Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gay Community In Liberia Face New Attacks Engendered By Fears Over Ebola, Silvio Berlusconi Calls For Same Sex Civil Unions As "Right Compromise," British Police Seek Public Assistance In Capturing Two Robbers Targeting Gay Men Via Mobile App, Christian Broadcasting Network's Pat Robertson Calls Gay Rights Activists "Terrorists," Anti-Gay Virginia-Based Group Claims It Misspelt New Jersey Senator Booker's Name On Mailer Deliberately, Arizona Approves First Transgender Student-Athlete To Play In Winter Sport

In Liberia, Reuters reports that Leroy Ponpon doesn't know whether to lock himself in his flat in Monrovia because of the deadly Ebola virus, or because he is gay. Christian churches' recent linking of the two have made life hell for him and hundreds of other gays. Ponpon, an LGBT campaigner in the Liberian capital, says gays have been harassed, physically attacked and a few have had their cars smashed by people blaming them for the hemorrhagic fever, after religious leaders in Liberia said Ebola was a punishment from God for homosexuality. "Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They're even asking for the death penalty. We're living in fear," Ponpon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia. Ebola has infected almost 10,000 people in West Africa since March, killing around half its victims. Liberia is the worst hit country where poverty, corruption and civil war have left a weak health system unable to cope with the exponential spread of the disease. Some religious leaders have their own interpretation of the causes of Ebola. Earlier this year, the Liberian Council of Churches said in a statement that God was angry with Liberians "over corruption and immoral acts" such as homosexuality, and that Ebola was a punishment. In May, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia said that "one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality," local media reported. Francois Patuel, Amnesty International's representative in West Africa, said there had been reports of threats and violence against the LGBTI community in Monrovia since the incendiary remarks made by the local Christian leaders. "Amnesty has received pictures of cars that reportedly belong to gays with their windows smashed as well as reports that gays have been forced from their homes and had to go into hiding," Patuel said. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Liberian Council of Churches could be reached in Monrovia. Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Episcopal Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ponpon prefers to move at night. He is scared to be identified in daylight after the local press splashed his picture and phone number across the front pages. But the Ebola curfew, running from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, has complicated things. "In the day, we move around wearing sunglasses and disguises. The problem with moving at night is that it is not safe in Monrovia in the dark, and also, if you violate the Ebola curfew, it is punishable by imprisonment," he said. The curfew has affected the LGBT community in another way. When activists contact the police for protection, they reply that because of the Ebola emergency and the curfew put in place to combat the disease, they cannot help, Ponpon said. Violence against the LGBT community was already common in West Africa before the Ebola outbreak, and same sex relationships are still largely taboo in many African countries. A recent Gallup poll showed Africa as the worst continent for gay people. National laws in West Africa are in line with public sentiment. In Liberia, 'voluntary sodomy' is a first-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in jail, according to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). Patuel said Amnesty had received no reports of similar incidents in other Ebola-stricken countries in the region, and urged African states to stand up for minorities. "In August this year the African Union passed a resolution for the protection of LGBTi rights. The authorities must adopt this into their national law and take action against homophobic statements to protect its citizens," Patuel said. In Liberia, Ponpon's demands are simple: "Right now, all we want is protection. We want the government to come forward and say that this is a minority group and they deserve the same rights as anyone else and then people will stop attacking us."

In Italy, the Associated Press reports that Silvio Berlusconi is pushing for the legalization of civil unions between gays, but not same sex marriage. In Rome, where politicians are sensitive to Vatican policy, the leader of Italy's largest center-right party told reporters Thursday that allowing civil unions by gays would be the "right compromise" between freedom for all and "deep respect for Christian values and for traditional families." The Catholic Church says only a man and a woman can be married. Berlusconi's fiancé, Francesca Pascale, recently told a radio interviewer that she favors the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions. But the former Italian premier is holding up Germany as the model of his plan. Since 2001, Germany has allowed civil unions but not formal marriage for gay couples. As the result of a tax-fraud conviction, Berlusconi no longer serves in Parliament, but he said his Forza Italia party will propose legislation to allow same sex civil unions in Italy. Berlusconi's lobbying for same sex civil unions marked quite a change for him. Four years ago, while shrugging off sex-scandals that dogged him, he said it's "better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay." That comment led some to accuse him of being homophobic.

In Britain, the Guardian reports that police are appealing for help to track down two robbers who targeted a man in his own home after contacting him using a gay dating app. The 26-year-old victim arranged to meet a man at his flat in Westminster, central London, last month via the app. When the visitor, who spent much of his time at the flat texting, said he was leaving, the victim showed him to the door where a second man was waiting holding a cattle prod. The robbers forced the man back inside his flat, then stole cash and a laptop computer. Police fear that other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities may have been targeted by the pair and said anyone who came forward would be treated with sensitivity. They released CCTV images of the suspects, who are wanted for aggravated burglary. DC April Smart, from Westminster CID, said: “The victim thankfully did not suffer serious physical injuries but has been left very shaken by this incident. I am keen to identify the two suspects as soon as possible and I am appealing to anyone who may know who they are to contact the police. While we have not connected this incident to any other ... the suspects could have committed this type of offence previously, and I would appeal to anyone who may have been a victim of this type of offence to contact the police, where they will be treated with the utmost sensitivity.” The burglary took place around 5:20 pm on September 28. One suspect is white, of slim build with short fair/blond hair and in his mid 20s. The other is white, bald and of medium build, in his late 20s. After taking the cash and laptop they ran out of the flat. Smart offered reassurance that police were doing everything they could to arrest the robbers and urged people to take steps to stay safe when meeting strangers. The Lesbian and Gay Foundation advises in such situations to meet in a public place and stay where there are other people around. Police are asking anyone with information to contact them on 020 7321 7513, or to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

In the United States, a day after his controversial comments about AIDS were obliterated by Anderson Cooper, televangelist Pat Robertson called gay rights activists “terrorists." On his Christian Broadcasting Network show on Wednesday, Robertson blasted Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, for issuing subpoenas to five prominent pastors who had opposed a new anti-discrimination law. “These people are terrorists, they're radicals, and they're extremists,” Robertson told 700 Club viewers. “No Christian in his right mind would ever try to enforce somebody against their belief or else suffer jail. Now they did that during the Inquisition. It was horrible. It was a black mark on our history, but it isn't being done now. There's no Christian group I know of anywhere in the world that would force somebody to do something contrary to their deep-held religious beliefs or else face criminal penalties, but that's what the homosexuals are trying to do here in America and I think it's time pastors stand up and fight this monstrous thing." Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union slammed the subpoenas, saying they violated the pastors' civil rights. "The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church," the ACLU said in a statement. "And any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.” In response, Parker said the city would clarify the subpoenas, admitting they were “too broad.” Robertson said that, "If the gays want to go out and do their gay sex, that’s one thing, but if they want to force you to accept it and solemnify it by marriage, then that’s a different matter and it’s an infringement on people’s religious belief. What’s being done in Houston is a gay — the woman they elected is a homosexual, she’s a lesbian, and she’s trying to force pastors to conform to her beliefs. It’s wrong." Earlier this month, Robertson was asked by a 700 Club viewer if he should be concerned about traveling to Kenya in light of the Ebola outbreak. The 84-year-old televangelist replied that there was no need to worry about Ebola in Kenya. But he added: "You have to be careful about AIDS. The towels could have AIDS." On Tuesday, Cooper dedicated his Ridiculist segment to respond to Robertson. "If, Pat Robertson, you somehow missed all the research and the depth and information, you cannot get HIV if you share towels," the CNN host said. Cooper mocked Robertson's advice, telling American travelers to remain in the United States. "Except steer clear of San Francisco [because] that is, of course, where all the gay people live, and Pat Robertson thinks they have a way of giving you 'the stuff.'"

In New Jersey, a Virginia-based group that opposes gay rights has sent out a postcard to voters opposing U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s re-election. But it spells the Democratic senator's name wrong. The postcard was sent out by Public Advocate of the United States, a non-profit group. On the front, it shows two men kissing and, in big white letters on a pink background, these words: “Is this Cory Brooker’s (sic) plan for New Jersey?” The president of the group, Eugene Delgaudio, said that was intentional. “It’s a tactic to get attention, which we did get. You’re calling me,” he said of the ad campaign, which he said was “very low budget” and included about 50,000 postcards. His group is attacking candidates in other states as well. The back of the postcard says that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bell filled out the group’s survey and “earned a 100% pro-family rating.” The postcard also incorrectly calls Bell, who has never won an elected office, a senator. It goes on to say that Booker did not answer the survey “and has earned a 0-percent Pro-Family rating due to his praise for homosexual ‘marriage’ and co-sponsoring the Gay Bill of Special Rights.” When asked if he thought readers would doubt the misspelling was intentional, Delgaudio said he often does provocative things to get attention. The postcard came to light after Don Povia, a Mercer County resident and former executive director of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, received it in the mail and then tweeted critically about it. If gay couples kissing is Booker’s plan for New Jersey, he’s too late. The state legalized same sex marriage a year ago this month, and 3,700 gay couples have wed since then at ceremonies that almost certainly involved kissing. A spokesperson for Booker could not immediately be reached for comment. Bell said he’s met Delguadio because they had children in the same school , but knew nothing of the ad campaign. “I just don’t have any comment on it. I have nothing to do with it,” he said. “I haven’t even seen it. It’s certainly not something I would have said.” Steven Goldstein, who founded the gay rights group Garden State Equality, laughed when shown the mail piece "It's hateful. I shouldn't be laughing," Goldstein said, before calling on Jeff "Brell" to denounce it. "To say it’s something he would not have said, that’s not the same as denouncing it," Goldstein said.

