary Teachers Of Toronto File Formal Complaint To District School Board Calling For Investigation Into Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos' Transphobic Tweet, Attorney Petitions U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Case Challenging New Jersey Law Prohibiting Practice Of Gay-To-Straight Conversion Therapy On Minors, Indiana Agrees To Recognize Out-Of-State Lesbian Marriage One Of Whom Is Fatally Ill, Detroit Police Report That Gay Couple Dead After One Set Fire To His Partner And Then Became Engulfed As Well During Domestic Dispute, Police Investigate Possible Hate Crime After Two Gay Men Attacked In Philadelphia By Group, Ventura County High School Principal Prohibits Booster Club From Selling Chick-Fil-A Sandwich On Campus Because Of Chain's Anti-Same Sex Marriage Stance

In Ontario, Toronto District School Board trustee Sam Sotiropoulos is once again defending a recent tweet about transgender people. Meantime, the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) sent a letter of complaint to the school board, calling for an investigation into the trustee’s tweet on transgender people and comments he later made in a Global News interview. “At best they were insulting at worst discriminatory,” ETT President John Smith said of the trustee’s words. In a letter of complaint to the board he wrote the trustee’s comments “are offensive and possibly a violation of the TDSB Human Rights Policy.” The ETT is calling for an investigation by the board. “We had a lot of concern expressed by our members through emails and letters on comments the trustee made by Twitter and the interview on TV, concerns he had violated human rights policies and equity policies of the TDSB which covers all the staff of the TDSB,” Smith said. “They felt that as a leader, a trustee of the TDSB, he should be upholding and promoting those policies.” Board Chair Mari Rutka would not comment on whether there would be an investigation. She said because it is a private matter she also couldn’t reveal how many complaints they have received or whether the board would consider taking any kind of action. In certain cases, school boards can censure trustees or even ban them from certain meetings or committees. Sotiroploulos’s tweet that started it all reads: “Until I see scientific proof that transgenderism exists and is not simply a mental illness, I reserve the right not to believe in it.” For his part, Sotiropoulos said it comes back to anti-bullying posters about gender identity put up in schools about three or four years ago. He claims that several hundred parents have come to him concerned there’s too much emphasis on an issue that only confuses their kids. “They bring the confusion home and often what happens is this confusion creates turmoil in the home for one reason or another.” he said. “They believe its almost a promotion of a certain type of, for a lack of a better term, lifestyle.” Asked whether he believed being a transgender person is a lifestyle or a mental illness, he reasserted his right to reserve his opinion until he does more research. Sotiropoulos said he has done a lot of work learning more about transgender people since the Global News interview a week ago, but said he still needs more information before coming to any conclusions. He emphasized he is against bullying of any kind, but feels there needed to be more education about bullying for reasons other than gender identity and sexual orientation. He stood his ground in the face of complaints, saying: “I will not be bullied by the media. I will not be bullied by the unions. I will not be bullied on this matter.” He promised he would get back to Global News once he has enough information to form an opinion on transgender people.

An update on a previous post: the Associated Press is reporting that an attorney for two associations and two licensed therapists suing to overturn New Jersey's ban on so-called gay conversion therapy said Friday he will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. On Thursday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their challenge, but it took exception to a lower court's characterization of verbal communications during the therapy sessions as "conduct," not "speech" protected by the First Amendment. That put the 3rd Circuit judges at odds with judges in the 9th Circuit who upheld California's ban on gay conversion therapy last year. The Supreme Court declined to hear the California case, but Demetrios Stratis, a plaintiffs' attorney in the New Jersey case, said the rulings' contrasts could prove significant. "Those differences could be a reason for the Supreme Court to take this up," he said. He said the plaintiffs who practice what are called "sexual orientation change efforts" have maintained that when they talk to clients, "it's speech and it's protected under the First Amendment." A federal judge in Trenton had dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting plaintiffs' claims that the ban violates their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. This summer, the same judge dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by a New Jersey couple who said their rights were violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son. In its ruling Thursday, the 3rd Circuit concluded that the communication that occurs during counseling is "'speech' for purposes of the First Amendment." But it held that speech in the practice of a licensed profession, particularly involving physical or mental health, is not fully protected. Gov. Chris Christie signed New Jersey's law last year banning the therapy for patients under 18.

