Friday, January 23, 2015

Saskatchewan Judge Rules CBC Defamed Violently Anti-Gay Activist Bill Whatcott, Russian Court Convicts Journalist Who Created LGBT Youth Web Site Under Law Prohibiting Gay Propaganda, Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Same Sex Marriage Ban, Nebraska Asks Federal Judge To Delay Challenging To State Same Sex Marriage Ban, Virginia Senate Committee Rejects Proposal Allowing Adoption By Unwed Gay And Lesbian Couples, Anti-Gay Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran Files Federal Discrimination Complaint Arguing He Faced Religious Persecution

In Saskatchewan, a judge has ordered the CBC to pay damages to an anti-gay activist who filed a defamation lawsuit over a news story. In 2011 the CBC aired a national report on Bill Whatcott as he took his appeal of a Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. The news report included video shots of a flyer Whatcott distributed in Alberta that had the lyrics of a parody song titled "Kill the homosexuals." In his ruling, Justice Richard Elson of Court of Queen's Bench says the second page of the flyer had a paragraph explaining that Whatcott didn't actually want to kill homosexuals — he wanted them to "repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ." Whatcott argued the CBC defamed him when they showed the lyrics of the parody song, but did not show the statement on the next page, thereby making his views seem more extreme. The CBC had argued it provided no comment on the flyer and that taken in the context of the whole broadcast the video shots wouldn't cause viewers to believe that Whatcott advocated killing homosexuals. Elson sided with Whatcott, saying the CBC's conduct reflected actual malice and awarded Whatcott $30,000 in damages. Elson did not award punitive damages. "I do not, however, find the defendant's conduct to be so oppressive and high-handed as to offend the court's sense of decency," Elson wrote. A CBC spokeperson said the organization is disappointed with the decision and is considering how to proceed.

In Russia, a court on Friday convicted a journalist who set up a website to support gay, lesbian and transgender teenagers under a controversial law banning "gay propaganda" aimed at minors. According to AFP, the social networking site, called Children 404, is used by thousands of teenagers to post heart-rending accounts of realising they are gay and their experiences of coming out to family, friends and teachers. The site's 26-year-old founder, Yelena Klimova, wrote on Facebook that a magistrate's court found her guilty of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors", a law signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013 despite opposition from rights activists and stars including Madonna. "The verdict is a fine of 50,000 rubles ($783). We will appeal," Klimova said. While the verdict does not immediately lead to the site's closure, it makes this likely. The case was heard in Klimova's home city of Nizhny Tagil in the Urals. It was launched after a complaint from Young Guard, the youth wing of ruling party United Russia to prosecutors and the media and mass communications watchdog. "Due to the court decision, the Children 404 community is at risk of a ban, the main thing is to resolve this question legally," a leader of Young Guard, Ilya Podsevatkin, said in a statement Friday on the youth group's website. Russia's media and communications watchdog said in November that it received more than 100 complaints. In its findings it said the site could give children an idea "of the superiority of gay relationships over traditional ones." Last year, Klimova was charged with the same offence but a court dropped the case, saying that no offence had been committed. The name of her site comes from the standard computer error message "404 file not found," evoking the feeling gay teenagers have of being different and isolated. Teenagers can write in anonymously and receive comments in reply. In the worst cases, Klimova puts them in touch with trained psychologists who offer free counselling.

A federal judge in Mobile on Friday struck down Alabama's constitutional ban on same sex marriage, ruling that a woman could not be denied her desire for a second-parent adoption of a 9-year-old boy whom she has helped raise since birth. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade ruled that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act and the amendment that later enshrined it in the state constitution both were unconstitutional. "It's amazing. I was not expecting it at all (on Friday). Happy, happy news. I kind of expected them to sit on it because of the Supreme Court," said Cari Searcy, one of the plaintiffs. "It's so encouraging that we got a positive ruling from our home state. "Love did win," she added. David Kennedy, an attorney for Mobile residents Searcy and Kim McKeand, praised the ruling. "We're obviously quite pleased with it," he said. "It was the ruling that, frankly, we expected." The Alabama Attorney General's Office indicated it would continue to fight the case. Late Friday, attorneys filed papers in court asking the judge to put the decision on hold. "We are disappointed and are reviewing the Federal District Court's decision," spokesman Mike Lewis said via email. "We expect to ask for a stay of the court's judgment pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling which will ultimately decide this case." It is the first of several pending same sex marriage cases in Alabama to be ruled on. The decision adds to a growing list of decisions across the country in favor of same sex marriage. "Careful review of the parties' briefs and the substantial case law on the subject persuades the Court that the institution of marriage itself is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and that the State must therefore convince the Court that its laws restricting the fundamental right to marry serve a compelling state interest," Granade wrote in her 10-page order. If Grande agrees to put the case on hold, Searcy will have to wait until the high court rules before she can become a legal parent to the boy. If the judge refuses, than Searcy could begin that process immediately. Kennedy said his interpretation is that same sex couple also would be able to marry statewide. An attorney for April Bush and Ginger Aaron, the plaintiffs in one of the Alabama same sex marriages that has yet to be decided, predicted a similar outcome. "It's so exciting. Precedence from the same state should have a compelling impact on our case in the Northern District," said the attorney, Wendy Brooks Crew. "This judge clearly recognizes that family is family and that marriage is a fundamental right to all Americans - black, white, gay or straight and there is no compelling state interest to say otherwise." The judge's ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a same sex marriage case that supporters and opponents, alike, hope will settle the question once and for all. The high court surprised many observers in October when it declined to hear appeals from a number of states. At the time, every appellate court that had considered the issue had ruled in favor of same sex plaintiffs. But the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned lower court rulings in favor of same sex marriage in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee in November. The Supreme Court announced last week that it would review that case. Granade, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, wrote that she considered the arguments of the Sixth Circuit but found more persuasive the legal reasoning of four other appellate courts in favor of same sex marriage. She rejected Alabama's argument that it has a legitimate interest in protecting ties between children and biological parents. "The Attorney General does not explain how allowing or recognizing same sex marriage between two consenting adults will prevent heterosexual parents or other biological kin from caring for their biological children," the judge wrote. "He proffers no justification for why it is that the provisions in question single out same sex couples and prohibit them, and them alone, from marrying in order to meet that goal." Searcy and McKeand sued last year after Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, citing the state's gay marriage ban, rejected Searcy's adoption petition. They had been legally married in California. Both sides in the case agreed that the petition would have been granted as a matter of routine if Searcy and McKeand had been a heterosexual married couple. Kennedy, the women's lawyer, said he would ask Granade not to stay the ruling so that his clients can follow through with the adoption immediately. "Justice delayed is not really something we're interested in," he said. "We're of the opinion that our clients have been waiting for a very long time." Granade's ruling drew cheers from gay marriage supporters nationally and in downtown Mobile and jeers from opponents. "Judge Granade's ruling today affirms what we already know to be true - that all loving, committed Alabama couples should have the right to marry," Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a prepared statement. "As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark case on marriage equality, today's ruling joins the dozens and dozens of others that have recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve equal treatment under the law." At the Flip Side, the gay bar on South Conception Street in Mobile, many patrons welcomed the news. Bob Brunson, the bartender, called the ruling "an awesome thing" and said he knows the couple personally. "We've fought this battle for so many years," Brunson said. "I think it's incredible and very exciting, one step closer to equal rights." Dewayne Kemp, 42, called the decision a step forward. "It's just a matter of time," he said. "It's going to happen when the U.S. Supreme Court votes it in. I don't look to Alabama or Mississippi or Louisiana to vote it in." Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) condemned the ruling. "It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Act," he said in a prepared statement. "The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live."

Nebraska has asked a federal judge to delay hearing a challenge to the state’s same sex marriage ban. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Attorney General Doug Peterson filed a motion Thursday asking to stay the proceedings in the case. In a supporting brief, he argued that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule before the end of June on whether states must allow same sex marriages or recognize legal same sex marriages from other states. Peterson said the decision will resolve or at least clarify the issues in the Nebraska case and will come out before the Nebraska case can be settled. A final decision in the Nebraska case could be months or years away. Peterson said Nebraska will appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if the federal district judge issues a preliminary injunction against the same sex marriage ban, as sought by the seven couples who filed the lawsuit. Nebraska would ask for a stay of the ruling during the appeal, a stay that Peterson said is likely to be granted. A federal judge granted such a stay to South Dakota earlier this month. Susan and Sally Waters of Omaha are the lead plaintiffs in the Nebraska case. They are seeking to overturn the marriage ban that Nebraskans voted to put in the state Constitution in 2000. Their lawsuit asks the court to order Nebraska to recognize same sex marriages from other states and to allow same sex couples to marry in the state. U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon tossed out the state’s same sex marriage ban nearly 10 years ago but the ban remained after his ruling was overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court agreed last week to consider an appeal from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 6th circuit court had ruled in November that states have the authority to decide on same sex marriages. The ruling was at odds with the other courts of appeal that have issued rulings. Those courts found in favor of the right of same sex couples to wed.

In Virginia, the Associated Press reports that a proposal to allow adoption by the partners of unmarried gay parents was rejected Friday by a Virginia Senate committee. Thanks to a series of federal court decisions last year, same sex couples now have the right to marry in Virginia. But some choose not to do so, and Sen. Janet Howell's measure would have accommodated such couples by allowing someone other than the spouse of a parent to adopt a child. Howell, a Fairfax County Democrat, said children in such circumstances deserve the security and protection of two legal parents. Adoption opens the door to additional health care options and other financial benefits, she said, and ensures that a child will still have a parent in the event of the biological parent's death. Virginia doesn't require opposite sex parents to marry in order for both to have legal rights to their children, but that's not true for same sex parents, Howell said. "We need to level the playing field," she said. "The world has shifted, but some children have been left behind." Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration supported Howell's bill. But conservative groups opposed it, saying unmarried couples are unstable. The Republican-controlled Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee defeated the measure on a party-line 8-7 vote.

