Monday, October 7, 2013

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel Rejects Wording Of Two Ballot Measures Attempting To Legalize Gay Marriage, Lawsuit Claims Home Depot Targeting Gay Men For Termination In Attempt To Cut Costs, San Francisco Holds First-Ever Project Connect For Homeless LGBT Population, Britney Spears

Incredibly, the Associated Press is reporting that Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of two ballot measures that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. McDaniel on Monday cited several problems with the measures, submitted by the Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality and Jennifer Pierce of Little Rock. McDaniel must certify the measures before supporters can begin gathering signatures to place them on the ballot. Both proposals call for legalizing same sex marriages in Arkansas. The Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality measure has been proposed for the 2016 ballot. Arkansas voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. McDaniel last month certified the wording of a ballot measure that would repeal that amendment.

In California, Courthouse News reports that Home Depot targeted gay male workers for termination to cut costs in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, an ex-employee claims in court. Hardy Housh aka Lex Housh sued Home Depot in Orange County Superior Court, seeking $100,000 for discrimination, sexual harassment and other counts. Housh - who identifies as gay - says in his complaint that Home Depot devised a scheme to trim its payroll at the expense of older higher paid managers and male gay employees as a response to the economic calamity of the late 2000s. "Home Depot was concerned with 'gay male' employees because of its perception that it would pay more medical benefits associated with HIV and AIDS viruses," Housh says in the complaint. "Also, Home Depot was concerned that it would have to pay costs associated with 'gay partners.' As of January 1, 2012, Home Depot California made a decision to terminate all 'gay' employees because of the California Domestic Relationship Act. That legislation required employers to provide benefits to 'partners.'" Housh registered his domestic partnership in 2011. Lawmakers enacted the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2003 and the law became operative on January 1, 2005 - three years before the economic crisis. A different bill - the California Insurance Equality Act - prohibits insurers from treating domestic partners differently from heterosexual married couples, not the law Housh cites. Housh says he worked for Home Depot for 25 years and was 57 years old when the home improvement chain fired him in February 2012. At that time he worked as an assistant manager at a store in Lemon Grove, California, according to the 70-page complaint. Housh claims that in the early days of his employment, Home Depot created a "value wheel" guide to protect its employees from discrimination and wrongful termination. He adds that he relied on the value wheel and oral promises made to him by management and had no idea the retailer allegedly stopped adhering to those principles until after his termination. The value wheel went out of the window, Housh claims, when the retailer conjured up ways to cut costs after the bottom fell out of the housing market beginning in 2007. Home Depot began to target certain employees for lay-off in an attempt to meet a quota for reducing its workforce, Housh says. Management aimed at older employees and gay employees - whose higher salaries and insurance costs would cost the retailer profits - and embarked on a scheme to fill employee files with fake write-ups, according to Housh. "During 2011, Housh was subjected to three admittedly false write-ups," the complaint states. "During February of 2012, Housh was subjected to an additional false write-up and was terminated without an opportunity to prove that it was based on false facts - that he trash-compacted a microwave oven in violation of hazmat rules." Housh admits in his complaint that Home Depot placed him on a performance improvement plan, or PIP, in 2008 - three years before the allegedly false write-ups and his termination. However, he says that this was done to get him to quit. When that did not work, Housh claims that Home Depot managers harassed him to force him out of the company. He cites one incident in 2011 in which defendant Rudy Peralta, a manager of a San Diego-area store, emailed him several sexually explicit pictures. "The pictures included a large penis protruding from an uncooked turkey's stuffing hole, an African American posing in women's lingerie with his penis showing, the picture of a naked child with a man's head photo shopped onto the child's head, and the picture of a man's rear end with a large X over the same," the lawsuit claims. Though Housh had kept his sexuality a secret at work, he says managers eventually learned the truth in 2011. The harassment increased accordingly, Housh claims. "After learning that plaintiff was gay, defendant district manager Jeff Grooms increasingly tormented plaintiff by use of wrongful discipline (i.e., false write-ups that were backdated), ridicule during walkthroughs, outward physical conduct (i.e., ignoring plaintiff's suggestions and comments during management meetings; making improper sexual gestures with his hands and body when plaintiff was near him), encouraging and participating in false write-ups during 2011 and, when plaintiff would not quit, by terminating him with a false write-up," Housh states in his complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.) The man claims that all of this began in October of 2011, almost immediately after he added his registered domestic partner to Home Depot's insurance plan. Nothing in Housh's complaint indicates how he learned of Home Depot's alleged policy to terminate older and gay male employees, and he offers no proof that it was a corporate directive rather than the work of a few area managers. He makes no mention whether lesbian employees were also targeted for termination. Non-profit equality rights watchdog Human Rights Campaign gives Home Depot 75 out of 100 on its 2013 Corporate Equality Index. The retailer earned points for providing health and soft benefits to domestic partners, its diversity training program, LGBT-oriented philanthropy and having a diversity working group that includes LGBT issues. Besides parent Home Depot USA and Home Depot California, Housh also names Peralta, Grooms and another manager, Bernard Powers, as defendants. He is represented by Kevin Mirch of the Mirch Law Firm in San Diego.

