New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books reviews: Gay City News and Philadelphia Gay News
August 9, 2007
US Democratic Candidates in gay rights spotlight
by Laura Smith-Spark
Gay marriage, homosexuality in the military, Aids policy and hate crimes are to be the focus of the latest US presidential debate.
For the first time, contenders for the White House are taking part in a live televised discussion devoted solely to gay and lesbian issues. Backed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading US gay rights advocacy group, it will be broadcast on gay-orientated cable network Logo and streamed live on the internet. Although candidates from both parties were invited, only the Democrats responded positively, the HRC says, so a corresponding event will not be staged for their Republican counterparts.
The Los Angeles forum could prove a political minefield in a nation where gay rights issues continue to polarise many people, as witnessed in the 2004 presidential elections. The decision to hold the debate in California reflects the influence the state has gained by advancing its primary elections – when party members choose which candidate to nominate for the head-to-head race – to 5 February. So what do the Democrats stand to gain or lose by taking part?
Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson
Nonetheless, the issue of gay marriage remains a "huge political hot potato". On the one hand, many gay couples see the legalisation of gay marriage as being of great symbolic as well as practical significance, Mr Conkle said. "On the other hand, there is a deep sense of, if nothing else, tradition-based support for confining marriage as an institution to the conventional heterosexual form."
Mr Conkle predicts that the candidates taking part–all the Democratic field except Senators Joseph Biden and Chris Dodd, who both plead scheduling clashes–could well be seen "squirming" as they are put on the spot. Only Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, both long-shots, have given their full support to gay marriage.
The other candidates are likely to try to "massage" their positions to keep influential gay supporters on-side during the primary election process, Mr Conkle said, even though major shifts in policy are unlikely. After all, exit polls for the 2004 presidential election suggested that 4% of voters were gay, and that of those 77% voted for Democrats. "Once they are selected by their parties, you start to see something of a move towards the centre, with the candidates toning down their more one-sided positions in an attempt to get more votes from the middle or members of the opposite party," Mr Conkle added
Questions posed at last month’s CNN/YouTube debate clearly exposed the conflicts that exist within the Democratic field over gay marriage. First, two women from New York asked whether they would be allowed to marry each other under the candidates’ presidencies. Mr Dodd and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson both voiced support for civil unions but shied away from backing gay marriage.
Then, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards was asked by a pastor from that state why he felt he could use his Southern Baptist background to justify his opposition to gay marriage. Pushed to answer, Mr Edwards said he felt "enormous conflict" on the issue. He was personally opposed to gay marriage, he explained, but as president he would not use that "faith basis" to deny anyone their rights.
All the Republicans oppose gay marriage, although former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani did support gay rights while in office and famously temporarily lived with a gay couple during his divorce.
Meanwhile, wider political and public argument on the issue of gay rights is far from over. Only one state, Massachusetts, has so far legalised gay marriage. Thirteen states passed same-sex marriage bans in 2004, and a further eight took the same step in 2006.
A 2007 Pew Research Center poll showed that 55% of Americans oppose gay marriage but that 37%, a sizeable minority, support it.
Another Pew survey last year found that 54% of Americans favour allowing civil unions, up from 45% in 2003.
However, exit polls after the 2006 mid-term elections showed only a minority of black Americans–who tend to support the Democrats–back same-sex marriage or civil unions. And a Quinnipiac University survey released this week suggests that being backed by gay rights groups turns more voters off a candidate than it attracts. "The danger is that in trying to stick to the middle ground, the Democrats risk letting down their support base among gay voters.It really is a discussion about the foundation of equality in our society," said Brad Luna of The Human Rights Campaign.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already come under fire this year from gay supporters for failing to respond strongly enough when the US military’s outgoing top commander Gen Peter Pace described homosexual acts as "immoral". The US military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, which allows gay people to serve if they do not declare their sexuality or engage in homosexual acts, remains controversial and is sure to be raised at the debate.
While every Democratic candidate has said he or she would like to overturn it, none of the Republican contenders have said they intend to do likewise. Brad Luna said a recent row over the dismissal of valuable Arabic linguists from the military because they were gay had illustrated how important the issue was to wider US society. He said the Democratic candidates would also be asked about hate crimes legislation, ending workplace discrimination and "kitchen table" issues to do with taxes and benefits for same-sex couples. "What we want is to take the time in this forum to not just hear a quick sound bite -‘yes, I’m for reform of don’t ask, don’t tell’," he told the BBC News website.
"We want to dig deeper and ask the candidates how they plan on achieving these advancements, what their policies and vision are for attaining equality in America for the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community," he said. "It really is a discussion about the foundation of equality in our society."
The debate will be broadcast on cable network Logo at 2100 ET/1800 PT on 9 August and streamed live on the internet at LOGOonline.com.
August 9, 2007
Democratic presidential candidates address gay rights in TV forum
by Michael R. Blood, Los Angeles
Democratic presidential contenders Thursday sought to underscore their differences with Republicans on gay and lesbian rights, but leading candidates also faced sharp questions on their reluctance to embrace marriage for same-sex couples.
In a forum focusing on gay issues sponsored by a gay rights organization and aired on a gay cable channel, Sen. Barack Obama argued that civil unions for same-sex couples wouldn’t be a "lesser thing" than marriage. He disputed that his position on same-sex marriage made him a vestige of the past rather than an agent of change. " Semantics may be important to some. From my perspective, what I’m interested (in) is making sure that those legal rights are available to people," he said. Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ, which supports gay marriage, but Obama has yet to go that far. " If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law, then my sense is that’s enormous progress," the Illinois Democrat said.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said the nation was on "a path to full inclusion" but added, "In my judgment, what is achievable is civil unions with full marriage rights."
Six of the eight Democratic candidates were scheduled to answer questions at an event described as a milestone by organizers. It marked the first time that major presidential candidates appeared on TV specifically to address gay issues, the organizers said. Obama called the event "a historic moment … for America." The two-hour forum, held in a Hollywood studio with an invited audience of 200, was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group active in Democratic politics, and Logo, a gay-oriented cable TV channel that aired the forum live. " We already won because the candidates are here," Logo president Brian Graden said.
Of the eight Democratic candidates, two did not attend, Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd on Connecticut. The candidates, who were to appear one at a time and sit in an upholstered chair, were taking questions from a panel that included Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, singer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was cheered by the crowd when she alluded to the prospect for change at the White House in the 2008 election. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards argued that Democrats must speak out against discrimination coming from the other party. " If you stand quietly by and let it happen, what happens is it takes hold," Edwards said. Without speaking out against intolerance it becomes "OK for the Republicans in their politics to divide America and use hate-mongering to separate us," Edwards said.
All of the Democratic candidates support a federal ban on anti-gay job discrimination, want to repeal the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in the military and support civil unions that would extend marriage-like rights to same-sex couples. A majority of Americans oppose nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage and only two of the Democrats support it—former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, both longshots for the nomination. Logo, available in about 27 million homes, wanted to hold a second forum for Republican candidates but GOP front-runners showed no interest, channel officials said.
August 12, 2007
Lutheran congregation keeps gay pastor
by Dorie Turner Associated Press Writer
Atlanta—With hugs and cheers Sunday, members of Atlanta’s oldest Lutheran church celebrated the pastor at the center of a battle over the treatment of gay clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The support for the Rev. Bradley Schmeling at St. John’s Lutheran Church came a day after the national assembly of the ELCA in Chicago urged bishops to refrain from defrocking gay and lesbian ministers who violate a celibacy rule. The assembly’s action fell short of permitting ordained gays churchwide. Schmeling called the assembly’s vote a "crack in the dam" and told the more than 100 people gathered in the St. John’s sanctuary that the congregation had "given its gift" to the ELCA. "The hard work, the struggle, has really finally made a difference for years to come," he said.
Schmeling became a focus of the ELCA’s debate over gay clergy when he was removed from the church’s clergy roster last year after he told his bishop that he was in a relationship with a man. A disciplinary committee decided it had no choice but to defrock Schmeling and order him out of the pulpit due to a policy that excludes gay, bisexual and transgendered persons in relationships from the ordained ministry. However, the committee also suggested that the church consider reinstating gay clergy forced to step down because of their relationships. And it concluded that, aside from his relationship, Schmeling had proved he is worthy of his title. After Saturday’s vote, he will continue to be pastor at St. John’s at the request of the congregation, although his name will stay off the clergy list.
Schmeling said the removal of his name from the clergy roster will only present problems if he seeks a job with another congregation—and he said he has no plans to leave St. John’s. "On a day-to-day basis, nothing changes here," he said. Bishop Ronald B. Warren, head of the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod, has said he plans to take no further action against St. John’s or Schmeling. Like other mainline Protestant groups, the ELCA has been struggling to reconcile differences on the issue.
The assembly’s 538-431 vote followed an emotional debate on how the denomination should interpret what the Bible says about homosexuality. It decided to postpone a more concrete decision on gay clergy for two years until a task force nearing the end of an eight-year study on human sexuality releases its findings. St. John’s members said although the assembly vote was disappointing, they hope it is a small step forward. "I felt real pain and rejection of us and what we’ve been fighting for, for years," said Barbara Arne, who headed the committee that hired Schmeling in 2000. "But I’m really hopeful pastors and congregations will be at less risk for going through what Pastor Brad and all of us have."
August 15, 2007
Lessons on Homosexuality Move Into the Classroom
by Diana Jean Schemo
Rockville, Md. – After five years, one legal defeat and a challenge on the way, Montgomery County, Md., is at the frontier of sex education in the United States. This fall, barring last-minute court action, the county will offer lessons on homosexuality in its 8th- and 10th-grade health education courses. To school officials, the lessons are a natural outgrowth of sex education and of teachings on tolerance and diversity. They consist of two heavily scripted, 45-minute lessons for each grade and a video demonstrating how to put on a condom. The lessons’ central message is respect and acceptance of the many permutations of sexual identity, both in others and in one’s self. School officials said they were not seeking to promote a political agenda, beyond tolerance and a kind of cultural literacy. “Our charge starts with educating students,” said Betsy Brown, who supervised the curriculum’s development in consultation with the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is part of education.”
But critics, who have filed lawsuits seeking to stop the lessons, contended that the Montgomery County schools, just north of Washington, have gone too far. John Garza, president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, a group leading the opposition, said parents can block television shows they deem morally questionable, “but then we have the schoolteacher affirming unhealthy behavior.” Montgomery is a mostly well-educated, politically liberal enclave. But opponents of the new curriculum, portrayed as a vocal minority by school officials, may be more in sync with the mood of parents nationally. According to a 2004 national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and National Public Radio, roughly three out of four parents say it is appropriate for high schools to teach about homosexuality, but about half say it is appropriate in middle school.
