Friday, January 10, 2014

Provincial Judge Rules Discrimination Complaint Of Transgender Teacher Fired From Alberta Catholic School District For Religious Reasons Should Be Heard By Tribunal, Fired Homophobic Radio Personality Dean Blundell Insists He Is Not A Homophobe, Head Russian Cleric Calls For Referendum Re-Criminalizing Homosexuality, Tel Aviv Unveils First-Ever Memorial To Gay Holocaust Victims, Hundreds Gather Asking Utah Governor Herbert To Stop Appeal Seeking To Overturn Ruling Legalizing Same Sex Marriage, Engaged Lesbian Eastside High Catholic Teacher Earns New Contract And Raise Despite School Having Fired Vice-Principal Mark Zmuda For Marrying Male Partner,

In Edmonton, Canada, A judge says a discrimination complaint filed by a transgender teacher who was fired from a Catholic school district for religious reasons should be heard by an Alberta human rights tribunal. Jan Buterman was removed from the Greater St. Albert School Division's teacher list in 2008 because his sex change was not in line with Catholic values. He filed a complaint the following year, which the school district successfully challenged before the province's human rights commission. That decision was overturned by the chief of the commission, which prompted the school district to seek a judicial review. Justice Sheila Greckol of Court of Queen's Bench dismissed the district's request in a written ruling obtained Friday by the Canadian Press. She said it is time for a commission tribunal to hear Buterman's complaint. "Five years have passed since the school board terminated Mr. Buterman. The voluminous and continual retreading of arguments at the commission, as well as this application for early judicial intervention on thin grounds, has served only to delay the hearing on the merits," Greckol wrote. "Human rights process is not only for the lion-hearted and well-heeled conversant with litigation, but also for the timorous and impecunious -- for all Albertans. The expeditious resolution of complaints becomes an issue of access to justice; justice delayed is justice denied." Buterman, who is working on his master's in education policy studies at the University of Alberta, said he was delighted with Greckol's ruling. He said it is still possible the school district could appeal. And even if the case proceeds to the tribunal, it could be long and drawn out. He acknowledged there is no guarantee that he will win. "It has been five years and sometimes it has been very hard to cope," he said. "It is of deep concern to me to be faced with a situation where there are entities that can ignore rights that we all have." Cathy Finlayson, registrar at the Alberta Human Rights Commission, said Greckol's ruling has been reviewed and a date will be set in the coming weeks to hear the case. "In accordance with Justice Greckol's decision, this matter will proceed to a tribunal," Finlayson said. "The tribunal will be in touch with the parties to see when the first available date is." She declined further comment on the details of the ruling. David Keohane, superintendent of the school district, said officials were reviewing the ruling to determine whether to appeal."There is no decision on that (appeal) right now," Keohane said. "The decision has just come out. But the spirit of our response is we are a participant in a process and we are going to continue to work through that process until it comes to its conclusion." In 2011, Buterman turned down a $78,000 cash settlement offer from the publicly funded school district because it would have required him to keep quiet and drop his human rights complaint. He said he was fired in 2008 despite receiving a letter from the district praising his teaching abilities. According to the facts listed in Greckol's ruling, a board official wrote Buterman another letter when the district learned he was changing from a woman to a man. "The teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender," read the letter that deputy superintendent Steve Bayus wrote after conferring with the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton. "One's gender is considered what God created us to be." The letter went on to say that the school division was bound by the teachings of the church and that it intentionally hired teachers who were models of those teachings. Bayus wrote that Buterman's sex change was not aligned with the teachings of the church and would create confusion with students and parents.

