September 1, 2009 – PinkNews
Gay marriage now legal in Vermont
by V King Macdona
The legalisation of gay marriage in Vermont took effect at midnight last night. Vermont joins New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa to become the fifth American state to officially legalise gay marriage. The legalisation took place in April after the House voted 100-49, overriding a veto from Jim Douglas, the state governor. Last night one couple took immediate advantage of the law taking effect by getting married just after midnight. However it is said that only a few couples had applied for marriage licences prior to Tuesday and most will take their time in planning their ceremonies.
The state of Vermont has been a forerunner in the fight for same-sex equality for some years, with the introduction of civil unions in 2000 sparking an influx of gay couples wanting to formalise their partnerships. However, the news was not welcomed by all. An anti-gay group, Westboro Baptist Church, plans to stage a protest in the state capital Montpellier. The group, known for its slogan of ‘God Hates Fags’ believes that the deaths of American soldiers at war are an act of punishment from God in reaction to America’s growing tolerance of gay partnerships.
Although five US states have legalised gay marriage, it continues to be a contentious issue in many others, most notably in California where the legalisation of gay marriage was reversed. There was a state-wide vote in November 2008 on Proposition 8 which detailed that marriage should only be between a man and woman.
When that was passed, gay groups took the matter to the Supreme Court, in protest at the fact that a public vote was being used to establish human rights laws. But the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, leaving hundreds of gay couples who had planned to marry in California in a state of limbo, and outraged at the state’s turnaround. Members of Equality California are planning to get the issue back on the ballot in 2010, in an attempt to reverse the ban.
September 9, 2009 – Daily Queer
How Fierce Is Your Light? – Let’s End Religious Prejudice Together
Soulforce comes from Gandhi’s term “Satyagraha” which means “truth force” or “love force.” Some contemporary writers and thinkers have referred to satyagraha as “fierce light.” As we work together to end religion-based prejudice, I ask, “How fierce is your light?” Shining the light of love on bigotry and changing the hearts and minds of anti-LGBT religious leaders, institutions, and denominations remains a daunting task . . . but it’s a task for which Soulforce is perfectly suited.
Two weeks ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) proved that “change is possible” and “love won out” (sorry Exodus and Focus on the Family). The Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA voted to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy. We congratulate Assembly delegates, allies within the ELCA, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), Goodsoil, Lutherans Concerned, Wingspan Ministry of St. Paul, Lutheran Network for Inclusive Vision, and many others who have worked tirelessly on behalf of LGBT Lutherans.
This week the Executive Director of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries wrote: “On behalf of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I write to thank Soulforce for your role in these historic votes. Your efforts for full inclusion for LGBT people in the Lutheran Church are immeasurable. I wish you continued success in your far-reaching work to achieve freedom from religious and political oppression for LGBT people.”
– Amalia Vagts (Executive Director, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries)
Jimmy Creech praised Soulforce for its role in the ELCA decision: “I believe that it was Soulforce bringing public awareness to the antigay teachings and policies of the ELCA that helped expedite its process toward inclusion. I believe if Soulforce had not started challenging the Lutherans back in 2001, they would not have voted to include clergy in same-gender relationships this week. Thanks Soulforce!”
– Jimmy Creech (former Soulforce board chair and United Methodist clergy-person defrocked for marrying a same-sex couple)
For over a decade, Soulforce has been relentless in our nonviolent efforts to create change within the religious groups and institutions whose enormous influence leads directly to discrimination and suffering for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We’ve come a long way, but we still have our work cut out for us. On Monday of this week, Michelangelo Signoreli interviewed Pastor Steven Anderson and you will not believe the exchange. Signoreli asks “You want all gay people to be executed, correct?” and Anderson replies, “That is correct. That’s what the Bible teaches.”
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. recently held a small rally with D.C. councilman and former mayor Marion Barry to protest marriage equality, comparing the love between two people of the same gender to pedophilia when he said “A man cannot marry a three year old because its not good for the culture.” Soulforce is working 365 days a year to insure that hateful voices like those of Anderson and Jackson are exposed and stopped through the application of creative nonviolent direct action strategies that have become our hallmark.
In November, Soulforce, Truth Wins Out, Box Turtle Bulletin, Equality Florida, Beyond Ex-Gay, and the National Black Justice Coalition are coming together to peacefully challenge the harmful practice of “reparative” therapy espoused by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). We’ll be holding a groundbreaking conference the same weekend and in the the same city as the NARTH conference because we must educate the public about the dangers associated with sexual orientation change efforts and challenge the toxic notion that being straight is superior to being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
At the 2009 Anti-Heterosexism Conference, powerful keynote addresses will be delivered by Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Dr. Jack Drescher, and Rev. Deborah Johnson, and conference participants will return to their communities with concrete skills for ending the harm caused by heterosexism and reparative therapy. In the coming weeks we’ll be unveiling a full line-up of mental health professionals, social science researchers, activists, and spiritual leaders who will present at the conference. You won’t want to miss this important event and early registration is open now until October 5th.
September 13, 2009 – The Bilerico Project
Marriage Equality and Sept 11: The Connection You Might Have Missed
by Gloria Nieto
Friday was a sad day in the annals of this country. Eight years ago we lost so many Americans which led to losing so many more Americans in a war started on lies, pomposity and subterfuge. Alice Hoagland better be careful or Sarah Palin will start calling me out on her Facebook page. I’m white with fear. On November 4, 2008, 16,000 people went into legal limbo because we had gotten married before the California Supreme Court said we could stay married but no one else could join our country club.
These two moments in history are related because of Alice Hoagland. We met Alice the day she came to the rally in downtown San Jose the Saturday after the election. She was wearing a picture button of her son, Mark Bingham, a gay man who was on United Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania. Alice took the mic that day and talked about her loss, our loss of a man named Mark who helped stop that flight from crashing into the White House or the Capitol.
Alice is an amazing woman, exactly the kind of mom we all have wanted at some time in our lives. She has thrown herself full bore into the causes Mark believed in – LGBT equal rights, air safety and rugby. Whenever we have meetings about events and planning, Alice is with us offering heartfelt, smart opinions. She knows our history better than most people I know. She has brought her mother’s heart to our battle and will not be silenced about her loss and our loss of Mark. Alice has been walking this path with us and offering her strength to get us through the losses and set backs.
The government sent her to Guantanamo to witness the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohamed. She described her trip as seeing the face of evil in front of her. Alice was quoted on the front page of the New York Times from her time in Guantanamo. She is no shrinking violet! Friday was the anniversary of her loss. Our country’s loss, the LGBT community’s loss and a reminder that we can all be heroes when the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, Mark’s heroism cost him his life.
His mother carries on for him. Alice is a great woman, a true partner in the struggle for equality. I wish I had never met her and that her son was among us, living a fulfilled life. That wasn’t Mark Bingham’s story though. He gave us the gift of his mother instead. I wish I had met Mark while he was among us. I am certainly grateful for his gift of Alice.
Please take a moment today and remember Mark and all the others who lives ended tragically. Please remember their families, the people who love them and the pain they have as a reminder of that dark day. Please remember the bright lights that remain among us carrying their sorrow in so many hidden ways. Their pain is our pain; we remain a country wounded but still surviving.
Thank you Mark for your sacrifice. Thank you Alice for all you do and who you are to all of us.
September 16, 2009 – AlterNet
Unbelievable: As a Lesbian Mother, I Have to Pay More For Health Care
by Elizabeth G. Hines, Women’s Media Center
They say parenthood changes you in ways you’d never expect. As a gay parent, I’ve found that to be doubly true in at least one particularly surprising way: Being a parent has turned me into a warrior — a warrior for health care reform.
To be honest, before I had my child I was hardly riveted to the ups and downs of this most recent version of our national health care debate. I’ve been pro-universal health care for my entire adult life — in part, perhaps, because I spent half of my 20s without any health insurance to speak of — but watching the pols jaw their way around the details of this one was more than I could bear. The lines drawn had become so partisan that all I could do was shake my head and hope for a fair outcome. Until, that is, I found myself facing the gated community that is American health care from the outside looking in.
Here’s what happened: I got pregnant. I had a baby. And — for reasons both practical and personal — I stopped working for an employer full-time. Which was when I learned everything I needed to know (and more) about how gays and lesbians remain separate and utterly unequal in the eyes of the law when it comes to obtaining health insurance for their families.
