Friday, January 3, 2014

George Smitherman’s Husband Robert Peloso Remembered As Loving Father Who Bravely Battled Depression, U.S. Army Staff Sgt Christopher Bostick’s Heroic Actions Helped Extinguish Fire At Seattle Gay Club, Judge Order California Secretary Of State’s Office To Count Signatures From Two More Counties For Referendum Seeking To Overturn Law Protecting Transgender Students From Discrimination, Utah Man Who Fails To Grasp U.S. Constitution Fasting For Traditional Marriage, Minnesota Vikings Hire Attorneys To Investigate Claims Made By Former Punter Kluwe That Team Fostered Anti-Gay Climate

In Toronto, the Canadian Press reports that a throng of former and current politicians joined Ontario ex-cabinet minister George Smitherman Friday as he said goodbye to his husband, who committed suicide earlier this week while struggling with depression. Premier Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, as well as many members of the Liberal caucus and Toronto city council were on hand to grieve with their colleague. Christopher Peloso, 40, was found dead by police on Monday, a day after he went missing. He also disappeared in September, but was found by police two days later in a wooded area near train tracks. A visibly emotional Smitherman, known for both his aggressive political style and an openness about his private life that's rare among public figures, was near tears as he spoke about his husband's battle with mental illness and breaking the news to their two young children, both under the age of six. The pressures Peloso felt were "unbelievable and insurmountable," Smitherman said. "He had so much strength," he told the packed crowd in a downtown community centre. "He would never say no, he would never complain and he certainly would never really ask for help." Peloso was a devoted stay-at-home dad to their adopted son and daughter and adored his adult biological daughter from a previous relationship, Smitherman said. He loved animals to the point of pulling over to the side of the road to rescue an injured bird. His husband was a private person, but supported Smitherman in his political career, even pushing him to run for a federal seat in 2013 when former Liberal leader Bob Rae stepped down, he said. "While we can focus on the glaring reality that he took his own life at a shockingly young age, you mustn't lose sight of his mark on me and our family," Smitherman said. "We are his legacy project. I'm the better man for it." Peloso's father Reno said he and his wife are struggling with guilt about what they could have done to stop their son from taking his own life. But the outpouring of support is helping them through it, he said. "It's going to make it easier for us, when people come up to us and say, 'What happened?'," he said. "It's going to be easier for us to say, 'You know what? Chris suffered from depression, he committed suicide and there's no shame in that."' Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, a close family friend, said Peloso worked hard to deal with his deep depression. "In recent months he spoke often of the stigma and the stereotypes he felt and feared because of his illness," she said. "Society and attitudes are changing, but not fast enough, leaving too many like Christopher defeated." She urged the crowd to create a legacy for Peloso, where stigma surrounding mental illness is eliminated and all loved ones are supported through illness, "whatever form it takes." Smitherman, 49, and Peloso, a former executive at chocolate company Lindt, met about 20 years ago and were married in August 2007. They later adopted two children, Michael and Kayla. Smitherman, who was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1999, served as deputy premier, health minister and energy and infrastructure minister before stepping down in 2010 to run for Toronto mayor. He lost to Rob Ford. Smitherman allowed the Toronto Star access as he prepared for Peloso's funeral; the profile is available here.

In Seattle Washington, KIRO TV reports that in the first few seconds after the fire roared up the back stairway of Capitol Hill’s Neighbours nightclub, US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Bostick was one of a few New Year’s Eve revelers who reacted immediately. “I’m embarrassed to say, my first move was to go after it with cups of water. Then I quickly realized, this fire is way bigger than that, he said. In the next breath, the Army Intelligence veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan tours sharpens his tone, as if news of impending violence is to follow. “You know, in 30 seconds, if that fire did what the arsonist intended, there’s no telling how many people could have died." While 750 people counted down to the new year, Bostick rushed to grab a fire extinguisher from behind the bar. He and Air Force member Mike Casey went to work putting out the gasoline-fueled fire. “It was like the Carrie movie,” Bostick recounted, “you see just fire everywhere. And that's all you can see and for a second, that's all you're focused on." Bostick and Casey tamed flames filling the staircase, after an arsonist poured gasoline on the carpeted stairway from a plastic liter gas can, dropped the can on the top step, and lit it ablaze from the bottom. “If we hadn't reacted to it, it would have taken too long for someone to react, and that fire would have become unmanageable in another thirty seconds,’’ Bostick said. While Bostick and Casey put out the fire, the nightclub’s sprinkler system rained water down on every surface. Other patrons shouted “fire!” Hundreds of revelers calmly—but quickly—left the nightclub through the other exit. No one was hurt. Bostick believes the arsonist was hoping to trap and kill everyone in Seattle’s most established gay nightclub. “I think this person walked up the stairs with the can in their hand and poured it out as they walked. They set it down, went back down the stairs and lit it, with the intent to blow up the gas can." Bostick, who tracks terrorism for a living, says the arson attack was not merely a hate crime. “This was a planned attack on a large quantity of people in order to affect an entire community,” he said. “To me, that's terrorism." Seattle arson investigators are searching through surveillance video from the club, and neighboring businesses, looking for suspects and clues.

