Monday, March 30, 2015

United States Justice Department Sues Oklahoma State University After It Fired Professor Who Rachel Tudor Following Gender Transition, Indiana Governor Mike Pence Will Not Or Cannot Say If Religious Freedom Restoration Act Will Engender State-Sanctioned Anti-Gay Discrimination, Mayor Of Indianapolis Greg Ballard Calls On Indiana General Assembly To Repeal RFRA Or Add Explicit Protections For Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity To State Law, Richard Pilarski Jr. Resigns As Cheektowaga Police Department Cell Block Attendant After He Posts Facebook Comments Threatening To Kill Gays, Court Hears Evangelical Christian Owners Of Irish Bakery Discriminated Against Client Based On Sexual Orientation After Refusing To Create Pro-Same Sex Marriage Cake

The Washington Post reports that the United States Justice Department is suing an Oklahoma university, charging that school officials discriminated against a professor who changed gender during her time working there. Rachel Tudor was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the English department at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2004, after applying as a man with a traditionally male name, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. Then in 2007, Tudor told school officials that he would become a woman during that academic year, took the name Rachel, and began wearing women’s clothes and a traditionally female hairstyle. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced in December that federal prohibitions against sex discrimination include protections based on gender identity. Sean Burrage, who was not president at the time of the complaint but now leads the school, said in a statement: “Southeastern Oklahoma State University is committed to diversity and equal employment opportunities. The University is confident in its legal position and its adherence to all applicable employment laws; however, due to the litigation, Southeastern has been advised by the Attorney General’s Office not to discuss any specifics concerning this matter. We will allow the legal system to run its course, while we direct our focus and energy on our top priority, that of educating our students.’’ The lawsuit alleges that a human resources staffer, who was not named, called Tudor and warned her that the school’s vice president for academic affairs, Douglas McMillan, had asked whether Tudor could be fired because the “transgender lifestyle” offended his religious beliefs. Jane McMillan, director of the university’s counseling center and Douglas McMillan’s sister, told Tudor to be careful because some people were openly hostile to transgender people, and that Douglas McMillan considered them a “grave offense to his [religious] sensibilities,” the lawsuit says. Tudor’s application for tenure was denied by a dean and McMillan without any reason given, the lawsuit claims, unlike an application by a male faculty member in the English department at the same time who was given guidance on how to improve his ultimately successful application. Tudor filed a federal discrimination complaint. Tudor was given the Faculty Senate Recognition Award for Excellence in Scholarship for the 2010-2011 academic year and was fired in May 2011 for failing to obtain tenure. “By standing beside Dr. Tudor, the Department of Justice sends a clear message that we are committed to eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity,” Holder said in a release. “… And we will continue to work tirelessly, using every legal tool available, to ensure that transgender individuals are guaranteed the rights and protections that all Americans deserve.” Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that it was “shocking that the leadership of a state university would, as this suit alleges, engage in such an elaborate scheme to push out a faculty member solely because she is transgender. And it is heartening that the Justice Department is willing to take on a state school school over this.” The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office will be representing the university. Tudor did not immediately respond to messages from the Post seeking comment.

It's a simple question -- but also one of the most contentious in Indiana, which is under siege by LGBT activists urging a boycott of the state. Can Indiana business owners legally refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers if homosexuality is forbidden by their religious beliefs? During an appearance on ABC's This Week on Sunday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wouldn't say. Host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked the Republican governor, yes or no, whether the state's newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow a scenario in which "a florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment." Each time, Pence did not answer with yes or no. Here's one such exchange from a transcript of the show: STEPHANOPOULOS: So yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana? PENCE: George, this is -- this is where this debate has gone, with -- with misinformation and frankly ... STEPHANOPOULOS: It's just a question, sir. Question, sir. Yes or no? PENCE: Well -- well, this -- there's been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you're doing that as well. Later Sunday, when asked for clarification by the Los Angeles Times, a spokesperson for Pence's office also did not use yes or no. "As Gov. Pence has clearly stated, this bill is not about discrimination and does not in any way legalize discrimination in Indiana," spokesperson Kara Brooks said in an e-mail. "For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act" -- which was passed during the Clinton administration -- "has never undermined our nation's anti-discrimination laws, and this law will not do so in Indiana either." In Pence's interview with Stephanopoulos, the governor said he was not going to alter the new law. "Look, we're not going to change the law, OK?" said Pence, who had alluded to being open to a legislative change in an interview with the Indianapolis Star on Saturday. "But if the general assembly in Indiana sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is ... then I'm open to that." The governor's spokesperson hinted that the Legislature may be working on such a clarification. "Legislators are drafting the language," Brooks told the Times, without elaboration. "I don't have any language to share with you at this time." Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has triggered a maelstrom of criticism among LGBT activists, does not give an explicit answer on whether religious business owners can deny service to gay or lesbian customers. Like the viral image of the optical-illusion dress that some people see as gold and others see as blue, conservatives and liberals seem to be referring to two separate things when discussing Indiana's new law. Conservatives say the law is about empowering religious rights. Liberals say the law will enable discrimination based on sexual orientation. Several states, including Alabama and Idaho, have similar laws. Indiana's law generally "prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion" unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and that such a burden is "the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest." In plainer words, the law generally strengthens religion-based arguments in court. Its text doesn't specifically target -- or even mention -- gays and lesbians and sexual orientation. But the law's breadth and general legal implications have LGBT activists and supporters concerned that it could protect business owners who might decline to serve gays or lesbians. Under federal law, discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin and various other classifications is illegal. Businesses can't turn someone away just because he or she is black, for instance. Sexual orientation is not included under that federal blanket protection, and Indiana has no statewide law that establishes gays and lesbians as similarly protected groups. "One fix that people have talked about is simply adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state's civil rights laws," Stephanopoulos asked. "Will you push for that?" Pence replied, "I will not push for that. That's not on my agenda and that's not been the -- that's not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana."

The Indianapolis Star reports that Mayor Greg Ballard on Monday called on the Indiana General Assembly to either repeal the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act or add explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in state law. Ballard also issued an executive order that anyone who receives money from the city government must abide by its human rights ordinance, which has had such protections in place for a decade. His comments at a Monday afternoon news conference were the strongest yet from the Republican leader of the state's capital and largest city in the wake of the bill, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week. Flanked by business leaders, Ballard denounced the law not only as a threat to the city's economic interests, but as a serious concern for residents and visitors who fear that they could be subjected to discrimination for religious reasons. "Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity. And RFRA threatens what thousands of people have spent decades building," Ballard said. "Discrimination is wrong. And I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at our Statehouse." Supporters say the RFRA, set to become law on July 1, is needed to protect religious freedom from government intrusion, pointing to similar laws across the country. But circumstances unique to Indiana's bill have sparked a national firestorm over fears that it could legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians. Chief among those circumstances is the fact that many states with an RFRA, including neighboring Illinois, also have statewide bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation, alongside other protected classes such as race, sex and religion. Indiana has no such protections. And it explicitly prohibits local human rights ordinances from being exempt from the RFRA. The backlash has come fast and furious, with publicly traded companies such as Angie's List and Salesforce threatening to reduce their investment in the city, and celebrities such as George Takei and Charles Barkley calling for a boycott of Indiana. As the host of this year's NCAA men's basketball Final Four, Indianapolis has found itself under a shared spotlight with Pence and state lawmakers. Ballard devoted a portion of his speech to reassuring those who planned to attend the tournament from out-of-town. "Indianapolis will not be defined by this," he said, repeating it for emphasis. "Indianapolis will not be defined by this. Indianapolis welcomes everybody." Later Monday, the City-County Council will introduce Proposition 120, a special resolution denouncing the law and urging the General Assembly to add protections for sexual orientation to state civil rights law. Failing that, the resolution says, the state should exempt local human rights ordinances from the statute — something Ballard echoed in his own executive order. "The city of Indianapolis is a welcoming place that values all its citizens — SB 101 does not reflect the diversity of our great city," Council President Maggie Lewis said in a statement. Indianapolis' anti-discrimination ordinance includes sexual orientation as a protected class, but council members worry that the new state law will overrule those protections. Council Vice President John Barth said the resolution was up to 16 co-sponsors as of Monday morning. It needs 15 votes to pass. "The encouraging news is that local business leaders, community groups, elected officials and Indianapolis residents are expressing their concern about RFRA and affirming that what makes our city great is the diversity of our people and our welcoming approach to life," Barth said in a statement.