When asked about the issue in greater detail, more than 50 percent of high school and middle school parents supported teaching what homosexuality is about “without discussing whether it is wrong or acceptable.” Only 8 percent of high school parents and 4 percent of middle school parents said schools should teach “that homosexuality is acceptable.” The survey had a margin of error of 6 percentage points. Montgomery County may be ahead of the country on sex education, but it may also just be out there, stranded on its own. The controversy illustrates how fraught the road can be for educators who venture beyond academics to influence students about sensitive social issues, risking not just lawsuits, but also losing step with parents and voters. In New York City, the controversy 14 years ago over the “rainbow curriculum,” which included the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” as a first-grade text, cost Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez his job. “It’s a myth that our schools don’t teach values about lots of things,” said Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, which promotes discussions about sexuality. “We don’t put communism, socialism and capitalism on an equal footing in our classes on government.”
But for a raft of reasons, many of them unconscious, teaching about sexuality is different, said Susan K. Freeman, a historian at Minnesota State University, Mankato. For many parents, boy-girl dating may not mean that their child is sexually active, she said. By coming out as gay, though, “they’re announcing their sexuality.” Parents make a tacit assumption of sexual activity, and “that presents a problem for a lot of people,” she said. The Montgomery County lessons begin by defining terms like “prejudice,” “homosexual” and “transgender,” and warn students not to assume that because they are not yet attracted to the opposite sex, they must be gay. The eighth-grade curriculum tells gay students that “concerns about how family and friends will accept the situation are reasonable, and fears about being teased or even attacked are not unfounded.”
In the 10th grade, the lessons, which presume that sexual identity is innate, again discuss the stresses of coming out, but add, “Many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender celebrate their self-discovery.” Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said the curriculum could reduce bullying over sexual identity. “I don’t know how denying information to young people about sexuality or sexual orientation does anything to promote their health and well being,” he said.
Mr. Garza objected to schools teaching that homosexuality is not subject to change and failing to mention higher rates of some venereal diseases among gay men. “When you get into these hotly contested areas of moral judgment, that’s where the school needs to get out of it, or at least teach all sides,” he said.
August 29, 2007
Gays scornful of senator’s statement
by David Crary, AP National Writer
Sen. Larry Craig’s "I’m not gay" declaration met with disdain Wednesday from gay activists, many of whom knew for nearly a year — long before his recent arrest — of allegations that the conservative Idaho Republican solicited sex from men in public bathrooms. They view his case as a prime example of hypocrisy — a man who furtively engaged in same-sex liaisons while consistently opposing gay-rights measures as a politician. "He may very well not think of himself as being gay, and these are just urges that he has," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It’s the tragedy of homophobia. People create these walls that separate themselves from who they really are."
In Washington, some of Craig’s fellow Republican congressmen began calling for his resignation, as did the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest gay GOP group. The White House expressed disappointment in the case while avoiding a statement of support for Craig. Craig proclaimed his innocence, and his heterosexuality, on Tuesday after revelations that he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following his arrest in June at a Minneapolis airport men’s room where an undercover officer suspected him of soliciting sex. But detailed accusations against Craig had been available since last year through an Internet-based activist who had a hand in outing several Republican politicians, including former Rep. Mark Foley, the focus of a House page scandal, and former Rep. Edward Schrock, linked to a gay dating site.
The activist, Mike Rogers, went public last October with allegations that Craig engaged in sexual encounters with at least three men, including one who said he had sex with Craig twice at Washington’s Union Station. The Idaho Statesman published a lengthy story Tuesday, a day after the June 11 arrest was first reported, detailing Rogers’ allegations, which Craig has denied. The newspaper went even further back into Craig’s life, talking to other men who claimed they were solicited by him. It also mentioned a congressional scandal in 1982, in which a male page reported having sex with three congressmen, and Craig — although not named by the youth — issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. The cumulative weight of the allegations served to convince many conservatives — as well as gay activists — that Craig was being untruthful.
"I ask Senator Craig to help us all by doing the right thing: Fess up to God and man, step aside and seek help," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of a conservative religious group, Faith and Action. Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of two openly gay members of Congress, chided Craig for hypocrisy but said there was no need for him to resign now. "It’s not an abuse of his office in the sense that he was taking money for corrupt votes," said Frank, D-Mass. "I think people should resign when they have clearly done the job in a way that is dishonest." Rogers noted that some politicians, when confronted with evidence about same-sex encounters, have acknowledged their homosexuality — such as Frank and the late Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass. Others persist in denial, and Rogers contends they are fair game for exposure if they vote against gay-rights causes.
"I’d love for Larry Craig to come out and be honest with the people of Idaho and run as a Senate candidate and see if the Republican Party is the big tent they claim to be," Rogers said. However, he predicted that the Idaho GOP would be eager to get Craig — who is up for re-election in 2008 — out of politics.
Foreman said Craig contributed to his own problems by living in denial. "For most people living in the closet, and particularly for people in power, they dig themselves in so deeply they can’t see a way out," he said. "When they are found out, their life does come crashing down around them — not because they were gay, because of the way they covered it up." However, Foreman did express some empathy with Craig in regard to the reaction of his GOP Senate colleagues. They have called for an ethics committee review of his case, which they did not do in response to revelations that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was on the contact list of a Washington-area escort service. "The double standard is shocking," Foreman said. "We’ll throw the closet queer under the bus, but if you see a female prostitute, that’s just fine."
The Craig case also raised questions about the phenomenon of male sex in public restrooms — how prevalent is it, and who participates? The issue has been a source of controversy this summer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Mayor Jim Naugle has drawn fire from gay-rights groups for suggesting that such bathroom sex is a significant problem and briefly proposing installation of automated, single-user toilets. After reports of Craig’s arrest, police officials around the country gave widely varying accounts of whether public bathroom sex was a serious problem in their areas. "My sense is that most of the people who engage in bathroom sex are living closeted lives," Foreman said. "If you’re open, you can hook up on line, in a bar or even through your church."
William Leap, an anthropology professor at American University, said his research indicated that up to half of those who engage in male bathroom sex would consider themselves heterosexual. "You’ve got several groups of folks," he said. "Happily married men with children who enjoy having sex with men every so often, and also self-identified gay men who enjoy the thrill of anonymous sex." He suggested that almost every sizable community nationwide has one or more places where men seek out sex with other men. Whether that location becomes notorious, and the setting for arrests, Leap said, depends largely on whether the men using it create a disturbance that bothers others.
Associated Press writer Andrew Miga in Washington contributed to this report.
30th August 2007
Civil partnerships and marriages to be treated the same by insurers
by Gemma Pritchard
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is proposing the abolition of exemptions in insurance law regarding sexual orientation. According to the ABI, insurance companies see no need and do not wish to differentiate for insurance purposes between customers in civil partnerships and married couples. The proposal forms part of the ABI’s detailed response to the Government’s current consultation on its Discrimination Law Review. Nick Starling, the ABI’s Director of General Insurance and Health, told PinkNews.co.uk:
"The insurance industry is united against discrimination and in support of treating people fairly. Insurers base their treatment of all customers on a fair and objective analysis of the risks they represent. It is sensible to differentiate, for instance, in the case of age or gender. But we do not seek exemptions where there is no case for one; there is no need for the law to provide for different treatment between civil partnerships and marriages." Alan Wardle, Stonewall’s Director of Public Affairs, told PinkNews.co.uk: "Stonewall supports the ABI’s proposal to abolish this exception. We trust the Government will repeal it at the earliest opportunity. Insurance premiums should be based on someone’s behaviour rather than their sexual orientation."
Chris Morgan, member of the ABI’s Expert Working Group on HIV and Insurance, and Managing Director of Compass, the gay financial advisers, added: "It’s very important that the new sexual orientation regulations do not overshadow the positive changes that have already been made for gay men within the life insurance industry. The HIV and Insurance guidelines introduced by the ABI require insurance companies to treat gay men fairly when applying for life assurance products already. Therefore, the exemption contained within the new legislation should be removed."
The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 contain an insurance provision which allows differential treatment of people on grounds of their sexual orientation. The ABI is supporting the proposal that this exemption does not continue beyond the end of 2008. Many companies already treat civil partnerships in the same way as marriages. The ABI is the trade association for Britain’s insurance industry. Its 400 member companies provide over 91% of the insurance business in the UK. It represents insurance companies to the Government, and to the regulatory and other agencies, and is an influential voice on public policy and financial services issues. ABI member companies hold up to a sixth of all investments traded on the London Stock Exchange, on behalf of millions of pensioners and savers.
August 31, 2007
Iowa judge OKs gay marriages…Ruling, limited to 1 county, soon delayed
by Rick Pearson and Russell Working, Tribune staff reporters
Des Moines – Iowa’s first same-sex couple to get married here tied the knot Friday, a surprise breakthrough for gay-rights advocates in this traditionally conservative Midwestern state. As wedding ceremonies go, Rev. Mark Stringer admits the event he presided over in a front yard Friday morning was "really brief" and lacked the usual lofty and sometimes somber oratory used to unify the betrothed. But taking advantage of a narrow window created by a Polk County judge’s decision—an opening that closed hours later when the judge agreed to stay his ruling—Stringer administered vows to college students Timothy McQuillan and Sean Fritz in what was believed to be Iowa’s first same-sex marriage.
"It was a very quick decision for me to say ‘yes’ to them because for so many years, I’ve performed same-sex union ceremonies without the piece of paper," Stringer said after the two on Friday quickly obtained a marriage license from the Polk County recorder’s office. It was awesome," said Stringer, who studied for seminary training in Chicago and now heads the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.
In a state where Iowa’s Midwestern heartland values are viewed by some as an important component in the quadrennial role of helping pick the nation’s presidential contenders, the ruling by Judge Robert Hanson on Thursday to strike down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act that limited state-recognized marriages to one man and one woman was considered a significant surprise. Hanson’s ruling was limited to Polk County, where Des Moines is the county seat.