Over the past decade, more and more companies have begun offering their employees domestic partner benefits — ostensibly an opportunity for unmarried couples (of the same or opposite sex) to share in an employer’s health care plan as legally married couples do. As of 2008, in fact, 285 of Fortune magazine’s top 500 companies were offering employees this option. And late last summer, after some hard lobbying on my partner J’s part, her company joined their ranks, announcing that DP benefits would now be available to all employees, and their families, as well.
J and I celebrated and felt blessed to be in a position where it seemed we could make decisions for our growing family just like our heterosexual friends. When it came time to read the not-so-fine print, however, we were stunned to realize that “equal access" was a complete distortion of what these domestic partner benefits offered. Yes, we could all be on the same plan if need be, but unlike our heterosexual, married friends, we would be taxed — and heavily — for the privilege.
Few people — gay or straight — realize that there are significant tax consequences that attach to DP benefits. As one human resource professional explained it:
Domestic partner benefits may be taxed differently than married couples benefits. In general, no tax consequence follows for the family when an employer provides health insurance for the employee’s spouse and legal dependents. However, an employee whose domestic partner receives health benefits would normally include the cost of those benefits as taxable income.
In other words, if you’re a married heterosexual and put your family on your company’s health plan you get the double benefit of health insurance coverage and freedom from taxation on the value of that plan, although it’s technically “income" by IRS standards. But if you’re unmarried, you get no such forgiveness by the IRS — the value of that health care coverage for your partner (and any pre-tax contribution to the plan) is instead calculated as income by the IRS and summarily taxed.
Even in those few states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed the situation is little better, since those marriages aren’t recognized by either the federal government or the IRS. So claiming the benefit means seeing significantly less money in your paycheck than your married peers — so much less, in many cases, as to make the possibility of choosing domestic partner benefits completely untenable. Many unmarried straight couples take one look at the difference the tax burden makes in their take home pay and hasten themselves to the county clerk’s office or chapel, to make their partnerships legal. But for families like mine, no such option exists whether or not our state allows us to marry. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (1996) made sure of that by “[rendering] invalid most state or local tax provisions for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families for the purpose of federal taxes."
Watching a significant percentage of J’s take home pay disappear into the ether every two weeks simply because we’re gay is a difficult pill to swallow — especially when we know that our married friends get to use those same dollars for the care and feeding of their own families. But at least we are in a position to attempt to choke it down. We shouldn’t have to, but we do, because our child, like every other child, deserves quality health care and because even the troubling amount we are being taxed pales in comparison to how much it would cost us to buy insurance on the open market for myself and an infant. Our child will eventually be covered under J’s policy without extra tax, but only after a long delay for an expensive adoption process that can be complicated — and sometimes impossible — depending on state laws.
Most families, gay or straight but somehow “untraditional" in the eyes of the federal government, don’t necessarily have these options. Either they make too little money to afford the tax on DP benefits, or they work for companies that offer no benefits at all. They live in a netherworld where they are deemed too rich to qualify for federal programs but remain too poor to afford to pay for private insurance on their own. What happens if one of them joins the 9.7 percent of Americans who are now unemployed thanks to this recession? Or when a child comes along and one of them has to step away from a career and the health insurance that might come along with it?
Federal recognition of gay marriage would, of course, be one solution to the problem — but it would only be a half measure in this case. It would do nothing for the partner of anyone whose job didn’t already come with health benefits.
The solution that hits the nail squarely on the head is a health care system that offers coverage to all Americans, on equal terms, and certainly not as a function of sexual orientation, marital or class status. While gays, lesbians and unmarried heterosexuals face a specific burden in relation to their access to insurance, they represent just a sliver of the population whose lives could be improved — and in some cases saved — by a health care system that covers not just some of the people some of the time, but all of the people, all of the time.
This week, President Obama is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress to encourage the passage of legislation that is our best shot yet at reforming our health care system and making it more inclusive. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Now is the time for all of us — gay, straight or otherwise — who believe in equity and justice to do more than just watch and wait. Call your senator. Tell your friends and family to do the same. My family’s future, and yours, depend on it.
September 16, 2009 – Scientific American
Top Scientists Get to the Bottom of Gay Male Sex Role Preferences – "Tops," "Bottoms," "Versatiles" and others in the study of gay male self-identity
by Jesse Bering
It’s my impression that many straight people believe that there are two types of gay men in this world: those who like to give, and those who like to receive. No, I’m not referring to the relative generosity or gift-giving habits of homosexuals. Not exactly, anyway. Rather, the distinction concerns gay men’s sexual role preferences when it comes to the act of anal intercourse. But like most aspects of human sexuality , it’s not quite that simple.
I’m very much aware that some readers may think that this type of article does not belong on this website. But the great thing about good science is that it’s amoral, objective and doesn’t cater to the court of public opinion. Data don’t cringe; people do. Whether we’re talking about a penis in a vagina or one in an anus, it’s human behavior all the same. The ubiquity of homosexual behavior alone makes it fascinating. What’s more, the study of self-labels in gay men has considerable applied value, such as its possible predictive capacity in tracking risky sexual behaviors and safe sex practices.
People who derive more pleasure (or perhaps suffer less anxiety or discomfort) from acting as the insertive partner are referred to colloquially as “tops,” whereas those who have a clear preference for serving as the receptive partner are commonly known as “bottoms.” There are plenty of other descriptive slang terms for this gay male dichotomy as well, some repeatable (“pitchers vs. catchers,” “active vs. passive,” “dominant vs. submissive”) and others not—well, not for Scientific American , anyway.
In fact, survey studies have found that many gay men actually self-identify as “versatile,” which means that they have no strong preference for either the insertive or the receptive role. For a small minority, the distinction doesn’t even apply, since some gay men lack any interest in anal sex and instead prefer different sexual activities. Still other men refuse to self-label as tops, bottoms, versatiles or even “gay” at all, despite their having frequent anal sex with gay men. These are the so-called “Men Who Have Sex With Men” (or MSM) who are often in heterosexual relations as well.
Several years ago, a team of scientists led by Trevor Hart at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta studied a group of of 205 gay male participants. Among the group’s major findings—reported in a 2003 issue of The Journal of Sex Research —were these:
(1) Self-labels are meaningfully correlated with actual sexual behaviors. That is to say, based on self-reports of their recent sexual histories, those who identify as tops are indeed more likely to act as the insertive partner, bottoms are more likely be the receptive partner, and versatiles occupy an intermediate status in sex behavior.
(2) Compared to bottoms, tops are more frequently engaged in (or at least they acknowledge being attracted to) other insertive sexual behaviors. For example, tops also tend to be the more frequent insertive partner during oral intercourse. In fact, this finding of the generalizability of top/bottom self-labels to other types of sexual practices was also uncovered in a correlational study by David Moskowitz, Gerulf Reiger and Michael Roloff. In a 2008 issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, these scientists reported that tops were more likely to be the insertive partner in everything from sex-toy play to verbal abuse to urination play.
(3) Tops were more likely than both bottoms and versatiles to reject a gay self-identity and to have had sex with a woman in the past three months. They also manifested higher internalized homophobia—essentially the degree of self-loathing linked to their homosexual desires.
(4) Versatiles seem to enjoy better psychological health. Hart and his coauthors speculate that this may be due to their greater sexual sensation seeking, lower erotophobia (fear of sex), and greater comfort with a variety of roles and activities.
One of Hart and his colleagues’ primary aims with this correlational study was to determine if self-labels in gay men might shed light on the epidemic spread of the AIDS virus. In fact, self-labels failed to correlate with unprotected intercourse and thus couldn’t be used as a reliable predictor of condom use. Yet the authors make an excellent—potentially lifesaving—point:
Although self-labels were not associated with unprotected intercourse, tops, who engaged in a greater proportion of insertive anal sex than other groups, were also less likely to identify as gay. Non-gay-identified MSW [again, “Men Who Have Sex With Men”] may have less contact with HIV prevention messages and may be less likely to be reached by HIV-prevention programs than are gay-identified men. Tops may be less likely to be recruited in venues frequented by gay men, and their greater internalized homophobia may result in greater denial of ever engaging in sex with other men. Tops also may be more likely to transmit HIV to women because of their greater likelihood of being behaviorally bisexual.
Beyond these important health implications of the top/bottom/versatile self-labels are a variety of other personality, social and physical correlates. For example, in the article by Moskowitz, Reiger and Roloff, the authors note that prospective gay male couples might want to weigh this issue of sex role preferences seriously before committing to anything longterm. From a sexual point of view, there are obvious logistical problems of two tops or two bottoms being in a monogamous relationship. But since these sexual role preferences tend to reflect other behavioral traits (such as tops being more aggressive and assertive than bottoms), “such relationships also might be more likely to encounter conflict quicker than relationships between complementary self-labels.”