In upstate New York, the Buffalo News reports that a Facebook exchange that included threats to shoot gays led to a Cheektowaga man resigning from his part-time job with the town police department and an investigation by his full-time employer, the state prison system. Richard “Rick” Pilarski Jr. resigned Saturday as a cell block attendant for the Cheektowaga Police Department after he acknowledged the Facebook exchange with family and friends in which he threatened to shoot gays. The exchange was spurred by a news account about a proposed ballot initiative in California known as the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” which calls for imposing the death penalty on gay men and women who are sexually active. “We brought him in today and he decided to resign from the position,” Assistant Police Chief James J. Speyer said Saturday. “He was remorseful and apologetic. It is one of those situations where he never intended it to be something that would come out.” Speyer said the department received a complaint late last week and immediately suspended Pilarski without pay while beginning an investigation. Pilarski, 33, also was placed on administrative leave Friday from his job as full-time state corrections officer at Attica Correctional Facility, as the state investigates the complaint. “Wouldn’t this be the greatest thing in the world??? The guys around the corner would be the first 2 faggots in my sights. What you do in your house is one thing but when you fly flags of equal rights and the rainbow flag in a small quiet neighborhood is another,” Pilarski posted Monday on Facebook. Pilarski acknowledged the Facebook posts were his but explained that he thought he was having a private conversation, Speyer said. After admitting the Facebook exchanges, Pilarski resigned from his part-time job, Speyer said. He worked five shifts a month in the cell block. “It should never have happened. We don’t condone it. The Cheektowaga Police Department stands for integrity, honor and respect,” Speyer said. Officials at the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said they could not discuss the circumstances surrounding Pilarski’s placement on leave. Pilarski has worked for the state since November 2005 and earns $58,646 a year as a corrections officer. A representative of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association said Friday the union had just learned about the incident and did not have enough information to comment. “As we move forward, we are going to gather as many facts as we can regarding the incident,” said James Miller, a spokesperson for the union. The Buffalo News left three voice mail messages on Pilarski’s cellphone and one with a relative seeking comment. He did not return the calls. A woman identifying herself as his wife called The News and said, “We have no comment.” The Cheektowaga Police Department received the complaint with the Facebook exchanges late last week, and a copy also was sent to the News. The complaint came from people who identified themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. Residents of Cheektowaga,” saying that if they listed their real names, they could face retribution. Speyer said Pilarski explained that he was venting when he made the Facebook posts and that his comments were taken out of context. In the Facebook exchange, Pilarski chided a relative for sticking up for gays, stating: “... shut up you sound like a retard u wana love gays u love them I hate them. I’m not raising my kids to love them if you wana raise your to then go ahead.” Pilarski disagreed with the same relative’s suggestion that he tell his child that the neighbors liked rainbows: “And I’m not going to lie to ... about the flag by the time ... is 4 we will be playing in the front yard calling a faggot a faggot like it is.” Later in the comments, a friend stated: “I had such respect of you Rick you are a good officer but this is just complete ignorance. You tell your child it is a flag of a rainbow just like if they had a flag for Christmas or you tell them nothing at all. The wonderful thing about this country is freedom of speech and flying that flag is their form of speech. And I know you hold dear the Constitution. Or at least the 2nd Amendment.” Pilarski later responded: “Why are we talking bout the flags again the article is about gays being shot unfortunately my neighbors are homos we wouldn’t know if they didn’t hang flags...”

In the United Kingdom, the Guardian reports that the Evangelical Christian owners of a bakery that refused to make a gay-themed cake discriminated against a client on grounds of his sexual orientation, Northern Ireland’s high court has heard. A lawyer for an LGBT activist suing the bakery, Ashers, said that “but for the word gay this order would have been fulfilled”. Robin Allen QC also told Belfast high court on Monday: “This case is direct discrimination.” Former Ashers customer Gareth Lee sued the bakery after it reversed an agreement to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message. The bakery initially accepted the order but 48 hours later handed back the payment to Lee, who had asked for a cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. Lee had ordered it to mark last year’s election of the first openly gay mayor in Northern Ireland as well as to coincide with International Day against Homophobia last May. Allen said it should have been obvious to Ashers that the person making the request for an iced pro-gay marriage slogan was gay himself. “If you take the factual analysis, shorn of any meaning, it is the word gay in the phrase that was the cause of the differential treatment,” the lawyer said. “It is clear that if the word gay had been replaced by the word heterosexual, the order would have been accepted.” Allen also defended the equality commission of Northern Ireland’s decision to fund Lee’s case, arguing it had no other choice under the law. But in his summary, David Scoffield QC, acting for the bakery, said if Lee’s argument was right, a Muslim printer could not turn down a contract to print leaflets about the prophet Muhammad, an atheist could not turn down an order saying God made the world and a Roman Catholic printer could not decline making leaflets calling for the legalisation of abortion on demand. Ashers’ lawyer said to force any of these individuals or his client to do this would infringe Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the Human Rights Act. “When someone is being forced to promote a cause with which they don’t agree, [it] is taking it a step too far,” Scoffield said. District judge Isobel Brownlie told the court on the third day of the case that she wanted to give full consideration to the evidence: “It is not a straightforward area of the law. Obviously, this is a case in which I propose to reserve my judgment.” The case is a legally groundbreaking clash between Christian conscience and equality rights for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, with Ashers now a global cause for Evangelical Christians across the world. Ashers is named after one of the 12 sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob who “would provide delicacies fit for a king”. The firm, owned by the McArthur family, employs 80 people and sells its products across the UK and Ireland.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thousands March In Indianapolis Protesting State's Newly Enacted Law Allegedly Designed To Promote And Secure Religious Freedom But Seen As One Sanctioning Anti-Gay Discrimination, Indiana Governor Mike Pence Now Seeking To "Clarify" Intent Of Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Tennessee Attorney General Files Brief With U.S. Supreme Court Arguing Ability Of Opposite Sex Couples To Procreate Nullifies Need To Recognize Same Sex Marriage, Despite Evidence To Contrary Texas School District Denies It Discriminated Against Same Sex Students Attending Prom After It Rescinded Approval For Casey Akers To "Proposal" Girl

In Indiana, Reuters reports that thousands of people marched in the state's largest city on Saturday to protest a state law that supporters contend promotes religious freedom but detractors see as a covert move to support discrimination against gay people. Waving signs reading "No hate in our state" and carrying rainbow flags, a crowd of at least 2,000 people including Democratic elected officials rallied the same day that business-rating website Angie's List Inc. put on hold its plans to expand its Indianapolis operation with new offices, citing the new law. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican led-state legislature and signed into law on Thursday by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Supporters say the legislation will keep the government from forcing business owners to act against strongly held religious beliefs. Opponents say it is discriminatory against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and broader than other states' religious freedom laws. "This bill is not about discrimination and does not in any way legalize discrimination in Indiana," said Pence's spokesperson, Kara Brooks. That statement did little to assuage the concerns of Rick Sutton, one of the marchers. "It's a great sound bite but it's not the truth. I'm not protected. LGBT citizens are not protected," Sutton said. "If we were protected, we would not be there right now." Indiana's new law also drew criticism from business leaders. "Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," company chief executive Bill Oesterle said. Seattle's openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, said on Saturday he will ban city employees from traveling to Indiana on official business. "None of our taxpayer dollars should go toward supporting this discriminatory law," Murray said. The National Basketball Association and Women's National Basketball Association said in a joint statement the basketball leagues would ensure all fans, players and employees feel welcome at events in Indiana and elsewhere. "The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect," they said. On Friday, Apple Inc.'s Tim Cook, one of the most prominent openly gay American CEOs, joined other executives, including Salesforce.com Inc.'s Marc Benioff, in blasting the law. A day after Indiana's move, the Arkansas senate overwhelmingly approved a similar bill, which Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he would sign into law. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has its home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, criticized that measure.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to “clarify” that Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians. “I support religious liberty, and I support this law,” Pence said in an exclusive interview. “But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law.” The governor, although not ready to provide details on what the new bill will say, said he expects the legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly this coming week. Asked if that legislation might include making gay and lesbian Hoosiers a protected legal class, Pence said, “That’s not on my agenda.” Amid the deepest crisis of his political career, Pence said repeatedly that the intense blowback against the new law is the result of a “misunderstanding driven by misinformation.” He adamantly insisted that RFRA will not open the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. But he did acknowledge that Indiana’s image — and potentially its economic health — has been hurt badly by the controversy. The Star spoke with Pence on the same day that thousands of people rallied at the Statehouse in opposition to the law. And the same day that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a deal with the state and city to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage. Oesterle’s statement is a telling sign that the outrage over RFRA isn’t limited only to the political left. Oesterle directed Republican Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. And it’s a signal that the damage from the RFRA debacle could be extensive. Behind the scenes, Pence and his team have been scrambling to mitigate that damage — both to the state and to the governor’s political career. Pence said, for example, that he had a “cordial and productive” conversation with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, who announced shortly after Pence signed the RFRA legislation on Thursday that the company will cancel all corporate-related travel to Indiana. That conversation, however, has not led to a reversal of the Salesforce decision. The governor was asked if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming. “I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said. “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill.” In defense of the legislation, he noted that 19 other states and the federal government have adopted RFRA laws similar to Indiana’s. And he pointed out that President Barack Obama voted for Illinois’ version of RFRA as a state senator. The governor also criticized the news media’s coverage of the legislation. “Despite the irresponsible headlines that have appeared in the national media, this law is not about discrimination,” he said. “If it was, I would have vetoed it.” Yet, those justifications, cited repeatedly by the governor’s supporters in recent days, have done little to quell the controversy. Which is why the proposal to clarify the law’s intent with a new bill has gained traction among Pence’s advisers in the past couple of days. Pence also plans to fight back in the state and national media. He’s scheduled, for instance, to defend the law Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. “I’m not going to take it (the criticism) lying down,” he said. Pence was asked: What answer do you have for the many gays and lesbians — and their friends and families — who’ve asked this past week if they are still welcome in Indiana? “First, this law is not about discrimination. It’s about protecting religious liberty and giving people full access to the judicial system,” he said. “But, yes, Hoosier hospitality is about making all people feel welcome in our state. We did that with the Super Bowl and with many other events, and with bringing businesses here. We will continue to do that.” Whether Pence can get that message across — whether he still has the credibility to get people to believe it — will help determine the extent of RFRA’s damage. First, and most important, for the state. But also for Mike Pence’s political future and legacy.

