Sunday, April 21, 2013

ACLU Agrees To Represent Two Lakeland Florida High School Students Who Have Been Denied Permission To Form Gay-Straight Alliance, Small Rally In Austin Minnesota Calls On Legislators That Traditional Marriage Created To Protect Children, Nevada Same Sex Marriage Resolution Amended To Protect Religious Organizations, Philadelphia City Council Introduces Bill Requiring Newly Constructed Or Renovated City-Owned Buildings To Build Gender Neutral Bathrooms, Bill Clinton Says Daughter Chelsea “Has Had Profound Impact” On His Marriage Equality Evolution, Tom Daley Sports Colorful Speedo

In Lakeland, Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped up to represent two students who have been unable to obtain permission to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Kathleen High School. Rory Teal and Brenna Pelland, both 17, said they began asking in November for Principal Ginger Rosenau to meet with them about starting a club, but they have received only delaying tactics in response. The ACLU says it's clearly illegal for schools to deny students the right to start this type of club, so a common tactic used is to just keep putting students off in hopes that interest will dissipate. The ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender policy strategist, Daniel Tilly, said the state has many similar cases — and the ACLU has won every one. "In Florida, the law about allowing GSAs is so clear that it is astonishing that schools continue to believe they can just ignore federal law," he told the Lakeland Ledger. A demand letter from the ACLU was sent Thursday to interim Polk County School Superintendent John Stewart and Wesley Bridges, general counsel for the school system. The letter spells out the failed attempts on the part of the students to get permission for their club. "Given the legal obligation to provide equal access and the perfectly appropriate subject matter of the proposed GSA, we expect this situation can be resolved quickly," the letter said. "Please advise us by Monday, April 29, 2013, that the request to form a GSA at Kathleen High School has been approved and that it may immediately begin having meetings and activities as an approved non-curricular student club." The girls told the Ledger they had hoped to resolve the issue at their school. "Really, we didn't want the ACLU to have to be involved; we really tried to do this on our own," Teal said. "But we figured we had used all of our own tactics." They said they had one meeting set up with Rosenau, but it was canceled. Later, she referred several times via e-mail to the number of other club proposals she had to address, Tilly said. A public information request, however, showed there were just two proposals in the works, including the one for the GSA. Rosenau sent a one-sentence e-mail to the Ledger when it asked for a response: "To date I have received no letter of demand from the ACLU. Thank you," she said. Leah Lauderdale, senior director of the Department of Strategic Communications/Community Relations, said it's her understanding the students' application was incomplete. The required paperwork was handed in March 22, Lauderdale said. The ACLU addressed the topic of paperwork: "As we understand it, Rory and Brenna initially proposed the club to Principal Ginger Rosenau, Assistant Principal Charles Thacker, and others in an email on November 25, 2012. Despite Rory and Brenna's numerous attempts to learn the status of their proposal, it was almost three months later — on February 22, 2013 — before they were told that additional information may be needed. This information was provided the following month, yet to date — almost five months after submitting the initial proposal — Rory and Brenna have still not obtained a definitive statement that the request to form the club has been approved or denied. On February 22 and April 3, 2013, Principal Rosenau suggested that the delay was due to the many club applications that had been filed and needed reviewing, yet our understanding is that only two club applications have been filed since July 2012." In their proposal for the club, the students said they wanted the group to advocate for members by hosting gay history assemblies, make posters and signs showing pride for the students, help educate others about their community, hold a "teach the teachers" session to focus on helping staff better understand them and combat anti-gay bullying. "We have experienced mostly verbal bullying," Teal said. "People calling us names, saying we are demons, we are going to hell. I've had things thrown at me, like pencils and stuff like that." The girls said that to avoid being harassed, they don't go to the lunchroom. They found a quiet area to have lunch in peace, they said. Lauderdale said Friday that a meeting has been set up with the students for this week to address their request.

