Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Little Caesars Pizza Sued For Discrimination For Failing To Provide Health Insurance Benefits To Legally Married Same Sex Spouses, Equality North Carolina Asks Governor McCrory To Announce Whether He Will Continue To Fight Legal Challenges To State Same Sex Marriage Ban, Chicago Gay Couple Removed From Cab For Kissing Files Lawsuit, Accused In London Anti-Gay Attack That Saw Club Patrons Sprayed With Acid Likely Sentenced To Jail Thursday

Reuters reports that a former trainee manager at Little Caesars pizza in California sued the company for discrimination on Wednesday, accusing the Detroit-based chain of denying employees health insurance benefits for their legally wed same sex spouses. The lawsuit was brought in state Superior Court in Orange County, regional headquarters for the nation's third-largest pizza chain, by Frank Bernard, 47, who said he quit his job after Little Caesars refused to extend coverage to his husband of six years. "I didn't want anything special, I just wanted the same benefits package as heterosexual couples," Bernard said at a news conference in Los Angeles. The lawsuit names Little Caesars Enterprises and its parent company, Ilitch Holdings, as defendants, accusing them of discriminating against Bernard on the basis of his sexual orientation, in violation of California law. It cites a letter Little Caesars presented Bernard explaining a benefits policy that defined "spouse" as "the one person to whom you are legally married under the laws of the state in which you reside, including common law spouse, and who is the opposite gender from you." The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and a court order requiring the company to treat gay and straight married workers equally in providing employment benefits. Neither Little Caesars nor Ilitch Holdings responded to requests for comment on the case. Bernard and his partner were among some 18,000 gay and lesbian California couples who married in 2008 during a five-month window between a state Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex matrimony and passage of Proposition 8 banning it in November of that year. Those marriages were later upheld by the courts as legally recognized, and last June the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California for good, after Prop 8 was struck down as unconstitutional. Same sex marriage remains banned in Michigan under a voter-approved law there, though a federal judge has declared that measure unconstitutional in a case now under appeal. The Supreme Court ruled separately last year that same sex married couples were entitled to spousal benefits available under federal law, striking down provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But that decision did not extend to benefits private companies provide to their employees. "With this lawsuit we look forward to expanding the employment rights and benefits for legally married same sex couples," Bernard's attorney, Gloria Allred, told reporters. Little Caesars opened its first outlet in Garden City, Michigan, in 1959. It ranked as the third-largest pizza chain behind Pizza Hut and Domino's, with 2012 sales of $2.9 billion, according to Nation's Restaurant News, an industry magazine.

In North Carolina, advocates with Equality NC asked Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to say whether he would continue to fight legal challenges to the state's ban on same sex marriage. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the group made three petitions drops at McCrory's offices across the state on Wednesday. It says it has more than 10,000 names of people who want the governor to stop defending the state's ban on same sex marriage. "Essentially today we are trying to find out where the governor stands on this," said Jen Jones, the group's spokesperson, outside the Governor's Western Office in Fletcher. "Whether he will continue to defend Amendment One, how he personally feels about Amendment One and, probably most important to constituents, whether he will spend taxpayer money to hire outside counsel to defend what has been considered an indefensible and unconstitutional law by the Fourth Circuit." April Riddle, the director of the Governor's Western Office in Fletcher, accepted the petitions and said McCrory would personally read them. Voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2012. Federal courts have ruled similar bans in other states unconstitutional. McCrory's office said the issue of same sex marriage would ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. "As of now, North Carolina's marriage amendment remains in full force and effect," said McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch. "To ensure that our laws remain in effect until the final Supreme Court ruling, we call on the Attorney General (Roy Cooper) to request a stay in North Carolina's pending cases." Cooper, a Democrat, is considering a run for governor in 2016. He has said his office would stop defending lawsuits brought against the state over Amendment One. Noelle Talley, a spokesperson for Cooper, said all of the cases have already been stayed.

In Illinois, a gay Chicago couple is continuing their fight against a cab company after they claim a driver tried to kick them out of his taxi for kissing in the backseat. Matthew McCrea and Steven White filed the lawsuit against Sun Taxi this week. Their original complaint, filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in October, was dismissed because the department said it had no jurisdiction over corporate entities. Cabbie Allegedly Boots Gay Couple For Kissing "It's ludicrous to suggest that a cab company is not responsible for the discrimation enacted by its drivers," the couple's lawyer, Christopher Clark, said. "They should be liable under the law for the conduct of their agents." The suit claims the driver, who is not named in the suit, complained the men were "making sex" in the cab. McCrea and White, who were heading into the city from O'Hare, say the driver began flashing the interior lights of the vehicle and then swerved on to the shoulder of the Kennedy Expressway and demanded they get out miles before their intended destination. The couple says they refused to get out and called police, prompting the driver to get off at the nearest exit and park in a grocery store lot until officers arrived. "This is a clear violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Clark, said. The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates Chicago taxis, scheduled a hearing for the driver last summer, which he skipped. He was issued several violations, including unsafe driving, refusal of service and discourteous conduct, and was fined around $2,000. Neither Sun Taxi or its attorneys responded to requests for comment.

In Britain, a male model feared his career was over when he was sprayed with acid in an “horrendous” homophobic attack while out clubbing with friends in south London. Pariche Frith, 21, thought his face was “melting” and believed would never be able walk down the catwalk again after a noxious liquid was sprayed in his face. He was one of four men attacked by Jonathan Lynn, 31, in Vauxhall, on June 8 this year. He collapsed on the ground, leaving horrified friends scrambling to wash his face before an ambulance arrived. Friend Ben Moore was at Mr Frith’s side when Lynn sprayed the liquid. A third man, Yousef Khan, was also injured in the attack as the trio were doused in the noxious substance in a later incident after accidentally stepping on Lynn’s shoe in a nightclub queue. James Keely, prosecuting, told Inner London Crown Court: “A substantial amount of liquid went into Mr Frith’s eyes, nose, mouth and throat. He said his face was burning and he felt like it was melting. Mr Frith was working as a model at the time and he thought he would never get work again.” Lynn, of Worcester Park, south west London, was arrested in a pub two days later after CCTV footage of him was circulated in the media. Te court heard he was on licence from prison at the time after receiving seven years in 2009 for possessing 1.5 kilos of cocaine and £30,000 in criminal property. He is expected to be jailed tomorrow after admitting the attacks. Mr Frith told the Standard that he hoped Lynn’s conviction would encourage other victims of hate crimes to come forward. He said that, “I feel justice will be served when he is not walking the streets because it’s unfair that people should be targeted in this way. But I’m a forgiving person and I do not hold grudges.” Mr Moore, 23, suffered burns to his eyes and feared he might lose his sight after the liquid sprayed onto his face. Lynn, of Worcester Park, south west London, is due to be sentenced tomorrow after admitting four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, two counts of common assault, and possession of a weapon for discharge of a noxious liquid.

Leading Canadian Transplant Organization Calls For Expansion Of Organ Donors To Include Gay Men, Appeals Court Asks Florida Supreme Court To Take Up Issue Of Same Sex Marriage, 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals Denies Request By National Organization Of Marriage To Intervene In Oregon Same Sex Marriage Ruling, California Assembly Passes Bill Disallowing Defendants Ability To Employ Gay Panic Defense In Murder Cases Involving Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity, 24-Year-Old Mauricio Ruiz Becomes First Openly Gay Serving Member Of Chilean Armed Forces, Award-Winning Advertisement For Gay Club Causes Controversy In Kazakhstan