In Indiana, the State this week agreed to recognize the out-of-state marriage of a lesbian couple from Whiting, Indiana, as the broader issue of same sex marriage moves closer toward the U.S. Supreme Court. The Indianapolis Star reports that documents filed Wednesday and approved by a U.S. District Court judge Thursday say the state will agree to recognize the marriage between Veronica Romero and Mayra Yvette Rivera, who were married in Illinois last March. The couple has been in a relationship for more than 27 years. In June 2011, Rivera learned she had ovarian cancer. The order makes Romero and Rivera the second same sex couple in Indiana to have their marriage recognized by the state. It closely echoes a case involving Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, a Munster couple who were married in Massachusetts last year. Sandler and Quasney became the first — and at the time, only — legally married same sex couple in the state in April, when a different U.S. District Court Judge granted an emergency request for recognition of their marriage. Quasney was diagnosed in 2009 with ovarian cancer and is terminally ill. Same sex marriage for all gay couples in Indiana was briefly legal for three days in June after a federal judge struck down the ban entirely, until the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on that ruling. With that ruling stayed, Sandler and Quasney's attorneys successfully asked that an exception once again be made for the couple pending the outcome of the case. On September 4, nine days after Indiana's same sex marriage case was heard by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court, judges upheld a lower court ruling that Indiana's ban is unconstitutional. This week, the Supreme Court scheduled same sex marriages from five states — including Indiana — for consideration at its September 29 private conference. The court could agree to hear one or more cases this year, deny all of them, or put off its decision until later. All same sex marriages performed in Indiana or elsewhere will not be recognized by the state — not including the two exceptions — until the case is resolved.

In Michigan, the Free Press reports that two people are dead after a man set fire to his partner and then became engulfed as well at their home in southwest Detroit on Thursday night. Police are calling the incident a domestic dispute, saying one man was upset with his partner. It’s unclear what issue was at the heart of their dispute. One man has been identified as Edward Pickle, Jr., 22, according to Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office spokeswoman Mary Mazur. He was identified by his father. The other man has not been identified yet. Pickle suffered burns to 98-percent of his body, Mazur said. The other man had burns over 75-percent of his body. Both died after being transported to Detroit Receiving Hospital. Autopsy results are pending, Mazur said. The men lived in the 4700 block of Springwells. Detroit Police Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt said he does not believe the man who doused his partner with an unknown accelerant and threw a match at him intended to kill himself, describing the man’s actions as accidental. “You’ve seen this in movies where when you light an accelerant it causes a trail. Well, the trail came back to him, and he was fatally injured as well,” Dolunt said. “I think he was trying to do great bodily harm to the individual because apparently they are partners and they care about each other and, unfortunately, it killed him as well.”

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, two gay men were attacked by a group Thursday night in Center City in what might have been a hate crime and robbery, police said. The Inquirer reports that the victims, ages 27 and 28, were walking in the area of 16th and Chancellor Streets around 10:45 when they were confronted by two males and six or seven females, said Capt. Frank Banford, commanding officer of Central Detectives. Someone in the group asked whether the men were a couple, Banford said. "Yes, do you have a problem?" one of the men replied, Banford said. The group then beat the two men, Banford said. During the assault, one of the victims dropped a bag and one of the assailants took it as they fled. The 27-year-old was transported to Hahnemann University Hospital with a bone fracture in his face that will require surgery, Banford said. Detectives were checking numerous surveillance videos in the area to help track down the perpetrators, Banford said.

In California, a Ventura County high school principal has barred a booster club from selling a popular fast-food sandwich on campus because of the chain’s position on same sex marriage. Ventura High School Principal Val Wyatt told the Ventura County Star that the football booster club could not sell Chick-fil-A sandwiches at Wednesday’s back-to-school night because the restaurant’s beliefs could offend some students and their parents. “With their political stance on gay rights and because the students of Ventura High School and their parents would be at the event, I didn’t want them on campus,” Wyatt told the newspaper. Every principal has the discretion to invite community groups or businesses onto their campuses. “We value inclusivity and diversity on our campus and all of our events and activities are going to adhere to our mission,” Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Trudy Tuttle Arriaga said. The chain’s now deceased owner, S. Truett Cathy, is known nationally for his conservative Christian beliefs, and his son and now-president of the company, Dan T. Cathy, has publicly expressed being against gay marriage. The booster club expected to raise about $1,600 for the football team as the Ventura Chick-fil-A restaurant volunteered to donate the 200 meals. The Ventura location has already donated $21,000 to Ventura schools. The club helps pay for everything from food to uniforms for the players and does not charge students to play football. Michelle Cisneros and her daughter say they were so outraged by the principal’s decision, they complained to the school officials. “Everybody is embraced,” Cisneros said. “And Chick-fil-A should have been allowed to be here.” But student Graham Wallace says he agrees with his principal’s decision. “There are gay kids that go to our school, and for them it might be kind of weird,” he said. Chick-fil-A is not being banned from donating, however. The football booster club will be selling tickets for meals, right off campus, when school is not in session.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