The ability of heterosexual couples — and not gay and lesbian couples — to have children is one reason why the U.S. Supreme Court should not recognize gay marriage, attorneys for Tennessee say. The Tennessee Attorney General filed a brief with the court Friday, responding to arguments previously made by three couples who are fighting to have their marriages recognized by the state. Forms of the word “procreate” appear at least 17 times in the 49-page brief. The Tennessean reports that among the main points of the state’s argument: •The Supreme Court has based decisions using a definition of marriage as one man and one woman. “Decisions of this Court recognizing a fundamental right to marry have considered marriage under its traditional definition: the union of one man and one woman,” the brief reads. “The fundamental importance of marriage is necessarily linked to the procreative capacity of that man-woman union, and this Court has said that the right to marry is fundamental precisely because marriage and procreation are fundamental to the existence of society.” •Same sex couples cannot procreate and jeopardize family stability. “Maintaining a traditional definition of marriage ensures that when couples procreate, the children will be born into a stable family unit, and the promotion of family stability is certainly a legitimate state interest,” the brief reads. “The same situation is simply not presented by same sex couples, who as a matter of pure biology do not naturally procreate. So there exists a rational explanation for not expanding marriage to same sex couples.” •Same sex marriage violates state policy, and Tennessee has a right to stand apart from other states. “Tennessee does not ‘target’ same sex couples who marry out-of-state; Tennessee recognizes out-of-state marriages depending upon whether they comport or conflict with Tennessee’s own public policy,” the brief reads. “When a State has exercised its sovereign authority to establish its own policy and reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage, that authority must not be intruded upon by requiring it to give way to the policy of another State that has chosen to expand its marriage definition.” The written argument gives a preview and legal citations for oral arguments that will occur before the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 28. Laws banning gay marriage in four states — Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan — will be debated in a two-hour hearing that day.

In Keller, Texas, the Fort-Worth Star-Telgram reports that school district officials said Thursday that a ban on elaborate requests for dates to a prom, or ”promposals,” was intended to keep disruptions out of the school day, not discriminate against students inviting same sex students. A 16-year-old Timber Creek High School student said on Twitter and in other news reports this week that school officials who initially approved her “promposal” later rescinded permission when they learned she intended to ask out a girl. KXAS/Channel 5 identified the student on Thursday as Casey Akers, 16. Akers sent a message about the situation to a friend via Twitter, and her story spread. School district officials posted this statement on the district’s Twitter account: “In response to recent social media posts regarding ‘promposals’ at our high school campuses, Keller ISD does not grant permission for any student, regardless of gender, to conduct public prom invitations, or promposals, on campus during the school day.” Shellie Johnson, the district’s spokesperson, said the ban was imposed because prom proposals were getting out of hand. Any previous promposals that occurred were done without district approval, she said. Promposals, and other similar public displays, may create a disruption to the academic setting and therefore they are not allowed for any student, district officials said.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Arkansas Senate Passes Bill Allegedly Designed To Strengthen Right Of Religious Freedom Protection But Actually Meant To Sanction Anti-Gay Discrimination, Michigan Attorney General Says Argument Regarding Ban On Same Sex Marriage Really About State Rights, California Bill Introduced To Protect Abuses Of LGBT Youth, Washington State Florist Who Refused To Serve Gay Couple Fined $1001

In Arkansas, a bill that would strengthen religious freedom protections and sanction anti-gay discrimination passed the state Senate on Friday despite two senators changing their votes after supporting it in committee and a gay-rights group warning of economic consequences if it becomes law. The chamber voted 24-7 to approve House Bill 1228, the Conscience Protection Act, a day after representatives from the Human Rights Campaign spoke out against the bill in Little Rock and called it discriminatory. HB1228's lead sponsor, state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) has said the bill will shift Arkansas to a strict scrutiny standard, which makes it more difficult to infringe on religious rights. He told House members when the legislation passed that chamber last month that it would require the government to have compelling interest and for it to take the least restrictive action to regulate a "legitimate, deeply-held religious belief." Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) presented the bill Friday, telling the chamber it is constitutional and that 38 states have similar legislation. He also noted that a law under it can infringe upon religion if there is a compelling government interest. He said a user of illegal drugs couldn't claim he was doing so for religious reasons because the government does have a compelling interest in regulating narcotics, for example. Three Democratic senators from Little Rock, David Johnson, Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield, spoke against the bill. Elliott read a statement from a citizen she didn't identify calling the measure unconstitutional and suggested it could lead to a business choosing not to serve her teenage nephew because he is gay and the business owner opposes homosexuality on religious grounds. "Excluding folks is not the way to go," she said. "I ask you to vote no." Johnson said the legislation would create a "huge gray area" and that it has created issues in other places. He said he knew of one case where a similar law allowed a person to violate a noise ordinance because he claimed he was doing so for religious purposes. "It will employ attorneys for the next decade," Johnson said of the bill. "It's wrong for us to do." Chesterfield warned that religious freedom "has not always been used in the best way," adding, "Having grown up in the south all of my life, I know that religious freedom has meant that slavery was OK, it has meant that Jim Crow was OK, it has meant that it was OK to keep people from achieving that which they deserved. And it is impossible for me having suffered from that religious freedom in a negative way to fail to say that we are better than this and that we have come a long way and we still have a long way to go." Sen. David Burnett (D-Osceola) and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) also voted against the bill after earlier casting votes for the bill that helped send it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the full chamber. Burnett called the first vote a mistake. "I changed my mind. Period," Burnett said after Friday's vote as reporters questioned his shift, adding that he now believes the bill is "unconstitutional." Burnett did not expound on his motivation for first supporting the bill. "I didn't have any original reasons," he told reporters just before the Judiciary Committee was to convene. "I voted it out because I listened in here." Hutchinson told the Associated Press that he regretted voting for the measure in committee. "I think there are instances where religious activities are over-regulated, but in my estimation that does not outweigh the chance that somebody uses religion to do what Jesus would not want to be done in his name, which is to discriminate against somebody and offend a brother or sister," Hutchinson said after the vote. Opponents, including members of the Human Rights Campaign at a news conference Thursday at the Capitol, have said the bill goes further and would allow discrimination. Chad Griffin, the group's president, urged Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill if it made it to his desk, noting that companies including Apple and Wal-Mart have expressed concerns about it and warning that it would hurt economic development recruitment efforts. Hutchinson said Thursday that he intended to sign the bill. It first heads back to the House, where it was passed in February, to consider amendments added on the Senate side.

In Michigan, the latest U.S. Supreme Court filing from Attorney General Bill Schuette's office regarding the state's same sex marriage ban moves the debate toward state rights and away from homosexuality. "This case is not about the best definition of marriage or any stereotypes about families," page 58 of the 83-page brief says. "Families come in all types, and parents of all types--married or single, gay or straight--love their children. This case is about whether the Fourteenth Amendment imposes a single marriage view on all states such that the people have no right to decide. It does not." Schuette's office, on the definition of marriage asks: "Who decides, the people of each state or the federal judiciary?" and argues that Michigan voters, the majority of whom voted to create the ban in 2004, should have that right. "The Fourteenth Amendment does not dictate any particular marriage view, so the courts are not in a position to impose one," the brief says. "Voters have a legitimate interest in promoting their own view, and while not all voters agree, the marriage view adopted since before the country's founding is constitutional." The brief says it is those state rights that have already led to the legalization of gay marriage in some states. "In fact, it is that liberty which has already made it possible for 11 states to choose to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples -- something that likely could not have been achieved at the federal level and would not have been possible in a non-democratic society," the brief says. The filing from Schuette's office is in response to a brief filed February 27 by lawyers for a Michigan couple challenging the state's gay marriage. It authors argued preventing same sex parents from marrying leaves kids vulnerable to economic and psychological harm. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on both sides of gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee on April 28. A ruling is likely to come in June. The high court review comes after a long, eventful series of court proceedings that came after Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, two nurses from Hazel Park, sued the state in January 2012. Without a legal marriage, the couple can't jointly adopt the four children they adopted separately and are raising together. "April and Jayne brought the marriage challenge because they wanted to make things better, more secure for their children," their attorney, Carole Stanyar, said last month. "Marriage brings stability to families. It tells children that they have and will always have two parents. For children of same sex partners, allowing their parents to marry dispels the notion that their families are inferior, or second-tier. Marriage brings dignity and respect to children and their parents." The case initially challenged Michigan adoption laws, but at the suggestion of a federal judge, the couple amended the case later that year to challenge the voter-approved gay marriage ban. After a long wait for their day in court, a nine-day federal court trial, a ruling in their favor, a hectic 24 hours in which some 300 Michigan gay couples were married and an appeals court ruling overturning the first, the U.S. Supreme Court on January 16 agreed to review their case.