In Toronto Canada, shock jock Dean Blundell denied he is a homophobe after his morning radio show was cancelled following offensive on-air jokes about a sex assault trial involving gay men. “I did not discriminate on my show. I made fun of everything and everyone, and was encouraged to do so with the brand of entertainment we were employed to deliver,” Blundell said in a statement posted on his website. “If you do something every single day, for as long as I have, making a career out of pushing the envelope and being inappropriate at times, there are bound to be differences of opinion that arise,” his post continued. “But I am not a homophobe.” The Toronto Star reports that Corus Radio axed the Dean Blundell Show from 102.1 the Edge on Monday, just weeks after suspending the show following a Star article revealing Blundell and co-host Derek Welsman’s homophobic commentary about a sex assault trial for which Welsman served as jury foreman. The jury convicted a 33-year-old man for sexually assaulting three men he met in a downtown bathhouse. The convicted man’s lawyer had unsuccessfully sought a judicial inquiry into the conduct of Welsman, who gabbed and chortled about the case before and after the verdict. At the beginning of the trial, Welsman swore on a Bible and told a court he had no bias against homosexuals. On air, Welsman and Blundell guffawed as they mocked gay men who visit bathhouses and the intelligence of the sex assault victims. They snickered as they imagined the perpetrator’s excitement for prison showers. “If anyone wants to get into the backdoor business, I can give you some tips,” said Welsman, prompting more laughter from his colleagues. On another broadcast, Blundell summarized the case by saying it involved a “few guys, some aggravated sexual assault, a couple of bathhouses … some lube, four Dutch clogs, a stuffed Buffalo … a metre stick. Stigmata of the anus.” Blundell had previously apologized for the crude broadcasts, saying he and Welsman made “rude, homophobic and inappropriate remarks, which were offensive and unacceptable. In his statement Friday, Blundell said he consistently hosted guests from the LGBT community during his 13 years on the radio. “I have always been supportive of my gay friends and of the gay community,” he said. Blundell said his post was intended to set the record state and dispel claims that his show was nixed because he is homophobic. The Dean Blundell Show has been repeatedly sanctioned for homophobic and discriminatory views, the most recent censure coming in August. In that case, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council required the radio station to submit a plan outlining how it will “ensure that no other breaches” occur in its broadcasts. Less than two months later, Welsman and Blundell joked about the sex assault trial on air. The convicted man’s lawyer said she will appeal the case on several grounds, including Welsman’s on-air comments, which she says tainted the verdict. Blundell’s website was temporarily down Friday, overwhelmed by the number of people trying to access it.

In Russia, the top cleric seeks nationwide referendum on criminalizing male homosexuality, reports the Moscow Times. Vsevolod Chaplin maintains that gay relations between men pose a threat to the whole of society, but left it for the people to decide on the possible punishment for such actions. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for relations with society has said in an official press comment that the question of criminalizing male homosexuality “deserved discussion in society without any doubt.” He added that since Russia is a democratic country, the majority of its people and not some “external forces” must decide what constitutes a criminal offence and what does not. The cleric explained that public attitudes to homosexuality have varied at different times and in different societies, but the most widespread position was to treat such relations as a crime. Chaplin said he was convinced that male homosexual relations must be completely ruled out by society, but also noted that it was better to achieve this through moral persuasion. “If we have to draw the law into this, let us ask the people if they are ready for this,” Chaplin stated, suggesting the question of criminalizing gay male contact be posed in a nationwide referendum. The comment came shortly after a scandal initiated by former Orthodox priest, actor, scriptwriter, showman and would-be politician, Ivan Okhlobystin. The man, who is currently working as a creative director for a mobile retailer, tweeted an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, in which he asked to reinstate punishment for male homosexuality in the criminal code, through initiating a referendum on the issue. He also doubted the effectiveness of the fresh legislative ban on gay propaganda to minors and claimed that the very existence of officially registered gay communities insulted believers’ feelings. The open letter tweet was deleted after some time but the initiative gained support in the form of an official petition created on a governmental site. LGBT activists replied with their own internet letter, calling for Okhlobystin’s employer to sack the controversial figure and asking the CEO of the Apple corporation, Tim Cook, to review the contracts with the company the former priest works for. Top managers at the company Okhlobystin works for first refrained from comments, but eventually told reporters that as he was expressing his own private opinion and was not calling for actual violence, they intended to take no action against him. They argue they don’t want to tarnish their image by suppressing his right to freedom of speech. Comments from various Russian politicians and public figures followed, but they often concentrated not on the problem of gay rights but on Okhlobystin’s personality, noting that he is known for relentless attempts to draw attention to himself, and all his statements should be taken with a large pinch of salt. MP Pavel Krasheninnikov, from the majority United Russia party, who heads the Lower House committee for civil, criminal, arbitrage and procedural legislation bluntly called Okhlobystin’s letter a PR stunt, and pointed out that Russian laws already provide necessary protection against sexual violence and against promotion of non-traditional values among minors. The chairman of the Russian LGBT network, Igor Kochetkov, blasted Okhlobystin and the Orthodox Church in press comments saying that the referendum suggestion was both legally wrong and immoral. He also likened calls to restore criminal punishment for male homosexuality to Russian legislation to the idea of reinstalling concentration camps for Jews in Germany. Kochetkov noted that the inviolability of personal life was guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, and the suggested referendum could not be held as it directly contradicted that basic law. Another Prominent Russian gay activist, Nikolay Alekseyev, also called the former priest’s letter an exercise in attention seeking, and added that there was no possibility of realizing Okhlobystin’s suggestion because Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and has signed international conventions on minorities’ rights. “If such a law is passed it would mean automatic expulsion from leading international organizations, and Russia would never allow this, considering the close relations between Russia and the West,” Alekseyev told RSN radio.The Criminal Code of the Soviet Union contained an article ordering homosexual contacts between men to be punished with up to five years in prison (eight years with aggravating conditions such as rape). The article was abolished in 1993.