In San Francisco, the Chronicle reports that someone stole Rowan Chandler's cell phone and pants as he slept in his tent Sunday in Golden Gate Park. The next day, he woke up to find two park rangers standing over him, telling him to pack up and get out. For a brief moment, he thought of checking into a shelter. Then he remembered the last time he went to one, when he was called nasty names and hassled by other shelter residents for being gay. So he did the next best thing. Chandler went to San Francisco's first-ever Project Homeless Connect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on Monday. It was like nothing he'd ever stepped into. "Just being in a room with so many other homeless people who are like me is, well, I guess, nice," the 44-year-old unemployed library clerk said as he headed to the food line to grab a bag of groceries. "They've needed one of these things for a long time." That was the consensus among hundreds of folks who streamed into the all-day event at the LGBT Community Center on Market Street, as well as the hundreds of volunteers and service providers who showed up to help them. Project Homeless Connect, now in its 10th year, is a one-stop fair held every two months to offer homeless people counseling, housing, dental work, haircuts and dozens of other services they have a hard time getting hooked into amid their daily struggles for survival. It regularly draws a couple of thousand people - but when the city's biennial homeless count came out in June, showing that 29 percent of San Francisco's 6,436 indigent residents are LGBT, city leaders were inspired to craft Monday's event. It didn't take long for clients and volunteers alike who gathered for the fair to realize that being LGBT lays an extra stripe of challenge and misery onto the experience of being penniless. People complained of bigotry - not just from the general public but from fellow homeless people. They spoke of being beat up and scorned, and of feeling isolated and scared to ask for help. That's exactly what Mayor Ed Lee and his point man on homelessness, Bevan Dufty, reckoned they would find when they came to the event, and they both vowed to step up efforts to counteract the problem. "There is so much challenge on this issue not just in our system, but in the rest of society," Lee said. "We will be doing some education in the shelters, just as we've done about dealing with women and children in the shelters. We need to educate people to be more sensitive and inclusive. We will work on this." Dufty darted from station to station, helping direct one client to a dentist and another to a housing placement program. He said he believes this was the nation's first Connect - a concept pioneered in San Francisco and copied in nearly 300 other cities and counties - to specifically serve LGBT people. "We're hoping people get their services here today, and then go tell their stories to the city's Shelter Monitoring Committee, the Human Rights Commission or the Transgender Law Center," said Dufty. "I'm saying to everyone - don't walk away. Stay connected." Chandler wound up getting housing counseling, but was still reluctant to go to a shelter. "The last time I went, I was treated with real attitude by the others," he said. "Then went I went to a service center for a shower, the guys there called me a 'puta' (Spanish for prostitute) and said I'd better 'man up' or else. That was in April, and I haven't had a shower since then. I've been using baby wipes or jumping in the ocean instead." One of the longest lines for services was for dental work - a crucial service often overlooked in the street, where missing teeth are an impediment to getting jobs and untreated abscesses can become deadly infections. Booths for free glasses, medical evaluations and housing referrals also drew hordes. Spanish-speaking counselors worked with dozens of immigrants who had no papers and said they felt a triple-whammy of discrimination for being Latino, homeless and LGBT. "You find it so hard to fit in, because you get it from all sides," said Antonio, a 43-year-old immigrant trying to find housing, who didn't want his last name used for fear of deportation. "After awhile, it makes you feel like you're not part of anything." Kara Zordel, director of Project Homeless Connect, said Monday's event drew 300 volunteers, nearly 500 clients and more than 100 service providers. "This is very exciting for us," she said. "We're actually reaching a new population. Hopefully from now on, LGBT people will feel welcome and comfortable at all our Connects."

In an interview with San Francisco's 99.7 FM NOW, Britney Spears was asked (almost out of nowhere) by the two hosts - Fernando and Greg - if she had a group of gays she worked with. Her answer: "A lot of my hair stylist and beauticians that I work with are gay. So I hang out with gays a lot. I just think they are absolutely thrilling and adorable and hilarious." That response appears to have drawn the wrath of some members of the gay community,

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