In California, according to the Los Angeles Times, in an effort to halt reported abuse at programs claiming to help young people — such as offering to "fix" gay children — a state lawmaker and LGBT activists on Friday announced a campaign to regulate the so-called troubled teen industry. "Under the veil of religious exemption, some facilities in California and abroad claim to help troubled teens or to 'cure' LGBT kids through residential schools, camps or wilderness programs," said state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who appeared Friday in Hollywood with employees of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. "Many of these facilities have operated without regulation or any type of oversight — and without oversight, it's impossible to protect our children," Lara said. Lara has introduced the Protecting Youth From Institutional Abuse Act, legislation that he said would regulate the private industry that treats troubled teenagers. The legislation would require private alternative youth treatment and education institutions — such as boot camps, therapeutic boarding schools, religious children's homes and behavior modification programs — to be licensed by the state Department of Social Services. According to a draft of SB 524, there are at least a dozen unlicensed youth residential institutions in California. Nationwide, the proposed bill says, there are hundreds of such facilities, serving 10,000 to 14,000 youths each year. Although the institutions — often owned and operated by nonprofit groups — advertise services for youths with behavior issues, they often are not licensed to treat substance abuse or mental health disorders. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, youths in such facilities experience high levels of maltreatment, physical abuse and neglect that sometimes lead to accidental death or suicide. Weaknesses in the federal and state regulatory structure have failed to safeguard vulnerable youths, the agency said. Lara said parents often send their children to the programs to try to change their sexual orientation. Therapies aimed at converting minors from gay to straight is illegal in California. But, officials said, it still happens by different means. Rebecca Lopez, 18, said in an interview Friday that she was forbidden to say she was gay at an all-girls' Christian boarding school for troubled teenagers in Northern California, where she spent six months. Late one night about three years ago, Lopez's mother told her to go to her room, where a man she said she didn't know arrived, pretending to be a police officer. The man told Lopez he was going to take her to a police station; instead, he drove her more than 500 miles north of her family's North Hollywood home to the school in Shasta County. At the school, she was deprived of food and forbidden to communicate with family and friends. Because school officials knew she was gay, she said she was subjected to "no-touch therapy" and banned from touching other people. "To this day, if someone reaches over and touches my arm lightly, I feel the need to pull away," she said. "I still feel like I'm going to get in trouble for getting touched." Lopez's family had signed over her guardianship to the school. When her mother finally agreed to remove her, Lopez said, she had to hide in the back seat of her mother's car so she wouldn't be detected. Dave Garcia, director of public policy for the Los Angeles LGBT Center — which supports Lara's proposed bill — said many of the facilities are religiously affiliated. The legislation would not permit religious exemptions that would allow facilities to not be regulated by the state. "Your religion does not give you the right to abuse a child," Garcia said. "No cross will protect you from the law." The LGBT Center also announced that it is working with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and others in Congress to press for federal legislation to regulate the industry. It is common, officials said, for programs forced to close in one state to reopen in another, using a different name. "Families that turn to these treatment programs for help, often as a last resort, must know that their children are safe and in the care of professionals," Schiff said.

In Washington State, a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same sex wedding was fined $1,000 Friday, plus $1 for court costs and fees. Benton County Superior Judge Alexander Ekstrom's ruling gives Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, 60 days to pay the state for her refusal to serve Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed when they sought to buy wedding flowers in 2013. Stutzman, who had sold flowers to Ingersoll for years, knew he was gay and said when he sought to buy wedding flowers that the marriage went against her beliefs as a Southern Baptist. After they were refused flowers, Ingersoll and Freed went ahead with a smaller wedding than they had planned. They got married in their home with 11 guests and flowers from another florist. In a February ruling, Ekstrom found that Stutzman's refusal to provide flowers because of sexual orientation violated Washington's anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. Along with the fine, the judge's ruling also requires that everything Arlene's Flowers sells to opposite sex couples has to be available at the same price to same sex couples. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office requested the fine, said in a statement Friday that the ruling is a reminder of the reach of Washington's anti-discrimination laws. "My primary goal has always been to end illegal discrimination," Ferguson said. "I'm pleased that today's ruling clearly prohibits discrimination against same sex couples." Before Ferguson's office filed the consumer-protection lawsuit against Stutzman, it had sent her a letter asking for an agreement to no longer discriminate, which she refused. Ferguson's statement Friday said the office would not have sued if Stutzman had accepted the agreement.

Under Pressure By NDP Bill To Ban Conversion Therapy Ontario Liberal Party To Ask Medical Regulatory Bodies To Ban "Abhorrent" Practice, Two Ottawa Girls Whose School Vetoed Gay Rights Project Honoured For Forming First Gay-Straight Alliance At Catholic Elementary In Canada, Two Perth Men Accused Of Horrific Vigilante Attack Against Gay Man In 2013 Found Guilty Of Murder, Owner Of Belfast Bakery That Refused To Create Cake Promoting Same Sex Marriage Tells Court Fulfilling Order Would Have Betrayed Conscience, Indiana Governor Mike Pence Signs Into Law A Measure Sanctioning Anti-Gay Discrimination Under Guise Of Religious Freedom Amid Furious Criticism From Individuals And Corporations, Federal Judge In Texas Rules Government Cannot Enforce Rule Allowing Same Sex Couples Access To Family And Medical Leave Act, Former Brigham Young University Student Settles Eviction Lawsuit After Bizarre Gay Attraction Dispute

An update on a previous post: In Ontario, under pressure from an NDP bill to ban so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth, Health Minister Eric Hoskins says he will ask medical regulatory bodies to prohibit what he calls the “abhorrent” treatments. “This is not something this government would ever support or endorse,” Hoskins said in the legislature Thursday. New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced her bill earlier this month, saying some physicians and therapists who believe being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans is a form of mental illness and are billing the Ontario Health Insurance Plan for “abusive counselling sessions” intended to turn patients straight — often at the insistence of parents and with religious overtones. Some have become suicidal or killed themselves in anguish, DiNovo told reporters, saying Hoskins’ approach does not go far enough and said conversion therapy should be banned for anyone 18 and under and not covered by OHIP for anyone over 18. “We need far more from this government . . . we need the government to stand up here on behalf of victims. We’re talking about suicide.” DiNovo initially put her question to Premier Kathleen Wynne, the province’s first openly gay premier, who declined to answer and turned the issue over to her health minister. Hoskins said he will approach the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and similar bodies regulating psychologists “to explore amending the regulations to ban this practice, as it should be banned,” adding, “This isn’t treatment. Our Ontario Human Rights Code is very specific on issues such as this,” Hoskins, himself a doctor, who said such treatments fall under existing prohibitions against professional misconduct. “No current medical guidelines anywhere that I’ve found, certainly not in this province, support or endorse this kind of alleged treatment that would aim to change or convert someone away from being LGBT.” Hoskins also encouraged anyone who has been subjected to the treatments to report them to his ministry or the college and noted there is no billing code for conversion therapy, although it could be conducted and billed as general counselling by a physician. DiNovo scoffed at the suggestion that a distraught youth would have the wherewithal to make such a report and said an explicit ban in legislation — such as laws in California and New Jersey — is needed. “Just imagine you’re a child, you’re going to complain to the College of Physicians and Surgeons if you’re 8 years old or 12 years old?” DiNovo’s bill goes to debate in the legislature next Thursday afternoon, but she is not confident the Liberals will vote in favour and send it to a legislative committee for further study. It’s not known how many people are regularly given conversion therapy in Ontario, but Dr. Joey Bonifacio, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children said he has treated some. “I see the young adults who have depression and are cutting after meeting a homophobic therapist,” he told a news conference with DiNovo at Queen’s Park two weeks ago, the Canadian Press reported. “We regularly see these families with children who identify as transgendered desperately looking for guidance.”

An update on a previous post: Also in Ontario, the Citizen reporting that two Ottawa girls whose school vetoed their project on gay rights are being honoured for forming the first Gay-Straight Alliance at a Catholic elementary school in Canada. Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton are to receive the award April 8 at the Ottawa Pink Gala sponsored by the Canadian Centre of Gender and Diversity. On Friday, Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals sent her congratulations to the elementary school girls whose wish to highlight gay rights put them in the centre of controversy. “I would like to congratulate Quinn Maloney-Tavare and Polly Hamilton on the receipt of an award from the Canadian Centre for Gender and Diversity,” Sandals said by e-mail. “In Ontario, we believe in a safe and inclusive school environment where all students feel safe and accepted, and I’m proud to see these students putting this belief into practice.” The girls’ story went viral late last year after the principal at St. George Elementary School in Ottawa told them that they couldn’t do a project on gay rights for the school’s social justice fair. Julian Hanlon, director of education at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said at the time that principal Ann Beauchamp “had some concerns about the age-appropriateness of the material the kids wanted to present.” The school board chair, Ted Hurley, later reviewed the matter, saying, “We support the students’ sense of fair play and respect for all persons.” The girls were invited, with their parents, to meet with the principal and resolve the issue. That meeting and others led, indirectly, to the creation of a gay-straight alliance, a support organization whose creation at publicly funded schools is now supported by Ontario law. But, according to Jeremy Dias, founder and head of the Canadian Centre of Gender and Diversity, which will honour the girls, St. George’s alliance will be the first at a Catholic elementary school in Canada. “This is a huge accomplishment, because it recognizes the work of young people in addressing discrimination and bullying in schools,” he said. Ann Maloney, Quinn Maloney-Tavares’s mother, said after meeting with officials, the girls agreed to do their project on how gay rights were addressed by a Catholic high school’s equity club. Quinn and Polly visited a Gay-Straight Alliance at All Saint’s High School in Kanata and asked for support to set up one at their own school. That process is just beginning. Maloney said the girls were inspired to set up the alliance after learning about the Gay Sweater, the project made of the hair of hundreds of members of the LGBTQ community, meant to address the harm that using expressions such as “that’s so gay” can do. “The girls were saying they often heard people say ‘That’s so gay.’ They just wanted to change the way people talked.” Maloney said both Quinn and Polly were affected by the uproar around their request to do a social justice project on gay rights and the reaction to it. They received support but also criticism. “There was a loss of innocence. They realized there are grownup people who don’t see the world the same way that they see it.” Polly’s mother Kate Hamilton said she has learned a lot from her daughter during this experience. “I am proud of her. I think she is proud of herself.” A spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic School Board said most students between grades 7 and 12 have access to a gay-straight alliance, but the one set up by the girls is the first at a K-6 elementary school.

In Australia, two Perth men accused of a vigilante attack on a gay man have been found guilty of murder. Daniel Wade Jones and Mark Taylor fatally bashed Warren Batchelor, 48, at Middle Swan Reserve in November 2013. Mr Batchelor had been having a sexual encounter with another man in a disabled toilet when Jones and Taylor burst in and bashed him. Prosecutors described the bashing as a vigilante attack designed to rid the area of gay men. Both men denied fatally injuring Mr Batchelor but a Supreme Court jury deliberated for about five hours before finding them guilty. The court was told Jones and Taylor were camping in the park when it was alleged they bashed Mr Batchelor. A witness, whose identity has been suppressed, testified someone banged on the toilet door before it was kicked in. Mr Batchelor was king hit, punched and stomped while on the ground, then hit with a pole. He died two days later in hospital. In a statement read outside the court on their behalf, Mr Batchelor's family described Warren as "a kind, loving and caring man," the statement adding, "We miss him every day. We are very pleased with the verdict. We thank everyone." Jones and Taylor have been remanded in custody until a sentencing hearing next month.

