Friday, August 1, 2014

Ugandan Constitutional Court Invalidates Anti-Gay Law On Technicality But Battle For Full LGBT Rights Remains, Defendant In Appellate Court Decision Overturning Virginia Same Sex Marriage Ban Asks For Stay Pending U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Attorney For New Jersey Couple Who Challenged New Jersey Law Prohibiting Practice Of Gay Conversion Therapy Says He Will Appeal Dismissal Of Suit, St. Louis Police Arrest 40-Year-Old Darryl L. Jackson For Sending E-mail Threatening To "Exterminate" Leader Of City Gay Publication, Thermal California Man Held Without Bail Pleads Not Guilty To Killing 20-Year-Old Juan Ceballos In Crime Investigators Insist Happened Because Victim Was Gay, Texas Resident Casey Stegall Legally Fired From Position At Children's Home Of Lubbock Because He Is Gay, Matthew Mitcham Wins Gold Medal With Synchronized Diving Partner Domonic Bedggod

In the nation's capital, Kampala, the Associated Press reports that a Ugandan court on Friday invalidated an anti-gay bill signed into law earlier this year, pleasing activists and watchdog groups who called the measure draconian and wanted it repealed. The Constitutional Court declared the law illegal because it was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum. Activists erupted in cheers after the court ruled the law "null and void," but some cautioned that the fight was not over: The state could appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court and legislators might try to reintroduce new anti-gay measures. Also, a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts "against the order of nature" still remains in effect in Uganda, allowing for continued arrests. The invalidated law provided jail terms of up to life for those convicted of engaging in gay sex. It also allowed lengthy jail terms for those convicted of the offenses of "attempted homosexuality" as well as "promotion of homosexuality." Although the legislation has wide support in Uganda, it has been condemned in the West. The United States has withheld or redirected funding to some Ugandan institutions accused of involvement in rights abuses, but the ruling Friday might win the Ugandan delegation a softer landing in the U.S. next week as it heads to Washington for a gathering led by President Barack Obama. The panel of five judges on the East African country's Constitutional Court said the speaker of parliament acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite at least three objections - including from the country's prime minister - over a lack of a quorum when the bill was passed on December 20. "The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was a quorum," the court said in its ruling. "We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally." The courtroom was packed with Ugandans opposing or supporting the measure. Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan gay leader, said the ruling was a "step forward" for gay rights even though he was concerned about possible retaliation. Ugandan lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, an attorney for the activists, said the ruling "upholds the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the decision as a "victory for the rule of law," according to a statement read by U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. "He pays tribute to all those who contributed to this step forward, particularly the human rights activists in Uganda who spoke out at great personal risk." Lawyers and activists challenged the anti-gay law after it was enacted in February on the grounds that it was illegally passed and that it violated certain rights guaranteed in Uganda's constitution. The court ruled Friday that the activists' entire petition had been disposed of since the law was illegally passed in the first place. This means there will be no further hearings about the activists' argument that the anti-gay measure discriminated against some Ugandans in violation of the constitution. Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who was among the petitioners, welcomed the ruling but said there is a missed opportunity to debate the substance of the law. "The ideal situation would have been to deal with the other issues of the law, to sort out this thing once and for all," Opiyo said. He mentioned the existing law that still allows for arrests of alleged offenders. Lawmakers might also try to reintroduce a new anti-gay measure, he said. Kosia Kasibayo, a state attorney, said a decision had not been made on whether to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court, Uganda's highest court. The anti-gay legislation was enacted on February 24 by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who said he wanted to deter Western groups from promoting homosexuality among African children. Some European countries and the World Bank withheld aid over the law, piling pressure on Uganda's government, which depends on Western support to implement a substantial part of its budget. Ofwono Opondo, a Ugandan government spokesperson, had repeatedly described Western action over the law as "blackmail." Opondo and other government officials were not immediately available for comment after the Friday ruling. Supporters of the anti-gay measure say they believe Museveni - who will lead Uganda's delegation to the U.S. next week- may have quietly backed the court's ruling. Many Ugandans see the courts as lacking independence and unlikely to make decisions strongly opposed by Museveni, who has held power here for nearly three decades. "This ruling has got nothing to do with the will of the people," said Martin Ssempa, a prominent Ugandan cleric who has led street marches in support of the anti-gay measure. "Unfortunately, it has everything to do with pressure from Barack Obama and the homosexuals of Europe." Although Ugandan police say there have been no arrests of alleged homosexual offenders since the bill was enacted, gay leaders and activists say suspected homosexuals have been harassed by the police as well as landlords, sending many underground and unable to access essential health services. Ugandan police raided the offices of a U.S.-funded clinic that offered AIDS services to homosexuals after the bill was enacted. The HIV prevalence rate among homosexual men in the Ugandan capital of Kampala is 13-percent, about double the national average, according to the U.S.-based advocacy group Health GAP. It said in a statement that the court's decision was "a crucial development for increased access" to life-saving health services. "This is a great day for social justice," Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the United Nations AIDS agency, said of the Ugandan court's decision. "The rule of law has prevailed."

In Virginia, the Times-Dispatch reports that following Monday’s landmark appellate court decision to uphold a ruling to strike down the state’s same sex marriage ban, one of the defendants in the case has asked the court for a motion to stay the ruling, pending an eventual U.S. Supreme Court decision. Michele B. McQuigg, circuit court clerk in Prince William County, filed the motion today with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. She also waived her right for a rehearing before the full Court of Appeals, paving the way for a likely Supreme Court review this fall. In a 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges had agreed with U.S. Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen's ruling in February that the 2006 amendment to the Virginia Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause and due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

An update on a previous post: according to the AP, an attorney for a New Jersey couple says he'll appeal the dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged the state's ban on gay conversion therapy. The suit was filed by the unnamed couple and their teenage son last year. It claimed their constitutional rights were being violated because the ban prevents them from seeking treatment for their son. A federal judge in Trenton dismissed the lawsuit in a ruling released Thursday. Attorney Demetrios Stratis says he will appeal the ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The court is considering an appeal in another challenge to New Jersey's law filed by a group that includes two licensed therapists who practice the therapy. A ruling in that case is pending.

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reports that a judge set bail at $10,000 and ordered a psychiatric examination for a man charged with sending an e-mail threatening to "exterminate" the leader of St. Louis' gay publication, the Vital Voice. Darryl L. Jackson, 40, was caught last Friday as he wrote a similar e-mail on a computer at the Forest Park campus of St. Louis Community College. He is charged with harassment motivated by discrimination to frighten or disturb another person, which is a felony. Jackson lives in the 1700 block of North Market Place. He has previous convictions for harassment, in 2007 and in May of this year, and was put on probation both times. In this latest case, St. Louis police were told by several people and organizations, including the Vital Voice, that they had been receiving threatening and intimidating emails since late April. Police investigators traced the e-mails to a computer at the community college. Last Friday, police were told that Jackson was using a computer on the campus to write a threatening and intimidating e-mail to another organization, court documents allege. It was similar to the previous e-mails. In one, sent to the Vital Voice, the author said he would "exterminate" them and referred to representatives as weasels and inferior vermits. Vital Voice is a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazine in St. Louis. The complaint filed by the St. Louis circuit attorney's office says Jackson was motivated by the group's sexual orientation and that his e-mails "frightened, intimidated or caused emotional distress to Vital Voice." Jackson was charged Saturday, and Judge Thomas Frawley set the bail at $10,000, cash only.

In California, the Desert Sun reports that a Thermal man pleaded not guilty Friday to killing a Mecca resident in a crime investigators say happened because the victim was gay. Miguel Bautista Ramirez entered his plea in Riverside County Superior Court at Larson Justice Center. Along with murder, he faces hate crime and lying-in-wait allegations. He was arrested Monday on suspicion of killing Juan Ceballos, a 20-year-old College of the Desert student. Ceballos was pronounced dead shortly after authorities were called at 11:59 pm to the 65-000 block of Dale Kiler Road about an assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. A friend described Ceballos as the son of an agricultural worker and the oldest of five children. The Desert Mirage High School graduate had just gotten home with pizza for his family when he was shot, the friend said. According a felony complaint filed against Ramirez, prosecutors believe he killed Ceballos because of a "bias against" gays. The complaint contends the killing was premeditated and intentional. Ramirez is being held in the Riverside County Jail in Indio without bail.

