Monday, June 10, 2013

First Gay Couple To Marry In Canada Celebrate A Decade, Council Bluffs Iowa Apartment Complex Ordered To Pay $147,000 To Two Gay Men After Jury Finds The Couple Were Discriminated Against, Albany County New York Legislature Debates Bill Prohibiting Discrimination Based On Gender Identity Or Expression, Belton Texas High School Salutatorian Mitch Anderson Comes Out During Graduation Speech, Jane Lynch Divorcing, Tony Awards Roundup, Apple Redesign Met With Mixed Response

In Toronto, Ontario, it was the kiss seen around the world, and over the coming decade, there would be thousands more like it. Ten years ago Monday, Michael Leshner and Michael Stark became the first gay couple to wed in Canada, in a civil ceremony held immediately after an Ontario appeals court ruled the practice legal. Their post-nuptial kiss was flashed around the globe as this province raced into the vanguard of the international fight for gay and lesbian equality. “Our smooches seemed to go everywhere that day and there seemed to be a lot of smooches,” says Leshner, whose well-publicized wedding drew the national press. “The media demanded that we smooch as if we were at a wedding reception,” he says. Embedded in the obvious joy of the moment was a decidedly serious legal precedent, one the former Crown attorney says has advanced the cause of gay rights in Canada like no other, reports the Toronto Star. “It was a surreal day. We wake up and two hours later we’re in the Court of Appeal office and we’re told we could get married,” says Leshner, now 65. “And being the lawyer that I am, I had arranged for three judges to be immediately prepared to marry us.” Leshner made the quick, four-hour pivot from courtroom to altar — the ceremony was actually performed in the Superior Court cloak room — for fear the province would file an immediate injunction and appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. That appeal never happened, and in the wake of the “Michaels’ marriage,” thousands of other gay and lesbian couples have walked down the aisle across the country — the proudest part of the couple’s legacy. Leshner, who had been with Stark for 22 years prior to their wedding, says legalized marriage makes gay rights bulletproof to legal challenges. When the pair met in 1981, there was nothing in Canadian law offering gay couples protection at any level, he says. “There was ... no constitutional protection, it didn’t exist for gay couples, nothing,” says Leshner, who with Stark was one of seven couples who brought the marriage suit against the province. “We might as well have been wearing a burka in a repressive Middle Eastern country, that’s how bad Canada was.” While there were incremental gains in the decades between their introduction and wedding — adoption rights, military equality — it was marriage that’s had the biggest legal impact. “It was the big case because marriage meant you had 24-karat gold protection from legal discrimination,” says Leshner, the couple’s more outspoken activist. “Because once the state couldn’t say, ‘You can’t get married’... no other form of discrimination could worm its way in.” Leshner says recent moves against gay and lesbian social groups by some Catholic schools, for example, likely could not withstand legal challenges in light of the marriage precedent. “If that becomes a court challenge I’m extremely optimistic,” he says. “When it comes to gay and lesbian adolescents, the Supreme Court is always going to allow equality to trump religions discrimination and fear and prejudice.” Stark, 55, says the couple has experienced the ups and downs that any marriage brings. “Like any couple you’ve got to find that groove where you’re simpatico with one another.” But Stark says he’s found huge personal satisfaction in the marriage and in what it represents. “When I first came out 23 years prior to getting married I just assumed my life would be very sad, depressed, I’d be alone,” the retired project manager says. “And you flash forward ... and I’m marrying a man having been part of the process that helped achieve that is just mind-boggling.”

In Iowa, an apartment complex’s management company will have to pay $147,000 to two gay men after a Council Bluffs jury found that the couple had been discriminated against by an on-site maintenance man and others who failed to stop his harassment. The Des Moines Register reports jurors awarded $22,000 in economic damages to Charles Anderson and Brandon Morehead, plus $50,000 for emotional distress and $75,000 in punitive damages, according to a news release issued by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which brought filed a lawsuit on the couple’s behalf. According to the commission, jurors heard testimony that maintenance technician Allen Emert launched repeated harassment and name-calling of the defendants after he learned in March 2011 that they were sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Two of Emmert’s supervisors at New Life Multi-Family Management LLC failed to stop the daily epithets, which included, among other things, references to the men being “queer” and “pillow biters.” The four-day jury trial ended in a finding that New Life had discriminated against Anderson and Morehead based on their sexual orientation. “As the jury in this case determined, there is no place in the state of Iowa for such outrageous and illegal activity and failure to stop such behavior can result in serious penalties to responsible parties,” Iowa Civil Rights Commission Director Beth Townsend said in the news release. “The Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were both written to ensure that Iowans are as free from discrimination and harassment in their housing as they would be in their place of employment.”