In Arizona Monday, the Interscholastic Association Executive Board approved the first transgender student-athlete to play in a winter sport in the state. Chuck Schmidt, associate executive director of the AIA, said he could not give the name of the athlete, nor the sport, school and sex in order to protect the student-athlete's privacy. An AIA subcommittee recommended the eligibility of the transgender athlete to the board, which unanimously voted to allow the student-athlete to play. Schmidt said there have been several cases of transgender athletes appealing to play in the past, but the board denied those until now. The AIA, Arizona's high school sports governing body, doesn't have legislation that opens the door for all transgender athletes to participate in sports. Schmidt said it is case by case, such as hardship appeals. "We look at the school," Schmidt said. "Do they support the request? We look at the student. There is a lot of documentation to explore, the gender dysphoria. Are they working with medical professionals? Where are the parents and students themselves? What are their positions? How long have they identified as the opposite sex they were born? All of that is taken into consideration and the potential impact it would have on other students. All of those things came together. Based on all of the information, the subcommittee recommended approval, and it was supported by the board." Arizona is not alone in facing the issue. In Minnesota, a full-page ad was placed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by the Minnesota Child Protective League in opposition of a proposal there to allow the participation of transgender athletes to play. In the ad, it states, "A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are you OK with that?" Shortly after that, the Minnesota State High School League was bombarded by more than an estimated 10,000 emails before the early October vote with more than 50 people lined up to speak to show either support or opposition, according to the Star Tribune. The vote was delayed until December, according to reports. The Star Tribune reported that Zeam Porter, a junior who plays basketball and identifies as "trans genderqueer," broke down while speaking during the packed hearing. "It's like, 'I respect transgender people, but ...'" the Star Tribune reported Porter saying. "The 'but' is what I've been hearing my whole life. All I hear is, 'You are problematic; you're wrong.'" In a Washington Post story, transgender athletes have been allowed to play on their preferred teams in at least 10 states, according to Trans Athlete. According to the National Federation of High Schools, 32 states have some sort of policy on transgender athletes with some stating they have to play on the gender-specific sports, according to what is on their birth certificates. The AIA has no policy. It is case by case. "I don't know about a ripple effect," Schmidt said on how the AIA's approval of the first transgender athlete to play would impact the Arizona high school sports landscape. "A board member talked about a door is open, and there seems to be a rush to that door. I don't know in this case. A student identifies as the opposite sex born, and they're going through their internal process."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ugandan Judge Dismisses Case Against Two Men Accused Of Having Homosexual Sex Due To Absence Of Evidence, Appeal To Filed In Ruling That Upheld Puerto Rico Same Sex Marriage Ban, Religious Leaders Gather Outside Michigan Capital To Protest Proposed Amendment To State Anti-Discrimination Law Would Include Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity, Catholic Group Stages Protests Against Same Sex Marriage In Pennsylvania, Federal Lawsuit Alleges San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputies Mistreated Gay And Transgender Inmates

In Uganda, a judge dismissed the case Wednesday of two men accused of having homosexual sex, the first since tough laws were repealed, their lawyer said. Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa, who have rejected all the accusations since their arrest in January, celebrated as they left court, an AFP reporter said. "The case has been dismissed in favour of my clients... the prosecution has not been able to produce the witnesses," lawyer Fridah Mutesi told AFP. Court officials confirmed the judges had dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence. The two men were arrested just weeks before President Yoweri Museveni passed a law further criminalizing homosexuality in the socially conservative east African nation, and accused of living "as husband and wife." Museveni's signing of new anti-gay laws drew international condemnation, with US Secretary of State John Kerry likening it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany. The anti-gay law signed by Museveni has since been revoked on a technicality, but the pair were charged under a 1950s penal code which remains in force and prescribes jail for those found guilty of homosexual acts. Critics said Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

According to the Associated Press, a federal court judge has rejected an attempt to end a ban on same sex marriages in Puerto Rico, saying political order itself depends on traditional marriage and deriding the logic of courts that have overturned such bans. The five gay couples who filed the suit will appeal, their attorney said Wednesday. The couples had challenged the constitutionality of several local laws, including a 1902 code that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But in a ruling issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez upheld the laws, stating people and legislators, not judges, should debate the issue. "Because no right to same-gender marriage emanates from the Constitution, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should not be compelled to recognize such unions," he wrote in the 21-page ruling. "Instead, Puerto Rico, acting through its legislature, remains free to shape its own marriage policy." National gay rights group Lambda Legal is representing the group, which includes two couples who seek to marry in Puerto Rico and three couples who live on the island and married elsewhere. "We were obviously surprised by the decision," Lambda Legal attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said by phone. "Close to 50 court decisions have disagreed with that assessment, including four circuit courts of appeals." He said they would file an appeal within days. More than 30 states have recognized same sex unions, many after an October 6 U.S. Supreme Court decision that refused to hear appeals from states seeking to defend gay marriage bans. Puerto Rico is the only jurisdiction under the First Circuit Court of Appeals that bans same sex marriages, Gonzalez-Pagan said. Perez-Gimenez questioned the actions of more than two dozen judges on the U.S. mainland who have struck down state same sex marriage bans following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as U.S. vs. Windsor. That ruling struck down a federal provision that denied several tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples, though it did not declare gay marriage legal nationwide. Perez-Gimenez said the Windsor case only serves to reaffirm states' authority over marriage. "Windsor does not — cannot — change things," he wrote. "It takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful ignorance ... to interpret Windsor's endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage." Perez-Gimenez wondered in his ruling whether laws prohibiting polygamy and incestuous relations will be questioned now, saying that traditional marriage is essential to society itself. "Ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage," he said. "Those are the well-tested, well-proven principles on which we have relied for centuries." The legal fight in Puerto Rico began in March, when attorney Ada Conde, 53, who married her longtime partner in Massachusetts, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have their marriage recognized in the U.S. territory, where lawmakers last year approved four measures in favor of the gay community, including one that extends a domestic violence law to gay couples. However, the push for same-sex marriages and recognition of those marriages has met strong resistance. Johanne Velez, a 49-year-old attorney who is one of the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press in an interview that she and her partner, whom she married in New York in 2012, are seeking equal rights. They want to adopt, but Velez said she has been forced to initiate the process by herself because Puerto Rico does not allow unmarried couples to adopt. She said she was disillusioned by the ruling. "The judge adopted an extremely traditional and somewhat sexist perspective about a woman's role in society," she said.

In Michigan, an estimated 150 religious leaders and activists gathered outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest a potential gay rights amendment to the state’s anti-discrimination law. “Those wanting special rights for sexual orientation are seeking to rewrite the traditional moral fiber of our society,” Tim Berlin, senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Warren, told onlookers. “We are not stopping anyone from their individual choices or from their individual preferences, but we are unwilling to allow them to redefine what has been our biblical and historic precedent.” Michigan lawmakers are considering whether to update the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against protected classes in the work place, housing markets and places of public accommodation. A coalition of large employers, business and advocacy groups is urging policy makers to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the law, which would ensure that residents cannot be fired or denied service because they are gay. “We feel it’s the civil rights issue of the day,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The protesters had their say, Weisberg said, “but we know for a fact that a majority of Michiganders disagree with them." Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated he’d like the Legislature to discuss an Elliott-Larsen update this year, likely after the November 4 election, but he has not shared his personal opinion on the issue. Democrats have already introduced legislation, but House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has said he’s still trying to find an appropriate balance between individual rights and religious liberty. Pastor Doug LaVesque of Immanuel Baptist Church in Corunna, reading from a mission statement posted on, called the Elliott-Larsen push “a solution in search of a problem” and argued it would ultimately allow reverse discrimination against religious individuals who oppose same sex relationships. “There is no possible religious exemption which would protect our religious freedoms,” he said. The rally opened and closed with prayer. Attendees sang “God Bless America,” held signs and clutched bibles. Stacy Swimp, a Michigan activist who has urged Christians not to have “false empathy” for gay residents or the “satanic agenda,” told the crowd he was “insulted and offended” that lawmakers would consider adding LGBT protections to a law inspired by the African American civil rights movement. “They’ve never had to drink out of an LGBT water fountain or been forced to sit in the back of the bus in an LGBT section,” said Swimp, who is black. Pastor Pj Anderson, who runs the Space for Grace Fellowship Center in Lansing, watched the rally from a distance, shaking her head in response to various statements and occasionally voicing opposition. Afterwards, Anderson noted that Swimp does not speak for all black people or pastors and argued that LGBT discrimination is a civil rights issue not a theological one. “This is a similar group of people who used holy writ to support slavery and used holy writ to support domestic violence, saying wives should submit to their husbands...,” Anderson said. “Where is the love of God in all of that?” Another group of religious leaders responded to Wednesday’s rally with a show of support for the push to expand Elliott-Larsen. “My faith and my beliefs tell me to support LGBT protections that align with my values to prevent discrimination, show compassion and allow all to live without judgment,” Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park said in a statement. Jim Murray, President of AT&T Michigan and co-chair of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, said he remains optimistic that the Legislature will take up the issue this year but said most lawmakers are focused on elections right now.

In Pennsylvania, a York County based Catholic organization dubbed The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested same sex marriage at Market and 32nd streets in Camp Hill Wednesday afternoon. There were 21 demonstrators, some holding signs, others playing bagpipes, drums and fifes, chanting and asking drivers at the busy intersection to honk if they support traditional marriage. A similar group was spotted protesting at Cameron and Maclay streets in Harrisburg around noon. The group, which has its headquarters in York County, has no formal association with the Harrisburg Diocese. The protesters chose the Camp Hill intersection for the late afternoon demonstration simply because it's heavily traveled, said John Ritchie, the group's director of student activities. "We're here in defense of natural marriage and the bond between man and woman," Ritchie said as cars and trucks sporadically blasted their horns in support. "Marriage is being threatened by the homosexual movement." Some that drove by were disgusted by the group. One woman shouted disapproval and told the group she was a lesbian while stopped at a red-light. The group then began chanting at her: "If you love America, defend traditional marriage...a moral wrong can never be a civil right."

In California, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies called gay, bisexual and transgender inmates “sissies” and “freak shows” and denied them access to services given to other inmates, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by civil rights attorneys. Fifteen current and former inmates of the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga filed the class-action lawsuit against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff John McMahon and several deputies. The Los Angeles Times reports that the sheriff’s department said it had not been served with the lawsuit, and could not comment. The lawsuit cites several cases in which gay inmates were allegedly denied equal access to drug rehabilitation and educational programs, as well as job training classes offered to their straight counterparts. The inmates were given only limited time outside their cells and were unable to participate in work programs that would reduce their sentences, the suit alleges. Inmates who self-identify as gay, bisexual or transgender are automatically segregated from the general inmate population in San Bernardino County and placed in an “alternative lifestyle tank” at the West Valley Detention Center, the lawsuit states. Although “jails have an obligation to protect the safety of inmates who may be subject to victimization” and can place them in protective custody, jails have no right to subject gay, bisexual and transgender inmates to “significantly worse conditions ... or subject them to abuse based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the lawsuit states. “In the United States, we punish people because of the crime they commit, not because of who they are,” said Melissa Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the lawsuit along with the law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski and Litt. “Imposing harsher penalties just because of who they are is illegal, and it’s unconstitutional,” Goodman said. The suit seeks to require the sheriff’s department to “provide all inmates equal access and treatment to programs, as required by state law,” according to the ACLU. A spokesperson said the sheriff's department would be unlikely to comment even after the suit is served. "If we had been served we could not comment because it would then be pending litigation," said Jodi Miller, a sheriff's public information officer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Despite Having Declared Bankruptcy Assurances That Ottawa Ontario Pride Will Continue, U.S. Federal Judge Upholds Puerto Rico Same Sex Marriage Ban, Human Rights Watch Report Reveals LGBT Jamaicans Subject To Shocking Violence And Discrimination, Idaho Governor Otter Asks 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals To Review Ruling That Struck Down State's Same Sex Marriage Ban, Appeals Court Declares Lawsuit Filed Against Hawaii's Same Sex Marriage Ban Moot, Nick Jonas Flaunts