United States Supreme Court Adds Appeals On Same Sex Marriage Rulings From Five States To September 29 Agenda, National Organization For Marriage Continues War Against May Ruling Overturning Oregon Same Sex Marriage Ban, Federal Appeals Court Upholds New Jersey Ban On Gay-To-Straight Conversion Therapy For Minors, Macomb County Michigan Approves Policy Prohibiting Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Within Government Workforce And Outside Contractors, Illinois Music Director Fired From Holy Family Catholic Church For Marrying Male Partner Meets With Cardinal Francis George

The United States Supreme Court has formally added same sex marriage cases to the justices' agenda for their closed-door conference on September 29. According to the Associated Press, the action Wednesday does not mean that the court will decide that day to hear state appeals of lower court rulings that struck down bans on same sex marriage. But the late September conference will be the first time the justices have the issue before them. The meeting will be the justices' first since late June. Appeals have been filed from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The gay couples who won in each case in the lower courts also favor Supreme Court review. The justices could put off deciding whether to take up gay marriage until January and still be able to issue a decision by late June.

In Oregon, despite a string of legal defeats, the National Organization for Marriage is continuing its battle against the May 19 federal court decision overturning that state's ban on same sex marriage. According to the Oregonian, two weeks after a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the group's attempt to intervene in the case, the National Organization for Marriage on Wednesday asked the full Ninth Circuit Court to reconsider the decision. The group -- which has waged a legal battle against same sex marriages throughout the country -- had earlier lost several attempts to insert itself in the Oregon case. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by NOM to halt same sex marriages in Oregon, which began after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled that the ban unconstitutionally discriminated against gay and lesbian couples. The legal battle over gay marriage in Oregon has been different than the litigation in other states that was sparked by the Supreme Court's two same sex marriage decisions in 2013. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum earlier this year announced that she agreed with plaintiffs that the ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. That left no one with the legal standing to appeal the decision. As a result, same sex couples have been able to marry in Oregon since May 19 while federal decisions striking down gay marriage bans in other states have been stayed pending appeals. NOM unsuccessfully sought to gain standing to appeal McShane's decision. But McShane denied the group's attempt to intervene in the case and NOM has so far failed to find any success on appeal. In its latest petition, NOM said the lack of an opposing party in the Oregon litigation is part of a dangerous trend "threatening the very adversarial nature of our system of justice."

A United States federal appeals court today upheld the legality of New Jersey's ban on gay-to-straight conversion therapy for minors, finding the law does not violate anyone's freedom of speech or religion. The Star-Ledger reports that the three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled the state has substantial interest in regulating the speech of certain professionals, particularly those dealing in mental health, in order to protect the public. "To handcuff the state’s ability to regulate a profession whenever speech is involved would therefore unduly undermine its authority to protect its citizens from harm," the panel wrote, noting nothing restricted those professionals' speech in a public setting. The lawsuit was filed last year on behalf of Tara King, a therapist in Brick; Ronald Newman, a therapist in Linwood; the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality; and the American Association for of Christian Counsellors. The challenge came just days after Gov. Chris Christie signed the ban into law. They argued the law violated their responsibility to their clients who wanted the treatment. They also contended the terms "sexual orientation" and the phrase "sexual orientation change efforts" are too vague to be understood and enforced. U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson, who presides in Trenton, ruled in the state's favor and dismissed the suit, and the appeals court upheld that decision. The law prevents any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor from using sexual orientation change efforts with a children younger than 18. Offenders jeopardize their licensed status by violating the law, which does not apply to clergy or anyone who is not licensed by the state. Supporters of the law cite position papers by the American Psychological Association and other professional organizations that question the efficacy of the treatment and criticize the practice as emotionally demoralizing and damaging.