Hot political issue
The case is already becoming a political football as the caucuses approach in Iowa. But Camilla Taylor, a Chicago attorney with Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights organization, said the timing was not of the group’s choosing. The group took on the case in 2005 because Iowa homosexuals—particularly senior citizens—were desperate for the protection that marriage provides, and it has taken this long to resolve, she said. "I do think [gay and lesbian] people around the country are going to be very excited, if this is upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, because I think it’s indicative of what people in the heartland really believe about the need for fair treatment for everyone," Taylor said. "And I think that has great moral and symbolic value for everyone."
The ruling also pushed the issue into the presidential campaigns. Republican Mitt Romney, who is trying to solidify his credentials with GOP conservatives in the nation’s first caucus state after serving as governor in Massachusetts, called Thursday’s ruling "another example of an activist court" and urged a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), another candidate who is courting religious conservatives, said in a statement that "the people of Iowa reject the redefinition of marriage and I pledge to defend the bond of marriage." Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have said they favor civil unions.
Iowa Republicans said they would work in the next legislative session to try to fashion a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Iowa’s Democratic governor, Chet Culver, said he would follow the legal and legislative maneuverings, though he personally believed marriage was between a man and a woman. Republican House Minority Leader Christopher Rants said the ruling shows that Iowa needs a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. "This is the will of the people," he said. "They voted for a Legislature that passed this law. And now we have an unelected judge toss it out."
But Ellen Grant, who is starting a chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, supported issuing marriage licenses as a legal way to recognize same-sex relationships. "It’s not just a religious issue," Grant said. "It’s an issue of rights. They deserve them just like you and me or anybody." As Jennifer Harvey, a Drake University assistant professor, and Chris Patterson, a recreation coordinator in West Des Moines, walked down the steps outside the Polk County Administration Building, their marriage license in hand, the two women said the judge’s original order was "a big step for Iowa."
Judge stays ruling
But shortly after Patterson and Harvey got their license, Hanson agreed to a request by Polk County Atty. John Sarcone to stay his ruling. By that time, about 20 same-sex couples had obtained marriage licenses, the Polk County recorder said. It was unclear how Hanson’s ruling would affect those couples who obtained marriage licenses. McQuillan and Fritz were apparently the only couple to return the signed license to the courthouse. Several Iowa leaders urged voters to bear in mind that the decision of one county judge won’t by itself change the law. Democrat Mike Gronstal, the state Senate majority leader, said that it was just the beginning of a long process.
And Mary Lundby, the departing Republican leader in the Iowa Senate and state co-chairwoman of GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign, was more sanguine. While Lundby said she supported the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman, "I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world if gay couples seek to be married."
August 31, 2007
Iowa Gay Marriage Applications Halted
by David Pitt, Associated Press Writer
Des Moines, Iowa – Same-sex marriage was legal here for less than 24 hours before the county won a stay of a judge’s order on Friday, a tiny window of opportunity that allowed two men to make history but left dozens of other couples disappointed after a frantic rush to the altar. At 2 p.m. Thursday, Judge Robert Hanson ordered Polk County officials to accept marriage license requests from same-sex couples, but he granted the stay at about 12:30 p.m. Friday. By then 27 same-sex couples had filed applications, but only Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan of Ames had made it official by getting married and returning the signed license to the courthouse in time. In the front yard of the Rev. Mark Stringer, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, they become the only same-sex couple wed in the U.S. outside of Massachusetts, where some 8,000 such couples have tied the knot.
Stringer concluded the ceremony by saying, "This is a legal document and you are married." The men then kissed and hugged. This is it. We’re married. I love you," Fritz told McQuillan after the ceremony.
No more same-sex weddings will be recognized, and no more applications will be accepted, pending Polk County’s appeal of Hanson’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, County Attorney John Sarcone said. Hanson’s order had applied only to the county, but because any Iowa couple could apply for a license, people from across the state rushed to Des Moines, only to see fluorescent green signs explaining the stay and adding, "Sorry for the inconvenience." Lytishya Borglum and partner, Danielle Borglum, drove 2 1/2 hours from Cedar Falls, along with their 13-month-old daughter, Berlyn. They planned to apply in Polk County and told their pastor in Cedar Falls to be ready to marry them when they returned. "(We) plan to take the application home and pray that things change. Even though it is a setback, it is a step in the right direction," Lytishya Borglum said. She said they would like to get legal status to gain more rights but added, "As far as we’re concerned, our marriage is between us and God. We’ve been married for three years — if you ask us."
Accepting marriage licenses from same-sex couples has been illegal under a 1998 state law that permitted only a man and a woman to marry. Hanson, ruling in a case filed by six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in 2005, declared the law unconstitutional Thursday. He ruled that the marriage laws "must be read and applied in a gender neutral manner so as to permit same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage." The marriage license approval process normally takes three business days, but Fritz and McQuillan took advantage of a loophole that allows couples to skip the waiting period if they pay $5 and get a judge to sign a waiver. Other couples, even those who got an early start Friday, were out of luck. Katy Farlow and Larissa Boeck, students at Iowa State University, said they got to the county recorder’s office at 5 a.m., then sat in lawn chairs and ate snacks until the office opened at 7:30 a.m. They got their application in but didn’t get their license.
"This might be our only chance," Farlow said. "We already knew we were spending the rest of our lives together."
Hanson granted the stay after Sarcone filed a motion saying his ruling should be put on hold because lifting the ban was far reaching and would likely be overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court. Hanson wrote that Sarcone’s arguments "do indeed constitute good cause for the issuance of the requested stay." Plaintiff’s attorney Dennis Johnson had argued that the county’s appeal probably would not succeed and disputed its contention that a reversal would throw any licenses issued into legal doubt. He said a marriage license is valid until one or both of the spouses seek to have it dissolved or one dies, "regardless of changes in the law that may occur after the couple marries."
The Iowa Supreme Court can refer the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, consider the matter itself or decide not to hear the case. The flurry of activity in the courts prompted a quick response from some lawmakers. House Republican leader Christopher Rants called on Democrats, who hold a majority of seats in the Legislature, to respond. "The Democrats should call a special session immediately to take up such issues and to introduce a marriage amendment for Iowa’s constitution," he said in a statement. "House Democrats need to start leading or get out of the way." Language defining marriage as being between a man and a woman has been written into the constitutions of 27 states, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most other states have laws to the same effect; Iowa’s was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature in 1998.
Gov. Chet Culver on Thursday issued a statement stating his opposition to gay marriage and said he would wait for the court process to play out before considering any push for legislative action. "While some Iowans may disagree on this issue, I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Culver said. Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and nine other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples.
Associated Press writers Henry C. Jackson, Amy Lorentzen and Nafeesa Syeed contributed to this report.
Gay studies programs thriving on U.S. college campuses
by Lisa Leff Associated Press Writer (News Fuze)
San Francisco – Before he transferred to San Francisco State University from its sister school in rural central California, Emo Loredo knew only a few other openly gay students. So it came as a pleasant surprise when he discovered his new college offered not only classes such as Homophobia and Coming Out, Gay Love in Literature and Queer Art History, but a full-fledged undergraduate minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies. "One of the things I’ve learned is that homosexuality was around way back in ancient times," said Loredo, 24, who enrolled last week in a sociology class called Queer Cultures and Society. "Before, I thought homosexuality was started in the early 1970s."
San Francisco State was one of the first U.S. universities to plumb the scholarly potential of gay lives, starting with a single English course in 1972. But with issues such as same-sex marriage, gays in the military and the peccadilloes of politicians continuing to divide public opinion, other schools also are choosing to put them in an academic context. After years of offering a smattering of gay-related classes, at least 30 public and private colleges now offer multidiscipline minors in LGBT studies, the majority of them established within the last three years. They range from DePaul University in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic universities, to five of the 10 campuses in the University of California system. Another 16, including Ivy Leaguers Yale and Cornell, allow undergraduates to earn certificates or to pursue concentrated studies in lesbian and gay subject matter.
The field has become so ubiquitous on campuses that John G. Younger, a University of Kansas classics professor who maintains a Web site devoted to gay studies, said he stopped counting the number of schools that offer occasional sections in lesbian literature or gay history. "I began thinking maybe it’s useless to keep this list because every university probably has something," said Younger, who travels the country advising colleagues on how to gain administrative approval for their proposed gay studies programs.
The expansion has given a discipline once limited to history, English or women’s studies departments a place across the curriculum, encompassing subjects such as religion and the law. Younger said one of the most interesting combinations he’s come across was an anthropology course at Duke University on "queerness in advertising." Last year, a Carnegie Mellon professor decided to use polls and studies of gay people as the basis for his freshman statistics seminar. One lesson involved asking students to guess how many people in the class were gay as a way to test their "gaydar." Helping fuel the rise of these specialized degree programs are endowments from gay alumni, the research of openly gay and lesbian professors and demands from students who are coming out of the closet—and rejecting conventional notions of sexuality—at younger ages, academic experts say. Steven Seidman, a sociologist based at the State University of New York at Albany, said he has observed a shift in the makeup of students who take classes such as Sociology and Sexuality or Introduction to Lesbian and Gay Studies.
In the past, the offerings drew primarily straight women and a handful of students who identified as gay or lesbian, almost all of them white. Now, the coed class rolls include young scholars of varying races who often refuse to be pigeonholed by the traditional labels of sexual orientation and gender, according to Seidman. There is no giggling, and there is no debate about whether homosexuality is normal or whether lesbians and gays should have rights, he said. "For the most part, people in these classes are open, they are self-accepting and they are not afraid to major in this area, and that’s generating a huge demand," Seidman said.
At San Francisco State, sociology professor Jennifer Reck said she had 55 upper division students vying to get into her Queer Cultures and Society course, a survey of how gays and lesbians "respond to and influence broader society," both historically and in current affairs. She had to turn at least 10 away. Reck said the wide acceptance such subjects have found in academia is not universal, using her own experience as a doctoral candidate at the famously liberal University of California, Santa Cruz two years ago as an example.
"I had advisers actually tell me I shouldn’t study this area because it would not make me marketable for the future," she said. "Luckily, I had others that were very sympathetic, who said, ‘If we never study these areas, how are things going to change?’" On the first day of her sociology class this fall, she broke the students into pairs and asked them to share why they enrolled and what they wanted to get from the course, even if it was only to fulfill a social science requirement or the time fit their schedules. Three acknowledged falling into that category.
The responses varied among the rest.
Tony Foster, 41, said he was looking for material for his master’s thesis on graphic design and civil disobedience. Patricia Chiquet, 23, an international student from Switzerland, said she was fascinated by the subject of sex change surgery.
Carla Haggard, 24, who moved from the Bible Belt five years ago and became the nanny for a child with two mothers, said she wanted to help fight discrimination against families headed by same-sex couples and educate her own relatives.