In California, a Sacramento judge has ordered the Secretary of State’s Office to include uncounted signatures from two California counties when tallying support for a referendum that supporters hope will halt a law that would allow transgender public school students access to programs and facilities based on the gender they identify with, rather than the sex they were born into. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner issued a tentative ruling on Thursday, directing Secretary of State Debra Bowen to “accept, file, and process as timely” the qualifying petitions the referendum’s backers circulated in Mono and Tulare counties. The roughly 5,000 signatures from those counties had been rejected since they had been turned in after the close of business on the three-day Veterans Day weekend in November. Privacy For All Students, the group seeking to repeal Assembly Bill 1266 with a referendum on the November 4 ballot, cried foul, and filed suit. “Were the petitions timely filed?” Sumner asked in his tentative ruling, before answering himself: “They were.” The judge cited the state’s Code of Civil Procedure, which defines how legal deadlines work in California: “If the last day for the performance of any act ... is a holiday, then that period is hereby extended to and including the next day that is not a holiday.” And so, he wrote, because November 10 -- the deadline to file the signatures -- was a Sunday and the next day was Veterans Day, the law’s opponents actually had until Tuesday, November 12 to get in their paperwork. “We were very confident” the judge would order the signatures counted, said Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, one of the founders of PFAS and one of three pastors who filed the referendum originally. “Really, Debra Bowen was not executing her sworn oath of office. Regardless of her opinion, she’s charged with carrying out her duties. ... Now it continues on, as it could.” Bowen’s chief of staff, Evan Goldberg, told the Associated Press that the secretary of state would comply with Sumner’s order and allow it to become final without requesting a hearing. AB 1266 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September and allows transgender students to participate in gender-restricted programs like sports programs and access gender-restricted facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms based on what gender they identify as, rather than the sex they were born into. Opponents say the law will allow curious teens to ogle members of the opposite sex while at their most vulnerable and for teenaged boys to game the system by dominating female sports teams. The 5,000 or so signatures from Mono and Tulare counties aren’t likely to make a big difference in the end: Referendum supporters need to gather 504,760 valid signatures to put the matter on the November 4 ballot. Hibbs said they’ve turned in more than 620,000 signatures. “All we’re trying do is get it to the ballot,” Hibbs said. “Let the people vote, for crying out loud.” Individual county registrars of voters must have finished their random sample verification of 3-percent of submitted signatures by Wednesday. As of Thursday, the registrars estimate PFAS and other supporters have said that 266,935 signatures have been verified, while six counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino, have yet to be tallied. “Our level of confidence is very high,” Hibbs said. “We’re fully anticipating more possible obstructions or hurdles to pop up, but we’re prepared for that.”

In Utah, a man is vowing to go without any food until the state stops allowing same sex marriages. He claims if Utah wants to protect traditional marriage, it has an option it’s not using, and he's fasting until it does it. When same sex marriage became legal in Utah, people immediately reacted. Couples stormed county clerk buildings. State attorneys tried to stop it, and Trestin Meacham started fasting. "I'm very disappointed," said Trestin Meacham, fasting to stop Utah same sex marriages. ABC 4 reports that for the past 12 days Meacham hasn't eaten anything. He's surviving solely on water and an occasional vitamin. "You can start a blog and you can complain on social networks until you're blue in the face and nothing will happen but actions speak louder than words and I'm taking action," said Meacham. Meacham says he's fasting to convince Utah to exercise the option of “nullification.” It's posted on Meacham's blog. According to his interpretation of states’ rights, Utah can nullify the recent federal court ruling by simply choosing not to follow it. "Jefferson made clear that the courts are not the supreme arbitrators of what is and what is not constitutional. The states also have power," said Meacham. But that's not the interpretation of attorney Greg Skordas. "If people want to change that they have to go through the appropriate processes," said Greg Skordas, Attorney. Skordas said nullification doesn't work with Utah’s case. When the federal government grants someone a constitutional right, states must recognize it. "When individual personal liberties are at stake the state can't infringe on that, even if it's the will of the people," said Skordas. But that opinion is not deterring Meacham. So far he's lost 25 pounds. "I had to punch a hole in my belt to make it fit,” said Meacham. “That's how much weight you've lost?” Meacham was asked. “To hold my pants up, yes," Meacham said. He vows to keep going and hopes the state will take action. "They don't have to go through the legal court battles and waste our money, they can end it tomorrow with the act of nullification," he said.

The Minnesota Vikings said on Friday they have hired attorneys to help complete a review of allegations made by a former player who said he was released by the NFL team due to his support of same sex marriage. Reuters reports that Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Chris Madel, a former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney, will interview current and former members of the Vikings organization as part of the investigation. "It is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations," Vikings owner Mark Wilf said in a statement. Former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe alleged on Thursday in a scathing article he wrote for the website Deadspin that he was urged by former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman to stop speaking out about his support for same sex marriage. He also wrote that special teams coach Mike Priefer had made several anti-gay comments in his presence and that he intends to make sure Priefer never holds another coaching job in the NFL. Kluwe was released by the Vikings last May despite having established several punt records for the team.

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