In Michigan, despite vocal opposition from a small group on hand, Macomb County officials Monday tentatively approved a new policy that would protect gays from discrimination within the county government workforce and among the contractors that play a key role in the county’s $630 million budget. After a long debate, the vote by the county board’s Government Operations Committee was along party lines, with seven Democrats trumping four Republicans to adopt the new rules. The anti-discrimination policy to protect the LGBT community still faces a final vote, but it appears enough partisan support exists among the 13 commissioners to follow through. “This is preferential treatment, and I wonder why we need preferential treatment for this LGBT agenda,” said Jackie Ryan of Sterling Heights, who generated applause from the more than two dozen residents who turned out to oppose the proposed policy. “They … (the LGBT community) have been around for a long time and I don’t see where there has been discrimination against them.” Other opponents in the crowd said the policy should be put to a countywide vote, that it violates the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions, would force companies to go out of business, and it represents the first step toward the establishment of government “thought police” on gay lifestyles and gender issues. But members of the Board of Commissioners largely discarded those claims, asserting the policy only prevents firings, pay disparities, or denied promotions among the 2,600 county workers based on sexual orientation. As for contract workers, discrimination in their workforce based on LGTB discrimination could cause the loss of a county contract by a company, but it would not restrict free speech about gay-rights issues or regulate public accommodations at the firm’s property, such as limiting who can do business with them in the private sector. This new policy says that those within the LGBT community can work “without living in fear of being fired for a reason that has nothing to do with their job performance,” said Commissioner Fred Miller, the Mount Clemens Democrat who has led the charge to amend county policy. The policy changes are not connected to any perceived nationwide gay rights agenda, he added. “This is not part of a larger motive. It is what it is.” Republican Commissioner Jim Carabelli of Shelby Township said LGBT protections should be handled at the state or national level, not at the local level where complaints about unfair treatment within county government have not surfaced. “Sometime the minority overrules the majority,” Carabelli said. “Sometimes … the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Proponents countered the policy specifically will not lead to unisex bathrooms or interference with workplace dress codes. County board Chairman Dave Flynn said the public dispute over gay rights is reminiscent of the debates throughout U.S. history on extending individual rights, such as those involving slavery, abortion, civil rights and bi-racial marriage. “People always say, ‘Where do we draw the line?’” said the Sterling Heights Democrat. “We draw the line so that, if anything, we err on the side of liberty and justice to all groups of people.” Under current state law, a person in the LGBT community can legally be fired, not hired, denied a promotion or paid a lower wage rate than colleagues based on their sexual orientation. Twenty-one states outlaw discrimination by employers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In Michigan, 33 cities and a few counties – most recently Wayne and Bay counties – have adopted policies that forbid discrimination based on LGBT factors. The Sterling Heights City Council recently passed a similar anti-discrimination ordinance, but not before facing a fierce backlash from some members of the community. Critics said the measure violated certain religious beliefs and set a bad moral example for young children. The Macomb County “Human Rights Policy” comes after a statewide poll in April conducted by Lansing-based Marketing Resources Group found that about 70 percent of Michigan voters – a solid majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents – believe the state Legislature should ban firings of people based on their sexual orientation of religious beliefs. On Monday, two attempts by GOP Commissioner Kathy Vosburg of Chesterfield to send the Macomb County policy proposal to a committee for further study failed. Two Democratic commissioners, Bob Smith of Clinton Township and Rob Mijac of Sterling Heights, were absent for the committee votes. The policy faces final approval by the full board September 18.

An update on a previous post: In Illinois, a music director at a suburban church who was fired after he became engaged to his same sex partner has met with Cardinal Francis George and said the men prayed together. Colin Collette, who recently was let go from his job at Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness, said that after he asked for the meeting, George responded right away. “I was incredibly grateful to the cardinal for meeting with me. This is an incredibly difficult time for him. ... I was moved beyond words that he would meet with me,” Collette said of George, who is battling cancer. “We prayed together. He was wonderful. He was very pastoral.” Collette declined to elaborate on the nature of the discussion Tuesday. He said he had sought the meeting in hopes of getting his job back. While there was no indication that would happen, Collette said the cardinal urged him to speak to his pastor. “My head is sort of spinning, but as I said over and over, my whole life has been the church. It's my love. It's my passion, and I pray for the opportunity to do that,” he said. “I'm not that naive to know that there are some people who believe that who I am basically is wrong. I'm not that naive, but the love and support I have received is truly humbling and is beyond words,” Collette said. The Archdiocese of Chicago had said that the meeting would be private and that the cardinal would not comment about it. Holy Family’s pastor, the Rev. Terry Keehan, also did not respond to a request for comment. Collette's firing in late July has upset many parishioners at Holy Family, and those who oppose the decision appear to outnumber those who support it, or at least have been more outspoken. Hundreds of people attended a parish meeting last month, with the vast majority speaking out in support of Collette and a church cantor announcing he would resign over Collette's dismissal. On Sunday, another large group of Collette's supporters held a prayer vigil in his honor outside the church before evening Mass. “I think the cardinal ... he's seen me around, and I didn't know if he knew me and my story in the church. I wanted to share that with him and he wanted to do the same with me,” Collette said.