In Texas, Casey Stegall’s direct supervisor knew he was gay. But, after he introduced his fiancé to the kids he worked with at the Children’s Home of Lubbock, he was fired. “I got fired just for me being who I am,” he said. A year after being hired and spending week after week caring for the children living at the home, he was dismissed for circumstances revolving around what Lynn Harms, president of the organization, called Stegall’s lifestyle choices. “As a faith-based, church-related outreach providing welfare services, if you will, to children and families, there is a set of biblical values that we adhere to and live by,” Harms said. “When you are implementing life training and so forth — particularly with children — to put a confused message out there is counterproductive.” In Stegall’s eyes, it was discrimination, but in the eyes of the law, it's legal. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia have rules barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation — Texas isn’t one of them. Six cities and one county in Texas offer gays and lesbians protection against this type of discrimination — Lubbock isn’t one of them. Even with such a law, most have an exemption for churches and religious organizations. While no city on the South Plains has an ordinance specifically addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Mayor Glen Robertson said he's open to the idea. “If anybody brought that issue forward, I’d be open-minded and look at it,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I do think should be done at the federal level, and I’m surprised that there isn’t a federal or a state law regarding that, especially as tight as our (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) stuff has gotten.” Stegall knew what he wanted to do with his life at an age when the biggest decision most people make is what to wear the next day. Spending time with a child with a terminal illness and a cheerful outlook, Stegall knew working with kids was his calling. As a human development and family studies major at Texas Tech, Stegall landed a job caring for children who’d never experienced a positive family atmosphere. “I got to be a part of their lives and I got to see that change in them from when we first got them, and I got to see them leave a whole new person,” he said, thinking of the children he worked with who have since been adopted. Then, during a planned day trip out of the Children’s Home in early July, Stegall introduced the group of teenage boys to his fiancé. Days later, Harms asked the caregiver to meet with him on Stegall’s day off. That’s when Stegall learned he no longer had a job. “He told me that because of my lifestyle choices, he didn’t feel comfortable with me being on his team anymore,” he said. Stegall said he had a spotless employment record with the organization and was often praised by his supervisors for the work he did with the kids. Still, he was fired without an opportunity to defend himself against accusations of public displays of affection with another man, he said. Other employees who have been accused of what Stegall described as more heinous conduct were placed on paid leave until an investigation into the claims was completed. Stegall was not given that opportunity, he said.
Stegall was aware of the organization’s Christ-centered mission when he applied for the job, but he never expected his relationship status to send him to the unemployment office. “My fiancé and I are both Christians and we both attend church,” he said. “I read the same Bible you read, I believe in the same God you believe in.” Stegall has tried to find lawyers to represent him in suing his former employer, but had no luck. “I want my case out there — even if I lose,” he said. “I want my case out there so that people know that this is happening to people like me.” Harms declined to talk specifically about Stegall’s employment, but said in a broad sense modeling a lifestyle not in line with the organization’s interpretation of the Bible is not acceptable, and new employees are briefed on the Children’s Home’s values during orientation. “If you want to try to force our culture to meet your expectations, that’s not going to go well,” Harms said. “I don’t feel like the culture here has to meet an individual’s desire for the world to be different.” Homosexuality isn’t the only lifestyle choice that falls into that category, Harms said. A person who is sexually promiscuous could also be dismissed on the same grounds. “Presenting a lifestyle that is damaging to kids could be a whole lot of things,” he said, citing aggression and ungodliness as examples.
Being gay is not always a fireable offense at the Children’s Home, however. Harms said there are employees who “fly under the radar,” adding that, “The core of it is how they conduct their business here." Sexual preference doesn’t usually come up during an interview, but Harms said other homosexual employees have been fired for similar reasons. Many of the kids who end up in the Children’s Home often come with a history of sexual abuse. From a therapeutic standpoint, Harms said homosexuals working with kids in that situation can be problematic. “It gets garbled in terms of sexual identity, sexual preferences, fears, concerns, retraumatization,” he said. Local psychologist Brian Carr, however, said being around a gay man is no more traumatizing to a sexual abuse victim than being around a straight man. “There is no effect — that’s ludicrous,” he said. “He is combining the idea that people who are gay also have to have some sort of history of either being sexually molested or being sexual molesters, and that is not true.” There is a stigma — an antiquated one, Carr said — about gay men working with children. “That is prejudicial and completely inaccurate.” It would be illegal for the organization to fire someone for being a man, for being a Christian or because he is Caucasian. Firing someone for being gay, however, doesn’t break any laws at the local, state or federal level in the United States. “I think that a lot of people think that because we all deserve a fair shake at work that it must be illegal to discriminate against somebody because he is gay. That’s not true,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. And, even though there is protection in some areas of the country, many of those laws have religious exemptions, she said. “So, no matter where somebody works, there is always a risk that they could get fired for being gay or lesbian and the employer could just say it point blank. There would not be any legal recourse,” Rebecca Robertson said. Houston is the most recent Texas city to pass a municipal ordinance addressing the issue, after Mayor Annise Parker — the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — led the charge. The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, the ordinance passed in May is being challenged in court, Rebecca Robertson said. At the national level, an executive order issued by President Barack Obama Monday addresses the issue, but only impacts employees of companies with federal contracting work. “America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said at a signing ceremony from the White House East Room. He said it’s unacceptable that being gay is still a firing offense in most places in the United States, according to a report by the Associated Press. The president also noted that more states allow same-sex marriage than prohibit gay discrimination in hiring. Until last month, Obama long resisted pressure to pursue an executive anti-discrimination order covering federal contractors in the hope that Congress would take more sweeping action banning anti-gay workplace discrimination across America, according to the AP. A bill to accomplish that goal — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — passed the Senate last year with some Republican support, but has not been taken up by the GOP-controlled House. “We’re here to do what we can to make it right,” Obama said in the AP report. Texas cities with protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation are Austin, Dallas and Dallas County, El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston, though that city's ordinance is currently being challenged in court.

Australia's Matthew Mitcham and Domonic Bedggood have won gold in the men's 10m platform synchronized diving, edging out England and Malaysia. The pair brought out the big dive when it mattered, chalking up 88.56 points with a back 2 1/2 somersault 2 1/2 twist, which saw them overtake Malaysia's Ooi Tze Liang and Chew Yiwei on the final jump. Malaysia had led the pack after five dives, only to see England's Tom Daley and James Denny scored a huge 95.46 on their final dive to surge into second place. It proved a costly slow-down for Malaysia in an event with only four pairs in the final, meaning only gold and silver medals were awarded. For Australia, though, it was a joyful finish as Mitcham finally broke his gold medal duck at the Commonwealth Games. "I was almost resigned to believing 'You know what, eight silver medals would be really nice.' I am so happy," Mitcham told Channel 10. "It's all thanks to this guy," he added, embracing Bedggood. "To be honest, everyone had a pretty shocking competition. It was a race to the bottom for most of it. "The English pair started off the last round with their frontal and a half, which they totally bombed in training, and then they nailed it in the competition." But despite that excellent English finish, Bedggood said as soon as the Australian pair touched down, they knew they had surged exactly when required. "I was very nervous all through the rounds. I was a bit shaky. Everyone was a bit hit and miss. Then I hit the last one, I knew it was the one," Bedggood said. "It is still sinking in. In the coming days, it will start to sink in more. "We have got individual tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm happy that I could be a part of Matt's golden moment." It followed a great day on the board for Mitcham, with the 2008 Olympic gold medallist claiming silver alongside Grant Nel in the 3m synchronised diving event. Mitcham and Nel finished on 403.14 points after six dives, behind England's Jack Laugher and Chris Mears, who scored 431.94.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Russian Prosecutors Threaten To Block Access To Gay News Website Queer House, Beijing Court Hears Landmark Case On Gay Conversion Therapy, Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Same Sex Domestic Partner Registry, Social Media Manager In Utah Fired Because Employer Thought Word "Homophones" Promoted Gay Agenda, Music Director At Holy Family Catholic Church In Illinois Fired After Announcing Engagement To Male Partner, Court Sentences Musab Mohammed Masmari To Ten Years In Prison For New Year's Eve Arson Attack On Seattle Gay Bar, For Second Time Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging New Jersey Ban On Gay Conversion Therapy, San Francisco Board Of Supervisors Unanimously Vote To Change The Name Of Lech Walesa Street To Dr Tom Waddell Prize After Former Made Inane Anti-Gay Comments

In Russia, prosecutors are threatening to block access to a Russian-language, gay news website called, accusing it of disobeying a law against "homosexual propaganda," national media reported Thursday. According to the Moscow Times, the owner of the site, well-known Russian gay activist Dmitry Chunosov, was earlier this week ordered to pay 50,000 rubles ($1,400) to two women who the website said were lesbians. Chunosov, who is living in Germany and seeking asylum there, is now accused of promoting nontraditional sexual relations to minors via his website, according to prosecutors in Russia's central Lipetsk region. The prosecutors have asked Russia's federal media regulator to block Internet access to within the country, fellow LGBT news site reported, citing local media outlet Gorod48.

In China, a Beijing court on Thursday heard a landmark case on "gay conversion" treatment, while outside the courtroom an activist in a nurse's uniform knelt over a patient, wielding a giant needle. "Homosexuality doesn't need to be cured!" chanted supporters. "Haidian Court, oppose conversion therapy!" Homosexuality was de-classified as a mental disorder in China in 2001 but widespread intolerance toward gays and lesbians remains, and activists hailed the unprecedented case as a significant step forward. AFP reports that the plaintiff, who is gay and has given his name only as Xiao Zhen, says the Xinyu Piaoxiang clinic in Chongqing traumatised him when he was electro-shocked after being told to have sexual thoughts involving men. He is also taking action against China's top Internet search engine, Baidu, for running advertisements by the facility. Those who come out to friends and family in China often face significant pressure to undergo sexuality "treatment" or marry a partner of the opposite sex. "It's the first case about anti-conversion therapy in China," said Xiao Tie, 28, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, which is backing the legal action. "In China, most people who undergo 'conversion therapy' do so because they are pressured by their family. Parents, once they realise their child is gay, urge him or her to go to a psychiatric hospital or undergo treatment," she said. Most people who claim that they have been successfully "converted" by the therapy only say so in order to stop the distressing treatments, she added. Conversion therapy has more than a century of history around the world, but has fallen out of favour with medical authorities. Nonetheless the lucrative industry persists in countries from Singapore to Britain and the United States -- where reports of electro-shock use have added to momentum for a ban. The Beijing court is expected to rule on the case within a month. Zhang Rui, 21, who is in charge of the Beijing LGBT Centre's psychological counselling programme, said advocates hope the action will help change Chinese public perceptions of gays as suffering from mental illness. "We're here to tell even more people that conversion therapy is not scientific," she said. "Homosexuality can't be 'cured.'" Homosexuality was a crime in China until 1997, and while attitudes in cities have relaxed in recent years, gay rights advocates walk a tightrope in the country. Outside the court on Thursday, Beijing police allowed about a dozen protesters to demonstrate unhindered. But LGBT groups in China are barred from registering as official non-governmental organisations (NGO), and activists often take a low-profile approach to promoting events lest the authorities decide to crack down. Last May, a 19-year-old gay rights campaigner in the central province of Hunan was arrested for organising a 100-person protest that police described as "illegal." Earlier this year, an advocate in the same province made headlines when he announced he was suing officials for denying his request to establish a gay-rights NGO. Several participants in Thursday's demonstration told AFP that they had been detained by Beijing authorities in recent months for their actions. Among those outside the Haidian court was a 60-year-old man surnamed Ling, who flew to the capital from central China's Jiangxi province to attend. "My son is also gay," said Ling, who heads a trade union and whose son came out to him four years ago. "It's not an illness. ... There's no way to change it. So, we accept him."

In Wisconsin, the Journal Sentinel reports that the state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a 2009 law that establishes a registry for same sex couples, saying it does not violate an amendment to the state's constitution banning gay marriage. The registry gives same sex couples the right to hospital visits, family medical leave to care for a stricken partner, health benefits under a partner's insurance and the right to inherit assets when a partner dies. The court said the ban on same sex marriage did not include a ban on certain rights for same sex couples. Wisconsin voters approved the gay marriage ban in a 2006 referendum. A patchwork of legislation and popular votes has made same-sex marriage legal in 19 U.S. states and banned in 31 while a tangle of appeals are working their way through federal courts. In a number of states marriage is banned but same sex couples have access to some benefits through legal provisions. Wisconsin's ban on same sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in June. That ruling was appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which will hear oral arguments on the case in August. "The lower court decision, which I think will be affirmed by the 7th Circuit, will eclipse the Supreme Court decision today, in the sense that there may be full marriage equality so you wouldn't need the provisions that were affirmed today," said Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. The registry was created under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and now has more than 2,000 couples on it, according to gay rights groups. Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-gay rights group, argued in a 2010 lawsuit that the registry violated the amendment because it resembles marriage under state law.