In Canada, the Globe and Mail reports that a leading Canadian transplant organization is calling for greater use of organs from deceased donors considered at increased risk for HIV and hepatitis B and C, including intravenous drug users and gay men. Safe and ethical use of these organs “may lead to an increase in number of transplants in Canada coupled with decreased wait-list times and mortality,” said a report published Wednesday from the Canadian Society of Transplantation and the Canadian National Transplant Research Program. The new recommendations, which reflect improved testing methods for infectious diseases combined with a more accurate assessment of infection risk, are being lauded by organ-donation advocates. However, HIV/AIDS experts question the continued inclusion of homosexual men in the increased-risk donor category. Previously, donors, including intravenous drug users, gay men, sex workers and prison inmates, were considered at high risk of infection because of the window period between potential exposure and the time it takes for antibodies to show up on a test, explained Atul Humar, director of the Multi Organ Transplant Program at University Health Network in Toronto, and lead author of the report. But he noted that nucleic acid testing (NAT) has shrunk the window period to seven days after exposure. With proper testing, the risk of infection in these donors is “exceedingly low,” he said. According to the report, the risk of HIV infection in a homosexual donor after blood testing and NAT is 2.4 in 10,000 donors. In an intravenous drug user, the risk is 2.7 per 10,000. The risk of hepatitis C infection is 1.5 per 10,000 in homosexual men, compared with 40.8 in intravenous drug users. The actual risk may be even smaller, since the mathematical models used in the report assumed the donor engaged in risk behaviour up until the moment of death, Dr. Humar said. “The old wording of ‘high risk’ [for these donors] is a misnomer as it does not accurately convey the risks,” he said. He added that donors such as intravenous drug users tend to be younger, “and we’re always faced with a huge shortage of donors.” Mark Wainberg, director of the McGill University AIDS Centre, applauded the new recommendations. But, he added, “being gay is in and of itself an extremely low risk factor,” he said. Policies excluding homosexual men from donating blood and organs date from the 1980s, the early days of HIV testing, Dr. Wainberg said. He pointed out that organ donation from live homosexual donors has been permitted for some time. But Canadian Blood Services allows gay men to donate blood only if they have been celibate for five years. “I think we are diminishing the pool of potential donors of both blood and organs by maintaining a discriminatory policy,” Mr. Wainberg said. Dr. Humar noted that according to data from the Canadian Standards Association, the risk of infection from homosexual donors is still higher than that in heterosexuals – “two- to four-fold higher,” he said. Nevertheless, the potential for greater access to donor organs is welcome news for the transplant community, said James Breckenridge, president of the Canadian Transplant Society, a Toronto-based charity. For patients in urgent need of an organ transplant, the slight chance of HIV or hepatitis infection “is nothing compared to being dead,” he said. Mr. Breckenridge’s wife, Lisa, spent years on a liver transplant list before falling into a coma in 2009. With hours left to live, she received a damaged liver from a donor who was brain dead. Her recovery from the transplant was slow. Given the choice, Lisa said, she wouldn’t hesitate to accept a healthy organ from a donor considered at increased risk of infection. The recommendations emphasize the importance of informed consent and provide a sample script for physicians to use with transplant patients. The wording includes: “This donor engaged in behaviours before their death that increase their chances of having an infection. You need to balance the slightly increased risk of accepting this organ with the likely benefits of being transplanted at this time instead of waiting for another organ.” The report advises physicians to discuss the chances of infection in numerical terms instead of specifying the donor’s risk behaviours. But the reason has nothing to do with the stigma of drug use or homosexuality, Dr. Humar said. "We try not to disclose too much information because organ donation is supposed to be anonymous,” he said.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, an appeals court Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court take up the issue of same sex marriage. The Second District Court of Appeal passed up its chance to make a ruling on the issue, that of two Tampa women who had asked a judge in Hillsborough County to give them a divorce. The smart thing, the appeals wrote, would be for the Florida Supreme Court to take over the appeal because same sex marriage has become an issue of great public importance in the state. "Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," the appeals court wrote. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida." The clerk of the Florida Supreme Court immediately opened a case file. However, the high court could refuse to review it, according to Craig Waters, a court spokesperson. At issue is whether Florida must recognize out-of-state same sex marriages. The case involves Mariama Shaw and Keiba Shaw who got married in Massachusetts in 2010 and want a divorce. A judge in Hillsborough County had rejected their request, saying their marriage is not valid in Florida. Same sex couples have won limited back-to-back-to-back victories in state courts in four South Florida counties in the past few weeks: Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. In each, a judge has struck down Florida's ban on same sex marriage, but none of those rulings applies statewide. Since those victories started rolling in, gay rights activists have pressed to get a case in front of the Florida Supreme Court, hoping to get a decision that would apply to state courts in all of Florida's 67 counties. Today's decision by the Second District Court of Appeal moved that effort one step closer. On Thursday, a judge in the federal court system, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee, also found Florida's ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional. His ruling would apply to every Florida county, but he imposed a stay, prohibiting its implementation until other appeal courts have weighed in.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request by a group opposing same sex marriage in Oregon to intervene in the case. The decision, handed down Wednesday afternoon, means the National Organization for Marriage has no route left short of appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unless NOM does appeal, any threat it posed to same sex marriage in Oregon is over. The action comes in the wake of the May 19 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane in Eugene to strike down Oregon's ban on same sex marriage. Voters in 2004 passed an amendment to the state constitution, Measure 36, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The Oregonian reports that supporters of same sex marriage applauded Wednesday's decision. "We're thrilled by the news but not surprised at all," said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. "There was never any merit to their proposal and they've been denied now at every turn." Frazzini read the court's decision and called it "decisive," adding that, "From their own filings, the National Organization for Marriage has about 100 members in Oregon. If anything, I'd characterize this entire episode as a nuisance effort on their part." NOM, based in Washington D.C., had claimed in court filings that it deserved intervenor status on behalf of "several of its members, identified as Oregon members who provide weddings services, Oregon members who voted for Measure 36, and at least one member who is an elected Oregon county clerk," according to the five-page decision. "We find that NOM's Oregon wedding service providers members' objections to facilitating same gender marriage ceremonies is not sufficient" to achieve that standing, the court said. NOM representatives did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Lake James H. Perriguey, an attorney who represented gay and lesbian couples who filed suit to end Oregon's ban, said the court's ruling leaves NOM with few options. "They could ask either that the full 9th Circuit review this or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "But I don't think NOM ever presented a threat. Their appeals, after all, weren't based on the substantive merits of the case. It was merely a question of whether an out-of-state lobbying organization was improperly left out of the party." The decision leaves Oregon as one of 19 states and the District of Columbia where same-gender couples can legally marry in the U.S.

In California, defendants could not escape murder charges by claiming they panicked when they discovered someone was gay, lesbian, or transgender under a bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown. According to the Associated Press, the state Assembly approved AB2501 on a 50-10 vote Wednesday. Current law allows murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter if the killings happened in a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. AB2501 by Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of Concord would bar defendants from using their victims' gender or sexual orientation to support a so-called panic defense. Bonilla says such defenses legitimize violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The American Bar Association urged governments to curtail the use of panic defenses. The gay rights group Equality California says California would have the first statewide prohibition.

In Chile, the BBC reports that a sailor has become the first serving member of the Chilean armed forces to announce he is gay. Mauricio Ruiz, 24, told a televised news conference his decision had "not been easy", but he wanted to help fight discrimination against homosexuals. Mr Ruiz said that what was most important was not a soldier's sexual orientation, but his or her willingness to serve the country. His announcement came with the full backing of the Chilean armed forces. Like other parts of Latin America, Chile remains a conservative society, especially towards gay marriage. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has come out in favour of the idea, but the majority of Chileans oppose it. Mauricio Ruiz said homosexuals had "no reason to hide," telling reporters in the Chilean capital of Santiago that, "We can do anything, be marines or in any branch (of the military). We can do whatever profession, and we deserve as much respect as anyone else. In life there's nothing better than to be yourself, to be authentic, to look at people in the eye and for those people to know who you are." Rolando Jimenez, president of Chile's Movement for Integration and Homosexual Liberation, expressed his gratitude to the Chilean Navy. "(The Navy is) telling the country and the members of the institution particularly that it is possible for gays and lesbians to be part of the armed forces and that they aren't going to suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation within these institutions," Mr Jimenez said. Attitudes towards homosexuality are changing in Chile, especially after the 2012 murder of a gay young man, Daniel Zamudio Correspondents say attitudes are changing in Chile, especially after the brutal assault and killing of a young gay man in March 2012, which sparked outrage and triggered a fresh debate over hate crimes. Four men were jailed in October 2013 for the murder of 25-year-old Daniel Zamudio in Santiago. And in May 2012 the Chilean Congress approved a new law which made it a crime to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance or disability. The gay rights movement has achieved major victories in some other South American nations, like Argentina and Brazil, but homosexuals remain targets of violence and harassment across the continent.

In Kazakhstan, an advert featuring an image of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly kissing has sparked widespread complaint. The poster – which features the two of the region’s most prominent 19th century cultural figures – is designed to promote a gay club in Almaty, one of the most liberal cities in Central Asia. The club, Studio 69, sits at the corner of streets named after Pushkin and Kurmangazy. According to RFE/RL, 20 activists filed a lawsuit on August 25 against the advertising agency that created it, saying it “insulted both Kazakhs and Russians.” Police told TengriNews they had registered an official complaint. A descendant of Kurmangazy has also threatened to sue for damages. On social media, reaction to the image has been mostly negative, as people expressed anger at what they saw as irreverence towards cultural heroes . “There is no limit to [my] outrage. How could [they] come up with something like this?” one user wrote. Some have defended the poster, which riffs off of the famous image of East German leader Erich Honecker and the Soviet Union’s Leonid Brezhnev locking lips in East Berlin in 1979. “At least [there is] some creativity in the barren steppe of domestic works,” TengriNews quoted a local social media user as saying. One of the artists, Valery Volodin, wrote on Facebook: “One can be proud of this work. First of all because it works: people understand and remember the address. Secondly, it is a brave work, and in the case of the gay movement, traditionally living on the edge, it is more than accurate and justified.” The poster won an award for advertising firm Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan at a competition in Bishkek on August 23, but in the wake of the reaction against it, the firm apologised on its Facebook page and promise the image will not be displayed in public: “Acknowledging the invaluable cultural contribution of the great Russian poet and the great Kazakh composer, we officially announce that this poster will not be printed, posted or published in paid media.” Homosexuality was decriminalized in Kazakhstan in 1998, but anti-gay attitudes are common. In May, anti-gay activists built a wall around a gay nightclub in Almaty to protest its presence. In recent years, officials have debated adopting a Russian-style ban on so-called “gay propaganda”. Citing Kazakhstan’s “national mentality,” one lawmaker last year called for legislation that would classify homosexuals as “criminals against humanity.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Three Federal Judges Question Attorneys Defending Same Sex Marriage Bans Of Indiana And Wisconsin Pointedly Asking Why Children Of Gays And Lesbians Should Not Be Permitted Legally Wed Parents, New Zealand Human Rights Commission Condemns Violent Anti-Gay Attack Against Patrons And Staff Of Wellington Bar, Openly Gay Mayor Of Berlin Announces He Will Resign Amid Battle Over City's New Airport, ESPN Hits New Low Reporting On Michael Sam's Approach To Showering With Teammates

