Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Multnomah County Oregon Becomes One Of First In Nation Requiring Gender-Neutral Bathrooms To Accommodate Transgender Users, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy Files Amendment To Immigration Bill Allowing Gay U.S. Citizens To Petition Foreign Spouses To Become Permanent Residents, Safety Alert Issues For Central Ohio’s Gay Community Following Two More Bias-Motivated Attacks, Superintendent Of Roman Catholic Diocesan Of Columbus Refuses To Reinstate Fired Lesbian High School Teacher, Pope Admits Existence Of Network Of Gay Prelates In Vatican

In Oregon, Multnomah County is jumping to the forefront of a national debate by becoming one of the first in the country to require single-occupancy, gender-neutral bathrooms in all new construction projects for the county. The move, coming through an executive order scheduled to be signed this morning by county board Chairman Jeff Cogen, is intended to eliminate stigmas for transgender county employees and visitors using county-owned restrooms. “There is no doubt that there will be people who will be opposed to this,” Cogen said. “But for us, it’s all about equity and fairness. It’s about us walking our talk.” Cogen’s order comes as cities, counties, states and schools across the nation wrestle with issues blending gender identity and access to various public facilities, including bathrooms, reports the Oregonian. Last month in Arizona, a legislator introduced a bill linking public bathroom use to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. The bill, which included dressing rooms and locker rooms, proposed a six-month jail term for noncompliance. Philadelphia went the opposite direction recently when, in a self-proclaimed effort to become “the most LGBT-friendly” city in the world, city leaders passed legislation requiring new or renovated city-owned buildings include gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to traditional men’s and women’s restrooms. Multnomah County’s initial costs are expected to be minimal, Cogen said, with outlays limited to adding new signs directing people to the locations of the gender-neutral facilities — which will be unchanged from the current single-occupancy restrooms but with no designation for “Men” or “Women.” County personnel will also begin a bathroom inventory of the 120 buildings the county owns or leases. Wherever possible, efforts will be made to designate gender-neutral bathrooms in those locations, as well. The timing of Cogen’s signing was intentionally set to coincide with Pride Month for the LGBTQ community in Multnomah County. Each June, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer communities celebrate with festivals, parades and educational presentations. But, more significantly, it comes after some transgender county employees complained of feeling uncomfortable using restrooms not suited to their needs and identities, Cogen said. “Some folks have told us they literally have to wait and go home during the day to go to the bathroom,” he said. “Clearly, that is suffering no one should have to endure.” The county’s move elicited immediate applause from some groups. “When it comes down to it, everyone is in the restroom for the same reason,” said Tash Shatz, trans justice program manager for Basic Rights Oregon, an organization that fights for equality rights. “All we are looking for is equal access.” Shatz said he and other transgender people frequently encounter harassment or threats when using bathrooms others may not expect them to use, based on their appearance. “All we are talking about is access to single-occupancy restrooms, which benefit many others, as well,” Shatz said. “Whether it is people with disabilities, families needing a diaper-changing room, or moms with breast milk pumps, this is good for everyone.” Grant High School made a similar conversion earlier this year, when it designated four student bathrooms and two staff bathrooms — all single stalls — as unisex. Now, the 10 Grant students who openly identify as transgender don’t have to forgo bathroom use during school hours, as some did before. That transition may not strike some as significant, but it is, said Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of the Portland-based Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center. “Folks who aren’t faced with gender issues don’t think twice about which stall they’ll walk into to use the bathroom,” she said. “For others, unfortunately, just the opposite is true. I can tell you honestly that the county’s move is a really important one, and we are really glad to see things come to this point.” 