In Ontario, the Citizen reports that gay pride celebrations in Ottawa will not end because of the bankruptcy of Capital Pride, say members of Ottawa’s gay community. “It’s going to happen, even if I need to get a giant rainbow flag and march down the street my damn well self,” said Ian Capstick, who chairs the Bank Street BIA’s committee dealing with all things Pride. “Pride is going to happen. The idea of a Pride parade or a gathering of LBGTQ people far transcends the very incorporation that is Capital Pride.” Capital Pride, the not-for-profit volunteer organization that has put on Pride celebrations, announced on Monday that it was declaring bankruptcy, raising questions about whether the festival will continue. The bankruptcy announcement came after Capital Pride’s board of directors announced they were investigating “accounting irregularities” following this year’s festival after several suppliers and performers complained they hadn’t been paid. Capstick said that news that Capital Pride had gone bankrupt was “truly disappointing” since Pride festivals were “fundamentally important” to the acceptance of the gay community over the past 30 years. “It’s our cultural celebration,” said Capstick. “We are a vibrant part of Canadian culture and this is one of the ways we can explain to the rest of Canada or the rest of Ottawa who we are and how and what type of contributions we make to the city. It’s not dissimilar to a St. Patrick’s Day parade or any other parade a cultural community in Canada puts on. It’s an outward and vibrant and colourful expression of who we are as lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.” BD “Dana” Kennedy, one of the co-founders of Pride Ottawa events in 1994 and 1995, said there is no question Pride festivities will continue. “Ottawa has a lot of pride, and that pride comes from all the individuals of all Ottawa and somebody, somewhere will be throwing one — a massive party,” said Kennedy. Sebastien Provost, the president of production company House of SAS and who himself was owed $24,000 for liquor purchases by Capital Pride, told the Citizen he is already working on what he called a “massive game-changer” for Ottawa. Provost wouldn’t go into detail, except to say it could involve the moving of an international festival to Ottawa. Provost hired contractors for this year’s festival, working, in his words, as a facilitator managing the entertainment. Capital Pride later blamed him for overspending his budget, an accusation he denies. He has since been paid the money he was owed. “There will be something. It won’t be Capital Pride putting it on. They’ve lost all credibility. Nobody will ever work with them again,” said Provost. Capstick said he believes that if Capital Pride were to continue, the organization would need to change its governance structure. “Governance needs to be front of mind. Having strict rules and regulations that govern the activities of Pride is an absolute must,” said Capstick. “We can’t have a series of ad hoc groups or boards of directors that don’t have continuity, nor decisions that are made without the community writ large.” Bank Street BIA executive director Christine Leadman agreed. She believes Capital Pride would need to hire a staff person to manage operations year round. The board of directors will also have to change how it does business, she said. “When you look at the size of the event and the duration of the event, and it’s all run on a volunteer board … It’s always challenging to finance something like this,” she said. Capstick anticipates there will be a number of differences of opinion within the LGBTQ community about what happens next year. It might be a scaled back celebration, but Capstick is certain Pride will continue. “There may not be a lot of cash around, but there certainly are a lot of gay people around and we’re going to get together one way or another,” he said.

Puerto Rico’s ban on same sex marriage remains in place after a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the ban Tuesday, saying the U.S. Supreme Court established a precedent four decades ago. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez said in his decision that by dismissing an appeal in Baker vs. Nelson, a 1971 case in which two men sought to marry in Minnesota, the Supreme Court bound all lower courts to assume bans on same sex marriage do not violate the Constitution. The high court could choose to overrule itself but has not, he said. Pérez-Giménez went on to say that legalizing same sex marriage would open the door to challenges that could legalize polygamous and incestuous marriages. “Ultimately,” he wrote, “the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.” He dismissed the challenge with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be refiled. Puerto Rico, a United States territory, is bound by U.S. law. Early in October, the Supreme Court rejected appeals from five states whose bans against same sex marriage had been struck down by lower courts. That signaled that such marriages could soon be legal across the country but did not set legal precedent. Bans then crumbled in several other states. Same sex marriage is legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

The Associated Press reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are the targets of unchecked violence and discrimination in Jamaica, frequently refused housing or employment in the Caribbean country typically described as the region’s most hostile to LGBT citizens, a leading human rights group says in a report released Tuesday. In its 86-page report titled “Not Safe at Home,” Human Rights Watch noted that LGBT citizens in Jamaica are often driven from their communities by neighbours and sometimes even family. Some health professionals stigmatize them by casting judgment on their sexuality when they seek care. Police protection against bias and physical attacks is generally poor. LGBT people in Jamaica “face intolerable levels of violence and cannot rely on the police,” Graeme Reid, the organization’s LGBT rights director, said in a release. “The authorities from the prime minister on down need to call a halt to the violence and discrimination, prosecute anyone responsible, and get homophobic laws off the books.” The New York-based rights group called on the Jamaican government to strike down the anti-sodomy law that criminalizes anal sex and another that prohibits “acts of gross indecency” between men. While prosecution is rare under Jamaica’s 1864 law making sexual intimacy between men a crime, the advocacy organization says it gives “social sanction to prejudice and helps to create a context in which hostility and violence is directed against LGBT people.” The Human Rights Watch report was the result of five weeks of research conducted last year in Jamaica. It said it interviewed various people, including 71 LGBT citizens — 44 of whom reported being victims of “some form of violence based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Many LGBT people on the island “live in constant fear,” the rights group said. Gay activists on the island have long called for the anti-sodomy law to be repealed and said they are still discussing the rights group’s assertions and recommendations. Jamaica’s information minister did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In Idaho, also according to the Associated Press, Governor C. L. "Butch" Otter is asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an 11-judge panel to review the three-judge ruling that overturned the state's same sex marriage ban last week. Otter announced he was planning on filing a petition Tuesday evening arguing that the federal judges failed to use the correct legal standard to Idaho's Constitutional definition of marriage. Otter's announcement comes nearly one week after same sex marriage became legal for the first time in Idaho. While Otter chose not to appeal the 9th Circuit Court's ruling that ordered the state to allow gay couples to wed, he did promise that he would fight to maintain Idaho's 2006 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Otter, who is running for re-election for his third term as governor, said Tuesday that already one Idaho business has been harmed by the judges' ruling. A northern Idaho city contends its 2013 anti-discrimination ordinance compelled a wedding chapel to conduct same sex marriages. A Christian religious rights group filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of Coeur d'Alene on behalf of the for-profit Hitching Post. "One of the key arguments against the Idaho Constitution's defense of traditional marriage has been that redefining it to include same sex couples would not harm anyone. But the Hitching Post example shows the fallacy of that position," Otter said. Otter says he is continuing monitoring same sex marriage cases in other jurisdictions and the potential for them to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. "I have repeatedly pointed out to the courts that unaccountable judges imposing their perception of social change on the law - rather than public policy being changed through the democratic process - undoubtedly will lead to increased religious strife and restrictions on private property," Otter said in a prepared statement. Idaho's Attorney General Lawerence Wasden is not joining Otter in the petition, said spokesman Todd Dvorak. However, Wasden's office is planning on asking the Supreme Court at the "appropriate time" to review the lower court's documents and decision — known as a writ of certiorari — regarding Idaho's same sex marriage case, Dvorak said. Deborah Ferguson, the attorney who represented the four lesbian couples who filed the lawsuit nearly a year ago challenging the state's marriage ban, said the petition does not require a response from her office.

In Hawaii, also according to the AP, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling quietly gives closure to a last-ditch court fight against the state's same sex marriage law. The appeals court issued an opinion earlier this month declaring moot a lawsuit filed by a Hawaii couple seeking to marry before the state legalized gay marriage last year. The couple sought to dismiss the case after they were legally allowed to get married but opponents of the law fought to keep the lawsuit alive. The ruling vacates a U.S. District Court judge's 2012 ruling against the couple. The couple's attorney John D'Amato said Tuesday the dismissal doesn't come as much of a surprise but provides some vindication. Attorneys from the state attorney general's office and Hawaii Family Forum, which wanted the lawsuit to remain, didn't immediately comment.

Nick Jonas recreates Mark Walberg's infamous Calvin Klein underwear ad for Flaunt magazine, Jonas having a great deal to, um, flaunt.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Anti-Gay Youth Group Stops Ukraine Boy Band Kazaky From Performing As Police "Shrug Shoulders" And Do Nothing, Investigation Underway After London Bus Driver Reportedly Removes Gay Couple For Kissing, Same Sex Marriages To Begin Tuesday In Wyoming After Attorney General Announces It Will Not Appeal Ruling Striking Down Ban, Two Same Sex Couples File First Federal Lawsuit Challenging Mississippi Same Sex Marriage Ban, North Carolina Values Coalition Tells Public Officials It Is Their Constitutional Right To Refuse To Marry Same Sex Couples

In Kyrgyzstan, the BBC reports that a 300-strong protest by a Kyrgyz anti-gay youth group has stopped a boy band's nightclub show, raising fears of increasing homophobia in the Central Asian country. Members of the Kalys group say they blocked the entrance to Guns'n'Roses nightclub in Bishkek, where the Ukrainian four-piece Kazaky were due to perform, in order to defend "traditional values". The band is known for performing shirtless and in stiletto heels. The club's management say they had no choice but to cancel the concert. "We incurred heavy losses over the cancellation," organiser Danil Mishin tells the Kyrgyz news portal Kloop. "But what's worse is that we let down all the people who'd bought tickets to see Kazaky." The police "shrugged their shoulders and did nothing," he says, adding that Kazaky themselves were "diplomatic" about the incident. Only former band member Francesco Borgato has come out as gay, while others are married with children, according to Mr Mishin. But the band has also seen its concerts disrupted by self-proclaimed Cossacks in Russia angry at the name - Kazaky means Cossacks in Ukrainian - being associated with their topless dance routines. The incident comes after the Kyrgyz parliament passed the first reading of a bill threatening jail for the "promotion of homosexuality", a move criticized by civil rights groups. As one comment on the Kloop page puts it: "Who will they come for next?"

In London, England, transportation heads have launched an investigation after a gay couple were reportedly thrown off a bus for kissing. Jack James, 23, said he and his partner were ordered off a number 89 bus near Blackheath in south-east London by the driver, who subjected them to a volley of abuse. James, an event co-ordinator from Greenwich, told the Evening Standard: “We were chatting away when my partner gave me a peck on the lips. “The bus driver shouted: ‘Oi, you two, don’t do that on my fucking bus or you can get off, I don’t want to watch that.'" James said that, initially, the couple thought the driver could not be speaking to them. He added: “When the bus stopped at our stop I walked up to the driver and politely asked the driver if he was talking to us. His reply was: ‘Yes, it’s my bus, it is my rules, and I don’t want to watch that. It’s disgusting. Get off the bus.’ “Once we got off the bus we were fuming and I was shaking. The bus stopped again and he shouted and told us we were not real men and we should fuck off.” The alleged incident happened on August 8 at around 10:30 pm. Ken Davidson, Transport for London’s head of bus operations, said that, “All customers have the right to use our services without fear of being abused and offensive behaviour is completely unacceptable. We would like to reassure Mr James that this matter is being taken very seriously and that a thorough investigation is being conducted by [bus company] Go-Ahead.” This month, hundreds of people took part in a “big consensual kiss-in” at a Sainsbury’s store in Brighton in protest at the treatment of two women who were threatened with ejection from the store a few days earlier for kissing.