In Minnesota, more than 50 people came to an anti-gay marriage rally at the Faith Evangelical Free Church parking lot in Austin Sunday, seeking to muster support to defeat a gay marriage bill in the state Legislature. According to the Austin Herald, organizers from Minnesotans for Marriage handed out signs, gave speeches and asked residents to tell their local legislators marriage is a public institution created to protect children. “We are not against anyone’s rights,” Crystal Crocker, grassroots development and messaging director for Minnesota for Marriage, told the crowd gathered. “[Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender people] have all the rights to live as they choose. But they do not have the right to redefine marriage.” Rally organizers argued the bill wasn’t in the best interest of children and that children required a mother and father. Crocker told the crowd the organization didn’t pick this battle but Minnesotans for Marriage and its supporters would stand up to protect families and children. (The story will be updated Monday.)

In Nevada, a proposal seeking to clear the way for same sex marriage in the state was amended Friday by the Senate in a move designed to make it more acceptable to some lawmakers who struggled with their religious convictions. The amendment offered by Sen. Pat Spearman, a lesbian minister, states: “Religious organizations and clergy have the right to refuse to solemnize a marriage and no person has the right to make any claim against a religious organization or clergy for such a refusal.” Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) said she hoped the amendment would ease concerns and ensure colleagues that religious protections “would not be denied.” The amendment was approved on an 11-10 party-line vote with Democrats in favor. The Appeal reports that Senate Joint Resolution 13 now goes to the Senate floor for a vote early next week. Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) was one lawmaker who grappled with the proposal. Denis is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After the vote, Denis said he believes the amendment addresses concerns raised by a number of groups about protecting religious covenants. “I think that it accomplishes that,” he said. Sen. Michael Roberson of Henderson, the Republican minority leader, wouldn’t comment as he left the chamber. But Sen. Greg Brower (R-Reno) said he voted against the amendment because he hadn’t had sufficient time to consider it. He was noncommittal when asked if he’d support the resolution as a whole when it was brought up for vote. Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) said he opposes it because he doesn’t believe lawmakers should set in motion the undoing of an initiative process that led to the ratification of the Protection of Marriage Act in 2002. That constitutional amendment defines marriage in Nevada as between a man and a woman. Original language in SJR13 sought only to repeal that law. But it was amended in committee explicitly sanction gay marriage. SJR13 needs to be approved by lawmakers this year and in 2015. It would then go to voters in 2016. Nevada is one of 29 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same sex marriage. But as in many other states, Nevadans’ sentiments on the issue are evolving and shifting. In a letter last month to the Senate Committee on Operations and Elections, MGM Resorts expressed support for repealing Nevada’s gay marriage ban. And this week a group of high-profile business leaders added their voice to the debate. “To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens,” said the letter signed by an array of sate business leaders, including Elaine Wynn, Billy Vassiliadis, Monte Miller and Sig Rogich. “For this reason — among others — it is vitally important that Nevada lawmakers enact marriage equality soon.” It concluded, “The Nevada Legislature should act now. It’s the pro-jobs, pro-growth thing to do. It’s the right thing for Nevada.”

