Monday, June 17, 2013

Poland’s Openly Gay Member Of Parliament Kicked And Spit On After Warsaw Equality Parade, Pew Research Media Study Finds News Reports Offer More Pro-Same Sex Marriage Opinions, Equal Marriage Arizona Launch Campaign To Overturn State Constitution Banning Same Sex Marriage, U.S. Social Security Administration Adopts Policy Allowing Ease In Changing One’s Gender In Agency’s Records, Los Angeles Police Investigate Anti-Gay Hate Crime, Mississippi Gay Bar Denied Special Permit, Chandler Massey Wins Second Daytime Emmy, Meningitis Vaccines Urged Ahead Of New York City Pride Events

In Poland, that country’s first openly gay MP says he was physically attacked following Saturday's Equality Parade in Warsaw. “This was an unpleasant incident, and it shows that there is perhaps no sense in burying one's head in the sand,” said Robert Biedron of the liberal Palikot's Movement party, in an interview with Polsat News. “You cannot call bandits patriots, a tendency that one often hears from the lips of politicians,” he said. Biedron said that the attack took place in a cafe in central Warsaw where the MP was relaxing with a group of friends following the march. “An aggressive man insulted us, using homophobic statements. He began to choke one of my friends and punched him in the face. When he recognized me he spat in my face, raised his fists and kicked me in the stomach.” According to Biedron, the assailant then ran away but was arrested shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, Biedron noted that the march itself had been considerably less problematic this year. The MP stressed that there were no signs of stones or bottles being thrown at marchers on Saturday, in contrast to some previous occasions. Several thousand people marched through the capital this year. Besides appealing for civil partnerships, the participants also called for equal treatment for all Polish citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, religion or skin colour. Robert Biedron has been an MP for the liberal anti-clerical Palikot's Movement since the general election of 2011, when the party took a surprise 10-percent share of the national vote, becoming the third largest party in parliament. Nevertheless, the issue of civil partnerships has proved a thorny one, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk struggling to find unity in his centre-right Civic Platform party on the matter. Meanwhile, chief opposition party, the conservative Law and Justice, has opposed civil partnerships.

Around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the issue of same sex marriage, news reports had more comments from supporters than opponents, a study released Monday concluded. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at nearly 500 stories on the topic over a two-month period that began just before the court started hearings in March on legalizing same-sex marriage. By a 5-to-1 margin, the stories with statements in support of legalization outweighed those dominated by opponents' views. But Pew said the results were in large part because many of the stories were about polls showing societal attitudes swiftly moving toward support for gay marriage, or about politicians announcing their support. A disciplined approach by supporters was also a factor, Pew found. "Certainly it is evident in these findings the degree to which supporters of same sex marriage were largely successful in getting their message out in a clear way, a consistent way, across a wide swath of the news media," said Amy Mitchell, acting director of the project, reports the Associated Press. Supporters primarily defined the issue as one of civil rights. At the same time, Pew said, opponents haven't coalesced behind a single argument but instead posed many: homosexuality is immoral; same sex marriage hurts families or society; civil unions are good enough; or government should not impose a new definition of marriage. The findings were consistent across different media. For instance, 43-percent of newspaper stories showed at least a 2-to-1 margin of pro views to con, 8-percent were dominated by opponents and 48 percent were largely neutral, Pew said. The proportions of supporter-opponent content in stories for all three cable news networks were similar. 29-percent of the stories by Fox News Channel, which appeals to conservatives, were dominated by supporters, 8-percent by opponents and 63-percent had about the same pro and con views, Pew said. While the nation's attitudes have been shifting, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 51-percent of the public favored legalizing same sex marriage and 42-percent opposed it. Pew found that Twitter postings were more closely aligned with public opinion than news coverage. Tweets were about the same between positive and negative, with the greater proportion of negative comments coming directly after the Supreme Court began hearing arguments. Mitchell demurred when asked whether the study provided evidence for conservatives who believe that news media opinions tilt left. "I don't think the study can necessarily speak to that one way or another," she said.