In the United Kingdom, the Guardian reports that an owner of a Belfast bakery who refused to make a cake promoting same sex marriage has told a court that fulfilling the order would have betrayed his conscience. Colin McArthur, who co-owns Ashers bakery, told the high court in Belfast he had discussed with his wife, Karen, “how we could stand before God and bake a cake like this, promoting a cause like this." The case was brought by gay rights activist Gareth Lee, who had ordered the cake to mark the election of the first openly LGBT mayor in Northern Ireland last year – Andrew Muir, an Alliance councillor for North Down. The design featured the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, as well as the slogan “Support gay marriage” and the logo of the QueerSpace gay rights group. The Equality Commission is funding Lee’s case against the business, accusing it of discrimination under the Equality Act, by up to £30,000. Earlier on Friday, Karen McArthur admitted that she had initially agreed to an order for the cake because she did not want to embarrass the customer who asked for it or start a confrontation in the shop. She said she then consulted an elder in her branch of the Presbyterian church about the order, adding, “In my heart I knew that I would not be able to fulfil the order.” David Scoffield QC, representing Ashers, said his clients could not set aside their religious beliefs when they donned their baking overalls. “This is a freedom of conscience case. The evidence from the defendants is that they seek to live at all times in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. The religious beliefs form the very core of who they are.” Scoffield said the business did not have a problem with the sexuality of its customers but rather the message contained on the cake. He said the bakery “served many gay customers on a daily basis," adding, “The defendants neither knew nor cared about Mr Lee’s sexual orientation or his religious beliefs, if any, or his political opinions. The issue was the content of the cake, not the content of his character.” Scoffield accused the Equality Commission of taking a “kneejerk” reaction over Ashers’ decision. Karen McArthur also told the court Ashers bakery did not specify on its advertising that there were any pre-conditions on what kind of cakes it would bake. Regarding the “Support gay marriage” slogan, she added that she would have “felt wrong in my own conscience putting it on a cake”. On the opening day of the civil action on Thursday, Lee told a packed court that, although he used to be a regular customer at Ashers, he felt like “a lesser person” and “unworthy” after the company refused to bake the cake he asked for. The case has become a groundbreaking clash between backers of religious freedom and supporters of equality rights for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, with Ashers now a global cause for evangelical Christians across the world. Ashers is named after one of the 12 sons of biblical patriarch Jacob whose ”food would be rich” and who “would provide delicacies fit for a king”. The bakery’s stance has the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, including Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister. The case continues.

In Indiana, Reuters reports that Governor Mike Pence on Thursday signed into law a controversial religious freedom bill that could allow businesses and individuals to deny services to gays and lesbians on religious grounds, in a move that prompted protests from some business leaders. Supporters of the bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature, say it will keep the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Opponents say it is discriminatory and broader in scope than other state religious freedom laws. Social conservatives have pushed for such laws following court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage and anticipating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year on whether states can ban same sex marriage. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action," Pence said in a statement after signing the bill. Legal experts say the Religious Freedom Restoration Act sets a legal standard that will allow people of all faiths to bring religious freedom claims, but opinions differ over its impact. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said on Twitter that his San Francisco-based business tech company would cancel programs that require customers and employees to travel to Indiana. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar called the law "entirely unnecessary" and said it would bring the state unwanted attention. Gay rights groups worry it will be used by businesses that do not want to provide services for gay weddings. Gay marriage became legal in Indiana last year following an appeals court ruling. Pence said that the bill is "not about discrimination" and that 19 states have similar statutes. Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a New York-based national gay rights legal group, said Indiana's law is broader than other state religious freedom laws in giving businesses religious rights. She compared it to a bill Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed earlier this year due to concerns it could harm the economy. "It is a signal to those who want to discriminate that they have greater leeway to do so," Pizer said. But Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Daniel Conkle, who supports gay rights, compared the law to a Pennsylvania statute that prevented the city of Philadelphia from barring a group of churches from feeding homeless people in parks. Conkle said an Indiana caterer who objects to serving a gay wedding could use the law to have his day in court but would be unlikely to prevail. The Republican mayor of Indianapolis criticized the act as sending the wrong message. "We are a diverse city and I want everyone who visits and lives in Indy to feel comfortable here," said Mayor Greg Ballard. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert expressed concern about how the law could impact athletes and visitors attending next week's Men's Final Four basketball tournament. Gen Con, a gamers convention that draws over 50,000 people annually, said it would consider not holding future events in Indiana because of the law. Gen Con is under contract with the Indiana Convention Center until 2020.

In Texas, the federal government cannot enforce a new rule that would have given same sex couples access to benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal judge in Wichita Falls ruled Thursday. The Austin Statesman reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently sued the Labor Department to overturn the rule, which would have changed the definition of “spouse” to include same sex couples. Paxton argued that the change, set to take effect Friday, would require Texas agencies to violate state law by granting family leave benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed, ruling that the Labor Department exceeded its authority in changing the rule. “Unlike the previous agency rules defining ‘spouse’ according to the employee’s state of residency, this final rule bases it upon the jurisdiction in which the marriage was celebrated,” O’Connor wrote in a 24-page order released Thursday evening. “Such agency action improperly preempts state law forbidding the recognition of same sex marriages.” O’Connor, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the rule in Texas and three other states that joined Paxton’s lawsuit — Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska. The judge also set a hearing for April 13 in Wichita Falls, the first step toward granting a permanent injunction. But O’Connor also noted that the legal landscape is shifting. “Without a doubt, the questions involved in this action are serious and must be resolved by the proper authority. The Supreme Court will soon address these issues and provide much needed clarity for the lower courts,” he wrote. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take unpaid time off, with their jobs and benefits protected, for childbirth, adoption, family emergencies or serious medical conditions.

In Utah, a former Brigham Young University student has settled a lawsuit with a Provo apartment complex over an eviction that he claims followed a dispute with roommates who wanted him out of the house, the school and the LDS Church because they believed he was gay. Andrew White was evicted from the Village at South Campus in Provo on January 23, 10 days after the disagreement between the former student and his three male roommates. Court papers say the argument escalated from gay slurs into fisticuffs that left White with bruised ribs. The lawsuit, which named apartment complex owner Peak Joaquin Holdings, LLC, as the sole defendant, was filed March 19. The complex is considered "BYU-approved" housing and holds residents to the moral standards of the university's honor code — conduct that mirrors the religious principles of the school's owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The settlement was announced in a statement by White released Thursday evening by his attorney, Daniel Ybarra. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, however, White had been seeking more than $101,000 in damages, to cover relocation costs, repair and replacement of personal belongings and as compensation for the fear, anxiety and stress he has suffered since the January dispute. White's statement clarified that the lawsuit was a matter of landlord-tenant law and not a claim that White had been the victim of discrimination by the apartment complex staff or its owners. "I stand strongly against any form of invidious discrimination, particularly the type of behavior that my roommates exhibited toward me," he said in the statement. "However, my complaint against the Village did not allege discrimination by them. I didn't allege that in my complaint and I won't allege that now." White stands against the discrimination he experienced at the hands of his roommates, but the complex did not discriminate against him, the statement said, and the lawsuit was over landlord tenant law. According to the lawsuit, in early January, White confided to one roommate that he "felt same-sex attraction." The roommate shared that information with others who lived in the apartment without White's knowledge. Days later, an argument over food turned into an altercation that included threats, gay slurs and statements that White should not be permitted to live in the apartment, study at Brigham Young University, be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or work at the Missionary Training Center, court papers say. White initially refused to leave, but ultimately did so after his roommates allegedly entered his room, dragged him out of bed and began removing his personal belongings from the residence. He was relocated to an empty apartment, but was later served with eviction papers after he went to his former residence, which triggered another dispute. A copy of the eviction notice, which was included with court filings, said White had violated the policies in his lease, including residential living standards and BYU's honor code, but provided no specific details. Ybarra declined to comment on the case in a telephone call with The Tribune on Wednesday and Lance Freeman, the apartment complex manager, did not return messages left at his office. Court records do not list an attorney for Peak Joaquin Holdings. The lawsuit contends White was wrongly ejected and said Freeman should have known his actions — including telling apartment staff that White was a homosexual — carried "an unreasonable risk" of emotional distress because he knew that that information had in the past "directly led to an assault." White has since relocated and is no longer attending BYU, although Ybarra told The Tribune on Thursday that White intends to go back to the school. BYU spokesperson Carrie Jenkins said the university conducted its own investigation of the alleged incident, but she said its findings are private. Provo police investigated the incident and have referred the case to the city attorney's office for consideration of criminal charges.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two Turkish Caricaturists Fined For Implying President Erdogan Gay, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Moves To Block Proposed Voter Initiative Mandating Execution Of Sexual Active Gays And Lesbians, Oregon Teacher Of The Year Brett Bigham Demands He Be Reinstated Claiming District Retaliated Against Him After He Filed Complaints Alleging Anti-Gay Discrimination, North Carolina Transgender Teen Blake Brockington Dies Of Apparent Suicide, Virginia School Reverses Earlier Ruling Amidst Parent-Engendered Trans-phobic Hysteria And Orders Student To Use Single-Stall Or Staff Restrooms Rather Than That Conforming To Gender Identified With, HBO Cancels Looking With Caveat, Zayn Malik Quits One Direction

Two Turkish caricaturists have been fined for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan after a court ruled that one of their cartoons implied he was gay, local media said on Wednesday. Reuters reports that Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan were prosecuted for an illustration on the front page of satirical magazine Penguen last August in which an official greeted Erdogan while apparently making a circle with his thumb and forefinger. Prosecutors launched the indictment after a citizen complained that the hand signal, commonly used in Turkey to insult homosexuals, was against the country's moral values. Lawyers representing Erdogan then got involved in the case, demanding that the court punish the cartoonists for "insulting a public official", Hurriyet newspaper reported. Penguen had no immediate comment, but the cartoonists were quoted by Hurriyet as denying the charges and saying no such implication was intended. They were initially sentenced to 11 months in prison but the court immediately reduced this to a 7,000 lira ($2,740) fine because of good conduct during the trial. Erdogan, who brooks little dissent, has dominated politics for more than a decade in Sunni Muslim Turkey, where homosexuality is widely frowned upon. Others to fall foul of his sensitivities include a former Miss Turkey winner, who is facing a possible jail term for allegedly insulting him on social media, and a 13-year old boy who was this month questioned over a Facebook post.

