In Alberta, the former superintendent and current vice-chair of St. Albert’s public school board is hoping trustees will take the first steps Wednesday in passing a stand-alone policy to protect and support gay and lesbian students and teachers in the district’s schools. Joe Demko, a trustee and longtime teacher and principal in St. Albert, said city voters were well aware of his views supporting such a policy when they elected him to the school board. “I think the community is ready. I just don’t know whether the board will be or not,” he said Saturday. Demko and the board’s four other trustees will debate a motion Wednesday to direct administrators to draft a sexual orientation and gender identity policy, much like the one passed by the Edmonton public school board in November 2011. The policy would protect students and staff from discrimination or bullying and would also ensure school environments are welcoming and supportive to gay, lesbian and transgender youth. If the motion passes and a policy approved, St. Albert would be the second school district in Alberta, after Edmonton, to do so. “Information keeps coming forward that points to it being really in the best interest of kids — and not just LGBTQ kids, but all kids, to have a stand-alone policy that would address those issues,” said Demko. There have been examples elsewhere of kids being bullied for being gay when they weren’t, but other students perceived they were, he added. Students may also use hurtful words and expressions without realizing their impact. “That warrants us doing something in the schools so people, and the kids especially, understand that it’s inappropriate.” Both of the district’s two major high schools have active gay-straight student alliances. The board recently included sexual orientation and gender identity among the protections covered in its student conduct code, and will debate including them in the board’s discrimination and harassment policy at Wednesday’s meeting, as well. “I think this is kind of a natural next step,” Demko said. “I’m hoping that our board is ready to take those next steps forward and approve a stand-alone policy.” He points to research done in Winnipeg that showed 14-percent of students described themselves as not being exclusively heterosexual. Another recent study found sexual minorities who have come out publicly are mentally and physically healthier than those who have not. At the Alberta School Boards Association meeting last fall, a motion was put forward to encourage all districts to create stand-alone policies supporting gay and lesbian students and staff. While the motion didn’t pass, the St. Albert Public School Board voted in favour of it, said Demko. A Facebook campaign to support the creation of such a policy by attending Wednesday evening’s public board meeting has been launched by Kris Wells, a former student and teacher in St. Albert who is now associate director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta. “As a student, I couldn’t be out and my experience was one of profound silence and invisibility, and sadly, that was the same experience I had as a teacher,” he said. “At that time, there were no human rights protections in the province so I couldn’t be out without risking losing my job.” Wells ended up leaving teaching because of those experiences. “For me, this policy matters,” he said. “It’s ultimately to protect students in our schools. That’s what it comes down to.” Board chair Joan Trettler wouldn’t comment on the policy Saturday, saying she wanted to wait until Wednesday to debate the motion. Trustee Gerry Martins said he supports protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but as part of a policy that includes protections for people based on other factors as well, such as race and disabilities. Trustees Cheryl Dumont and Merrin Nuc couldn’t be reached for comment. Wells said he hopes to see the trustees show leadership to students and families in St. Albert, but also to school boards across the province, by supporting a stand-alone policy. “It doesn’t take away from anything. All it does is it helps to build a more welcoming, accepting and respectful school environment for everyone.”
In Kentucky, Ben Swanson, a 16-year-old junior at Lexington's Henry Clay High School, stood front and center with about 25 other young people leading a rally Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda to support anti-discrimination legislation. Swanson, president of the school's Young Democrats club, enthusiastically chanted along with more than 200 others at the rally: "Together we stand, together we fight; we demand our equal rights." Swanson and several of his classmates at Henry Clay took a school field trip to participate in The Fairness Coalition's rally for anti-discrimination proposals in this year's state legislative session. "I'm straight but I think everyone should have the same rights I do as a straight person," Swanson said. "That's why I'm here." The Fairness Coalition consists of five organizations working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in Kentucky. Its member organizations are the ACLU of Kentucky, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Lexington Fairness. The coalition is backing three bills, all of which have appeared in previous law-making sessions. Senate Bill 28, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington) and House Bill 171, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) would amend the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" among classes of individuals protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Marzian also is sponsoring HB 377, an anti-bullying measure that would include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students among protected classes. It is known as "The Sam Denham and Miranda Campbell Stand Up for All Students Act," named for two Kentucky students who committed suicide after being bullied about their sexual orientation. "We are making progress," said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. "In the five legislative sessions I've been doing this, we've never had so many show up to lobby as we did this morning. We had over 100." Supporters delivered to the legislature more than 11,000 constituent post cards advocating passage of the bills. Asked about the bills' chances of passage, Hartman said he is optimistic that HB 171 this year will get its first-ever committee hearing. But Martin Cothran, a spokesman for The Family Foundation, said the legislation is not needed. "We oppose these bills," he said, noting that there already are laws dealing with discrimination and bullying and contending that the bills could hurt freedom of religion and speech. Marzian told the crowd that the "fight for fairness has come a long way" since she joined the legislature in 1994. She said legislators who support fairness bills used to spend their time "fighting bad legislation. Today we are proposing good legislation." Johnny Cummings, mayor of Perry County's Vicco, population 334, said to loud applause that he is "so proud to come from a little town that passed a fairness ordinance." In January, Vicco became the smallest town in America to adopt an anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Swanson said he considers fairness "one of the major issues of our times," and added, "That's why I got about 12 students from our Young Democrats group and the school's Gay Straight Alliance to come to Frankfort.” Swanson's proclivity to political issues, he said, stems from his parents, Mark Swanson and Nancy Schoenberg, and his participation in the Kentucky Youth Assembly, a three-day student-run model of the state legislature each November. As president of Henry Clay's Young Democrats, he has helped get the 35-member group to discuss issues ranging from politics in the Middle East to the environment. He is optimistic that anti-discrimination bills now being filed in Kentucky's General Assembly will someday become law. "I think this is an issue that will take a while and a lot of hard work to become law," Swanson said. "But I think we are on the right side of history."
