Friday, December 12, 2014

Federal Judge Refuses To Lift Stay And Permit Immediate Same Sex Marriages In Texas Saying He Does Not Want To Act Precipitously, Kentucky Attorney General Beshear Joins Plaintiffs In Asking That U.S. Supreme Court Hear State's Same Sex Marriage Cases, Fayetteville Arkansas Voters Narrowly Repeal Ordinance Prohibiting Employment And Housing Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity, Ferndale Michigan Police Ask For Public Assistance Searching For Man Who Robbed Older Man He Met Via Online Gay Website, Alabama Department Of Revenue To Recall "NOHOMO" Personalized License Plate, Hundreds Sign Petition Calling For Immediate Resignation On Illinois' Warren Township School Board Member Who Expressed Concern At Hiring Gay Or Lesbian Superintendent, Washington D.C. Principal Peter Cahall Who Came Out At Pride Day Activities Loses Job, British Rowers Get Naked To Fight Homophobia And Promote Gender Tolerance

According to the Dallas Morning News, a federal judge has refused to permit immediate same sex marriages in Texas, saying he expects they will be allowed some day but he doesn’t want to act precipitously. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Friday rebuffed a request by gay and lesbian couples Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano and Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin that he allow gay marriages to begin taking place immediately. Although Garcia last February ruled that Texas’ gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, he held his ruling in abeyance so higher-ranking federal jurists could rule in similar cases from other states that were further along. On Friday, he noted that the Texas plaintiffs will square off against the office of state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending Texas’ ban, at a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on January 9. Garcia also emphasized that members of the New Orleans appellate court recently declined to let gay marriages begin in Mississippi, despite a similar ruling by a trial court judge there that a state ban is unconstitutional. Garcia noted the appellate judges in that case said a full examination of the dispute “is warranted before a disruption of a long standing status quo.” Quoting the circuit judges, Garcia said avoiding confusion is important. He repeated his Feb. 26 prediction that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide the issue. As for lifting his own stay, Garcia wrote that “such action would only be temporary, with confusion and doubt to follow. The day for finality and legal certainty in the long and difficult journey for equality is closer than ever before.” Neel Lane, a lawyer for the plaintiff couples, said he hopes so. “We are disappointed in the ruling, but are looking forward to our day in court before the 5th Circuit in January,” Lane said. Phariss, a lawyer, said that although he understands Garcia’s logic, further delays are frustrating. “Just like every straight couple in love, we simply want to marry each other,” he said of him and Holmes. They applied for a marriage license in San Antonio, and were rebuffed.

According to the Courier-Journal, attorneys for Gov. Steve Beshear have joined the plaintiffs in asking that the U.S. Supreme Court hear Kentucky's same sex marriage cases. In a pleading filed Monday at the high court, Beshear's private lawyers say that it is "important for Kentucky — and the country — that the court resolve the important question of who has the right to define marriage." Although the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Beshear, reversing federal court decisions that had struck down same sex marriage bans in Kentucky and three other states, the filing notes that Beshear has "consistently taken the position that the citizens of Kentucky deserve to have the highest court of the land determine" whether there is a constitutional right to gay marriage. The plaintiffs — six gay and lesbian couples from Kentucky — filed a petition November 18 asking the court to hear the case. It could instead elect to hear cases from Ohio, Michigan or Tennessee, which also were the subjects of the 6th Circuit's opinion. But the governor's motion said the Kentucky cases would be "excellent vehicles" to decide the issue because one involves the duty of states to recognize same sex marriages performed where they are legal while the other addresses whether Kentucky must allow them within its borders. "Although there are specific Kentucky laws challenged by the Petitioners, the importance of resolving the legal issues presented in the same sex marriage dispute is not unique to Petitioners or the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky," the governor's petition says. "Rather, final resolution of the constitutional questions presented in the same sex marriage debate is equally important to all citizens of this nation." Beshear hired outside counsel after Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend what he described as discriminatory laws. A 6th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 on November 6 to reverse two decisions by Senior District Judge John G. Heyburn II. In one of them, he held for Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon and three other couples that Kentucky must recognize same sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. In the other, he ruled for Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza and another couple, the Rev. Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard and Dominique James, that Kentucky must allow same sex marriages within its borders. The Kentucky plaintiffs claimed they are denied benefits given to opposite-sex couples who marry, including breaks on income and estate taxes, while Beshear's lawyers argued that Kentucky has the right to reserve those benefits only for couples who can naturally procreate.

In Arkansas, Fayetteville voters repealed a contentious new civil rights law on Tuesday. Final unofficial results showed 7,523 votes (52-percent) for repeal and 7,040 votes (48-percent) against repeal. The decision came during a special election called by petitioners who sought to repeal the new ordinance, which prohibits business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status, or veteran status. The law was passed by the Fayetteville City Council on August 20, but a group called Repeal 119 turned in enough signatures to put the ordinance on hold and force the special election. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 200 cities and counties across the country have passed anti-discrimination ordinances that offer protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Kansas City, Seattle and St. Louis. Smaller cities with similar laws include Springfield, Missouri; Starkville, Mississippi; Lawrence, Kansas; and Shreveport, Louisiana. Fayetteville voters successfully repealed a similar civil rights law in 1998 that would have prohibited the city from discriminating against homosexuals when hiring or firing city employees. The council first approved the ordinance, known as the Human Dignity Resolution. Then-Mayor Fred Hanna vetoed the proposal, but two weeks later, the council overturned Hanna’s veto. A group called Citizens Aware collected enough signatures to put the proposal on the November 3, 1998 ballot where it was repealed, 58-percent to 42-percent.

In Michigan, Ferndale police are seeking tips as they look for a man who robbed an older man after the two met through an online gay dating website. The strong-arm robbery happened about 7:30 pm Tuesday at the Motorama Motel, 100 W. Eight Mile Road. Police said the suspect is black, about 23 years old, 5-foot-10, slender and is known by the name Deonte Taylor. The Ferndale man, 64, told police he met the suspect on the Adam4Adam.com gay dating website about a month ago. “They had a sexual relationship and had multiple encounters over that time period,” said Ferndale Police Lt. William Wilson. “The suspect was getting ready to leave the victim’s room Tuesday and asked the victim for $10 for the bus.” When the older man refused, the suspect knocked the older man to the floor, police said. “He forcefully took about $90 from the victim’s pockets and left the room,” Wilson said. The older man called police right away, but officers were unable to locate the suspect. “The victim told us he had not been paying the suspect for sex during their month-long relationship,” Wilson said. Ferndale police early Wednesday released photos of the suspect and said they asking anyone who recognizes the suspect to call police at 248-541-3650. The suspect appears to have multiple tattoos on his upper chest and part of his lower left neck. Police said they got pictures of the suspect from his profile on Adam4Adam.com. He is now wanted for strong-arm robbery, a 15-year felony. The website has a list of safety tips for users, including advice to secure all of one’s valuables before inviting a “date” to one’s home, and questioning dates about where they live and work to see whether answers match up with a person’s online profile.

In Alabama, the Associated Press reports that the Department of Revenue says it will recall a personalized license plate with a gay slur. Revenue Department spokeswoman Amanda Collier says the license plate with the saying "NOHOMO" slipped past its three-member review panel. She says the state prohibits personalized tags with profane or vulgar messages. The slang phrase "no homo" is used when the speaker does not want to appear gay. The department became aware of the plate after a photograph of it on a black Mustang began circulating on social media Monday. Collier said Thursday that the car owner can appeal the decision. In 2013, the NBA fined Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert $75,000 for using the same slur and cursing at a news conference.

In Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune, more than 1,500 people including Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik have signed a petition calling for the immediate resignation of a Warren Township School Board member who expressed concern about hiring someone who is gay or lesbian to be the district’s next superintendent. Liz Biondi made the remarks at a Dec. 2 special meeting of the District 121 Board of Education, which convened to discuss its plan to replace outgoing Superintendent Mary Perry Bates. Toward the end of the meeting, Biondi said some residents would not want a gay superintendent. “I’m going to be blunt,” Biondi said at about the 2-hour and 30-minute mark. “I don’t want the superintendent to be, ummm, I have nothing, I have very good friends who are gay or lesbian. I’m concerned if we hire someone and we’re not aware of that background they might be fighting more personal fires than superintendent fires is I guess what I’m going to say," adding later, “I have no problems with gays and lesbians; I personally know many and I know some are closeted and I respect that.” Reached Thursday night, Biondi said she has been taken out of context and planned to release an official statement later in the evening. The resignation petition, which is posted at www.Change.org, was started by Jason Baker, who teaches English at the Gurnee-based district’s O’Plaine Campus. “She took an oath to uphold the Constitution. It’s illegal to discriminate and even if it wasn’t, it’s wrong,” Mayor Kovarik said. ”She didn’t say it was her personal opinion, she was doing this [saying] the community didn’t want a gay superintendent and that crossed the line for me. It’s irresponsible for an elected official," adding, “It’s an embarrassment. I’ve heard from students and past students and they are hurt.” Superintendent Bates also expressed outrage. “We’re extremely outraged at her statement,” Bates said. “It’s illegal, it’s offensive and it does not represent Warren High School," adding, “This has just blown up on Facebook with students and the public commenting,” she added. “The community, the board, the administration and staff completely reject her statement. We think she needs to resign, she’s become a distraction. I hope she does the right thing, if she really has concern for the students she will resign.”