In Wyoming, gay marriages can begin in Wyoming on Tuesday after the state files a formal notice that it will not appeal a judge's order overturning a ban on same sex matrimony, the state's attorney general said on Monday. Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl struck down Wyoming's gay marriage ban last week, finding that it violated the U.S. Constitution, but stayed his ruling until Thursday, or sooner if the state indicated that it would not file an appeal. "After reviewing the law and the judge's decision that binding precedent requires recognition of same sex marriage, I have concluded that further legal process will result in delay but not a different result," Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said in a statement. Michael said that the nuptials can begin immediately after the state files a formal notice with the court stating that it would not seek that appeal. The move will bring to 32 the number of states that allow gay marriage. "The Laramie County Clerk will be required to provide marriage licenses to otherwise qualified individuals without regard to whether the applicants are a same sex couple," he said, adding that he anticipated that other counties would also provide marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has said that while the decision went against his personal beliefs the state would not take up the appeal as such an effort would likely fail. The U.S. Supreme Court surprised observers this month by leaving intact lower court rulings that struck down gay marriage in five states. A day later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were unconstitutional. On Monday, two same sex couples filed a federal challenge to Mississippi's gay marriage ban, the first lawsuit of its kind in the mostly rural, Christian-conservative state. Rebecca Bickett and her long-term partner Andrea Sanders want to get married in Mississippi, the lawsuit says, while Jocelyn Pritchett and her partner Carla Webb were wed in Maine and want their union recognized. Defendants include Republican Governor Phil Bryant, Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood, and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn, who has denied gay couples' requests for marriage licenses. "I took an oath to uphold the law and the constitution, and that’s what I have to do,” Dunn said in response to the lawsuit. Bryant and Hood could not be reached for comment.

In Mississippi, according to the Clarion-Ledger, two same sex couples seeking marriage equality filed the first federal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban on Monday, the latest in a string of similar lawsuits nationwide. "We're hoping the case will move quickly," said Aaron Sarver of the North Carolina-based gay-rights organization Campaign for Southern Equality, which filed the suit on behalf of the women in the U.S. District Court in Jackson. Rebecca Bickett and her long-term partner Andrea Sanders want to get married in Mississippi, the lawsuit says, while Jocelyn Pritchett and her partner Carla Webb already got married in Maine and want their union recognized in Mississippi. Both couples have children and say Mississippi's ban deprives them – and their children – of their constitutional rights simply because they're gay. They want the ban overturned and also seek a preliminary injunction while the case is pending. "My family is no less a family than any other," Bickett said in a statement. In addition to its gay marriage ban, Mississippi prohibits same sex couples from legally adopting a child or being listed together on a child's birth certificate. It also prevents them from sharing public employee retirement and health benefits, making medical decisions on their partners' behalf and being appointed administrator of the other's estate. "It's time we are able to live with legal protections in our home state," Pritchett said in a statement. "We love Mississippi. It is home for us and we have many beautiful friends and family members here." Defendants in the challenge include Republican Governor Phil Bryant, Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood, and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn, who has denied several couples' requests for marriage licenses. "I took an oath to uphold the law and the constitution, and that's what I have to do," Dunn said in response to her denials and her inclusion in the lawsuit. Bryant spokesperson Knox Graham echoed that statement and said the governor "has every confidence in the attorney general to vigorously defend the state from this lawsuit." Hood's spokesperson, Jan Schaefer, said the office would speak through its court filings. It hadn't filed any as of Monday afternoon. This latest case comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five states whose federal appeals courts declared same sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Its refusal effectively made same sex legal in the 11 states covered by those districts. But Mississippi's federal appeals court — the 5th Circuit in New Orleans — is more likely to uphold such a ban. And it agreed this month to expedite hearing cases challenging same sex marriage bans in Texas and Louisiana. The Mississippi Supreme Court, meanwhile, is tackling the issue in its own right after a same-sex couple married out of state appealed a DeSoto County Chancery Court judge's refusal to grant them a divorce. The judge had ruled in 2013 that since Mississippi doesn't recognize gay marriage, it can't grant a divorce. "All across Mississippi, we work with loving, committed LGBT families who are proud to call the state home," says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. "But they also suffer the harms of discrimination daily. Equality cannot come quickly enough to Mississippi for these families."

In North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer reports that a group that backed a constitutional amendment on gay marriage is telling public officials that they can refuse to issue same sex marriage licenses in their counties. The North Carolina Values Coalition sent an e-mail Saturday to the state’s registers of deeds saying that their religious and moral beliefs are protected by federal and state constitutions. Registers of deeds issue marriage, birth and death certificates. They document real estate transactions and handle military discharge recordings. The officials can refuse to issue same sex marriage licenses by claiming their “First Amendment right not to violate their religious beliefs,” the coalition’s e-mail states. Advocates of same sex marriages balked at the assertion. Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said every level of the federal court system has sided with same sex marriages, and there was “no un-ringing of the wedding bells.” He said a few officials made a similar argument in the 1970s, when they said it was against their religion to marry an interracial couple. “It (their argument) doesn’t hold any water,” Brook said. The Values Coalition e-mail referenced a memo by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-based legal organization out of Arizona. That memo, also sent to North Carolina’s registers of deeds, said officials who disagree with gay marriages can appoint a deputy to process the marriage licenses. If they can’t find one, they can refuse to issue the license and are protected by the First Amendment and a state law that says, “no human authority shall ... control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said, “One thing is clear: Forcing voters across the state of North Carolina to carry out same sex weddings when it violates their religious beliefs ... is wrong. And it violates the free exercise of religion that’s guaranteed by the Constitution.” Fitzgerald’s group backed the state’s 2012 constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. Brook said he understands that people have religious liberties, but he said the marriage law does not force churches or private citizens to perform same sex ceremonies. “We’re talking about state actors carrying out state job responsibilities,” he said. Fitzgerald said she’s heard from several registers of deeds and magistrates, who thanked her for the information. She guessed that hundreds of public officials agree with the coalition’s position. “When they took their oath of office, same sex marriage was illegal,” she said. “And now they’re being told they’re forced to hold ceremonies that violate their deeply held religious beliefs.” That’s why Rockingham County Magistrate John Kallam Jr. resigned last week, according to news reports. “I did not ... take that oath with any understanding that I would be required to marry same sex couples,” he wrote. Same sex marriages became legal in North Carolina earlier this month when two federal judges ruled the state’s marriage amendment was unconstitutional. Since then, hundreds of same sex couples have received marriage certificates, including an estimated 379 on the first full day without the state ban. State Sen. Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis have said they intend to appeal the judges’ rulings.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Police In Brazil Arrest 26-Year-Old Man Suspected Of Committed 39 Murders And Who Targeted Gay Men Killing Them Out Of "Fury" Anti-Gay Russian Lawmaker Vitaly Milonov Ask That Post Prevent Finnish Stamps Honouring Tom Of Finland From Entering Country, Coeur d'Alene Idaho Wedding Chapel Files Federal Suit Alleging City Violating Religious Beliefs By Forcing Them To Perform Same Sex Marriages, Police Charge Kentucky Youth Pastor With Sex Abuse Of Juvenile After 16-Year-Old Male Sodomized In Attempt To "Cure" Him Of Homosexuality, Human Rights Campaign Endorses Efforts To Promote Once-A-Day Pill To Prevent HIV Infection

In Brazil, police have arrested a man who they say has confessed to at least 39 murders over a three-year period. According to the BBC, police said the 26-year-old security guard targeted homeless people, women and homosexuals. They said Thiago Henrique Gomes da Rocha - who approached his alleged victims on a motorbike with his face hidden - was cold but driven by rage. He was arrested in the central Brazilian city of Goiania by a special police team investigating the murders. Police said he often demanded valuables from his victims before shooting them and leaving without their possessions. A police official who had been present at the interrogations told a Brazilian TV channel the killer called his victims by the numbers 1 to 39. "We have been shocked by his coldness," the official said. He never knew those he targeted, police said, and acted out of an inner "fury" that he felt "against everything", which only subsided when he committed murder. He would feel remorse after killings, police said, which only fuelled his anger more. The alleged suspect had also described accurately the locations of each murder and the emotions he had felt at the time, and police said he fired on his victims while cruising the streets. Investigators said they were sifting through evidence, including closed-circuit TV footage, and had seized weapons and stolen license plates from his grandmother's home. He is also being investigated over 90 robberies of shops, pharmacies and lottery outlets.

The Moscow Times reports that St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov has appealed to Russian Post to prevent an influx of postage stamps depicting homoerotic scenes by a Finnish artist that the outspoken deputy says violate Russia's anti-gay-propaganda law. Milonov has demanded that all letters and parcels featuring the stamps — a series of six released in September by Finland's postal service to commemorate the artist Touko Laaksonen — be returned to sender and not allowed to enter Russia. Laaksonen, also known as Tom of Finland, was renowned for his homoerotic fetish art. The stamps that have so enraged Milonov feature several provocative images, such as a man's bare buttocks with another man's face visible between his legs, and a naked man sitting between another man's legs. In a letter to the head of Russian Post, Dmitry Strashnov, Milonov condemned the stamps for "contravening Russian law," the TASS news agency reported Saturday. "They are basically elements of homosexual propaganda, which is banned in our country. I ask the leadership of Russian Post to pay close attention to this request. In addition, I urge the Finns themselves, our close neighbors, to refrain from using these stamps when sending letters to Russia," Milonov wrote, TASS reported. Russia's anti-gay propaganda law, which came into effect in summer 2013, prohibits the promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors. Milonov, who spearheaded the legislation's adoption, told TASS that he learned of the stamps from a "like-minded person" in Finland who was equally outraged by their appearance. Finnish broadcasting company Yle apparently anticipated Milonov's reaction, having conducted an experiment in September immediately after the release of the stamps to see if they could get past Russian customs officials, TASS reported. Several letters featuring the stamps were sent from Finland to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and all of them reached their destinations, the report said. The stamps proved hugely popular even before their release, with advance orders coming in from 178 different countries, Finland's postal service, Itella Posti, said on its website. "Tens of thousands of Tom of Finland stamp sheets were pre-ordered before issuing," Markku Penttinen, the company's development director, was quoted as saying by Forbes earlier this month. The stamps, available for purchase on the Finnish postal service's website, cost three euros per sheet.