In California, according to the New York Times, the attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, moved Wednesday to block a proposed voter initiative that would mandate the execution of sexually active gay men and women, calling it “patently unconstitutional” and a threat to public safety. Ms. Harris said she would ask the state Superior Court in Sacramento to relieve her of having to write the title and summary for the Sodomite Suppression Act, which would clear the way for the author, Matthew G. McLaughlin, a lawyer in Huntington Beach, to begin gathering signatures to get it on the ballot. The highly unusual announcement by Ms. Harris — by all appearances, California law gives no discretion to the attorney general in handling these kind of initiatives — comes as gay groups and others have called on her to block the measure. Ms. Harris, who was just elected to a second term, announced earlier this year that she would run for the Senate in 2016. In her statement, Ms. Harris signaled her lack of legal options as she threw the ball to the courts. “If the court does not grant this relief,” she said, “my office will be forced to issue a title and summary for a proposal that seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism.” Even if she is forced to proceed, Mr. McLaughlin — who did not return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday — has a tough road ahead. He would have to gather the signatures of 365,880 registered voters, and it seems highly unlikely that if he succeeded at that, voters in the state would approve a measure like this. Floyd F. Feeney, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, said that it was highly unlikely that a court would intervene and suggested that this was more of a political gesture than a legal one “From a purely legal point of view, there is zero point of doing this,” Professor Feeney said. “What we are seeing here is more of the political side of this. She is being pressed by gay rights activists, she’s wanting to be supportive.”

In Oregon, special education teacher Brett Bigham wants to get back to his job. Bigham, who teaches a transition class for 17 to 21-year-olds for the Multnomah Education Services District, was placed on paid leave Friday – less that two weeks after he filed his second complaint against the district. Bigham, who was honored by the state as the Oregon Teacher of the Year in 2014, is gay. He says in both complaints to the Bureau of Labor and Industries, that when his orientation became known publicly, the MESD started months of wrongful employment practices and retaliation, including threats of termination, getting told he could not speak in public or write letters home to parents without the district's approval, being ordered by management to perform menial tasks and then placed on administrative leave without being told why. "They've made it very clear that I'm not welcome at my job," Bigham said. The Oregon Education Association has requested that he be immediately reinstated to his classroom. "The association joins in the request of Mr. Bigham's private attorney that the MESD immediately end the 'administrative leave' and return Mr. Bigham to his classroom position," said an e-mail written to the district by attorney Liz Joffe on Monday morning. "The contract expressly contemplates that administrative leave be used only when there is a good faith basis to remove a member from the worksite pending an investigation into alleged misconduct. That obviously is not the case here." Laura Conroy, spokesperson for the Multnomah Education Service District, said the district is not aware of any request from the union regarding Bigham. She confirmed that he has been on paid leave since Friday and remains an employee of the district. A substitute teacher will take over in his classroom in his absence. The Oregon Department of Education named Bigham its 2014 teacher of the year and he is the current teacher of the year for the Oregon Education Association. He was recognized for his commitment to providing access to as many activities as possible for his students, according to a 2013 press release by the education department. BOLI spokesperson Charlie Burr said Bigham's complaints are being investigated by the bureau's civil rights division. According to his BOLI complaint, Bigham traced the issue back to a public talk he gave in January 2014 at the Columbia Gorge Education Service District after he was named Oregon's teacher of the year. During a question and answer portion of the speech, he was asked about being gay. Later, he says department head Jeanne Zuniga told him he should not speak about being gay. In August 2014, Bigham filed a grievance with the Oregon Education Association union claiming disparate treatment. It was read before the school board in September. He said he then received retaliation, including being denied appearances with a gay-straight student alliance and anti-bullying group and having his desk moved out of his classroom to an isolated location, the complaint said. The second BOLI complaint, filed March 9, 2015, outlined continued retaliatory actions against Bigham. He alleges that he was denied permission to attend a National Education Association event during school hours. He later was told he could attend on the condition that he withdraw his initial complaint with BOLI and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the complaint said. The complaint said he was ordered, under threat of termination, to remove photos on his classroom door relating to being Oregon's Teacher of the Year, including photos of him with President Barack Obama, government officials and pictures with his husband. Conroy said the service district is being proactive in assisting with the BOLI investigation. "With regard to the BOLI complaint we are doing everything that we are being asked to do to assist in that investigation," Conroy said. "Bullying, harassment and discrimination is something MESD takes very seriously. When we have an employee that brings that to our attention, we take immediate action." The education service district hired an external investigator after Bigham filed his first complaint, Conroy said. That investigation concluded with no findings of bullying, harassment or discrimination on the part of the district. "Apart from this single comment Mr. Bigham reported in January 2014, no MESD administrator or supervisor ever raised or objected to him expressing any remark about his sexual orientation. Multiple MESD administrators complimented Mr. Bigham on his standard presentation which included references to his sexual orientation," said a report on the investigation conducted by a third party for the district. The report also suggested that Bigham misconstrued certain interactions with administration to be more constricting than they were intended. A second investigation by the district into Bigham's complaints is ongoing, Conroy said. Bigham said the district gave him a new contract for the 2015-2016 school year prior to being placed on leave last week, which he said he signed and mailed off Tuesday morning. Conroy did not confirm whether the district had sent him a contract for next school year. "We're open to working with Mr. Bigham to find a mutually beneficial resolution," she said. "For me to leave my classroom while Teacher of the Year is not acceptable to me. If I were to do that, then my message is, 'If you are out, you will be crushed,'" Bigham said in a statement.

In North Carolina, Blake Brockington, a transgender man who advocated for the rights of sexual minorities, died of an apparent suicide Monday night, according to police and Time Out Youth. Brockington, 18, was known as a girl until his sophomore year at East Mecklenburg High. He spoke of the difficulties of growing up transgender in Charlotte in a January story in the Observer. He said it was so difficult growing up that he moved in with a foster family and got counselling before transitioning to being Blake. Last year, he was crowned East Meck’s homecoming king while running as an openly transgender student. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

In Virginia, a transgender student at Hartwood Elementary School will have to use a single-stall restroom, staff bathroom, or the restroom of the student’s biological gender, the Stafford School Board decided late Tuesday night. The student had been allowed to use the restroom of the gender the student identifies with. Before the 6–0 vote, the board met in closed session for close to an hour to consult with legal counsel over actual or probable litigation and an employee discipline matter. Board member Irene Egan was absent. “The issue isn’t as clear as anyone would like it to be, and I’m hoping at some point that we get some direction either from our legislators in Virginia or from VSBA [Virginia School Boards Association],” Superintendent Bruce Benson said. The board chamber was nearly empty when the vote was taken, but earlier in the evening, the room was packed, and 20 speakers addressed the board—including a man who said he is the transgender student’s father. “I have many of the exact same beliefs that many of you do,” Jonathon Adams said to those who opposed the school system’s initial action. “I was astonished. And then I watched my little girl grow up. I’m very proud to have a special little girl. I don’t mean just on the outside.” He also said there needs to be open communication and transparency, but urged people to not trade misconceptions for hate. The school system’s nondiscrimination officer said in a March 12 letter to a parent that federal agencies have interpreted Title IX to require schools to permit transgender students to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify. Four other speakers supported the school system’s initial stance, including Aston Haughton, president of the Stafford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It wasn’t long ago that school boards were debating issues that were similar to this one. African–American kids weren’t able to attend the same schools as white kids,” Haughton said. “And what we need to do now is take a step back and take a look at the situation and let the School Board follow the federal laws.” Fifteen speakers spoke against the initial decision, with some warning that they would remove their child from the school system if nothing was changed. A group called Save our Schools was formed opposing that stance. “The perception in the community is that the school board is throwing away the rights of many children for the wants of some confused children,” Curtis Lineweaver said. Many opponents had concerns over students’ privacy rights, while some worried that their children could be preyed upon. “My daughter has been excluded from class participation with her friends because of this,” said Eric Kingston, the parent of a Hartwood student. “We have now opened the door for any predatory individual to claim this gender identity to enter the restroom of the opposite sex and prey upon our children behind closed doors.” Another mother of three said that females should be allowed to deal with their monthly menstrual periods without fear of intrusion. Amanda Armstrong said that an alternative bathroom should be allowed because the school was inviting bullying, rape, sodomization and possibly death. Gloucester County is facing a federal civil rights complaint after adopting a policy in December 2014 limiting bathroom and locker facilities to students’ biological genders. Under the policy, transgender students would use an alternative private facility. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a Gloucester High School sophomore who is biologically female but identifies as a male. Grimm had at one point been allowed to use the boys restroom, according to the ACLU’s website. “If anyone truly understands this diagnosis, they know that this child is not a predator. They are not peeking through the walls,” said Wesley Jensen, the mother of two female Hartwood students. “My children personally know this student. They absolutely adore this student. When I really dig deep, this is not how I am raising my daughters ... to call someone a weirdo because they are not just like them.” Jensen said she wasn’t thrilled with a possible locker room situation down the road and the lack of notification irritated her. But she was put at ease once she talked to Hartwood officials. Another parent said that online comments beneath Monday’s Free Lance–Star article on the topic were heart-wrenching, and asked if opponents applied the same feelings to homosexual students who learn alongside their students every day. The Stafford schools’ nondiscrimination policy, which was last adopted in December 2013, states that the board does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, color, religion, national origin, political affiliation or disability. In an opinion released earlier this month that reverses that of his Republican predecessor, Attorney General Mark Herring said that local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies.