Gilbert Herdt, a veteran scholar of gay subjects and human sexuality who directs San Francisco State’s program, envisions a time when gay studies as a distinct academic discipline may fall by the wayside, or at least be taught under a different guise.
To some extent, that’s already happening, he said. Many schools, rather than offering a degree in LGBT studies, have chosen to add gay-related courses under the umbrella of new programs that look at human sexuality more broadly. In some cases, heterosexuality is being put under the microscope, questioned and debated as a construct that is as much social, as biological.
"It is not that there isn’t the demand, but the demand is much more diversified," Herdt said of the future of gay scholarship. "They are thinking about how is race connected to sexuality, how is gender connected to sexuality. It is no longer just about being ‘LGBT,’ per se."
2 September 2007
Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius’ executive order encompasses sexual orientation and gender orientation.
Executive Order 07-24
Whereas, the State of Kansas is dedicated to the principles of freedom and equality among all of its citizens; and
Whereas, the State of Kansas employs individuals that are a vital part of creating and fostering efficient business practices and ensuring that all citizens of Kansas receive the support and services they need and to which they are entitled; and
Whereas, the State of Kansas is committed to employment practices which will prevent discrimination and harassment on account of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, military or veteran status, or disability status. State of Kansas employers are expected to provide equal employment opportunity to all individuals in all aspects of employer-employee relations without discrimination, and will comply with the spirit, as well as the letter, of applicable state and federal law; and
Whereas, the State of Kansas is committed to recruit, select, develop, and promote employees based on individual ability and job performance. Employment decisions will be made that advance the principles of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.
This effort places the State of Kansas in line with approximately 90% of Fortune 500 companies that have implemented similar diversity policies; and
Whereas, hiring and retaining diverse, highly qualified employees requires leadership support and attention to make diversity management initiatives a reality. Given that State employees make significant contributions to the State’s success, it makes good business sense to treat employees and customers with dignity and respect.
Now, Therefore, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Governor of the State of Kansas, I hereby declare that all state entities under my jurisdiction shall make certain the following programs are in place:
1. A diversity management program that includes outreach recruitment and hiring, support, mentoring, development, rewards, and recognitions for achievement; as well as monitoring the effectiveness of such programs.
2. A strong program prohibiting discrimination and harassment on account of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, military or veteran status, or disability status. This program will include training, and a prompt and confidential method for expressing complaints.
3. A program of awareness regarding legal protections for persons with disabilities in order to allow qualified applicants to apply for employment and to allow employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of jobs and enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment.
4. Establishment of an agency affirmative action plan.
This document shall be filed with the Secretary of State as Executive Order No. 07-24 and shall become effective immediately.
August 30, 2007
Is the Closet Okay for Gay-Friendly Pols?
by: Yoav Sivan
The morality of schadenfreude aside, it’s easy to rejoice in the outing of US Senator Larry Craig, an anti-gay crusader who this week was revealed to have pleaded guilty to soliciting another man in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. History – and hopefully more in our community – will now judge gay activist Mike Rogers more kindly for having been the first to report on Senator Craig’s being gay last year on his site blogactive.com. But the tougher dilemma is what do we do about closeted gay politicians good on most of our issues, but who, for example, might still oppose marriage equality? Does one have to be Larry Craig or the Reverend Ted Haggard to be judged a hypocrite and pass the litmus test of eligibility to be outed?
Most pro-gay Democrats, including closeted gay Democrats themselves, play it safe by endorsing legislation in Congress like the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act. They speak out against the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and gladly endorse civil unions. But they draw the line at marriage equality. As a gay activist outside the United States, I am stunned that the American gay activists give such politicians a pass. That includes closeted gay politicians who perpetuate the fraud that civil unions are equal to marriage – how many more times must New Jersey prove that wrong? – as well as straight politicians whom the American gay community refuses to out as anti-gay for their opposition to marriage for same-sex couples. It’s not enough for the American gay community to rejoice in the fall of the Larry Craigs of the world. It’s time to hold the feet of our alleged champions closer to the fire. It’s time for the American gay community to toughen up its message to politicians – you can’t be for equality and be against marriage equality.
In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, a straight but impassioned supporter of gay rights, enraged the powerful Catholic Church by going all the way and institutionalizing marriage equality. Gay activists in Spain didn’t even think of giving him a civil-unions pass, and his popularity in a near totally Catholic country remained at an all-time high.
In Israel, where weddings are performed only inside one’s religious community, we are still lacking civil marriage altogether. Consequently the call for marriage equality here concerns primarily the state’s recognition of civil marriage for straight couples. Yet my party, Meretz, is very clear on pointing out that our demand for marriage equality must include same-sex couples. True enough, Israel might be as far from same-sex marriage as America is, but when we articulate our political agenda we don’t hide in the closet.
Make no mistake, most of us gay activists start from the baseline that coming out of the closet is a personal process that those around us must respect. The task before gay politicians is how to emerge from two closets – their personal closet in which they can choose to hide their sexuality and their political closet in which they can choose to hide their pro-gay stands. No one watching the recent Human Rights Campaign/Logo forum of Democratic presidential candidates could doubt that all three of the leading contenders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, remain in the political closet. None of them was convincing in claiming to be against marriage equality.
In the race for the Democratic nomination, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are attempting to court gay voters without coming out as too pro-gay. Even LGBT organizations tend to play along by providing them auspices, helping them fundraise while not asking for the political token in return. They convince themselves that it is worthwhile to keep low profile now in order to install a friendlier face in the White House. But isn’t about time that gay rights be allowed in the White House through the main entrance and not merely through the back door? Yes, closeted liberal politicians – we know whom they are – can keep their private life out of view of the cameras. But due to the continuous efforts of gay rights activists, a politician cannot ignore the gay agenda any longer.
If those politicians want to keep to their personal closet, it cannot be at the expense of our rights. If they are not willing to advocate what’s in their hearts – marriage equality and nothing less – we gay activists must drag them out of the political closet by whatever tools at our disposal and never let them back in.
Yoav Sivan is the LGBT coordinator of the International Union of Socialist Youth and a board member of the Aguda ( the Israeli LGBT Association) and the Jerusalem Open House. His website is www.yoavsivan.org .
September 17, 2007
Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, Now mature in the west, gay power is growing worldwide, even in the land of machismo
by Joseph Contreras, Newsweek International
After eight years together, Gilberto Aranda and Mauricio List walked into a wedding chapel in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán last April and tied the knot in front of 30 friends and relatives. Aranda’s disapproving father was not invited to the springtime nuptials. For the newlyweds, the ceremony marked the fruit of the gay-rights movement’s long struggle to gain recognition in Mexico. The capital city had legalized gay civil unions only the month before. "After all the years of marches and protests," says Aranda, 50, a state-government official, "a sea change was coming."
The sea change spreads beyond Mexico City, a cosmopolitan capital that is home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals.The growing maturity of the gay-rights movement in the West is having a marked effect on the developing world. In the United States, the Republican Party is in trouble in part because it has made a fetish of its opposition to gay marriage. At least some gays in big cities like New York question why they are still holding "pride" parades, as if they were still a closeted minority and not part of the Manhattan mainstream. Since 2001, Western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have gone even farther than the United States, placing gay and lesbian partners on the same legal footing as their heterosexual counterparts. And now, the major developing powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa are following the liberal road—sometimes imitating Western models, sometimes not—but in all cases setting precedents that could spread to the remaining outposts of official homophobia.
In Mexico, the declining clout and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church have emboldened gay-rights activists and their allies in state legislatures and city councils to pass new laws legalizing same-sex civil unions, starting with Mexico City in November. The rising influence of tolerant Western pop culture has encouraged gay men and lesbians to proclaim their sexuality in gay-pride marches like the one in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in June, which drew 3 million participants, according the event’s organizers. It was the largest ever in Brazil. Western models also helped inspire South Africa to legalize civil unions in November 2006, thus becoming the first country in the developing world to do so. In China, the trend goes back to the climate of economic reform that took hold in the 1980s, ending the persecution of the era of Mao Zedong, who considered homosexuals products of the "moldering lifestyle of capitalism." Among left-wing movements in many developing countries, globalization is a favorite scapegoat for all of the planet’s assorted ills. But even those who resist the West’s basically conservative free-market economic orthodoxy are quick to acknowledge the social liberalism—including respect for the rights of women and minorities of all kinds—that is the West’s main cultural and legal export. "I think it helped that Spain and other parts of Europe had passed similar laws," says longtime Mexican gay-rights activist Alejandro Brito. "These types of laws are becoming more about human rights than gay issues."
Key people have hastened the trend in some countries. Some activists single out a few political celebrities for de-stigmatizing their cause, including Nelson Mandela, who readily embraced British actor Sir Ian McKellen’s suggestion that he support a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution, and former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government was the first to recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples. They also point to activist judges in Brazil, South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights, who have handed down landmark rulings that unilaterally granted gay, lesbian and transgender communities new rights. These include a judicial order that gays be admitted into the armed forces of European Union member states. The biggest and perhaps most surprising change is in Latin America, the original home of machismo. In 2002, the Buenos Aires City Council approved Latin America’s first-ever gay-civil-union ordinance, and same-gender unions are the law of the land in four Brazilian states today. Last year an openly homosexual fashion designer was elected to Brazil’s National Congress with nearly a half a million votes. In August a federal-court judge in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul broke new legal ground when he ordered the national-health-care system to subsidize the cost of sex-change operations in public hospitals, thereby putting sexual "reassignment" on par with heart surgery, organ transplants and AIDS treatment as medical procedures worthy of taxpayer support. By the year-end, Colombia could become the first country in Latin America to grant gay and lesbian couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social-security benefits. A bill containing those reforms is working its way through the National Congress at present. And even Cuba has turned a corner. In the 1960s and early 1970s homosexuals in Cuba were blacklisted or even banished to forced-labor camps along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and other so-called social misfits. HIV patients were locked away in sanitariums as recently as 1993. Several Cuban cities now host gay and lesbian film festivals. The hit TV program on the island’s state-run airwaves last year was "The Hidden Side of the Moon," a soap opera about a married man who falls in love with a man and later tests positive for HIV.
