Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bullied Gay 15-Year-Old Jadin Bell Dies In Portland Oregon Hospital Sunday, President Obama Reiterates Belief That Boy Scouts Of America Should Lift Policy Prohibiting Gay Members, Toronto Gay Village Continues To Gentrify As Flatirons Gift Store Prepares To Close, At Vigil For Murder Transgender Female Family Urges Hate Crime Charges Added

In Oregon, the 15-year-old La Grande boy who hanged himself two weeks ago after complaining of bullying died early Sunday afternoon at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Jadin Bell was taken to the Portland hospital January 19 after he hanged himself on a play structure at Central Elementary School in La Grande. His family made the difficult decision more than a week ago to take him off life support after tests showed no brain activity. Bud Hill, a close family friend, told the Oregonian earlier this week that Bell, who is openly gay, had complained of being bullied a week before that and had talked to a counselor at La Grande High School, where he is a sophomore.

In the United States, days before the Boy Scouts of America prepared to consider lifting its policy prohibiting the participation of gay members, President Obama reiterated that he thinks the ban should end. In an interview with CBS News airing during the Super Bowl show Sunday, Obama said, “My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life.” The Los Angeles Times reports that he called the Scouts “a great institution” that offers skills that benefit children throughout their lives. The Scouts announced last week that its national board would discuss allowing local groups to decide whether to admit gays. The board’s meeting begins in Irving, Texas, on Monday. The announcement follows a decades-old determination to bar homosexual boys and adult leaders – a ban the Scouts reaffirmed in July. Weeks after the organization did so, the White House told the Washington Blade that Obama opposed the ban. The president considers the Scouts “a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in the statement, which continued: “He also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on basis of sexual orientation.” Obama is honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. “The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver scouting to determine how to address this issue,” Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement. “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents.” The proposed change is likely to be controversial. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout, says he will defend the current policy. In addition, a majority of local chartering groups are faith-based, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches. Both are likely to continue to bar gay scouts and leaders, whatever the Boy Scouts’ national board decides.

In Toronto, standing amid cheeky cards, Wizard of Oz knickknacks and T-shirts that proclaim “Rob Ford Still Sucks,” Ted Genova recalls the energy that drew to him open up shop in the Gay Village 20 years ago. “I was like a dog with a bone. You could sniff it; there was something happening here,” says the 59-year-old owner of the Flatiron’s gift shop on Church St. But he added that for some time “the bloom (has been) off the rose in the Village. I think we’ve let it spin down.” The store will close its doors for good in March, Genova says, a casualty of high rent, changing demographics and the influx of soulless franchises and big-box stores like the Loblaws at the former Maple Leaf Gardens. Flatiron’s, on the other hand, has been a go-to place year round for Pride gear, from flamingo sunglasses to disco balls to rainbow Christmas trees. “Where are people going to get their feather boas?” sighs salesperson Rebecca Norlock, who says the entirely gay-focused shop is a rarity even in the Village. It’s following, however, in the tracks of other small businesses that have closed or relocated over the past few years, such as Zelda’s Restaurant and Reither’s German Deli. “The LGBT community is more spread out,” says Genova. “Though that’s probably a good sign (in terms of acceptance) . . . they’re all over the GTA.” While the village is not dying, he says, “it is morphing into something else.” The tale is common in neighbourhoods and BIAs across the city, from the Danforth to Little Italy, where beloved small retailers that made up the community for decades are struggling and closing down. The Village in particular has been in transition over the past decade, faced with a rapidly growing population as condo buildings continue to sprout around the neighbourhood. “Five years from now . . . we’re going to see thousands more people living in this neighborhood,” says Liz Devine, co-chair of the Church Wellesley Village BIA. But the core identity of the Village will remain intact, she believes. More than that, it will be key to giving the neighbourhood an edge just in time for two major economic opportunities: World Pride 2014 and the 2015 Pan Am Games. “Yorkville has the cachet for premier dining, luxury shopping . . . Kensington has this artistic feel, a bohemian hub. What would make Church Street different from any other area in the city is the gay and lesbian identity, as the birthplace of sexual liberation in Canada for the lesbian and gay human rights movement,” says the area’s city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam. But some of the lustre missed by Genova (who proudly got permission from City Hall to line the street in rainbow flags in the early ’90s) is set to return. The BIA is installing rainbow gateway markers at the north and south entrances later this month. Wong-Tam says Cawthra Square Park, next to the 519 Community Centre, is being revamped. Plans are in the works for a redesign of the corner of Alexander and Church where a monument to Alexander Wood, a Toronto magistrate disgraced in a homophobic scandal in 1810, was erected in 2005. Her office is also working on a mural project, like that of San Francisco’s Mission District, to wrap the buildings in the neighborhood’s colorful history. Despite the spread of the LGBT community across the increasingly tolerant city, Toronto’s Gay Village retains its significance, says David Rayside, a professor of political science and sexual diversity studies at the University of Toronto. “You can tell that when there are tragedies, or when there are holidays to celebrate, or political trauma, that’s still where people gather,” says Rayside. “There are still people who come here from other countries or other parts of the country in which it is challenging to be who you are, and I think it’s helpful to know there is a place where you can go.” Back in the shop, Genova maintains he isn’t sad that the Church St. location is closing (his infamous year-round Christmas store on Front St. will remain open). He’s just disappointed. “What makes Toronto great is its people, and people express themselves through their retail stores,” he says. “If all you’re doing is expressing a franchise, there is no cultural value, no addition to diversity in the city.”

In Washington, D.C., one year after being killed in Northeast Washington, JaParker Jones is missed so much that the victim’s younger sisters often sleep in Jones’s bed to feel their sibling’s presence. Jones’s family said the pain of the loss is increased by the absence of a hate-crime charge against the suspect. Jones, 23, was a transgender person, reports the Washington Post. “We’re seeking justice. Presently, justice is not forthcoming,” Alvin Bethea, Jones’s stepfather, said at a vigil held Saturday on the anniversary of the killing. Jones, 23, who identified as a female and went by the names Deoni and Logan, was stabbed in the 4900 block of East Capitol Street NE last February 2. Gary N. Montgomery has been charged with murder in the death, but officials have found no clear motive for the attack. In an interview, Bethea said the family believes that Jones’s transgender identity led to the stabbing. The family plans to call on federal officials to take over the prosecution, he said. “We do believe the elements of a hate crime are present,” Bethea said. In a statement, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District declined to discuss specifics citing the ongoing prosecution. But spokesman Bill Miller said prosecutors are “committed to pursuing hate/bias enhancements when investigations warrant.” About 75 people, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council members Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and David A. Catania (I-At Large), stood in the cold Saturday to mourn Jones and to speak against hate attacks. Gray urged the filing of impact statements with his office to go to prosecutors in such cases to help ensure that “the punishment fits the crime” when “a heinous act like this is committed.” Activists for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have often criticized the District’s response to hate-motivated attacks. Jones, who had worked at a sandwich shop and a hair salon, was remembered as smiling, loving and giving. Jones’s stepfather said Jones had planned to provide home care for the aged. Jones’s mother, Judean Jones, and sisters Jaylin, 16, and Jaquander, 22, sobbed silently. Alexander asked that Jones’s loving spirit be used to combat hate. Catania said the death was clearly a hate crime. “There is no other explanation,” he said.

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