Another intriguing study was reported in a 2003 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior by anthropologist Mathew McIntyre. McIntyre had 44 gay male members of Harvard University’s gay and lesbian alumni group mail him clear photocopies of their right hand along with a completed questionnaire on their occupations, sexual roles, and other measures of interest. This procedure allowed him to investigate possible correlations between such variables with the well-known “2D:4D effect." This effect refers to the finding that the greater* the difference in length between the second and fourth digits of the human hand—particularly the right hand—the greater the presence of prenatal androgens during fetal development leading to subsequent “masculinizing” characteristics. Somewhat curiously, McIntyre discovered a small but statistically significant negative correlation between 2D:4D and sexual self-label. That is to say, at least in this small sample of gay Harvard alumni, those with the more masculinized 2D:4D profile were in fact more likely to report being on the receiving end of anal intercourse and to demonstrate more “feminine” attitudes in general.
Many questions about gay self-labels and their relation to development, social behavior, genes and neurological substrates remain to be answered—indeed, they remain to be asked. Further complexity is suggested by the fact that many gay men go one step further and use secondary self-labels, such as “service top” and “power bottom” (a pairing in which the top is actually submissive to the bottom). For the right scientist, there’s a life’s work just waiting to be had.
*Editors’ note (9/17/09): The article originally stated in error that the shorter the difference in length between the second and fourth digits of the human hand—particularly the right hand—the greater the presence of prenatal androgens during fetal development.
September 23, 2009 – On Top Magazine
Congressman Backs Inquiry Into Violence Against Gay Sailor
by Carlos Santoscoy
In a letter addresses to the Secretary of the Navy, Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak has requested an inquiry into the abuse of Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Christopher Rocha. Rocha was discharged from the Navy in 2007 after he violated the military’s ban on openly gay service, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and came out to his commanding officer after suffering two years of abuse from shipmates while on duty on the island of Bahrain between 2004 and 2006.
“During my 31 years in the military, I served alongside and in command of men and women of all backgrounds, beliefs, and identities who fought valiantly and selflessly,” Sestak says in the letter. “When a man or woman puts on a military uniform, he or she immediately assumes a commonality of purpose with all fellow service members. Failing to treat everyone with the same level of dignity and allowing acts of assault or battery to go unaddressed, would be counter to not only our national values, but to the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood that I learned is so essential to – and such a key part of – the spirit of our armed forces.”
“My inquiry is to determine whether there is any basis for actions contrary to that spirit,” Sestak added. Rocha alleges service members engaged in a two-year pattern of abuse against him after they began to suspect he is gay. “I was hog-tied to a chair, rolled around the base, left in a dog kennel that had feces spread in it,” Rocha told Youth Radio. Rocha was a member of the Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, also known as “The Kennel,” a special division devoted to training bomb-sniffing dogs. The atmosphere on the island base was “degrading” to gay men and lesbians, he says.
“The fact that I was starting to figure out that I was a homosexual, it was the most degrading thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Rocha said. The hazing, taunting, and bullying began soon after Rocha declined to take a female prostitute in 2004. Because he feared losing his job, Rocha says he did not report the abuse, including violence he suffered at the hands of his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint.
Documents acquired by Youth Radio via a Freedom of Information Act request show that Rocha was not alone in his suffering. A summary of an independent investigation concluded in 2007 lists 93 abusive incidents, including forcing two female sailors to simulate lesbian sex on video. One of the women has since committed suicide. The military’s ban on open service by gay men and lesbians is being blamed for the aggressive atmosphere.
“Any law or policy that singles out one group as a threat to the greater good is a green light to treat that group in demoralizing and dangerous ways,” Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow at the Palm Center, said in a statement. “The current policy is especially insidious because it allows the group to serve but casts it as a menace. It’s one thing to say, ‘You’re too old, so you’re not eligible.’ But this policy says ‘Gays are eligible, they’re serving with you, but by the way, they’re an unacceptable risk to your mission.’”
“It’s no wonder they’re sometimes a punching bag,” Frank added. After suffering during his deployment in Behrain, Rocha wrote to his commanding officer and ended his Navy career. “I advise you that I am homosexual, I deeply regret that my personal feelings are not compatible with naval regulations or policy” Rocha said in his August 18, 2007 voluntary statement. “I am proud of my service and had hoped I would be able to serve the Navy and the Country for my entire career. However, the principals of honor, courage and commitment mean I must be honest with myself, courageous in my beliefs and committed in my course of action.”
“I understand that his statement will be used to end my Naval career,” he addedThe Navy, with full knowledge of the role Michael Toussaint played in the abuse, has since promoted him to the rank of Senior Chief. Representative Sestak would like to know why.
September 27, 2009 – The New York Times
The School Issue:
Junior High…Coming Out in Middle School
by Benoit Denizet-Lewis
Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.
When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”
Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”
Austin’s mom was on vacation in another state during my visit to Oklahoma, so a family friend drove him to the weekly youth dance at the Openarms Youth Project in Tulsa, which is housed in a white cement-block building next to a redbrick Baptist church on the east side of town. We arrived unfashionably on time, and Austin tried to park himself on a couch in a corner but was whisked away by Ben, a 16-year-old Openarms regular, who gave him an impromptu tour and introduced him to his mom, who works the concession area most weeks.
Openarms is practically overrun with supportive moms. While Austin and Ben were on the patio, a 14-year-old named Nick arrived with his mom. Nick came out to her when he was 12 but had yet to go on a date or even kiss a boy, which prompted his younger sister to opine that maybe he wasn’t actually gay. “She said, ‘Maybe you’re bisexual,’ ” Nick told me. “But I don’t have to have sex with a girl to know I’m not interested.”
Ninety minutes after we arrived, Openarms was packed with about 130 teenagers who had come from all corners of the state. Some danced to the Lady Gaga song “Poker Face,” others battled one another in pool or foosball and a handful of young couples held hands on the outdoor patio. In one corner, a short, perky eighth-grade girl kissed her ninth-grade girlfriend of one year. I asked them where they met. “In church,” they told me. Not far from them, a 14-year-old named Misti — who came out to classmates at her middle school when she was 12 and weathered anti-gay harassment and bullying, including having food thrown at her in the cafeteria — sat on a wooden bench and cuddled with a new girlfriend.
Austin had practically forgotten about his boyfriend. Instead, he was confessing to me — mostly by text message, though we were standing next to each other — his crush on Laddie, a 16-year-old who had just moved to Tulsa from a small town in Texas. Like Austin, Laddie was attending the dance for the first time, but he came off as much more comfortable in his skin and had a handful of admirers on the patio. Laddie told them that he came out in eighth grade and that the announcement sent shock waves through his Texas school.
Read the entire article here
September 28, 2009 – PinkNews
Study finds no difference between children raised by gay or straight adoptive parents
by PinkNews.co.uk Staff Writer
A study of adoptive parents has found "no significant difference" in emotional problems experienced by children brought up by gay adoptive parents. The US research, published in this month’s Adoption Quarterly, surveyed 1,384 couples, 155 of whom were gay. All were asked about their family structures, the child’s history before being adopted, his or her current emotional state and family interactions.
While sexual orientation of parents was not found to be a factor in emotional problems, age and pre-adoptive sexual abuse were found to be the most likely indicators of distress. The research was authored by Scott Ryan, the new dean of the University of Texas School of Social Work, and Paige Averett and Blace Nalavany, assistant professors of social work at East Carolina University. Ryan commented: "Our research shows that there is no difference in children raised by gay or lesbian parents and heterosexual parents. People are people."
He added that Florida has the only adoption system that specifically prohibits gay and lesbian persons from adopting children and asks all adoptive parents to sign an affidavit stating they are not gay. Yet gay and lesbian couples can be foster parents there, he said.
Texas allows gay and lesbian couples to adopt.
Averett said: "There are implications for social work educators, adoption professionals, and policy makers in this and other recent studies. "We must pay attention to the data indicating that gay and lesbian parents are as fit as heterosexual parents to adopt, because at least 130,000 children are depending on us to act as informed advocates on their behalf."
The factors which were found to increase a child’s happiness were a rise in annual income and parental satisfaction with the help received during the adoption process.
October 03, 2009 – change.org
A $467,000 Price Tag for Being Gay
by Michael A. Jones
What’s the price of not having equal rights? According to the New York Times, it could be upwards of $467,000. That’s how much the paper estimates a gay couple will pay — in a worse case scenario — over the span of their lifetimes for extra costs related to health care, legal affairs, and other issues. Huh, it sure is expensive to be denied the more than 1,100 benefits granted to straight married couples.