The Washington Post reports that Peter Cahall, the Wilson High School principal who made national headlines last year when he came out as gay to his students at Pride Day activities, said he learned this month that his contract will not be renewed next school year because of test-score performance at the Northwest Washington school. He notified parents and students of his impending departure in an e-mail late Friday afternoon. “I [am] determined to finish this school year with as much passion, energy and commitment that I have invested in the last six,” Cahall wrote. “I have transitioned through the five stages of grief. . . . Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I am at the acceptance stage.” In an interview, Cahall said he had not intended to make a contentious exit. But in a letter to the D.C. Council that Washington City Paper first published Friday afternoon, Cahall called the decision “arbitrary and capricious” and criticized the system’s adversarial relationship with school leaders. “I wish you well in moving the school system forward and want nothing more than for DCPS to be successful,” Cahall wrote. “Unfortunately, when you have this type of adversarial relationship with the leaders of the schools, I do not believe that success is possible.” D.C. principals work under one-year contracts, and they are evaluated annually on six criteria: instruction, talent, school culture, operations, family and community, and personal leadership. The process means that principals must demonstrate their worth each year, and it yields a wave of annual departures. That turnover has prompted ongoing public debate about leadership instability in the city’s schools. Wilson is by far the city’s largest comprehensive public high school, with more than 1,700 students. It is located in Ward 3, the most affluent part of the District, but it serves a wider and more diverse population racially and socioeconomically. Former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee hired Cahall, a former Montgomery County school administrator, in 2008. Parents credit him with helping to bring more order and efficiency to the crowded school, and he oversaw a top-to-bottom renovation of the school in 2010. During his tenure, Wilson has boasted one of the city’s highest numbers of Advanced Placement offerings and a graduation rate well above the city average. D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (Ward 3) said that Cahall has been “highly regarded” and “well respected” by parents and that she was “somewhat skeptical of the basis” for his termination. “If you look at the whole course of his record and the esteem in which he’s held, I think it’s somewhat of a surprise. I would be interested to know how it’s warranted,” she said. Cahall said in the letter that he was told that he is losing his job because “I have not moved the school forward academically based on the DCCAS scores.” Wilson is classified as a “focus school,” the second-lowest of five tiers on a rating system used for federal accountability purposes. According to the DCPS Web site, the designation means that the school needs “targeted support” to address achievement gaps in testing performance between groups of students. The school has posted significant disparities over time in math and reading proficiency rates for white and African American students. In the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, more than 90-percent of white students were proficient or advanced on city exams, while proficiency rates hovered between 45 and 50 percent for African American students. But last school year, African Americans saw a double-digit increase in performance, to 59 percent proficiency in math and 62-percent proficiency in reading. In his letter to the council, Cahall included the recent test-score gains as an example of his accomplishments during the past six years. He also cited his leadership during a $120 million modernization that involved a one-year move off campus, as well as increases in the number of Advanced Placement exams students have taken and passed. Terry Lynch, a parent and school activist, said Cahall was under “enormous pressure” given how crowded the school is and how it’s compared with selective schools or charter schools that are able to restrict enrollment or admissions in different ways. “You have a principal . . . who is expected to achieve miracles,” he said.

The New York Times reports that in the United States, amateur sports teams raise money with bake sales, car washes and dance parties. In England they take their clothes off and pose for calendars. Or so it seemed last Tuesday night, when four scantily clad rowers from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, were in town to promote their 2015 beefcake calendar, posing for the news media and (mostly gay) fans at Out NYC, a “straight friendly” hotel on West 42nd Street. With the Empire State Building lit up in union jack colors to commemorate the visit of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton, the rowers wore clinging singlets particularly ill-suited for a wet December night. One rower, Matt Dabell, 22, lost his uniform while traveling from Los Angeles (the prior stop on a promotional tour) and arrived shirtless, with a pair of low-slung jeans that revealed his gray briefs. “It’s worth it for the cause,” said Mr. Dabell, a computer science major. The cause, as it were, wasn’t just to raise money for the Warwick Rowers, the university’s crew team. It’s to fight homophobia and promote gender tolerance through Sport Allies, an organization they formed in 2012 to help their largely gay audience. Since the first calendar went on sale six years ago, the clothing-challenged rowers have raised more than $450,000. For the 2015 edition, which they unveiled in London in October, Sir Ian McKellen hosted the event, although he made it clear he would keep his clothes on. Kylie Minogue and Stephen Fry are supporters, too. “Sports can be an amazing arena for personal development,” said Angus Malcolm, the photographer and instigator of the campaign. “They can also be a personal hell for gay people.” Promotional tours can be a challenge as well. During the question-and-answer period, “the boys,” as the rowers are called, who had endured heckling on the street in West Hollywood, California, had to tell ogling strangers about their love lives (they identify as straight) and whether posing naked felt awkward (as natural as showering together, they said, and getting easier each time). Then the rowers screened an hourlong video, Some Like It Hotter, in which they carried their boat and oars like so many naked Abercrombie & Fitch models, sprayed one another with foam and paint, and lingered in the grass fully exposed. While the video played, the rowers stood near the back of the bar, and posed with anyone who asked. That included a group of three women. “Single women here just see you and go for it,” said Thomas Robinson, 21, fluffy-haired and a student of politics and history. “They’re more bullish in the U.S. than they are in the U.K.” Gay men can be bullish, too. “If I feel someone touching my behind,” said Oliver Greene, a 21-year-old history major and the burliest of the bunch, “I usually just ask to please refrain from doing that.” After the event, “the boys,” who would be heading to Miami after taping an interview with Andy Cohen for Watch What Happens Live on Bravo, changed into their civilian clothes and filed through the crowd. They passed by a go-go boy, who wore nothing but tiny red briefs that made their singlets look like morning coats. The go-go boy began writhing on top of the bar. Mr. Greene, now safely wrapped in jeans and a bulky wool sweater, looked him over. “He’s a better dancer than I am,” he said.







Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Grade 6 Girl's Project On Gay Rights Will Proceed After Ottawa Catholic School Boards Says A "Misunderstanding" Prompted St George Principal To Ban Social Assignment, Lexington Kentucky Tee-Shirt Company Appeals Human Rights Commission Finding That Discriminated Against Gay And Lesbian Services Organization, Lincoln Nebraska Mayor Approves Changes Allowing Same Sex Spouses Of City Employees To Receive Benefits, Michigan Republican-Led House Approves Legislation Protecting Anti-Gay Discrimination Based On Religious Freedoms

In Ontario, according to the Citizen, a “misunderstanding” between an Ottawa Catholic school principal and two Grade 6 students led to a ban on their proposed social justice project on gay rights, according to the board’s education director, Julian Hanlon. Hanlon said the girls’ project will go ahead following a meeting Monday night between the students’ parents and the principal of St. George elementary school. “The principal’s initial decision was based on the initial things the students had asked to present on,” Hanlon said in an interview Tuesday, adding, “There was definitely some misunderstanding about exactly where the presentation would go.” Hanlon said he did not want to go into specifics about reasons for the initial veto, which attracted widespread attention. He said that “once the media storm died down last week,” the principal contacted the parents. “They did meet and had a good discussion about things and came to an understanding about what the presentation would be about and how to move things forward.” According to Hanlon, the board was never involved in the decision to quash the project. He pointed to a document called Respecting Differences released in 2012 by the Ontario Catholic School Board Trustee’s Association and meant to act as a guideline for Catholic schools in helping teachers and administrators deal with issues pertaining to race, religion and sexual orientation or identity. The document urges “all members of Catholic school communities (to) work together in an atmosphere of safety and respect for the dignity of one another regardless of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, disability, creed (includes religion), sex, sexual orientation, age, family status and marital status.” It later states: “this Resource is based upon the need to recognize that it is possible to respect, affirm and support the dignity of another person while at the same time disagreeing with their viewpoint on sexual morality. This understanding is important in society generally but with respect to differences based upon conscience and religious beliefs, it is essential to restate the importance of respect for differences at this time.” Hanlon said the document is known to principals and school officials across the province. He said it makes plain that presentations and debate about controversial issues, such as gay rights, should take place in Catholic schools. “It’s quite clear in there that Catholic schools do respect and welcome all and are prepared to, if you want to talk about presentations, allow presentations,” he said. “That information is already out there.” Parents of the two girls were not available to comment Tuesday. Monday’s meeting was the second between the parents and principal to discuss the plan by Quinn Maloney-Tavares, 11, and Polly Hamilton, 11, to use gay rights as a basis for their social justice project. The first meeting ended with the ban on the project being upheld. Hanlon wouldn’t comment on why it took two meetings between the parents and the principal to clear up the issue. The girls wanted to examine gay rights in a project for a January Social Justice Fair that would be seen by students in grades 4 to 6. St. George principal Ann Beauchamp vetoed the project in late November, citing concerns about the age appropriateness of the material the two would present. Quinn’s mother, Ann Maloney, told the Citizen earlier that the principal held steadfast in the first meeting with the parents. “She felt very strongly about her decision,” Maloney said. A November 28 statement from the Ottawa Catholic School Board chair suggests the board held discussions with the principal. “What has since become clear … is that the motives behind the planned presentation by the two young girls were simply to combat the kinds of behaviour and attitudes that can lead to bullying of gay people, and violations of human rights,” said the statement from board chairman Ted Hurley. Hurley said the principal would contact the parents to arrange “a followup discussion to resolve this matter,” adding, “We support the students’ sense of fair play and respect for all persons.”

