Saturday, August 31, 2013

Newfoundland LGBT Community Divided Over Alleged August 15 Gay Bashing, Niagara Falls Anglican Church's Pro-Gay Message Goes Viral, Seven New Mexico Republican Legislators File Lawsuit Seeking To Stop County Clerk From Issuing Marriage Licenses To Same Sex Couples, Arizona U.S. Representative Wants Criminal Investigation Conducted On Anti-Gay Fliers Attacking School Board Member, Federal Appeals Court Upholds California Gay Conversion Ban, Oregon Bureau Of Labor Orders Bar To Pay Transgender Group After Denying Them Entrance

In Newfoundland, continuing speculation over the alleged gay-bashing attack on Pattrick Blackburn in St. John's earlier in August has caused a painful rift within the city's LGBT community, according to a representative of St. John's Pride Inc. In a video that he posted to YouTube that was later removed, Blackburn said he overheard a group of males walking behind him call him a gay slur while he was walking downtown on the night of August 15, but that he doesn't remember anything after that. He said the next thing he knew, he woke up in hospital with stitches after losing a lot of blood in an attack. According to Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers, there is no official complaint or statement from Blackburn about the incident to date. The lack of an official police report, as well as doubts voiced on social media about the legitimacy of fundraising efforts to benefit Blackburn, has led to a debate from both sides. Noah Davis-Power, chair of the organization, said there is growing tension between people who believe Blackburn's story and support him — and those who think there are some questions that still need answering, to verify what they believe as fact or fiction. "Amongst the community, it's just been the hot topic of conversation now ever since it happened and it's, again, just boiling down at even parties," Davis-Power said. "All of these questions just circulating just over and over and over [are] making the divide very clear right now." According to Davis-Power, the constant swirl of questions is counter-productive because either scenario is not ideal. "It's going to come down one way or the other — when the axe drops, neither situation is good. We either actually had a hate crime here that left someone pretty debilitated, or we have someone who's made a black mark on the queer community, saying the boy who cried wolf," he said. "So, in either case, the question is: are we safe? And then, if something does actually happen where this does happen to be not true, are people going to believe us next time when it actually does happen."
Davis-Power said the questions are better left for police to resolve.

In Niagara Falls, a picture of a sign outside an Anglican church that sends a message of inclusivity when it comes to homosexuality has gone viral online. The billboard, which is outside St. John’s Anglican Church on Portage Rd., reads: “Jesus had two dads and he turned out just fine!” An image of the sign caught worldwide attention this week after it was posted on the social-media website Reddit. That was followed by several articles in media outlets across Canada, the United States and Europe, including Huffington Post Canada, the Washington Times and United Kingdom’s The Independent. The Reddit post has gained hundreds of thousands of views; almost 450 people have posted comments about the sign. According to Christian faith, Jesus is the son of God, but was partly cared for on Earth by his birth mother’s husband, Joseph. St. John’s rector Lynne Marchant said a female member of the church is in charge of putting messages on that sign. Messages are usually up for about a week and often promote church-hosted banquets, services and events. Sometimes parishioners will give her ideas and statements that might catch people’s attention when they pass by the church. Marchant, who is also archdeacon of the Brock Region within the Diocese of Niagara, said she doesn’t feel the need to give the woman the green light before a message is posted, adding “I trust her. She is a valued member of the church, a wonderful, caring woman. “I think one of the parishioners had sent it to her,” Marchant said of the current message. She said the woman is “overwhelmed” and “flabbergasted” by the widespread attention the message has garnered. “I don’t find it offensive in any way. It has done a lot of healing by those who may feel slighted by the church.We have people in our congregation who are homosexual. We are an all-inclusive church, a family. No one cares what your sexuality is. Come on in, we don’t see any difference.” This is not the first time an Anglican church has caught the attention of the public for promoting a pro-gay message. A few weeks ago, an Australian church posted a statement outside its church that read: “Dear Christians, some people are gay. Get over it. Love, God.”