After two seasons, HBO's gay-themed comedy Looking has reached the end of its road. The Hollywood Reporter reports that rather than renewing the critically praised Jonathan Groff comedy for a third season, the premium cable network will conclude the story with a special. "After two years of following Patrick (Groff) and his tight-knit group of friends as they explored San Francisco in search of love and lasting relationships, HBO will present the final chapter of their journey as a special," HBO said in a statement. "We look forward to sharing this adventure with the shows' loyal fans." Season two ended Sunday with a cliffhanger that saw Patrick struggling to choose between his current flame, Kevin (Russell Tovey) and his ex, Ritchie (Raul Castillo). The decision to close out the series with a special follows a similar move by the cable network with the Stephen Merchant comedy Hello Ladies. Looking was never a ratings hit out of the gate, attracting a small but loyal audience over two seasons and 18 total episodes. HBO stuck with the comedy about a group of gay friends living in San Francisco and renewed the series for a second season, which was expanded from eight to 10 episodes. Sunday's season two finale drew just 298,000 total viewers. But the comedy, like others on HBO, had a strong afterlife in DVR, on-demand and HBO Go. For HBO, the news comes as the cable network recently renewed niche comedy Getting On for a third and final season. The network's comedy lineup also includes the previously announced second season of Togetherness as well as Silicon Valley, Veep, Girls and upcoming entries The Brink, Ballers and Danny McBride's Vice Principals.

According to the Guardian, One Direction have confirmed that Zayn Malik has left the band, saying that he wants “to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time”. Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson will continue as a four-piece for their forthcoming world tour and fifth album. His full statement reads: “My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined. But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I’d like to apologise to the fans if I’ve let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.” Fans first feared that the 22-year-old had departed the group last week, after a spokesperson from the band announced that Malik had officially been signed off the current tour in Asia owing to stress. It followed a week in which he publicly apologised to his fiancee – Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards – after he was pictured holding hands with another woman in Thailand. The rest of the band say that they “totally respect his decision” to leave, and “send him all our love for the future." Syco boss Simon Cowell, who was responsible for the group’s formation on X Factor in 2010, thanked Malik “for everything he has done for One Direction," adding that, “Since I first met Zayn in 2010, I have grown very, very fond – and immensely proud – of him. I have seen him grow in confidence and I am truly sorry to see him leave. As for One Direction, fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band.” One Direction are scheduled to perform in Jakarta on 25 March, before they embark on the rest of their world tour throughout 2015, culminating in a series of shows at London’s O2 Arena.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Russian Fails In Attempt To Stop United Nations Benefits For All Gay And Lesbian Couples, Alabama Introduces Bill Allowing Anti-Gay Discrimination To Be Practiced By All Adoption Agencies Under Guise Of Religious Freedom, Reactions To California Ballot Initiative Measure Titled Sodomite Suppression Act Includes Bill Increasing Fee From $200 To $8,000, Mississippi Man Accused Of Anti-Gay Attack Says Victim Was About To Out Him As Bisexual, Bobby Beltran Accuses Austin Texas W Hotel Employee Of Anti-Gay Attack During South By Southwest, Dallas County Gay And Lesbian Employees Now Eligible For Family Medical Leave, Archdiocese "Baffled" By Accusation It Fired Violently Anti-Gay Teacher Patricia Jannuzzi As Conservatives Attempt To Canonize Her As Patron Saint Of Right

Russia failed on Tuesday in a bid to stop the United Nations extending staff benefits to all same-sex couples after a U.N. General Assembly budget committee voted 80 to 43 against the proposal. Reuters reports that there were 37 abstentions and 33 countries did not vote. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in July that the United Nations would recognize all same sex marriages of its staff, allowing them to receive U.N. benefits. Previously, staff members' personal status was determined by the laws of their country of nationality. But the United Nations now recognizes all same sex couples married in a country where it is legal, regardless of their nationality. Russia wanted the 193-member General Assembly Fifth Committee, which deals with the U.N. budget, to overturn Ban's decision and had been threatening to put the measure to a vote since December. "We must speak plainly about what Russia tried to do today: diminish the authority of the U.N. Secretary-General and export to the U.N. its domestic hostility to LGBT rights," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in a statement after the vote. Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Petr Iliichev said before the vote that the United Nations should return to how the issue was previously regulated, citing it as "an example of how the United Nations respects cultural differences, the sovereign right of each and every state to determine its norms." He denied that Russia was trying to undermine Ban's authority. Russia triggered global criticism in 2013 when it banned spreading "gay propaganda" to children. Critics denounced the law as discriminatory and said it is a curb on rights to free speech and assembly. Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is no gay discrimination in Russia, which decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria were among the countries that voted in favor of Russia's proposal. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not support the expansion of benefits for same sex couples because Saudi Arabia believes these relationships are morally unacceptable," a Saudi diplomat told the U.N. committee.

In Alabama, a bill introduced in the Legislature would allow adoption agencies -- including those with state contracts -- to refuse to place children with same sex couples on religious grounds. According to the Associated Press, Republican Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa introduced the bill last week specifying that groups could refuse to participate in adoptions and foster care placements that violate their religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit the state from refusing to license, or contract with, the groups that refuse services to people on religious grounds. Allen said he brought the bill to protect the faith-based groups, including children's homes affiliated with the Baptist and Catholic churches, in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court could legalize same sex marriage nationwide later this year. "It's not that they are discriminating against same sex couples, they are observing their own rights and beliefs," said Eric Johnston, an attorney who worked on the bill. Opponents said the bill would provide legal cover for discrimination against a diverse array of families seeking to adopt. "Decisions about prospective parents should be based on the best interest of the child, not on discriminatory factors unrelated to good parenting," said Human Rights Campaign Alabama state director R. Ashley Jackson. The bill does not specify same sex marriage but only says that the groups can refuse services that violate their religious beliefs. Jackson said that would allow the groups to refuse people of certain faiths, or at least give preference to people of a certain faith. Johnston said gay couples could still adopt in Alabama through secular or other adoption agencies. Alabama is the latest state to take up "religious freedom" bills regarding gay marriage. The Alabama House of Representatives has approved a bill that would grant civil immunity for judges and ministers who refuse to marry gay couples. Johnston said legislation will probably be introduced this session to provide civil protections to florists, bakers and others who refuse to provide services at same sex weddings. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 28 regarding whether gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions. The Alabama Department of Human Resources did not have an immediate comment on the legislation. Gay and lesbian couples began marrying in some Alabama counties on February 9 after a federal judge ruled Alabama's ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Alabama Supreme Court in March ordered probate judges to stop issuing the licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

In California, an update on a previous post, the Los Angeles Times reporting that over the decades, California has chiseled out some of its most colorful laws at the ballot box. There have been proposed initiatives seeking to allow public school children be able to sing Christmas carols, to require drug testing of state legislators, to outlaw divorce and to divide California into six states. But the proposed initiative submitted by a Huntington Beach attorney that would authorize the killing of gays and lesbians by "bullets to the head" — or "any other convenient method" — is testing the limits of the state's normally liberal attitude on putting even the most extreme ideas on the ballot if enough signatures are collected. The proposed initiative has been met by a firestorm of anger, yet there appears to be nothing that can stop it from being given a formal name and advancing to the signature gathering process. For a fee of $200, Matthew McLaughlin submitted what he called the Sodomite Suppression Act to the state attorney general's office, which has little choice but to give it a ballot-worthy name, summarize its effects and set the clock running for gathering signatures. "Mr. McLaughlin's immoral proposal is just the latest — and most egregious — example of the need to further reform the initiative process," Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) said. Some of California's most controversial laws have been given life through the initiative process, though some lived only briefly. A 1996 initiative legalized marijuana for medicinal use, a law that still stands. Two years earlier, voters approved the so-called Save Our State initiative, which denied a public education and other benefits to those in the country illegally — a law that was quickly declared to be illegal. Two lawmakers said they were so revolted by McLaughlin's submitted initiative that they have proposed a bill that would increase the fee for filing a ballot measure from $200 to $8,000. "We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness," said Low, who co-authored the legislation with Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). But to get on the ballot, McLaughlin and any supporters he has would have to collect more than 365,000 signatures in 180 days, a high bar even for well-financed efforts."In California, this has the same chance as a snowball's chance in hell," said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. Kurt Oneto, a Sacramento attorney who specializes in the initiative process, said Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris does not have the ability to turn down McLaughlin's proposed ballot measure, regardless of how she might feel. "The state gets serious initiatives that are submitted and we get silly ones, and every now and then we get ugly ones like this," Oneto said. "I would submit this is probably the ugliest one I remember." McLaughlin's proposal calls same sex intimacy "a monstrous evil" and says it would be better for gay people to die than for Californians to "be killed by God's just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst." It also would make the spreading of "sodomistic propaganda" punishable by a $1-million fine, 10 years in jail or deportation from the state. And it would ban gay people from holding public office. If the proposal collected enough signatures, it would be placed on the November 2016 ballot. If voters were to approve it, the decision on whether to make it a law would ultimately rest with the courts, which have overturned measures approved by the voters, including Proposition 8, which barred same sex marriages. McLaughlin could not be located for comment. The address he lists with the state bar is a postal box at a Beach Boulevard strip mall, his phone goes straight to voicemail and no one came to the door at the downtown Huntington Beach address where he is registered to vote. The state bar shows that McLaughlin's law license is active and that he graduated from UC Irvine and then George Mason University School of Law. A Huntington Beach attorney with the same name and identical academic background submitted an initiative more than a decade ago that would have allowed public school teachers in California to use the Bible as a textbook. "Even if you don't believe its teachings, you'll agree that it includes rich usage of the English language," McLaughlin told the Times in a 2004 interview, saying that the Bible helped him become an honor student at Costa Mesa High School. Earlier this month, the California Legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus filed a formal complaint against McLaughlin with the State Bar of California, asking that he be investigated. An online petition at change.org calling for McLaughlin to be disbarred had more than 17,000 signatures Monday. Dave Garcia, director of policy for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said that anybody who signs McLaughlin's proposal and "calls for the murder of gay people" should expect that "their names are going to be made public."