A predictable update on a previous post: In Georgia, former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has filed a federal discrimination complaint contending he faced religious discrimination when the City fired him after he published a book that contained controversial statements about homosexuality. According to the Journal-Constitution, Cochran swore out the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by the City of Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Attorney Jonathan Crumly filed an EEOC complaint Wednesday on behalf of Cochran, who was fired this month after complaints about his self-published 2013 book, Who Told You You Are Naked? “Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of losing their jobs because of their beliefs and thoughts. We are continuing to evaluate all available legal options to vindicate Chief Cochran after his unjust termination,” said Crumly, who is allied with the group Alliance Defending Freedom that has rallied to Cochran’s defense. Mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran over his distribution of his book, which condemns homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate,” at work. City spokesperson Anne Torres said the City did not know of the complaint but intended to defend Reed’s decision to fire Cochran “whether, through the EEOC administrative process or in any other appropriate forum.” The EEOC typically investigates a discrimination complaint to determine whether it plans to bring action on behalf of the plaintiff in federal court. Reed has contended he didn’t fire Cochran because of his expressed religious viewpoints but for not obeying rules, including not getting clearance to write the book and failing to remain quiet while the city investigated him. Cochran, a deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church, said in his EEOC complaint that he did get permission from the city’s ethics office to publish the book but was later told he also needed the mayor’s permission and that he had also violated “unspecified policies.” He said top city officials told him that their investigation showed “zero” instances where he had discriminated against anybody as chief but that because “my faith influenced my leadership style” he would have to lose his job. The controversy made national news and religious group have come to Cochran’s defense, such as the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which advocates for the freedom to express faith.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Portugal Parliament Votes Against Allowing Gay And Lesbian Couples Right To Adopt, Nashville Tennessee Private School Davidson Academy Rejects Children Of Gay Parents As Student, Former Summit County Ohio Employee Faces Felony After Using Anti-Gay Slurs And Covering Supervisor's Office With Glitter, Oklahoma State Representative Proposes Eliminating Marriage Licenses So Court Clerks Would Not Need To Condone Same Sex Marriages

Portugal's parliament on Thursday rejected draft laws to allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, despite a strong vote in favour by the left-wing Socialists which left the margin smaller than ever. According to AFP, the draft laws, presented by the opposition Socialist, Left Bloc and Green parties were all defeated by some 30 votes by the chamber in which 220 deputies were present. The majority ruling right, led by the Social Democrats, had already refused to back similar propositions in 2012 and 2013. Thursday's vote was nevertheless passed by the smallest margin yet as the 16 Communist Party deputies for the first time backed the move to allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt. In Portugal any individuals, including homosexuals, may apply to adopt but when the parliament authorized same sex marriages in 2010 it expressly excluded the right for such couples to adopt. The ruling Social Democrats on Thursday allowed their deputies a free vote on the issue, while criticizing the opposition for once more raising it. The Socialist Party, seen as favourite to win elections in the autumn, has chosen Lisbon mayor Antonio Costa, an advocate of the right for homosexual couples to adopt, as its secretary general.

In Tennessee, a non-denominational Nashville private school recently turned down prospective students because their parents are gay, drawing criticism from alumni and gay advocates while causing an uproar on social media. Brian Copeland of Nashville and Davidson Academy had agreed on a time for him to visit and tour the Madison-area school this month for his children — a son who is entering pre-kindergarten and a daughter who is 8 months old. But a top school official, in a January 14 letter, informed him that the school decided to cancel that visit after they learned the children are raised in a two-father family. Though the couple never got to the point of applying for admissions, the school told Copeland that "another education provider would be a better fit for your children. Therefore, we cannot grant admission to your children." Copeland, a real estate agent who is married to Greg Bullard, pastor of Covenant of the Cross in Madison, posted that letter on Facebook. Though he redacted the name of the school and the name of the official who wrote it, a reference to the school's handbook matches that of Davidson Academy, an interdenominational church on Old Hickory Boulevard that serves students ages pre-K-12. Copeland wrote that he shared the letter to "let my friends know that discrimination affects people you know and love and still hurts no matter how many times you go through it. We chose this school because of its rigorous faith-based K-12 academics and extracurricular activities; and, a friend with a son there asked them if a family like ours would be allowed and was told yes. After a phone conversation, fully disclosing we are a two-dad family, an appointment was set for us. I receive this letter canceling our appointment without even getting a chance." Copeland later told the Tennessean that he and Bullard's goal is "not to harm the school" but to show that "discrimination and inequality is alive and well." He also stressed that he and his husband are not victims. "I want to make that very clear," Copeland said. "We want our children to have a Christian education, and we're finding that very, very hard." Davidson Academy Headmaster Bill Chaney did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Copeland and Bullard officially married in California in 2013 after holding a ceremony in Nashville in 2006. They have raised their children since their births. While the church is not affiliated with any specific church or denomination, the Davidson Academy letter says that the school was founded by Christians and operated in the Christian tradition based on "clear tenets of faith and practice." The letter pointed to the school's admissions policy outlined in its handbook, which requires all students, parents, guardians, teachers and administrators and staff to "manifest lifestyle conduct and actions which project an image consistent with the expressed purposes, missions and beliefs of the school." One example of this, the policy says, is homosexuality. "Davidson Academy has the right and responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that its expressed purposes, mission, and beliefs continue in their highest traditions and are not harmed, compromised, or hindered by unacceptable lifestyle conduct on the part of its students, parents or guardians ..." the policy reads. "Just as you believe strongly in affirming all persons who worship at your church, we believe strongly in a strict interpretation of the Scriptures regarding the institution of marriage," the letter goes on to to say. In the time since Copeland posted the letter on Wednesday, friends of Copeland, including Davidson Academy alumni, have spoken out against the decision as Copeland's letter posting has picked up more than 100 shares on Facebook. "I am so disappointed in my high school, Davidson Academy," Toby Compton, who works as executive director of the Metro Sports Authority, wrote on Facebook. "Sad, truly sad. Hurt deeply and I can't sleep. Compton said he reached out to his former school, but was told they couldn't discuss the situation because it is a legal matter. "I thought in this day and age it was a more inclusive time — period," he said. "I was just kind of shocked. ... Here are two dads trying to do the right thing for their kids, and they're turned way." Copeland and Bullard aren't planning any legal action against the school. Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, which promotes equality of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, said he couldn't recall hearing of another instance in Nashville of a school rejecting a child's entrance because of his or her parents' sexual orientation. He said it has likely happened here, but most people don't bring attention to it. The fact that so many people of faith have re-posted the Davidson Academy letter, Sanders said, means that the "conversation has changed significantly in Nashville. "Discriminating against parents, in this case, has an effect on the child," Sanders said. "And I think maybe that's what is so striking to so many straight allies. Do you hit an entire family if you have a disagreement with the parents? That's why this has legs. That's why this has power. That's why this has emotional impact."

In Ohio, the former Summit County employee facing a felony after being accused of trashing her old supervisor's office had a history of retaliation in her short time at the county fiscal office. Samantha Lockhart unsuccessfully tried to get a co-worker at the Summit County Fiscal Office in trouble weeks after she was disciplined for using anti-gay slurs around a gay employee. Lockhart, 24, also made a written complaint against the supervisor whose office she is accused of covering in glitter, silly string and toilet paper after getting a review that she disagreed with. Lockhart is charged with fifth-degree felony vandalism and breaking and entering in Akron Municipal Court. The case will now be reviewed by a Summit County grand jury that will decide how the case proceeds. Lockhart issued a one-sentence resignation via e-mail on December 16, saying her last day would be January 22. She took a day off on Tuesday and showed up to the office about 5:15 pm after the workday was over.She used her swipe card to get into the building and went to her 48-year-old boss' office. She smashed several of the supervisor's personal items and ruined electronic equipment, including two computers. Lockhart also threw glitter and an unknown white powder across the office. She covered the area in purple silly string. Lockhart was hired as a clerk in the real estate-appraisal division on February 27, 2013. Her problems at the office started after a performance evaluation in March where she was given a rating of 76 out of 100, which gave her a lower rating than the 83 she was given in a previous assessment. Lockhart sent a written complaint to superiors complaining that her supervisor gave her the lower rating "out of spite." Lockhart wrote the supervisor bullied, demeaned, and belittled her after the supervisor demanded she work on a specific assignment. She was given a written warning on July 29 after using an anti-gay slur in a conversation that was an earshot of a gay co-worker. That employee reported the incident to a supervisor and said Lockhart had used a gay slur a few weeks prior in her presence. Lockhart was ordered to undergo cultural diversity training. Two weeks later, she filed a complaint against the co-worker, claiming that she sexually harassed her. Lockhart claimed the woman talked about sexual fantasies with other co-workers and made sexual gestures when talking about other employees. But an investigation by a senior employment complaint officer's investigation, which included interviewing 10 members of the fiscal office, found the claims were unsubstantiated and were made in retaliation. "It strongly appears to be an act of retaliation," the report says.

In Oklahoma, the Tulsa World reports that marriage licenses would become a thing of the past in the state under a bill filed by Rep. Todd Russ. The Cordell Republican says he wants to protect court clerks from having to issue licenses to same sex couples. He doesn’t want these workers put in the position of having to condone or facilitate same sex marriage. Under his plan, a religious official would sign a couple’s marriage certificate, which would then be filed with the clerk. Marriages would no longer be performed by judges. If a couple did not have a religious official to preside over their wedding, they could file an affidavit of common law marriage. “Marriages are not supposed to be a government thing anyway,” he said Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

British McDonald's Suspends Employee After He Allegedly Told Gay Man To Stop Kissing Male Friend, Los Angeles Authorities Seek Public Assistance After 31-Year-Old Dan Brooks Victimized In Possible Anti-Gay Hate Crime Attack, Challenge To North Dakota Same Sex Marriage Ban Held Pending U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Trio Of Bills Designed To Prohibit Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Introduced In Nebraska Legislature, Protests And Counter-Protests After Rankin County Mississippi School District Administrators Work To Circumvent Formation Of Gay-Straight Alliance, Bill Introduced Barring Practice Of Conversion Therapy On Minors In Virginia

In Britain, the chief executive of Leicester’s LGBT Centre has said he is “disgusted but not surprised” at claims a man was told to stop kissing his male friend by a doorman in a city centre branch of McDonald's. Paul Fitzgerald spoke out after Matthew Dummigan said he was told no kissing was allowed in the Market Street restaurant when his friend “pecked” him on the lips. However, Matthew, 23, said that when he asked the doorman whether it would be acceptable if they were male and female, he was told it would be. “Things like this just reinforce the belief that there is something to be ashamed of,” said Paul. “I’m disgusted that this has happened, but I’m not surprised.” Paul said he heard about similar experiences every day. “We’re told that in today’s age there’s more tolerance,” he said. “Well, thank you so much, I’m so grateful to people for ‘tolerating’ me. I don’t want us to just be just tolerated, I want us to be accepted. ‘Tolerating’ is such a horrible word.” Paul said he believed a lot more work still needed to be done to break down such “negative barriers," adding that, “People think attitudes have changed, but they haven’t. Things like this demonstrate that we are nowhere near where we should be when it comes to equality. We are around 25 to 30 years behind. Things like this highlight the bigoted views and negative beliefs that are unfortunately still out there.” Following the incident, McDonalds suspended the doorman in question while investigations are carried out into the incident. Paul said: “I think McDonald's have done exactly the right thing in this situation. I’m extremely happy with the way they have responded.” Recalling the incident, Mr Dummigan said in Wednesday’s Mercury that, “I’ve been out as gay for seven years and I have never witnessed anything like this.” A spokesperson for McDonald's said it took the complaint “very seriously." He said the alleged incident would not be in line with the chain’s diversity policies. He added the chain apologised for the way in which Mr Dummigan was apparently treated.