In Germany, leading members of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) are considering a sharp reversal in policy on same sex couples after a court ordered the government to grant them greater adoption rights, in an embarrassing ruling for the chancellor. Germany's constitutional court ruled last week that gay people should be allowed to adopt a child already adopted by their partner, and that the present ban was unconstitutional because it violated the principle of equal treatment. The court gave the government until July 2014 to amend the law, which applies to gay people in civil partnerships. "We will of course implement the constitutional court's ruling - that is called for now. At the same time, we will see whether tax amendments are necessary," Volker Kauder, leader of the CDU's parliamentary group, told the Welt am Sonntag paper on Sunday. At a party congress last December the CDU had thrown out a proposal to give same sex couples the same tax perks as heterosexual couples after much debate. The CDU's apparent change of heart was heavily criticized by the opposition Social Democrats, who accused it of being forced by the court into embracing reality. The CDU has sought to boost its urban appeal ahead of a federal election in September by giving more prominent roles to women and ethnic minorities. Long a staunch advocate of traditional family values, the party also faced some pressure from within to lure gay and lesbian voters, but that seemed a step too far for many at the congress last December. The CDU's sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, warned against making any urgent changes. "There is no grounds for taking hasty action or even making an about face on the subject of equal rights for married couples and same-sex couples," said Gerda Hasselfeldt, head of the CSU's parliamentary group in Berlin. In Germany, homosexuals can form civil partnerships but are not allowed to marry. Opposition parties and gay activists accuse the chancellor's center-right government of dragging its feet on equality for gay couples. Civil partnerships are denied the tax privileges given to married couples. Volker Beck, a lawmaker with the opposition Greens, warned in a statement on Sunday that opposition from the CSU and from some within the CDU suggested Merkel's government would be unable to push through legislation on its own. He urged a free vote on the issue and said the Greens would help support a change in the law. "If the CDU really wants to put an end to its discrimination of same-sex partnerships then we are ready to work together on this," Beck said.
An update on a previous post: A British man arrested in Rome on suspicion of murdering a tour guide and torturing another man after meeting them through online gay chat rooms told a victim he was an MI5 agent, police said. Jason Peter Marshall, 25, from Greenwich, London, was arrested in the early hours of Friday on a bus in the suburbs of the Italian capital after police tracked his mobile phone signal. After meeting a 55-year-old man in the centre of Rome through a gay chat room, Marshall allegedly accompanied him to his home in the outlying neighbourhood of Casal Morena on Thursday night. "They ate dinner, watched television and kissed but did not have sex," said a Rome police officer connected to the investigation. "Then the victim noticed that Marshall was carrying a gun and demanded to know why," he said. "Marshall claimed to be working for MI5 and involved in security at the British embassy in Rome. When the victim did not believe him, Marshall flew into a violent rage." The victim alleged Marshall then punched him repeatedly and suffocated him with cushions. "He tortured him for hours to get him to reveal his bank card code," said the officer. Four hundred Euros (£348) was also stolen from the apartment. Eventually, when neighbours heard the victim screaming, the attacker fled before police arrived. Obtaining Marshall's mobile phone number from the victim, officers were able to discover which phone mast it was linked to and ascertain his location. "We tracked him down on a bus at 3:30 am," said the officer. "He tried to flee but was blocked and gave himself up." Officers discovered the pistol he was carrying was a replica. Marshall was also reportedly carrying the victim's iPad and had tried to erase all traces of email contact between himself and the victim. Police also suspect Marshall in the murder of retired Italian tour guide Vincenzo Iale, 68, at his home in Torvajanica, a seaside resort town near Rome, on February 2, again after befriending him through a gay online forum. Marshall, who moved to Rome on January 11 and rented a flat in Rome's Prati district, is suspected of having sex with Iale before stabbing him four times in the chest and strangling him with an electrical cord. An investigating officer, who described Marshall as "well built", said "This was a ferocious killing." Iale's bank ATM card was stolen and later used, suggesting the killer forced Iale to reveal his code before murdering him. Marshall was identified as a suspect in the killing by police officers who read through Iale's e-mails. Marshall is currently being held at Rome's Regina Coeli prison ahead of questioning. He has not been charged with any offence. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the arrest of a British national in Italy on the 22nd of February. We are providing consular assistance."