In Chicago, Illinois, attorneys for Indiana and Wisconsin faced tough, pointed questions from a panel of three federal appeals judges in this morning’s arguments over bans on same sex marriage in those states. Judge Richard Posner waited just about a minute before interrupting the solicitor general from Indiana, beginning a line of questioning about why children of same sex couples should not be allowed to have legally married parents, as do children of opposite sex couples. To press his point, Posner asked the attorney to remember when he was six, and consider what it is like for young children of same sex parents to have to realize they are different than their classmates. “Wouldn’t the children want their parents to be married,” Posner asked, also noting the thousands of children in foster care in Indiana who need to be adopted. “What do you think is psychologically better for the child?” According to the Chicago Tribune, attorneys from both states were on the defense during much of the questioning. The Indiana solicitor general defended the ban by linking marriage, as an institution, to procreation and the need for that to be regulated by the state. “Men and women make babies and there has to be a social mechanism to deal with that,” Thomas M. Fisher said under heavy questioning. Earlier, Fisher turned aside any suggestion that the state was discriminating against same-sex couples. “It’s all a reflection of biology,” he said. “It’s simply that men and women make babies.” Timothy C. Samuelson, the assistant attorney general from Wisconsin, repeatedly used the word “tradition” to defend the ban in that state on same sex marriage, leading exasperated judges to ask what he meant by that. “Tradition is based on experience,” Samuelson said. Judge David F. Hamilton pressed Samuelson to explain why “tradition” was a sufficient argument for why a ban in that state should not be overturned. “I suppose you know how that’s been working out in practice" over the last several decades, Hamilton pressed, referring to the concept that marriage is meant to promote childbirth and to keep couples together. After the hour and a half of arguments concluded, supporters of same sex marriage flooded into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse lobby, some carrying flowers. The mood was upbeat. “Hopeful,” was how Amy Sandler, an Indiana plaintiff, described the debate. “I felt it was moving in the direction of the rest of the country.” Kyle Megrath, marriage coordinator for Hoosiers Unite for Marriage, said he was cheered by today's proceedings. "It was encouraging hear about how, when we talk about any state's interest in marriage, it is important that same sex couples be able to have the same protections for the children that they adopt and mutually agree on deciding to have,” he said. “So I think one of the best things about what I heard in there today is there is a state interest in same sex couples being able to get married." Megrath said judges were hard on the attorney from the state of Indiana. "I was surprised,” Megrath said. “I think that it was pretty clear the judges saw weakness.” Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s National Marriage Project Director and lawyer for the couples who are challenging the ban in Indiana, was also happy after the hearing. “We are extremely hopeful and optimistic based on what we heard today," Taylor said. "It felt like it went extremely well. It felt like the court was not persuaded at all by the arguments put forward by the state and we’re hopeful we’ll get a speedy victory. Taylor criticized Indiana's defense of the law as "this notion that marriage is necessary to protect children who are procreated accidentally by different sex couples. . . The court was very concerned about the fate of those children being reared by their same sex parents and how those children are harmed by being fenced out from all the security protections and dignity that go along with having married parents.” But Mike Dean, attorney for Wisconsin Family Action, said the court was not interested in hearing the group's rationale that a child should grow up with both a mother and a father. “This goes back to the fundamental issue. Do we deny biological reality in order to legally affirm felt autonomy? Does a law exist to make people feel better?” Dean said. “That is their choice, but to go and say that therefore society as a whole must agree that relationship is the same as a heterosexual marriage, that is a step that cannot be taken.” Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, said it is in the state’s interest to make sure that "the next generation of taxpayers and work force and entrepreneurs and leaders have the best opportunities to grow up to become contributing citizens. "If that is not a compelling state interest, I don’t know what is," she said. "What is in the best interest of children to attain is to be brought up in the married homes of their moms and dads, not deconstruction of the institution that affirms that.” The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago hears cases not only from Illinois but from Wisconsin and Indiana. Several federal lawsuits have been filed in both states on behalf of same sex couples who say the refusal to recognize and allow same-sex marriages violates their constitutional rights. Lower courts in Wisconsin and Indiana agreed the bans were unconstitutional, but each state challenged those decisions to the appellate court. No decision was expected today. The cases in both states were originally filed in winter and spring 2014. There are 92 cases pending in 33 states in federal and state courts and potentially three headed to the Supreme Court. Last month a federal appellate court in Virginia also issued a pro-same sex marriage ruling, though the Supreme Court has issued a stay pending appeals, putting license applications on hold. Gay marriage became legal across Illinois in June, after the law was signed in November 2013.

In New Zealand, the Human Rights Commission has condemned a violent attack on staff and patrons at a gay bar in Wellington last week. Steven Mawhinney, a bar manager at the Ivy Bar on Cuba Street says a group of men came into the venue on Friday without realizing "what sort of bar it was", according to Mr Mawhinney says he was initially able to make the men leave but they returned soon after, reportedly throwing cans of alcohol at the heads of patrons. An argument then broke out and when Mr Mawhinney tried to intervene, he says he was set upon by the group. "It happened quite quickly. I got seven to eight good belts to the head," he said. He described the attack as the "worst thing I've ever seen in my life." Mr Mawhinney had to go to hospital following the alleged attack, which police are investigating. Human Rights Commissioner Richard Tankersley says the country's excellent human rights record is worthless if such blatant homophobia is still taking place. "We value our freedom in New Zealand and that includes being able to live our lives free from fear," says Mr Tankersley. "Respect for others is a founding principle of human rights - you don't pick and choose who deserves dignity and who doesn't."

In Germany, Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit has said he will step down on December 11 amid an ongoing row over the city's new airport. As mayor of the German capital since 2001, he was credited with giving it a "poor, but sexy" brand internationally. Mr Wowereit, a Social Democrat, was widely popular but his reputation was tarnished by the debacle over the opening of Berlin-Brandenburg airport. The airport was due to be inaugurated in late 2011 but it is still not open. Mr Wowereit, 60, still had two years of his term to serve and it is not yet clear who will replace him. The BBC reports that he told a news conference in Berlin that he was leaving the post of his own "free will," adding that, I'm proud that I have made a contribution to the city's positive development." The new airport is due to replace Tegel and Schoenefeld airports and handle some 27 million passengers a year. As head of the airport's supervisory council, he was widely criticised for repeated delays, but survived a confidence vote in the Berlin senate in January 2013. He admitted on Tuesday that the fact the airport was not yet open was the "biggest failure" of his 13-year term in office, but it was not the only factor in his decision to step down. "Some still think it was only a question of [the airport]. But no, we've had to get through several difficult times here." Originally a lawyer, Klaus Wowereit became Germany's first prominent openly gay politician, achieving renown for his phrase: "Ich bin schwul und das ist gut so" (I'm gay and that's okay). He was once pictured drinking champagne out of the shoe of an ambassador's wife and was once seen as a potential challenger to Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel. He had initially hoped to announce his departure last month, he said, but had delayed his statement because of Germany's victory in the World Cup.

Before Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, ever set foot on an NFL football field, doubters had claimed that he would be a distraction to his team and shunned by his teammates. However, in the first media flare-up regarding Sam's orientation, he has received the definitive support of one of the strongest voices in his locker room. The precipitating incident was an ESPN report on how Sam, no sure thing to make the Rams' roster, was adjusting to life with his new teammates. And after some initial cliches, the report took a sharp turn, focusing for almost a full minute on Sam's showering habits: The report drew immediate criticism on social media, both for its selectiveness (how many other rookies' shower habits are a story?) and its gaze too deep into the locker room. But there's a larger issue here. For years, people who claim to know NFL culture have said that the locker room wouldn't accept a gay man. But within hours after the report aired, Rams teammate Chris Long shattered that myth with one eight-word tweet: "Dear ESPN, Everybody but you is over it." Sam's teammates, at least in the opinion of one of the locker room's leading figures, have accepted who he is and have moved on to the business of football. Late Tuesday, ESPN issued the following statement: "In response to recent questions about Sam fitting in with the team, multiple Rams brought up the shower topic and we relayed that information as part of our reporting." Sam survived roster cuts on Tuesday and is currently on the Rams' 75-man roster.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pennsylvania Bill Designed To Amend Human Relations Act To Include Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity As Protected Classes From Discrimination Stall, City Of Cincinnati Health Insurance To Cover Necessary Transgender Procedures Beginning In 2015, Gay Couple Savagely Assaulted In Athens Highlights Rise In Homophobic Attacks, Ukraine Separatist Gay Porn Surprisingly Not An Best-Seller, Thousands March Through Streets Of Dublin Demanding Marriage Equality In Ireland