In Israel, Tel Aviv has become the first Israeli city to unveil a memorial in honour of gay and lesbian victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The monument in the centre of the city is designed around a pink triangle - the symbol gay prisoners were forced to wear in the concentration camps. As many as 15,000 homosexuals were killed in the Nazi camps. Similar monuments in their memory have been erected in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco and Sydney. The BBC reports that writing on the monument in English, Hebrew and German reads: "In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity." It is the first Holocaust memorial in Israel that deals with both Jewish and non-Jewish victims alike, according to local reports. "In addition to the extermination of Europe's Jews, the Nazis committed many atrocities, in an attempt to destroy anyone who was considered different," said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. "This monument reminds us all how important it is for us to respect every human being," he said. The monument, unveiled on Friday, will stand outside the Municipal LGBT Community Centre in Tel Aviv's Meir Park (Gan Meir). German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis said: "It is important that we put up monuments and name streets, in order to remember things that happened in the past. But they must be first and foremost reminders for the future." The Nazis branded homosexuality an aberration threatening their perception of Germans as the master race, and the Gestapo kept a special register of around 100,000 gay people. Thousands were sent to Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s and 1940s. Tel Aviv has a vibrant gay scene and hosts an annual gay pride festival.

In Utah, the message from more than 1,000 gays and lesbians and their supporters who crowded the state Capitol rotunda Friday to hand state officials two petitions asking them not to appeal a decision legalizing same sex marriage in Utah was loud and clear: It’s about love and family. "Gov. Herbert, you say you want to protect children, then start with ours," said Megan Berrett, who cradled 4-month-old daughter Quinn with wife Candice Berrett. "We want our daughter to have both her parents be legally responsible for her," said Candice Berrett, who married Megan in 2012 in New York and were one of the first couples married in Utah last month. Tim Wagner, a Salt Lake resident and community organizer, and Matt Jacobson of St. George, said they gathered more than 58,000 signatures on their two separate, online petitions. Eighty percent of those who signed are Utahns or have Utah connections, Wagner said. "I care about love, just like the rest of you, that’s why I did this," said Wagner. According to the Salt Lake Tribune reports that he launched his petition on December 20, the same day U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on gay marriage, after reading about Herbert’s reaction to the decision. Matt Jacobson, who traveled to another state in August to marry his partner, also started an online petition after hearing about Shelby’s decision and the state’s response to it. "Tell the governor there are way better things we can spend $2 million on than hate," he told the crowd. Troy Williams, a local radio host and gay activist, had dozens of couples who married before the stay gather on a staircase behind the speakers and compared their message to that of civil rights leaders of the past. Among them: Molly Butterworth, 33, who is seven months pregnant. Butterworth said she’s worried that if the state doesn’t recognize their marriage, it could leave her unborn daughter with wife Davida Wegner, 34, vulnerable. Only one of the girl’s mothers could be on the birth certificate, so the other could be prevented from making medical decisions at a hospital, for example, or run into problems keeping the family together if Butterworth died. "Utah is all about families and recognizing our family, protecting our child would protect Utah values in a lot of ways," Butterworth said. The crowd also heard from Riley Hackford-Peer, a shaggy, red-headed sixth-grader who said he has wanted his moms to get married for a while. "I was scared of being taken away from one of my moms," he said. "Some people don’t believe I’m from a loving family because my moms are gay. They are wrong." Riley first asked his moms Ruth and Kim, who met 17 years ago, to drive to Iowa to marry when he learned it was legal there. Riley said his moms explained that their marriage still wouldn’t be legal in Utah and that they wanted to marry in their home state. And then came Shelby’s decision. "On December 20, it happened. I saw my moms get married in Utah," Riley said, as his brother Casey stood by his side. "It felt like fireworks bursting in my heart." Many of those who turned out for the