In the United States, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is trying again on immigration and gay rights. Politico.com is reporting that the Vermont Democrat filed an amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration bill on Tuesday that would allow gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to petition their foreign spouses to become permanent residents. He had withdrawn the measure after an emotional debate during the committee markup, after several Democrats said they would vote against his amendment in order to preserve the overall bill. “Seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community is the right thing to do,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “I withheld my anti-discrimination amendment during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup. As the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on.” It is unclear whether Leahy’s proposal will get a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have yet to reach an agreement on amendments. And the political dynamics for Leahy’s amendment are different on the floor. In the committee, the amendment would have required just a simple majority for it to pass. On the floor, it will almost certainly need 60 votes. The Supreme Court could also weigh in on the matter. Later this month, the court is expected to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act, and if that law is overturned, same-sex couples might be able to petition for green cards.

An update on a previous post: 10 TV reports that a safety alert issued for Central Ohio's gay community, after two incidents of possible anti-gay violence. The first incident happened Thursday in South Columbus, the second early Monday morning in North Columbus. Friends of the most recent victim say he and his ex-boyfriend were walking to their separate homes, both near 5th and Indianola early Monday morning. When one went inside, the other was jumped and beaten. The photo is shocking. It shows a man, his face scarred and scraped, his shirt splattered with his own blood. His friends say in a city famous for being gay friendly, this photo is proof, hate still lives here. Friends tell 10tv Chris Kratavil and his ex-boyfriend were walking home in the area of 5th and Indianola. Kratavil says he and the other man were holding hands and kissed goodnight. He says he noticed two men across the street. He said hello to them as he crossed the street heading to his home. As he passed, he says they jumped him, beating him in the head, dragging him face-first down concrete stairs and then kicking him repeatedly. "It affects us. When somebody else is brutalized, we know it could have been us," says Gloria McCauley with BRAVO, the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization. She says the attack has alarmed many in the gay community. "They are certain it was hate-motivated." It comes on the heels of another gay man being assaulted last Thursday outside the Southbend Tavern in Merion Village. 25-year-old Chris Ashcraft of Northern Kentucky says he was approached outside the bar by a man who asked for help jump-starting a dead battery. "Once I was on the ground they kicked me in the face until I was unconscious," he said. McCauley says the incidents are a disturbing reminder, even in the proudest of cities. "This is our home. And we want to believe we're safe. We don't want to be walking in fear." Columbus Police are investigating both incidents. BRAVO is warning members of the gay community to be aware of their surroundings, and to walk in groups.

Also in Ohio, the superintendent of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus has refused to reinstate a gay high school teacher who was fired after she listed the name of her partner in a newspaper obituary, a lawyer said Tuesday. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Thomas Tootle, attorney for former Bishop Watterson High School physical-education teacher Carla Hale, said she has two weeks to decide whether she will seek binding arbitration based on an agreement between the diocese and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators union. In a June 6 letter provided by Tootle, Superintendent Lucia McQuaide says she will uphold the termination. Hale, who taught at Watterson for about 19 years, was fired from the school in Clintonville in March. The union has declined to support Hale in her grievance, but she has the option to continue on her own or could file a lawsuit, Tootle has said. The union agreement says educators can be fired for immoral or unethical behavior and diocesan officials have said a separate employment contract requires teachers to abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church. The church considers homosexual acts, and all sex acts outside a marriage between a man and a woman, sinful. Along with the grievance, Hale has filed a complaint with the Columbus Community Relations Commission under a city ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The pope has admitted the existence of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, reports published on Tuesday said. According to leaked notes of a private conversation with Catholic officials at the Latin American Conference of Religious (Clar), Francis was asked about being in charge of the Roman curia, the Chilean website Reflexión y Liberación reported. According to site, the Argentinian pontiff, speaking in his native Spanish, said the task was difficult as, alongside "holy people", there was also "a stream of corruption". He was then quoted as adding: "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do." Clar later confirmed its leaders had written a synopsis of the pope's remarks and said it was greatly distressed that the document had been published. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he had no comment to make on the remarks made in "a private meeting". The text follows repeated claims that there are a significant number of influential gay clerics within the Vatican. The speculation peaked in February when, soon after Benedict XVI resigned, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica claimed he had decided to step down after receiving a dossier investigating the Vatileaks scandal containing details of a network of gay prelates, some of whom were vulnerable to blackmail.

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