The push for "more modern ways of thinking" about minorities, feminists and homosexuals has roots that go back to the political ferment that shook the region in the late 1960s and 1970s, says Braulio Peralta, author of a 2006 book on gay rights in Mexico, "The Names of Rainbow." But it has gained in recent years, due in part to troubles in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes eight out of 10 Mexicans and long stood opposed to any attempt to redefine marriage laws. Last November, the Mexico City Legislature took up the civil-union law just as the country’s top cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera, was facing charges that he had sheltered a Mexican priest accused of sexually abusing children in California. The prelate chose to stay under the radar as the vote loomed. "The Catholic Church was facing a credibility crisis," says longtime Mexico City-based gay-rights activist Brito. "So many of its leaders including Rivera knew that if they fiercely opposed the gay-union law, the news media would eat them alive." The change in attitudes is most vivid in the sparsely populated border state of Coahuila, an unlikely setting for blazing trails on gay rights. The left-wing political party that rules the national capital has made few inroads here. Yet soon after the state’s young governor, Humberto Moreira Valdés, was elected in 2006, he backed a civil-union bill modeled on France’s pacts of civil solidarity, and in the state capital of Saltillo the progressive Catholic bishop added his support. The 62-year-old prelate, Raul Vera, says he was comfortable doing so in part because the bill stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage. "As the church I said we could not assume the position of homophobes," he says. "We cannot marginalize gays and lesbians. We cannot leave them unprotected."
That seems to be the prevailing consensus in South Africa’s ruling party. The constitution adopted by South Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994 was the world’s first political charter to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In November 2006, the national Parliament overwhelmingly approved a civil-union bill after the country’s constitutional court called for amendments to a 44-year-old marriage law that denied gay and lesbian couples the legal right to wed. In pushing for approval of the Civil Union Act, the ruling ANC shrugged off both conservative opposition parties and religious leaders, some of whom accused the government of imposing the morality of a "radical homosexual minority" on South Africans. President Thabo Mbeki had been blasted by gay rights activists in the past for trying to downplay his country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, but on the issue of same-sex civil unions his government stood firm. The sweeping terms of the 2006 Civil Union Act placed South Africa in a select club of nations that have enacted similar laws and that, until last year, included only Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But there are glimmers of change in other nations. China decriminalized sodomy a decade ago and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Police broke up a gay and lesbian festival in Beijing in 2005 but took no action last February against an unauthorized rally in support of legalizing gay marriage. The Chinese Communist Party has established gay task forces in all provincial capitals to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. And in April a Web site launched a weekly hour-long online program called Connecting Homosexuals with an openly gay host. It is the first show in China to focus entirely on gay issues.
Tolerance, however, by no means spans the globe. Homosexuality remains taboo throughout the greater Middle East. In most of the Far East, laws permitting gay and lesbian civil unions are many years if not decades away. In Latin America, universal acceptance of homosexuality is a long way off. Jamaica is a hotbed of homophobia. Even in Mexico, the first couple to take advantage of Coahuila’s new civil-union statute were fired from their jobs as sales clerks after their boss realized they were lesbians. The new Mexico City law grants same-gender civil unions property and inheritance rights, but not the right to adopt children. Even Mexican gays who still struggle against daily bias see signs of improvement, however. In 2003 José Luis Ramírez landed work as a buyer at the Mexico City headquarters of a leading department-store chain, and things were going swimmingly until he brought his boyfriend to a company-hosted dinner with clients. "My boss’s face just dropped," recalls Ramírez. Ramírez was subsequently denied promotions and left the company last year. But sexuality "isn’t an issue" with his current employer, a new household-furnishings retailer.
Tolerance is now the majority, at least among the young. A 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm found that 50 percent of all Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported proposals to allow gay marriage. Karla Lopez met Karina Almaguer on the assembly line of a Matamoros auto-stereo factory. The two became the first Mexican couple to marry under the civil-union bill; Lopez, now 30, is a mother of three. She urges more gays and lesbians to follow her example and come out publicly. "I felt strange at first because people would judge us and look at us from head to toe," she says. "But I now feel more secure and at ease." If more political leaders, clergymen and judges act to legitimize folks like Karla Lopez, the new mood of tolerance will surely proliferate across the planet in her lifetime.
With Monica Campbell in Mexico City, Mac Margolis in Porto Alegre, Karen MacGregor in Durban, Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing and Anna Nemtsova in Moscow
September 16, 2007
For Gay Couples, Bonding in New England – Region Offers Welcoming Sites For Civil Unions
by Gary Lee, Washington Post Staff Writer
The two brides from Massachusetts got dolled up in white and made their way down the staircase at the Highlands Inn, a guesthouse for women tucked away in the New Hampshire woods. Then, before a small gathering, they exchanged vows. The ceremony, which took place a few years ago, "was an occasion that left everyone in tears," recalled Highlands owner Grace Newman. "The only thing that it — and similar ceremonies — lacked was the blessing of the law."
But now that nearly all the New England states have made it possible for gay and lesbian couples to create legal bonds, events such as this are becoming commonplace across the region. At a time when legislatures in other parts of the country are slamming the door on gay marriage, the states clustered in the country’s northeastern corner are becoming wildly popular for weddings, civil union ceremonies and honeymoons for gays. (See the requirements for marriage or civil unions in each of the states at right.)
The marriage alternative for gay men and lesbians, possible only in Massachusetts, gives the couples the same state rights offered to heterosexuals. Civil unions — available in Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire (starting this January) — allow couples a broad range of legal rights, but fewer than marriage provides. Domestic partnerships, offered in Maine, offer a more limited number of protections than civil unions. None of the states allows gays the federal legal rights granted to married heterosexuals. However limited, these statutes nonetheless are giving a mega-boost to the region’s allure among gay tourists.
Since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004 in Massachusetts, attendance at Boston’s annual Gay Pride Day, a major attraction for visitors, has more than doubled, according to the Massachusetts tourism bureau. Last June, attendance exceeded 100,000, compared with 40,000 three years ago. Although Vermont tourism officials don’t tally visitors according to sexual orientation, several innkeepers report a strong rise in their gay clientele since civil unions were legalized in 2000. "The status of gays has made an enormous, quantifiable difference in travel to the region," said Ed Salvato, editor of the OutTraveler, a gay-oriented magazine based in New York. "There has been a huge uptick of travelers visiting for ceremonies and bringing their entire entourages along."
Travelers who come for marriage or civil union ceremonies or honeymoons often build the trip around other New England attractions: Colonial history in Boston; the beach scene along Cape Cod; mountain hiking in New Hampshire; biking and nature escapes in Vermont. The autumn foliage season — one of New England’s biggest tourist draws — also attracts a strong contingent of gay travelers, according to Beth White, marketing communications director for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. For his part, Salvato added that there’s "a great gay-friendly leaf-peeping honeymoon scene all over that area." Now more attention is turning to New Hampshire. In May, Gov. John Lynch signed a civil union statute. Although the law doesn’t go into effect for a few more months, inns, wedding chapels and party planners statewide are already crafting civil union and honeymoon packages.
"We can serenade a ceremony with bagpipes, offer chauffeur-driven vintage cars or even arrange a ceremony at the top of the mountain," said Les Schoof, co-owner of the Notchland Inn, a deluxe guesthouse in Hart’s Location that specializes in tailor-made wedding packages.
As far as the rest of the region goes, Massachusetts — New Hampshire’s neighbor to the south — is holding on to its distinction as the only state where gay couples can legally marry. The recent defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage probably will continue to keep same-sex marriage legal in that socially progressive commonwealth for years to come. In Vermont and Connecticut, where civil unions have been legal for several years, gay activists are pushing for marriage statutes. Rhode Island does not allow gay marriage or civil unions, but lawmakers are weighing a proposed gay marriage statute. In the meantime, the state sanctions marriages by same-sex couples in neighboring Massachusetts. Maine allows domestic partnerships for unmarried couples, including gays. New Jersey and California are the only states outside New England with broad civil union statutes. "It’s fitting that New England has taken on this pilgrimage status for gays and lesbians who want to celebrate their unions together," said Schoof, who runs the Notchland Inn with longtime partner Edward Butler. "We’re socially aware, and we know how to make an occasion special."
During the summer, New England nuptials included dozens of civil unions and gay weddings in the states where they’re already legal. So far, in all three states, the majority of couples have been women, according to state officials who track marriage and civil union records. They included a large percentage of travelers from out of state.
* Vermont. Since 2000, more than 8,000 same-sex couples have taken advantage of the statute, according to the state’s department of health. A gamut of venues — ranging from posh inns to four-room B&Bs and from small-town Stowe to more urban Burlington — organize complete civil union packages. Many couples opt for four- to 20-room inns, which can house all the guests and stage the ceremony and reception.
* Massachusetts. More than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples have married in the state since 2004. Provincetown, long one of the most beloved gay summer escapes, has become the "it" place for marriage. More than 1,800 gay couples have registered to exchange vows in the seaside resort town, by the account of town hall authorities. In recent years, P’town has attracted more lesbians than gay men, more vacationers in their 30s and older than 20-somethings, and more folks wheeling around in BMWs than Fords.
But a well-organized group of wedding vendors — including inns offering packages, bands, cakemakers and DJs — can make just about any style or size occasion happen. A ceremony on Boston Harbor Island, including a clambake, is one of several options offered by It’s About Time, a Boston agency that specializes in same-sex ceremonies. That celebration costs about $50 a person.
* Connecticut. Since the state began allowing civil unions in 2005, more than 1,500 couples have taken advantage of the option. The cities of New Haven, Hartford and Greenwich are the most popular settings for ceremonies, according to state tourism officials.
The posh Wake Robin Inn in Lakeville, the Sheraton Hartford and the Hartford Marriott Farmington are hotels promoting civil union packages. In its civil union packages, the Wake Robin charges start at $35 a person for rehearsal dinners and $99 a person for celebration dinners. Indeed, with the vast variety of cities, towns and individual venues throughout New England, there is a setting for just about any imaginable style of same-sex wedding or civil union. "Each of the states in the region is different, and every place offers a different atmosphere or ceremony package," said Newman, the Highlands Inn owner. "It’s refreshing that same-sex couples who want an official ceremony now have so many choices."
17th September 2007
Incarcerated LGBT youth bill goes to Schwarzenegger
California State Senator Carole Migden has announced that her legislation to protect the rights of LGBT youth incarcerated in state juvenile correction facilities has passed in both houses of the legislature. It has been sent to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk for signature. Ms Migden, a Democrat from San Francisco, said in a statement to the press that her bill, S.B. 518, is necessary due to serious personal rights violations that frequently occur in California’s detention centres, harming kids both psychologically and physically. "There are serious personal rights violations occurring in detention facilities all over California, including attacks by other kids and excessive force by staff," she said. "We must protect LGBT kids from abuse while incarcerated so that when they come out they’re not damaged, but healthy and ready to return to society."