In Utah, a social media manager in Provo is unemployed after his employer took offense to a blog post he wrote explaining homophones, saying it promoted the gay agenda. Tim Torkildson was employed as a social media specialist for Nomen Global Language Center where, among other things, he managed the tutoring service's blog. NGLC specializes in English as a second language classes for foreign students and recent immigrants. In mid-July, Torkildson was called into the office of NGLC owner Clarke Woodger, who fired him for a recent blog post explaining homophones -- two words that sound, and in many cases are spelled, the same way but have two different meanings, such as road, rode and rowed. "Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality," Woodger said to Torkildson according to an account posted on Torkildson's personal blog. Woodger then allegedly fired Torkildson for the offence. Seeing as words like homogenized and Homo sapiens don't seem to confuse anyone, Woodger's reason for concern could be interpreted as homophobic in nature and more offensive than the perceived LGBT implications of "homophone." Woodger told the Salt Lake Tribune, "People at this level of English ... may see the 'homo' side and think it has something to do with gay sex." It's not unlikely that's the first place Woodger's mind went, given his reaction and Torkildson's claim that Woodger admitted he was unfamiliar with the basic linguistic term. "I had to look up the word because I didn't know what the hell you were talking about. We don't teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it's extremely inappropriate." Despite appearing as equally uneducated and homophobic, Torkildson insists the firing was not an act of knee-jerk bigotry, telling reporters, "[Woodger]'s an understanding guy. I would call him broad-minded." Torkildson had worked at the center for three months before being terminated. He was hired on April Fool's Day.

In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports that a longtime music director at Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness said he was fired from his job Sunday after he announced that he was engaged to his male partner. Colin Collette, of Chicago, said Wednesday that church leaders knew he was gay long before he posted the announcement of his wedding plans on Facebook. "This has not been a secret," said Collette, who added that he held the job at Holy Family for 17 years. "My partner has read for the church at Mass. … We have been living together for five years." Leaders of the northwest suburban church, known for its nontraditional, contemporary style of delivering Mass, deferred all questions to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which released a statement: "The Archdiocese of Chicago is aware of the action taken by the leadership at Holy Family Parish in Inverness. The decision by the pastor of Holy Family was made with the knowledge of the archdiocese and in consultation with the archdiocese; however, we do not comment on or discuss an individual's personnel issues," the statement adding that, "Pastors hire and dismiss all parish personnel and govern according to the teachings of the Church and Archdiocesan policies. This is a matter of personal integrity on their part. Those that serve as ministers of the Church, including worship ministers, are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the Church." Collette's partner, William Nifong, is a Latin teacher at Northside College Preparatory High School. Nifong proposed to Collette last week, while the couple were in Rome, Collette said. After he returned home, he headed worship for weekend Masses before being called into the pastor's office, he said. "He said, 'I know that this is something that you've wanted for a long time,' " I said, 'Yeah, I think this is what everyone wants, to be happy and be loved. He said, 'In light of that, I would be happy to receive your resignation.' " Collette said he refused to resign, and was told the next day that his services were no longer needed. "The church was founded to be not your traditional Catholic church," Collette said. "This was a place where, our hallmark was, all are welcome. Until now."

In Washington State, a was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday for setting fire to a popular Seattle gay nightclub packed with New Year's Eve revellers, reports Reuters. No one was badly hurt in the December 31, 2013, attack on Neighbors, a decades-old establishment filled with 750 people when Musab Mohammed Masmari, 30, doused a carpeted stairway with gasoline and set it alight. Club patrons and employees quickly extinguished the flames. Masmari pleaded guilty in May to one federal count of first-degree arson. He was never charged with a hate crime in connection with the incident, but prosecutors maintained his actions were driven by bias. "Motivated by ignorance and intolerance, this defendant put more than 700 lives at risk when he purposely started a fire at a crowded nightclub on New Year's Eve," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement. "We are fortunate that the workers acted so quickly – or we may have had a horrific tragedy," she said. While issuing the 10-year prison sentence, twice the length recommended by defense attorneys and prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez cited how many people might have been killed or badly hurt. "But for the actions of some very quick-thinking folks, we could have a very serious tragedy," the judge said. Masmari was captured on surveillance video entering the club around 11:30 pm through a side entrance, apparently to evade club security, prosecutors said. He was carrying a one gallon tank of gas hidden in a shopping bag and just after midnight doused a stairway with the fuel and lit it, then ran from the club, according to court documents. He was arrested by Seattle police and the FBI in February as he tried to board a one-way flight to Turkey. Masmari is an American citizen born in California to Libyan parents. Masmari's attorney said he plans to appeal the sentence.

For the second time in nine months, a federal judge in New Jersey has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on gay conversion therapy. The ruling filed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson rejected the claims of a New Jersey couple who said their constitutional rights were being violated because the law prevents them from seeking treatment for their 15-year-old son. Last November, Wolfson dismissed another challenge to the law filed by a group of plaintiffs that included two licensed therapists who practice what are called “sexual orientation change efforts,” referred to in court filings as SOCE. Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last year banning the therapy in New Jersey, saying at the time that the potential health risks trumped concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. New Jersey was the second state to pass such a law; California passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to that law in June. The unidentified New Jersey couple claimed in their suit that the state’s law violated their rights to free speech and freedom of religion, as well as their 14th Amendment right to equal protection, by “denying minors the opportunity to pursue a particular course of action that can help them address the conflicts between their religious and moral values and same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.” In her opinion, Wolfson wrote that the law doesn’t impinge on free speech because it covers conduct — the therapy, specifically — and not speech. The statute doesn’t restrict freedom of religion, she added, because it is neutral with respect to religion even if it “disproportionately affects those motivated by religious belief.” Finally, she cited numerous court rulings that have held that states have the right to regulate what medical or mental health treatments parents choose for their children. “Surely, the fundamental rights of parents do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful or ineffective,” Wolfson wrote. “To find otherwise would create unimaginable and unintentional consequences.” An attorney representing the New Jersey couple didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

In California, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to change the name of Lech Walesa Street to Dr. Tom Waddell Place. Supervisor Jane Kim proposed the name change earlier this year after Lech Walesa, a Polish politician who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize after co-founding the Solidarity independent trade movement, said publicly that gay people should not hold prominent political positions. Tom Waddell was a local gay activist who created the Gay Olympics, later renamed the Gay Games, and worked at a health center on the street that now bears his name. Waddell died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 49. The change "in no way takes away from Lech Walesa's achievements," Kim said when she introduced the proposal. "However, his recent comments are not representative of the city I'm a part of and its values of inclusiveness." The Tom Waddell Health Center includes a transgender clinic and "serves our most vulnerable and low-income residents," Kim said. The street is a small alleyway located between Grove and Hayes streets and Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street. The streets signs will continue to read "Lech Walesa Street" in smaller letters under the new name for a five-year transitional period.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Uganda Activists Petition Constitutional Court To Overturn Nation's Draconian Anti-Gay Laws, Arkansas Authorities Ask Federal Judge To Maintain Same Sex Marriage Ban Arguing It Constitutional, Lambda Legal Asks Appeals Court To Uphold Previous Ruling Striking Down State Same Sex Marriage Bam Campaign Championing Same Sex Marriage In Ohio Begins, Vehemently Anti-Gay Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt To Announce He Will Not Resign Despite Growing Pressure, Washington D.C. Police Arrest Assailant In Possible Bias-Motivated Attack

In Uganda, AFP reports that activists launched a petition Wednesday at the constitutional court seeking to overturn tough anti-gay laws that have been condemned by rights groups as draconian. Signed by Uganda's veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, the law calls for homosexuals to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities. But the activists argue that the law was passed in parliament without the necessary quorum of lawmakers. The 10 petitioners (including two Ugandan rights organizations) also claim that the law violates the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. "I have a very good feeling about it," the group's lawyer Nicholas Opio said after the hearing in a crowded courtroom. He said that if the judges decide the law was not correctly passed by parliament, "the entire act will collapse." Rights groups say the law has triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Western nations have also made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda in protest since the law was passed. But outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was in court, defended the law and warned against the "judicial abortion of our bill" due to international pressure. "Our teachings find sodomy as being repugnant, and our members of parliament were right in passing this law," Ssempa said. "It is really a question between the civilized and the barbarians." United States Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the Ugandan law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany. Washington last month froze some aid programmes, as well as cancelling military air exercises and barring entry to the US for specific Ugandan officials involved in "human rights abuses", including against the gay community. The White House said the legislation "runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship." Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has accused the government of using the issue of homosexuality to divert attention from domestic problems such as corruption scandals or Kampala's military backing of South Sudan's government against rebel forces. But homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence. With tabloid newspapers printing pictures of dozens of people alleged to be gay, scores have fled the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint report in May that Uganda's LGBT community had faced a "surge in human rights violations", with people being arrested, evicted or losing their jobs. The report claimed at least one transgender person had been murdered since the law was passed.

In Arkansas, the Associated Press reports that officials asked a federal judge Wednesday to keep the state's marriage ban in place, arguing the prohibition is constitutional and serves a legitimate purpose. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office asked U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to reject the motion for summary judgment filed by two same sex couples challenging the ban. The couples earlier this month asked Baker to rule immediately and find a 2004 constitutional amendment and any related laws barring gay marriage unconstitutional. The couples sued the state over the ban last year. In the filing, McDaniel's office said the summary judgment request was premature because Baker hasn't ruled on the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He also defended the constitutionality of the ban. "Amendment 83 and Arkansas Act 144 of 1997 are rationally related to numerous conceivable rational bases, and are there constitutional," the filing said. "Plaintiffs' summary judgment motion should be denied." The couples argued earlier this month that Arkansas' ban doesn't serve any purpose other than discriminating against same sex couples. The lawsuit also seeks to require Arkansas to recognize same sex marriages from other states. The immediate ruling is being sought as Arkansas' highest court is also considering the constitutionality of the ban. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban earlier this year, which led to 541 gay couples receiving marriage licenses before Piazza's ruling was suspended by the state Supreme Court. McDaniel, a Democrat serving his last year in office, has said he personally supports gay marriage but will continue defending Arkansas' ban in court. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday set a September 8 deadline for the state to file its brief in that case. Same sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts. Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

In Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reports that a legal organization representing same sex couples who are challenging the state’s ban on same sex marriage is urging an appeals court to uphold an earlier decision that struck down that ban. In an appellate brief filed Tuesday, attorneys from Lambda Legal argued that the decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young in June should be upheld, calling Indiana’s ban on same sex marriage “discriminatory.” Oral arguments for the federal appeals court hearing on Indiana’s request to overturn Young’s ruling will begin August 26. “No court has upheld a marriage ban against constitutional challenge since Windsor,” attorneys wrote, referencing a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that gave full federal recognition to legally married same sex couples. That decision led to federal lawsuits challenging state bans nationwide. “The Indiana marriage ban deserves the same fate,” the appellate brief said. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier denied a request from the state to have the appeal heard by all 10 of the court’s judges rather than a three-judge panel. After Young’s ruling in June, same sex marriage in Indiana was legal for three days, leading hundreds of gay couples to rush to courthouses and wed. When state officials turned to the 7th Circuit Court to appeal Young’s ruling, they obtained a stay that stopped the marriages, pending the outcome of the appeal.