In Philadelphia, a Bill sponsored by City Councilman Jim Kenney at the behest of the LGBT community would require newly constructed or renovated city-owned buildings to have gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to men's and women's rooms. "It can be an awkward and embarrassing situation," said Kenney, for anyone who may "feel more like a woman, but can't use the women's room. These functions should be fair for everybody." Speakers at a recent City Council committee hearing on the bill told stories of transgender youth who faced discrimination in bathroom access, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. "We're talking about people who want to be respected, who want their personal identification to be respected and just want to blend in," said state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay legislator who was involved with helping craft the bill, which the Council committee agreed to last week. Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, said the bill's requirements would not cost the city extra money because it already requires non-gender single-use, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in all of its buildings. Support for gender-neutral bathrooms is growing. The University of Pennsylvania is looking to expand its gender-neutral bathrooms and in 2006 the Washington, D.C., Office of Human Rights issued a regulation that prohibited public bathrooms from being gender-specific in an effort to end discrimination against the transgender community. Advocates say the transgender community makes up 1-percent of Philly's population. "This bill brings a first-class city into the 21st century," said Sims. The number of gender-neutral bathrooms would depend on the building's size and use. Kenney's bill would also make online city websites and forms gender-neutral and establish transgender health benefits for city employees to cover psychotherapy, hormone treatments, laser hair removal and gender confirmation surgery. Kathy Padilla, a transgender woman and strong advocate for LGBT rights who also aided in crafting the legislation, said she was unable to get a mammogram for the last 16 years. "I fail to see how not having mammogram coverage helps anyone in the future," she said. "How does that help keep costs down?" Under the proposal, private companies that offer health care for life partners, their children and for transgender medical needs could also apply for a tax credit, the lesser of $4,000 or 25-percent of any cost increases. Philly would be the first city in the country to offer such a tax credit. The bill would require spouse-equivalent treatment in hospitals and prison visitation and bans discrimination in medical decision making. The bill could come up for a final vote as early as Thursday. "Life is hard for everybody and certain obstacles the government puts in the way intentionally or unintentionally make life harder for some more than others," Kenney said, "and all we're trying to do is streamline that down."

In Los Angeles, former President Bill Clinton delivered a rousing endorsement of equal rights for gays and lesbians to an enthusiastic gathering of civil rights activists at the J.W. Marriot Hotel Saturday night, capping a political turnabout he credited to his daughter Chelsea. "She has had a profound impact on the way I see the world," Clinton told the crowd during his acceptance speech for the Advocate for Change Award at the 24th annual Los Angeles dinner of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "It's sort of humbling when you get to be my age when your child knows more than you do about everything,” adding, "Chelsea and her gay friends have modeled to me how we should all treat each other regardless of our sexual orientation or any other artificial difference that divides us. Many of them come and join us every Thanksgiving for a meal. I have grown very attached to them. And over the years, I was forced to confront the fact that people who oppose equal rights for gays in the marriage sphere are basically acting out of concern for their own identity, not out of respect for anyone else." Clinton is among those national Democratic figures (including President Barack Obama) whose views on marriage equality have evolved substantially, along with those of the public as whole, over these past few years. Younger Americans of every ethnicity, religion and region now approve marriage equality by substantial majorities, calling it a civil rights issue, pollsters say. As President, Clinton had a mixed record when it came to equal rights for gays and lesbians. On the on hand, he appointed more than 150 gays and lesbians to a variety of government posts, among them Jim Hormel—heir to the Spam fortune—who as U.S. representative to Luxembourg was the country’s first openly gay ambassador. He also substantially increased federal funding of research into HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples united under state laws. Clinton has subsequently called his approval of that law one of his biggest mistakes as President. "I want to keep working on this until not only is DOMA no longer the law of the land, but until all people - no matter where they live - can marry the people they love," Clinton told the GLAAD crowd. As he spoke about DOMA, a heckler shouted: "You signed it!" Clinton demurred, adding: "You are the agents of change. I got this award tonight, because I was the object of your affection - or not, as the case may be. My daughter led me to support the marriage equality law in New York when we were debating it, and to oppose North Carolina's denial of marriage equality, and to do all these other things. So I want to thank her too. Thank you, GLAAD. Thank you, Chelsea." The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the act’s constitutionality, along with that of California’s Proposition 8, by the end of June. Clinton has urged the justices to strike the law down. "Whenever we turn away from treating someone with the dignity and honor and the respect that we would like accorded to ourselves, we have to face the fact it's about us," Clinton said. At the end of his speech, Chelsea joined her father on the stage, and they embraced. Harvey Weinstein and Jennifer Lawrence were on hand to present the award to the President. Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron presented the Stephen F. Kolzak Award to entertainment lawyer Steve Warren.

Team Great Britain diver Tom Daley (sporting some new Speedos) spotted waving to the crowd after winning the Men’s 10 Metre Platform Final on day three of the FINA/Midea Diving World Series 2013.

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