In her statement, Migden shared the story of Danielle Thompson, a 21-year-old youth advocate for foster care and juvenile justice issues who has testified in support of S.B. 518. Upon her arrival at a youth detention facility, Thompson said she was asked to identify her sexual orientation by guards. She and other girls who identified themselves as lesbians were segregated in smaller cells, prohibited from participating in outdoor activities with other youth, and forced to eat separately.
S.B. 518 establishes the "Youth Bill of Rights" within both the State Division of Juvenile Justice system and county probation departments and facilities, sets up statewide anti-discrimination policies and procedure for both state and county detention facilities, and a toll-free hotline for youth to call if they encounter problems with discrimination or violence.
Governor Schwarzenegger has until October 14th to sign or veto the bill.
September 18, 2007
Hampshire College President Ralph J. Hexter and Partner Manfred Kollmeier Announce Marriage
Amherst, Mass. – Faculty and staff at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, gathered this afternoon at the president’s house for what they thought would be a traditional back-to-school event, the annual reception celebrating the beginning of a new academic year. They wound up celebrating a first for American higher education, as their hosts – President Ralph J. Hexter and his partner of more than 27 years, Manfred Kollmeier – announced their marriage.
President Hexter and Mr. Kollmeier married over Labor Day weekend, but delayed their public announcement until they could share it with the Hampshire College community. A celebration with students will be held tomorrow (Sept. 19) on campus. We wanted to announce our marriage to our community first, said Hexter. This is our way of celebrating Hampshire College, which so warmly welcomed us as a couple when I was named president in 2005, and of celebrating the state of Massachusetts and all those who helped it become a pioneer in recognizing and upholding the right of gay couples to be legally married.
Kollmeier added, "Ralph and I made a lifelong commitment to one another many years ago, so marrying is not about marking a new stage in our relationship. We feel it is important to exercise the precious right we have here to marry. Massachusetts should be the first, not the only state where this is possible. Discrimination should end and all couples who wish to be civilly married, wherever they live, should have the right to do so." Kollmeier, a native of Munich, Germany, is retired and serves on the board of directors of Commonwealth Opera of Western Massachusetts.
Hexter is the fifth president of Hampshire, having joined the college August 1, 2005. He holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford (Corpus Christi College) and Yale, and has held teaching and administrative positions at Yale, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California, Berkeley. He serves on the board of trustees of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and on the board of advisors for the National Conference for Community and Justice. Hampshire College is an innovative liberal arts college of 1,350 students and a member of the Five College consortium in western Massachusetts (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst).
Each Hampshire student pursues an individualized, interdisciplinary program of study working in close collaboration with faculty mentors and culminating in a yearlong project of original work. Hampshire alumni are widely recognized for their creativity and critical thinking skills, and many are nationally prominent leaders in their professional fields. When Hexter accepted the college’s presidency, he stated that part of the fit that convinced him that Hampshire was right for him was its historical commitment to social justice and progressive causes.
26 September 2007
Gay bishop move rejected by Kenya
The head of Kenya’s Anglican Church has rejected a compromise over gay bishops by US Episcopal Church leaders. They have said they will halt the ordination of gay bishops and public blessings of same-sex relationships to prevent a split in the Anglican Church. "That word ‘halt’ is not enough," said Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. Many African Anglicans threatened to leave the worldwide Anglican Communion after the ordination of the first openly gay bishop four years ago. The American Church was told to meet the conditions by 30 September or lose membership of the communion. US bishops made the decision after a six-day meeting in New Orleans. The meeting was attended in part by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who urged the Episcopal Church to make concessions for the sake of unity.
Last month, Archbishop Nzimbi presided over the consecration of two US bishops, Bill Murdoch and Bill Atwood, who left the US branch of the Anglican Church – the Episcopal Church – after it consecrated an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003. The Kenyan archbishop said the US church leaders’ comments did not go far enough. "What we expected to come from them is to repent – that this is a sin in the eyes of the Lord and repentance is what me, in particular, and others expected to hear coming from this church," he said. Correspondents say it was hoped the agreement would help defuse the crisis.
But Assistant Bishop of Kampala, Ugandan David Zac Niringiye, says it was "not a change of heart" and showed the church was already split. "What this situation has brought to the fore is the malaise – something much deeper – that the entire communion has not dealt with and the consecration of Bishop Gene really brought to the surface something that was there," he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. It is not the same church because it’s broken on very fundamental lines."
Traditionalists in the US are already making plans to set up their own independent church. Conservative churchgoers believe homosexuality is contrary to the Church’s teachings. However, liberal Anglicans have argued that biblical teachings on justice and inclusion should take precedence. The Episcopal bishops did reaffirm their commitment to the civil rights of gay people and said they opposed any violence towards them or violation of their dignity. The meeting in New Orleans follows a summit of Anglican leaders in Tanzania earlier in the year which gave the US Episcopal Church a deadline of 30 September to define its position on the issue. The leaders threatened that a failure to do so would leave their relationship with the US branch of Anglicanism "damaged at best".
September 29, 2007
R.I. gay marriage supporters to celebrate Mass. court decision
Providence, R.I. – Dozens of gay marriage supporters met at the Statehouse to mark the one year anniversary of a court decision that allowed them to marry in Massachusetts, and to ask for the same right in Rhode Island. About 60 people posed for a group photo in front of the Statehouse. Last year, a Superior Court judge in Massachusetts ruled that nothing in that state’s laws prevents gay couples in Rhode Island from marrying across the border. Lawyers have said it remains unclear what those unions are legally worth in Rhode Island, where lawmakers have not approved same-sex marriage. Jenn Steinfeld said hundreds of gay couples are in committed relationships in Rhode Island. She said there’s no reason they should have to go to Massachusetts to get married.
October 1, 2007
Episcopal leader says no retreat on same-sex unions
The Associated Press, News Fuze
San Francisco – The Episcopal Church’s top bishop reaffirmed her support for same-sex unions on the day Anglican leaders had set as the deadline for the U.S. church to assert it would not authorize prayer services for gay couples or approve gay clergy as bishops.
"All people—including gay and lesbian Christians and non-Christians—are deserving of the fullest regard of the church," Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said before services Sunday at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. "We’re not going backward."
The 77-million-member Episcopal fellowship has been splintering since 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S. About 60 of the more than 7,000 Episcopal parishes have left or have lost a significant number of clergy and members, according to the national church. At a national meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday, bishops pledged to "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop and said they would not authorize "any public rites of blessing" for same-sex couples.
Conservatives in the church called the pledge an act of defiance that would allow the common practice of priests privately blessing same-sex unions to continue. "This is neither prohibition nor restraint," Bishop John-David Schofield of the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin said in a statement. "It is simply turning a blind eye." The San Joaquin diocese is one of four of the country’s 110 Episcopal dioceses that have taken steps to split off from the national church.
The San Francisco-based Diocese of California has ordained more gay and lesbian clergy than any other, and its priests have blessed same-sex unions for more than three decades. Jefferts Schori said she had planned her Sunday speaking engagement in San Francisco before Anglican leaders issued their February communique setting the Sept. 30 deadline. "It’s an accident in some sense, but it’s a blessed accident," Jefferts Schori said.
October 3, 2007
Slain soldier told kin to investigate if she died
by Mike Underwood
The Quincy soldier mysteriously slain by a bullet to the head on a secure Afghanistan airbase feared something might happen to her after discovering “something she didn’t like,” her devastated family revealed. Massachusetts National Guard Spc. Ciara Durkin, 30, was found with a single gunshot wound to her head behind a building at Bagram Airbase on Sept. 27. “The last time she was home she said she had seen things that she didn’t like and she had raised concerns that had annoyed some people,” said Durkin’s sister Fiona Canavan, 44, of Quincy. She said, and I thought she was joking, that if anything happened to her we had to investigate.” Canavan said she did not know what her baby sister had seen or whom she had told, and she rejected the notion that Durkin committed suicide. The military has not answered the family’s questions about her death, she added.
Publicly, the military will only say her death is under investigation. Canavan said Durkin was openly gay, but she did not believe that had anything to do with her death. Bay State political leaders are also demanding answers from the U.S. military’s top brass. Sen. John F. Kerry has written to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and U.S. Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Quincy) have contacted Army Secretary Pete Geren. Kennedy said he has spoken to Geren to make sure the family’s concerns are known and addressed at the highest level while Delahunt wrote to Geren.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has also weighed in, confirming it contacted U.S. officials in Dublin and Washington after a plea for answers from Durkin’s relatives in Ireland. Durkin was assigned to the 726th Finance Battalion, Massachusetts Army National Guard at Bagram Airbase where she helped make sure soldiers in Afghanistan got paid. “(The military) is definitely holding back,” said Canavan. “As to why we can only speculate.”
She said it could take anywhere from three weeks to three months for her sister’s autopsy report to be released. Officials initially told the family Durkin was “killed in action” but changed their story over the weekend, saying she perished from “non-combat related” injuries. Durkin was deployed to Afghanistan in February and was due to return home in January. Her funeral is Saturday at St. John’s Parish Church on School Street, Quincy.
Gay Superbowl 7
Registration & Event Pass pick-up
All players can register, and event passes can be picked up, at any of the following locations and times. Please do try to register on Thursday:
Thursday, Oct. 4, 12pm-5pm
New Yorker Hotel, 34th Street & 8th Ave., 4th Floor
Thursday, Oct. 4, 9pm-11pm
Gym Sportsbar, 8th Ave. & 18th Street
Friday, Oct. 5, 8:30am-11am
East River Park just south of Houston Street
Thanks to all of our host establishments
We want to thank all of the establishments that will be hosting our events this weekend. Without them this event would not be possible: Bamboo 52 and John Greco for their incredible support and for hosting the Friday night party and to Philip Marie for supplying food throughout the weekend. GYM SportsBar for hosting the kickoff party and co-sponsoring the "Closet Doors of the NFL" panel discussion. Splash & Greg Jones for opening up New York’s premiere gay club for us.
NYC city council speaker Christine Quinn to deliver welcome address
Arguably the most powerful out lesbian politician in the country will deliver the welcome address of Gay Superbowl 7 Friday, Oct. 5, at 8:45 a.m. before the first games of the tournament. Quinn has been a long-time champion of gay rights in New York City and is often mentioned as one of the most likely people to be the next Major of New York City. Former NFL player Esera Tuaolo will sing the national anthem.