In Kentucky, the Herald-Leader reports that owners of Hands On Originals have appealed a decision by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Human Rights Commission that the company discriminated against the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington by refusing to print the group's Lexington Pride Festival tee-shirts in 2012. The appeal, filed Monday in Fayette Circuit Court, alleges the commission's ruling violates the tee-shirt company's freedom of expression and religion. In October, after a two-year process, the commission decided that Hands On Originals violated Lexington's fairness ordinance, which prohibits businesses from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation. Hands On Originals said it declined the tee-shirt order because of religious beliefs and disagreed with the shirt's message — a stylized numeral 5 on the front, and "Lexington Pride Festival" with a list of sponsors of the gay pride event on the back. Jim Campbell, senior counsel for The Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona group representing Hands On Originals, said the appeal was filed because "no one should be forced by the government to endorse or promote ideas they disagree with." The appeal is asking that the commission's ruling be overturned, Campbell said; the suit seeks no damages. An attorney for the commission could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, according to the Journal Star, Mayor Chris Beutler recently approved changes that will allow same sex spouses of city employees to receive health insurance and other benefits. Beutler’s decision to accept Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s definition of marriage, which includes same sex marriages, opens the door to city benefits being extended to same sex spouses of city employees. The city’s insurance carrier changed its definition of marriage following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. The high court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor invalidated the portion of the federal act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibited federal benefits from being denied to legally married same sex couples. “The city accepted the new definition because it doesn't make sense to deny legally married same sex couples the same insurance benefits that we grant to other legally married couples,” said Rick Hoppe, Beutler's chief of staff. The change comes following a decision by county officials last month not to extend most pension benefits to same sex spouses of county employees. Several Lancaster County Board members said extending benefits to same sex spouses would have violated Nebraska’s Defense of Marriage Amendment, which banned same sex marriage. The Supreme Court ruling, however, will force the county to extend federal pension benefits related to hardship withdrawals, minimum required distributions and direct rollovers to same sex spouses of county employees. States can still choose not to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. That means state and local governments still can decide whether to extend benefits that aren't subject to federal rules to same sex partners. Doug McDaniel, city-county human resources director, said the change in the city’s benefits plan became effective November 1. It allows same sex spouses of city employees to receive medical, dental, life and vision insurance and receive the same retirement benefits as heterosexual married couples would receive. He said same sex spouses of city employees must show proof of their marriage, which must have been performed in a state that allows same sex marriage, in order to receive city benefits. McDaniel said the change will have little impact on the cost of the city’s benefits plan. The city plans to look at other possible benefits that might be extended to same sex spouses over the next year, he said. Hoppe said extending benefits to same sex spouses of employees will allow the city to compete with other government entities that provide such benefits. “The city must attract talented workers and extending same sex benefits helps make us more competitive,” he said.

In Michigan, forty years after East Lansing became the first city in the United States to ban discrimination against gay residents, Mayor Nathan Triplett is worried that the state may undermine those protections. A proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, approved last week by Michigan’s Republican-led House, would let individuals or businesses seek exemptions to government regulations they feel substantially burden their sincerely held religious beliefs. For East Lansing, that could provoke challenges to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, or any number of other generally applicable laws. “This legislation, as drafted, essentially creates a cause of action against any governmental entity and will expose us to the quite-likely possibility of having to use scarce taxpayer resources to defend against frivolous claims against the city,” said Triplett, a Democrat. East Lansing is one of 33 Michigan cities with a fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, according to Triplett, who said language first adopted by his city has been used as a model for local governments across the state. Michigan lawmakers have long discussed adding statewide protections for gay residents, but the latest business-backed effort stalled last week amidst a dispute over transgender-specific language. Triplett called the legislative failure a setback for the state and said the RFRA, if passed, “will undermine some of these ordinances which, as a result of the Legislature’s inaction, will be the only protections that LGBT residents have from discrimination.” With the LGBT bill stuck in committee, opponents are calling the proposed RFRA a “license to discriminate,” echoing language used last year in Arizona during a contentious debate over expanding that state's existing religious freedom law. But those characterizations are “way overblown,” according to University of Virginia School of Law professor Douglas Laycock, a legal scholar and religious liberty advocate who is supporting the Michigan bill. “It hasn’t happened anywhere else — not at the federal level or the 19 states that have these kinds of laws,” said Laycock, who graduated from Michigan State University and serves on the law school's board of trustees. “The courts have generally held that preventing discrimination is a compelling government interest.” The proposal calls for a two-part legal test to determine if the government had a compelling interest for enacting a statute that limited religious liberty and used the least restrictive means possible to achieve that goal. The Michigan Constitution guarantees religious freedom, and Laycock said the proposed legislation would largely codify constitutional law as it has already been interpreted, preventing courts from altering that interpretation in the future. The federal RFRA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, was motivated by a Supreme Court decision allowing the state of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to Native Americans who used peyote as part of a religious ritual. Fast forward 20 years, and Hobby Lobby used RFRA when it claimed a religious objection to a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring it to provide no-cost access to specific types of contraceptives. The Supreme Court, in its Hobby Lobby decision, fundamentally expanded the scale and scope of RFRA, according to Elliot Mincberg, general counsel and legal director of People for the American Way, a progressive group based in Washington D.C. “Our concern is, based on Hobby Lobby and some language in the Michigan bill, that it’s quite likely to be applied to try to exempt business and others from obeying anti-LGBT protections,” he said. Mincberg was part of a coalition that pushed for and helped draft the federal RFRA in the early 90s, but he is now urging Michigan to reject its own version. He argued that the Supreme Court erred by treating the for-profit company as a person and finding that the government imposed a substantial burden on the owners' religious beliefs -- as opposed to the exercise of those beliefs. The Hobby Lobby decision turned RFRA from a "shield" into a "sword" that could potentially “puncture” other laws, Mincberg said, including LGBT non-discrimination ordinances. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the 5-4 majority, said that RFRA should not be used to excuse discrimination as a “religious practice to escape legal sanction,” but Mincberg noted that the section referenced only racial discrimination, not LGBT policies. Nationally, a handful of high-profile cases have tested the interplay of religious freedom laws and LGBT anti-discrimination protections. In one case, an Albuquerque photographer refused to work at a same-sex commitment ceremony. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the photographer violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and that the state RFRA did not apply because the government was not a party. The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal. “There aren’t people going around saying, for religious reasons, I won’t serve gays or I won’t serve blacks,” said Laycock. “The only cases that actually arise are about (same sex) weddings.” Laycock, who also defended the Arizona bill that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, said he believes that Michigan should move forward with the proposed RFRA and the statewide gay anti-discrimination measure. “They both need protections. They’ve both got people out to get them,” he said. “A lot of folks on the left and gay rights advocates think conservative Christians are evil terrible people, and a lot of conservative people think gays and lesbians are doing awful and terrible things.” The Michigan bill mirrors the federal RFRA but includes an additional provision indicating that it "shall be construed in favor of broad protection of religious exercise to the maximum extent permitted." That language could tip the scales in court, according to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which has long urged the state to adopt LGBT anti-discrimination protections and expressed concerns with the proposed RFRA last week. “We believe government should, to the greatest extent possible, accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of each of its citizens,” Deputy Director Leslie Fritz said in written testimony. “However, a religious accommodation can never be used to justify harming the rights of others.” While legal scholars may disagree on potential application of RFRA, Fritz suggested one way to minimize confusion: An amendment, modeled after a Texas version, clarifying that the act would not trump anti-discrimination laws. “This simple amendment would ensure that no civil rights protections are weakened, intentionally or unintentionally, by passage of this bill,” she said. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) proposed a similar amendment on the House floor. It was rejected before the bill advanced to the Senate in a straight party-line vote. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) disputed the “license to discriminate” charge when introducing the religious freedom proposal last week, and a spokesperson on Tuesday attempted to rebuff other “wild claims” being made and shared on social media. “Governments always have sufficient justification to prohibit physical violence, prevent discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, or sex, and protect public health,” said Ari Adler. “Suggestions that people will suddenly be able to ignore existing laws are nothing more than scaremongering tactics without any basis in reality.” The upper chamber has two weeks to consider the measure before the so-called lame-duck session comes to an end.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Zealand Pastor Admits Authoring E-Mail Praying That Gay Writer Commit Suicide, Police Raid Cairo Bath House And Arrest 26 Men, U.S. National Security Council Voices Concern About Gambia's New Draconian Anti-Gay Law, Northern Ireland MLA Attempts To Introduce "Conscience Clause" Into Equity Law After Legal Action Taken Against Christian-Owned Bakery That Refused To Serve Gay Customer, Owner Of Boutique In Toronto's Bloor West Village Says Her Store Repeatedly Target Of Anti-Gay Graffiti, 12-Year-Old Ronin Shimizu Commits Suicide After Suffering Anti-Gay Bullying, Anchorage Alaska Gay Couple Victim Of Anti-Gay Vandalism, Florida Same Sex Marriage Same Sex Marriage Struck Down Again, No Same Sex Marriages Allowed In Mississippi While State Defends Ban, Gay Music Director Fired After Engagement To Male Partner Files Federal Discrimination Against Suburban Chicago Catholic Church