In New Mexico, seven Republican legislators filed a lawsuit Friday to stop the Doña Ana County clerk from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state lawmakers claim Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins overstepped his legal authority Aug. 21 when he decided to start issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. They also claim Ellins usurped their rights as legislators by taking matters into his own hands. “We’ve got a real mess on our hands,” said Albuquerque attorney Paul Becht, who represents the Republican legislators. County clerks in six counties – Doña Ana, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Taos, San Miguel and Valencia – have started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in the past two weeks as gay and lesbian couples have sought to be married in all parts of the state. However, several of those clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples only in response to lower court orders; Ellins, in contrast, started issuing marriage licenses voluntarily, saying that he believes state laws that have been viewed as prohibiting the practice are unconstitutional and that he was tired of waiting for court action. Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, declined to take action to stop the issuance of marriage licenses in Doña Ana County. His stance has angered some Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez. The Republican lawsuit is one of several legal challenges that could wind up before the state Supreme Court. However, the state’s highest court has denied requests to consolidate and take over pending gay marriage lawsuits. Amber Royster, executive director of Equality New Mexico, said she was not surprised by the Republican lawmakers’ lawsuit and said she is hopeful the Supreme Court soon issues a decisive, statewide ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage. “We can’t have certain areas in New Mexico recognizing same-sex couples and all of a sudden you go outside the county borders and it’s invalid,” Royster said. State Sen. Cisco McSorley, an Albuquerque Democrat, criticized the Republican lawmakers, claiming there have been ample opportunities to address the issue of same-sex marriage in the Legislature. “For the group that opposed any kind of compromise on any kind of gay rights legislation to now tell the people of the state of New Mexico they ought to come back to the Legislature (to address the issue) is pretty ridiculous,” McSorley said. One of the seven GOP lawmakers listed on the lawsuit, Sen. William Sharer of Farmington, criticized Ellins in his blog this week, “A county clerk should not be allowed to create law out of thin air.” Besides Sharer, the legislator plaintiffs are Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-Albuquerque), Rep. Dennis Roch (R-Texico), Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo), Sen. Steven Neville (R-Aztec), Rep. James Strickler (R-Farmington), Rep. David Gallegos, (R-Eunice). Meanwhile, Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover said Friday that she had not decided how to respond to a judge’s order to either begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or show up in court next week to argue why she should not have to do so. Stover, a Republican, told the Journal she would not issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples in the meantime. The order in the Los Alamos County case came after a lesbian couple was denied a marriage license and subsequently filed a lawsuit. A similar suit was filed late Thursday against Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni on behalf of two women from Placitas. It was filed by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico; Garbagni’s staff had denied the Placitas couple’s marriage request on Wednesday, and the county clerk said earlier this week that she was not prepared to issue such licenses until she received a court order compelling her to do so.

In Arizona, a pair of controversial fliers attacking a Sunnyside school board member have caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, prompting him to call for a local and federal investigation. Grijalva will ask the Pima County Attorney’s Office to investigate the fliers, which began circulating within the district last week attacking board member Daniel Hernandez Jr., including one that targeted his sexual orientation. In addition, Grijalva will make an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI to assist the county attorney in determining whether the attack on Hernandez’s sexual orientation is a hate crime, he said. The Pima County school superintendent will assist the County Attorney’s Office, the agency said in a news release. The County Attorney’s Office had no comment Friday afternoon. The two fliers surfaced more than a week ago within the Sunnyside Unified School District boundaries, with reports that someone handed out the materials at schools and left the fliers at homes. One flier said the Sunnyside school board needed a “real man” while noting that Hernandez is gay. Another flier accused Hernandez, who is the target of a Governing Board recall drive, of wanting to take guns away from people. Grijalva wants authorities to investigate whether the fliers have led to actual threats against Hernandez, he said. “As a consequence of the leaflet getting passed out, has it resulted in real threats? The only way to know that is through a discussion with Hernandez and others,” he said. Grijalva began monitoring the situation this week after reading about the fliers on a media website. If authorities find evidence of actual threats, which would count as a hate crime under federal law, then the congressman wants investigators to find out who created the fliers. So far, no one has claimed responsibility. If there haven’t been any threats, Grijalva at least wants to send a message that people should think twice about personal attacks on public figures. “We don’t want to assume it’s just a silly leaflet,” he said. The fliers surfaced at a time when two citizens groups are staging separate recall drives against Hernandez and three other board members. One group is calling for the recall of Hernandez and board member Buck Crouch, questioning their ethics and lack of unity with other board members. Crouch and Hernandez have been outspoken critics of Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo. Another group wants to recall board President Louie Gonzales and board member Bobby Garcia, criticizing them for their support of Isquierdo, who has faced a litany of personal and legal issues since he took helm of the district in 2007. Although the recall drives and opposing views on the superintendent have splintered the Governing Board at times, Garcia and Gonzales have denied any involvement with the fliers. Garcia and Gonzales have both denounced the fliers, while Isquierdo apologized to Hernandez Tuesday during the Governing Board meeting.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld California’s ban on therapies that aim to change the sexual orientations of gay and lesbian minors. In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ban on “conversion therapy,” the first such law in the country, did not violate the free speech rights of counselors or people seeking treatment. The state has an interest in banning professional treatments that it deems harmful, the court ruled. “The First Amendment does not prevent a state from regulating treatment even when that treatment is performed through speech alone,” the opinion said. The ruling was another setback for proponents of gay conversion therapy. In June, Exodus International, the leading organization of the “ex gay” movement, announced that it would disband amid growing skepticism among its officials that sexual attractions can be changed. Last week, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, widely viewed as a Republican presidential hopeful, signed a ban on gay conversion therapy, making his state the second to ban the practice. Bans have been introduced in Massachusetts and New York. Supporters and opponents of California’s law agreed that the court’s ruling could embolden more states to ban the therapy. Wayne Besen, the executive director of Truth Wins Out, an organization that combats what it considers misinformation about gays and lesbians, said, “This is a massive victory, and it sets the stage to pass similar laws in states across the country.” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which challenged the California law, said his organization was considering its legal options. He said, “We are very concerned that this new law is going to be spreading like wildfire across the U.S., adding, “This is clearly a dark day for those who appreciate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and free exercise of religion. And it’s an even darker day for every young person under the age of 18 who is struggling with same-sex attraction and wants a licensed counselor who can help them mitigate or reduce such attractions.” Since the 1970s, a network of conservative and religious groups have continued to argue that sexuality is not innate and change is possible. But scientific and medical groups have increasingly argued that there is no evidence that sexual attractions can be changed, and that conversion therapies are often harmful.