‘The closet doors of the NFL’ forum
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the New York Gay Football League, Gay Superbowl 7 and Gym Sportsbar will host a first-of-its-kind public forum titled, "The Closet Doors of the NFL." The groundbreaking event will address the role of the gay community in the National Football League. Openly gay former NFL players, Esera Tuaolo and Dave Kopay, as well as out lesbian Jackie Lepow, a front office employee with the New York Giants, and CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman will participate in the forum. Jim Buzinski, co-founder of the sports Web site Outsports, will moderate the event scheduled for Thursday, October 4 at 7:00 p.m. in the screening room at the beautiful Time Warner Center at 58th & 8th. RSVP to email@example.com
Get your GSB7 All-Access Event Pass
Buy your Gay Superbowl 7 All-Access pass for just $40. The pass gets you into all of the evening parties, drink specials, limited open bar on Saturday, open bar and dinner on Sunday. Only pass-holders will be allowed entry to the Saturday-night party at Splash and the Sunday-night closing party. Players and officials need not purchase access passes; this is for visitors and other non-participants interested in partying that weekend. Only 100 passes are available, so get them now! To purchase a pass, click here.
Seedings and schedule announced
The NGFFL Board has released the rankings and schedule for Gay Superbowl 7. Not surprisingly, the four teams that have wont the tournament in the past and that comprised the final four last year are the top four seeds.
For a complete schedule of games and opponents, click here.
Want to share a room?
If you’re a player and are interested in sharing a room or other housing options, register and log in, then click on the "housing" link on the upper left of the home page. It will bring you to a discussion board where participants looking for roommates can post messages.
Team registration is now open. Captains, please register your team using the link to the left. Once registered, an additional link will appear to pay the team fee and any additional player fees.
Please check back frequently for the latest news!
The New York Gay Football League is proud to host Gay Superbowl 7 over Columbus Day Weekend. The tournament has been two years in the making and promises to feature the highest level of play yet, along with some great nighttime events that give attendees a taste of New York City.
October 5, 2007
Bible Lesson in Gay Rights
by Matt Zoller Seitz
Daniel Karslake’s documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” won’t win any prizes for technique, but innovation surely ranks very low on this filmmaker’s to-do list. Mr. Karslake has said that the movie is mainly intended as a feature-length primer that can be deployed in arguments with homophobes. Directorially, the movie is unremarkable, with one conspicuous and unfortunate exception: when Mr. Karslake apes the supercharged empathy of an episode of “Dateline” on NBC, right down to the verging-on-schmaltzy music. Otherwise, the interviews with scholars parsing the Old and New Testaments are paired with the expected archival photographs and illustrations of biblical scenes. “For the Bible Tells Me So” is, strictly speaking, an educational film, with the artlessness that that phrase implies.
The movie’s ensemble portrait of parents (many of them ministers) with adult gay or lesbian children strives to demonstrate that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition, not a lifestyle choice, and that those who quote Leviticus to justify their animosity are guilty not just of intolerance but also of selective piety, an inability to understand historical context and poor reading comprehension. (Abomination, for example, does not mean against God, but against a civilization’s cultural norms.) “For the Bible Tells Me So” moves through its stories of coming out, detailing how individuals adjusted (or failed to adjust) to their new reality and how parents reacted (usually poorly).
Mary Lou Wallner, one of the staunchest advocates of gay rights in the movie, became a political activist after her daughter, Anna, committed suicide — the result, Ms. Wallner believes, of the letter she wrote to Anna rejecting her after she came out. Brenda and David Poteat, married ministers, struggle to accept their daughter Tonia’s lesbian identity, and judging from Mr. Poteat’s statements, he’s not there yet. Chrissy Gephardt, a daughter of the former House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt and his wife, Jane, talks about enduring a sexless marriage to a man before falling in love with a lesbian friend, admitting the truth about herself, coming out and eventually joining her father on the campaign trail, with his support and encouragement. Another profile subject is Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church, who also survived a disastrous marriage before coming out.
Filmgoers and critics who are mainly interested in aesthetics will have little tolerance for this secular sermon. Viewers who got this particular memo long ago will likely deem it condescending, a word embodied by this movie’s most unfortunate sequence, a smart-alecky animated short in which a gay man, a lesbian and a booming Voice of God (Don LaFontaine) disabuse a homophobe of his ignorance. The dummy’s name? Christian. But there is no denying that the film, however inelegant, fills a need. The inevitable DVD should be packaged in a plain cardboard sleeve, so that viewers can carry it in their pockets and, if confronted by a homophobe, hand it over and say, “Watch this, then get back to me.”
FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO – Opens today in Manhattan.
Produced and directed by Daniel Karslake; edited by Nancy Kennedy; music by Scott Anderson and Mark Suozzo; released by First Run Features. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 97 minutes. This film is not rated.
October 7, 2007
Mourners say farewell to 2 slain soldiers, Service members honored in Mass. for their sacrifice
by Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff
Quincy- Ciara M. Durkin was remembered yesterday as a quirky woman whose smile lit up a room, a person who considered the well-being of others before herself. She was remembered as "Ciara with the wild red hair." About 2,000 people packed St. John the Baptist Church for her funeral Mass, with mourners standing in the back of the church and several hundred more outside. Durkin, a 30-year-old Army National Guard corporal from Quincy, died Sept. 28 in Afghanistan from what the military has called a "noncombat related" gunshot wound to the head. Military officials are investigating the circumstances of her death, which occurred in a secure area of Bagram Air Base.
Durkin was one of two Army soldiers with New England ties commemorated yesterday. Family and friends of Sergeant Zachary D. Tellier, 31, honored him at a service on Cape Cod. During the two-hour Mass yesterday, Durkin’s older sister, Aine Durkin, read in Gaelic and again in English a 24-line poem she wrote for Ciara. Each verse ended with the phrase "the wild red hair." Pierce Durkin, the soldier’s brother, said during the funeral Mass, "there were parts of her that we didn’t understand. She could be flighty at times, messy at times, and she sometimes had gross habits. But when you think of her smiling face, you think of a time when she made your day brighter. She was unselfish to a fault, and her physical well-being didn’t matter. It was our well-being that made her happy." Born in Ireland, Durkin moved with her family to the United States when she was a child. Yesterday, her Irish heritage and her US citizenry were remembered in word and song. Mourners sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and immediately after sang the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic.
As the ceremony drew to a close inside the church, the Rev. Raymond Kiley walked around Durkin’s casket carrying a thurible that gave off plumes of incense smoke. The act, he said, was a blessing of the soldier’s body, and the smoke that rose to the rafters symbolized mourners’ prayers. At the conclusion, the crowd, including Governor Deval Patrick and Senator John F. Kerry, filed outside and formed a circle around the flag-draped coffin. In a ceremony that lasted about 30 minutes, Major General Joseph Carter, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, handed Durkin’s mother, Angela, several commendations awarded posthumously to her daughter.
Many in the crowd shuddered as a deafening noise pierced the quiet air – a rifle salute to the fallen corporal. As the mourners made their way to their vehicles, Carter told several reporters "to serve this great nation during a very troubling time, that is the personification of her sacrifice." Details remained sketchy about Durkin’s death. The family has questioned whether she was targeted because she was gay. According to Doug Bailey, a spokesman for the Durkin family, Ciara had called home the day before she died and several hours before she died, indicating she was looking forward to returning home.
Another sister of Durkin’s, Fiona Canavan, said in an interview with WGBH-TV this week, "She did say to us that she had concerns about things she was seeing when she was over there. She told us if anything happened to her, that we were to investigate." Durkin is the first openly gay member of the military to be killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to the Servicemembers Defense Legal Network, which provides legal help to gay service members. Although there is no evidence that Durkin was a victim of a hate crime, her death prompted some gay and lesbian groups to renew their calls to repeal the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, which President Clinton approved in 1993 as a compromise between ending a ban on gays in the military and allowing gays to serve openly. Durkin’s death "shows our country what a significant sacrifice lesbian and gay service members are making in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Defense Legal Network.
Mourners remembered Tellier yesterday in a service at Chapman Cole & Gleason Funeral Home in Falmouth. Tellier died Sept. 29 from wounds he sustained last April while on ground patrol in Afghanistan. A combat infantryman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., Tellier had lived for several years in Westford before moving to New Hampshire in the mid-’80s. "Today, we had a celebration of his life, which included a lot more that his military service," said his father, David W. Tellier, of Groton, by phone. "He was a great man and a great leader, and I’m very proud of him."
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in yesterday’s Sunday’s City & Region section about the death of Army Sergeant Zachary D. Tellier in Afghanistan wrongly said he died of wounds sustained in April. Tellier, who recovered from his previous injuries and received a Bronze Star, died of gunshot wounds suffered on Sept. 29.
October 07, 2007
Black gays in US cope better than whites
by Claire Keeton
Black gays, lesbians and bisexuals had significantly fewer mental health disorders than their white and Latino counterparts, a study in New York City has found. The younger members of the study, between 18 and 44 , also had a lower prevalence of almost all mental disorders compared to the 45- to 59-year-olds. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health conducted the study of 388 white, black and Latino residents who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. The results will be published in the American Journal of Public Health next month.
Dr Illan Meyer, principal investigator of the study, said: “These findings suggest that black lesbians, gays and bisexuals have effective ways to cope with prejudice related to racism and homophobia.” Despite the lower prevalence of mental and mood disorders among the black lesbian, gay and bisexual populations, they had, however, reported a higher rate of serious suicide attempts in their teenage years, as did their Latino peers. Meyer said: “We can speculate that they coincided with a coming-out period and were related to the social disapprobation afforded to lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities … [which] may be more potent among lesbians, gays and bisexual youth in Latino and other communities of colour.”
South African gay, lesbian and bisexual organisations said the experiences of black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities here were different to those of African- Americans. “I do, however, believe that the black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in South Africa have developed a greater level of resilience,” said Delene van Dyk, mental health manager of the gay awareness group OUT.
The Triangle Project’s health and research manager, Glenn de Swart, said: “People who are out generally do better as they have resolved their inner conflicts.” He said it would be interesting to have a similar study in South Africa. In 2003 OUT conducted a Levels of Empowerment Study in Gauteng and found that fears of victimisation seemed to be higher for blacks than whites. Overall the 487 members of this study were “not at particularly high risk for depression”.