In New Zealand, the Herald reports that a local pastor has admitted sending an abusive e-mail to a prominent gay author in which he prayed for the author's death. Logan Robertson told Auckland writer Jim Marjoram: "I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy fag." Mr Robertson, from Westcity Bible Baptist Church, was replying to a message Marjoram sent to Auckland churches about his new autobiography, It's Life Jim, and support group Silent Gays. The exchange, which was shared on Reddit and Facebook, has sparked outrage on social media. Mr Robertson told NZME. News Service he "hadn't really had a look" at the reaction to his e-mail and denied he had done anything wrong. He added: "I didn't tell him to go and commit suicide. I said I prayed that he would. All I did was write what I wrote, and then I prayed about it that he would, and that's it. There's nothing more to say." Marjoram's book details his struggle with his sexuality and his life as a fundamentalist Christian for over 40 years. In his e-mail to Marjoram, Mr Robertson quoted and referred to parts of the Bible. "We are not interested in your filthy lifestyle or book. The Bible says you are vile, strange (queer), reprobate, filth, sodomite, natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed. I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy fag." According to its website, the Westcity Bible Baptist Church is a "family-oriented independent Bible-believing Baptist church." Mr Robertson was born and raised in New Zealand. He is married and the couple have three young children, the website said. Marjoram, originally from Sydney and previously involved in Christian ex-gay groups, said the e-mail was shocking but he wasn't too fazed about it. "I guess he just sort of epitomises what a lot of fundamentalists and that type of really heavy religious people [have as] attitudes," he said. "I realized it's exactly the sort of reason why I created my support group, because of people like him and those attitudes that...creep through the church." Since Mr Robertson's e-mail he had received messages of support from New Zealand and around the world "The internet's going crazy. I'm getting swamped from people all over the world saying they've posted on different LGBT [lesbian gay bisexual trans] sites and Christian sites in England, Canada, USA, Australia." Marjoram said he had no plans to lay a formal complaint. He said several congregations in Auckland, including St Matthew in the City and Ponsonby Baptist, had supported his book and support group. The Human Rights Commission has condemned the e-mail. "New Zealanders who preach hate and violence are fundamentalists, they are extremists and they are the problem," said Human Rights Commissioner Richard Tankersley. Hatemongers who attack gay Kiwis need to know their behaviour has no place in Aotearoa. This is an appalling case and I know most New Zealanders will find it offensive and unacceptable" said Mr Tankersley. I encourage Kiwis to not be bystanders, to stand up if we witness hate attacks whether it's in a pub, in your church or even on social media. Let victims know they're not alone: but crucially let perpetrators know New Zealanders will not stand by silent while they spread hate and violence."

In Egypt, police detained 26 men in a raid on a Cairo bath house after receiving a tip that they were holding gay orgies, a security source said on Monday. Homosexuality is not specifically banned under Egyptian law, but the state does persecute and imprison gay men on charges such "debauchery" and "shameless public acts." If tried and convicted they could face lengthy prison terms. According to the Telegraph, the men were dragged out of the bath house, or hammam, naked in downtown Cairo, according to one official. After the men were taken away overnight, a public prosecutor said they would be held for four days pending a decision on whether to press formal charges of debauchery. The raid comes a month after an Egyptian court convicted eight men for "inciting debauchery" following their appearance in an alleged same sex wedding party on a Nile boat, sentencing each of them to three years in prison.

Reuters reports that President Barack Obama's National Security Council (NSC) has voiced concern over Gambia's moves to block access to top United Nations human rights investigators and enact tough new legislation against homosexuality. Gambia's foreign minister in early December vowed to sever dialogue with the European Union after the bloc, an important donor to the West African nation, raised similar criticisms. "We remain concerned about ongoing reports of forced disappearances and arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, human rights advocates, and civil servants," NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said. In the statement, released on Thursday and read on Gambian state-owned radio and television, the NSC said it was also disappointed in the Gambian government's failure to investigate the disappearance of two U.S. citizens missing since June 2013. Though the statement did not name the missing Americans, it was apparently referring to Alhaji Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe, two Gambian-born U.S. citizens, who had traveled to the capital Banjul to look into opening a computer business. During a visit to Gambia last month, the U.N.'s investigators for illegal killings and for torture heard allegations of extrajudicial executions of government opponents, journalists and activists and the widespread use of torture. However, they said they were prevented from visiting parts of the main prison in Banjul despite earlier receiving approval. President Yahya Jammeh - a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup - signed into law legislation in October that introduced the crime of 'aggravated homosexuality', making it punishable in some cases with life in prison. The definition covers cases such as homosexual relations with someone under the age of 18, or a person with HIV having homosexual sex. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said Gambia's new law violates fundamental human rights and has called for its repeal. Rights watchdog Amnesty International says more than a dozen people have already been arrested under the legislation. The NSC criticized the law and said it was concerned by calls by senior officials for the persecution of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. "Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and we will be guided by these values as we respond to these negative developments in The Gambia," it said. Gambia's government did not immediately respond to the NSC statement.

In Northern Ireland, a DUP assembly member has begun an attempt to introduce a "conscience clause" into equality law, following legal action taken against a Christian-owned bakery. The Equality Commission has brought a civil case against Ashers Baking Company after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-same sex marriage slogan. Paul Givan's Private Members Bill aims to create a legal exemption on grounds of strongly held religious beliefs. According to the BBC, he said the law had to be rebalanced. "The dilemma facing people of faith is the choice of violating their sincerely held beliefs or going out of business," he said. Mr Givan said it was a choice between a society "that can make space for difference or one that is intolerant," adding, "Our democracy for centuries sought to make reasonable accommodation for religious belief and freedom of conscience. This was enshrined as far back as the 1700s, with the rights of conscientious objectors not to serve in the military. This shows laws for the majority making space to accommodate minorities." He said the Equality Commission's legal action had "created a hierarchy of rights where all minorities are not to be treated equally," adding that, "Gay rights, and the right to have those rights endorsed and promoted by everyone, is more important than the rights of Christians to live according to their conscience." Mr Givan said he had "taken the unusual step of publishing the specific legislation so people can see exactly what is proposed." John O'Doherty of the Rainbow Project, a gay rights charity, said the proposed legislation was "not motivated by a desire to protect those of religious belief but by a hostility to lesbian, gay and bisexual people and their hard-won rights," adding that, "This is just updating, 'no dogs, no blacks, no Irish' to include 'no gays.'" The row first emerged in July, when Ashers revealed it was facing possible legal action over its decision to decline a customer's request. The cake had been ordered in Belfast by a gay activist, for a civic event in Bangor, County Down, marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Ashers Baking Company said it had declined the request because it was "at odds" with its Christian beliefs. Last month, Equality Commissioner Michael Wardlow told a Stormont committee hearing: "We have a situation where there is equality legislation, and we have supported an individual who believes that under that equality legislation, he has been discriminated against."

In Toronto, the owner of a Bloor West Village clothing boutique says her store has repeatedly been the target of anti-gay graffiti. Carolyn Eby, the owner of Trove, says she’s filed three police reports since August because vandals keep covering up a pride flag displayed in the storefront window. “This is a hate crime in my opinion, this is a gesture of hate,” Eby told CBC News. Previously, the vandals used cardboard or rubber cement to cover the flag. But this week, Eby arrived at her business to find a hateful message scrawled in white spray paint on the back of the building. “Be happy not gay,” read the graffiti. Despite concern for her store, Eby has taken a defiant tone and says she will not remove the pride flag from her shop window. “It’s clear that somebody is trying to silence us, but that is something we are not willing to do.” Helen Hastings, the owner of a store two doors down from Trove, said that businesses in the area will rally to support Eby and the fight for equality. “We should be able to express how we feel,” said Hasting. “I would put a sign like that in my window and I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable putting it in my window.”

In California, the Sacramento Bee reports that the tragic story of a Folsom seventh grader who committed suicide after what family and friends called bullying has spread worldwide in news accounts and prompted a fundraising campaign and a Facebook page devoted to remembering him. Ronin Shimizu, 12, who had been home schooled over the last year in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, committed suicide on Wednesday at home Parents, in a moving statement to the public, called Ronin both empathetic and funny. Reports of bullying in recent years at a former school and over his participation as a male cheerleader for a team outside the district have appeared in the DailyMail, an online paper in the United Kingdom, the international website www.inquisitr.com, the New York Daily News and across social media. A Ronin Shimizu memorial fundraising effort began Saturday at GoFundMe.com and had raised more than $6,000 by Monday morning. Mourners were sharing condolences on a community Facebook page, Ronin's Voice. Ronin’s parents, Brandon and Danielle Shimizu, said in their statement that their lives have changed forever. They expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support. “Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth,” they said. Ronin was a child “not afraid to follow his heart,” the parents said, “and we did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed. Ronin loved to be a cheerleader, they said, and loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing. “It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin,” they said. The school district issued its own statement over the weekend. “Hearts continue to ache throughout our school communities over the tragic loss of young Ronin Shimizu. Please continue to keep his family, friends and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this terribly difficult time,” wrote Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt. “As we all process our shock and sadness, our school district has understandably received many questions about how we address bullying in our schools.” Spokesperson Daniel Thigpen said the district is getting feedback from the community about bullying and reviewing bullying episodes involving Ronin when he was a sixth-grader at Folsom Middle School in 2013. “We are very moved by the outpouring of support from the community,” Thigpen said. He said the conversation about bullying needs to continue with both the district and community members to tackle bullying wherever it occurs, even if it’s not on campus. “They are still our students,” he said. “We want to make sure they are free from bullying in their classroom and extracurricular activities ... both on and off campus.” Thigpen said last week that instances of bullying against Ronin had been reported in recent years. “I can tell you we looked into each one of them and investigated them fully and took appropriate action for each instance.” He said Monday that the district “is taking this opportunity to see how we respond to all the cases of bullying in recent years so we can have all the information we need to respond moving forward.” Ronin, who turned 12 in June, was enrolled at Folsom Cordova Community Charter School. Students there study independently at home and pursue the curriculum from the district. Teachers, parents and students meet every two weeks at Sutter Middle School.