Friday, a Portland bar owner was ordered to pay $400,000 in damages to a group of transgender customers after telling them they weren’t welcome in his bar, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. That violated an Oregon law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, state officials ruled. BOLI investigators said Christopher Penner, owner of The P Club, last summer called a patron named Cassandra and told her and her friends to “not come back on Friday nights.” Cassandra and her friends were members of a group called the “T-Girls,” which includes transgender people. BOLI found that Penner called back a few days later and said that his bar was losing money when her group was around because people thought The P Club was a “tranny bar” or a “gay bar.” “The P Club’s decline in Friday night sales between January 2011 and June 2012 is not a defense, and no evidence was presented to show that the T-Girls had caused any other problems at the P Club that might have justified Penner’s decision to ask them not to return on Friday nights,” deputy labor commissioner Christie Hammond wrote in her findings on the case. The P Club has since changed its name. It is now known as The Twilight Room Annex. The bar is located on N. Lombard Street. Penner does not want to speak publicly about the ruling, according to his attorney, Jonathan Radmacher. Radmacher said Penner was "not surprised in the least" about the ruling. "We think it's wrong, but we thought it was wrong from the get-go," Radmacher said. He admits that Penner left the voicemails in a "stupid way," but contends that Penner's intention was never to exclude the T-Girls from his bar. He pointed out that Penner had let them in his bar for four years without incident. Radmacher said Penner and the club had an informal agreement to discuss if there were ever issues with them hanging out at The P Club, and this incident was Penner trying to have a dialogue. "He's not anti-LGBT. He doesn't want to be a poster child for somebody who is going to oppose all races, genders, etc. from coming into places of public accommodation," Radmacher said. Penner can file an appeal but hasn't yet decided if he will or not. If the ruling stands, the $400,000 in damages will be paid to 11 members of the “T-Girls” who testified at the case hearing. Each member will receive between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on how much state officials determined they suffered. Cassandra, the woman who received the voice mails from Penner, was awarded the highest amount – $50,000 – for the “emotional, mental and physical” suffering she experienced. The state found two other members of the group also suffered physical problems based on this incident. Additionally, the bar was ordered to pay $5,000 in civil penalties. The transgender women say it's not about the money. They hope the process is dragged out longer, even if that means they don't get paid. They say getting the word out to others is what's important. "It was sending a word out to the business world, you do not discriminate, you have to follow the law, and if you don't follow the law, there is a penalty," said Cristine Burnett, who also won in the discrimination case. They say they hope Penner appeals. To them it's not about a payout, it's about the precedent. "Keep the $400,000 and give us the Supreme Court ruling," Cassandra said. This incident marks the first time labor commissioner Brad Avakian has filed a complaint under the 2007 Oregon Equality Act. Citizens have filed eleven total complaints under the law about discrimination in public places, a BOLI spokesman said.

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