In Arizona, same sex marriage supporters launched a campaign Monday to change the state constitution’s definition of marriage. Equal Marriage Arizona is trying to collect more than 400,000 signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot for next year. The campaign is in anticipation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the federal Defense Of Marriage Act and California’s same sex marriage ban. The Arizona amendment would define marriage as between two people rather than a man a woman, as it is currently written into the state constitution. Equal Marriage Arizona chairman Warren Myers said this push for legalization of gay marriage is taking place across the country. “We see 12 other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, and we see how that’s working out for them,” Myers said. “I think it’s working well. And I think that gives people increased confidence to bring equal marriage to Arizona.” Five years ago, Arizona voters approved a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make decisions on gay marriage by the end of this month.

In Maryland, the Social Security Administration, which is based in Woodlawn, has adopted a new policy making it easier to change one's gender in agency records, the organization announced last week. Organizations representing the national transgender community have hailed the change as a major victory. It is something they've long fought for. "This is a tremendous victory for our community," said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, in a statement. "The Social Security Administration was one of the last agencies to hold onto an outdated, one-size-fits-all standard for gender change. Transgender people will now be able to change all their federal documents with a simple letter from their doctor recognizing that they have undergone the appropriate treatment for them." The SSA had previously required documentation of sex reassignment surgery, which the center said wasn't in line with the "current medical consensus that surgery is not appropriate or necessary for every transgender person to transition." Kia Anderson, a SSA spokeswoman, said the agency has worked with advocacy groups on the issue, but mainly made the change "to make our policy more consistent across government." Other agencies in the federal government, including the State Department, already have policies like the SSA's new one. The new policy allows for a gender change to be made in a person's SSA records following the submission of a doctor's letter, a passport, a birth certificate or a court order showing the correct gender. The National Center for Transgender Equality has released a guide explaining what the policy means here.

In California, police on Monday were investigating a hate crime that took place in South Los Angeles over the weekend. A 28-year-old man found his vehicle vandalized with the word “gay” etched on its sides and roof, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The vehicle’s windows were smashed out and its tires were flattened. The incident happened on Sunday morning in the 2100 block of West 108th Street in unincorporated Los Angeles. The vehicle was parked outside the victim’s house when the incident occurred. Anyone with information regarding the crime is urged to call the South L.A. Sheriff’s station at 323-820-6700.