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reports that Pennsylvania is a state in which a same sex couple can be married, then legally fired for it. Same sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania when a federal district judge ruled in May that the commonwealth’s ban was unconstitutional, but the state remains the only one in the Northeast that does not ban discrimination in housing, workplace and public accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Proposed legislation that would address that conundrum — House and Senate Bill 300 — is sitting in committee in both chambers of the state Legislature. If passed, the bill would amend the 1955 Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender expression under an umbrella of identities protected from different types of discrimination. The bill has bipartisan support, with a combined 125 sponsors in both chambers. Gov. Tom Corbett has said he plans to sign it if it passes. The bill is being debated everywhere from places of worship to places of business. At the crux of the conflict is the First Amendment. “The U.S. Constitution ensures the freedom of religion, but so does that same sacred document ensure our freedom from religion,” explained Rabbi Aaron Benjamin Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside. “All kinds of folks line up on different sides of this issue.” State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) the bill’s prime sponsor in the House, said, “This is the last vestige of legal discrimination. Same sex couples can marry, but doing so puts them at risk. It’s a paradox that we need to rush to address.” But Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry), who chairs the appropriations committee where the bill now sits, is not in a rush. Mr. Metcalfe has said that he has no intention of ever bringing the bill to a vote. He could not be reached for comment. Some opposed to the bill say it could impinge on religious freedom. Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh stressed the need for anti-discrimination legislation that does not restrict the freedom of faith. “To say that you can’t discriminate against anybody is imperative,” he said. “But that can’t come at the expense of a religious group or a religious person.” The bill contains an exemption that allows religious institutions, affiliates, charities and educational organizations to hire “as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles or aims, purposes or fraternal principles for which it is established or maintained.” Bishop Zubik said the current religious exemption is not sufficient, but that the bill could be reworked to address his concerns: “It seems to me that if the legislators went back to the drawing board and were able to design exemptions that wouldn’t infringe on religious liberty, we would certainly examine them.” Other groups are firmly opposed to the bill regardless of exemptions. “We oppose the bill wholesale. In the end, it still introduces sexual orientation and gender identity into the law,” said Brandon McGinley, the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s field director for the Western region. “Any supported religious exemption would be so anemic that it would be ineffective.” Mr. Frankel responded, saying that, “The fact that they don’t even want to have the conversation. … I don’t even think the Family Institute has a place at the table. To not even concede that perhaps this type of discrimination is not something we should embrace? They ought to be ashamed of themselves.” A 2013 Gallup poll estimated that 174,000 LGBT Pennsylvanians are in the workforce. Mary Almy of Mars is one of them. In 2011, she was fired by the Medical Benevolence Foundation several hours after sharing her identity as a transgender person. Born biologically male, Ms. Almy had hormone treatments and then surgery. Ms. Almy, who has a business degree and accounting experience, now works at Target. “I went to a job fair in Cranberry after that,” Ms. Almy said. “A representative from one of the companies wouldn’t even shake my hand. Another said, ‘We’re not hiring anybody like you.’ ” Her wife, Elizabeth McCormick, a Presbyterian minister, also lost her job and now works at Giant Eagle. “It goes beyond workplace discrimination,” Ms. Almy said. “It’s also the idea that I could walk into a restaurant and they could refuse to serve me. It’s the idea that I could be thrown out of a bathroom.” State Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), who supports the bill, said, "It's just wrong. Sexual orientation and gender identity have nothing to do with your ability to accomplish a task or be accommodating in living arrangements. Pennsylvania has to get beyond this. The world is moving beyond Pennsylvania.” The advocacy group Equality PA notes that some 300 religious leaders have signed statements of support for anti-discrimination legislation. “Sometimes we need laws that call our attention to our differences and the privileges we unwittingly fail to recognize,” Rabbi Bisno said. “Lest we find that our theological thumb is placed on the scale of justice. The government cannot allow the exercise of religion to limit another’s full access to the rights of citizenship.” In Pennsylvania, many municipalities have amended anti-discrimination ordinances to include sexual orientation and gender identity. “They have to do that because Pennsylvania has not led with a statewide policy,” Mr. Browne said. “It’s time for us to step forward and apply it across the board.”

In Ohio, medically necessary "transgender" procedures will be covered under the City of Cincinnati's health insurance starting next year. The reason, reports the Enquirer: To help Cincinnati lure citizens and workers. "Since I've been here I've worked to make this city as competitive and inclusive as possible," said Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, the city's first openly gay councilman. "This is a another step in that direction." Seelbach led a council majority in signing a letter urging the change. Cincinnati would be the first city in Ohio to offer transgender procedures in its health benefits, according to a statewide advocacy group. Shane Morgan, founder and chair of TransOhio, which provides education and advocacy, praised city officials. "For Cincinnati to cover their trans employees – because there are trans employees who work there – is great," Morgan said. "Hopefully cities elsewhere in Ohio will follow that." In recent years city officials have worked to include and embrace the LGBT community – a transformation recently noted on National Public Radio's website. In June, the city began offering a domestic partner registry, paving the way for more companies to offer benefits to gay couples. And in recent years the city started offering same sex benefits to all city employees; the police department, fire department and mayor's office all have liaison officers to the LGBT community. Council last year passed regulations requiring anyone who contracts with the city to agree in writing to an inclusive nondiscrimination policy. And, the city's hate crimes law that included race and gender was expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Including transgender procedures should give Cincinnati a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index, making Cincinnati one of the most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly cities in the country. Last year, Cincinnati scored a 90. Interim Cincinnati City Manager Scott Stiles initiated the transgender insurance change, but was encouraged to act by a majority of City Council; In addition to Seelbach: PG Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson, David Mann and Wendell Young signed the letter. "It is important that we provide necessary medical benefits to all of our employees," Stiles said. "This positions us well for progress and keeps the City competitive as an employer." As interim city manager, Stile made the decision, alerting Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the change August 22. Paula Ison, 66, an area transwoman in the process of the medical procedure to make her body congruent with her female mental outlook, said this news is "further proof we are indeed a welcoming city," Ison adding, "This will help the city attract more businesses, more conventions and more Downtown residents. It's one way the city can market itself as welcoming." Ison's workplace doesn't offer the surgery as part of its medical benefits because it's considered cosmetic. So far she has spent $20,000 and expects to spend another $25,000. In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lifted its ban on funding medically necessary procedures for people who don't identify with their biological sex. The ban had been put in place in 1981, when such surgeries were considered experimental. In arguing for the change, supporting council members noted that now most medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American psychological Association, consider it a safe option for transgender people.
Cincinnati joins cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Berkeley and Portland in offering transgender procedures. For the surgery to be "medically necessary" a professional mental health counselor would have to sign off on it. Several Fortune 500 companies – including Procter & Gamble and US Bank – offer transgender inclusive benefits. The change is expected to have minimal financial impact on the city's insurance benefits, Stiles said. The service includes a maximum lifetime coverage of $75,000 per person. It does not include mental health services and hormone replacement services, which are covered elsewhere in the employee's insurance.

In Greece, human rights groups condemned a rise in attacks on gays Monday after two young men were savagely beaten in Athens. The AFP reports that the anti-racist alliance Keerfa blamed the far-right party Golden Dawn for mounting homophobic violence after two men were set upon by a dozen shaven-headed men in black tee-shirts at the weekend. The couple, aged 25 and 30, were sitting on a bench in the Pangrati district of the capital when two men on a motorcycle threw detergent on them, activists said. A few minutes later they were set upon by a group of men in black tee-shirts. One of the victims was badly beaten and had his leg broken, while his partner, an immigrant, was less seriously hurt, police said. Supporters of Golden Dawn, which has 17 MPs in the Greek parliament although several are being held in custody, often stage vigilante patrols dressed in black tee-shirts, and have been regularly accused of street violence. "Racist and homophobic attacks are unacceptable," Greefa said in a statement. "We are not going to let the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn sow their racist venom in our neighbourhoods." Evangelia Vlami, of the Greek lesbian movement, told the Ta Nea daily that "behaviour like this is on the rise, encouraged by the popularity of the extreme right". Gay rights activist Grigoris Valianatos denounced the disinterest of the police, who he says have not been trained to deal with hate crimes. "Some of the attackers are actually in the police," he told the newspaper. Saturday's attack is the fifth in Athens in three months, although right groups claim many more are not reported to the police. The main opposition party Syriza condemned the police for not arresting anyone after the latest attack. "This incident shows the necessity to adopt an anti-hate law. Not having one only encourages attacks by the extreme right," the party said in a statement. Greece's conservative government has again put back a parliamentary debate on a hate law, which has been shelved for 18 months, because of opposition to it from within Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' New Democracy party. The law aims to outlaw racist and homophobic attacks, targeting in particular Golden Dawn whose MPs have already been charged with being party of "criminal organization."

The Moscow Times reports that combining war and sex in what skeptics said was a smear campaign, a short story has gone on sale on detailing the sexual exploits of an iconic separatist leader in Ukraine. The bluntly titled Sucking Strelkov is 5,700 words long (22 pages) and can be had for a modest $1.93. The novelette "is the story of a chance encounter with one of the most evil men in Europe" that "contains depictions of rough M/M [male-on-male] intercourse," the description on reads. The story tells of a porn film crew looking to shoot a video with on-duty soldiers, according to a summary published by blogger Matthew Gault on the blogging platform. The crew ends up in Donetsk, the stronghold of the eponymous pro-Russian separatist republic in eastern Ukraine, where rebel leader Igor Girkin — aka Strelkov — rapes the cameraman to express his disapproval of their quest, Gault said. The story is credited to one I. Van Der Woude, an apparent pseudonym based on a name for the disfiguring genetic disorder Van Der Woude syndrome. Sucking Strelkov, which ranked an unassuming 118,944th place in the Amazon Kindle Store as of this article's publication, became available in late July, but went under the media radar until this week. Strelkov, 43, is a retired officer of Russia's Federal Security Service, a historical re-enactor and a veteran of Bosnian and Transdnestrian conflicts who spearheaded the separatist movement in Donetsk. He has made no public appearances in recent weeks, and in mid-August his allies announced his resignation, which came amid rumors that he had been seriously injured during the outnumbered rebels' slow retreat before the Ukrainian army. No insurgency representatives had commented on the smut publication as of Monday evening. Gault said the story was so "unsexy" that it was likely not the apolitical work of an honest porn connoisseur, but the latest salvo in the Russian-Ukrainian media war that has accompanied the bloodshed.