In Ohio, television advertising about same sex marriage is back for the first time in a decade, even though nothing about the issue is on the November ballot. According to the Columbus Dispatch, an official with Why Marriage Matters Ohio, a statewide coalition advocating same sex marriage, said the new ad — featuring two elderly Ohioans, Henry Hawley and George Vassos of Chagrin Falls near Cleveland — is part of a continuing education campaign. But it’s also clear that the 30-second ad, which begins today and runs through next Wednesday, is timed to lead up to a legal showdown on that final day, when five same sex marriage cases from four states are to be argued at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. “Attitudes in Ohio and across the country are changing fast as communities are coming together to have very serious conversations about the meaning of family, fairness and the future,” Michael Premo, campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, said in a statement. “Our hope is that sharing Henry and George’s story of love and commitment will accelerate those conversations and further increase support for marriage equality in Ohio.” The men were married last fall in New York after 50 years together as a couple. The ad may be seen on YouTube. In an accompanying fundraising message, Hawley and Vassos said their wedding was “a very special moment for both of us, but the moment we crossed state lines to return to Ohio — those words and the commitment we made to each other were no longer recognized in the state we call home.” Ads on the marriage issue have not been on Ohio TV screens since 2004, when voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Battles since then have been fought in the courtroom. Phil Burress, head of Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati group that organized the 2004 amendment campaign, said he thinks same sex advocates are behind in the public-opinion polls and are trying to improve their position by running television ads. “This is really a simple issue. You either agree with it or don’t,” Burress said. “They’re going against the grain of intuition and what God has placed on their hearts.”

In Minnesota, Archbishop John Nienstedt will announce Thursday that he is not resigning as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, despite growing pressure for him to step down. According to the Star-Tribune, Nienstedt will make the announcement in his column in the The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the archdiocese. “To say that this has been a difficult year is quite an understatement,” wrote Nienstedt. “In the end, it comes down to this: eighteen years ago, Pope John Paul II chose me to serve the Church as a bishop, an authentic successor of the Apostles … I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here.” Nienstedt, who has led the Twin Cities archdiocese since 2008, has been under growing criticism for his handling of child clergy abuse cases in the archdiocese. A Minneapolis law firm hired by the archdiocese to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by Nienstedt with adults has completed its work and submitted a report. Auxiliary bishop Lee Piché said Tuesday that church officials will review that along with “any other information we receive.” Nienstedt’s announcement follows a series of calls for his resignation, including from the Star Tribune editorial page and the New York Times. “I regret that some have lost their confidence in me,” he wrote. “I hope ultimately to win back that trust.” He repeated that he has never knowingly covered up clergy sexual abuse. “I have, however, been too trusting of our internal process and not as hands on as I could have been in matters of priest misconduct,” he said. He said he now receives regular updates on misconduct cases and the Clergy Review Board. Nienstedt said he has created a new leadership team and hired a new victim’s liaison, a lay professional who will serve as a “continuous voice for victims,” adding that, “I am devoted to serving this local church, and I will continue to do so and to apply these hard lessons that I have learned over the past months. While it may be difficult to believe, the suffering we have endured is bearing much fruit in reform of practices and correction of decisions that were made in the past, either by me or my predecessors."

In D.C., the Washington Post reports that a 15-year-old Metro passenger suffered a minor stab wound on a Green Line train Wednesday afternoon, and the alleged assailant was arrested shortly afterward in the Fort Totten station in Northeast Washington, a transit authority spokesperson said. Metro Transit Police said that the assailant may face stiffer penalties for a bias-motivated attack, since the victim is transgender and the attacker reportedly made comments about her gender identity immediately prior to the stabbing. The incident occurred just after 4:30 pm aboard a Branch Avenue-bound Green Line train shortly before it arrived at Fort Totten, spokesperson Caroline Laurin said. She said the victim, a transgender teenager who identifies as a female, suffered a wound on the left side of her back that was not life-threatening. She remained hospitalized on Wednesday night, and police said her condition was stable. Police at the Fort Totten station arrested Reginald Anthony Klaiber, 24, of Greenbelt. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, a 3.5-inch folding knife. Under D.C. law, police said, he could face a sentence up to one and a half times longer if he is convicted of a hate crime.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sweden Resumes Aid To Uganda After Suspending It Over Draconian Anti-Gay Laws, Colorado Supreme Court Issues Ruling Stopping Boulder Clerks From Issuing Marriage Licenses To Gay And Lesbian Couples, Wyoming Judge Declines To Suspend Suit Challenging Constitutional Validity Of Law Defining Marriage As That Between One Man And One Woman, Survey Suggests LGBT Arkansas Residents Face Shocking Harassment And Discrimination, Attorneys Representing Man Accusing Bryan Singer Of Sexual Abuse Drop Him As Client

Sweden has resumed financial aid to Uganda after suspending some assistance in March over a law widely condemned by donor nations that increases punishment for homosexuals. Reuters reports that Uganda relies on aid to fund about 20-percent of its annual state budget, but it has resisted Western pressure to rescind the law, enacted in February, which imposes jail terms of up to life for "aggravated homosexuality", including gay sex with a minor or while HIV-positive. The Swedish embassy in Kampala said it would provide 1.35 billion crowns ($198 million) over the next five years to improve child and maternal health, sustainable growth and employment in the east African country. "Sweden wants to help create better conditions in Uganda for sustainable economic growth and development. This is why Swedish aid to Uganda will remain substantial," Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Hillevi Engstrom said. "Sweden continues to support human rights and freedom from violence", the embassy said in its English-language statement. In a Swedish-language statement issued by the foreign ministry in Stockholm last Thursday, Engstrom also said: "I will specifically monitor the situation of women's rights and LGBT rights. It is important that LGBT people and others do not become scapegoats because of changes in Swedish aid." The Ugandan law also criminalizes lesbianism for the first time and makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts. In March, Sweden said it would immediately cut aid totaling about $1 million to Uganda because of the law. Other donors including Norway, Denmark, the United States and the World Bank also cut aid. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has rejected criticism that the law fans homophobia and has accused the West of "social imperialism" in its approach towards African countries. However, in a possible softening of its stance, Kampala recently said donors had misinterpreted the law, which it said had been intended to prevent promotion of gay sex to children, not to punish or ostracise homosexuals. The Ugandan shilling has been under some pressure since Museveni signed the law, amid concerns over the impact of the dispute with aid donors on the state budget. Homosexuality is taboo in many African countries and illegal in 37 nations on the continent. Most Ugandans back the latest anti-gay bill, which also has the support of influential Ugandan church leaders.

In Colorado, Boulder's county clerk, who has defiantly issued more than 200 marriage licenses to same sex couples, reluctantly stopped after the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on Tuesday. According to the Denver Post, the state's high court said it will hear arguments in an ongoing fight over whether clerks can issue marriage licenses to gay couples before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of gay marriage bans. In accepting the case, the court also ordered Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall — the first and last Colorado clerk to issue licenses — to immediately stop. But the order also indicates that the earliest the state Supreme Court will make a ruling on the issue would be late this year, possibly giving the state a breath after weeks of rapid developments in the various cases. The order was a victory for Attorney General John Suthers, who had offered compromises to Hall, issued deadlines and asked both local and state judges to stop her from issuing the licenses. Until Tuesday, Hall had seen a month-long string of legal victories that had allowed her to continue issuing the licenses even as other clerks were told to halt the practice. "This really was jumping the gun," Suthers said of Hall's decision to issue the licenses. "In the sense that, yes, the state of anticipation, the state of perceived inevitability, but that does not justify abandoning the process by which legal change comes about." Suthers, who argued that Hall's actions were causing legal confusion in the state, told the Denver Post his office was pleased with the ruling and stressed the importance of all 64 clerks being "on the same page" as a higher court decides the issue. In a statement, Hall said she would stop issuing the licenses. "I am disappointed by the Colorado Supreme Court's stay, but I will comply with the order," Hall said in a statement. "Given the avalanche of recent cases determining that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, I am hopeful the stay will be short-lived and that we will be able to resume issuing licenses soon." Hall's office has issued 202 licenses to same sex couples since the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Utah's gay marriage ban unconstitutional on June 25. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order that prevents gay marriages from going forward in Utah, for now. The Supreme Court will announce whether it will hear arguments in the case as early as this fall. But it remains uncertain if the Colorado Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take up the issue. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not take up the Utah case, then the 10th Circuit decision stands, and gay marriage bans in all six states within the district — including Colorado — become unconstitutional. About 350 same sex marriage licenses have been issued in Colorado since Hall stated approving the licenses in June. The question of their validity has not yet been addressed in court. Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree ruled the state's voter-approved ban unconstitutional on July 9, but he immediately stayed his ruling. The next day, Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Hartman denied a request by Suthers to stop Hall from issuing the licenses. That ruling led clerks in Denver and Pueblo counties to begin issuing licenses as well. Eight days later, the state Supreme Court rejected Suthers' emergency request to order all 64 clerks to quit approving the licenses and instead ordered only Denver and Adams counties to stop. The Adams clerk had not started issuing the licenses, and Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson immediately stopped. On July 21, Suthers persuaded Pueblo Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz quit issuing licenses. The same day, Suthers asked the Colorado Court of Appeals to order Hall to stop, and that request was later denied. Suthers on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to stop Hall.

In Wyoming, the Associated Press reports that a state judge declined Tuesday to suspend a lawsuit contesting a law that specifies marriage is limited to one man and one woman. Instead, Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell said at a hearing he will consider any additional facts in the case and in November will either rule on the law on the spot or allow the case to go ahead. "I think you all assume too much," Campbell said after both sides argued that federal lawsuits elsewhere either have resolved the question of gay marriage in Wyoming or soon will. Attorneys for Wyoming had argued that suspending the case would save time and effort while those cases move ahead. The plaintiffs in the case argued along similar lines that Campbell should simply rule in their favour. But Campbell said it's not known whether the U.S. Supreme Court will consider gay marriage, such as by examining a case out of Utah in which a federal appeals court in Denver ruled June 25 in favor of allowing same sex marriage. In Wyoming, four gay couples and the gay-rights advocacy group Wyoming Equality sued Gov. Matt Mead, Laramie County Clerk Debbye Lathrop and other state and local officials in March. The plaintiffs say that by not being allowed to marry, they are denied basic rights and privileges afforded to straight couples, such as the ability to be included in a family health insurance plan. An attorney for the state, Jared Crecelius, argued it would be more efficient for everybody if Campbell suspended the case pending the outcome of other gay marriage lawsuits further ahead in line to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. If Campbell doesn't suspend the case, Crecelius argued, he should give the state more time to collect evidence that could involve whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue. "We need to have a period where we can conduct our discovery and fully investigate these claims," he said. Campbell granted that request, setting out a 90-day period for additional evidence collection. Crecelius declined to comment after the hearing. An attorney for the plaintiffs, James Lyman, urged Campbell not to suspend the case. A lot could happen to any of the four couples in the year it might take for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage, he said. "Our plaintiffs are suffering harms every single day," Lyman said. Jeran Artery, chairman of Wyoming Equality, said he was pleased Campbell didn't suspend the case and might rule on Wyoming's marriage law this fall.