In California, the Los Angeles Times reports that officials are investigating a possible hate crime in West Hollywood in which three men yelled slurs at a black man about his sexual orientation and race before beating him up. About 2:45 am Tuesday, the man walked off a bus at Fairfax Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard and as he crossed Santa Monica Boulevard, three men in a white Audi began hurling insults toward him, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Don Brooks, 31, told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that he asked the men to leave him alone, but they got out of the car and physically attacked him. “It’s like one second I was crossing the street,” Brooks said. “The next second, I was on the ground bleeding crazily from the back of my head.” He was punched in the face, then fell down and lost consciousness after his head hit the pavement, the Sheriff’s Department said. Paramedics treated Brooks at the scene but he was taken to the hospital for staples to his scalp. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood Station at (310) 855-8850.

In North Dakota, a federal judge has shelved a legal challenge of the same sex marriage ban in the state, awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on similar cases in four other states. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson issued an order Tuesday to stay the case filed in June by seven same sex couples seeking to overturn North Dakota’s ban. In a brief order Friday, the Supreme Court said it would hear cases concerning marriage restrictions in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The much-anticipated ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether the bans that remain in 14 states, including North Dakota, will be struck down. The court said it will decide two questions: whether states must allow same sex couples to marry and whether states must recognize same sex marriages that take place out-of-state. The court will hear an extended 2½ hours of oral arguments in April. Until Tuesday’s filing, the North Dakota case had been inactive since September when the two sides – attorneys for the seven couples and those for the state – filed their final arguments.

In Nebraska, according to the Omaha World-Herald, senators and citizens filled the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday to hail the introduction of three bills addressing job and family discrimination against gay Nebraskans. All three bills were dropped in the legislative hopper on the last day of bill introduction. Legislative Bill 586, introduced by State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would ban employment discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The proposal is similar to one debated by lawmakers last year. Opponents mounted a filibuster to keep the bill from passing. Morfeld expressed optimism about the bill’s chances this year, despite the more conservative makeup of the Nebraska Legislature. He said momentum is on the side of bill supporters. Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said the legislation is important for Nebraska’s future. She called it “shortsighted and stupid” to limit the pool of workers who could contribute to the state’s growth and development. The other two bills address parenting issues. LB 647, introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, would bar discrimination against potential foster parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors. He said Nebraska needs to ensure the maximum availability of foster parents for children removed from their home because of abuse and neglect. The bill would reverse a state policy adopted in 1995 that bars openly homosexual people and unmarried, unrelated couples from being foster parents. LB 648, introduced by Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, would allow two unmarried people to adopt a child together. Current Nebraska law allows adoptions only by one person in an unmarried couple. That leaves children at risk of being removed from their second parent if the adoptive parent dies, Howard said.

An update on a previous post: In Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger reports car horns honked and drivers yelled as a group of about 30 parents, students and community members gathered in front of the Rankin County School District administrative building off Highway 80 Tuesday afternoon to protest a change in school policy administrators said would prevent Gay-Straight Alliances from forming in schools. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are student-led clubs for both straight and LGBT students. The clubs are aimed at fighting anti-gay discrimination and bullying and at providing an open environment for members of the LGBT community. After Superintendent Lynn Weathersby said in last week's school board meeting the district did not want "gay clubs" in its schools, and that requiring parental permission for all clubs would help prevent them, students, parents and civil rights groups expressed their disagreement. "We're here today to try and make a statement to the RCSD office that we all want our rights. And it's not just us students, there are parents that want it too," Brandon High School sophomore Hunter Shannon, who submitted a proposal to school administrators in December to form a GSA, said at the demonstration. He has not heard any more about the status of his club's proposal since submitting it before Christmas. He said the district's attempts to prevent a GSA from coming to fruition "won't work," though RCSD parent and demonstration organizer Shannon Miller said it could certainly discourage some students who have not come out to their parents from joining the club. "This limits the type of people that are going to be able to be in that club," she said, holding a sign that read "Leave those kids alone," adding that, "A lot of kids aren't out to their parents, a lot of parents won't allow them to join the club. The GSA is to help kids find a place, to allow them to have a forum." Shortly after the demonstration started, a group of about 10 Brandon students arrived in the parking lot to voice their opposition to a GSA at their school. A Jeep in the parking lot, driven by senior Dean Arnold, sat parked with a Gadsden flag reading "Don't tread on me" displayed the windshield. Arnold said Brandon is under enough pressure with a new football coach and other transitions at the school, and compared the demonstrating students to "little kids asking for more candy after they've already been told no," Arnold adding, "We just strongly disagree with what they believe in. They're making a bigger scene out of it than necessary." The group also disagreed with proponents of the GSA saying if the school has religion-based clubs, it should allow GSAs as well. Rankin County School District spokesperson Robin Haney said last week the district has been advised to make no further comment until it has reviewed and responded to a letter sent by the ACLU of Mississippi, but that the district plans to stand behind its policy, which will be applied equally to all clubs.
After initial reports of the school board adopting the policy change surfaced, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi voiced their concerns, each noting that federal law prohibits any school that receives federal funds from banning students from conducting a meeting in a limited, open forum on the basis of religious, political or philosophical speech. A limited, open forum is defined as a time when a school "grants an offering or opportunity for one or more noncurriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during the noninstructional time."

In Virginia, according to the Roanoke Times, Matthew Shurka was 16 when he realized he was gay. With his father’s guidance, he began conversion therapy — a controversial form of treatment aimed at changing sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. For three years, Shurka was not allowed contact with females, including his mother and two sisters. He was forced into what his therapists called “healthy male bonding,” and says he was subjected to heterosexual pornography. At 18, he was given Viagra in order to overcome anxiety during sex with women. “This had devastating effects on me later on,” Shurka, now 26, said in a news conference at the state Capitol Tuesday. With same sex marriage pending before the U.S. Supreme Court for a nationwide resolution, Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups and a few Republicans have joined forces this year to introduce more than 20 bills addressing discrimination and legal protections for gays and lesbians in Virginia — including legislation that would benefit teenagers like Shurka. For the second consecutive year, Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) has sponsored a measure that would prohibit conversion or reparative therapy on people younger than 18. “There is no on-off switch to sexual orientation, and my bill is based on science that is clear evidence that conversion therapy does not work, and there is even some alarming evidence that it is also psychologically harmful,” Hope said. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) one of two openly gay state legislators, told reporters that gay rights issues were “controversial” and “barely whispered about” when he arrived in Richmond 11 years ago. “Now the realities of 2015 must be addressed by the General Assembly and must be addressed now,” Ebbin said. The U.S. Supreme Court in October left standing a ruling by a Richmond appellate court that struck down the 2006 amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The ruling essentially legalized gay marriage in Virginia and several other states until the U.S. Supreme Court takes on the issue again during its current term. “Even as Virginians continue to celebrate the freedom to marry, it is important to remember that LGBT Virginians are still discriminated against every day,” said James Parrish, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Virginia. Many of the anti-discrimination measures have met resistance in the GOP controlled legislature, indicating that Republicans are not interested in giving way to legislation riding on the coattails of the same sex marriage ruling. “I don’t see the Republicans changing their opposition easily or soon,” said Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington. “Unfortunately I think we are going to continue to have to fight these battles.” However, some GOP lawmakers have softened their views. “Times are changing, we should be more accepting,” said Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) who has introduced a workplace non-discrimination bill that is pending before the House Committee on General Laws. “We have proposed an agenda that would improve our public schools, support our veterans and make college more affordable,” said Matt Moran, spokesperson for House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County. “The Democrats in Virginia have a political agenda, not a governing one,” he said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Edmonton Youth Council Calls On Alberta Government To Revise Bill Allowing Formation Of Gay-Straight Alliance In All School Ahead Of Election, Botswana Government Appeals High Court Ruling Allowing Gay Rights Group To Register As Organization, Wyoming House Committee Defeats Bill That Would Have Reaffirmed Right Of Religious Leaders To Refuse Marrying Same Sex Couples, Springfield Missouri Bishop Criticizes Hospital Decision To Extend Benefits To Same Sex Spouses Of Employees, Colorado Civil Rights Department Of Regulatory Agencies Investigating Denver Bakery For Religious Discrimination After It Refused To Bake Cake Adorned With Anti-Gay Messages, New York City Police Search For Suspect In Anti-Gay Attack, Billy Crystal Attempts To Clarify Statements That Portrayal Of Gay Sex On Television "Gone Too Far"

In Alberta, CBC News reports that the Edmonton Youth Council wants the province to revise Bill 10, controversial legislation about student-led gay-straight alliances, before the premier calls an election rather than let the bill die. “If an election is called and Bill 10 is never brought back to the floor that would be a huge disappointment,” said council chair Claire Edwards. Bill 10 was introduced by the Progressive Conservative government to supersede a private member’s bill that would make Gay-Straight Alliances mandatory in schools where students want them. Bill 10 allows schools to say no to students who want the anti-bullying groups. The Edmonton Youth Council usually advises councillors on civic matters, but Edwards said the provincial issue is too important to ignore. Gay-Straight-Alliances are proven to save lives of LGBTQ teens, she said, and Bill 10 could impede students' access to those groups. She asked the mayor Monday to pass on the youth council’s concerns to the province. “We want students at the end of the day to be able to form a Gay-Straight Alliance, call it a Gay-Straight Alliance, and feel safe in their schools,” she said. Premier Jim Prentice put the bill on hold in December after a massive public outcry. He said he would wait for more consultation before putting the bill back on the floor. Edwards said she has not seen any evidence of consultation since then and calls the delay troubling. “Right now there are youth who are unsafe in their schools and the status quo is unacceptable,” she said. Coun. Ben Henderson supports the youth council’s position. He hopes council will take an official stance against the bill as well. “I think there’s an argument that we’re wandering in to two other jurisdictions, one is which is the school boards and the other one which is the province,” Henderson said. “But we pay the price of this work not being done.” He said the city should have a voice in matters that could lead to increased cost of policing and homelessness, such as bullying in schools. Councillors will debate whether or not to take a stance on the bill at next week’s council meeting. Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley also called for more action on Bill 10 before a potential spring election on Monday. She said the premier must reveal where the government stands on the bill before Albertans go to the polls. “I’m calling on Prentice and the PCs to stop hiding and tell Albertans what they’re going to do to protect LGBTQ youth in our schools,” Notley said in a statement. She said she wants the government to act fast to revise the bill when the legislature resumes on March 10.