In Idaho, the owners of the Hitching Post wedding chapel filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Coeur d’Alene Friday, claiming that the city is unconstitutionally forcing them to violate their religious beliefs by performing same sex marriages. Owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp say in the lawsuit that they believe marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. “Performing same sex wedding ceremonies would thus force the Knapps to condone, promote and even consecrate something forbidden by their religious beliefs and ordination vows,” the suit reads. The city passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2013. It applies to housing, employment and “public accommodation.” Religious entities are exempt from the ordinance. But in May city attorney Warren Wilson told the Spokesman-Review that The Hitching Post, which is a for-profit business, likely would be required to follow the ordinance. According to the lawsuit, a man called the business Friday to ask about a same sex wedding ceremony and was turned down. The Knapps are now asking for a temporary restraining order against the city to stop it from enforcing the ordinance. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time. “The Knapps are thus under a constant, coercive and substantial threat to violate their religious beliefs due to the risk that they will incur the penalties of jail time and criminal fines for declining to speak a message and perform a wedding service that contradicts their religious beliefs and ministerial vows,” the suit reads. When reached by phone late Friday afternoon, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said he was not aware of the lawsuit and had no comment. The city’s ordinance is a violation of the couple’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights along with a violation of the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit was filed by Georgia and Arizona-based attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom in partnership with Coeur d’Alene attorney Virginia McNulty Robinson. The group’s website defines ADF as a “legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

In Kentucky, police have charged a youth pastor in Pulaski County with sex abuse involving a juvenile. Eubank Police Chief Colin Hatfield told the Commonwealth Journal that 30-year-old Rex Allen Murphy is charged with first-degree sex abuse, third-degree sodomy and use of a minor in a sexual performance. The Pulaski County jail's website shows Murphy was booked into the facility early Tuesday. It did not list an attorney for him. The newspaper reported the Murphy is a youth pastor at Polly Ann Church of God in Eubank.

According to the Associated Press, the largest U.S. gay-rights organization Saturday endorsed efforts to promote the use of a once-a-day pill to prevent HIV infection and called on insurers to provide more generous coverage of the drug. Some doctors have been reluctant to prescribe the drug, Truvada, on the premise that it might encourage high-risk, unprotected sexual behavior. However, its preventive use has been endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and many HIV/AIDS advocacy groups The Human Rights Campaign, which recently has been focusing its gay-rights advocacy on same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination issues, joined those ranks with the release of a policy paper strongly supporting the preventive use of Truvada. It depicted the drug as "a critically important tool" in combatting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. "HRC does not take this position lightly," the policy paper said. "We recognize there is still ongoing debate ... and that there are those out there who will disagree with our stance." Truvada has been around for a decade, serving as one of the key drugs used in combination with others as the basic treatment for people with HIV. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — in other words, for use to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV in the first place. "Today, there is an unprecedented chance to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in part through PrEP's aggressive prevention of new HIV infections," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "There is no reason — medical or otherwise — to discourage individuals from taking control of their sexual health and talking to their doctor about PrEP." The CDC says studies have shown that Truvada, when taken diligently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV by 90 percent or more. Research discussed at the International AIDS Conference in July found that use of the drug does not encourage risky sex and is effective even if people skip some doses. As part of its announcement, the Human Rights Campaign called on insurers, regulators and Truvada's manufacturer to take steps to reduce costs, raise public awareness, and make the option available to all medically qualified individuals who could benefit from it, regardless of ability to pay. The cost of Truvada varies widely; a New York State Health Department fact sheet gives a range of $8,000 to $14,000 per year. The manufacturer, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., has a program that provides assistance to some people who are eligible to use Truvada but cannot afford it. The Human Rights Campaign urged all states to emulate Washington state, which implemented a program earlier this year offering assistance in paying for PrEP. The preventive option also was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he announced initiatives in June aimed at ending the state's AIDS epidemic by 2020. The HRC called on state insurance regulators to take action against any insurers who deny legitimate claims from patients who've been prescribed PrEP by their doctors. A prominent provider of services to HIV-positive people, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, remains a vocal critic of the preventive use of Truvada. In an ad campaign launched in August, the foundation says many gay men fail to adhere to Truvada's once-a-day regimen and describes government promotion of the drug as "a public health disaster in the making." On October 10, an alliance of about two-dozen HIV/AIDS organizations in New York released an open letter to the Healthcare Foundation, asking it not to extend the ad campaign to their state. "We believe your campaign could prevent people at risk for HIV from using this potential lifesaving medication," the letter said. The Healthcare Foundation's president, Michael Weinstein, said his organization did plan to run ads soon in New York City asserting there is data casting doubts on Truvada's effectiveness. "Censoring the discussion is not the answer," he said. Weinstein also noted that — according to figures from Gilead — only a few thousand people thus far have filled prescriptions for Truvada. "If people really felt it was the answer, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't have spread like wildfire," Weinstein said. "It's obvious there is enormous ambivalence in the medical community." According to the CDC, there are about 50,000 new HIV infections annually, with gay and bisexual men accounting for nearly 63-percent of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kyrgyzstan Lawmakers Vote To Adopt Stronger Version Of Russia's Gay Propaganda Measure, Springfield Missouri Becomes 14th City In State To Extend Protection From Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity But Opponents Vow To Overturn Policy, ACLU Of Montana Files Motion Asking That U.S. District Judge Morris Rule In Favour Of Four Same Sex Couple Suing State To Overturn Constitutional Gay Marriage Ban, After Same Sex Marriage Stay Lifted Idaho Agrees To Allow Gay And Lesbian Veterans To Be Buried With Spouses, North Carolina Magistrate Resigns Rather That Perform Same Sex Marriages, North Carolina Cancels Play Because Of Same Sex Content, New York City Police Again Searching For Suspect In Apparent Anti-Gay Hate Crime, Houston Texas Same Sex Couple Removed From Yellow Cab For Kissing

In Kyrgyzstan, lawmakers have voted in favour of adopting a tougher version of Russia’s law against "gay propaganda." If passed, the Kyrgyz version would mandate jail terms for gay-rights activists and others, including journalists, who create “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.” The vaguely-worded bill passed its first reading on Wednesday with a vote of 79 to 7, AKIpress reported (the 120-seat legislature is rarely full). During a meeting last week to discuss the bill, one lawmaker said the draft is not tough enough and proposed to increase sentences from up to one year to three years. If it passes two more readings, the bill will go to President Almazbek Atambayev – a staunch Russia ally – for his signature. One of the bill’s authors, Kurmanbek Dyikanbayev, often sounds as if he is repeating Kremlin talking points. Dyikanbayev told Radio Azattyk last week that he sponsored the bill to protect Kyrgyzstan’s “traditional families.” He also blames Western democracy for moral degeneracy and for encouraging homosexuality. Bishkek-based LGBT-rights organization Labrys, whose advocacy would be outlawed by the bill, notes that the legislation contradicts numerous human rights provisions in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution. Nika Yuryeva of Labrys said she fears the bill will encourage more violence against the LGBT community. In a detailed report released in January, Human Rights Watch alleged that Kyrgyz police subject gay and bisexual men to “physical, sexual, and psychological violence; arbitrary detention; and extortion under the threat of violence.” On occasion the abuse “rose to the level of torture,” the report said. In response, the Interior Ministry refused to acknowledge any problem and the country’s top cleric issued a fatwa against same sex relations, saying the government should be wary of “public organisations that disseminate social discord.” The US Embassy has expressed “deep concern” about the bill. “No one should be silenced or imprisoned because of who they are or whom they love. Laws that discriminate against one group of people threaten the fundamental rights of all people,” the embassy said in a statement on October 10. Kyrgyz legislators are also pushing for another Russian-style bill, which would stigmatise non-profit organisations that receive foreign funds as “foreign agents” — a Soviet colloquialism for spies. The original law in Russia, passed in 2012, has silenced NGOs and, activists allege, been used selectively to close down Kremlin critics. One of the lead supporters in Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former human rights ombudsman, told last year that the bill would protect Kyrgyzstan from foreign “sabotage” and “sexual emancipation." Many rights activists in Bishkek believe Russia would like to turn a pliant country once known as Central Asia’s “island of democracy” into a moral ally in its fight with the West. Journalist and gay-rights activist Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Times on October 5, said Kyrgyzstan is the “perfect lab rat: it is small and poor and extremely susceptible to Russian pressure.” Several times this year, nationalist youth groups have rallied against gay rights, at times using homophobic slurs to denounce human rights activists generally.

An update on a previous post: In Missouri, Springfield became the 14th community in the state to extend protections to gays, lesbians, and other sexual-identity minorities in the areas of employment, housing, and accommodations. Springfield had been the largest community in Missouri, and of the largest cities in the country, without such protections. The city council? voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a stronger bill expanding city's nondiscrimination ordinance. However, the battle is likely far from over. Sexual-identitiy minorities will now be a protected class under Springfield's existing nondiscrimination clause that already includes things such as race, religion, and disability. "We are just really happy that the council stepped up and made a leadership decision on the comprehensive version," stated Stephanie Perkins, local director of PROMO, an organization advocating for LGBT rights. "It could have gone either way and we are really really happy that they saw the value [in this measure]." The expansion comes after Springfield's city council voted in favor of the ordinance, which protects LGBT individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and accommodations. Those who have supported the bill, however, are expressing cautious optimism. That's because opponents have vowed to attempt to defeat the ordinance through an initiative-petition process and voter referendum. In Monday night's vote, Mayor Bob Stephens, Councilmen Jerry Compton, and Craig Fishel cast the dissenting votes. Mayor Stephens had sponsored a 'weaker' version of the bill that would have only extended to housing, and not to employment. That version of the bill was he recommendation of a task force, which had studied the issue since council tabled an initial non-discrimination measure introduced in 2012. Some members of the LGBT community said they believed Stephens was a strong ally of the cause, and expressed disappointment in the mayor's 'no' vote on the issue. In recent months and years, Stephens has been the keynote speaker at several events and fundraisers for the LGBT community, including Pridefest. He was also a speaker at last year's 'Black Tie' event, a fundraiser benefiting charities serving the LGBT community. In a conversation following Monday night's meeting, Stephens told KY3 his vote does 'not in any way reflect his views on equality.' The mayor said he felt obligated to the 'weaker/substitute' bill that he sponsored. And, while he could have voted 'yes' on the larger bill, he felt it would have undermined the hard work of he task force, which had recommended the content of the bill he had sponsored. The mayor also explained he believed both versions of the measure were a step (forward) for the city of Springfield. Furthermore, he explained individuals, "don't need to draw assumptions' he is not an ally of the LGBT community. Opponents of the ordinance say they will immediately begin efforts to get the new ordinance repealed. "It will get on the ballot and I really believe it will be firmly defeated, what the council did not expose are the thousands of emails, faxes, phone calls [expressing opposition to this bill]," stated Calvin Morrow, spokesperson for opposition group Springfield Citizens United. "What is not being heard and understood is that this community is overwhelming against this, but it is being portrayed as the opposite. And, so the referendum and vote tall with demonstrate that," he added. Morrow's group hopes that, if the measure is brought to the ballot box, the voters will defeat the measure. The group says it is confident it can collect the necessary signatures within days, qualifying the measure for a public vote. Even if voters of the city repeal the measure, it doesn't mean LGBT citizens would forever be stripped of rights in the area of employment and housing. A decision by judge could theoretically delay or prevent the protections from being repealed. Also, in the future, if protections are issued on the federal and/or state level, they could extend to the city level. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Springfield voters defeated a measure that would have added sexual orientation to the classes of people protected against hate crimes. The bill would have made it possible to charge individuals with 'hate' crimes if they committed violent crimes against an LGBT person, and it could be proven the victim was targeted because of their sexual orientation. While the bill failed on the local level, the protections were eventually extended on the federal level.