In Arkansas, a survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents found that one in four has experienced employment discrimination and more than one in three has experienced harassment at work, a group that promotes gay rights said Monday. The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign released findings from a survey conducted as part of Project One America, its campaign to promote LGBT equality in the South. The group said the online survey by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research of 979 people, who were recruited to participate through e-mail, social media and online ads, is the largest survey of the LGBT community ever conducted in Arkansas. According to the findings released Monday, 25-percent of respondents said they have experienced employment discrimination; 37-percent have experience harassment at work; and 45-percent have experienced harassment at school. Also, 39-percent of respondents said they have experienced harassment by family members; 43-percent have experienced harassment in public establishments; 16-percent have experienced harassment from a public servant such as a police officer; and 18-percent have experienced harassment at their houses of worship at least once a month. The survey found that 42-percent of respondents said they do not consider their doctor LGBT friendly and that only 25-percent have access to partner health insurance benefits. Researchers also looked at ways the LGBT community contributes to society. The survey found that 58 percent of respondents have called Arkansas home for more than 20 years; 9 percent have served or are serving in the military; 53-percent volunteer in their communities; 60-percent donate to charitable groups and nonprofits; one third are people of faith — 44-percent among African Americans; 32 percent have donated to their house of worship; and 57-percent of respondents ages 18-25 intend to have children one day. “The survey revealed LGBT Arkansans are just like their friends and family members — living, working, and volunteering in their communities,” Project One America director Brad Clark said in a news release. “However, they face harsh realities living in the state they call home. We have a moral responsibility to change that.”

Michael Egan, the man who accused X-Men director Bryan Singer of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager, is being dropped as a client by his lawyers. "We are in the process of withdrawing from representing Mr. Egan in all his cases and have no further comment concerning his matters at this time," said Florida attorney Jeff Herman in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. In April, Egan said in a complaint filed in Hawaii that Singer abused him in that state and in Encino in the late 1990s. In separate complaints, Egan also alleged he was abused by former Walt Disney Television President David Neuman, former NBC and WB television executive Garth Ancier and producer Gary Goddard. The suits against Neuman, Ancier and Goddard have been voluntarily dismissed by Egan's attorneys. The allegations were the talk of Hollywood when Herman and Egan first filed the suits and held news conferences detailing what the complaints referred to as a "sordid sex ring," in which teenage boys were allegedly plied with drugs and alcohol and then coerced into having sex with older men. It is unclear how Egan will proceed now that he is losing his legal representation. Herman's dropping of Egan was first reported by The online news organization also said that, in June, Singer agreed to settle the case for $100,000. The report cited a settlement document it says it reviewed. The document appeared to be signed by Singer, his attorney Martin Singer (no relation) and Herman, but Egan would not sign, according to "This exact kind of take-it-and-shut-up deal is why I decided to stand up in the first place," reported Egan as saying. Through a representative, Martin Singer confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the director was in talks to settle the case. Those discussions were initiated by the plaintiff's side, Martin Singer said. Herman declined to comment on the alleged document. "We cannot comment on any actual or purported documents that may or may not be or reflect privileged or confidential communications," he said. Martin Singer said that the relatively low settlement amount demonstrates a "lack of confidence" in the legitimacy of the allegations. "This was a last-ditch attempt to save face from what was nothing more than an unsubstantiated, unsuccessful shakedown of Bryan Singer based on false allegations," Martin Singer said through the representative. Bryan Singer's latest film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was released in May.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Longueuil Quebec Police Investigate After Family Threatened For Displaying Gay Pride Flag, LGBT Activists Stage First-Ever Violence-Free Gay Pride Rally In St Petersburg Russia, Federal Appeals Court Rules Virginia Same Sex Marriage Unconstitutional, Citing Virginia Ruling North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper Says He Will No Longer Defend State Same Sex Marriage Ban, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers Again Asks State Supreme Court To Order Boulder Clerk To Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses To Same Sex Couples, Study Suggests Gay Neighbourhood's Distinct Cultural Identity Being Diluted

In Quebec, Longueuil police are investigating after someone left a threatening note at a family's home which was displaying a Gay Pride rainbow flag. The handwritten note on lined notepad paper tells the family to remove what the writer calls the homosexual flag, saying they don't want their kind in the neighbourhood. It says to get rid of the flag, to shut up and they would be spared and they can continue their abominable life without prejudice. It concludes by saying if they kept the flag they would suffer the consequences. The anonymous note was circulated widely in social media and sparked an angy outcry against whoever wrote it. Police at first told the victim they couldn't do anything because it was an anonymous note but two days later and after much outcry on Facebook, they opened a file. If arrested, the person would face charges of intimidation and uttering threats. The family said through a friend they would not comment for the moment because they are afraid of repercussions. Ex-president of the gay help-line Gai-Écoute Laurent McHutcheon said such a threat in 2014 is unacceptable. "It's surprising to see in 2014 there are still cases like this," McCutcheon told CJAD 800 News. McCutcheon said anonymous threats are "easy" but no less tolerable and equates it with bullying. McCutcheon encourages people to file complaints and to persevere even if police don't listen at first. He said it's important for police to try to reassure victims. He added people can also contact organizations such as Gai-Écoute to denounce these types of acts and to record the complaint in its registry of homophobic acts.

In Russia, for the first time, a gay pride event went off without a violent incident, Radio Liberty reported Sunday. Some two dozen LGBT activists rallied on Saturday on the Field of Mars square in downtown St. Petersburg, the report said. Poor attendance has failed to stop attacks in the past: Four similar events held in the city in previous years, most of them unsanctioned, all saw violence by nationalists and religious conservatives. "The Nazis are busy with Donbass," unnamed event-goers were cited as saying by Radio Liberty. A pro-Russian insurgency ongoing in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine has been the focus of Russian politics in recent months. Russian LGBT activists have been campaigning to hold a gay pride parade since 2006, but most requests have been rejected, and in 2013, Russia banned "homosexual propaganda" targeting minors. However, an LGBT rally had been sanctioned last year for the first time in Russia in the newly created free-speech zone at the Field of Mars.

In Virginia, Monday, a federal appeals court declared today that Virginia’s prohibition on same sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. According to the Virginan-Pilot, it is the third such ruling at the federal appellate level following a string of similar decisions by district and state judges around the country and helps set the stage for a potential landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court settling the gay marriage issue for the entire nation. The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a February decision by U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen that the 400-year-old ban denies gay and lesbian Virginians their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The decision will not take effect for at least 21 days, pending an appeal. Besides overturning Virginia’s gay marriage ban, Monday’s ruling sets a legal precedent that undermines similar prohibitions in three other states in the 4th Circuit: North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. The Bostic v. Schaefer case originated a year ago when a Norfolk couple, Tim Bostic and Tony London, sued Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer after they were refused a marriage license. Virginia’s prohibition on same sex marriage, which dates from the Colonial era, was enshrined in the state constitution in 2006. Attorney General Mark Herring declined to defend it after concluding that it is unconstitutional. "This is truly a joyous and historic day for our commonwealth, and when our children study the fight for equality, they will know that Virginia was on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Herring said in a news conference after the ruling. The appeals court opinion was written by Judge Henry Floyd, joined by Judge Roger Gregory. Judge Paul Niemeyer dissented. Floyd was appointed by President Barack Obama, Gregory by President Bill Clinton, and Niemeyer by President George H.W. Bush. “Virginia’s same sex marriage bans impermissibly infringe on its citizens’ fundamental right to marry,” Floyd wrote in the majority opinion. Just as Judge Allen did, the appellate judges cited the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which overturned Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. They quoted the high court’s declaration in that case that the “freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The appellate judges found it notable that in the Loving case, the Supreme Court did not speak specifically of a right to interracial marriage but declared “a broad right to marry that is not circumscribed based on the characteristics of the individuals seeking to exercise that right,” adding that, “If courts limited the right to marry to certain couplings, they would effectively create a list of legally preferred spouses, rendering the choice of whom to marry a hollow choice indeed." Moreover, they said, subsequent Supreme Court rulings, including last year’s decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, “indicate that the choices that individuals make in the context of same sex relationships enjoy the same constitutional protection as the choices accompanying opposite sex relationships,” the judges saying that, “We recognize that same sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.” In his dissent, Judge Niemeyer wrote that the majority failed to explain how their ruling would preclude a father marrying his daughter or someone marrying multiple partners. The marriage issue should be left to the individual states, Niemeyer said, not dictated by the federal courts. “The U.S. Constitution does not, in my judgment, restrict the States’ policy choices on this issue,” Neimeyer wrote. “If given the choice, some States will surely recognize same sex marriage and some will surely not. But that is, to be sure, the beauty of federalism.” Bostic and London hailed the appellate ruling as another milestone in the fight for marriage equality. “Our victory today reminds us why we filed this lawsuit – to fight for respect and full equality not only for us, but for all Virginians,” Bostic said in a statement. Virginia Beach attorney Tom Shuttleworth, who filed the case with his law partner Bob Ruloff, declared it “a great day for our clients and all Virginians. Today’s decision continues Virginia’s progress toward ensuring all loving couples are guaranteed their freedom to marry the person whom they love.” The two local lawyers were joined by nationally known attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who argued the case that allowed gay marriages to resume in California last year. Another couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County, joined the case as co-plaintiffs. The two have been together 30 years and have a teenage daughter. But their 2008 marriage in California wasn’t recognized in Virginia. The defendants could seek a rehearing by the full appeals court or appeal the ruling directly to the Supreme Court. Calls to their attorneys were not immediately returned. Herring said he would not oppose a motion to delay implementation of the decision pending an appeal. Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) a co-author of the gay marriage ban in Virginia’s constitution, called the court’s ruling “a judicial kiss of death for America,” Marshall, in a statement, adding that, ”If judicial elites impose a radical and immoral marriage regime on American citizens in defiance of the ‘Laws of Nature and Nature's God,’ the result would be to tear the social fabric in ways that can scarcely be imagined, nor contained by judicial arrogance.” Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine each issued statements of support for the decision.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that in North Carolina, the attorney general said Monday that the state would stop defending its same-sex marriage ban against legal challenges, just hours after the federal appeals court ruling finding the Virginia same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. At a news conference Monday afternoon, Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper said he had made the decision because the appeals court ruling "predicts our law will be struck down," adding, "Simply put, it is time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward, knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court." Voters in the state approved the ban, known as Amendment One, in 2012. The highly restrictive law defined marriage as the legal union of a man and woman, and also banned civil unions and domestic partnerships for gay and straight couples. It passed with 61-percent of the vote. Four pending cases challenge the ban, which is similar to Virginia’s, Cooper said. The proceedings in three of the four cases were stayed pending today’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, and there is a motion to stay in the fourth. Legal experts say the next step for plaintiffs in North Carolina would be to reopen those proceedings in the state’s district courts. “I think those plaintiffs will go forward and try to have the district judges rule in their favor, and invalidate that ban,” said Professor Carl Tobias, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Richmond. “Then at least that will be on the record.” Without state attorneys to defend the law, and with today’s ruling from the federal court, overturning the ban could, in theory, be a simple sequence of events. But, Tobias says, the fate of same sex marriage bans in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia depends more immediately on whether the federal court decision will be stayed so that higher courts can work out the legal issues. Monday’s ruling did not automatically stay the decision. Tobias says it’s likely clerks in Virginia will seek, and be granted, a stay while they appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the stay is not granted, however, Tobias says it could leave officials in those states in a “legal limbo” over whether or not they can issue marriage licenses in the meantime. Ultimately, however, the Supreme Court will likely decide the issue, either by agreeing to take up one of several cases currently winding through the federal court system nationwide, or by declining to review the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, effectively allowing it to stand. Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, which is representing nine couples in two of the North Carolina cases, called Monday’s decision a victory, and said his clients planned to push forward with their cases on the district court level. “State marriage bans, such as the one we have here in North Carolina, are living on borrowed time," Brook said. "It’s a matter of when -- not if -- they are struck down." He said Cooper’s announcement only underscores the recent and continuing string of legal victories for same-sex marriage advocates. “At a certain point, a good lawyer knows a losing cause when he sees one,” Brook said.