In South Africa, the Botswana government is appealing a high court case which gave Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (Legabido) the right to register as an organization, court records showed on Monday. In papers filed before the court of appeal, the government's lawyers argued that its constitution did not recognise homosexuality. The government wants the high court ruling to be set aside. In November last year, high court judge Terrence Rannowane ruled that Legabibo could register its organization. Rannowane said he had examined the objectives of Legabibo “with a view of finding out if any of them offends against section 72 of the Societies Act." He concluded that this was not the case and set aside the decision by the Register of Societies to deny Legabibo registration and recognition in 2012. Anna Mmolai-Chalmers from the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and Aids said the organization was aware that government was appealing the case. “We will have to wait for the appeal ruling,” she said, adding that, “There is nothing we can do at the moment.” The labour and home affairs ministry and the Register of Societies previously refused to let the organisation register, arguing that the constitution did not recognize homosexuality. Chalmers said they had already submitted registration documents with the Register of Societies after the high court ruling. The Registrar of Society had not replied to the application. Meanwhile, the Botswana Court of Appeal is in session this week. However, the government's appeal case has not been included on the court roll.

In Wyoming, the Star-Tribune reports that a bill that would have reaffirmed the right of religious officials to decline marrying same sex couples was defeated Tuesday morning in a state legislative committee. But some members of the House Judiciary Committee said they opposed it because they favor instead a bill that allows all people to decline performing services based on their religion and freedom of conscience, including issuing marriage licenses. In October, a judge struck down Wyoming’s gay marriage ban. House Bill 26 sponsor Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) said that although religious officials already have the right to decide who to marry, he wanted it clear in state law in case the courts decided to take on the issue. The Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne supported the bill. WyWatch Family Action, a group that describes itself as guarding faith, family and freedom, told supporters it would support the freedom-of-religion bill and not HB26.

In Missouri, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau told the News-Leader last week that he is "deeply concerned" about Mercy's decision to extend benefits to same sex spouses of employees this spring. "The statement a Mercy spokesperson made to the Springfield News-Leader is more than disappointing," Bishop James V. Johnston said in a statement of his own. Prompted by the recent extension of benefits at Springfield-based CoxHealth, the News-Leader on Tuesday contacted Chesterfield-based Mercy health system, which is affiliated with the Catholic church, regarding its own policy. CoxHealth is not religiously affiliated. "As a Catholic health ministry, Mercy has followed the Church's position on this issue in the past," Mercy Springfield spokesperson Sonya Kullmann said Tuesday. "However, in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring." The bishop's statement, issued after he was contacted by the News-Leader, responded to specific phrasing by Mercy. "Recognizing God's plan for marriage is not a matter of 'the Church's position,' as Mercy characterized it, but rather, one of God's own Word," Johnston said. "And while the statement does not specify the 'government regulations' Mercy claims to require this change, no believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God's law because of 'regulations.' Our ancestors refused to abandon the faith even when subjected to the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire, but in our age unspecified 'regulations,' government funds, and fear of public ridicule is sufficient in order to secure the compliance of some." Regarding the decision, the bishop said he "was not consulted or informed by Mercy." Catholic teaching holds that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that homosexual activity is sinful, although Pope Francis said last month the church needs to support families with gay children. Regarding the increase in the number of jurisdictions legalizing same sex marriage, Johnston said Christians reject the view that "marriage is whatever the government says it is." While the bishop's statement highlights the disconnect between the impending policy and Catholic beliefs, Mercy is among a growing number of church-affiliated institutions choosing to extend benefits to same sex spouses. Approaches by the entities have varied, however, with some choosing to extend benefits only to gay and lesbian couples that are legally married and others simply allowing an additional dependent adult — regardless of gender or relationship status — to be added to an employee's health plan. The latter can be seen by some as less of an endorsement of gay marriage. Mercy's decision to extend benefits pertains to more than 40,000 employees companywide; about 9,000 reside in the Springfield metropolitan area. The nonprofit has hospitals in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. It is the sixth-largest Catholic health care system in the United States, according to its website. CoxHealth said Tuesday its decision to extend benefits effective last October was "part of our strategic goal of attracting and retaining the best talent." Mercy cited changes in government regulations. Asked Wednesday to cite the specific changes and whether Mercy is making the change because it feels legally required to, Kullmann said only that "Mercy is making this change to be in compliance with government regulations." Neither Mercy nor CoxHealth's policies extend benefits to a domestic partner; they apply only to those legally married in some jurisdiction. Same sex couples in Missouri can currently get married in the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County. Gay marriage is also currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The News-Leader requested comment Wednesday from five other large Catholic health care systems regarding their health benefits. Wisconsin-based Mercy Health (which is different from Chesterfield-based Mercy), Edmundson-based Ascension Health and Washington-based Providence Health & Services did not respond. According to the National Catholic Register, Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives — which operates in 19 states — said last year that it would begin offering benefits to same sex spouses and domestic partners this month. Asked to confirm that report, and the reason for the decision, spokesperson Michael Romano passed on the following statement to the News-Leader. "CHI believes that health care is part of the common good and is considered a basic human right," the company said. "And so it was important to make health benefits accessible to employees, their dependents and loved ones within the employee's family where possible. The goal of expanding coverage overall will continue to align more closely with the desired culture of supporting diversity and families. This change also serves the purpose of eliminating any perceived inequity of benefits by some employees and will help CHI to attract and retain talented employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or personal situation." Romano did not respond to a follow-up question concerning the specific language of the change. St. Louis-based SSM Health — which has facilities in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri — opened employee health plans to "legally domiciled adults" in 2003, according to spokesperson Steve Van Dinter. "Through this innovative and compassionate program, we have been able to extend health care coverage to hundreds of adult spouses, parents, children, and friends who reside with an employee and are not otherwise insured," Van Dinter said in an e-mail. To qualify as a legally domiciled adult under the plan, the individual must reside in the same home with the employee, be a member of the employee's household and be 19 years old or older. The first page of a Google search for "legally domiciled adult" is predominantly Catholic institutions explaining their benefit policies, including Loyola University Maryland, Georgetown University, Denver-based SCL Health and the University of San Francisco. "As a Catholic health ministry founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, SSM Health believes that access to health care coverage is a basic good," Van Dinter said. According to the National Catholic Reporter, 22 Jesuit universities around the country provided benefits to same sex partners as of October 30. But some affiliated organizations don't appear interested in following suit. In 2010, the Washington Post reported that Catholic Charities decided to stop offering health benefits to spouses of new employees in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage in the District of Columbia.

In Denver, Colorado, Azucar Bakery on South Broadway is under investigation for religious discrimination by the Civil Rights division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies stemming from a March 2014 incident. According to 9News, a customer came into the store and requested a couple of cakes in the shape of Bibles, according to the owner Marjorie Silva. Silva says the man pulled out a piece of paper with hateful phrases like "God hates gays" and requested her to write them on his cakes. He wouldn't let employees make a copy of the paper and would not read the words out loud, Silva claims. The bakery owner also says the customer wanted an image of two men holding hands with an "X" on top. "After I read it, I was like 'No way,'" Silva said. "'We're not doing this. This is just very discriminatory and hateful.'" Silva then received a complaint from DORA for religious discrimination. "It's unfair that he's accusing me of discriminating when I think he was the one that is discriminating," Silva said. DORA's consumer protection role allows the ability for consumers to file complaints against businesses for alleged discrimination. The Civil Rights division reviews and investigates the claims, and if the agency feels discriminatory acts were committed, the case moves forward to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. 9NEWS has learned Bill Jack, from Castle Rock, was the customer accusing Azucar Bakery of discrimination. Jack is a founder of Worldview Academy, which is a "non-denominational organization dedicated to helping Christians think and live in accord with a Biblical worldview," according to the organization's website. Jack's biography on the website says he is currently an educator who used to teach in public schools in the past, adding that he has appeared on numerous national radio and TV programs. He was asked why he requested a cake at Azucar Bakery and what he asked to have written on it. He declined to answer but released this statement: "I believe I was discriminated against by the bakery based on my creed. As a result, I filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights division. Out of respect for the process, I will wait for the director to release his findings before making further comments." Nancy Leong, a University of Denver law professor, has been looking into this case and doesn't believe Silva violated any laws. "This is not a situation where a business owner denied service to somebody," Leong said. "She offered to accommodate him to the extent that she could. In fact, requiring her to write that message would infringe on her own free speech rights." DORA will rule whether Jack was discriminated against, but a decision is not expected for at least a couple of months, since the agency requested an extension. Based on the agency's findings, the case could reach the Civil Rights commission.

In New York City, Police say they are looking for a man suspected of attacking and using a homophobic slur against a victim in Brooklyn. The suspect allegedly approached the 36-year-old man after getting out of his grey Infiniti FX35 SUV at the corner of Marcy and Metropolitan Avenues in northern Brooklyn on December 14. He then used a homophobic slur against the victim and struck the victim multiple times in the face, causing him to fall on the ground, police said. The suspect got back into his car and fled the scene. The victim sustained a broken nose, and lacerations and bruising to the face and head, police said. Paramedics took the victim to New York Presbyterian Hospital where he was treated and released. Police say the suspect was last seen wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, a dark-colored vest, and red and black checkered pants. He was captured on surveillance video at a pizza shop near the scene. Anyone with information is asked to contact 800-577-TIPS.