A photo of Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe is being used to promote a Melbourne gay dance party. The promotional poster for the “Closet Party” features a black and white image of Thorpe above a slogan reading “for homosexuals and those who love them.” Neil Mitchell says the use of Thorpe's image in this context “an absurd public insult to Ian Thorpe around his sexuality.” Thorpe has denied being gay on a number of occasions, and has admitted to a long battle with depression in his latest book This Is Me. David McCarthy, The President of Melbourne's Gay and Lesbian radio station Joy 94.9, told Neil the poster is making fun of a serious issue. "They (The Promoters) don't realise the impact that this can have on young gay and lesbians that are wanting to come out. This sort of stuff is just a gutless attack and they are just trying to generate some publicity which unfortunately that's what they are doing. I think they should be ashamed of themselves" he said. The poster has been circulated on social media sites and two have been displayed near on the corner of Brunswick & Leicester Streets in Fitzroy. The promoter’s Facebook page also asks people to nominate their “fav rumoured to be gay celebrity” in return for free tickets. The event is being held at the First Floor nightclub in Fitzroy on Friday night.
An update on a previous post: The controversial auction of a Banksy mural that disappeared from the wall of a north London shop in mysterious circumstances was dramatically halted on Saturday just moments before it was due to go under the hammer. Slave Labour, a spray-painted artwork depicting a child making union flag bunting and seen as a critical social commentary on last year's diamond jubilee, was expected to sell for about $700,000 (£460,000) in a sale of street and contemporary art in Florida. But auctioneer Frederic Thut, the owner of the Fine Arts Auction Miami art house, who had refused all week to divulge the identity of the seller or how it came to be listed for sale through his gallery, announced that the piece, along with a second work by the secretive British street artist, had been withdrawn. He would not give a reason, but community leaders in Haringey, who led a vocal campaign to stop the sale of the artwork that was prised from the wall of a Poundland in Wood Green 10 days ago, were jubilant. "One of our two demands was that it doesn't sell and the other was that we get it back again, so we're halfway there," said Alan Strickland, a Haringey councillor. "I will be writing to the auction house as a matter of urgency to clarify what happened and what will happen next, but for now we are really pleased that because of the pressure and the strong views of the people of Wood Green, a community campaign in London has had an impact in the US. It's a real victory for the people." Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey council, wrote to Arts Council England and the mayor of Miami, Tomas Regalado, to ask them to intervene to stop the sale but it appears the decision to withdraw the item came from the gallery owners in consultation with their lawyers. The FBI refused to confirm reports they were asked to investigate. Several hours after the conclusion of the auction, the auction house issued a brief statement claiming it had persuaded the owners of the two Banksys to pull them from the sale. "Although there are no legal issues whatsoever regarding the sale of lots six and seven by Banksy, FAAM convinced its consignors to withdraw these lots from the auction and take back the power of authority of these works." About 30 potential buyers attended the sale of 106 lots listed in the catalogue for the modern, contemporary and street art sale in Miami's trendy Wynwood neighbourhood. The three-hour auction continued with other early lots selling in excess of their asking prices. Critics have accused the auction house of dealing in stolen property but Thut insisted earlier in the week that the consignor, who he described as a "well-known collector", was the rightful owner and that the sale was legal. He added that his gallery had been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from the United Kingdom, saying that many of them were abusive or offensive, but said he supported the inclusion of the pieces in the sale because it would preserve them. The second Banksy due to be auctioned, a 2007 artwork entitled Wet Dog that was removed from a Bethlehem wall and is estimated to be worth up to $800,000, disappeared from the auction house's online catalogue at lunchtime on Saturday, but Slave Labour was still listed for sale right up to the 3:00 pm start time. Thut said the two pieces, supplied to him by separate owners, neither of them British, were important works in the street art scene and deserved buyers "whose first interest is in art and its preservation.” He said he would maintain the privacy of the collector who put it up for sale. "We respect our clients and their confidentiality. It's not our decision to have [the Banksy] returned. We only sell it. We do not have control of it." A spokesperson for Poundland said it had no idea who removed the 4ft x 5ft slab from the side of its shop it rents in Turnpike Lane. Lawyers for the owner of the building, a company called Wood Green Investments Ltd, have refused to confirm if it had anything to do with the episode. Banksy himself has not commented on the Slave Labour furore, but has previously condemned those who have tried to sell his artwork, speaking out before the proposed sale of five of his pieces at a 2011 auction in New York. None found a buyer. Stephan Keszler, the dealer behind that auction, believes selling Banksy's works without his permission is legitimate. "He does something on other people's property without asking. The owner of the property can do whatever they want with it," Keszler said.
Luke Joeckel, former offensive tackle for the Texas A&M Aggies spotted running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, Joeckel sporting quite the impressive bulge.