To figure this dollar amount out, the Times created a same-sex couple whose real life situation might mirror that of a straight couple. They looked at the three states with the largest LGBT populations – New York, California and Florida — and merged data from those three states to determine annual gross incomes, and other various cost of living expenses. And not surprisingly, they found that being gay is expensive. Damn expensive, especially if you’re a family.
The biggest expenses that gay couples face, at least in the Times’ hypothetical picture, is in the areas of health care, social security and estate taxes. Health care is a crazy variable, because it’s dependent on a person’s employer, but in the worst case scenario gay couples pay more than $211,000 alone for health care than straight couples over the course of their lifetimes, a shocking figure to say the least.
Social Security is a big bust for gay couples, since the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. This lack of recognition means that gay couples don’t receive a myriad of government benefits that straight couples receive.
And then there’s the estate tax, which might be the most viscerally unfair example of how straight married couples have it pretty good when it comes to U.S. tax laws. Straight married couples can transfer an unlimited amount of assets to each other during their lives and at death without having to pay any sort of estate tax. Gay couples? Not so much. Same-sex couples have to shell out a boatload in federal estate taxes, at least if the estate passes an expense threshold. Granted, this really only effects very, very wealthy same-sex couples, but it’s still an example of how unfair the U.S. tax system really is.
The statistics and information in the Times piece are pretty dense, but the bottom line is this: gay couples generally have to pay more throughout their lifetimes because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in the U.S. If the federal government chose to recognize same-sex marriage, then all of these costs or penalties would evaporate. It’s really as simple as that.
October 7, 2009 – PinkNews
Microsoft donates $100,000 to protect gay rights in Washington
by Jessica Geen
Microsoft Corporation has made a $100,000 (£62,976) donation to gay rights campaigners in Washington. Next month, the state will hold a referendum on whether gay couples should be given expanded rights under domestic partnerships law. The law, known as the ‘Everything but marriage’ measure, was due to come into power in June but was put on hold due to the referendum campaign, known as R-71.
Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, made the donation on Tuesday to Washington Families Standing Together. It is thought to be the single largest donation in favour of the pro-gay campaign. The referendum is being held on November 3rd. If the state’s voters approve it, it will give gay couples all the rights afforded to heterosexual couples, such as adoption and child support rights. Currently, the law provides gay couples with only some of the benefits given to straight married couples. Almost 6,000 domestic partnerships have been filed since 2007, which the law was passed.
According to Associated Press, the fundraising and spending of the ‘approve’ campaign dwarfs that of opponents. Washington Families Standing Together has raised approximately $780,000 overall and spent about $200,000. Protect Marriage Washington, which is campaigning against the new benefits, has raised around $60,000 and spent about $35,000.
October 7, 2009 – daily queer news
CT: State Becomes Mecca for Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by Daily Queer News
Lauren Garrison Register Staff New Haven Register
New Haven — Abigail Southworth, left and Regina DeVeries get pictures taken by Justice of the Peace Cami Rosenberg-Dews after the two got married at Lighthouse Point Park. The two, from Grand Rapids, Mich., eloped and drove the 19 hours to Connecticut where same-sex marriage is legal. Rosenberg-Dews is from Bristol. Photo by Peter Casolino
Since same-sex marriage was legalized in Connecticut a year ago, couples from around the country and overseas have flocked to the state to take their vows.
According to the Department of Public Health Vital Statistics, 1,722 same-sex couples were married in the state between Nov. 12, 2008, when the law took effect, and June 2009, the last month when data was available. The number of same-sex couples that came from out of state to marry was not immediately available, but data from local municipalities reflect a significant trend.
Renee Coppola, registrar of vital statistics in New Haven, said, “A good 75 percent of our same-sex marriages are from out of state. We’ve had them as far as Texas, Arizona. It’s not even that they come over the New York line.”
October 8, 2009 – The Boston Herald
Marriage licenses now available in NH for gays
by Associated Press
Concord, N.H. — Gay couples can now apply for marriage licenses in New Hampshire — though the unions can’t be performed until Jan. 1 when the state’s law legalizing the unions takes effect.
Stephen Wurtz, acting director of the state division of vital records, said Wednesday that the licenses cost $45 and are good for 90 days. Wurtz said couples who have already entered into civil unions can either get a marriage license for a new ceremony or — at no cost — convert the civil union to a marriage after the first of the year. Couples wishing to convert civil unions must apply at the clerk’s office where the union was recorded. If couples in civil unions do nothing, their unions will automatically be converted to marriages on Jan. 1, 2011.
October 11, 2009 – Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign
Obama speaks at HRC last night: watch the “>video
Just hours ago, President Obama took the podium at HRC’s National Dinner to talk directly to the LGBT community and our many friends and allies. Find out what Obama said and be sure to share the news with your friends
Today, thousands of people are marching on Washington to demand LGBT equality. And last night, President Obama told LGBT Americans that his commitment to ending discrimination in the military, in the workplace and for loving couples and their families is "unwavering". He made it crystal clear that he is our strongest ally in this fight, that he understands and, in fact, encourages our activism and our voice even when we’re impatient with the pace of change.
And we heard unequivocally about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: "I am working with the Pentagon, its leadership and members of the House and Senate to end this policy. I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That is my commitment to you." Finally, we heard something quite remarkable from the President: "You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men and two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman.
It was an historic night when we felt the full embrace and commitment of the President of the United States. It’s simply unprecedented. In the days and weeks ahead we’ll move quickly to capitalize on this momentum. But right now, please watch what President Obama had to say, share this email with your friends, and know that your commitment means that we’re much closer to attaining real equality and protecting millions of Americans.
Thank you for being part of this historic fight with us.
October 7, 2009 – The New York Times
Obama to Name Openly Gay Ambassador
by Sheryl Gay Stolberg
President Obama plans to name an openly gay lawyer to serve as his ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, administration officials said Wednesday evening. If confirmed by the Senate, the lawyer, David Huebner, would become the first openly gay ambassador in the Obama administration.
Mr. Huebner is the general counsel for a gay rights organization, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. His nomination is timed to coincide with a speech Mr. Obama is giving Saturday night to the Human Rights Campaign, which also advocates equal rights for gays.
Mr. Obama is facing continuing criticism from gay leaders that he is not living up to his campaign promises, including repealing the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’’ policy, which bars openly gay people from serving in the military. The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters on Wednesday that the president is ‘’intent on making progress’’ on the issue.
October 10, 2009 – Human Rights Campaign
Obama speaks at the HRC national dinner
President Obama spoke Saturday at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) national dinner. HRC is the nation’s largest gay rights advocate. The president’s received a standing ovation inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center where he spoke, but gay activists protesting Sunday at the National Equality March called the speech nothing new. You be the judge.
October 11, 2009 – On Top Magazine
Thousands Descend On D.C. To Support Gay Rights
by Carlos Santoscoy
In the words of Barney Frank it was an enormous “emotional release” Sunday as thousands of gay rights activist took to the streets of Washington D.C. to press lawmakers to act on gay rights legislation. The marchers were squarely aiming for President Barack Obama, who renewed his promise to end the military’s ban on open gay service in a speech to 3,000 gay activists at Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign (HRC) fundraiser in Washington.
But the crowd on Sunday was clearly unimpressed with the president’s latest offering that spelled out nothing new and offered few specifics. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like your speech,” Billie Myers, a musician, told a cheering crowd, The New York Times reported. “I’m absolutely here to encourage President Obama to live up to his promises from the campaign for my family’s equality,” Julie Marosky-Thacker, a protester from North Carolina, told the AP.
Marchers were younger – reported to be in their 20s and 30s – than the politically connected $500-a-plate gay activist, who, collectively, gave Obama a standing ovation Saturday. They’re also less patient, more vocal and unwilling to give the president the benefit of the doubt.
“I think this march represents the passing of the torch,” Corey Johnson, political commentator for the gay blog Towleroad.com, told the paper. “The points of power are no longer in the halls of Washington or larger metropolitan areas. It’s decentralized now. You have young activists and gay people from all walks of life converging on Washington not because a national organization told them to, but because they feel the time is now.”
There were not official estimates of the size of the crowd. Unofficial estimates ranged from 20,000 all the way up to 100,000. Several celebrity gay rights activists spoke at the demonstration. “We are all Americans. We are all equal Americans, gay, straight or whatever,” Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, told the crowd. Judy Shepard has lobbied Congress for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill since her son was murdered in 1988 for being gay.