In Colorado, Attorney General John Suthers is asking the state Supreme Court to order the Boulder clerk to stop issuing same sex marriage licenses. Boulder Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall is out of town and couldn't be reached for comment. Boulder Clerk spokesperson Jane Culkin said she is trying to contact Hall for a response to media requests. According to the Denver Post, the request for a writ from the court is the latest salvo in Suthers' battle to defend the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage. Last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals denied Suthers' similar request to stop Hall. Colorado's Supreme Court ordered the Denver clerk to stop issuing the licenses on July 18. Though Pueblo County wasn't mentioned in the decision, that county agreed to stop issuing the licenses after the AG's office threatened further legal action. The attorney general's office filing on Monday said the office expected that clerks would "understand that an order directing the Denver Clerk to stop issuing same sex marriage licenses would counsel against other clerks engaging in identical conduct.""The state has had no choice but to pursue an additional court order providing for the uniform application of Colorado's marriage laws pending final determination of the constitutional claims for same sex marriage," according to Suther's request to the Supreme Court. Hall's office has issued more than 180 same-sex marriage licenses since June 25, after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Utah's ban unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order that prevents gay marriages from going forward in Utah for now.

An influx of straight residents to traditionally gay neighbourhoods is diluting the distinct cultural identity — and potentially the voting power — of these former "gaybourhoods," according to a sociologist at the University of British Columbia. CBC reports that Amin Ghaziani looked at traditionally gay enclaves in the U.S., including the Castro district in San Francisco and New York's Chelsea, and found that eight-percent fewer gay male couples and 13-percent fewer lesbians reside in the neighbourhoods compared with a decade ago. The reasons for the shift are varied, Ghaziani found, including the increased desirability of these city districts by heterosexuals and changing attitudes within the same sex community. The research also uncovered the establishment of new same sex clusters within the catchment areas of highly sought after schools and the emergence of neighbourhoods for LGBT people of colour. Ghaziani notes that much of the new social mobility of same sex couples is a response to positive changes in attitude toward the LGBT community, but cautions that the same mobility could risk lessening the community's political and cultural sway. "Gay neighbourhoods have been crucial to the struggle for freedom, and have produced globally important contributions, from politics to poetry to music and fashion," says Ghaziani in a press release. "The growing acceptance of same-sex couples underlying these findings is extremely positive, but it is important that we continue to find meaningful ways to preserve these culturally important spaces."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Anti-Homophobia Protestors Attacked At Toronto Mayor Ford Fest, Anti-Gay French Mayor Abandons Stance To Officiate At Son's Same Sex Wedding, Alaska Supreme Court Rules Same Sex Couples Entitled To Death Benefits Despite State Gay Marriage Ban, Conservative's Complaint At Salem Massachusetts Mayor Decision To Terminate Contracts With Anti-Gay College Financial Bonanza For Local LGBT Youth, North Carolina Politicians Drop Anti-Discrimination Protections For LGBT Students From Public Charter School Bill, Florida Police Arrest 18-Year-Old Devante Johnson For Attempted Murder After He Allegedly Stabbed Male Victim Five Times While Having Sex In Cementary

In Toronto, what was supposed to be a non-political, family-friendly barbecue — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s Ford Fest event in Scarborough — instead erupted in a series of ugly confrontations Friday evening between Mayor Ford’s supporters and protesters. The Globe and Mail reports that thousands of people descended upon Scarborough’s Thomson Memorial Park Friday for the 19th annual Ford Fest. Though the evening began uneventfully — with guests lining up in the hundreds for free hamburgers, and organizers running out of the 1,000 “Ford Fest” tee shirts even before the event’s 6:00 pm start time — by about 7:30 pm, there had already been several loud clashes, including reports that protesters had been assaulted, and had their signs torn up. When the mayor — who is running for re-election in October — arrived at the park at about 6:00 pm,there was no sign that his support had diminished since the series of scandals in the past year including drug allegations, a police investigation, and a stint in rehab. A large crowd supporters gathered around his SUV chanting “Ford more years! Ford more years!” and followed him as he made his way to a tent to sign tshirts and pose for photographs. But soon, the arrival of a small number of Ford protesters attracted notice in the crowd. Mary Hynes, an activist who is running for council for a ward seat on council, was surrounded by about a dozen angry people after she challenged a Ford supporter. “We love Ford,” they shouted at her as she listed off to a group of reporters the reasons why Mayor Ford shouldn’t be re-elected. Shortly after, Don Whittemore, 62, had to ask a bystander to call police after he said he was assaulted by an angry supporter. Mr. Whittemore, who said he arrived alone and is not affiliated with any political organization, wore a Pride flag draped across his shoulders and carried a pink umbrella — a reference to the Sugar Beach umbrellas that the mayor has railed against. “This guy started shouting some rather uncomplimentary things to a certain segment of our population, so I turned around and confronted him,” he said. “He hit me in the forehead, grabbed my hat, and they started pushing me, telling me to go home.” He said he was not hurt in the interaction, adding “the only thing that’s hurt is my faith in my city." And Brian Dematos, an LGBTQ activist, found himself along with a few of his friends surrounded after standing in the park with a sign reading “Don’t drink the Kool-aid.” As the crowd shouted and chanted, a few of them grabbed at his sign, ripping it at the corners. His friend, he said, had his entire sign, which read “Ford hates us”, ripped up. “A few guys tried to forcibly grab the signs and rip it. they kept continuing it ripping it and trashed the sign on the floor.” Poe Liberado, a spokesperson for Queeruption, a group of about a dozen activists that attended Ford Fest, said they went to the event to challenge Mr. Ford’s stance on the LGBTQ community. “”We are not going to stand for Rob Ford to be pulling back our rights” she said. Leading up to Friday, the event had become a source of controversy due to city rules that ban campaigning in public parks. The city sent three staff members to the event to ensure that no campaign literature was handed out, and the Ford campaign appeared to adhere to these rules. Even his speech, which lasted less than two minutes, he barely mentioned his campaign. “This is a very, very humbling experience,” he said. “From the Ford family to everyone here, thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough.” He ended his speech by saying “I can’t wait to be here next year. Promises made, promises kept. I love you, Toronto." Despite the disruptions, the vast majority of guests were there to show support for the embattled mayor. Carol Tracey and Sheila Allen stood in line for over an hour to get a photo Mr. Ford. "He's more handsome than in the pictures and on TV,” Ms. Tracey said. Ms. Allen said she supports the mayor because he’s “true to the people” and that his private life doesn’t bother her. And Ottawa teen Devon Smith, who attended with his father, said he’d chose to spend his 17th birthday at Ford Fest. “It's his birthday, his request, he wanted to meet the mayor,” said his father, Kevin Smith, as they waited in line to get a shirt signed. “He stands for the kids, he stands for the poor.” Mr. Smith said he’s not concerned about the mayor’s past, or being a bad role model. “He’s a good guy,” Devon said of the mayor. “He’s good with Toronto. He’s good with the people."

In France, AFP reports that for mayor Raymond Bardet, a vehement opponent of same sex marriage, the question pitted parental love against principle. However, when asked to officiate at the union of his son and another man a week ago, Bardet did not hesitate. "It seemed perfectly normal for me to carry out the marriage even though I still don't agree with gay marriage," Bardet, 72, told his local newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré. "When my son asked me if I'd do it, I immediately told him 'yes', because I did the same for his sister and because we get on well. I didn't want to give the wrong impression of relations with my family." Bardet, mayor since 1981 of the village of Ville-la-Grande – population 8,000, in the Haute Savoie near the Swiss border – said he had never discussed same sex marriage with his son. The issue divided France and led to protests before it was legalized last year. In January 2013, Bardet even organised a mock gay marriage between two of his male staff, the town hall's directors of technical services and communications. However, should anyone get the wrong idea, Bardet has said his son's union will be both the first and last same sex marriage he will conduct. "It's normal I made an exception, but it won't happen again … I have certain opinions and I hold them firmly. At 72 years I'm not going to change," he said.