The Wrap reports that Billy Crystal, who played one of television’s first-ever gay series regular on the comedy Soap, said today’s portrayal of LGBT characters is, at times, gratuitous. “Sometimes I think, ‘Ah that’s too much for me,” the comedian told the audience at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena during a panel discussion for his new show, The Comedians, which premiers in April on FX. Crystal played Jodie Dallas on the ABC comedy Soap from 1977 to 1981. “It was very difficult at the time,” said Crystal. “Jodie was really the first recurring [gay] character on network television and it was a different time, it was 1977. So, yeah, it was awkward. It was tough.” Crystal told the audience his groundbreaking performance didn’t sit well with some viewers then. “I did it in front of a live audience and there were times when I would say to Bob [Seagren], ‘I love you,’ and the audience would laugh nervously. I wanted to stop the taping and go, ‘What is your problem?'” But, the comedian says that contemporary gay storylines are, at times, too much. “Sometimes, it’s just pushing it a little too far for my taste and I’m not going to reveal to you which ones they are.” Crystal isn’t the only person to raise the argument. How to Get Away with Murder’s gay character, Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), has certainly gained attention for some of his provocative scenes. Falahee’s unapologetic sex scenes included some graphic moments that had some viewers squeamish. In one particular scene, Falahee’s character famously had one of his lovers’ eyes water with an act involving the derriere. “I hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face… to the point where it feels like an every day kind of thing.” UPDATE: Tuesday, Crystal attempted to clarify his remarks, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story it becomes a little too much for my taste."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Defying Mexican Supreme Court Order Mexicali For Fourth Time Thwarts A Gay Couple From Marrying, Ireland's Health Minister Comes Out, New South Wales Parliament's First Openly Gay MPPaul O' Grady Dies At 54, Anti-Gay Graffiti Found On Jackson Mississippi Building, Proposal In Kentucky Legislature Would Require Transgender Students Avoid School Facilities That Do Not Correspond With Birth Sex

The Associated Press reports that in Mexicali, Mexico (a city on the border with California) authorities have for a fourth time blocked a gay couple from marrying in defiance of an order from Mexico's Supreme Court, the men's lawyer said Friday. Attorney Jose Luis Marquez Saavedra said he has filed a complaint against Mexicali's mayor and other officials seeking to force them to let Victor Fernando Urias Amparo and Victor Manuel Aguirre Espinoza wed. He accused the city of using procedural technicalities to keep them from tying the knot. Mayor Jaime Rafael Diaz Ochoa, a member of the conservative National Action Party, which has historic ties to the Roman Catholic Church and has opposed same sex marriage in the past, said officials are just trying to follow the law. The state of Baja California, where Mexicali is, does not allow same sex marriage. Mexico does not have a single national civil code but rather one each for the 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City. Federal courts have issued rulings sympathetic to same sex marriage, but for the most part that has not translated into legalization at the local level. When Urias and Aguirre first tried to marry in Mexicali in 2013, the local Civil Registry rejected them, saying the Mexican constitution recognizes only unions of opposite sex couples. That's when they sought and obtained the Supreme Court injunction authorizing their nuptials. Civil Registry officials rejected their petition again, saying bureaucratic procedures had not been followed. On a third try in November, the registry said the couple had failed to attend mandatory pre-marriage counseling. Then this month, City Hall told them they couldn't attend those sessions. Saavedra's complaint accuses the mayor, two municipal workers and a state employee of failing to fulfill their public duties. "It's nothing personal," the mayor said. "It is respect for the rule of law that governs us." Since 2010 all states are required to recognize same sex marriages performed in the capital, where it is legal. Last year the northern state of Coahuila became the second place in Mexico to approve same sex marriage.

In Ireland, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has told RTÉ Radio that he was gay during an interview Sunday morning. He said he decided to speak about his sexuality, because as a minister, he would be campaigning for the Government's referendum in support of same sex marriage. The minister was speaking to Miriam O'Callaghan on Sunday With Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1. Minister Varadkar said "I'm a very private person and I still am. I keep my private life to myself and that's going to continue. "I always think that friends and family are off-bounds. I went into politics, they didn't. "But, I am a gay man - it's not a secret - but not something that everyone would necessarily know, but it isn't something I've spoken publicly about before." The Dublin West TD, who is celebrating his 36th birthday today, said he was not in a relationship. Mr Varadkar said that looking back he always knew he was gay, but it was only in the last year or two that he had come to accept it. The minister said he had put his career and politics first, and he had only given time to his personal life in the last couple of years. Mr Varadkar said his decision to speak publicly about it now was because he felt comfortable to talk about it and also for political and policy reasons. He said that, "There are decisions coming up that are not entirely my own but I will be involved in them. I just want people to know that whatever decisions are made on any issue, I'll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and my own conscience. I won't be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions that I make. I just kind of want to be honest with people. I don't want anyone to think that I have a hidden agenda." He is the first minister to publicly make such an announcement and the second member of Fine Gael after Jerry Buttimer, who said he was gay in 2012. The minister gave a wide-ranging interview on his childhood and career, saying he wanted to be out of politics by the time he is 51. He also spoke about growing up in Dublin as the son of an Indian doctor and a nurse, who met in the UK, before moving to Ireland in the 1970s. Mr Varadkar said he had a passion for politics from a young age and was a "bit of a swat in school, to be honest". Minister for Foreign Affairs said Charlie Flanagan said he had "huge respect" for his Cabinet colleague after the interview. He said he wished him "all the very best for future happiness in a busy life." Opposition parties have commended Mr Varadkar's openness, saying his role in Government would be defined solely by his ministerial performance. Speaking on RTÉ's The Week in Politics, Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley said: "I think he will get the respect of people for doing that. It doesn't take away from the fact that he has to get on with his day job and he has got to deal with the issues there." Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said: "Leo is Leo. He has a lot of work to do and it certainly won't change, in the political sphere, anyone's perception of him, I don't believe." The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network has said it "saluted the courage" of Mr Varadkar. "His courage will inspire many others who would like to be open about who they are,” said GLEN Chairperson Kieran Rose. "Whether you are a Cabinet minister or a young gay person doing your Leaving Certificate, it takes courage to talk openly about who you are. "Minister Varadkar talking openly about being gay will be a very important source of support for LGBT people and for their parents and families."

In Australia, the New South Wales parliament's first openly gay MP, Paul O'Grady, has died aged 54. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr O'Grady served as a Labor MP in the NSW Legislative Council between 1988 and 1996. He disclosed his sexuality publicly in 1990. Upon retiring from parliament he revealed in a television program that he had HIV/AIDS. Mr O'Grady used the program, on the now defunct Channel Seven current affairs show Witness, to highlight discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. The year earlier, in 1995, he had introduced a voluntary euthanasia bill to the NSW Parliament but then premier Bob Carr said he believed it was impossible to put into law. "At some point, if I need to, I hope that I can hold out my arm one day or one night and have a little needle which takes me off, quietly and peacefully after I've said my farewells," Mr O'Grady said in the Witness program. "That's how I'd like to do it." Mr O'Grady told the Herald at the time: "I never want to go to hospital." He was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and died in Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst on Sunday morning. Most recently, Mr O'Grady made headlines in 2013 when he appeared as a witness at the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into corruptly issued coal licences. Mr O'Grady's office in the NSW Parliament was next to that of corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. When Mr Obeid told the inquiry his fellow Labor MP Ian Macdonald – who the commission found corruptly issued a mining licence over land owned by the Obeid family – had never visited him in his office, Mr O'Grady told ICAC this was untrue. He said he saw Mr Macdonald "coming and going back and forth all the time." Mr Obeid later admitted to giving incorrect evidence. A close friend, NSW Labor MP Lynda Voltz, said Mr O'Grady was "tenacious and extraordinarily clever, with a little bit of the Machiavellian in there," adding that, "Paul would never take a backward step on something he really believed in." Opposition Leader Luke Foley said he was devastated by news of Mr O'Grady's death. "Paul was a friend of mine," Mr Foley said. "He was someone I often turned to for advice." He noted Mr O'Grady's "incredibly powerful evidence" to the 2013 NSW parliamentary inquiry into medicinal cannabis which preceded Premier Mike Baird's decision to conduct a clinical trial. "I think Paul's evidence went a long way to convincing all of the members of the committee to recommend the legalisation of cannabis for the terminally ill," Mr Foley said.

In Mississippi, a vacant building in downtown Jackson was found with anti-gay graffiti Friday. The message of "NO 2 GAY MARRAGE (sic) KILL THEM," was found on a building at the intersection of Capitol and Lemon Streets in downtown Jackson. The Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi, the the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, is calling for religious, community, and political leaders to condemn the graffiti and reaffirm their commitment to the dignity and worth of all Mississippians: "This hateful message does not represent Mississippi values. We are all God's children, but we have a long way to go to make sure everyone is being treated fairly and decently in the state we all love," said Rob Hill, Director of HRC Mississippi. "We urge all Mississippians to stand up and make it clearly known that these kinds of messages of hatred have no place in our society. We are so much stronger together than when we're divided, and we've got to work together to make sure that Mississippi is a state that welcomes all families, including our LGBT brothers and sisters." According to a 2014 HRC survey in Mississippi, 57-percent of LGBT respondents have called Mississippi home for more than 20 years. However, almost half have experienced harassment in public establishments; more than one in five have experienced harassment monthly or more at their respective houses of worship; and almost half have experienced harassment at school. HRC Mississippi is working to advance equality for LGBT Mississippians who have no protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations; legal state recognition for their relationships and families; state rights to jointly adopt children; and state protections from hate crimes.

In Kentucky, a proposal in the legislature would require that transgender students avoid school restrooms, locker rooms and showers that don’t correspond with their sex assigned at birth. According to the Washington Post, the Kentucky Student Privacy Act, sponsored by Republican state Sen. C.B. Embry, is also designed to punish school administrators who give transgender students access to school facilities designated for the opposite sex. “Parents have a reasonable expectation that schools will not allow minor children to be viewed in various states of undress by members of the opposite biological sex, nor allow minor children to view members of the opposite sex in various states of undress,” the bill states. If a school administrator allowed a transgender student to use a facility designated for the opposite sex or if a school “failed to take reasonable steps to prohibit the person encountered from using from facilities designated for use by the opposite biological sex,” students would be allowed to sue the school, according to the bill. Aggrieved students could seek up to $2,500 in damages from the offending school for each time they encountered a person of the opposite sex in school facilities, as well as “for all psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered,” according to the bill’s language. The offending school, the bill notes, would be required to pay the attorney fees and costs associated with the claim. Embry told U.S. News & World Report that he filed the bill on behalf of the Family Foundation of Kentucky following a Louisville, Kentucky, high school’s decision to allow a transgender student to use female facilities. He said that he may change the bill’s language to discourage students from “staging incidents” to win money. Despite a large amount of blowback in the form of angry e-mails calling him bigoted, Embry insisted he has no problem with transgendered students. “They’re certainly welcome to live their lives as they choose, if they want to dress as the opposite sex and the school is OK with that, that’s fine,” he said. Thomas Aberli, principal of Atherton High School, the Louisville school that approved a policy allowing students to use school facilities of the gender they identified with, told the BG Daily News that he’s taken time to talk to people about their concerns and the majority of the community has been supportive. He added that the school hadn’t had any major problems implementing the new policy. “It’s a non-issue in this school,” Aberli said. Though Embry believes it’s important to keep transgendered students out of spaces where members of the opposite biological state are undressed, he said he doesn’t want to ban gay and lesbian students from places from where members of their biological sex congregate, according to U.S. News & World Report. “I don’t think we can create a situation where no one is ever offended or uncomfortable,” he told the publication. “I have a friend, and we can all say these things, who is a homosexual and she agrees that she doesn’t want men in her bathroom,” he added. Embry added that he also supports anti-bullying legislation, telling U.S. News & World Report: “I am very much in favor of strong anti-bullying laws that protect students no matter what the reason for bullying may be — fat or short, don’t speak plain, sexual orientation, whatever.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