In Alaska, KTVA reports that a same sex couple in Anchorage says their home was tagged with various acts of vandalism, including an obscene sign left on their vehicle. “The biggest thing was that poster that my husband found on his windshield,” said Adam Jacobson. “His car was facing the garage, so they came all the way up the driveway to put that sign on the windshield.” Jacobson says he arrived to his home, located in the University Area neighborhood, at about 1:30 am Saturday. He stayed in his car on the phone for a few hours before going to check the mailbox. There, he says, was when he noticed something was wrong. “There was some kind of nasty, it was like, frozen soup,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell what it was. It was all on top of and inside the mailbox.” He says the substance wasn’t on the other tenant’s mailbox, just his. He brushed it off initially as a prank, until his partner found the sign Thursday morning. “We also noticed there was at least one eggshell on our front porch,” Jacobson said. “And what was also bizarre was that in the backyard, there were three half-empty pickle jars strewn about.” Jacobson says the eggshells, pickles and soupy substance wouldn’t have made them feel victimized — but the sign was “pretty scary.” The sign found on the vehicle appears to be many signs, of various colors, pieced together, containing anti-gay slurs and drawings, among other obscenities. Jacobson believes the incident occurred before he arrived home, as he’s sure he would’ve seen someone while he was in the car on the phone. “The whole thing kind of felt like they had observed us or they were at least familiar with who we were,” he said. “It was planned. They clearly put a lot of effort into that poster.” The two have been married about a year and a half and have lived in their current house for at least four years, Jacobson says. “I suspect that people that think this way and believe these things probably are feeling marginalized and feeling like sort of victims of the progressive moment,” Jacobson responded when asked if he thought this incident was a retaliation to the recent legalization of gay marriage in Alaska. “And maybe those sort of feelings of victimhood are what sparked this sort of behavior.” Jacobson, who has since posted the obscene sign on Facebook, says the response he’s received from family, friends and community members has been uplifting. “It just proved what I already suspected,” he said. “Which is that we have a really great, supportive community.” Dani Myren, spokesperson for the Anchorage Police Department, has confirmed that a police report related to this incident was filed Saturday morning. The incident was called in just after 10:00 am, and an officer was sent to the house to collect the sign as evidence, Myren says. The investigation is ongoing.

In Florida, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the state's ban on same sex marriages is back off the books in Broward County. On Monday, Broward Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen issued a ruling striking down the state's same sex marriage ban, just as several county judges had before him – including Broward Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen. The case involved Heather Brassner, who wanted a divorce after getting a civil union in Vermont in 2002. But Florida's ban on same sex marriages prevents the state from recognizing same sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states. Therefore, Brassner couldn't get divorced in the state. She went to court to fight and on August 4, after hearing her case, Cohen overturned Florida's same sex marriage ban. However, Cohen vacated his ruling when he learned that Brassner's attorneys did not give the state enough time to file an appeal. On Monday, Cohen once again ruled the ban unconstitutional and put his ruling on hold pending appeal. Still, that will not affect the swiftly approaching deadline in a federal case in Tallahassee. Federal judge Robert Hinkle overturned Florida's same-sex marriage ban on August 21, and put his ruling on hold until January 5. A federal appeals court still needs to hear the case, and could reverse Hinkle's decision, but that will not happen until well after the January 5. The only way the deadline can now be extended is if the full appellate court or the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to extend Hinkle's stay, which lawyers involved in the case consider a long shot. So, barring unlikely circumstances, on January 6, gay and lesbian couples in Florida can get marriage licenses, and Florida must recognize those already married in other states. Also, Heather Brassner can finally get that divorce.

According to the Associated Press, a federal appeals court said late last week that same sex marriages will not be allowed in Mississippi while the state defends its gay marriage ban. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday agreed to a quick process for considering a dispute over Mississippi's definition of who can marry. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves overturned Mississippi's gay marriage ban on November 25, but put his decision on hold for two weeks to give the state time to appeal his ruling. On Thursday, the 5th Circuit said the state cannot issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples during the appeals process. The 5th Circuit also has appeals pending on disputes over gay marriage bans in Texas and Louisiana.

In Illinois, a music director fired from his job at a northwest suburban Catholic church after he got engaged to his male partner filed a federal discrimination complaint Thursday. Colin Collette worked at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness for 17 years before being terminated from the job in late July after he announced his engagement on Facebook. At the time, Rev. Terence Keehan told him that his same sex relationship violated the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, he said. Collette, of Chicago, filed the complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and marital status against Keehan and the parish's manager. "It is with deep regret that I have had to pursue this course of action," Collette said at a press conference Thursday. "I have chosen to enter into a marriage, as is my right under Illinois law, and perhaps I can open the door to other men and women who the church has chosen to exclude from the community." Parish officials could not be reached for comment. Susan Burritt, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said in a written statement, "The Archdiocese of Chicago has not seen the complaints that Mr. Collette has filed with the civil authorities and so we are unable to comment on them. We will respond to the complaints in the forums in which they are filed at the appropriate time." Collette's claims were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, the local body that handles discrimination allegations. A federal discrimination complaint generally has to be filed and reviewed before a person can sue a former employer over alleged discrimination. The EEOC can issue an aggrieved employee a notice of the right to sue the employer or, in rare cases, the agency can sue the employer on the employee's behalf. The success or failure of Collette's claim will likely turn on what's called the "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination law, legal experts said. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that religious institutions have broad latitude in hiring and firing people whose jobs include religious roles. The ruling left room for interpretation on the issue of which employees are considered ministerial, experts said. The exception extends beyond clergy; the woman who was the subject of the 2012 ruling was a teacher at a Lutheran school. Collette was removed from his position July 27 after posting on his Facebook page that he was engaged to be married to his longtime partner, Will Nifong. Collette's firing upset many parishioners at Holy Family, drawing hundreds of people to a meeting at the church in August. Most who spoke at the event voiced support for Collette, and a church cantor announced his resignation because of Collette's dismissal. Collette has said that church leaders knew he was gay long before he posted the announcement of his wedding plans on Facebook. Collette met with now-retired Cardinal Francis George after the firing, but was not able to reclaim his job. Collette's lawyer, Kerry Lavelle, said negotiations with the church and archdiocese led nowhere. Collette has reached out to Chicago's new archbishop, Blase Cupich, but has received no response, LaVelle said. "The archbishop will not take his calls," Lavelle said. "(Collette) wants his job back. That's what this is about." In November, Holy Family announced the hiring of Gene Garcia as the new director of music, according to the church website. Legislation legalizing same sex marriage in Illinois took effect on June 1.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Alberta PC Government Amends Misguided Gay-Straight Alliance Bill, Edmonton Yellow Cab Company Fires Driver Who Refused Drag Queen Passenger, Federal Appeals Court Denies Request By Colorado Attorney General To Reverse Ruling Overturning State Same Sex Marriage Ban, Appeals Court Rules Stay In Florida Same Sex Marriage Will Expire January 5, Michigan Legislation Designed To Prohibit Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Stalls In Committee

Yet another update on a previous post: In Alberta, according to the Canadian Press, the government is amending its bill dealing with gay support groups for students in the face of stiff pressure from critics and even from some in its own caucus. The controversial bill, introduced Monday, denied students the automatic right to form Gay-Straight Alliances. Instead, it forced students to go to the courts if a school board denied a request for such a group. The amendment removes the reference to the courts. It says if a board denies a Gay-Straight Alliance, the government will facilitate the creation of such a group. It was not immediately clear whether that means it would force schools to offer such groups on site or at a different location. Sandra Jansen, the member of the legislature who is sponsoring the bill, says the bottom line is a student who wants a Gay-Straight Alliance will get one. But opposition politicians say the amendment may end up only serving to segregate gay youth.

Also in Alberta, the taxi driver who refused a ride to an Edmonton drag queen and kicked him out of the car has been fired, according to the company that employed the cabbie. Yellow Cab president Phil Strong said that the driver was a new hire who had only been working with the company for a week. “ You know, it didn't make any sense. It's not a good sign in your first week,” he said. “We don’t tolerate that, so we had to let the driver go.” The drag queen, who asked to be referred to as his stage name of Binki, told CBC News that he had called the cab after a performance on Sunday night. He gave his legal name to the dispatcher, but when he got into the cab he was told to leave. “I was half in, half out of the cab, you know, looking fabulous – and he was just – 'get out.'” Binki said he was shocked and left the cab. He then immediately phoned the Yellow Cab dispatcher, who was apologetic, and complained. Strong says he first heard about the incident on social media on Monday. He then interviewed the driver the next day and decided to fire him. He said the company’s drivers are given four hours of sensitivity training when they start working and that he hopes what happened to Binki doesn’t make others hesitate to call a cab. “I hope the public doesn't paint our whole fleet with the same brush," he said. “It’s good that it happened now, instead of 10 incidents that aren’t reported happening.” Binki said he was pleased with the company’s quick response. While this is the first time it has happened to him, he said he has heard from other drag queens that they’ve been refused rides from various companies in the city. He said he doesn’t know if the employee actually had to be fired, and that cab companies might want to consider more training for drivers. “I feel bad that the man lost his job over this,” he said. “It's a teaching moment for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or anything like that, it’s that everyone deserves respect.”

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a federal appeals court in Denver has denied a request by Attorney General Derek Schmidt to reconsider its decision to allow same sex marriages to go forward in Douglas and Sedgwick counties while a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on such marriages is being tried. The decision means district court clerks in those counties can continue granting marriage licenses to same sex couples, at least for the time being, while the underlying lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on such marriages continues through the federal court system. Schmidt had asked all 12 judges of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review “en banc” a decision by a three-judge panel last month to let such marriages go forward while the case is pending. In a three-sentence order issued Tuesday afternoon, the court said none of the 12 judges was willing to reconsider that opinion. Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the case is far from over. "This is not much news, but it does indicate that none of the active judges bought the AG’s arguments that the decisions in (two recent same sex marriage cases) were inconsistent with prior Tenth Circuit precedent," Bonney said in an e-mail Wednesday. The case involves two lesbian couples, one from Douglas County and one from Sedgwick County, who challenged decisions by their local county courts to deny their applications for marriage licenses. They filed suit in October, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from several appellate court rulings, including two from the 10th Circuit, striking down state bans on gay marriage. On November 5, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree in Kansas City, Kan., granted their request for a temporary injunction while the case moved forward, saying the state was unlikely to prevail on the merits of its case defending the Kansas ban. Judge Daniel Crabtree stayed that order for one week to give Schmidt's office time to appeal. Schmidt filed that appeal, as well as a request to extend the stay, but a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit refused to extend the stay. Schmidt then filed a request for the full 10th Circuit court to reconsider its refusal to extend the stay. He also filed an emergency request for extension with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles such appeals from the 10th Circuit. Sotomayor granted a brief extension, allowing time for the full court to review the decision. But a few days later, on November 12, the full U.S. Supreme Court denied that request to extend the stay on Crabtree's preliminary injunction. Meanwhile, Schmidt still has an appeal pending before the 10th Circuit of Crabtree's decision to grant the injunction. And the underlying lawsuit itself is still pending before Crabtree. The original complaint filed in October only challenged the actions of two county courts to deny marriage licenses to same sex couples. The ACLU has since added a new complaint challenging the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. Schmidt's office did not immediately comment on the 10th Circuit's most recent action. But Schmidt has said he intends to continue fighting the case until there is a clear decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Kansas ban on same sex marriage.