According to the Great Falls Tribune, the ACLU of Montana on Wednesday filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Great Falls asking Judge Brian Morris to rule in favor of four same sex couples who sued the state to overturn Montana's constitutional ban on same sex marriage. The move comes in the wake of a unanimous 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued October 7 that overturned same sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. The appeals court ruled those states' bans on same sex marriages were unconstitutional because the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. "We don't think there are any material facts in dispute, and so the case can be decided without a trial," ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. "The ban on same sex marriage in the Montana Constitution is the same as the bans that were ruled unconstitutional in Idaho, and Nevada." Taylor said the four couples who sued Montana are in the same situation as the couples who won in the Idaho and Nevada cases. "We are raising the same issues that were raised in the Idaho and Nevada cases, and we are optimistic that the decisions of the 9th Circuit in those cases will convince the District Court to rule in our favor," Taylor said. Montana is part of Ninth Circuit, and federal district courts in Montana use precedents from that circuit to make rulings, Taylor said. "With the 9th Circuit's ruling, there is no reason to delay giving loving, committed same-sex couples in Montana the protections and respect that marriage provides," said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "We are looking forward to the day when we can celebrate with them."

In Idaho, the Statesman reports that based on the legalization of same sex marriage that took effect in the state on Wednesday, October 15, the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery will allow gay veterans to be buried with their same sex spouses, said James Earp, cemetery director, on Friday. A U.S. Navy Veteran, Madelynn Taylor, 74, had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise in July after attempting to make advance arrangements to have her ashes interred with those of her late wife, Jean Mixner. The cemetery denied her request based on state law. The state of Idaho owns and operates the cemetery. Taylor and Mixner were legally married in California in 2008. Mixner died in 2012. Earp said Friday that Taylor had contacted the cemetery to begin making arrangements.

In North Carolina, even though same sex marriage is law now, some magistrates are refusing to perform same sex marriages citing religious beliefs. One of Swain County's magistrates, Gilbert Breedlove is resigning rather than marry gay couples. Despite a state memo telling magistrates to follow their oaths of office, or face suspension or dismissal, Breedlove says same sex marriage not only violates his religion, but he says the federal mandate violates the U.S. Constitution. Jennifer Simon and her spouse are one of the first gay couples to be married in Swain County. She’s proudly displaying their marriage certificate on her Facebook page. When a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on same sex marriage, she and her partner of 26 years filled out the paperwork for a license at the courthouse Monday. She says it was an extremely easy and pleasant experience. About Breedlove’s decision to resign she says, “I’m sorry that he feels so strongly that he would have to resign over an issue that really should be okay.” Residents have different opinions about the issue. Beth Jenkins says, “He won't marry them and I don't blame him. I’m sorry. I don't blame him.” Roger Jennings says, “They need to be married. And they need to have the rights that married people have.” Breedlove's last day on the job is this Monday. Magistrate Curtis Graham says Breedlove will not face charges because he's resigning in advance of handling a gay marriage request.

Also in North Carolina, a Catawba County school's decision to not allow students to perform a popular school play has been met with controversy. Students at Maiden High School claimed they had already begun rehearsing for the play Almost, Maine when the principal decided to cancel the performance. Almost, Maine is a romantic comedy that depicts multiple love stories, including one shared between two men. Students said some parents and area churches complained to the school about the play involving a same sex couple. “If that’s the case it doesn’t surprise me,” said Savannah Harvell, who graduated from Maiden High School in 2009. “There are still people here who don’t want to move forward with the times. It’s not surprising if that’s what is going on with that production.” Doug Propst, who lives in Maiden and has children who graduated from the school, said, “I would want to watch the play first and then decide about it being performed in school. I do believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.” The school confirmed that the play had been canceled. The school’s principal, Rob Bliss, later released a statement that read: “Our faculty and staff are still in review of potential performances to be conducted by our students this fall. At this time, no final decision has been made regarding whether and what drama performances are to be presented this fall. In regards to the request for students to perform the play "Almost Maine," careful review and consideration was given to the contents of this play. The play contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives. As principal of Maiden High School, I have an obligation to ensure that all material, including drama performances is appropriate and educationally sound for students of all ages.” Students started an online petition in hopes the school's leaders will change their minds and let the show go on. It reached 90 signatures as of last Tuesday night.

In New York City, authorities are searching for a suspect in an apparent hate crime in which a 33-year-old man was attacked with a hammer and robbed in Brooklyn Monday. According to police, the suspect followed the victim back to his building on Washington Avenue around 11:00 am in Crown Heights and started yelling anti-gay slurs. The victim, Mitchell Pope, said he'd let the suspect in because he thought he was a construction worker there. But when Pope went to get his mail, the suspect began hitting him with a hammer. "As soon as I got into the staircase, I was hit from the back unexpectedly. I fell down the stairs backwards, and he got on top of me and started hitting me," Pope said. Police have released a surveillance video of a suspect in a hammer attack on a man in Crown Heights. The suspect also made anti-gay statements, police say. "I thought he was going to take my life," he said. "I was struggling to save my life." The suspect then took Pope's cellphone and ran away. Surveillance video released by police showed the suspect fleeing with the hammer in hand. Pope was taken to a nearby hospital in stable condition. He needed staples in his head. No arrests have been made. Anyone who recognizes the suspect is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS.

In Texas, a same sex couple claims they were kicked out of a cab for kissing. Travis Player and his partner, Andres Orozco, say a Houston Yellow Cab driver kicked them out of his cab after the two started kissing in the back seat. "We gave each other a kiss and he told us to get out of the car," Player said. "We thought he was joking until he actually pulled over." Orozco said, "The man just turns back to us and tells us that he doesn't give gay people rides. And he proceeds to tell us we're going to hell for being gay." The two were let out several blocks from their home and were forced to walk the rest of the distance. "The sad reality is that it is completely legal," said Noel Freeman, an LGBT community advocate in Texas. Freeman said in the last six months he's heard four other similar stories: gay couples getting kicked out of Yellow Cab taxis for being affectionate. "There are no laws in the state of Texas that protect people from discrimination in public accommodations like cabs. So someone can be kicked out of a cab because they're gay, black, because they're a woman," Freeman said. In response to questions, Yellow Cab issued to following statement: "Yellow Cab immediately investigated this allegation of discrimination, including talking to the independent contractor driver. The driver stated that he would have taken the same actions if it was a man and a woman in the taxicab. Evidently, the driver was overly sensitive to passengers kissing. Yellow Cab does not have a policy about passengers showing affection in taxicabs. In fact, we encourage kissing in our taxicabs." Player and Orozco didn't pay the $6 cab fare and said they expect nothing more from Yellow Cab. But they say the company won't be getting their business in the future. "We were expressing our love for each other, and for someone else to jump in and clearly state it's not right, that really did upset me," Orozco said. Houston has passed an equal rights ordinance that could have protected Player and Orozco, but it is currently being challenged so the ordinance can't be enforced. The case challenging that ordinance is scheduled to go to trial in January.

Rome's Mayor Defies Italian Government And Registers 16 Same Sex Couples Married Abroad, Federal Judge Strikes Down Wyoming Same Sex Marriage Ban As Attorney General Announces No Appeal Will Be Filed, Federal Judge Rule Arizona Law Prohibiting Same Sex Marriage Unconstitutional, United States Supreme Court Denies Request By Alaska Government To Stop Same Sex Marriages From Go Forward, Catholic Bishop Criticizes University Of Notre Dame For Extending Benefits To Same Sex Spouses, Houston Attorneys Back Off Request To Obtain Sermons From Five Anti-Gay Area Pastor Who Opposed Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, U.S. District Judge Rules Lawsuit Filed Against University Of New Mexico By Former Student Who Argues She Was Ostracized By Professors After Making Anti-Gay Remarks, Michigan Man Who Wielded Bat At Gay Bar Sentenced To Nine Months

In Italy, the Associated Press reports that the same sex marriage debate arrived within walking distance of the Vatican on Saturday as Rome's mayor defied Italy's government and registered 16 gay marriages celebrated abroad. Gay marriage is illegal in Italy. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano recently sent a notice to local prefects saying any registrations of foreign gay marriages would be voided, and Rome's prefect vowed to do so immediately. Nevertheless, Mayor Ignazio Marino received thunderous applause upon arrival at the city hall reception room where the couples and their loved ones gathered to make the marriages official in Rome's city ledger. Marino transcribed the date and locations of their weddings, including in Spain, Portugal and the U.S. Marino said Saturday was an important day in the fight for equal rights and that "the most important right is to say to your companion 'I love you' and to have that be recognized." Outside, a few protesters held up signs saying "Stop Marino" and "Transcriptions don't make families." Police said they blocked about 70 right-wing protesters who didn't have a permit. Jonathon Dominic Spada, 26, from Santa Barbara, California, and Fabrizio Maffeo, 35, a Roman computer specialist, were there to register their 2013 marriage in Boston. "It's important — a limited recognition, but it's something," Maffeo said. "I'm proud of our mayor." The next step, he said, was for Italy to change its law to allow gay marriage and gay adoption. Premier Matteo Renzi has said he would propose legislation allowing gay unions, though it's not expected to include adoption. The Italian bishops' conference said it was "unacceptable" that Marino registered the weddings the same day Catholic bishops were wrapping up a two-week summit aiming to reinforce traditional Catholic family values. In a statement, the bishops insisted marriage was between a man and woman.