In New York State, Members of the Albany County Legislature discussed Monday a bill that some called “historic” on Monday since the new legislation will make it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity or gender expression. Albany County Legislative Chairman and lead sponsor of the legislation Shawn Morse, said the law is needed to ensure that no individual in the county was being discriminated against. “This is about basic human rights,” said Morse. “We all deserve to be treated equally under the law and to pursue our happiness without fear of discrimination. Members of the transgender community will now have that opportunity in Albany County.” A press conference on the topic Monday included civil rights proponents and representatives from the New York Citizens for Transgender Rights. “Protecting the Citizens of Albany County is our job,” said Frank Commisso, majority leader. “We are all equal, and it saddens me that people have been discriminated against for just being themselves.” The legislation is called Local Law “D”. “Defeating all forms of discrimination throughout the County is so important,” said Noelle Kinsch, 6th District legislator. “This law is long overdue and I am ecstatic to be a part of this process of enforcing equality as well as the basic civil and human rights that people of our community deserve.” “We who are associated with New York Citizens for Transgender Rights want to thank the county legislature for their patient and empathic listening to us over the past months,” said New York State Citizens for Transgender rights co-founder Renate Reeves-Ellington. “By passing Human Rights Law D, they send a clear message that discrimination is not welcome in Albany County.”

In Texas, on Thursday evening, Belton High School’s 2013 Salutatorian Mitch Anderson told a packed auditorium filled with his fellow students, family, friends, teachers, administrators and complete strangers that he was gay. It was the first time in his life he had ever told anyone he was gay. KTEM obtained an exclusive interview with Anderson on Friday after his graduation. During his senior year, Anderson had a GPA of 112.2, and scored a perfect PSAT score in his junior year. He said when he found out he would be the senior class salutatorian, he immediately began thinking about what he would say to his graduating class. The choice to come out “felt natural,” Anderson said. Speaking at his graduation ceremony about being a gay teenager struggling trying to find his identity felt like the right thing to do, he said. The ceremony took place at the Bell County Expo, in Belton on Thursday, with the largest graduating class in Belton High School’s history. But the young teen said he was undaunted by the massive crowd. “Once I got up there and stared talking, I felt completely fine,” Anderson said of Thursday’s night speech at the Bell County Expo. He said he told no one of his plans to come out during the speech. In his speech, Anderson addressed his struggles with coming out and finding acceptance with who he is. “I myself am guilty of self-doubt, relying on others to give my life definition,” he said in his speech, “But that time has passed, and I feel the moment has arrived for me to be publicly true to my personal identity. So now, I can say, I’m gay. It is both a significant portion of who I am and an inconsequential aspect. It’s as natural and effortless to me as breathing. I couldn’t change myself even if I wanted, and believe me, I have.” He said no one, not even his parents and close friends, knew he was gay prior to the speech. So far, the teenager said reaction has been positive. “I’ve received so much support and kindness,” Anderson said of fellow classmates and others. “Knowing that [people] found the speech inspirational has been really amazing.” Anderson said his parents knew nothing of his plans to come out that night, and were extremely supportive afterwards. “[My mom said] ‘I love you’,” and I said “I love you too,” he said. “Dad hugged me. “ As for what inspired him to come out, Anderson said pop culture icons such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Star Trek star Zacharay Quinto all played a role in helping him feel confident about his identity. “They are all about standing up for who you are, being different, being unique,” he said. “They’ve gotten strong positive reception for their [actions].” Anderson said he wrote two nearly identical speeches about being true to oneself, one he presented to the administration for approval and another one for himself that included a specific mention of being gay. “If you were really intuitive, you might have picked up on the similarities,” he said of the two speeches. Anderson said he knew he was gay for a good portion of his life, but that he was not ready to deal with it on a deeper level until last year. He said that living in a small town in Texas is a mixed bag for a gay teen, because while the community is tight knit and loving, there are still elements that are not as accepting. “It is hard and easy at the same time. So many of the kids in my school are so completely open-minded,” he said. “But then because you are in Texas, deep in the Bible belt, you have a lot of people with very deeply rooted beliefs who are not accepting of it at all. It does make you feel like you’re a second class citizen to them.” Anderson said he was aware of some negative reaction directed towards the speech, mostly posted on various community Internet message boards. Some expressed that it was wrong for the student to use the opportunity to make the speech about himself. Anderson noted that Valedictorian Jacob deKeratry also spoke about his own personal experiences as a teenager. “I didn’t make the speech all about me,” he said. “It’s about acceptance, about celebrating everyone.” “It’s a little bit hurtful,” he said of negative comments. “But it’s really no big deal. I’d rather they direct their hate and anger, at me, rather than someone else, because I know I can take it and blow it off.” While several media outlets were at the graduation, it was hard to find mention of the topic in the following day’s coverage. One local paper quoted Anderson’s salutatorian speech, but excluded any direct reference to his coming out. “I just think that just shows they are uncomfortable with [the subject matter],” Anderson said. In the fall, Anderson will attend the University of Texas in Austin, to study Biology and Psychology, in the hopes of someday becoming a doctor. “I love medicine, I find it so fascinating,” he said. “I love most science.” As for advice for other families or young people dealing with similar situations, Anderson said they should be true to themselves. “That’s the most important thing,” he said. “Find them and embrace them. I could not change myself even if I wanted to.”