rally carried signs, with messages such as "Follow the golden rule. Let it stand" and "Our family, friends, employers and our federal government all honor this. Have some honor, too, Governor Herbert." Among elected officials who attended the rally: Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, who said she was "thrilled" by the turnout. Also on hand were Amy Wicks, an Ogden City councilwoman, and state Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake). The rally took place hours after the federal government announced it would recognize same-sex marriages that occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state’s request for a stay. Chris Sonderegger, 50, said he’s glad the federal government will recognize his December 23 marriage because he’s worried that if he died, his family would shut out his partner of 25 years, 47-year-old Jim Grow. "I have a very, very conservative Mormon family, and there would be a very real chance they would come in and take everything," he said.Sue Geary, who married partner Michele Page on December 20 in Utah after 11 years together, said Herbert has an opportunity to be a hero in historical moment. She applauded the federal recognition but said the situation is still confusing. "We’re most concerned about second-parent adoption so our family is more secure," said Geary, 64, who wants legal recognition as the parent of the 55-year-old Page’s adopted daughter and son. They also married in California. "It’s either legal or it’s not," she said. Derek Kitchen, who with partner Moudi Sbeity are plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Utah’s ban, said he believes public opinion has changed in the decade since 66 percent of Utahns who participated in the 2004 election approved a gay marriage ban. "It was good for Utah when Judge Shelby struck down Amendment 3," Kitchen said. "As a fan of small government, I’m sure you understand our frustration with the government meddling in our lives." Fighting the decision "is too expensive" and "hurts too many families," he said. Sbeity said that like Herbert, he loves "my family, but unlike you, Gary, I cannot exercise my constitutional rights with the family that I love." Billie Christiansen of Millcreek came to Friday’s rally to show support for "all those I love, to help get them the civil rights that they deserve." Christiansen said her son came out when he was 17, which led to many "difficult" conversations and eventually was a primary reason in her decision to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I knew he was the most wonderful, generous person and that there couldn’t be anything wrong with him," said Christiansen, who claims as "extra sons" many other young men whose families have been less accepting. "He has made my life absolutely beautiful." Pamela Johanson of Ogden came holding a sign saying, "This Mormon supports marriage equality," adding, "I think everyone has the right to choose for themselves the path that makes them happy." Johanson said she’s had fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both support and disagree with her, but she’s seen a shift in attitudes in the past two years. "Who am I to tell people they can’t get married?" she said. "I was married in the temple, and my husband didn’t want to be married anymore after 19 years." Megan and Candice Berrett, both school teachers, said they plan on having more children. They want others to see "families can be like we are, and not to be scared of us or disgusted by us," Candice Berrett said. "Times are changing and public opinion is leaning in our favor, so give it a push," Candice Berrett said.

In Washington State, a part-time musical coach at a Catholic school says the school has given her a new contract although she announced recently she is engaged to her same sex partner. Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish recently forced out a vice principal who married his partner. Stephanie Merrow says she met Thursday with the school's principal, Polly Skinner, who gave her a contract as an independent contractor. Merrow says she was told she is valued and adds that she "got a little raise." In response to her inquiry, she says she was told her marital status doesn't matter. Merrow says she was nervous before the meeting but it was "very warm and welcoming." School attorney Mike Patterson didn't immediately return a call and e-mail for comment. Merrow is choreographing this year's spring musical. Students at Eastside Catholic have led protests recently over the departure of vice principal Mark Zmuda. The school and Zmuda have disputed the circumstances of his departure, with Zmuda saying he was fired and the school saying he resigned after acknowledging that his marriage violated Catholic teaching and, subsequently, the terms of his contract.

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