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that a U.S. appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that a judicial stay in Florida's federal same sex marriage case will expire January 5, ensuring that gay and lesbian couples would be allowed to marry in the state the following day. "This is a clear victory for us because it finds the harm is being done to the people, not the state," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which is representing same sex couples from throughout Florida and gay-rights group SAVE, who sued to have out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized in the Sunshine State. U.S. Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee ruled August 21 that Florida's gay marriage ban, passed by voters in 2008, is unconstitutional. He stayed his decision while Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed his decision, but said the stay would expire on January 5. Bondi appealed Hinkle's decision to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which still hasn't set a date for the case. Instead, a three-judge panel — Judges Frank M. Hull, Charles R. Wilson and Adalberto Jordan — on Wednesday denied Bondi's request to keep the stay in place. "We are reviewing the ruling," Bondi spokesperson Jennifer Meale wrote Wednesday in an e-mail to the Miami Herald. "Today, in denying the State's request to further delay the ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the State's argument that allowing same sex couples to marry and have their marriages recognized will cause harm to the State and refused to make these families wait any longer. The Court effectively ruled that the State does not have a likelihood of succeeding in its appeal," ACLU LGBT rights attorney Daniel Tilley said. "The stories of the individuals represented in our case demonstrate that Florida's ban on marriages for same sex couples hurts Florida families, and we are hopeful that that harm will finally be coming to an end soon,'' he said. "We will continue to watch this issue and will provide the public with updates on when all loving couples who want to be married can be, and can have their marriages recognized in Florida."

Michigan legislation that would ban discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals remains stuck in committee despite another strong push from business leaders and advocacy groups. The House Commerce Committee adjourned Wednesday after an hour of public testimony — both for and against — separate proposals that would amend Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. “It looks as if today we do not have support for either bill,” state Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) said as he wrapped up the hearing. “So today, we will not be voting.” Foster, lead sponsor of a bill that would add “sexual orientation” language to the anti-discrimination law, had earlier told his colleagues that extending anti-discrimination protections could be “a defining moment” for Michigan, and one with profound economic implications. “Check your politics at the door on this one and do what is right for the state,” he said during his own testimony, acknowledging that his own support may have played a role in his Republican primary election loss in August. “We are competing in a global market. We are competing against other states that already have this type of legislation, some as far back as the 1970s.” State Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) testified in support of his own legislation that would also add "gender identity and expression" protections for transgender residents to the anti-discrimination law. Singh called the hearing a “historic” step for Michigan and its residents who have waited decades for change. Despite inaction in committee, he left the hearing optimistic that the House could still act by the end of the year. “Not moving this forward in this session is going to set us back,” said Singh, whose fully-inclusive bill has been embraced by a coalition of large employers pushing the Republican-led Legislature to protect gay and transgender residents. “Our session is not over. We’ve got two more weeks. My hope is people will find the ability, whether it’s through a discharge or a committee vote. I’m confident that if it was on the House floor, we’d have the 56 votes needed to pass this legislation.” Foster broke the hearing up into two parts, giving supporters the first half hour to make their case and giving opponents the remaining time. Allan Gilmour, retired president of Wayne State University and a former executive at Ford Motor Company, said there are business and social costs associated with continued inaction. “Modernizing Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is long overdue and necessary if Michigan is to attract and retain talent,” said Gilmour, who is gay and lives with his partner in Oakland County. “And on an individual basis, nobody should live in fear that they will lose their jobs or injure their careers should they live openly.” Other business leaders from the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition also testified in support of the push for LGBT rights, as did an Episcopalian priest and representatives from the ACLU of Michigan. ACLU staff attorney Jay Kaplan argued it would be a mistake to omit transgender protections from the legislation, noting that recent federal sex discrimination rulings do little to address the full range of past and potential discrimination. “The majority of the calls we receive concerning discrimination come from the transgender community who have been fired from a job, denied housing or public accommodation because of who they are,” Kaplan said. Several opponents of the gay rights legislation questioned the very idea that gay residents face discrimination, and others raised fears that the proposals could limit the religious liberty of business owners. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has proposed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to run alongside any Elliott-Larsen update, but some opponents have said it does not go far enough. Anti-discrimination laws in other states “are being used to bully and silence people acting on their religious convictions,” said Lansing attorney David Kallman. Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, who has come under fire for anti-gay comments in the past, had planned to testify against the legislation but was one of several speakers who did not get the opportunity because of time constraints. Stacey Swimp, a religious activist from Saginaw who later left the building with Agema, testified he was offended that “homosexual allegations of gay rights” have been compared to the historic struggle of black Americans. Foster agreed that there are differences between the two civil rights efforts but, in a tense moment, he challenged Swimp’s suggestion that gay residents have not faced significant discrimination. “If you don’t think that the LGBT community has been discriminated against, been drug behind cars, been hung up by their necks until they are are dead, denied housing and denied commerce opportunities, then you’re just not looking very far,” Foster said.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Disastrous Alberta Legislation Apparently Designed To Limit Free Speech And Free Assembly For Gay Youth Passes Second Reading, Greek Justice Minister Argues Same Sex Marriages Pose Dangers To Society, District Of Columbia Votes To Ban Practice Of Gay Conversion Therapy On Minors, Nebraska ACLU Asks Federal Judge To Immediately Allow Gay And Lesbian Couples To Marry, Hate Crime Charges Brought Against Man Who Made Threats At Seattle Gay Bar, Major League Baseball Umpire Dale Scott Comes Out

Another update on a previous post: The Canadian Press reports that Alberta Premier Jim Prentice faced dissension from within his own ranks Tuesday over a controversial bill critics say erodes free speech and free assembly for gay youth. Prentice said despite the concerns the bill is a strong and balanced piece of legislation. “Rights are never absolute,” Prentice told reporters in a conference call from Quebec City. “This provides for a balancing of three important rights in our society: sexual orientation, parental rights, and the important responsibilities of schools boards. It will not make everyone happy, I recognize that. But I think it is the right balance for Alberta.” Introduced Monday, the Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children, or Bill 10, denies students the automatic right to form Gay-Straight Alliances. The bill passed second reading Tuesday night by a 42-10 vote. The alliances are peer-support groups that have been shown statistically to reduce bullying and lower suicide rates among gay youth. Instead, the bill gives schools and school boards the final say, with students free to challenge those rulings in court. Prentice said he is allowing a free vote among his caucus members. “Individual elected representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience,” he said. One of those caucus members, backbench Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, voted against the bill Tuesday. “I don’t believe in bestowing human rights on people in an incremental manner,” Lukaszuk told reporters. “Either you grant it or you don’t.” Prentice’s caucus plans to use its majority in the legislature to limit debate on all three stages of the bill to two hours for each stage. “It’s an important bill, (but) there other matters that are important that we need in front of the legislative assembly,” said Prentice. Former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning condemned the Tories on Twitter for restricting the debate. “Rights require full debate, never closure,” wrote Dinning. Other Tories weighed in Tuesday on social media. Brenda Meneghetti, who worked on former member of the legislature Ken Hughes’ leadership campaign, said Bill 10 is a deal breaker and she is leaving the party. “I wish them well,” she wrote on Twitter. Josh Traptow, head of the Calgary-Bow PC riding association, criticized the bill on Facebook, saying: “This world is hard enough for young people to come out and we need to ensure they have the supports they need.” There are 94 Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta, but the opposition Liberals say none is in faith-based schools, private schools or in rural areas. The issue has grown over this year to become something of a political litmus test of tolerance for homosexuality in Alberta. In the spring, a coalition of Progressive Conservatives and Opposition Wildrose members joined forces to vote down a Liberal motion urging the government support Gay-Straight Alliances in all schools. Some Tories voted for that motion, including then-associate minister Sandra Jansen. Jansen is now a backbencher and sponsor of Bill 10. She said Tuesday the bill is not everything she wants, but it advances the cause for gay students. “There is a process of appeal,” said Jansen. “When a student is turned down for a GSA they can go before the school board and what we would like to see happen is we would like the school board to answer for why they don’t want a GSA.” Both Jansen and Prentice pointed out the bill also removes a controversial section of Alberta’s Human Rights Act that allows parents to pull students out of class when sexual orientation is taught. Liberal Laurie Blakeman told the house Tuesday that Bill 10 will not protect gay students at risk and leaves enough loopholes to allow parents to still pull their children out of class when homosexuality is discussed. The bill was a late addition to the fall legislature list amid growing support for Blakeman’s private member’s bill. Blakeman’s bill would have given students the automatic right to create gay-straight alliances, but has now been dumped from the order paper for Bill 10.