United States Supreme Court Agrees To Determine Whether All 50 States Must Allow Gays And Lesbians To Marry, Ten Months After Gay Couple Violently Attacked In Atlanta An Arrest Is Made, Brandon High School Students Rally To Discuss Rankin County Mississippi School Board's Decision To Change Club Policy In Attempt To Prevent Formation Of Gay-Straight Alliance, Britain's First School For LGBT Students Planned For Manchester, Austria Cafe's Ban On Lesbian Couple Kissing Sets Off Protest

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, positioning it to resolve one of the great civil rights questions in a generation before its current term ends in June. The decision came just months after the justices ducked the issue, refusing in October to hear appeals from rulings allowing same sex marriage in five states. That decision, which was considered a major surprise, delivered a tacit victory for gay rights, immediately expanding the number of states with same sex marriage to 24, along with the District of Columbia, up from 19. Largely as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision not to act, the number of states allowing same sex marriage has since grown to 36, and more than 70-percent of Americans live in places where gay couples can marry. The cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Friday were brought by some 15 same-sex couples in four states. The plaintiffs said they have a fundamental right to marry and to be treated as opposite sex couples are, adding that bans they challenged demeaned their dignity, imposed countless practical difficulties and inflicted particular harm on their children. The pace of change on same-sex marriage, in both popular opinion and in the courts, has no parallel in the nation’s history. Gay rights advocates hailed the court’s move on Friday as one of the final steps in a decades-long journey toward equal treatment, and they expressed confidence they would prevail. “We are finally within sight of the day when same sex couples across the country will be able to share equally in the joys, protections and responsibilities of marriage,” said Jon W. Davidson, the legal director of Lambda Legal. Supporters of traditional marriage said the Supreme Court now has a chance to return the issue to voters and legislators. “Lower court judges have robbed millions of people of their voice and vote on society’s most fundamental relationship — marriage,” said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a conservative policy and lobbying group. “There is nothing in the Constitution that empowers the courts to silence the people and impose a nationwide redefinition of marriage.” The Supreme Court’s lack of action in October and its last three major gay rights rulings suggest that the court will rule in favor of same sex marriage. But the court also has a history of caution in this area. It agreed once before to hear a constitutional challenge to a same sex marriage ban, in 2012 in a case called Hollingsworth v. Perry that involved California’s Proposition 8. At the time, nine states and the District of Columbia allowed same sex couples to marry. When the court’s ruling arrived in June 2013, the justices ducked, with a majority saying that the case was not properly before them, and none of them expressing a view on the ultimate question of whether the Constitution requires states to allow same sex marriage. But a second decision the same day, in United States v. Windsor, provided the movement for same sex marriage with what turned out to be a powerful tailwind. The decision struck down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred federal benefits for same-sex couples married in states that allowed such unions. The Windsor decision was based partly on federalism grounds, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion stressing that state decisions on how to treat marriages deserved respect. But lower courts focused on other parts of his opinion, ones that emphasized the dignity of gay relationships and the harm that families of gay couples suffered from bans on same sex marriage. In a remarkable and largely unbroken line of more than 40 decisions, state and federal courts relied on the Windsor decision to rule in favor of same sex marriage. The most important exception was a decision in November from a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Writing for the majority, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton said that voters and legislators, not judges, should decide the issue. That decision created a split among the federal appeals courts, a criterion that the Supreme Court often looks to in deciding whether to hear a case. That criterion had been missing in October. The Sixth Circuit’s decision upheld bans on same sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions seeking review from plaintiffs challenging those bans in each state. The court said it will hear two and a half hours of argument, probably in the last week of April. The first 90 minutes will be devoted to the question of whether the Constitution requires states “to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.” The last hour will concern a question that will be moot if the answer to the first one is yes: whether states must “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state.” The court consolidated the four petitions, not all of which had addressed both questions. Two cases — Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556, from Ohio, and Tanco v. Haslam, No. 14-562, from Tennessee — challenged state laws barring the recognition of same sex marriages performed elsewhere. “Ohio does not contest the validity of their out-of-state marriages,” the plaintiffs seeking to overturn the ban wrote in their brief seeking Supreme Court review. “It simply refuses to recognize them.” State officials in Ohio had urged the justices to hear the case. “The present status quo is unsustainable,” they said. “The country deserves a nationwide answer to the question — one way or the other.” Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a Republican, took a different approach from those of officials in the other states whose cases the Supreme Court agreed to decide. He did what litigants who have won in the lower court typically do: He urged the justices to decline to hear the case. The Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder, No. 14-571, was brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses. They sued to challenge the state’s ban on same sex marriage. In urging the Supreme Court to hear their case, they asked the justices to do away with “the significant legal burdens and detriments imposed by denying marriage to same sex couples, as well as the dignity and emotional well-being of the couples and any children they may have.” Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, joined the plaintiffs in urging the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Kentucky case, Bourke v. Beshear, No. 14-574, was brought by two sets of plaintiffs. The first group included four same sex couples who had married in other states and who sought recognition of their unions. The second group, two couples, sought the right to marry in Kentucky. In his response to the petition in the Supreme Court, Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, said he had a duty to enforce the state’s laws. But he agreed that the Supreme Court should settle the matter and “resolve the issues creating the legal chaos that has resulted since Windsor.”

In Georgia, ten months after a gay couple was attacked in Midtown Atlanta, an arrest has been made. One of the victims was punched in the back of the head and knocked into oncoming traffic. It happened at the intersection of Juniper Street and 11th Street in Midtown Atlanta on March 7, 2014. The couple were waiting for a red light to cross Juniper when a suspect came up from behind them and punched one of the men in the back of the head. The victim has asked us not to identify him because he is still upset about what happened. But Bryan Long, the man's boyfriend said he was pleased that there was an arrest. "We did a police lineup last Friday and we both picked him out of a lineup," Long said. The suspect who was arrested was Diego Ernesto Ramirez, 22, and he was charged with battery on Thursday. A video from Midtown Blue security was posted on YouTube and seen by thousands. The camera at 11th Street and Juniper shows the couple waiting to cross the street when the suspect punched the victim in the head, knocking him into the street in front of traffic. "And then he didn't leave," Long said. "He was bowing up and thumping his chest and trying to start a bigger fight." Long said the suspect yelled gay slurs before he hit his boyfriend. "I've watched that video dozens of times if not more and it's still hard to get it settled in my mind that this happened to us," he said. Long was smart enough to pull out his cell phone and take video of the suspect who got into a car with a driver and left. He said a tipster recognized the suspect as Ramirez and an arrest was made ten months after the incident. "I'm really glad that there's an arrest and I'm glad that the attacker, this suspect is going to go into the court system and face a judge," Long said. "But I'm disappointed that it took ten months." Long said even though he gave police the license plate number, it took him going to the media with the video, to get got police to concentrate more on the case and finally make an arrest. Atlanta police have not responded to Long's allegation.

An update on a previous post: In Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger reports that A group of Brandon High School students met at a coffee shop after school Thursday to support one another and discuss the Rankin County School Board's decision to change its policy in an attempt to prevent students from forming Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. Sophomore Hunter Shannon and junior Arieana Myers were among the group of about 12 students who attended the meeting. Both Shannon and Myers filed proposals in December to form a Gay-Straight Alliance — a student-led organization aimed at fighting anti-gay bullying and harassment — at Brandon High School. The last Shannon and Myers both heard about their proposals was that school administrators were on board with the formation of the club. Then, on Wednesday, they read media reports that Rankin County schools Superintendent Lynn Weathersby told board members he had talked with counsel about how to prevent what he referred to as "gay clubs" from forming on campus. Weathersby said he was told the best way to prevent organizations the district "doesn't want" would be to require students who wish to join any club to obtain parental consent. The school board then voted to require parents to sign a consent form before their children are allowed to join any school club. Although Weathersby introduced the policy change as a way to prevent "gay clubs" from forming, he said after the meeting he had no knowledge of any such club attempting to form at any school in the district and that the change was not directed at any particular type of club. The Brandon students who met after school Thursday said the board's actions were discouraging and acknowledged the new rule likely would discourage some students from joining a GSA. "It's people like that (Weathersby) that are the reason we need it," Shannon said when asked how he felt when he heard about the school board's conversation and decision. He said the problem is the misunderstanding of what a GSA is and does, even among administrators like Weathersby and other adults. "I was really just disappointed," freshman Whit Lee said. " … Given I know so many people who would definitely support this and having adults who didn't was kind of devastating." Senior Lucas Bonham, who identifies as transgender, said he wishes there had been a GSA during his earlier years at the school when he came out. "There's been times I didn't have anyone, and my family was bad with it at first. My family's awesome now," he said. "But students need this because it's a struggle trying to discover who you are and to think you're completely abnormal." After initial reports of the school board adopting the policy change surfaced, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi voiced their concerns, each noting that federal law prohibits any school that receives federal funds from banning students from conducting a meeting in a limited, open forum on the basis of religious, political or philosophical speech. A limited, open forum is defined as a time when a school "grants an offering or opportunity for one or more noncurriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during the noninstructional time." In a letter to school district officials, the ACLU pointed to several rulings by federal judges prohibiting school districts from banning the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances. Contacted Thursday, Rankin County School District spokesperson Robin Haney said the district has been advised to make no further comment until it has reviewed and responded to the letter from the ACLU. But she did say the district plans to stand behind its policy. "The policy does nothing more than require a parent's signature and parental permission for minor students to enroll in any club or extracurricular activity," Haney said in the e-mailed statement, noting the policy will be "applied equally to all clubs and students." Charles Irvin, legal director for ACLU Mississippi, said the ACLU will be monitoring the district's implementation of the policy to ensure it is being enforced for all clubs.