In Wyoming, the Casper Star Tribune reports that gay and lesbian couples will soon be allowed to marry after a federal judge on Friday struck down a state ban on same sex nuptials and defendants in the case, including Gov. Matt Mead, announced they will not appeal. "I’ve never been prouder to be a Wyomingite," said Jeran Artery, who led the fight to legalize same sex marriage through his work with Wyoming Unites for Marriage and Wyoming Equality. Gay and lesbian couples are expected to start marrying in the next week. Some visited county clerk's offices Friday to begin the paperwork for marriage licenses. Other couples are relishing the thought that their marriages performed out of state will soon be recognized in Wyoming. "I had a message today from a woman I know who is a lesbian who thanked Carl and me for giving her and her partner some legitimacy,” said Rob Johnston, a Casper man who married his partner, Carl Oleson, in 2010 in Canada. “To me, that's what this is all about. And to give kids hope so that if they want to get married to somebody of the same gender, they can." Johnston and Oleson were one of four same sex couples who joined with Wyoming Equality in legal action against the state. U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl of Casper released his order at 1:30 p.m., noting that gay couples' constitutional rights were being violated. “The court understands that every day where same sex couples are denied their constitutional rights is another day filled with irreparable harm,” Skavdahl wrote. “But it is at least equally important that all same sex marriages carry the same prominence and finality that attend opposite sex marriage, including the various obligations and liabilities incumbent within the marital relationship.” Skavdahl put his ruling on hold until 5:00 pm Thursday or until all defendants have filed notice that they will not appeal the order. A little more than an hour after Skavdahl’s order was filed with the court, the Laramie County attorney filed a notice with the court that Laramie County Clerk Debra Lathrop, also a defendant in the case, will not appeal Skavdahl's order. Hours later, Mead’s office released a statement that said Attorney General Peter Michael, who is appointed by the governor, had advised that an appeal would be unlikely to succeed. “This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others,” Mead said in the statement. “As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the court.” Michael will file notice with the court that the state will not appeal before Thursday, Mead’s statement said. Skavdahl’s order came a day after a federal court hearing in Casper where gay marriage advocates asked the judge to comply with the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that marriage is a fundamental right. The plaintiffs filed suit October 7, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases from five states wanting to ban same sex marriage, allowing the lower court ruling to be the law. Two of the states, Oklahoma and Utah, are in the 10th Circuit. The 10th Circuit concluded that marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Skavdahl wrote that his court is bound to apply and follow the 10th Circuit precedent. The judge rejected arguments from attorneys for the state, who said an abrupt ruling would interfere with the work of countless agencies and local government. “However, the fact is state defendants failed to offer even a scintilla of evidence to support their assertion that a preliminary injunction would cause such administrative nightmares,” Skavdahl wrote in his order. “At the preliminary injunction hearing, state defendants offered no exhibits and called no witnesses to testify. The record in this case is utterly devoid of anything beyond conjecture or speculation supporting state defendants’ claims that the state will suffer ‘severe impact’ and a ‘profound change to the state’s and local authorities’ administration of government.'” Plaintiff attorney James Lyman, of Denver firm Arnold and Porter, said, “We’re thrilled the judge made the right call." Two additional cases over same sex marriage are in state court in Laramie County. They likely will not proceed because of Skavdahl’s decision. Lyman said he will know soon how he and other attorneys will proceed with those cases. Wyoming is now the 32nd state to allow same sex marriages, Lyman said. Plaintiffs Shelly Montgomery and Brie Barth, of Carpenter, said they will pick up their marriage license as soon as they can. Between them, there are six children, and they’re still finalizing the details of when they will walk down the aisle. “This means so much for our family,” Montgomery said. “It means we are afforded those protections that every other family has now.” Those protections include the inheritance rights and the right for a spouse to make medical decisions. Wyoming was not part of the October 6 Supreme Court decision. However, it was part of a group of six states that were nonetheless affected because they are in circuit court districts that had legalized gay marriage, said Chris Stoll, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which also represented the plaintiffs. “The judge here was bound by the 10th Circuit’s ruling,” Stoll said of Skavdahl. “His ruling was very much based on that.” Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto, who was not involved in the litigation, said she would accept couples' applications now. "We don’t have the updated form yet, so if they want the application now, the form reads 'bride' and 'groom,' and the couple would have to decide how to fill that out," she said. "At this point, what I would do is take their applications, hold them and not issue the actual licenses until the 23rd or until Judge Skavdahl says no more appeals have been filed." Wyoming, nicknamed the Equality State, has had a troubled history with gay acceptance. The state made headlines in 1998 after Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming college student, was fatally beaten. Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, were in Skavdahl’s courtroom Thursday watching the proceedings. Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, congratulated Wyomingites who will soon get married. “My husband and I met, fell in love, owned a home and devoted years to public service in Wyoming, but we were never able to solemnize our commitment as marriage during our years in the Equality State,” Marsden posted on Facebook. “Nor was our friend Matt Shepard able to see the day his home state would live up to its nickname. But while this came too late for some of us, it’s far better than never. And it will make a huge difference for a lot of our fellow human beings.” Wyoming towns have shown signs recently of becoming increasingly supportive of lesbian, gay and transgendered people. In Lander this summer, a gay pride picnic drew about 250 people. Organizers said at the time that it was larger than similar events held in Casper and Cheyenne. “We were all really surprised by the turnout,” said Curtis Tronolone, a gay man and one of the organizers of the event. “There is kind of a dichotomy in Lander between the (National Outdoor Leadership School) crowd and everyone else. "What surprised me was the diversity of the crowd. It wasn’t just the NOLS crowd. It was great to see that other side of the community. I felt it was true representation of Lander as a town completely.”

Also Friday, in Arizona, the joined the historic tide legalizing the unions of same sex couples that has swept the U.S., expanding gay rights in a direction many never thought they would see in their lifetimes. Tearful couples, some with children in tow, lined up at clerks' offices around the state to be among the first to get marriage licenses. Some brought along their clergy, hastily reciting their vows on courthouse steps. They had waited long enough, they said. As rulings around the country have toppled laws banning same sex couples from marrying, Arizona's law appeared doomed. A federal judge ruled Friday morning that Arizona's law banning gay marriages was unconstitutional, but it wasn't official until Attorney General Tom Horne announced a few hours later that he would not appeal. Legal experts say the fate of Arizona's law defining marriage as only between one man and one woman is now sealed. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court reinstating marriage bans is unlikely. The high court last week declined to take cases challenging laws in five states, in effect directing them to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. "I can't conceive of them overturning gay marriages that have now occurred all over the country," said attorney Dan Barr, one of the attorneys in a lawsuit challenging Arizona's law. "The Supreme Court would not have done what they've done if that's what they were going to eventually do." Horne conceded the same during his news conference, saying the possibility of reversing a ruling last week from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down marriage restrictions in two other states was "zero," as is the likelihood of the Supreme Court taking up the case. "I think this is over," he said. Opponents of same sex marriage, including Gov. Jan Brewer and Catholic bishops, criticized the judge's decision. Arizona was the 31st state in the nation to legalize marriage for same sex couples. Simultaneous with his announcement, Horne sent letters to Arizona's 15 county clerks instructing them to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. "Effective immediately, the clerks of Arizona county Superior Courts cannot deny a marriage license to any otherwise eligible licensees on the grounds that the license permits a marriage between persons of the same sex," Horne wrote in his letter. Maricopa County clerks' offices quickly began issuing licenses to same sex couples at all its locations. Some offices already had couples waiting in lobbies as Horne addressed the media, said Chris Kelly, deputy clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court. "We had been planning for several months," including seeking advice from officials in other states on their marriage-license transition, Kelly said. Couples can now choose the wording on their licenses from among the words "bride," "groom" or "spouse." Phoenix made city judges available to perform marriage ceremonies in Mayor Greg Stanton's conference room Friday afternoon. Stanton passed out banana butter cream cake to the newlyweds. By day's end, officials at the Maricopa County Clerk's Office estimated that they had issued nearly double the daily average of 77 marriage licenses. Figures for Arizona's 14 other counties weren't available. Among the first to legalize their relationship were Karen Bailey and Nelda Majors of Scottsdale, who were plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits challenging Arizona's law. They've been together for nearly 57 years and for years felt they had to hide their relationship, even from the children they raised. "I have no words to express how I feel. It's wonderful," Majors, 76, said as the couple emerged from the clerk's office. Shawn Aiken, one of the attorneys in the two Arizona lawsuits challenging Arizona's ban, also celebrated Friday morning's historic developments. "These couples from across Arizona bravely stood for equality for themselves, their families and over 21,000 other gay and lesbian couples living in Arizona today," he said in a statement. "Allowing my clients to marry causes no harm to heterosexual married couples or anyone else." The Rev. Eric Ledermann, pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, who attended Horne's news conference, headed immediately to the San Tan and San Marcos courthouses in Chandler to preside over marriages. Ledermann said Horne "lost with dignity," adding, "I never thought this day would come. I'm fairly new to Arizona, and my impression is that Arizona doesn't jump onto these bandwagons quickly. I just didn't think it would come — I didn't think we'd be able to move this quickly." Others celebrated but said a court ruling would not eliminate discrimination and prejudice in their lives overnight. The first same sex couple to get a marriage license Friday at the Maricopa County San Tan Justice Court in Chandler said they had to hide their names for fear of job discrimination. "I feel bad because we're so proud, but we can't take any chances," one of the women said. "I'd like people to know how much it means to now have our relationship recognized the same as everyone else's," she said, pausing as she started to weep. "It's not about the gender of the person, it's about who you love." Lawsuits challenging Arizona's ban have been moving through the legal process for nearly a year, but developments over the past two weeks brought the issue to a swift conclusion. Early last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the five cases from other states. A day later, the 9th Circuit declared laws banning same sex couples from marrying in Idaho and Nevada violated couples' rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Arizona is part of the San Francisco-based circuit. But before conceding that the ruling applied to the state's marriage law, Horne sought an opinion from the Arizona federal court judge overseeing two lawsuits specifically challenging it. Early Friday morning, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ruled that the 9th Circuit opinion did apply to Arizona. In deciding not to appeal Sedwick's decision, Horne on Friday cited a legal rule that says it is unethical to file appeals simply to delay a court proceeding. "I believe this (gay marriage) should be a decision of the people, not of the judiciary," he said. But pursuing further appeals would be futile, he said. But, he said, Arizona's fight to protect voters' decision in 2008 to define marriage as between one man and one woman had been worth it. "I fought a good fight," he said. While Horne oversaw the defense of Arizona's law, the Christian legal defense group Alliance Defending Freedom represented the state in court for free. Alliance Defending Freedom has become the legal muscle defending much of the conservative legislation pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, including the traditional definition of marriage. Over the past decade, the National Christian Charitable Foundation has given more than $1.5 million to the Center for Arizona Policy and $31 million to Alliance Defending Freedom. The foundation's donors are anonymous, but records have shown they've included executives connected to Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, both of which have taken positions against same sex couples marrying. While many celebrated, supporters of Arizona's marriage law expressed disappointment. Arizona's Catholic bishops issued a statement saying the court's decision "reflects a misunderstanding of the institution of marriage," adding, "As Catholic bishops, we remain committed to affirming the truth about marriage and its goodness for all of society. It is our fervent hope that the Supreme Court will eventually reconsider the issue of marriage in the future." Brewer, whose staff consulted with Horne in recent days, issued a statement before he made his announcement. The governor, a vocal advocate of traditional marriages, said that with its decision, the court was eroding the people's power and overstepping its boundaries. Brewer noted that Arizona voters in 2008 approved a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. "Now, with their rulings, the federal courts have again thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws," Brewer's statement said. Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod, whose organization has been the ban's most vocal defender, said she was grieving. "I am heartbroken for a country and a state that has had the redefinition of marriage forced upon them by an out-of-control federal judiciary," Herrod said in a statement. "Today, we grieve. We grieve for the children who now have no chance of growing up with a mom and a dad. We mourn the loss of a culture and its ethical foundation. We mourn a culture that continues to turn its back on timeless principles."