“We are gathered here today from all over the U.S., and back home many of us are deeply embroiled in the particular local battles that we are fighting, but today is a national rally and when we walk away from here tonight, we need to walk away with a common national resolve,” openly lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon told the crowd.
Also at the march was Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Iraq war veteran who is fighting an Army discharge initiated after he acknowledged his sexuality on national television. “I marched for many different things in the Army. We fought for many things,” Choi told the AP. “But when there are people who are discriminated against in our country, it is our responsibility to step up for them.”
October 11, 2009 – LezGetReal
HRC Building Vandalized
Early this morning the Human Rights Campaign building was vandalized. Early police reports say that around 4am this morning the building was defaced. According to police the vandals used either paintball guns or balloons filled with paint. It appears to have been a drive by and the police have no suspects.
The vandalism occurred after HRC’s Annual National Dinner fundraiser where President Obama spoke. This was the most publicized dinner HRC has held because of the President’s appearance. Obama’s speech was televised live on Cspan and also covered by CNN. Today is also the National Equality March where thousands of LGBT people will be marching for equal rights. LGR will be following this story and will provide updates from the police as they come in.
At 4:30om EST today a group claimed responsibility by leaving a comment here on this post. Calling the act “glamdalism” the group states in their message that “a crew of radical queer and allied folks armed with pink and black paint and glitter grenades. Beside the front entrance and the inscribed mission statement (of the HRC building) now reads a tag, "Quit leaving queers behind."
Here is the full message
Communique from the Forgotton:
Human Rights Campaign HQ Glamdalized By Queers Against Assimilation
HRC headquarters was rocked by an act of glamdalism last night by a crew of radical queer and allied folks armed with pink and black paint and glitter grenades. Beside the front entrance and the inscribed mission statement now reads a tag, "Quit leaving queers behind."
The HRC is not a democratic or inclusive institution, especially for the people who they claim to represent. Just like society today, the HRC is run by a few wealthy elites who are in bed with corporate sponsors who proliferate militarism, heteronormativity, and capitalist exploitation. The sweatshops (Nike), war crimes (Lockheed Martin), assaults on working class people (Bank of America, Deloitte, Chase Bank, Citi Group, Wachovia Bank) and patriarchy (American Apparel) caused by their sponsors is a hypocrisy for an organization with "human rights" in their name.
The queer liberation movement has been misrepresented and co-opted by the HRC. The HRC marginalizes us into a limited struggle for aspiring homosexual elites to regain the privilege that they I’ve lost and climb the social ladder towards becoming bourgeoisie.
Last night, Obama spoke at the HRC fundraising gala and currently the HRC website declares, "President Obama underlines his unwavering support for LGBT Americans." The vast amount of organizing resources the HRC wastes on their false alliance with the Democratic party leaves radical queers on the margins to fend for themselves. Our struggle has always had to resist the repression of conservative tendencies in government and society to gain liberation in our lives.
The gourmet affair was sponsored by 48 corporations including giants Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and Wachovia Bank. At $250 dollars a plate the HRC served our movement a rich, white, heternormative atmosphere that purposefully excludes working class queer folks.
Remember The Stonewall Riots! On the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, pigs raided a queer bar in Texas, arrested and beat our friends, and we looked towards politicians and lawyers to protect us. This mentality is what keeps the money flowing to the HRC and their pet Democrats, and keeps our fists in our pockets.
Most of all we disagree that collective liberation will be granted by the state or its institutions like prisons, marriage, and the military. We need to escalate our struggle, or it will collapse.
~~Love and Solidarity~~
October 2009 – Equality Across America
National Equality March
October 2009 – Sun and Moon Visions Productions
Youth Out Loud II
Sun & Moon Vision Productions’ documentary, Youth Out Loud! Addressing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Youth Issues in our schools, released in 2000, chronicled the real life stories of youth in high school, highlighting the bubbling surge of youth activism that initiated change from local school districts to state and federal laws. Unfortunately, since 2000, there has been little improvement in the school climate in regards to harassment and bullying directed at lgbt students in our schools. (View a 20 min. preview of Youth Out Loud! )
October 9, 2009 – The Los Angeles Times
House OKs measure to make anti-gay violence a hate crime: The legislation, attached to a defense bill despite GOP protests, is supported by President Obama. It also covers attacks on members of the military.
by Richard Simon – Reporting from Washington
A long-debated bill to broaden the federal hate-crime law to cover violence against gays was approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled House in what would be the first major expansion of the law in more than 40 years. The measure, which is expected to go before the Senate within days, had faced a veto threat from President George W. Bush, but it has President Obama’s support.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that Obama looked forward to signing the bill. "As the president said back in April, the hate-crimes bill takes on an important civil rights issue to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association," he said. A version passed the Senate in July by a filibuster-proof 63-28 vote, so its passage this time seems assured. "It’s a very exciting day for us here in the Capitol," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), noting that she has pushed for expanding the law since her arrival in Congress 22 years ago. "What makes these crimes so bad is they are not just crimes against individuals; they are crimes against entire communities," Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who is gay, said during the debate.
Opponents of the measure have argued that existing laws cover hate crimes. "Violent attacks on people are already illegal regardless of the motive behind them," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), warning that the legislation would "put us on a slippery slope of deeming particular groups as more important than others under our system of justice." Republican lawmakers also objected to the placement of the hate-crimes measure: attached to a $680-billion defense policy bill, which included a 3.4% pay increase for the military and authorization for the development of a new engine for the next-generation jet fighter, among other items.
The measure passed by a vote of 281 to 146, with Republicans complaining that they had been put in the politically awkward position of voting against a defense bill. "We should not be doing social engineering on this bill," Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said. "Shame on you," he told Democrats. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) said that Democrats had needlessly introduced a "partisan matter in an otherwise bipartisan defense bill for our troops." "No member should be forced to vote for a partisan social agenda in order to provide for our troops," he said.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) accused Democrats of hijacking the bill to "push their partisan agenda." "It sends a terrible message to our military that this provision has been shoved into this bill when it does nothing for our military families or our national defense," he said. "Democrats should stop using our troops and their families as a vehicle for their political games."
The hate-crime legislation would expand the law to cover acts of violence motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity. Existing federal law defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on religion, race, national origin or color. The measure also would give federal authorities more leeway to help state and local law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
It also makes grants available to states and communities to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles and to train law enforcement officers in investigating, prosecuting and preventing hate crimes. The bill also makes it a federal crime to attack members of the military because of their service. House approval of the measure, long championed by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), comes as Obama prepares to address the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday.
The gay rights group will present an award to Judy and Dennis Shepard, whose gay son, Matthew, was brutally beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die 11 years ago in Wyoming. The legislation is named after him and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged to death behind a truck in the east Texas town of Jasper, also in 1998. The president’s address will be followed Sunday with a major march on Washington by gay rights supporters.
A number of Republicans assailed the measure as "thought crimes" legislation, contending that it could lead to the prosecution of a pastor delivering sermons against homosexuality if one of his church members committed a hate crime. They have hinted at a constitutional challenge.
"Congress should protect all Americans equally and not provide special protections to a few politically favored groups," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement. He also said: "It violates the principle of equal justice under the law and also threatens to infringe on the free speech rights of the American people."
The bill’s supporters, however, say that they added language to the measure to protect freedom of religious expression. "There are ample safeguards in the bill for constitutionally protected speech," said Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel of the Human Rights Campaign. The group’s president, Joe Solmonese, added: "The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate-crimes laws and giving local law enforcement the tools they need to combat hate violence."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that "it is remarkable that, at this late date, hate-crimes legislation should remain a controversial idea. The idea that someone could be singled out for a crime of violence due to his or her actual or perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability is simply repugnant."
October 21, 2009 – PinkNews
Video: 86-year-old D-Day veteran calls for equal gay rights
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A video clip of Philip Spooner, a soldier who fought in the Second World War, has become an internet hit after he spoke out for gay rights. Spooner was addressing the Maine Judiciary Committee in April. The state legalised gay marriage in May and the law was due to come into effect on September 12th but gay marriage opponents have delayed the law. State voters will decide next month whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
His voice frequently cracking, Spooner addressed the hall: “Good morning committee. My name is Philip Spooner. I am 86 years old and a lifetime Republican.” He said: “I am here because of a conversation I had last June, when I was voting. The woman at my polling place asked me, do I believe in equality for gay and lesbian people. I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her: what do you think I fought for in Omaha Beach?”