In Ireland Sunday, thousands of people marched to the Department of Justice in Dublin this afternoon, in favour of extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian people in Ireland. Those behind the sixth annual March for Marriage including LGBT Noise and Marriage Equality said they hoped this would be the biggest - and last - gathering for marriage rights before a referendum on the issue in 2015. Organizers said 8,000 people took part in the march, many of whom held signs reading “equal." Some dressed in sashes and tiaras after the news that the newly crowned Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh had publicly come out as lesbian. Comedian and writer Tara Flynn, introduced speakers at a stage on St. Stephen’s Green. Ms Flynn recently starred in an LGBT Noise ‘Armagayddon’ video, which went viral internationally. Newstalk broadcaster Dil Wickremasinghe strongly criticised the recent BAI “balance” ruling against the Derek Mooney RTE Radio 1 show, saying, “every discussion on marriage equality does not have to descend into a debate about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality.” Wickremasinghe concluded her speech by saying, “Stand shoulder to shoulder. People of Ireland, rainbows are ahead of us. We are on the right side of history.” Marriage Equality’s Gráinne Healy asked the crowd to check the electoral register to make sure they and their friends and family are registered to vote. “Your small change will help us to make big changes,” she continued, citing the cost of a large-scale referendum campaign. The march was notable for the number of straight people marching alongside LGBT people, along with families, and an almost endless array of colourful banners and signs. Representatives from LGBT youth organisation BelongTo, INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group, the USI, trans rights organisation TENI, and LGBT Pavee representing the Traveller community also spoke. Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole called for Irish society to replace “tolerance” of LGBT people with “citizenship”. He told the crowd “what we’re asking for is a recognition of a change that has already happened... The slogan I would suggest is ‘if you want a Republic, put a ring on it.’”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

St. Louis County Police Officer Dan Page Suspended After Frightening Anti-Gay Racist 2012 Oath Keeper Video Surfaces, Springfield Missouri DJ Jennifer Scott Stevens Says She Was Fired Because Of Sexual Orientation And Advocacy A Charge The Mid-West Family Broadcasting Group Denies, Little Falls Minnesota Hunt Club To Pay For Wedding And Reception Of Cole Frey And Adam Block After Initially Refusing Since Owners Did Not "Condone" Same Sex Unions

In Missouri, two St. Louis-area police officers have been suspended by their departments, as the unrest in Ferguson keeps intense scrutiny on the personal conduct of law enforcement officials. A St. Louis County officer who had been assigned to the streets of Ferguson has been suspended after a Youtube video of him making incendiary comments surfaced. A Glendale officer was also suspended Friday after comments he posted to Facebook. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said officer Dan Page, a 35-year veteran of the department, has been suspended pending a review by the internal affairs unit. The video was brought to Belmar’s attention by CNN reporter Don Lemon, who had previously brought Page to the department’s attention after complaining Page shoved him. The video of Page was apparently made in 2012 before a group called the Oath Keepers of St. Louis and St. Charles. It is unclear where it was shot. Glendale officer Matthew Pappert was also suspended after posting on social media that he thought the Ferguson protesters should be "put down like rabid dogs." In the wake of the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer and weeks of ensuing protests, the two incidents illustrate the glare that the international news story has cast on local police. While he would have reacted to the video the same way absent the Ferguson protests, even Belmar admitted that he wouldn't have faced the same pressure to maintain the county police force's image. Belmar told the Post-Dispatch that Page's comments defaming President Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court, Muslims and various sexual orientations would likely have triggered disciplinary review for being “beyond the scope of acceptable police conduct.” But it was Page’s comments in the video describing himself, in Belmar's words, as "an indiscriminate killer, that it didn’t matter what your race or background was” that most concerned the police chief. “With the comments on killing, that was obviously something that deeply disturbed me immediately,” Belmar said. An internal review will start Monday, and Page will not be doing any police work until internal affairs makes an official decision on whether the officer should be suspended, Belmar said. “Had he been a probationary officer doing the same thing, I would have fired him two hours ago,” Belmar said. Among Page's rambling comments in the hour-long video: "Muslims are passive until they gain parity with you or they exceed you in numbers and they will kill you; Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill won't even talk to me. They say 'You're an extremist.' I say amen. OK. And I'm real good with a rifle. My best shot is at 1,875 meters. I got me a gold star on that one. That's a fact. You run from me you will die tired. I'm dead serious, folks; I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I'll kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to get killed, don't show up in front of me, it's that simple. I have no problem with it. God did not raise me to be a coward," he said before warning the audience that he believes the government will put kids in indoctrination camps; I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care." Page says on the video that he is a former Green Beret who did nine combat tours and took early retirement from the military because he refuses to take orders from "an undocumented president." John Gaskin, a St. Louis County and national NAACP board member, told CNN Friday afternoon, “It’s very concerning to the NAACP that an officer like that is on the ground. And who knows what he’s already done on the ground already?” Belmar confirmed that Page had been assigned to day patrols in Ferguson during the unrest over the last two weeks. Belmar said Lemon, the CNN anchor who first reported on the Page video, complained days ago that the officer had pushed him while he was reporting in Ferguson. Other than that, “we’ve not gotten any complaints,” Belmar said. The chief said that he reviewed footage of Page in the incident Lemon complained about. “I didn’t think it amounted to any sort of assault,” Belmar said. The chief is not aware of any other blemishes on Page’s record, but he said he has not had an opportunity to review Page's file. “That was kind of the only time his name has been recognized up here,” he said of the Lemon incident. “But again, this video is disturbing.” Belmar added: “No one believes he was ever involved in a shooting or a fatal shooting.” Page has been deployed with the U.S. Army several times during his police career, according to Belmar. He was most recently deployed from 2008 to 2011, and again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t immediately clear where Page had been deployed. Pappert was suspended after posting on Facebook that the Ferguson protesters were "a burden on society and a blight on the community," according to posts preserved by news and opinion website The Daily Caller. Another post that appears to come from Pappert says the "protestors should have been put down like rabid dogs the first night." Jeffrey Beaton, chief of police in the small St. Louis County suburb of roughly 6,000 people, said the comments of Pappert were brought to his attention at roughly 10:40 am Friday morning and "an internal investigation was immediately initiated." Pappert was immediately suspended until the investigation is complete, Beaton said, which shouldn't take longer than "a couple weeks." The investigation will look for any other conduct "that's relevant or similar," Beaton said. "These type of allegations could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination,” he said. Glendale canceled a local ice cream social and Arbor Day celebration scheduled for Friday evening on North Sappington Road after the Facebook comments came to light. On Wednesday, a St. Ann police lieutenant was suspended after pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at a protester in Ferguson the night before, police said. Lt. Ray Albers pointed the gun at a peaceful protester after a "verbal exchange." A county sergeant witnessed the incident, forced the officer to lower his gun and escorted him away.

Also in Missouri, the host of a morning show on a Springfield radio station told the News-Leader Friday she believes she was laid off because of her sexual orientation and advocacy — a claim a company official flatly denies. "It's humiliating, and I am absolutely 100 percent convinced this has to do with my sexuality and my advocacy on behalf of my community," said Jennifer Scott Stevens, who went by Jennifer Scott at 105.1 Bob FM. Jason McCuthin, general manager of Springfield-based Mid-West Family Broadcasting Group — which owns four local radio stations — says the termination of Stevens' employment was entirely "a budgetary decision." Bob FM is eliminating its morning show, he said, and looking to allocate resources elsewhere within the company. "Her strengths don't fit with what we're looking for," McCuthin said Friday afternoon. Stevens said her boss informed her after she finished Friday's 6:00 to 10:00 am show — and recorded a promo for Monday's — that she was being let go for budgetary reasons. The decision took Stevens by surprise. She had been recently given the opportunity to become a shareholder in the company. Stevens described that as happening about six weeks ago; McCuthin said the offer was extended about four to five months ago. Stevens said she had a strong following. Stevens said her co-workers and bosses knew she was gay, and married to a woman. She spoke at the Greater Ozarks PrideFest in 2013 and 2014, but she says her sexual orientation wasn't widely known until she mentioned it in a weekly News-Leader feature that profiles southwest Missouri business people. "My boss always said, what you do in your private life is your own business," Stevens said Friday. "Now I'm doing more stuff in my private life, and I'm a budget cut." Stevens said her boss reviewed what she told the News-Leader before the article was published. And even after it appeared in print, she said, she never talked about being gay on air or mentioned it on her professional Facebook page. She did, however, speak up with her personal Facebook account, most recently on a News-Leader story this week about the Ozark Fire Department appearing ready to extend benefits to employees in same sex unions. "I refuse to be bullied into silence," she said Friday. Stevens said she thinks the company chose to bow to pressure she believes it received from advertisers and others regarding her sexuality following the News-Leader article. Her comments come in the midst of Springfield's debate over whether to expand the city's nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. McCuthin called Stevens "a great person" and said he was disappointed to hear her comments regarding being let go. "As someone who attended her marriage reception, it's a little disheartening that she would assume this station didn't support her wholeheartedly," he said. "We have other people on staff who have the same lifestyle, and they get the same support she did," McCuthin added. McCuthin said Stevens was the only person laid off by the company Friday and that he didn't foresee any additional layoffs within the next year. Bob FM's morning show will go to a music-only format. Stevens is eligible for a severance package, although she and McCuthin described its non-compete clause differently. Stevens said it means she can't work in the industry within 50 miles of Springfield for six months. McCuthin said the clause only applies while the severance being paid out, which he described as not more than a two-month period. In the June News-Leader story, Stevens voiced concern about workplace discrimination. She said that "as a lesbian myself, I know the fear of losing one's job, home, friends and/or family just because you're gay,"adding that, "I hope one day soon that is no longer a fear and the whole thing is no longer such a big issue. I will continue to work towards that end."