The Guardian reports that Greece’s justice minister has been accused of homophobia after unequivocally denouncing same sex marriage. In an outburst that startled human rights defenders and activists in the country’s increasingly visible LGBT community, the minister, Haralambos Athanasiou, said he was virulently opposed to same sex marriage as it posed dangers to a society that “respected traditions," the conservative politician telling Mega TV, “I won’t discuss it, I can’t conceive of it. Besides, the convention of human rights forbids it. When it speaks about marriage it speaks [of marriage] between a man and woman. We are a country that respects traditions, respects human nature, and it’s not possible at least with this government and this ministry, to permit marriage.” Complying with EU demands to legalize domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples was also problematic, he said, because it was not without potentially adverse consequences for society. “It’s a little dangerous to simply speak of civil unions. The matter is not easy. The problem is what are the consequences going to be … are we going to go as far as talking about adoption [by same sex couples] next?” he asked. Athens was fined by the European court of human rights last year for failing to extend protective rights, including domestic partnerships, to gays and lesbians, a move the tribunal described as discriminating to same sex couples. Following the judgment, the prime minister Antonis Samaras’s conservative-dominated coalition signalled that it would redress the wrong but got cold feet when rightwingers and clerics reacted in fury. Greece and Lithuania stand alone in refusing to grant such rights. When put to him that the vast majority of EU member states had implemented such laws, the Greek justice minister retorted: “That’s their issue.” He said: “Our country has structures. We have to look at it from the religious point of view, the political point of view, the social point of view. The ministry of justice will not, under the pressure of anyone, examine such an issue without calmness and composure.” This year the bishop of Thessaloniki, Anthimos, an influential figure in the Greek Orthodox church, called homosexuality “a perversion of human existence." In April a prominent MP with the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, Ilias Panagiotaros, denounced same-sex relationships as a “sickness”, telling an Australian interviewer: “Until 1997 the international association of doctors and I don’t know what considered homosexuality a sickness, illness, which it is.” With the rhetoric at such levels, gay activists are far from being inured to the need to be battle-hardened in the fight for equal rights. But campaigners expressed shock at Athanasiou’s statements at a time when attacks on gay people have increased alarmingly in recent months. Andrea Gilbert, a prominent LGBT activist, said: “Greece wants to present itself to Europe and the rest of the world as a modern democratic country that respects the rights of all its citizens. These are really very shocking statements when the man making them is the minister of justice, the person who is meant to protect citizens, not a crackpot member of Golden Dawn. No declaration of human rights forbids anything and the Greek constitution for sure does not define marriage as being between a man and a woman. With their emphasis on ‘consequences’ these remarks reek of fear-mongering of the worst kind.”

The Washington Post reports that the D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to take a final step this year for gay rights, banning conversion therapy that seeks to turn gay or lesbian teenagers straight. The unanimous council vote puts the District in the rare company of only California and New Jersey to ban the practice. It also raises the possibility that after legal challenges to bans in those states recently failed that similar efforts may proceed elsewhere. In advancing the measure to the council, member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) chair of the health committee, said the ban would end in the District what nationwide has been a “problem for years.” The bill, authored by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), bans efforts by licensed mental health providers to seek to change a minor’s sexual orientation “including efforts to change behaviors, gender identity or expression, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same sex or gender.” It was opposed by the Family Research Council and some religious organizations. “While steps toward remedying the counterproductive anti-homosexual mindset have been taken,” Alexander wrote, “this measure will serve as a crucial step in that long battle. In a statement, Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, praised the decision but cast it as incremental step. “While the LGBT youth in our nation’s capital will soon be protected once this bill is signed into law,” Warbelow said, “HRC is committed to making sure these kinds of protections are secured throughout the entire nation.” In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear cases challenging the California ban and in September, a federal appeals court upheld New Jersey’s ban, which had been signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie (R). In Maryland, a similar measure that was a priority for gay lawmakers died this year when it was withdrawn amid concerns it would not pass the General Assembly. Advocates vowed to make some of the changes through regulatory changes.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that a federal judge is being asked to immediately allow same sex couples to get married in Nebraska and to have their marriages recognized here as a legal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban continues to move through the courts. The ACLU of Nebraska requested the injunction on behalf of seven couples named in a lawsuit challenging the ban in U.S. District Court in Omaha. The injunction would effectively stop the state from enforcing the ban until the courts make a final decision. The motion is almost certain to be challenged by the state Attorney General's Office. Attorney General Jon Bruning and Attorney General-elect Doug Peterson have both said they will defend the ban, but a spokesperson for Bruning's office declined to comment Tuesday. "We are seeking a preliminary junction because the couples in our case just cannot wait any longer," said Amy Miller, legal director for the state ACLU. "Some of the plaintiffs have difficult times ahead, and they need the safety and security that only marriage can provide. We hope the court will act swiftly so our clients and their families can prepare for their futures." Those plaintiffs include Susan and Sally Waters, who are legally married in California. The state of Nebraska doesn't recognize their marriage because of the ban, which voters added to the state Constitution in 2001. Sally Waters, 58, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the state's ban means her wife is likely to have a higher tax burden after Sally's death than she would otherwise. Miller had indicated earlier that the plaintiffs would seek immediate relief. In the motion for the injunction signed by Angela Dunne of Omaha, another attorney for the plaintiffs, they argue that the ban is likely to be stricken by the courts and that without the injunction, the ban will cause the plaintiffs' irreparable harm. The lawyers also submitted personal statements about the potential for harm from each of the 14 plaintiffs. By contrast, their attorneys argue "granting a preliminary injunction would cause no harm to the state and would further the public interest." In addition to stopping enforcement of the ban, the motion includes two other requests: that the judge require the CEO of the state Department of Health and Human Services to change the marriage worksheet it provides to county clerks; and that the judge prevent the Lancaster County Clerk from denying marriage licenses to otherwise eligible same sex couples. Those changes would allow Bil Roby and Greg Tubach of Lincoln — the only two plaintiffs who aren't legally married in other states — to get married here, said Tyler Richard, spokesman for ACLU Nebraska. The case is in the hands of U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon, who struck down the gay marriage ban after an earlier challenge by the ACLU of Nebraska and other legal partners. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned Bataillon's decision. The issue of state bans on same-sex marriage is expected to ultimately end up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Washington state, the Post-Intellegencer reports that a confrontation outside a Seattle gay bar has prompted hate crime charges against a Tukwila man. King County prosecutors claim Ibrahim Koroma, 28, accosted a security guard on October 3 at R Place, a Capitol Hill club catering to a gay clientele. Koroma is alleged to have shouted anti-lesbian slurs at the woman while chastising her for doing a man’s job. Seattle police arrived at the club, located at 612 E. Pine St., shortly after midnight to find Speaking with police, the security guard said she was working the front door when a couple hurried inside. She was then confronted by Koroma, who she said berated and threatened her. “In my country we murder you, we murder you,” Koroma said, according to charging papers. Another security guard joined her as Koroma continued to rant, a Seattle detective said in charging papers. Relying on witness accounts, the detective said Koroma reached into his waistband, implying he was carrying a pistol, and then said “bang bang, snitch bitch.” Subjected to 30 warrants in the past decade, Koroma was arrested a half a block from R Place and booked into King County Jail. He has since been charged with malicious harassment, Washington’s hate crime charge.

Major League Baseball, unlike the NFL and NBA, is still waiting for its first active player to acknowledge he is gay. Dale Scott is only an umpire, but he has crossed that threshold, and says he has been heartened by what he describes as an environment of acceptance. Scott, a major league umpire for the past 29 years, quietly acknowledged he is gay by submitting a photo of himself and his longtime partner to accompany a November interview with Referee Magazine. His story was amplified on Tuesday, when Outsports.com published an interview with Scott, who said his sexual orientation has long been acknowledged in umpiring and baseball circles. "I realized that it could open a Pandora's Box," Scott said of submitting a photo of he and Michael Rausch on a trip to Australia for the major league opener this past March. "But this is not a surprise to Major League Baseball, the people I work for. It's not a surprise to the umpire staff. Until Mike and I got married last November, he was my same sex domestic partner and had his own MLB I.D. and was on my insurance policy. "This is not going to be some huge flashing news to (MLB), but I also didn't want to be making some coming out story, some banner headline, because that's not how I operate. It's not a shock to MLB management because they're well aware of my situation and it's not a shock to the umpire staff. If it would have been, I don't think I would have done it." Scott has been a crew chief for 12 years, has worked three World Series and was on the crew that worked the Dodgers-Cardinals National League Division Series. He feels going public won't be a surprise to most in the game. "The first 10 years of my major league umpire career, I would have been horrified if a story had come out that I was gay," he told Outsports. "But guys unprovoked started to approach me and say, 'I just want you to know that I would walk on the field with you any day, you're a great guy, a great umpire and I couldn't care less about your personal life.' Basically what they were saying without me provoking it was 'I know and I don't care.' That meant a lot to me because it surprised me since I had not brought it up. At first I was uncomfortable because I had spent my whole life hiding that fact from people even though I wasn't hiding it from myself or my friends." MLB has been proactive in aiming to create an environment of acceptance for a gay player. In July, it appointed Billy Bean, who came out after his playing career, as its first ambassador of inclusion. Bean and former Dodgers player Glenn Burke acknowledged their sexuality after their playing careers. "I wish that our game had someone in place to whom Billy and Glenn could have turned when they played; a friend, listener, a source of support," commissioner Bud Selig said when Bean's role was announced."That's why I am so delighted to make this announcement today."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Alberta PC Party Effectively Kill Bill Guaranteeing All Students Right To Form Gay-Straight Alliances, Hundreds Participate In New Delhi's Gay Pride, Gambia Condemns Criticism Of Its New Draconian Anti-Gay Law, Robert Biedron Becomes Poland's First Openly Gay Mayor, Two People Banned From Twickenham England Rugby Games For Two Years After Being Found To Have Aimed Homophobic Abuse At Openly Gay Referee, Final Order Issued In Transgender Lawsuit Against Orono Maine School Department Over Discrimination

An update on a previous post: In Alberta, Premier Jim Prentice’s government has effectively killed a private member’s bill guaranteeing students the right to form gay support groups by proposing instead a bill which doesn’t guarantee anything. According to the Canadian Press, Bill 10 will allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliances in schools but will give schools the final say on whether to allow them. If the school says no, students can appeal to the school board, and finally to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Sandra Jansen, the Tory backbencher sponsoring the bill, says it will revoke the right of parents to pull their children out of class if sexual orientation is discussed. She says the government is moving forward incrementally on LGBT issues so everybody can be on the same page. Liberal Laurie Blakeman’s private member’s bill would have given students the automatic right to create Gay-Straight Alliances and, like Bill 10, would also no longer allow parents to pull children out of class when sexual orientation was taught. Blakeman says the government is catering to the demands of a small and vocal lobby group of home schoolers. She also says she’s appalled the government is talking about incremental progress on people’s fundamental human rights.