As applause broke out, he said that equality was one of the values of the "great nation" of America and was worth dying for. The veteran, who was present at the D-Day landing, said he and his late wife have four sons, one of whom is gay. All have served in the US military.
He said: "My wife and I did not raise four sons with the idea that three of them would have certain rights and that the fourth of them would be left out.” I was raised to believe all men are created equal,” he added, “and I have never forgotten that."
“It makes no sense that some people who love each other can marry and others can’t, just because of who they are."
22nd October 2009 – The Gov Monitor
HHS To Provide support For Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Individuals
Source: Department of Health & Human Services
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced plans to establish the nation’s first national resource center to assist communities across the country in their efforts to provide services and supports for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Experts estimate that as many as 1.5 to 4 million LGBT individuals are age 60 and older. Agencies that provide services to older individuals may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the needs of this group of individuals. The new Resource Center for LGBT Elders will provide information, assistance and resources for both LGBT organizations and mainstream aging services providers at the state and community level to assist them in the development and provision of culturally sensitive supports and services. The LGBT Center will also be available to educate the LGBT community about the importance of planning ahead for future long term care needs.
The LGBT Resource Center will help community-based organizations understand the unique needs and concerns of older LGBT individuals and assist them in implementing programs for local service providers, including providing help to LGBT caregivers who are providing care for an older partner with health or other challenges.
The Administration on Aging will award a single Resource Center grant at approximately $250,000 per year, pending availability of funds. Eligible entities will include public-private nonprofit organizations with experience working on LGBT issues on a national level. The funding announcement for the Resource Center will be made available on the this website very soon.
October 24, 2009 – The Washington Post
William and Mary students elect transgender homecoming queen
(AP) – Students at the College of William and Mary have elected a transgender homecoming queen.
Jessee Vasold took the field Saturday at halftime of the Williamsburg school’s football game against James Madison. The junior and other members of the homecoming court were introduced to the crowd and posed for pictures. Vasold identifies as "genderqueer," a term for those who don’t adhere to either strictly male or strictly female gender roles.
Students nominated and elected Vasold, who will represent the Class of 2011. An e-mail message left for Vasold on Saturday wasn’t immediately returned. "William and Mary is a diverse and inclusive community, and student selections to this year’s Homecoming Court reflect that," school spokesman Brian Whitson said in an e-mail.
October 25, 2009 – MercuryNews.com
Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act passes Congress, finally
Bay Area News Group
(Contra Costa Times) – There Are Some crimes that are so monstrous that they leave an indelible stain on the national conscience. The savage killing of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming back in 1998 was one. Shepard a 21-year-old gay college student, made the fatal mistake of accepting a ride with two men he’d met at a bar. The men kidnapped Shepard, pistol whipped him, tortured him and left him for dead at a Laramie ranch. They strung the dying young man to a fence in frigid temperatures, where he was later discovered by someone who at first thought he was a scarecrow. Shepard later died from his injuries.
The authorities theorized that Shepard’s killers set out at first to rob him. But, after learning he was gay, they decided to teach him a lesson. The murder was a defining moment in the struggle for gay rights. You might even say that Shepard was the gay movement’s Emmett Till — the 14-year-old Chicago boy who was killed and mutilated in Mississippi in 1955, ostensibly for whistling at a white woman.
In both cases, we as a nation got an up close and personal look at the sickness that intense hatred and prejudice wreaks — a hatred based on someone else’s perceived otherness, be it the color of their skin, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. It is a hatred that fuels a violence that terrorizes not only the victim, but others who may share similar characteristics.
After Shepard’s murder, there were calls to expand federal hate crimes legislation to include those who are victims of violent crimes because of their sexual orientation. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was a major proponent. President Bill Clinton, who was in office at the time, tried but failed to get Congress to add sexual orientation to the current federal law passed after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King that covered race, color, religion and national origin. That’s because of fierce opposition — primarily from religious conservatives — who insisted it was unnecessary.
They felt that expanding federal protections to include gays and lesbians would somehow silence clergymen and others who opposed homosexuality on religious or philosophical grounds. Year after year, their allies in the Senate wielded the filibuster to block the law from passing. Now, 11 years after Shepard’s murder, Congress has finally done the right thing.
The Democrats attached an amendment to the hate crimes legislation and attached it to a $680 billion defense bill that they knew had to pass. On Thursday, the Senate approved the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act 68-29. The House had approved the bill earlier this month. President Barack Obama has said he will sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.
What this means is that if local jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to investigate hate crimes based on sexual orientation, the Justice Department can step in —just as it often does in racially motivated crimes. The bill also allocated $5 million to the Justice Department to help local communities investigate hate crimes. Not surprisingly, there are those misguided individuals who view the Matthew Shepard Act as a plot to spread homosexuality.
"It’s part of a radical social agenda that ultimately could silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality," says Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Let’s be clear. There is nothing in the law that impinges on anyone’s free speech. Those who want to preach against the so-called evils of gay marriage may continue to do so. The law applies only to the commission of violent acts—not to speech.
There have been more than 118,000 hate crimes documented by the FBI since 1991. In 2007 alone there were 7,634. It’s estimated that 16 percent of victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation. There is no question this law has been a long-time coming. "It was nearly 11 years ago that Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered," said Nancy Pelosi D-San Francisco. "The time for debate is over."
October 27, 2009 – OnTop Magazine
Army Secretary Says Military Ready To Scrap Gay Ban
by Carlos Santoscoy
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Sunday that lifting the military’s ban on open gay service would not seriously disrupt the armed services. McHugh told the Army Times: “Anytime you have a broad-based policy change, there are challenges to that. The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues, [with] predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out.”
President Obama recently renewed his pledge to repeal the military ban, also known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford – for our military’s integrity – to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie,” Obama told attendees at an October fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights advocate.
“So I’m working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That’s my commitment to you.” The policy allows gay and lesbian soldiers to work in the armed forces so long as they remain closeted about their sexual orientation and celibate. McHugh is the highest-ranking Pentagon official to express support for repeal.
“What we’re seeing is a tipping point in the opinions of both military and civilian leaders on this issue,” Dr. Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow at the Palm Center, a California-based think tank, said in a statement. “The Army is the largest of the services and the most heavily involved in our wars abroad, and for Secretary McHugh to state clearly that it can handle repeal sends a strong signal to the other service secretaries that they can do the same.”
McHugh was tapped by Obama to become the civilian head of the Army. He is a former Republican representative from New York whose votes in Congress on gay rights most often aligned with his party. During the 110th Congress, McHugh received a low rating of 15 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, a survey that measures lawmakers’ support for gay and lesbian rights based on their voting history.
October 28, 2009 – USA Today
Obama signs hate-crimes law rooted in crimes of 1998
The year 1998 was dominated by the saga of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but it also saw two horrific killings that led to a new federal law signed by President Obama. On June 7, in Texas, three white men chained an African American named James Byrd to a pickup truck and dragged him to his death; in the early hours of Oct. 7, two men in Wyoming beat up gay teenager Matthew Shepard and left him to die while tied to a fence. These killings intensified pressure for tougher federal hate-crimes legislation. Today, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
"After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are," Obama said in signing the defense budget bill that includes the new hate-crimes law. The new law basically expands existing hate-crime protections to outlaw attacks based on sexual orientation or gender, in addition to race, color, religion or national origin.
In a later ceremony devoted to the new law, Obama told supporters, "No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love." He cited statistics that in these past 10 years, there have been more than 12,000 hate crimes based on sexual orientation. "We will never know how many incidents were never reported at all," Obama said.
Opponents called the hate-crimes bill unnecessary, noting that Shepard’s and Byrd’s attackers were convicted in state criminal courts. Some critics objected to the inclusion of hate-crimes legislation in a defense budget bill. "The president has used his position as commander in chief to advance a radical social agenda, when he should have used it to advance legislation that would unequivocally support our troops," said U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Pence also argued that the law could be used to curb free speech rights, such as with religions that consider homosexuality a sin.
Gay rights groups hailed the law.
"President Obama and Congress have sent a message that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is wrong and that our community should not be excluded from the protections of our nation’s laws," said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
In signing the bill, Obama paid tribute to one of its sponsors, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. He also singled out another longtime advocate: Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, who personally lobbied the president earlier this year. "I promised Judy Shepard, when she saw me in the Oval Office, that this day would come, and I’m glad that she and her husband, Dennis, could join us for this event," Obama said.
In a statement, Mrs. Shepard — who was at the White House again — said she never dreamed it would take 10 years for the new law to become a reality. "We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly," Shepard said.