In Minnesota, two St. Cloud men getting married this month will have their wedding ceremony and reception paid for by a Little Falls hunting club after it initially refused to be the site of their wedding. The Star Tribune reports that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced the settlement Friday, the first of its kind since the state legalized same sex marriage in August 2013. The owners of LeBlanc’s Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation Inc. agreed to pay about $8,500 to cover the upcoming wedding of Cole Frey and Adam Block, as well as apologize to the two men and comply with the state’s nondiscrimination law in the future. Frey, 20, and Block, 18, said Friday that they met last October and became engaged in November. In February, Frey said, he contacted LeBlanc’s to inquire about having the wedding at its clubhouse after his stepmother suggested it. He said he didn’t immediately reveal that he was marrying a man, and was told their desired date was available. A few weeks later, Frey said, he went to sign papers and leave a security deposit. “That’s when they found out it would be between two males,” Frey said. “They told us they don’t condone same sex marriage, and they wouldn’t be marrying us on their property.” Frey said he quickly contacted the Department of Human Rights. Posing as a potential customer, an agency investigator called LeBlanc’s to inquire about renting it for a same sex wedding and received a similar response. Human Rights Department Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said his agency contacted the club and started settlement talks. Paul Rogosheske, the attorney for LeBlanc’s, said it was a case of misunderstanding state law. “They made a mistake and we did everything in our power to correct it,” Rogosheske said. “This couple is going to have a great wedding and I can assure you LeBlanc’s is going to be open to everybody.” Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been illegal under Minnesota law since 1993. When the Legislature voted to legalize gay marriage in 2013, it exempted religious entities from taking part in the solemnization of same sex weddings. But that doesn’t exempt individuals or businesses from nondiscrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same sex marriage. Critics of same sex marriage warned of such scenarios when the issue was before the Legislature last year. “This is a shameful example of government forcing citizens to accept the government’s view of sexuality and marriage,” John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, said in a statement responding to the settlement. According to its website, LeBlanc’s Rice Creek opened as a private shooting reserve in 1961. It is now owned and run by the two sons of the original owners and their cousin. Rogosheske called their initial responses understandable in light of deeply felt beliefs about same sex marriage. “You’ve got the archdiocese campaigning against the amendment, they were very vocal,” Rogosheske said. “You could see how people involved in a private hunting club, they were new to hosting weddings in the first place, you could see how they made a mistake.” Rogosheske said the club’s owners were not granting interviews. Frey and Block are getting married next Friday. Frey said the ceremony would be at the Camp Ripley Chapel and the reception at a private home in Little Falls. He said that by the time the controversy was settled, LeBlanc’s had been booked on their chosen wedding date. “We kind of came to the conclusion, anyway, that we didn’t want to have it there because we didn’t want to be associated with them in that way,” said Frey, a student at the University of Phoenix. Block is a student at St. Cloud State University. Lindsey praised the club’s owners for a willingness to “own up to it and make amends. I hope this will be an isolated case.” Frey said he and Block were motivated by the belief that they have the same rights as any couple. “It’s not my place if someone in their religion feels this is wrong,” Frey said. “But at the same time, it’s a feeling that people need to accept what’s going on and that this is becoming the norm.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

For First-Time Federal Judge Rules Florida Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional And Order State To Allow Gay And Lesbian Couple To Wed, Federal Appeals Court Extends Stay On Ruling Striking Down Colorado Same Sex Marriage Ban, San Francisco Police Release Video Stills Capturing Person Of Interest In Murder Of Bryan Higgins, Detroit Police Search For Suspects In Three Recent Attacks Against Transgender Person Including One Fatality, 17-Year-Old Transgender Jessica Moscatel Appears To Have Committed Suicide Stepping In Front Of Amtrak Train Monday

In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports that in the first decision on same sex marriage with statewide impact, a federal judge ruled Thursday that Florida's sam sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, ordering the state to allow the marriage of gay and lesbian couples and to recognize legal marriages performed elsewhere. "When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," wrote U.S District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee. "Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held." Hinkle, who stayed most of the effects of his ruling pending appeal, added: "The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society." The judge's ruling comes after 22 individuals, including nine married couples, sued Florida to recognize their marriages or grant them marriage licenses. Plaintiffs in the case include eight same-sex couples from throughout Florida and the LGBT-rights group SAVE, represented by the ACLU of Florida. "We are overjoyed that the judge ruled on the side of fairness by ordering the state of Florida recognize the legal marriages of the plaintiffs," SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. Defendants in the case include Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Scott "respects the many views Floridians have on this issue," said Greg Blair, spokesperson for the governor's re-election campaign. "He believes in traditional marriage, consistent with the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008. There are several cases going through the court system and the governor respects that process." Bondi spokesperson Whitney Ray declined to say whether the attorney general's office will take the case to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. "We're reviewing the ruling," he said. Hinkle, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote that the state presented no good argument for defending the law: "The undeniable truth is that the Florida ban on same sex marriage stems entirely, or almost entirely, from moral disapproval of the practice." The judge also wrote he did not accept Bondi's defense that a "critical feature of marriage is the capacity to procreate," Hinkle writing that, "Same sex couples, like opposite sex couples and single individuals, can adopt, but same sex couples cannot procreate," Hinkle wrote. "Neither can many opposite sex couples. And many opposite sex couples do not wish to procreate." Said attorney Stephen Rosenthal of Podhurst Orseck in Miami, who represents the eight couples in the ACLU case: "What that means, if you read what he's saying is that, 'This is a bogus defense.' " Bondi's defense motions in this case led to scrutiny of her own marital history. She has been divorced twice and has no children. The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday supported Bondi's procreation defense: "Only the union of a man and a woman in and of itself can bring forth children and thus is the very origin of society. With its unique beauty and goodness revealed, the public has a worthy interest in protecting this institution in law as a means to ensure humanity is both nurtured and strengthened." The conservative Family Research Council in Washington blasted Hinkle's ruling. "A radical departure from natural law and human history, this Florida judge has further undermined the legitimacy of the courts in the eyes of the American people. These liberal activist judges may want to take America over the cultural cliff, but don't be surprised when more and more Americans refuse to follow," FRC Senior Fellow Chris Gacek said in a statement. In March, eight same sex couples who married elsewhere in the United States sued Florida to recognize their unions: Sloan Grimsley and Joyce Albu of Palm Beach Gardens; Lindsay Myers and Sarah Humlie of Pensacola; Chuck Hunziger and Bob Collier of Broward; Juan Del Hierro and Thomas Gantt Jr. of Miami; Christian Ulvert and Carlos Andrade of Miami; Richard Milstein and Eric Hankin of Miami; Robert Loupo and John Fitzgerald of Miami, and Denise Hueso and Sandra Jean Newson of Miami. Del Hierro said he and Gantt met in 2008 as volunteers fighting the effort to amend Florida's Constitution to ban gay marriage. Now, they have a son together, Lucas, age 21 months. "It was volunteering for Amendment 2 that really solidified our relationship," Del Hierro said. "I remember saying it might take us 20 years to undo the damage it did. To be here six years later, with our family, with our son Lucas, is surreal. Not only to do this for our son, but for our community." On April 10, the ACLU amended its complaint by adding another plaintiff: Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, whose wife, Carol Goldwasser, died March 13. Goldberg and Goldwasser had been partners for 47 years. They moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011. The ACLU suit eventually was consolidated with a similar federal case involving two couples in North Florida, one already married in Canada and the other wanting to wed. "It's the first federal decision in Florida. When the stay is lifted, it will have statewide impact," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. "What it will mean, when the stay is ultimately lifted, is that their families will be protected and strengthened. They'll start getting health insurance, pension benefits. They could protect their families with survivors benefits. These are the dramatic, practical ways that this victory will ultimately help families in Florida." The same sex marriage battle is being waged across the United States. According to the national group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won more than 30 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, a lesbian widow, and threw out a key portion of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since mid July there have been five rulings in Florida declaring the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The previous four rulings were in local courts throughout South Florida. Hinkle's stay covered all aspects of the federal case except one: The judge ordered Goldwasser's death certificate be amended to show she was a married woman, not single at the time she died. "The defendant Florida Surgeon General must issue a corrected death certificate for Carol Goldwasser showing that at the time of her death she was married to Arlene Goldberg," Hinkle wrote. "Isn't that fabulous? I'm so excited," Goldberg said Thursday. "It confirms that they actually believe we were a couple. Married. We were together for 47 years and married for three in New York." Goldberg is caring for her late wife's elderly parents. Because Florida hasn't recognized her marriage to Goldwasser, Goldberg is unable to collect her late wife's Social Security. Bondi has until September 22 to appeal the case or the ruling takes effect, allowing Goldberg to become eligible to collect Goldwasser's Social Security. "Pam Bondi would have to go the 11th Circuit to deny survivor benefits to a woman who has been [with] her spouse for 47 years, who recently died, and would be less able to take care of her spouse's parents," Simon said. "That would be heartless."