A Memphis business owner and former owner of a popular bar in Shannon recently tried to reopen the business, but were denied by Shannon aldermen. P.J. Newton, 55, opened O’Haras, a bar known for catering to the gay community of Northeast Mississippi, in 1994 but then sold it in 1998 and moved to Memphis. The bar changed to Rumors in 1998 but has since closed. “A lot of people from the area approached me about coming back because they enjoyed me being there and said the business I ran was good for them,” Newton said. “I leased the space in May and had an inspector come by to do a walk-through in the first two days from signing the lease to tell me what I would need to do to bring the building up to code and made improvements inside and out.” Newton said she had everything ready to open except for her special exception permit, which is needed for any business that serves alcohol, from the city’s board. The board voted 4-1 at the June 4 Board of Aldermen meeting to deny a special exception for O’Haras based on the city’s standard of review for special exception uses in Shannon’s zoning code. The code says a special exception “shall not” be granted unless the development will not endanger public health or safety, is reasonably necessary for public health or general welfare, will not injure the value of adjoining property, will be in harmony with the character of the neighborhood, will conform to a comprehensive plan, is appropriately located in respect to utilities and public safety services and will not cause undue traffic congestion. City Attorney Gary Carnathan said the denial was based on concerns of necessity for general welfare, traffic congestion and public need. Alderman-at-Large Carl Trice, who voted to deny the exception, was the only board member to return calls for comment. He said he took into consideration some of the residents’ concerns. Currently Shannon has two bars, one of which is a bar and restaurant located close to where O’Haras would be. At least 23 Shannon residents attended the public hearing required before a special exception request is considered. Trice said the residents brought a petition with about 200 signatures from residents objecting to the bar opening. Newton said about five people from the group spoke in opposition to her bar, none of them mentioning the gay community aspect, but all objecting to having a bar in the area. Newton said she wanted to open in Shannon because she is familiar with the area and the property owner she is leasing the building from. “It was something I wanted to do for the gay community here,” she said. “They really have no place to go and while some places may be ‘gay friendly,’ no one really feels comfortable if they want to kiss their partner or dance together.” Ward 1 Alderman Bryant Thompson said he voted in favor of the special exemption because Newton worked hard to get her business ready. “I didn’t mind voting because to me, I felt like she put forth a good effort to get the parking lot fixed and they had been doing a lot of work on the building,” he said. Police Chief Desiree Kirshner said she remembers having some issues with the bar under its previous ownership but nothing outside of what she experiences with other bars. She said most of the trouble happened when Shannon bars stayed open until 2:00 am and people from Tupelo would travel to Shannon after the Tupelo bars closed. Now that Shannon bars are required to close at midnight, Kirshner said, most of that trouble has died down. Eric White, 33, of Tupelo, is a former employee of Rumors and a supporter of Newton. He said he wants to see the bar open so that members of the gay community can go somewhere they know they won’t make others uncomfortable. “I don’t want to put someone in a situation where they feel uncomfortable in a public setting,” White said. “There are places you can go and people won’t say anything negative but as much as they don’t want to be offended, we don’t want to offend them.” White said it wouldn’t be a bar only for gay people but a bar where people know they will see same sex couples and anyone made uncomfortable by that would know before going in the bar. “I just want my business to be a small sports bar and a lot of my clientele will probably be gay,” Newton said. “Please don’t associate me with previous owners’ problems. This is a new business and I want to operate it within the parameters of the law. We’ll have a nice menu, live entertainment and some small bands and sporting events.” She doesn’t know what her options are at this point but plans to appeal the denial of her special exception.

At the Daytimes Emmys, Days of Our Lives was the surprise winner, earning two awards during the HLN telecast, which broadcast live from Beverly Hills, California. It won Best Drama Series for the first time in 35 years, and won Best Younger Actor for Chandler Massey for the second year in a row, Massey playing openly gay Will Horton. Combined with the two awards it won during the Creative Arts ceremony on Friday night, it won a total of four awards. The Ellen DeGeneres Show won Best Entertainment Talk Show for the third time; before that, Ellen had won the combined Best Talk Show category four times. It won six awards at the Creative Arts ceremony on Friday night, bringing its total this year to seven.

While meningitis has reached an all-time low in the United States, an op-ed in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine highlights cases of a deadly meningitis strain among men who have sex with men. Cities including New York, Toronto, and San Francisco have launched public awareness campaigns to promote vaccination, but the authors also call on physicians to assess the risk to their patients and discuss the strain. Since August 2010, 22 cases have been reported in New York City among men who have sex with men. More than half of those were already HIV positive. Seven men died. In fact, in New York City last year, men who have sex with men were 50 times more likely than the general population to be infected with the virus, according to city health officials. Meningitis can be spread by close contact such as kissing or sharing cigarettes. Early symptoms of infection can include flu-like symptoms, sepsis and rash. Death is common within 24 hours of first exhibiting symptoms. And the disease isn't limited to New York. Four cases have also been reported in Los Angeles since December, officials said. Public health officials are already sounding the alarm. In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends that all men who have sex with men be vaccinated against the deadly virus, as it can be spread via intimate contact. In New York State, insurers are mandated to cover the vaccine. Since last October, the department has vaccinated more than 11,000 people and no new cases have been reported since February. With upcoming Gay Pride festivities slated for the end of the month, health departments in other cities are advising those traveling to New York for the events be vaccinated. It's not the first time events have been targeted, as mass gatherings have been associated with outbreaks in the past. In fact, all those making pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj are also required to be vaccinated.

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