October 28, 2009 – Tulsa World
Local gay community celebrates expansion of hate crimes law
by Matt Barnard World Staff Writer
Leaders from Tulsa’s gay community hosted a victory party Wednesday evening to celebrate federal legislation that includes sexual orientation under hate crime laws. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law earlier Wednesday by President Barack Obama, expands the federal hate crimes law to include violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or gender.
Federal law previously had included violence based on a person’s race, color, religion or national origin. To assure the expanded law’s passage after years of frustrated efforts, Democratic supporters attached the measure to a must-pass defense policy bill over steep objections by many Republicans. Its passage was a victory for gays, lesbians and transgender people in a long-fought battle for recognition, said Toby Jenkins, president of the advocacy group Oklahomans for Equality.
“You live in a new America tonight — an America that our founding fathers envisioned,” Jenkins told a crowd of about 60 at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St. The gathering ended with a champagne toast. Tulsa Police Detective Brian Booth took questions from members of the crowd who wondered how police responses will change under the new law. Booth, who investigates gang cases, said hate crimes and gang violence have several similarities. Often in each instance, an organized group targets a person because of specific traits, he said.
Oklahoma’s hate crime law makes it a crime to “intimidate or harass another person because of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability” but makes no mention of sexual orientation. Because the federal measure doesn’t affect Oklahoma statutes, county prosecutors still cannot treat a case as a hate crime. But the new law also removes restrictions on when the federal government can intervene in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
Booth said local police will investigate any targeted attacks and forward the cases to federal authorities, who can take advantage of the newly expanded federal penalties. Although local authorities can’t directly pursue bolstered sentences, the legislation “gives them teeth” to take cases to the federal level, said Nancy McDonald, president of the Tulsa Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
With authorities offering harsher punishment for criminals, the gay community should turn to education efforts to reduce crime in the first place, she said. “We have lots of good things going on in Tulsa, but we’re not there yet,” McDonald said. “Let us not forget that we have more to do.”
Brandon Patrick, a Tulsa man who reported to police that he was attacked recently because he is gay, was also at the event. He was beaten and stabbed Oct. 18 by a group of people who he said had followed him down a street yelling homophobic slurs. Such attacks are a constant fear for parents of gay men and lesbians, said Carolyn Greenwood-Wagner, a co-founder of Families United Against Hate. Her group offers support to people who have been attacked because of their sexual orientation.
As she choked back tears, Greenwood-Wagner told the crowd that hate crimes have a numbing effect on victims and make them more likely to commit suicide. Oklahoma’s exclusive law compounded the problem, she said. “The majority of the time, justice has not come for the families that we’ve helped,” she said. “This opens up … doors of education for the larger public.”
October 28, 2009 – CNN
Two years after son’s death, mother finds solace in hate crimes bill
CNN – For Elke Kennedy, the significance of Wednesday’s hate crimes legislation can be traced to a single punch outside a bar on a drunken night two years ago. "My son was murdered as he was leaving a bar in Greenville, South Carolina," the 48-year-old woman told CNN about her son, Sean, who was 20 when he came face-to-face with what she calls a hate crime. "He walked outside the bar and there was three people sitting in a car outside and they called him over to ask him for a cigarette."
It was 3:45 a.m. on May 16, 2007, and her underage son was legally drunk, but not so much that he couldn’t give them the cigarette. He did so, then turned to walk away. He did not get far, she said. "As he was walking away, the guy in the back seat got out and walked over to Sean and called him a faggot and punched him in the face." The men got back into their car and drove off, leaving Sean on the ground, his brain separated from his brain stem, she said. Fifteen minutes later, the 18-year-old assailant called one of the women whom Sean had been with in the bar and left a message on her cell phone.
"You tell your faggot friend when he wakes up he owes me 500 dollars for my broken hand," the message said. Sean was taken to Greenville Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead 17 hours later. More than 700 people showed up at his memorial service at Crossroads Community Church in nearby Simpsonville. Two days later, Stephen Andrew Moller, then 18, was charged with murder.
He bargained it down to involuntary manslaughter and served 199 days in the county lockup followed by 12 months in prison, Kennedy said. Moller was released on probation last July, she said. An attempt to reach the Moller family Tuesday was not successful.
Had hate crimes been a federal offense in 2007, the FBI would have been able to investigate the attack, and Sean Kennedy’s killer might still be in prison, his mother said. For the past 27 months, Kennedy has logged 76,000 miles speaking at colleges and clubs across the country trying to raise awareness and gather support for the legislation.
Last week, the Senate did what she was seeking when it passed legislation by 68-29 that would make it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Obama is to sign the measure, which was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill, on Wednesday. Kennedy and her husband were driving Tuesday night from their home in Greenville to the nation’s capital, where they were planning to witness the ceremony.
"We are going there representing so many people," she said. "People who have been murdered and are dealing with the harassment and bullying and violence on a daily basis." But Kennedy said her work does not end with the president’s signature. "This is a huge milestone, but it is not the end of the fight," she said. "We have to change the hearts and minds." Toward that end, she has spoken at 34 colleges and universities "to educate these kids about what hate and violence and bullying can do and give them options and teach them non-violent conflict resolution."
But she expressed frustration that elementary schools have not allowed her to address their students, to send them the message that ends each of her talks: "No mother should ever have to bury her child, no mother should ever have to lose her child to hate or violence and no mother should ever have to fight for justice for her child." The measure is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to his death in Texas the same year.
Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate-crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality. But Attorney General Eric Holder has said that any federal hate-crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.
Former President George W. Bush had threatened to veto a similar measure. Opponents of the expanded hate crimes bill challenged the need to specify one particular community in federal legislation. They contended that existing federal hate-crimes laws were sufficient to protect the rights of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 77,000 hate crime incidents were reported by the FBI between 1998 and 2007, or "nearly one hate crime for every hour of every day over the span of a decade," Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June.
October 28, 2009 – SFGate
First openly gay US attorney begins job in Wash.
by Gene Johnson, Associated Press Writer
Seattle (AP) – The new top federal prosecutor in Seattle knows the significance her role carries for many people: She’s apparently the nation’s first openly gay U.S. attorney. But as a daughter of privilege — her dad was a powerful Democratic state senator, and she had all the benefits of a comfortable upbringing and a good education — Jenny Durkan also recalls what someone once told her: "You’re the most non-diverse diverse person I know."
"I don’t think I can fully appreciate how important it is to many people to have someone in a role like this who is gay," Durkan said this week in an interview with The Associated Press. "The more people are able to see people in situations where pretty soon that’s an invisible characteristic, the better it is for the entire community." Gay rights activists say her appointment reflects a growing acceptance in the U.S. as well as the attitude of President Barack Obama’s administration. Earlier this month, Obama nominated an openly gay police sergeant to be the U.S. marshal in Minneapolis; she would be the first openly gay U.S. marshal.
Lambda Legal, a national organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, says it knows of no other openly gay U.S. attorneys in the nation’s 93 judicial districts. "We see it as really sort of a respectful acknowledgment that it is important to have all sorts of people represented in government," Lambda Legal spokesman Jason Perez Howe said.
Durkan, 51, has been named to the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, where she will head a subcommittee on cybercrimes and intellectual property. The FBI is building a new cybercrime center in the old federal courthouse in Seattle, and the U.S. attorney’s office here has done novel work in prosecuting such cases.
Before being confirmed by the Senate a month ago, Durkan performed a wide variety of civil litigation and criminal defense work, and was active in bar associations. In 2002 she traveled to Morocco to train female candidates for parliament. She has been Gov. Chris Gregoire’s personal attorney and confidante, and represented the Democratic Party when Gregoire’s 133-vote re-election win was confirmed in court. Durkan has said she did some of her most satisfying work using lawsuits to force institutional reform — such as changes in how the King County Jail handles mentally ill prisoners after one who had been recently released stabbed a firefighter to death.
One month into her new job, she believes a similar approach could make the U.S. attorney’s office more effective in areas such as environmental regulation and corporate oversight — areas that received less attention as fighting terrorism became the Justice Department’s top priority after 9/11. "Rather than just doing reactive cases where the government’s being sued, we have to start thinking about how we can use our affirmative powers to enforce the priorities of the department and the communities," Durkan said.
To that end, she’s spoken with local prosecutors, state and federal agencies and the governor’s office about bringing those groups together to coordinate better responses to environmental crimes, for example. "There’s no question terrorism remains the number one threat to this country, and we don’t want to minimize that," she said. "But we’ve also seen in the last three years that there are other threats to our country and people’s well being. Financial crimes almost brought our country to its knees."