In Colorado, the Associated Press reports that same sex marriage is not coming to the state yet. A federal appeals court on Thursday extended a stay on a ruling from last month that found the state's same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the court has stayed similar rulings in other states. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed an analogous ruling from Virginia this week. Gay and lesbian couples had sued hoping to take advantage of recent rulings to immediately invalidate Colorado's gay marriage ban. But the trial judge last month declined to let his decision striking down the ban go into effect. And Thursday's ruling makes clear the federal courts will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court has final say. Another lawsuit against the ban is before the Colorado Supreme Court.

An update on a previous post: In California, San Francisco police released video footage Thursday that they said showed a person of interest in the mysterious death of Bryan Higgins, who was found badly beaten August 10 at 7:30 am in the Duboce Triangle neighbourhood. The Chronicle reports that the video, taken from a passing taxi's dashboard camera, shows a man in a dark gray hooded sweatshirt chasing Higgins before the beating. Higgins, 31, was hospitalized and died three days later. A still frame from the video shows the same person with a red shirt, after he removed the sweatshirt. Paramedics found Higgins, who was known to friends as "Feather Lynn," near the corner of Duboce and Church streets and transported him to San Francisco General Hospital with serious injuries. As he did not have any identification, authorities put out a call to the media, hoping to put a name to their John Doe. The strategy worked, and friends soon identified Higgins at the hospital. Investigators were reviewing multiple videos of the attack, which several people witnessed, said Officer Albie Esparza, a San Francisco police spokesperson. Detectives from three police precincts were initially working the case, but when Higgins died Aug. 13 the case was referred to the homicide division. A hospital spokesperson said Higgins was pronounced dead at 3:33 pm, a time planned by his family. At the same time, more than 100 people gathered at Duboce Park to honor their friend, who belonged to the Radical Faeries, a gay men's counterculture movement and spiritual organization. Higgins moved to San Francisco from Michigan about five years ago and later worked at Rosenberg Delicatessen on Noe Street.

In Michigan, Detroit police have found at least two individuals dead at Detroit's Palmer Park, a popular hangout for transgender women and gay men, since November. Additionally, two other believed-transgender women were shot since Friday, including a 20- and 25-year-old. Both survived. Police are reluctant to say the rash of shootings are tied to one another and have not designated them hate crimes at this time, Detroit Police Officer Adam Madera said Thursday morning. Mark Erwin, the director of community development at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, an LGBT youth advocacy center, says he and many in the LGBT community believe these were hate crimes. "This isn’t as rare as some people may like to think," he said. "This type of thing happens on a routine basis to many transgender women here in Detroit. "The Ruth Ellis Center has lost four member of our community in the last 2 1/2 years due to violence on the streets ... Yes, I would say it's tied directly to their gender identity." The Ruth Ellis Center, as part of its counseling services, provides "safety planning" guidance to its young people, said Erwin. The center is located near Palmer Park, and Erwin says that's no accident. Palmer Park, a vast and lush public park located near Woodward and Seven Mile in Detroit, is a popular gathering spot from many in the LGBT community. It's also a place where transgender women and young gay men to conduct prostitution, what Erwin calls "survival sex." It took the Wayne County Medical Examiner weeks to ID the body of the 53-year-old transgender woman found in a Palmer Park garbage can dead of a shotgun wound and burned beyond recognition last November. The Detroit Police Department identified a "person if interest" in the most recent homicide, though he is still at large, Madera said Thursday morning. The victim was found face up lying in the park parking lot near a swimming pool. The suspected shooter crashed their vehicle nearby and left behind a gun, Madera said.

In Pennsylvania, the Inquirer reports that Jessica Moscatel came out as transgender in 11th-grade English class this spring. The teen asked classmates and teachers to call him Riley Matthew Moscatel from then on. They did. The request met little resistance at Bucks County Technical High School, which has other transgender or openly gay students. "Everyone supported him," said a friend, Kate Cimino, who will be a junior this year. "Everyone loved Riley. He was everyone's best friend." But on Monday, the 17-year-old appeared to commit suicide, the county Coroner's Office said. Police recovered surveillance video that showed the teen stepping in front of an Amtrak train near his home in Bristol Township. Coroner Joseph Campbell said Wednesday that his office was continuing to investigate the death. Efforts to reach Moscatel's family were unsuccessful. His friends and teachers were grasping for answers Wednesday. Friends said he had suffered from depression when he was younger but had improved. However, they said he felt increasingly uncomfortable in his female body. A note Moscatel appeared to have posted on his Instagram account Monday stated: "My mirror reflects Jessica, my heart and mind say Riley ... You see me as the happiest person in school, I'm a prisoner of my own body ..." Moscatel "still really wasn't a guy physically," Cimino said. "Even though everyone showed support and called him Riley, it didn't match up to what he felt of himself." Another friend, Carley Foss, said: "He was super-frustrated with his body. And more and more frustrated every single day." Foss said Moscatel had been researching hormone treatments, which he hoped to begin after he turned 18 this December. He also wanted to have breast surgery. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts are much higher among transgender people - as much as 41-percent, according to one survey - compared with the rest of the population, experts say. But it's a complicated and understudied issue, particularly among youths. Arnold Grossman, a New York University professor of applied psychology, is studying the issue with funds from the National Institute of Mental Health. He said suicide attempts by transgender youth often stem from feelings of not belonging, burdening family members, and seeing no way out of the situation. Michele Angello, a psychotherapist based in Wayne, noted the sense of despair that can come from feeling disconnected from one's body. Other pressures for such young people include a lack of support, being bullied, and having trouble finding a job. "I have amazingly intelligent and beautiful adolescents coming into my office in total despair because of one of those factors," she said. The uncomfortableness for transgender youth can be intense enough to "throw them into crisis," said Andrew Spiers, co-coordinator of the trans health information project GALAEI, a Latino social justice organization in Philadelphia. "Anybody that's transitioning should probably be seeing a therapist," Spiers said. "For teenagers, given what they're going through on top of questions about gender identity, that's a lot to handle." Kevin Gentilcore, supervisor of Pupil Personnel Services at the tech school, said Moscatel's teachers were devastated. "They said Riley had a great year last year," he said. "She felt supported by friends and family and that's why this has shocked everyone." He described the school as one that accepts "all of our children for who they are and as they are," adding that, "With all of our support and the school culture we have, if we have a student who chooses to take their own life, it can happen anywhere."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees To Stay Appeals Court Ruling Striking Down Virginia's Same Sex Marriage Ban, Mormon-Owned Brigham Young University Bookstore Removes Hallmark Same Sex Marriage Cards Citing School's Honor Code Which Forbids Homosexual Behaviour, Lambda Legal Sues U.S. Veterans Affairs Over Department's New Policy Denying Benefits To Same Sex Couples Who Reside In States Who Do Not Recognize Gay Marriage, After 10 Hours Of Debate And Amendments Fayetteville Alabama Passes Non-Discrimination Ordinance, Brothers Jacob Matthew And Jason Julian Sarmiento Sentenced For "Senseless Series Of Crimes" Committed While Terrorizing Patrons Of Colorado Gay Bar, British National Health Service Suspends Shahid Sardar After Discovering He Posted Online That Gays And Lesbians Should Be "Destroyed By Fire"

In Virginia, gay and lesbian couples will have to wait longer to begin marrying in Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to delay an appeals court ruling striking down the state's same sex marriage ban. The Virginia Pilot reports that the nation's highest court granted a request from a county clerk in Northern Virginia to delay a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that would have allowed for same sex couples to marry beginning Thursday morning. The state would have also had to start recognizing gay marriages from out of state if the Supreme Court had denied the request. The court provided no explanation for its order. The federal appeals court last week refused to delay its decision striking down the ban, issued in late July, while it is appealed to the high court. The appeals court's order did not explain why it denied that request. The Supreme Court's decision was not unexpected, as it previously issued an order in January putting same sex unions on hold in Utah while the federal appeals court in Denver was hearing the case. That court upheld the decision striking down Utah's gay marriage ban, but delayed its decision from taking effect pending appeal to the Supreme Court. Most other federal court decisions in favor of same sex marriage also have been put on hold. "We are disappointed that the 14,000 couples we represent in Virginia will have to continue to wait to exercise their fundamental right to marry, or to have their marriages recognized in Virginia," according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. "We hope that the Supreme Court will decide this case as quickly as possible so that families will not have to wait any longer than necessary to exercise these rights." Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that banned gay marriage and prohibited the recognition of such marriages performed in other states. The appeals court ruling overturning that ban was the third such ruling by a federal appeals court and the first in the South, a region where the rising tide of rulings favoring marriage equality is testing concepts of states' rights and traditional, conservative moral values that have long held sway. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who has said he will not defend the state's ban and believes the courts ruled correctly in striking it down — asked the Supreme Court earlier this month to review a lower court's decision striking down the state's ban. Herring said he believes the case will prove compelling to the high court because of the "stringent, discriminatory nature of Virginia's marriage ban" and other factors. The Virginia lawsuit was filed by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who were denied a marriage license, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County. The women were married in California and wanted their marriage recognized in the state where they are raising a 16-year-old daughter. A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati recently considered arguments regarding six cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some observers have said the 6th Circuit may be the first to uphold statewide same sex marriage bans after more than 20 consecutive rulings in the past eight months striking them down.