In Mississippi, an update on a previous post: a man charged with beating up a gay man in Corinth says he snapped, not because the man was gay, but because of what he feared the man would reveal to the rest of the world. James Scott faces assault charges for what he did to Devin Norman at the Corinth Walmart on Friday. Norman and his supporters say Scott should be charged with more than assault. They want Scott to face hate crime charges, because they say he attacked Norman for being homosexual. Scott says Norman scared him by threatening to post lewd pictures and messages between them to Facebook for the world to see. "I was screaming, and I said, 'Don't you dare post that. Don't you dare post that on Facebook,'" Scott said. Scott says he has been in the closet as a bisexual, and he was afraid of how posting those messages would change his life. "I was in fear for what my kids were going to think. I wasn't ready to tell anybody," Scott said. Sunday, Norman told WMC Action News 5 Scott attacked him because he is gay. He says Scott repeatedly punched him while calling him a gay slur. Norman says he no longer has the pictures he threatened to post online. "I was bluffing, hoping that he [Scott] would back away from me, because his body language was so threatening and violence scares me," Norman said. Corinth police are still interviewing witnesses, but right now they say there's no evidence Scott attacked Norman because of his sexual preference. Scott says this whole event has forced him to come out to his friends and family. LGBTQ leaders agree that coming out can be a stressful moment that people often practice beforehand. Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center Executive Director Will Batts says no one should take that moment away from someone else. "You may worry, 'Am I going to lose that person in my life?' People have all kinds of reactions," said Batts. "I think the community that we live in is a community that tries to shame us for who we are, for who we were created to be and that's a difficult way to live your life." Batts says domestic violence is high among LGBTQ relationships and urges those to reach out to the center for help in these situations, rather than resort to violence, which he added is never the answer. Meanwhile, Scott admits and apologizes for the violence, but maintains he did not attack Norman out of hate for his sexual orientation. "I'm sorry for the physical damage, but like I said before, you have no right to ruin someone's life," said Scott. "You have no right to threaten to do that to somebody. It's your right to be who you want to be; it's no one's right to tell your business."

In Texas, a man claims am Austin W Hotel employee threw him to the ground, fracturing his arm, and yelled an anti-gay slur last week during South by Southwest. Bobby Beltran, 31, said the bar bouncer also dislocated two bones in his hand and possibly caused nerve damage to his thumb at the W Hotel on Sunday, March 15. According to a police report, a hotel bouncer asked him and his friends to leave because they were too drunk. Beltran and the bouncer exchanged heated words, and that's when the hotel worker called him a gay slur. "He was walking behind me and said, 'That's right, fag,' and continued to walk me out of the building," Beltran said. "I turned to him and said 'That's not right, you can't be doing that stuff.'" Beltran said that's when the bouncer violently threw him to the ground. Once he was outside the hotel, Beltran said he realized how injured he was and that friends took him to the hospital. "It's an excruciating pain. I am on pain meds right now and I do have specialists that I have to go to now," Beltran said. Police said they are in the early stages of looking into what happened. Beltran has hired Austin attorney Jason McMinn to represent him, and McMinn said he plans to file a lawsuit against the W on Wednesday. The W released the following statement: "Providing a safe environment is the essence of our business. The hotel contacted police the night of the incident and will cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation they undertake." These allegations are the latest in a string of violent confrontations at local bars, according to KVUE.

Also in Texas, Dallas County’s gay and lesbian employees became eligible for family medical leave under a policy approved Tuesday by the Commissioners Court. According to the Dallas Morning News, the change allows any employee to pick one nonrelative, such as a domestic partner, as a “designated care recipient.” If that recipient gets sick, the employee can take unpaid time off to care for him or her, just as if the recipient were a legal family member. The policy change, unanimously adopted, is a continuation of efforts by Dallas County to extend benefits to gay and lesbian employees. In 2012, the commissioners approved a subsidy to pay for the health insurance of employees’ partners. County Judge Clay Jenkins said the changes are “in keeping with values that have been around since before the time of Christ,” namely, to love your neighbor as yourself. “Families are not always ... a mom and dad and a couple of kids and a grandma,” he said. “Families take all shapes and forms, and love knows no bounds.” All employees will be allowed to designate one care recipient who is not an immediate family member. So, the new policy should benefit people other than domestic partners — for example, those who care for the children or grandchildren of county workers. The city of Dallas passed a similar policy last year. It is unclear how many Dallas County employees will make use of the option. None have signed up for the health-insurance subsidy approved in 2012. And it’s possible that the new rules will soon become unnecessary, at least for gay couples. Texas doesn’t allow gay marriage, but a federal judge has ruled that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution. The ban remains in place while similar cases from other states work their way through the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the issue next month.

In Sommerville, New Jersey, the Diocese of Metuchen said an online fundraiser page purportedly set up on behalf of Immaculata High School teacher Patricia Jannuzzi, who was placed on administrative leave for her anti-gay Facebook posts, is full of misinformation. As of this weekend, the page on youcaring.com claimed Immaculata had already decided not to rehire Jannuzzi in the fall. "In keeping with diocesan school policy, decisions for all teaching positions for the 2015-2016 academic year are made later in the spring," a spokesperson, Erin Friedlander for the Diocese of Metuchen, said in an e-mail Monday. "We are baffled and disappointed that there has been a website soliciting funds that is filled with misinformation." Monday, the page, which claims to be written by Januzzi's children, acknowledged "the latest announcement from the diocese suggests that we may have been misinformed about their decision to terminate her in August." It continued: "Therefore, we are taking down this appeal as we ask for a prompt public answer from the diocese to the question: will our mother, a tenured teacher of 30+ years be allowed to continue to teach at Immaculata High School in September?" The fundraiser page initially had claimed that the family needed money because Januzzi, a theology teacher for the last 33 years, was no longer receiving her salary and benefits. The diocese also said that claim was false. "The teacher's comments were disturbing and do not reflect the Church's teachings of acceptance," the Rev. Paul G. Bootkoski, the bishop of Metuchen, said Friday. "However, she has never been terminated, as some media outlets have reported. She has been put on administrative leave. There has been no interruption in her pay and benefits." The fundraiser had totaled more than $30,000 in contributions from 383 supporters as of Monday evening. The fundraiser ended 16 hours ago, but it is way short of its $100,000 goal. It is unclear what happens to the money since the goal was not reached. NJ Advance Media has not been able to reach the organizers of the fundraiser. Jannuzzi was forced to de-activate her Facebook page by Immaculata after several alumni started circulating screen shots of her sharply worded posts against gay marriage and gay rights. Two days later, the school placed her on administrative leave. In one post, Jannuzzi had said she'd love to move to Nebraska, responding to a news story about efforts to fight against same sex marriage there, asking "Why can't the rest of the US be like this?? Why the insanity?" Another post, referencing an article about three lesbians living as married in Massachusetts, asked "Between this and many Egyptian men being beheaded ... when will the evil stop?" She also suggested in another post sexual orientation was a matter of choice and not an inborn trait, dismissing as "bologna" the idea that gays are entitled to 14th Amendment protections. In the same post, she also said gay activists want to cause the "extinction" of Western civilization. The posts drew wide attention after several celebrities mentioned them on social media, including actress Susan Sarandon and Real Housewives of New Jersey cast member Greg Bennett, who graduated from Immaculata in 2004 and had Jannuzzi as a teacher. But in the days following the news of Jannuzzi's dismissal from Immaculata, several current and former students spoke highly of her, including Bennett, who just days prior referred to her as a "nightmare dumpster" of a teacher. "I was in a bunch of things where I would interact with her and I thought she was a very warm person," Bennett said, adding that she was loved by everyone in the school. Matt Nergen, an Immaculata senior who had Jannuzzi as a teacher, echoed that same sentiment. "She is by far the most loving teacher I have ever had," he said. "Mrs. Jannuzzi is not a hateful person." Tuesday, a radio ad supporting Jannuzzi and criticizing Bootkoski for not standing by her will air during the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity shows on WOR, MyCentralJersey.com reports. "Call Bishop Bootkoski now," it describes the ad saying. "Ask him whose side he's on: Catholics who defend our faith or Hollywood liberals who mock it." Several attempts to reach Januzzi at her residence by phone and in person have been unsuccessful.