In India, Reuters reports that hundreds of people danced, sang and cheered in a gay pride parade in New Delhi on Sunday, the first since the country's top court reinstated a ban on gay sex in the world's largest democracy. Multi-coloured balloons, masquerade masks and wigs, a huge rainbow flag and a St. Bernard dog ushered in the seventh Delhi Queer Pride parade, with many shaking their hips to drum beats. Participants chanting "Azaadi" (freedom) and shouting slogans such as "I'm gay, that's OK" carried banners and placards demanding their right to love. "We are making a statement that we exist. We are not a minuscule minority. Deal with it," said Mohnish Kabir Malhotra, 27, a publicist and one of the organisers of this year's event. In December, India's Supreme Court threw out a 2009 ruling by a lower court that had decriminalized gay sex, saying only parliament could repeal Section 377 of India's penal code which bans sex against the order of nature. The British colonial-era law is widely interpreted to mean homosexual sex, and can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Many choose to hide their sexuality for fear of discrimination. Some participants said they had little faith that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government would revoke Section 377, despite having a majority in the lower house of parliament. Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is a right-wing nationalist outfit perceived to be more conservative than the previous Congress-led government. Modi has not publicly commented on the issue of homosexuality, although his colleague Rajnath Singh had called gay sex "unnatural" in the wake of the December court ruling. Some BJP politicians such as Arun Jaitley have said that gay sex should be decriminalized. A poster at the parade depicted Modi's face filled in with the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, and the caption "I love Amit Shah", referring to the president of Modi's political party. Some participants said the prime minister did not mean the gay community any harm. "Modi is a very wise person. I don't know whether he'll support or not support, but he's not going to do anything which is going to harm any Indian citizen's right," said Rudrani Chettri, 36, a social worker and LGBT activist. Some of the biggest cheers at the parade were reserved for Dora, a St. Bernard dressed in a tee-shirt promoting LGBT rights, brought by her owner, who works at the U.S. embassy. The parade brought traffic to a halt in central New Delhi, with bemused drivers watching the proceedings from the sidelines. "As long as it's consensual, it should not matter to anyone. They shouldn't force themselves on anyone," said Kapil Yadav, an auto-rickshaw driver who was among passers-by and commuters who stopped to watch the procession.

The Gambian government has lashed out at Western donor nations that have criticized a new law that punishes some homosexual acts with life in prison, according to the Associated Press. The European Union and the United States recently expressed dismay at the law and discrimination against gay people in the West African country. Both provide aid to impoverished Gambia and have used that position to encourage respect for human rights. The Gambian government will not allow acceptance of gay people to be a pre-condition for receiving aid "no matter how much aid is involved," Foreign Minister Bala Garba Jahumpa said in a nationally televised addressed late Saturday. "We are no longer going to entertain any dialogue on the issue with the European Union or any other foreign power," he said. The new law, which went into effect Oct. 9, criminalizes "aggravated homosexuality," which targets "serial offenders" and people living with HIV or AIDS. Suspects can also be charged with aggravated homosexuality for engaging in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or who has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is "in authority over" him or her. The law contains language identical to an anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda this year that was later overturned by a court. People found guilty of aggravated homosexuality in Gambia can be sentenced to life in prison.

The Associated Press also reports that Robert Biedron already made history once in Poland by becoming the first openly gay parliamentarian in 2011. He now celebrates another first, becoming the country’s first openly gay mayor. The 38-year-old’s political successes are a marker of how quickly this deeply conservative and Catholic country has changed in the decade since it joined the European Union. Back then, in 2004, gay rights marches were still being banned in Warsaw and homosexuality was treated as a huge taboo. Since then a growing acceptance of gay and lesbian people has arrived hand-in-hand with a flourishing economy. “I see how fast Polish society has learned its lesson of tolerance,” Biedron said two days before he was elected on Sunday to be mayor of Slupsk, a city near the Baltic sea. “So I am very optimistic and happy with Polish society and proud.” In what the Polish media are calling “the Biedron effect”, a record number of candidates also came out publicly before the local elections, which took place in two rounds over the last two weeks. None of the others won seats, but gay rights activists are hugely encouraged by the willingness of more and more public figures to come out. Their poor showing is partly because they were mostly young, first-time candidates with leftwing parties, which gained little support. “These people have enormous courage,” said Mariusz Kurc, editor of Polish gay advocacy magazine Replika. He tells a story that shows the speed of the change. Before 2011 elections, he used his magazine’s Facebook page to call on gay candidates to come out. None did. But this time around, people started writing in to say they would be happy to be publicly identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Nearly 20 had come out by election day. “This was record breaking,” Kurc said.

In England, two people have been banned from Twickenham for two years after being found to have aimed homophobic abuse at referee Nigel Owens. They will also pay £1,000 each to a charity of his choice. The Welsh official, who is openly gay, was targeted by supporters during England’s 24-21 defeat by New Zealand at Twickenham on November 8. The matter first came to light when a spectator wrote a letter to the Guardian highlighting the abuse. Owens subsequently told Telegraph Sport that supporters should be issued with stadium bans in cases where allegations of homophobic abuse are proven. “If someone has gone to the trouble to send a letter to the paper and say that this was disgusting and the behaviour was totally out of order, then I would think what they shouted was pretty bad and if that is the case then these people should be banned from the game,” he said. “They need to be told that some behaviour is not acceptable, that crossing the line of what is humour and banter is a fine line, but if you cross it then you have to put up with the consequences.” Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, said: “While instances of this nature are exceptionally rare, the RFU takes rugby’s values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship very seriously, and is determined to uphold them. We are all guardians of these aspects of the game, on and off the pitch, and it is these values which make the sport special.”

In Maine, the Bangor Daily News reports that a final order has been issued in a transgender student’s lawsuit against the Orono School Department over the denial of her access to the girl’s bathroom in grade school and middle school. The Penobscot County Superior Court order, dated November 25, enjoined the school department from discriminating against other students as it did against Nicole Maines, 17, who lives and attends private school in Cumberland County. The court also awarded $75,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston, which represented the girl and her parents. “A significant portion of the monetary award will go to the Maines’ family,” Carisa Cunningham, spokesperson for GLAD, said Monday. She declined to say exactly how much the organization would retain and how much would go to the family. The organization took the case on a contingency basis. “I’m just glad it’s over,” Nicole Maines’ father, Wayne Maines, said late Monday afternoon of the more than seven-year legal battle that began with a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission. “We just want to move on. We just want to be normal.” The father said Nicole Maines and her twin brother, Jonas Maines, are high school seniors and are visiting colleges. He said the subject of his daughter’s gender identity has not come up during campus tours. The lawsuit was the first in the country to challenge a transgender student’s access to the bathroom of the gender with which the child identified, according to Cunningham. “We’re grateful that it was resolved favorably, not only for Nicole and her family but for all transgender students who are just seeking to get an education like every other student,” she said. This case has raised the visibility of the issue of transgender students in schools and “the good ways that schools can address these issues and the bad ways that schools can address these issues,” she said Monday. “We hope this will be a legal building block on how to address these issues,” Cunningham said. Wayne Maine, his wife, Kelly Maines, and the Human Rights Commission sued what is now Regional School Unit 26 in 2009 in Penobscot County Superior Court on behalf of Nicole Maines. The commission previously ruled in the girl’s favor against the district. In November 2012, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled in the school district’s favor. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed that ruling in a 5-1 decision in January of this year. “We are grateful that the Supreme Judicial Court has given us clear guidance on how to handle the issue,” Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represents the district, said Monday in an e-mail. “We understand that the student is thriving at her current school and wish her and her family only the best.” The lawsuit did not name the family, who later publicly identified themselves as the one referred to in the complaint as John and Jane Doe. Nicole Maines was named in the lawsuit as Susan Doe. The final order, signed by Anderson, stated that “the process employed by the Orono School Department to deny access by Susan Doe to the girls’ restroom at the Asa Adams School and the Orono Middle School were in violation [of the law].” It also permanently enjoined the district “from refusing access by transgender students to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.” The incident that sparked the court case began in 2007 when a child, who was born male but identifies as female, was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono. She was told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained. During the past five years, Nicole Maines and her family have been honored by GLAD and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Last month, Glamour magazine named Nicole Maines one of 50 “hometown heroes” — one woman from each state that the magazine honored for making a difference in America. The teen told the magazine she hopes to be an advocate for other transgender youth and hopes her story can be an inspiration to them and to young people in general. “They can look at what happened in Maine and see … our state leaders validated that everyone gets to be whom they need to be,” she said. “There’s still work to be done and stories that need to be told. … I think [advocacy] will always be a part of my life.”