In Alaska, same sex couples should be eligible to receive death benefits when a partner dies despite a state ban on gay marriage, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Friday in its second decision in four months to favor granting benefits to gay couples. Reuters reports that in ruling that a 1998 amendment to the state constitution forbidding same sex marriage did not extend to barring death benefits for same sex couples, the court overturned a decision by the Alaska Workers Compensation Board. The board had earlier denied a death benefits claim by an Anchorage woman, Deborah Harris, whose same sex partner was fatally shot at work three years ago by a disgruntled employee at an Anchorage hotel where both were employed. The board, in denying the claim, had cited the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only between one man and one woman.” But the state Supreme Court ruled that utilizing a narrow definition of a widow to exclude same sex partners “violates the surviving partner’s right to equal protection under the law.” Harris's attorney Eric Croft, praising the ruling, said, “Debbie had a tragedy happen in her life – her longtime life partner was killed – then another tragedy was not being recognized for who she was – a life partner – by the legal system,” adding that, “Financially this is important, but it’s important to recognize that same sex couples deserve equal treatment." The ruling comes as a series of federal judges have knocked down state bans on gay marriage across the United States in rulings that, if upheld, could substantially expand gay marriage in the United States. Most of the rulings have been put on hold pending appeal. In the Alaska death benefit case, the state high court noted that Harris and her partner, Kerry Fadely, had been in “an exclusive, committed, and financially interdependent relationship” spanning more than 10 years, and had raised children from previous relationships. Attorneys for the Millennium Hotel and its insurance company declined to comment. In April, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the same sex couples there must be afforded the same property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans as are given to traditionally married couples.

An update on a previous post: In Salem, Massachusetts, the conservative uproar over Mayor Kim Driscoll’s decision to terminate Gordon College’s contract to operate Old Town Hall has turned into a cash cow for a local group supporting gay and lesbian youths. According to the Salem News, by week’s end, nAGLY — the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth — had received more than $12,000 in donations, according to Steve Harrington, the group’s interim director. Driscoll cut ties with the college earlier this month, after it asked for a religious exemption to an executive order barring federal contracts from going to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. She also said the school’s “exclusionary” behavioral standards — they prohibit “homosexual practice” among members of the school community, on or off campus — violated Salem’s newly adopted non-discrimination policy. Afterward, Driscoll’s office received a barrage of phone calls from out-of-staters who condemned the move, apparently prompted by coverage on conservative websites like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Driscoll said some of the callers had expressed “patently offensive views regarding LGBT individuals,” and noted that many referred to the mayor as a “he.” In response, she pledged to personally donate $5 to the nAGLY for each such out-of-state call her office received up until last Friday. The total tally: 161 calls, or $805 from Driscoll’s pocket. But she also encouraged others to donate, too — and plenty followed her advice. “It’s still coming in,” Harrington said. Harrington called the money a “godsend,” noting that the group often has difficulty affording its programs, supplies and rented space. He said the only guaranteed funding it gets is $20,000 a year from the state Department of Public Health; other than that, it relies on goodwill from the public and proceeds from fundraisers. “Our budget is very tiny, and so we struggle to get our programs funded,” Harrington said. “We’ve been around for 22 years. ... It’s always really tight.” Noting that Driscoll’s pledge had received extensive coverage in numerous media outlets — including the The Wall Street Journal, and — Harrington said the donations had poured in from around the globe. “We’ve gotten donations from as far away as Australia,” he said. “It’s international, it’s really been pretty amazing. ... Thank you, Kim.” Driscoll said she was pleased the group has gotten so much money, and that one of her original reasons for pledging to donate came out of “annoyance” at the number of calls to her office. “It’s pretty unusual to get that many out-of-state calls about anything,” she said. “Some of them were pretty offensive.” The number of phone calls has tapered off, she said, and by the end of last week most of the emails and calls her office was receiving were positive anyhow, offering support for the move to sever links to Gordon and direct funds to nAGLY. “We know what intolerance means in Salem, with our history,” Driscoll said. “We take it seriously.” Driscoll’s Facebook post announcing that she would pledge money to the organization had garnered 8,756 “likes,” 4,512 “shares” and 1,043 comments by Friday afternoon.

In North Carolina, the News-Record reports that General Assembly leaders have dropped anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students from a public charter school bill. Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) passionately argued to add that into the bill last month. Then the House voted unanimously to bar charter schools from discriminating against any child in a federally protected class of people. But that provision was removed from the legislation during House and Senate negotiations on a compromise bill. “We felt like we didn’t need to subject that kind of policy in a charter school bill because it could have broad effect,” explained Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), who shepherded the bill through the House and sat on the committee that negotiated the compromise. “We felt that is something that we should take up in the long session (next year).” The House approved the new version of the bill 62-36 Friday. Guilford County representatives voted along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting in opposition. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) was absent. The bill will head to Gov. Pat McCrory. The bill tweaks a number of rules for publicly-funded charter schools, including making the names of staff members confidential. Brandon, the only openly gay member of the General Assembly, and other House members pushed back against the compromise bill Friday. In explaining why the bill no longer includes the anti-discrimination provision, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) said state law already provides discrimination protections. “Discrimination against anyone at any time for anything is wrong. It’s against the law. It’s defined in state statutes numerous times,” Lewis said. Brandon rejected that argument. “We want to pull from state law and we can imply that this does protect all kids. The problem in the state of North Carolina is that the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community is not a protected class,” Brandon said. The bill’s fate with McCrory is uncertain. The governor said he opposes the confidentiality provision and has threatened to veto the bill if it’s included.

In Florida, WTXL reports that a man was stabbed five times by a man he was having sex with in Oakland Cemetery, according to Tallahassee Police. Court documents say Devante L. Johnson met with the victim at the cemetery around 11:00 pm on June 24th when the stabbing occurred. The victim said it was during "sexual activity" that Johnson mentioned the victim's ex-boyfriend and then started stabbing him. Court records show that Johnson told the victim "no one would have to worry" about him anymore. Law enforcement says the victim was able to kick Johnson out of the car and lock the doors. However, Johnson attempted to get back into the car by gaining access through a slightly open window, the victim told police. The victim was able to escape and drive off, crashing through the cemetery's fence at the intersection of 4th Ave. and Martin Luther King Blvd. The victim was taken to the hospital for treatment of his wounds. According to the police report, there were a total of five stab wound; three to chest and one in each arm. Surgery was needed for internal injuries due to a punctured lung and lacerated liver, said police. 18-year-old Devante L. Johnson was arrested for attempted murder on Wednesday.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Ruling That Invoked American History Civil Rights Battles Miami-Dade Judge Rules Florida Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional But Adds That Gay And Lesbian Couples Can Only Wed After Decision Appealed, Police Arrest Florida Gay Days Predator Tow-Truck Company Owner On 29 Counts Of Grand Theft And Consider Adding Hate Crime Charges, Legislation Introduced In Michigan That Would Prohibit Practice Of Conversion Therapy On Anyone Under 18, Louisiana Joins Nine Other State Attorney Generals In Declaring That States Should Be Sovereign In Determining Same Sex Marriage Ban, New York Giants Director Of Player Development David Tyree No Longer Advocate Of Conversion Therapy And Is "Open" To Befriending Gays

In Florida, a Miami-Dade judge declared Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional on Friday, in a sweeping ruling that cut a wide swath through American history — from the Declaration of Independence to slavery to Jim Crow to equality for women — as much as it drew from recent Supreme Court decisions. Preventing same sex couples from marrying, “serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society,” Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel said. The Miami Herald reports that Zabel became the second South Florida judge in eight days to declare that Florida’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. Last week, a Keys judge also ruled the ban unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed when the state attorney general’s office appealed, and Zabel stayed her own order Friday pending an appeal, saying she understood her decision would not be the “final word” on the issue. In the Miami case, six same sex couples in January sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for marriage licenses. “I’m excited. I’m thrilled. My phone has blown up with texts and emails of congratulations. I’m elated,” one of the plaintiffs, Jorge Isaias Diaz, said Friday evening. “We came into this knowing it probably would go the long haul. We’re confident justice will prevail and we will go as far as we need to go.” Diaz and his partner, Don Price Johnston, of Miami, sued, along with Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood, and Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation. Equality Florida Institute, a statewide gay rights group, also is a plaintiff in the case. “It’s a beautiful opinion,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said. The judge “states so clearly and so powerfully that marriage is a fundamental right and that denial is a violation of our constitutional rights and our dignity.” Among other landmark Supreme Court cases, Zabel cited Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case in which the court threw out all state prohibitions against interracial marriage. “We’ve said all along that the Loving case is parallel to our case,” Price said. “It just shows that discrimination against any class of people is nothing more and nothing less than discrimination. The U.S. society has no stomach for discriminating against anyone.” In 2008, 62-percent of Florida voters approved amending the Florida Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The attorney general’s defense in the case cited the vote and said the judge should respect the will of the state’s voters. But Zabel said fundamental constitutional rights are not subject to majority approval. “A state’s constitution cannot insulate a law that otherwise violates the U.S. Constitution,” she wrote. “The United States Constitution would be meaningless if its principles were not shielded from the will of the majority.” John Stemberger, who led the 2008 campaign to amend the state constitution, was vehemently critical of Zabel’s decision, especially her reference to the Supreme Court case on interracial marriage. “Wow,” said Stemberger, president and general counsel of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council in Orlando. “Race and ethnicity are not an inherent property of marriage. Gender, however, is an inherent property of marriage. This is why her reliance on Loving is misplaced. Loving in essence said any man can marry any woman irrespective of race and ethnicity.” The gay marriage battle is being waged across the nation. A federal judge this week ruled Colorado’s same sex marriage ban unconstitutional. According to the group Freedom to Marry, LGBT advocates have won more than 20 times in federal, state and appellate courts since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, a lesbian widow, and threw out a key portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Zabel referred to the growing number of decisions overthrowing gay marriage bans in the aftermath of the Windsor decision. “As case after case has come out, unified in their well-reasoned constitutional condemnation of the deprivation of one class of person’s right to marry, the answer to the question of whether it is constitutionally permissible to deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry has become increasingly obvious: Of course it is not,” the judge wrote. Anthony Verdugo, president of the conservative Christian Family Coalition, called Zabel’s ruling “corrupt” and “simply illegitimate.” “It goes against Windsor because Windsor says the states have the right to regulate marital relations,” Verdugo said. “It goes against that precedent. She has inserted herself into that federal document to overthrow eight million votes. Voter rights is a fundamental freedom. She has overthrown and violated voter rights.” But Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami Beach lawyer for the six Miami-Dade couples, said Zabel’s ruling “makes it crystal clear why the Florida marriage bans are unconstitutional," adding that, “Judge Zabel considered, enumerated and rejected the meritless arguments of the anti-equality forces. We’re anxious to move forward to appeal on the strength of this soaring order.” The Miami-Dade case mirrors the lawsuit in Monroe County, in which two Key West men, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, successfully sued County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license, saying Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. After Monroe Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled in favor of Huntsman and Jones, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi swiftly announced she would appeal. Her office issued a statement saying that “with many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.” By filing the appeal notice, Bondi triggered the automatic stay in the case. This week, lawyers for Huntsman and Jones asked Garcia to lift the stay. He declined, as did Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, which now has the case. A separate lawsuit is pending in Tallahassee federal court seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban and force the state to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. In her ruling’s conclusion, Zabel touched on the history of “inalienable rights” stemming from the Declaration of Independence, and how the interpretation of those rights has evolved through slavery, women's rights and longtime discrimination against Native Americans. “Notably absent from this protracted march towards social justice was any progress for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community until quite recently,” Zabel wrote. “However, as evidenced by the avalanche of court decisions unanimously favoring marriage equality, the dam that was denying justice on this front has been broken.”