In Utah, greeting cards celebrating same sex marriages turned up at the Brigham Young University bookstore Tuesday. Placed by Hallmark, the cards reading "Mr. and Mr." and "Mrs. and Mrs." were quickly removed when bookstore staff discovered them after photos surfaced online. The outside vendor stocked the shelves without realizing the school wouldn’t want to sell the cards marketed to buyers celebrating unions between two brides and two grooms, BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins said. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, it wasn’t immediately clear when they were placed, but Jenkins said they weren’t up long. BYU staffers have spoken with the company about leaving similar cards off the school’s store shelves in the future. BYU doesn’t plan on ending its contract with Hallmark. "This was just someone stocking the shelves who wasn’t aware," she said. "We’ve been able to work with them." Asked why they were removed, Jenkins referenced BYU’s honor code. It states that while being attracted to people of the same gender doesn’t violate the honor code, acting on those feelings is a violation. "Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex," it states, "but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings. BYU is owned by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has stood behind its belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman despite a growing societal movement in support of legalizing same sex marriage. A call to Hallmark wasn’t immediately returned. Samy Galvez, president of the group Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA) and a senior at BYU, said changes to the honor code in 2007 and 2010 allowed students to talk about their sexual orientation without fear of being expelled. Though he declined to comment on the greeting cards, calling it an accident, Galvez said he generally has found a welcoming environment at BYU. "I was really amazed to see how welcoming and how loving people are," he said. "Even though you know people adhere to a standard of conduct of not advocating for same sex marriage, at the same time that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of showing empathy."

Stars and Stripes reports that advocacy groups filed a lawsuit here this week challenging the Department of Veterans Affairs on its new policy denying benefits to same sex spouses who live in states that do not recognize same sex marriage. The VA policy issued in June “writes inequality right back” into the law after a landmark ruling last year that struck down sections of the Defense of Marriage Act and forced the federal government to recognize same sex couples for a variety of benefits, attorneys for the American Military Partner Association argued in a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. The department issued its new policy in June after it completed a review of the DOMA decision ordered by the Obama administration. It requires that veterans and their same sex partners lived in a state that permitted gay marriage at the time of their union or lived in one of those states during the time they earned VA benefits, which include disability pay, home loan guarantees, death pensions and burial rights. “No member of our community should be left behind just because their home state continues to discriminate against their marriage,” according to a released statement by Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, a nonprofit advocate for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people that helped file the lawsuit. In its argument before the circuit court, the AMPA says the ruling last year on DOMA found that it is unconstitutional to keep federal benefits from legally married same sex couples. “The court’s opinion specifically singled out … among DOMA’s unconstitutional effects the deprivation of veterans’ benefits to same sex spouses, including denying these veterans and their spouses the dignity and final respect of the right to burial together in veterans’ cemeteries,” according to the legal complaint. But the VA has decided to continue withholding the benefits from some couples based on state laws that do not recognize the unions, the group says. In 19 states and the District of Columbia, same sex marriage is legal. There are 31 states and two U.S. territories that ban with same sex marriages, though in 13 states, there are active legal challenges, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported. “Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed,” the legal complaint says. In recent years, barriers to gay equality have fallen in quick succession — the military lifted its ban on openly gay troops in 2011, many states have legalized same sex marriage, and the fall of DOMA led to an overhaul of policies at federal agencies. The debate over veterans’ benefits such as disability payments, death pension benefits and burial rights is a new legal frontier for the civil rights movement. When approached for this story, the VA said it does not comment on open lawsuits but did provide some details on its same sex marriage benefits policy. Veterans with gay spouses are required to meet the residency standards due to a section of federal law governing VA benefits that still exists despite the DOMA decision. The VA made its June policy decision based on the law. “In determining whether or not a person is or was the spouse of a veteran, their marriage shall be proven as valid for the purposes of all laws administered by the Secretary according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued,” the federal code reads. Meanwhile, the department has begun processing all claims and applications involving same sex marriages that were previously being held by program offices due to the review of the DOMA decision.

In Alabama, Fayetteville City Council members passed a controversial anti-discrimination ordinance early Wednesday morning following nearly 10 hours of public discussion and debate that began Tuesday evening inside City Hall. The proposal (the Fayetteville Flyer provides a link to a PDF), brought forward by Alderman Matthew Petty, will appoint a city staff member to investigate complaints from residents who feel they’ve been discriminated against during housing transactions, employment decisions, and other public accommodations in Fayetteville. The new law means landlords and business owners could be investigated and prosecuted for unjustly evicting or firing someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, marital status or veteran status. State and federal law prohibits discrimination based on someone’s age, gender, disability, race or religion. But in Arkansas there are no state-level non-discrimination laws that cover the other categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Council members Adella Gray, Sarah Marsh, Mark Kinion, Matthew Petty, Rhonda Adams and Alan Long all voted to enact the ordinance. Aldermen Justin Tennant and Martin Schoppmeyer voted against the proposal. During the meeting, aldermen amended the ordinance – at the request of Petty – to exempt all tax-exempt properties or places of worship owned by a church from being included. That move, Petty said, was to appease religious groups who earlier this month said they should not have to open their places of worship to people of different beliefs. Alderman Tennant proposed sending the anti-discrimination decision to the public for a vote in the upcoming general election. He said it would allow all residents to help make the decision, and would likely be quicker – and cheaper – than if the public were to initiate its own vote to overturn the ordinance. Tennant said residents would only have until about the end of the month to submit over 4,000 signatures needed to place the item on the November 4 general election if they chose to challenge the new law. If they missed the deadline for the general election ballot, a special election would have to be called at a cost of about $25,000-$35,000. Of the 54 Fayetteville residents who spoke about the proposed amendment, 18 people said they would like a public vote. The other 36 residents said they wanted the City Council to make the decision. State Representative Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) spoke in favor of a public vote. “It gives the people the chance to say, ‘We are for this approach or we are not for this approach,’” he said. “There will be a clear resounding answer from the people of Fayetteville.” Laurent Sacharoff, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, said a public vote would be a mistake. “It sounds wonderful,” he said. “But the one time in which democracy fails us is when the rights of a minority are an issue. Sacharoff said minorities face terrible odds when faced with discrimination, and the burden should be on the public to vote for discrimination. Alderman Kinion said while it would be easy for him to “pass the buck” and send the ordinance to a public vote, he would not support Tennant’s amendment. “That’s not the kind of person I am and that’s not why I was elected to this position,” said Kinion. “What I’ve learned is that fear will win out over truth (in a public vote).” Tennant’s amendment failed 2-6 with only he and Alderman Schoppmeyer voting in favor of a public ballot.

In Colorado, ABC 7 reports that two brothers have been sentenced for harassing patrons of a gay bar, pointing a gun at an officer, and then leading police on a high-speed chase on Colorado Blvd. earlier this year. According to court records, Jacob Matthew Sarmiento, 25, of Denver, and Jason Julian Sarmiento, 22, of Aurora, drove to a Glendale nightclub around 2:00 am on February 24. The El Potrero nightclub bills itself as a gay bar. The men approached two patrons in a parking lot next to the bar and began shouting homophobic slurs, as well as trying to physically assault them. Both of the defendants pointed a gun at the victims, court records stated. One of the victims was able to call for help and the defendants fled in their black and silver Mini Cooper. A Glendale police officer approached the defendants at a red light at Colorado Boulevard and Colfax Avenue and one of the defendants pointed a gun at the officer. The officer got out of his car and gave verbal commands for the defendants to show their hands. The officer did not shoot into the vehicle as the windows were tinted and he was unable to tell who was inside the car. The defendants ignored his commands, and sped away, with officers from the Glendale Police Department and Denver Police Department in pursuit. The defendants were apprehended after turning onto Martin Luther King Blvd., where they hit a cement median. On July 1, both defendants pled guilty to felony menacing with a real or simulated weapon and bias motivated crime. They were sentenced last week to 360 days in the Arapahoe County Jail with 173 days credit for jail time served. In addition, the defendants were sentenced to five years intense supervised probation. District Attorney George Brauchler stated: "The senseless and unprovoked series of crimes committed by these brothers-in-crime have no place in our community. To this day, the victims in this case are haunted by the defendants' actions that night. Pointing a gun at a police officer and innocent people for any reason is an invitation to getting shot. Here, luckily for these defendants it only resulted in a felony conviction and incarceration." Captain Mike Gross of the Glendale Police Department said, "The Glendale Police Department is proud of Officer Chad Lucero who showed great restraint in not firing at the vehicle due to innocent bystanders in the area. We applaud the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for their steadfast prosecution of this case."

In Britain, the Telegraph reports that a senior National Health Service boss has been suspended after it emerged he runs an Islamic charity whose website carried articles suggesting that gay people should be “destroyed by fire” and “stoned to death”. Shahid Sardar, head of public engagement at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, has been reported to police by his employers over his trusteeship of the Islamic Network. Pages, now deleted, on the website of the charity, based in Whitechapel, East London, contained posts that anti-extremists say could constitute hate speech, according to an investigation by the BBC. Homosexuality was labelled “a sick disease” and were “against human nature” and “evil and filthy." The article referred to medieval Muslim teachings that gay people should be "destroyed by fire," "executed by being thrown from a great height" and "stoned to death." Other articles on the charity’s website advocated killing apostates and that “Jews scheme and crave after possessing the Muslim lands, as well as the lands of others." Mr Sardar says the articles – which are over 10 years old – pre-date his tenure and do not reflect his views. There is no suggestion he was the author of the articles. The hospital trust has suspended Mr Sardar while it carries out an investigation. It released statement saying the “very serious allegations” had also been referred to the police. The Charity Commission said it also “urgently assessing the risks to the charity and determining our next steps” over the articles. A statement released by Islamic Network said: “"We have taken immediate action to have them removed. We dissociate IN from the views expressed in those articles.”