The Guardian reports that the first school in Britain for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people could open its doors within the next three years. Based in the centre of Manchester, the specialist state school plans to take 40 full-time students from across the area and will offer up to 20 part-time places for young people who want to continue attending a mainstream school. “This is about saving lives,” said Amelia Lee, strategic director for LGBT Youth North West, the youth work charity behind the plans. “Despite the laws that claim to protect gay people from homophobic bullying, the truth is that in schools especially, bullying is still incredibly common and causes young people to feel isolated and alienated, which often leads to truanting and, in the worst-case scenarios, to suicide.” Last September 14-year-old Elizabeth Lowe hanged herself in a Manchester park because she feared telling her parents that she was gay. “Lizzie felt the only option was to kill herself. There was another girl with a similar story in Bolton,” said Lee. “This is not about making a little, safe enclave away from the real world: we work with 9,000 mainstream pupils and 1,000 teachers a year to help educate them about homosexuality. In addition, the support this new school will offer to part-time pupils could happen in their mainstream school, if that’s what they want,” she said. “But we have an education system that sets up 5%-10% of pupils to fail through fear and structure, because it routinely fails to recognise and incorporate the needs of young people struggling with their identities. We can either hope every school is going to be inclusive, or we can recognise we are not there yet and so, for the moment, we need more specialised schools,” she added. The school will be specifically designed for LGBT young people who are struggling in mainstream schools, but will be open to other children, including young carers, young parents and those with mental health problems. “It will be LGBT-inclusive, but not exclusive,” said Lee. A £63,000 feasibility study into the plan is under way thanks to a grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government. The charity has also been involved in discussions with Manchester city council about how it can provide an alternative education for LGBT children in the area. Lee, who said she hoped the school would act as a trailblazer and inspiration for other areas, said it was unlikely that it would be a free school. “The consultation has a long way to go, but free schools tend to operate at arm’s length from local government, while we are thinking more along the lines of an alternative education provider that’s networked through the local pupil referral units, who will refer children to us for whom mainstream education isn’t working,” said Lee. A year at the school, which will be funded by the government, will cost £16,000, the same as other specialist schools. But Lee claims that the charity is saving other council services about £1.3m through early intervention and support for struggling children. “The school will have a gentle, supportive atmosphere. Its curriculum will be closely tailored to each child’s needs and incorporate academic work with youth-work techniques, such as building self-esteem and functional skills by working in the charity’s cafe or community garden,” she said. “It is about trying to develop something that helps people that need extra support.” Ellie (not her real name) turned to the LGBT Youth North West charity after she was outed by a school friend. “School was awful,” she said. “The PE teacher made me change clothes with the lads because she said I wasn’t attracted to them. “It annoyed me so much that I stopped going to PE, which meant I got in trouble for missing the lessons,” she added. Ellie eventually changed schools at 16. “There were comments all the time, in most of the classes and in the corridors, and none of the teachers did anything to help me.” Rob (also not his real name) said homophobic bullying made his education in a mainstream school horrendous. Teachers need to teach about how homophobia is bad and how it affects the lives of LGBT people, he said. “They need to help us feel safe in our own environment of school. And they should teach the other students how LGBT people just want to be like anyone else. But none of this happens and, as a result, LGBT pupils routinely experience bullying that, if it was racist or sexist, wouldn’t be accepted by the school for a second.” The new school is being planned as an extension to Manchester’s Joyce Layland LGBT Centre, currently a council-owned, site dedicated for LGBT organisations, incorporating a meeting space, offices, an LGBT library and a cafe. Sue Saunders, national chair of Schools Out UK, which has been campaigning for the rights of LGBT people in education for 40 years, said a specialist state school focusing on the needs of gay children was a crucial enterprise. “We are only too aware of how some schools leave their LGBT and questioning students to flounder and we know the high level of attempted suicides,” she said. “We strongly support this exciting and important venture.” A spokesperson for Manchester City Council confirmed that the council had been in discussions with the charity about providing an alternative education facility for LGBT children in the area. “We supported LGBT Youth NW in their bid for funding to look at the feasibility of expanding their premises and developing the work they do,” she said. “One of their development ambitions is around how they might make additional educational support available to LGBT young people. We’ve had an initial discussion with them about that but there are no current plans that we’re aware of to open a LGBT school in the city.”

In Austria, the BBC reports that some 2,000 people have staged a protest in Vienna after a lesbian couple said they were thrown out of a renowned cafe in the country's capital for kissing. The couple were ejected from the 112-year-old Cafe Prueckel last weekend for what they called a "greeting kiss." The cafe's manager admitted to an "excessive" reaction but said they were "canoodling" and she needed to ensure "recognised standards of behaviour." Vienna hosts several gay, bisexual and cross-dressing events every year. In 2013, 80,000 people voted for Vienna as their favourite cultural destination on the website The couple said the protest was to draw attention to wider discrimination against gays. Anastasia Lopez, 26, told Austrian newspapers that she and Eva Prewein, 19, were barred from the cafe after Christl Sedlar, the manager, said "diversity such as this belongs in a brothel, not in a traditional coffee house." Ms Sedlar insisted he had acted because of the couple's "canoodling" rather than because they were gay. She later apologized for the "excessive" reaction but said her job was "to ensure that recognized standards of behaviour in society are adhered to by all guests." But the apology failed to stop anger on social media, which led to the city's tourist agency criticising Ms Sedlar's actions. "We are here to make a stand against intolerance and homophobia," Philipp Pertl, from the Rainbow Scouting Austria rights group, told reporters at the protest. "The law needs to change. It cannot be that gay and lesbians get thrown out of a cafe or restaurant for kissing," he added. The city has become a hotspot for the communities since Austria's bearded transvestite Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest last year.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Russian Health Minister Denies That Transgender Individuals Could Love Right To Drive Based On New Decree That Disqualifies Persons Who Have A "Sexual Disorder," Federal Judge Rules Michigan Must Recognize Hundreds Of Same Sex Marriages Performed During Brief Window In 2014, Idaho Republican Leaders Reverse Course And Approve Introduction Of Bill That Would Include Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Protections In State Human Rights Act, Kentucky's Rankin County School Board Attempts To Head Off Formation Of Gay-Straight Alliance By Arbitrarily Changing District's Club Policy, Mormon Leaders Move To Excommunicate Founder Of Online Forum For Supporting Same Sex Marriage And Ordination Of Women, California Jury Hears Former Long Beach Police Officer Faced Anti-Gay Discrimination After Being Scrutinized By Superiors

In Russia, the Health Ministry has denied widespread reports that transvestites and transsexuals could lose their rights to drive based on a new road safety decree. Although the decree provides for the disqualification of driving rights for certain individuals with psychological or behavioral disorders, the mere fact that a person has a "sexual disorder" does not mean that person cannot drive, Health Ministry spokesperson Oleg Salagai explained Tuesday in comments carried by Interfax. "The varying severity of mental disorders among patients — as well as their need for psychotropic drugs that significantly alter their reactions — make it impossible for [certain people] to drive," he was cited as saying. The ban therefore only relates to those who pose a danger to others on the road, Salagai said, adding that sexual orientation was not defined as a psychological disorder and could not be used to ban a person from driving. A decree signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and published on the government website earlier this month listed an array of health conditions that could disqualify someone from getting behind the wheel, including "personality and behavioral disorders" as defined by the World Health Organization's classification of health problems. The section in question — F60 to F69 — lists transsexualism and transvestism, among other "disorders of sexual preference," such as fetishism and voyeurism. "Disorders associated with sexual development and orientation" are also listed. Facing international criticism for its listing of transvestite orientation as a "disorder," the World Health Organization said in a statement that it will review its section on "sexual disorders" to account for recent advances in health-related knowledge.

On the day before the United States Supreme Court could decide whether to take up Michigan's same sex marriage case, a federal judge ruled that the state must recognize hundreds of such unions performed during a brief window when they were allowed last year. U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote Thursday that the marriages are valid, but put a hold on the decision for 21 days pending any appeal by the state. A different federal judge had struck down the state's gay marriage ban — adopted by voter referendum in 2004 — on March 21. More than 300 same sex couples in four counties got married the next day, before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages. Michigan has refused to recognize those marriages, a decision that can affect health insurance coverage and the ability of same sex couples to jointly adopt children. Goldsmith said those who married "acquired a status that state officials may not ignore, absent some compelling interest." Further, Goldsmith said the state showed no previous court decision approving an effort to impair the marital status of a couple who were lawfully married. Rather, he wrote, "there is a long history" of court decisions and laws rejecting the view that marital status "may be invalidated by a state after it was lawfully acquired under that state's law," Goldsmith writing that, "In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder." State Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement that his office is reviewing the ruling, and added that "the sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue, the better it will be for Michigan and America." The U.S. Supreme Court could decide Friday whether it will put Michigan's same sex marriage case on its calendar in time to be argued and decided by late June. Until now, the court has managed to avoid settling the issue for the nation as a whole. In the meantime, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states that allow same sex couples to marry. Last week, Florida became the 36th state to issue licenses for same sex unions. The plaintiffs in the Michigan case include the state's first married same sex couple, Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong of Ingham County. "Of course, we're ecstatic about it," DeJong told the Associated Press. "I saw the e-mail from our attorney and I started crying." DeJong also believes it's time for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. "We certainly need a resolution once and for all," she said. "I don't understand how marriage could be legal in 36 states and not others." The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight couples, said the ruling is "a victory for marriage equality." "These marriages are cherished and valid — same as any other — and it's only right that the courts and our country recognize as much. ... With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams." During an August hearing, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Michael Murphy encouraged Goldsmith to turn down the ACLU's request for an injunction and let an appeals court sort out the entire matter. "These things are not straightforward. ... It's not clean. It's not clear. It's not concise," said Murphy, who suggested the state would immediately appeal any adverse ruling by Goldsmith.