Also in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the owner of a towing company was arrested Friday and charged with illegally towing vehicles of people who took part in last month's Gay Days events in Orange County. Jason P. Combs, 44, owner of ASAP Towing, faces 29 counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle and other charges. Deputies allege he towed more than 100 vehicles June 5 to 9 from a parking lot at Westwood Town Center off International Drive, which is across the street from the event's host hotel, Doubletree by Hilton. Combs didn't have an up-to-date contract to tow vehicles or have proper signage notifying motorists the lot was a tow-away zone, deputies said. His attorney, R. David de Armas, said Combs did have a valid contract with the owner and only vehicles that were illegally parked were towed. de Armas also said the fact that it happened during Gay Days was irrelevant. "The fact that the [criminal] complaint said something about Gay Days makes me wonder what's behind it," de Armas said. "If someone shoplifted during Gay Days would the complaint mention that it happened during Gay Days?" Combs has nothing against homosexuals or the event, his attorney said. But in one instance a victim said he felt he was targeted because of his sexual orientation. Cpl. Rick Schmeltzer said the towing company also targeted vehicles the year before during Gay Days activities. During weekends with events other than Gay Days the company completed a "minuscule amount of tows," he said. Schmeltzer also said the towing company had "spotters" to look for people who left the center so their vehicles so they could be towed. "With many of these people, their cars were towed within 5, 10 15 minutes [of parking]," he said. "This was total predator towing. There's really no other word for it." The tow truck would hide around the corner and when a spotter saw someone walk across the street to the hotel, the spotters would call the truck and the vehicle would be towed, the complaint says. Those whose cars were towed would have to take a cab ride to the towing company and were charged $165 cash to get their car, including a $40 "gate fee," which isn't permitted under Florida law, the complaint says. International Drive is a transient area, said Schmeltzer, and many patrons park in one place and walk to a different location. According to the complaint, ASAP had a contract with Westwood, but that it expired in May. The contract was not renewed until mid-June, after the Gay Days event. In an email between Combs and the owner, Combs asked to back date the contract so the Gay Days event would be included and avoid "any technicalities," the complaint says. "This is further evidence that Jason Combs knew he had no contract in place and was not authorized to tow vehicles from Westwood Town Center," the complaint said. Combs' attorney said if the contract expired it was an oversight and the two parties had an understanding that Combs' company would tow illegally parked vehicles. "He's a businessman doing his job," de Armas said. Authorities say ASAP also violated Florida law because the cars were towed more than 10 miles away to its Belle Isle location. Companies have to be in "strict compliance" with Florida law, and ASAP only followed some of the laws. "He's one of those [business owners] that wants to pick and choose what [laws] he's going to follow," Schmeltzer said. Victims also felt ASAP employees were rude and they felt bullied and intimidated Some of the businesses in the complex were giving out stickers to customers and employees that signified they were patrons at the business, while others were not, according to the complaint. None of the businesses had an agreement with a tow-truck company, the complaint said. Chris Alexander-Manley, president of the Gay Days event, said he had not heard of the issue until it was released to the media on Friday. He said if Combs was towing cars illegally he should "be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." He stopped short of accusing Combs of a hate crime until more information came out. "Definitely it will take hearing more of the story," he said. Schmeltzer said any hate crime charges are under review. Gay Days, which attracts thousands of people to Central Florida, started in 1991 and has since expanded to a similar event in Las Vegas. It encourages gay and lesbian visitors to gather at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and wear red on the first Saturday of June. Alexander-Manley said businesses say it is their highest revenue-generating week every year. "I would hope it wouldn't be the business owners that were complaining about the parking," he said.

In Michigan, reports that Patrick McAlvey spent nine years in therapy trying to change his sexual orientation. He's spent the past nine years trying to recover from the failed process. "The focus of my life was trying to figure out how to change," said McAlvey, who is gay and began so-called conversation therapy in Lansing when he was 11 years old. "I was desperate to change and feeling worse and worse about myself the longer I wasn't straight." The increasingly intense sessions were led by a local therapist who was well known in his church. They were informed by religion but focused on psychological issues that the therapist believed caused McAlvey's homosexuality. The therapy didn't change his orientation, but it "changed me in some really fundamental ways," said McAlvey, 29, who left Michigan two years ago for a job in New York but still considers the state home. "When you're 11, the person who you are going to be is developing, and to be told a part of you that you didn't choose and can't change is wrong, it's a crushing blow to your self-esteem." Legislation introduced last week by state Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) seeks to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. House Bill 5703 would amend Michigan's mental health code to prohibit health professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation of anyone under 18 years old. "The evidence shows you cannot change sexual orientation, so the legislation was kind of a no-brainer," Zemke said. "We want to make sure children cannot be exposed to situations that are emotionally harmful to them because of their parents' beliefs or desires to try to change their orientation." Calling a ban on conversion therapy for minors a "civil rights" issue, Zemke noted that New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed similar legislation into law last year. California and New York have similar statewide youth bans, which have survived various legal challenges. Conversion therapy, also known as reparative or ex-gay therapy, has been discredited by leading medical organizations. The American Psychological Association, in a 2009 report, said that attempts to change sexual orientation are ineffective and can have harmful side effects on subjects, including depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. It urged mental health professionals to avoid the practice. Zemke said he has had positive conversations with some Republican lawmakers in Lansing and expects to win some bipartisan support for his legislation. But his bill faces a hurdle in the House Health Policy Committee chaired by Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford). "I think creating new laws that intervene in the relationship between parents and a child seems unnecessary," Haines told the MIRS subscription news service, noting her committee has a lot of other major bills to consider later this year. Christie, in signing the New Jersey law, shared similar concerns, noting that "government should tread lightly into this area." But he ultimately concluded it was inappropriate to expose children to a therapy without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh harm. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the American Association of Christian Counselors and two individual therapists sued New Jersey days after Christie signed the law, arguing that it wold prohibit licensed counselors from "respecting the rights of clients" interested in conversion therapy. A federal judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the law regulated conduct but did not violate anyone's freedom of speech or religion. The U.S. Supreme Court recently paved the way for California to begin enforcing its ban on conversion therapy for minors. It's not clear how many Michigan mental health professionals practice conversion therapy, which has generally fallen out of favor, but Zemke said it is worth protecting even a single child. McAlvey, who was one of those kids, agreed. "There's not a question about whether it's harmful or dangerous," he said. "It is, and it's time we do what we can to protect kids in Michigan from it."

In Louisiana, the Times-Picayune reports that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell this week joined nine other state attorneys general in declaring that states should have the right to choose to ban same sex marriage. Caldwell's office announced just before 4:00 pm Friday (July 25) that he has joined in filing an amicus brief supporting Indiana's appeal of a federal judge's ruling that the state's law banning same sex marriage is unconstitutional. Friend of the court briefs are often filed in significant cases by entities who are not directly involved in the case but have an interest in the outcome. "At the forefront of the argument, the attorneys general assert that it is each state's right to determine whether same sex marriage should be permitted," a press release from Caldwell's office says. The following states' attorneys general are included in the brief: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. The brief says, according to the release, the court has "long recognized that the authority over the institution of marriage lies with the states," and the judge's decision "infringes on the important state power to regulate domestic relations." The move by the attorney general regarding the Indiana case reflects the state's position in an ongoing Louisiana case in which plaintiffs are seeking to overturn the Pelican State's ban on same sex marriage. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans is presiding over that case whose plaintiffs include four Louisiana couples married in other states and another group of three couples seeking the right to marry in Louisiana. A copy of the amicus brief is available at the source.

An update on a previous post: David Tyree, who became as famous for his anti-gay comments as he did for the amazing reception that helped the New YorkGiants defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, has had a big change of heart. You Can Play executive director Wade Davis said the Giants’ new director of player development told him he is no longer an advocate of gay conversion therapy — and that he is open to meeting and befriending gays, according to Outsports and a column Davis wrote for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback blog on Thursday. “Christianity teaches us love, compassion and respect for our fellow man, and it is in that light that I will continue to work with Wade and others to better serve the gay community,” Davis quoted Tyree saying in his SI column. “I would absolutely support any player on the Giants who identified as gay, in any way I could. And I will continue to stay in touch with Wade to ensure I am aware of the right ways to do that.” Outsports, meanwhile, reported that Davis, the former NFL player who now heads the organization dedicated to ending homophobia in sports, says Tyree told him that he would have no problem having Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams rookie who is the NFL’s first openly gay player, join the Giants. “He said he had no problem with Michael’s sexual orientation, and that his job is to make the players better, and that he needs to make sure he gets better, too, and that he needs to understand the damage of things that he’s done in the past,” Davis told Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler. Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights organization, ripped the Giants twice this week for hiring Tyree, who campaigned against the New York State marriage equality bill that became law in 2011. He has also publicly advocated for gay conversion therapy, a controversial practice that has been widely condemned by the American Medical Association and other public health groups. You Can Play founder Patrick Burke pushed back on Twitter this week: He said that Tyree had recently spoken to Davis and suggested that Tyree’s views on homosexuality had evolved. As the Daily News previously reported, Davis and Tyree spoke again on Wednesday evening. Tyree hasn’t publicly distanced himself from his anti-gay comments from three years ago, but Davis said Tyree has changed his tune, especially when it comes to gay conversion therapy. “Verbatim, he said he doesn’t think ‘anyone needs that kind of therapy,’ ” Davis told Outsports. Davis said Tyree approached him after the You Can Play activist spoke at the NFL rookie symposium last month and thanked him for the work he has done in changing opinions about homosexuality in the NFL. “He approached me, introduced himself, offered his hand and said, ‘I want you to know I really respect what you do,’” Davis wrote in SI. Davis said he thinks Tyree “feels badly” about his anti-gay comments, according to Outsports. “He did meet a couple people who told him they were ex-gays. He said he hasn’t met a ton of people who are gay but that he’s looking to develop a long relationship with me and other gay people to learn more about it. And it’s going to be a growth process for him, and he’s going to need to have a friendship with someone who is LGBT and spend quality time with him.”