Also Friday, in Alaska, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied a request by Alaska officials to stop same sex marriages in the state. According to the Fairbanks News-Miner, the high court’s one-line response opened the door for gay and lesbian weddings to go forward by allowing a temporary delay granted by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expire. But because the Alaska Day holiday had state offices closed Friday, most same sex couples will have to wait until after the weekend to pick up approved marriage licenses. Gov. Sean Parnell’s spokesperson said the state would continue to pursue an appeal to the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit Court had granted an emergency stay of a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling that overturned Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage so state officials could ask the Supreme Court for a stay at that level by presenting a request to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who deals with emergency requests to the high court from within the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction. By 11:00 am, no stay had been granted and the state of Alaska’s attorney handling the case in Washington, D.C., said he had not heard from the Supreme Court on the issue. A minute later, an order appeared in the court docket. "The application for stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied," the written order says. Still, a delay built into the marriage license application process, along with the state holiday Friday, put off the weddings of most same sex couples until at least next week. The latest legal back and forth comes as a result of a lawsuit five same sex couples filed in federal court in May against the state of Alaska. The suit had sought to overturn an amendment to the Alaska Constitution, approved by voters in 1998, that said the state could only allow or recognize marriages between one man and one woman. The couples argued the law violated rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. State attorneys argued that voters had a right to decide the legal definition of marriage. On Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess’ ruling in the case said the state had to immediately recognize same sex marriages performed outside Alaska and also allow gay and lesbian couples to apply for Alaska marriage licenses. Because of a normal three-day processing period, the first couples to apply were set to get licenses Thursday. Meantime, magistrates in Barrow, Haines and Ketchikan had waived the waiting period and married a total of four same sex couples, according to a spokesperson for the court system. The state appealed Burgess’ ruling and said it would not be issuing the licenses after the 9th Circuit granted the temporary stay Wednesday. By the time the stay dissolved at 11 a.m. Friday, the state Bureau of Vital Statistics and the court system were closed for Alaska Day. The state of Alaska’s appeal to reverse Burgess’ ruling is still pending before the 9th Circuit. The Alaska appeal comes after two earlier court actions that would seem to hurt the state’s chances of winning: a decision by the Supreme Court not to take up other appeals seeking to keep bans on same sex marriage in place in other states, and a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit to strike down bans in Idaho and Nevada. After further legal maneuvering failed, Idaho and Nevada dropped their defenses of the bans. Arizona had done so earlier. In their motion for an emergency stay, Alaska officials indicated they will be seeking what is called an en banc review by the 9th Circuit, which means they want a larger panel of 11 judges to review the appeal. There was no word Friday on whether the 9th Circuit would take up the Alaska appeal. Joshua Decker, executive director of the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called on Parnell to drop the state’s appeal, which Decker called “an exercise in futility,” the statement adding, “All Alaskans want our government to spend our taxpayer dollars wisely. We hope that Gov. Parnell will listen to his colleagues in Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho, all of whom chose to cease their futile appeals against equal marriage, and will stop wasting Alaska’s precious resources by doubling down on discrimination.” Parnell’s spokesperson, Sharon Leighow, said in an email that the state would continue to pursue the appeal because voters had approved the constitutional amendment. “When they did that, it became part of the Alaska Constitution, which Gov. Parnell has sworn to uphold,” Leighow said. “Today’s denial of the stay doesn’t change that and the state will continue with this appeal to the 9th Circuit.” The state will act in accordance with the court rulings and resume issuing marriage licenses Monday, Leighow said. The request for an en banc review will be filed with the 9th Circuit next week, she said. Fairbanks resident Kate Wattum went forward with marrying her wife, whom she declined to name, on Friday in a small outdoor ceremony with about 15 friends and family members, she said. Wattum said she, like the other couples already approved to marry, had received the necessary court paperwork. “It’s a beautiful day. It’s nice and sunny,” Wattum said by phone as they drove to the ceremony spot. “We are very excited. It’s very nice that it’s all coming together timing-wise.”

In northern Indiana, a Catholic bishop said he believes University of Notre Dame leaders should have waited before deciding to extend benefits to same sex spouses after court rulings legalized gay marriage in the state. According to the Indianapolis Star, Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades wrote in the diocese newspaper that he’s uncertain about the impact of gay marriage legalization in the state on religious institutions. “I would like to see further study of what the law requires as well as what religious liberty protections Notre Dame and our other Catholics institutions have so as not to be compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage,” the bishop’s column said. Rhoades said he believed it was important for Notre Dame to “affirm its fidelity to Catholic teaching on the true nature of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.” Notre Dame spokesperson Paul Browne told the Journal Gazette that officials of the South Bend school believe the new policy doesn’t go against church teachings by providing the same benefits to all legally married couples. Notre Dame notified its employees about the policy change last week, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider appeals of rulings throwing out gay marriage bans in Indiana and 10 other states. Saint Mary’s, a Catholic women’s college affiliated with Notre Dame, has adopted a similar policy. The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, issued a statement Thursday saying he consulted with Rhoades before and after announcing the policy. The bishop doesn’t oversee Notre Dame, which is governed by an independent board of trustees. Notre Dame has run afoul of the diocese bishop before, including in 2009 when the late Bishop John D’Arcy, and several other Catholic bishops around the country, objected to the university’s decision to have President Barack Obama as its graduation speaker and award him an honorary degree. The University of Saint Francis, a Catholic school in Fort Wayne, hasn’t made any decisions about benefits for married same-sex couples and will be “leaning heavily” on guidance from the diocese, spokesperson Trois Hart said.

In Texas, according to the AP, city attorneys have backed off a request to obtain sermons but have refused to withdraw subpoenas seeking other information from five Houston pastors who publicly opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against gay and transgender residents. Mayor Annise Parker said Friday the language in the original subpoenas was too broad. But she says while the word "sermons" is being deleted from the subpoenas, the request for other speeches or presentations related to a petition drive to repeal the city's equal rights ordinance is appropriate. The ordinance was passed in May. Christian activists sued after city officials ruled they didn't collect enough petition signatures to place a repeal referendum on the ballot. Parker, who is gay, says the subpoenaed information is needed so the city can prepare for trial on the lawsuit.

In New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal repots that a former student who was ostracized by her professors for making anti-gay remarks in a critique she wrote for a film class can proceed with her First Amendment lawsuit against the University of New Mexico. Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied UNM’s motion to dismiss the case, rejecting the argument that restrictions the university placed on the student were “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogic concerns.” Monica Pompeo filed the suit last year, claiming UNM acted improperly when she was kicked out of the class for describing lesbianism as perverse in a critique of a lesbian romance film. Pompeo enrolled in the course, “Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts,” offered by professor Caroline Hinkley in the spring 2012 semester. As a class assignment, Pompeo critiqued a 1985 lesbian drama, Desert Hearts. After Hinkley graded the critiques, she advised Pompeo to pick up her paper from the cinematic arts office and “ponder the responses” she had written on Pompeo’s paper. Those responses included a comment that the critique was “inflammatory and offensive.” She also blasted Pompeo’s view that a lesbian character in the film had a “perverse attraction to the same sex” and a “barren womb.” The lawsuit alleges Hinkley violated her own syllabus, which called for “open minds” to examine “representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities.” Instead, Pompeo says, Hinkley accused her of resorting to “hate speech” and refused to grade her paper. The professor also made it clear that it would be in Pompeo’s best interests not to return to the class, Pompeo alleges. Later, Pompeo met with Hinkley’s supervisor, Susan Dever, chairwoman of the cinematic arts department. Pompeo was told that the use of “barren” was both inappropriate and offensive. The upshot of the meeting was that Pompeo was forced to drop Hinkley’s class and instead take an independent studies class under Dever. According to Pompeo’s lawsuit, however, she fared no better under Dever, who allegedly threatened her with repercussions for using certain language, specifically the word “barren.” In her September 29 order, Armijo found that Pompeo’s claims are “sufficient to make out a plausible case that Defendants violated Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by subjecting Plaintiff to restrictions on speech that were not reasonably related to legitimate pedagogic concerns.” Armijo questioned whether a “university can have a legitimate pedagogical interest in inviting students to engage in ‘incendiary’ and provocative speech on a topic and then punishing a student because he or she did just that. Simply because Plaintiff expressed views about homosexuality that some people may deem offensive does not deprive her views of First Amendment protection.” Furthermore, the judge agreed with the plaintiff that “no reasonable educator could have believed that by criticizing lesbianism, (Pompeo’s) critique fell outside the parameters of the class, given the description of the class set out in the syllabus.” Hinkley did not respond to requests for an interview. Pompeo’s attorney, Louren Oliveros of Gorence & Oliveros, said Wednesday that she is pleased by the order and looks forward to litigating the case in court. “This has been pending for a long time,” she said. “A university should be a place where freedom of expression is invited and where robust debate is welcomed. We’re very much looking forward to having this case go to trial.”

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a bat-wielding man with a history of disruptive behavior at downtown venues got a tongue-lashing and a hefty jail sentence Thursday for using a baseball bat to threaten patrons at a gay-friendly bar. "Is gay-bashing your habit?'' asked Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber. "No, your honor,'' replied Christopher Allen Scott, who appeared before Leiber on a felonious assault conviction. "It was random. I was there in 2005 and treated nicely.'' The "there" is the Apartment Lounge, a popular venue at 33 Sheldon Avenue NE catering to the LGBT community. Scott admitted he entered the Apartment Lounge on two occasions April 29. After the first visit, he said he left to buy a baseball bat. When he came back with the bat, "some people were pretty nervous about the whole thing,'' Scott told the judge. That might be an understatement. Scott "angrily slammed'' the bat onto the bar and threatened to "bash the next 'gay-stick''' that entered, court documents show. He was sentenced to nine months in the Kent County jail. Scott, 58, has a history of disrupting downtown bars, hotels and restaurants, Grand Rapids police wrote in a probable cause affidavit. He has two misdemeanor convictions for trespassing and a drunk driving arrest the same night he was swinging the baseball bat at Apartment Lounge, court records show. An Ottawa County judge in 2012 sentenced him to a year in prison for malicious destruction of police or fire property and domestic violence. Scott was discharged from those sentences in March 2013.