Glee star Jane Lynch and her wife, Dr. Lara Embry, are getting a divorce, the actress tells People exclusively. "Lara and I have decided to end our marriage. This has been a difficult decision for us as we care very deeply about one another. We ask for privacy as we deal with this family matter," Lynch says in a statement. Lynch, 52, and Embry, 44, met at a 2009 fundraiser in San Francisco at which Embry was being honored. Shortly after confirming their engagement, the women married on Memorial Day in 2010 in an intimate ceremony in Sunderland, Massachusetts, one of the few states where same sex marriage is recognized. The wedding was attended by 19 friends and family including Embry's daughter, Haden, with whom Lynch has gotten very close. "My greatest pleasure is Haden, my stepdaughter," Lynch told People at The Moms Mamarazzi event in New York City last March. "I am surprised how much love you feel and how you would do anything for your children." Lynch, who is currently starring as Miss Hannigan in Annie: The Musical, performed at the Tony Awards in New York City Sunday.

Speaking of said Tony Awards, following an awesome, athletic opening number led by host Neil Patrick Harris (an indomitable spirit if there ever was one) The crowd-pleasing Broadway show Kinky Boots pulled off an upset victory as best musical at the Tony Awards on Sunday night, edging out the onetime front-runner, Matilda the Musical, while also scoring wins for Billy Porter’s lead performance and Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics in her Broadway debut as a composer. The unusually fierce head-to-head competition in 11 categories between the sunny Kinky Boots, about a drag queen who helps save a struggling shoe factory, and the darker Matilda, about a young girl battling against cruel adults, dominated the night — though the musical revival of Pippin also proved to be a major force. That show earned four Tonys — including best revival of a musical and two prizes for its actresses — as did the critically acclaimed Matilda. Kinky Boots ended up with six. The Tonys for plays were spread relatively widely among six comedies and dramas, with the bittersweet family satire Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike winning for best play — the first Tony in the playwright Christopher Durang’s decades-long career. The Tom Hanks vehicle Lucky Guy, however, one of the season’s biggest hits, was denied the biggest prizes. The New York Times offers an exhaustive recap of the evening’s winners and losers.

Apple is discarding most of the real-world graphical cues from its iPhone and iPad software, like the casino-green "felt" of its Game Center app, in what it calls the biggest update since the iPhone's launch in 2007. The new operating system, called iOS 7, strives for a clean, simple, translucent impression. Apple is redesigning all its applications and icons to conform to the new look, driven by long-time hardware design guru Jony Ive. The operating system will show up on most iPhones, iPad and iPod Touches this fall, the company said. The overhaul represents Ive's attempt to freshen the look of both the iPhone and iPad in hopes of deepening users' attachment to the trend-setting devices. It comes at a time when rivals such as Samsung Electronics and Google are trying to get people to defect by developing their own lines of elegant and often less expensive products. The stiffer competition has slowed Apple's growth in the increasingly important mobile device market, contributing to a 38-percent decline in the company's stock price since the shares peaked at $705.07 in September. Wall Street didn't seem nearly as impressed with Apple's new software approach as the sold-out audience of enthusiastic application developers who flocked to San Francisco Monday. Apple's stock dipped $2.92 to close Monday at $438.89. The redesigned software uses simple graphical elements in neon and pastel colors. Gone is the effort to make the icons look like three-dimensional, embossed objects — a tactic known as "'skeuomorphism," that was favored by Apple's late CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs. Interface designers call the new guiding principle "flat," but on the iPhone's main screen, the background image will move subtly with the movement of the device, creating an illusion of depth. Other screens include plenty of white space. The software has "a whole new structure that is coherent and is applied across the entire system," Ive said in a recorded presentation. "The design recedes, and in doing so, elevates your content." The San Francisco Chronicle records opinions of those for and against the redesign.

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