Ultimately, she said, she hopes to be judged on how the U.S. attorney’s office handles those threats — not on her sexual orientation. "In this region I don’t think it’s very remarkable that you have someone who is gay in a position of authority, because it’s woven throughout our culture and has been," Durkan said. "In other parts of the country it might be, but I think a generation from now it will be a footnote."
October 30, 2009 – Examiner.com
Hate Crime Prevention Act may have far-reaching implications for gay rights
by Megan Coffey
The expanded federal Hate Crime Prevention Act, named for 1998 victims Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. and signed into law by President Obama on October 28, may end up being much more significant than its scope would suggest.
Although the Department of Justice avers that hate crime statutes deter bias-motivated attacks, it offers no statistics to substantiate that claim. Certainly the original 1969 federal law—which covered hate crimes based on the victims’ race, color, religion or national origin—was not sufficient to save the life of the new law’s less famous namesake, James Byrd, Jr., who was killed because he was black. And even if the new measure had been in effect when its other namesake, Matthew Shepard, was killed for being gay, it is unlikely that his crystal-meth-bingeing attackers would have been rational enough to be deterred by the threat of increased sentencing penalties for their crime.
What is much more certain about this latest incarnation of federal hate crime law is that it is the first ever piece of federal legislation protecting LGBT rights to become the law of the land (and the first federal measure to explicitly protect transgender people). This fact could make the new statute far more significant than its debatable impact as a deterrent to bias-motivated violence. By its recognition that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans represent a group of people likely to be the targets of discrimination, the Hate Crime Prevention Act could be used to argue that LGBT citizens represent a “suspect class,” and as such, are deserving of “strict scrutiny” regarding any regulations affecting them.
In lay terms, this means that it may now be much harder for any government in the US to pass laws that discriminate against gay and transgender people, such as Proposition 8 in California or Question 1 in Maine. It also may speed the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the demise of DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Who knows but that this one seemingly modest new hate crime law could signal the beginning of a whole new era of civil rights recognition for LGBT Americans….
October 30, 2009 – The Washington Post
White House announces end to HIV travel ban
by Garance Franke-Ruta
President Obama called the 22-year ban on travel and immigration by HIV-positive individuals a decision "rooted in fear rather than fact" and announced the end of the rule-making process lifting the ban. The president signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 at the White House Friday and also spoke of the new rules, which have been under development more more than a year. "We are finishing the job," the president said.
The regulations are the final procedural step in ending the ban, and will be published Monday in the Federal Register, to be followed by the standard 60-day waiting period prior to implementation.
A ban on travel and immigration to the U.S. by individuals with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was first established by the Reagan-era U.S. Public Health Service and then given further support when Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) added HIV to the travel-exclusion list in a move that was ultimately passed unanimously by the Senate in 1987.
A 1990-1991 effort to overturn the regulatory ban failed in the face of outcry and lobbying from conservative groups and bureaucratic turf disputes. The ban was upheld in 1993 when Congress added it to U.S. immigration laws. The Senate finally voted to overturn the ban as part of approving legislation reauthorizing funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, in 2008, and President Bush signed it into law on July 30 of that year. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R-Ore.) led the process in the Senate.
"This really proves that immigration laws that exclude families and stigmatize individuals are destined to fail," said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a group that has mobilized more than 20,000 comments in support of ending the ban. "The climate has really changed," she said, attributing the end of the ban to a diminishment in "misinformation about HIV and AIDS."
The lifting of the ban removes one of the last vestiges of early U.S. AIDS policy. "We’re thrilled that the ban has been lifted based on science, reason, and human rights. Our hope is that this decision reflects a commitment to adopting more evidence-based policies when confronting the AIDS epidemic and developing a comprehensive national AIDS strategy," said Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of amFAR, an AIDS research foundation. Until today’s announcement, the U.S. was one of only 7 countries with laws that bar entry of people with HIV, the group noted.
October 29, 2009 – The Associated Press
Increase in Gay Asylum in USA
by Russell Contreras (AP)
Worcester, Mass. — For weeks, Nathaniel Cunningham and his boyfriend secretly lived together in rural Jamaica. They showed no affection in public and rarely spoke to neighbors. Then one morning, Cunningham picked up a local newspaper with a front-page story under the headline, "Homosexual Prostitutes Move into Residential Neighborhood." His address was listed below.
For days afterward, Cunningham said an angry mob gathered on his lawn hurling rocks and bricks and calling them "batty boys" — a Jamaican slang term for gay. Eventually, the pair grabbed what they could and fled on foot. Cunningham said neither he nor his boyfriend were prostitutes — the slur was just another example of the abuse gay men faced in Jamaica.
The story was one of many that Cunningham, now 32 and living in Worcester, recently shared with a federal immigration judge in his successful bid to win asylum in the United States. And it’s similar to other stories cited by a small but growing number of other gay, lesbian and transgender asylum seekers who are using U.S. immigration courts to argue that their sexual orientation makes it too dangerous for them to return home.
"I had no choice," said Andre Azevedo, 39, a transgender man from Brazil who recently won asylum and now lives in New York. "Where I’m from, heterosexual men practice hate crimes against us like a sport, and the police do nothing to stop it." Since 1994, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States. That’s when former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ruled in a case that persecution based on sexual orientation could be potential grounds for asylum. Until recently, those grounds have been rarely used and such cases represent only a fraction of all asylum cases.
But now immigrant and gay activists say more asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are citing sexual orientation as reasons for seeking asylum. Activists say the asylum seekers are escaping rape, persecution, violence, and threats of death from places where homosexuality is either outlawed or strongly, socially shunned.
Federal immigration law allows individuals asylum if they can prove a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Those applying for asylum are already in the United States, legally or illegally. No one knows for sure just how many have sought asylum on sexual orientation grounds. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t keep data on asylum cases won on that basis.
Still, last year Immigration Equality, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps gay clients with immigration cases, successfully won 55 asylum cases using sexual orientation as grounds, a record for the organization, said the group’s legal director Victoria Neilson. That’s up from 30 wins in 2007 and 27 in 2006, Neilson said. And a Worcester, Mass.-based nonprofit group, Lutheran Social Services, has recently won five cases and is looking to help others.
"I think more people are finding out that this is an option," said Lisa Laurel Weinberg, an attorney with the group. However, not all cases for asylum based on sexual orientation have been successful. For example, a gay Brazilian man who was married in Massachusetts and whose American husband remains in the state was recently denied asylum by the Obama administration on humanitarian grounds, despite pleas from Sen. John Kerry. Genesio "Junior" Januario Oliveira had originally requested asylum because he was raped as a teenager, but an immigration judge denied the application, saying Oliveira repeatedly said in the hearing that he "was never physically harmed" by anyone in Brazil.
He was forced to return to Brazil in 2007. Cunningham said he decided to file for asylum after working for a few years in the United States on a work visa. He conducted research online but couldn’t find an immigration group to help him with the case. "One group said my case clashed with their Christian values," Cunningham said. Many gay rights groups, he said, also had limited services for immigrants.
It wasn’t until Cunningham connected with Jozefina Lantz, the director of immigrant services at Lutheran Social Services, that Cunningham gained support. To win, however, Cunningham had to revisit painful moments of running from mobs in Jamaica. Even the police would point him out for persecution, he said. In successfully arguing Cunningham’s case for asylum, Weinberg also said Jamaica’s sodomy laws banning sex between men and "dancehall" music — whose lyrics often advocate violence against gays — made life for Cunningham unbearable. Cunningham won asylum in January 2008.
During his asylum hearing, Azevedo had to recall violent episodes in Brazil when he and a group of transsexuals were attacked in bars. He recalled a transgender woman set on fire. Each time Azevedo said he went to police about an attack or a threat, the officers didn’t even bother to file a report. "I had such a horrific experience," said Azevedo, who was granted asylum in July. "I was always in fear of being raped, maybe even killed." After winning their cases, both Cunningham and Azevedo have become advocates for other asylum-seekers by giving them counseling and directing them toward legal help.
In Worcester, for example, Cunningham has helped a Lebanese and three others Jamaicans win asylum with the legal help provided by the Lutheran Social Services’ "LGBT Human Rights Protection Project." Another case, involving an Ugandan woman, is pending in the courts. But while those who have been granted asylum are eager to help, Azevedo said many still haven’t resolved the pain from the past and can’t go back home to visit family — those who haven’t disowned them. Cunningham said he hasn’t gotten over the fear that, at any moment, he may be forced to flee. "I’ve never really owned furniture," Cunningham said. "You just never know."