Idaho Republican leaders announced a change of course Wednesday and approved the introduction of a bill that would include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the state's Human Rights Act. The House Ways and Means Committee, made up of Republican legislative leadership, voted 6-1 to bring the proposed legislation to a full hearing. The legislation, commonly called the "Add the Words" bill has been denied a public hearing for nine consecutive years. "This is really a very, simple bill," said House Minority Leader John Rusche, who introduced the measure. "It enhances Idaho's freedom, it protects against discrimination in education, employment and public accommodation. It simply states that sexual orientation, or gender identity, cannot be used to deny rights and opportunities available to all Idahoans." Only House Majority Assistant Leader Brent Crane of Nampa voted against the bill, saying he voted to protect marriage between one man and one woman. The bill does not address same sex marriage, but Crane says that the two issues are closely connected. "If you believe, as I do, that traditional marriage holds this society together, this is the first toehold to peel away traditional marriage," Crane said, adding that he doesn't see any compromise where an anti-discrimination law could be passed that also protected religious freedom. Gay rights advocates have long pushed for such legislation, and last year dozens of protesters were arrested after taking part in a series of civil disobedience actions at the Idaho statehouse when lawmakers again refused to hold a hearing on the matter. "If it takes multiple days, that's fine," said House Speaker Scott Bedke. "We want to hear everyone that wants to testify, on both sides. I have full confidence that this will be done in a way that's befitting the issue and befitting the legislative process." However, while getting a full hearing is the furthest the effort has ever gotten in the Statehouse, the legislation faces an uphill battle passing among conservative GOP lawmakers who control both chambers. Republican leaders have promised a full hearing but not its passage. The Idaho Human Rights Act was created in 1969, banning discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin in housing, public accommodations, education and employment. In the years since, additional protections have been added to Idaho law, including prohibitions on employment discrimination against people over age 40 and prohibitions on employment and housing discrimination against those with disabilities. Last year, Republican Rep. Lynn Luker pushed for legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse to provide some services to gay or transgender would-be customers if the business person felt that providing the service would violate his or her religious beliefs. That bill was printed, but it was sent back to the committee after the protests and never became a law. To date, 19 states have passed anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Three states have passed laws just protecting against sexual orientation discrimination. In Idaho, 10 cities have bypassed the state and approved their own legal sexual orientation and gender identity protections. However, the city-led initiatives are not immune to resistance. Most recently, the city of Pocatello narrowly upheld its anti-discrimination law in a repeal effort in the November election.

In Mississippi, according to the Clarion-Ledger, Rankin County school board members approved a change in the district's school club policy on Wednesday after a group may have tried to form a Gay-Straight Alliance. Superintendent Lynn Weathersby brought up the issue at Wednesday's school board meeting. "There has been a group wanting to form a gay club. I talked to (board attorney) Freddie (Harrell) and several administrators about what we could legally do to limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want," Weathersby said. Weathersby said in the meeting after talking to the board attorney and administrators, he found that the best strategy for limiting organizations is by requiring parents to sign a consent form to allow their children to participate in the club. School board attorney Freddie Harrell echoed Weathersby, saying a gay club might violate education standards and principles adopted by the school district such as abstinence-only sexual education. However, when questioned after the meeting, Weathersby and Harrell said they did not know whether any such club attempted to form in a Rankin County school. Both emphasized after the meeting this change in policy applies to all student clubs. "This is not directed to any particular club but to organizations in general," Weathersby clarified, noting that the beginning of a new semester is a good time to review school policies and make appropriate changes. Federal law prohibits any school that receives federal funds to ban students from conducting a meeting in a limited open forum on the basis of religious, political or philosophical speech. A limited open forum is defined as a time when a school "grants an offering or opportunity for one or more noncurriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during the noninstructional time." The Human Rights Campaign released a statement condemning the motives behind the policy. "The policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board's actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers," said HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill. "Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass young LGBT people." According to the Mississippi Safe Schools Alliance, several high schools in the state either have a gay-straight alliance at their school or are working to form one. Ridgeland High School is one of those. Gay-Straight Alliances are student-led, student-initiated clubs that work to build communities and create a safer environment in the school for LGBT students. The group of students approached the school principal in December inquiring about creating an alliance. Madison County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ronnie McGehee said the principal had several meetings with the students and discussed particulars such as a staff sponsor, but the group is not yet official. "They can create safer, more inclusive schools which lessens the likelihood of harassment and bullying," Anna Davis with the Safe Schools Alliance said, noting the purpose of the GSAs depend on the particular school and the group's goals.

The New York Times reports that Mormon leaders have moved to excommunicate the prominent founder of an online forum for questioning Mormons, charging him with apostasy for publicly supporting same sex marriage and the ordination of women, and for challenging church teaching. John P. Dehlin, 45, host of the Mormon Stories website and podcast — a hub of discussion for thousands of skeptical Mormons — said that his regional church leader confirmed on Wednesday that a disciplinary hearing had been scheduled for January 25. Mr. Dehlin said he was told he would be disciplined and probably excommunicated if he refused to remove podcasts that are critical of the church and to disavow his support for women’s ordination and same sex marriage. “There’s no way I can agree to those terms,” he said in an interview from Logan, Utah. “I would prefer for them to leave me alone, but if given the choice between denying my conscience and facing excommunication, I’d much rather be excommunicated.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church, has in recent years been opening up and addressing sensitive questions about its history and theology, while simultaneously cracking down on members who publicly challenge church doctrine. The church claims 15 million members worldwide, six million of whom live in the United States. The last year has brought a wave of excommunications, including that of Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded Ordain Women, a group that supports women joining the priesthood. She was excommunicated in June, and Mr. Dehlin was warned then of the charges against him. After the expulsion of Ms. Kelly created an uproar, the church held off on excommunicating Mr. Dehlin, even after issuing him an ultimatum in August. This was the third time he had been investigated in the last 10 years and threatened with disciplinary action, he said. Eric Hawkins, a spokesperson for the church in Salt Lake City, said, “We respect the privacy of individuals, and don’t publicly discuss the reasons why a member faces church discipline. Those reasons are provided to a member by their local church leaders.” He added that Mr. Dehlin had received letters explaining the reasons for the disciplinary action against him. The letters, which Mr. Dehlin has published online, are far more general than the specific list of accusations that Mr. Dehlin said he was given verbally in meetings with his regional leader, known as a stake president. The threat of excommunication did not come as a surprise to Mr. Dehlin, who is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and counseling at Utah State University, or his supporters. In recent years, he has become an increasingly vocal critic of the church’s prohibition on gay relationships and its opposition to same sex marriage. He has conducted research on how church teachings have affected gay Mormons, and given a TED talk on being an ally to gay people. Mr. Dehlin was working for Microsoft and serving as a volunteer religious schoolteacher in 2001 when he said he first stumbled across “troubling and hard to find historical facts” about the church and its teachings in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. He says he founded the “Mormon Stories” podcast in 2005 to explore those issues with others, and has posted hundreds of lengthy interviews with Mormon scholars, historians and key figures in church culture. Many of the podcasts have been downloaded as many as 50,000 times, and others twice that amount. Jana Riess, a Mormon columnist at Religion News Service, said that Mr. Dehlin’s interviews included a broad spectrum of Mormons, including the orthodox, the curious, the doubters and the heretics — and that his following was similarly diverse. “The church is trying to work out what is acceptable discourse. Obviously, this is the 21st century and there are now tens of thousands of people who are online discussing Mormonism every day, and some of the public comments are not orthodox,” Ms. Riess said. “The question becomes, how can you police that, or do you even try? I think this is something they are still working out.” Critics of Mr. Dehlin say he has been courting excommunication for years by publicly disavowing some Mormon teachings. But the role he has played in modern church affairs is far more complex. He founded a website,, as a forum to persuade doubters to remain in the church. In recent years, he said, he was asked to share data he had collected with church officials on Mormons who wrestle with doubts and how to retain them in the church. But Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a group that defends the church, said that the likely reason Mr. Dehlin was facing excommunication is that he is a nonbeliever who advocates non-belief. “He wants to belong to the culture, to the community, but he doesn’t believe in the faith,” Mr. Gordon said. Each time Mr. Dehlin has been under investigation, he has submitted letters from hundreds of Mormons who testified that he persuaded them to remain in the church. Some ex-Mormons shun Mr. Dehlin’s website for that very reason: They say it is geared too much toward persuading people to stay in the faith.

In California, a former Long Beach police officer followed a dream and his father’s footsteps when he joined the force, but the department fired him because he was gay, his attorney told a jury Thursday. In his opening statement in trial of ex-Officer Brent Record’s lawsuit, lawyer David Tibor said his client had an exemplary record and good relations with his colleagues for the first seven of his eight years on the force, but things changed when he began being scrutinized by Sgts. Gerardo Prieto and Scott Jenson. The two are co-defendants, along with the city, in the case alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation. “They were looking to get him terminated, that was clear,” Tibor told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury. Deputy Long Beach City Attorney Haleh Jenkins countered that Record was not fired for being gay. She said several rank-and-file and supervisory members of the LBPD are also homosexual and that the city has a large population of gay residents, including the mayor, Robert Garcia. Jenkins said Record actually lost his job because he was afraid to handle the most serious of calls and did his best to avoid them. She said his actions “put the citizens of Long Beach in danger,” and that he resisted attempts by the department management to correct his behavior. After receiving complaints about Record from other officers, Prieto and Jenson monitored Record’s behavior for a week and provided information to the department’s internal affairs division, Jenkins said. Then-Chief Jim McDonnell -- now the Los Angeles County sheriff -- ultimately made the decision to fire Record in November 2011 after finding true 14 of 15 serious allegations of misconduct filed against him, Jenkins said. “The chief was very disappointed in the nature of his egregious actions,” Jenkins said. But according to Tibor, Record was subjected to derogatory remarks about being gay from fellow officers and also found fliers mocking him for his sexual preference, some of them left in the men’s restroom. Record complained to Lt. Elizabeth Griffin about being overly scrutinized by the two sergeants, but she disbelieved him and gave the benefit of the doubt to Prieto and Jenson, Tibor said. Tibor said Prieto and Jenson knew Record was gay and that he was once given an assignment on the basis of his sexuality after being told by one of the sergeants that it was “right up your alley.” Record eventually told Prieto and Jenson he believed his work was being unfairly scrutinized more closely than that of other officers, Tibor said. “You guys are treating me different, you know why,” Record said, according to Tibor. “Treat me the same as everyone else.” Record, now 38, grew up in Long Beach and his father was a member of the LBPD for 32 years, Tibor said. Record continued to live in the city for a while after he was hired in 2003 until he realized that it was safer to move to Irvine, where he would less likely be followed home by criminals because of the distance involved, Tibor said. But Jenkins said that while Record was good at handling minor crimes, he was “less effective when it came to responding to more dangerous calls” involving “dead bodies” and “abused children.” She said Prieto and Jenson outlined their expectations of him in the hope that he would improve before they began monitoring his conduct closely for six days. “What they found out was shocking,” Jenkins said, telling jurors that Record’s alleged misconduct occurred “not once, but repeatedly.” Jenkins said that Griffin, whose responses to Record’s complaints were criticized by Tibor, is herself gay. Jenkins said the fired officer never raised the issue of his sexuality until he filed the current lawsuit in July 2012.