October 15, 2007
Chicago Study Seeks Genetic Links to Gayness
Julio and Mauricio Cabrera are gay brothers who are convinced their sexual orientation is as deeply rooted as their Mexican ancestry. They are among 1,000 pairs of gay brothers taking part in the largest study to date seeking genes that may influence whether people are gay. The Cabreras hope the findings will help silence critics who say homosexuality is an immoral choice. If fresh evidence is found suggesting genes are involved, perhaps homosexuality will be viewed as no different than other genetic traits like height and hair color, said Julio, a student at DePaul University in Chicago. Adds his brother, "I think it would help a lot of folks understand us better."
The federally funded study, led by Chicago-area researchers, will rely on blood or saliva samples to help scientists search for genetic clues to the origins of homosexuality. Parents and straight brothers also are being recruited. While initial results aren’t expected until next year — and won’t provide a final answer — skeptics are already attacking the methods and disputing the presumed results. Previous studies have shown that sexual orientation tends to cluster in families, though that doesn’t prove genetics is involved. Extended families may share similar child-rearing practices, religion and other beliefs that could also influence sexual orientation.
Research involving identical twins, often used to study genetics since they share the same DNA, has had mixed results. One widely cited study in the 1990s found that if one member of a pair of identical twins was gay, the other had a 52 percent chance of being gay. In contrast, the result for pairs of non-twin brothers, was 9 percent. A 2000 study of Australian identical twins found a much lower chance.
Dr. Alan Sanders of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute, the lead researcher of the new study, said he suspects there isn’t one so-called "gay gene." It is more likely there are several genes that interact with nongenetic factors, including psychological and social influences, to determine sexual orientation, said Sanders, a psychiatrist. Still, he said, "If there’s one gene that makes a sizable contribution, we have a pretty good chance" of finding it.
Many gays fear that if gay genes are identified, it could result in discrimination, prenatal testing and even abortions to eliminate homosexuals, said Joel Ginsberg of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. However, he added, "If we confirm that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic, we are much more likely to get the courts to rule against discrimination. " There is less research on lesbians, Sanders said, although some studies suggest that male and female sexual orientation may have different genetic influences.
His new research is an attempt to duplicate and expand on a study published in 1993 involving 40 pairs of gay brothers. That hotly
debated study, wrongly touted as locating "the gay gene," found that gay brothers shared genetic markers in a region on the X chromosome, which men inherit from their mothers. That implies that any genes influencing sexual orientation lie somewhere in that region. Previous attempts to duplicate those results failed. But Sanders said that with so many participants, his study has a better chance of finding the same markers and perhaps others on different chromosomes.
If these markers appear in gay brothers but not their straight brothers or parents, that would suggest a link to sexual orientation.
The study is designed to find genetic markers, not to explain any genetic role in behavior. And Sanders said even if he finds no evidence, that won’t mean genetics play no role; it may simply mean that individual genes have a smaller effect. Skeptics include Stanton Jones, a psychology professor and provost at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. An evangelical Christian, Jones last month announced results of a study he co-authored that says it’s possible for gays to "convert" — changing their sexual orientation without harm. Jones said his results suggest biology plays only a minor role in sexual orientation, and that researchers seeking genetic clues generally have a pro-gay agenda that will produce biased results. Sanders disputed that criticism. "We do not have a predetermined point we are trying to prove," he said. "We are trying to pry some of nature’s secrets loose with respect to a fundamental human trait."
Jones acknowledged that he’s not a neutral observer. His study involved 98 gays "seeking help" from Exodus International, a Christian group that believes homosexuals can become straight through prayer and counseling. Exodus International funded Jones’ study. The group’s president, Alan Chambers, said he is a former homosexual who went straight and believes homosexuality is morally wrong. Even if research ultimately shows that genetics play a bigger role, it "will never be something that forces people to behave in a certain way," Chambers said. "We all have the freedom to choose."
The Cabrera brothers grew up in Mexico in a culture where "being gay was an embarrassment, " especially for their father, said Mauricio, 41, a car-dealership employee from Olathe, Kan. They had cousins who were gay, but Mauricio said he still felt he had to hide his sexual orientation and he struggled with his "double life." Julio said having an older brother who was gay made it easier for him to accept his sexuality. Jim Larkin, 54, a gay journalist in Flint, Mich., said the genetics study is a move in the right direction.
Given the difficulties of being gay in a predominantly straight society, homosexuality "is not a choice someone would make in life," said Larkin, who is not a study participant. He had two brothers who were gay. One died from AIDS; the other committed suicide. Larkin said he didn’t come out until he was 26. "I fought and I prayed and I went to Mass and I said the rosary," Larkin said. "I moved away from everybody I knew . . .thinking maybe this will cause the feelings to subside. It doesn’t."
October 18, 2007
Gay Marriage is Good, say Psychological Organizations
The American Psychological Association, California Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers filed a brief amicus curiae (friend of the court) with the Supreme Court of California in support of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. This is perhaps the first time that nation’s and state’s leading associations of mental health professionals and behavioral health scientists have joined to take an official position on marriage equality.
Here’s the Summary or Argument:
Amici, the nation’s and state’s leading associations of mental health professionals and behavioral scientists present this brief to provide the Court with a comprehensive and balanced review of the scientific and professional literature pertinent to the issues before the Court. In preparing this brief, amici have been guided solely by criteria relating to the scientific rigor and reliability of studies and literature, not by whether a given study supports or undermines a particular conclusion.¹
Homosexuality is neither a disorder nor a disease, but rather a normal variant of human sexual orientation. The vast majority of gay and lesbian individuals lead happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and productive lives. Many gay and lesbian people are in committed same-sex relationship. In their essential psychological respects, these relationships are equivalent to heterosexual relationships. The institution of marriage affords individuals a variety of benefits that have a favorable impact on their physical and psychological well- being. A large number of children are currently being raised by lesbians and gay men, both in same-sex couples and as single parents. Empirical research has consistently shown that lesbian and gay parents do not differ from heterosexuals in their parenting skills, and their children do not show any deficits compared to children raised by heterosexual couples.
State policies that bar same-sex couples from marrying are based solely on sexual orientation. As such, they are both a consequence of the stigma historically attached to homosexuality, and a structural manifestation of that stigma. By allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Court would end the antigay stigma imposed by the State of California through its ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples. In addition, allowing same-sex couples to marry would give them access to the social support that already facilitates and strengthens heterosexual marriages, with all of the psychological and physical health benefits associated with that support.
In addition, if their parents are allowed to marry, the children of same-sex couples will benefit not only from the legal stability and other familial benefits that marriage provides, but also from elimination of state-sponsored stigmatization of their families.
¹The brief was prepared primarily by the American Psychological Association. The views expressed herein, however, are shared by all amici.
22nd October 2007
Analysis: The battle for gay marriage will be fought in the states
by Eddy Evans
If you believe some of the hype out there you might think that 4th November 2008 will be a turning point in the long campaign to achieve equal human rights for America’s gay men and lesbians. The mutual love-in that was the Logo Democratic Presidential "gay" forum this summer was more reminiscent of a sofa-style chat with Oprah than a fully-fledged political battle of ideas. When rank outsider Dennis Kucinich announced that "I love all of you" in his final comments I feared the "debate" would descend into spontaneous collective rendition of Over the Rainbow accompanied by panellist Melissa Etheridge on acoustic guitar. Fortunately, viewers were spared that fate but the message was clear; Democrats love the gays, or at least they say they do.
By contrast there was no Republican "gay" debate. Every GOP candidate declined to take part. The conclusion looks simple. If America chooses a Democrat in 2008 then gays and lesbians will be celebrating while if a Republican wins the White House we can expect more of the same after two terms of George W Bush. There is some merit in that conclusion. I think any impartial political analyst would agree that the political agenda of gay and lesbian rights in the United States stands a greater chance of being advanced with a Democrat taking the oath of office in 2009 rather than a Republican.
But there are a myriad of influences that will determine the ability of a President to bring about change, and in fact on many issues the leader of the free world will be utterly powerless. There are three factors that will be paramount in determining whether those who have dreamed of a Democratic President bringing reform will have their hopes dashed or their aspirations realised. The Congress, the states, and a slightly less tangible factor, political will, will be crucial.
As the current incumbent is experiencing, without a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate it is a tough, if not impossible, challenge for the President to achieve anything of substance in the domestic arena. The latest approval ratings for President Bush are 31 per cent, while those for Congress languish even lower at 22 per cent. The GOP appears to many to be disintegrating amid scandal and an unpopular war, but history shows us that America has a tendency to elect a Congress that opposes the President.
The Democrats are confident of holding on to the House and Senate but few disagree that they have failed to capitalise on the wave of public support that swept them to power last year. Without a strong majority in the House and Senate a Democratic President will have only a limited leadership role to play on domestic issues and may lack the ability to persuade the Congress to push gay rights to the top of their legislative agenda.
The United States of America is a federal republic. Unless powers are explicitly granted to the federal branches of government, they are reserved for the states. One of the most politically sensitive issues in America in the last decade has been gay marriage. None of the likely nominees from either party are supporting this cause. While Democrats have signed up to civil unions, this is ultimately a battle that will be fought state-by-state and not in Washington D.C. Neither the President nor the Congress has the power to impose gay marriage or civil unions on the fifty states that make up this federal republic.
President Bush’s efforts to amend the constitution banning gay marriage may be lifeless, but the idea that a President could single-handedly bring gay marriage to the United States is similarly dead in the water. Thirty-nine states ban same-sex marriage with state constitutional amendments approved by public referendums. The federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to refuse to recognise gay marriages performed elsewhere. DOMA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. While Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards all favour repealing Section 3 of DOMA and allowing the federal government grant the federal legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples on the state level who are married, such as those in Massachusetts, only Obama and Kucinich support the repeal of the legislation in its entirety.
Finally let us consider that least tangible but perhaps most powerful of factors, political will. It has been flattering to see the Democrat candidates openly court gay voters and equally enlightening to see Republicans refrain from anti-gay rhetoric on the campaign trail so far. Yet when the new President takes office, the question remains whether the pursuit of gay rights can realistically be at the top of their in-tray. The Clintons have deep scars on their back from the ill-fated effort to end the ban on gays in the military in 1993. The messy compromise of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" left the Clinton White House weakened after just months in office and having wasted valuable political capital. If Hilary Clinton or one of her Democratic rivals wins the Presidency their hard-nosed political judgment may steer them away from a potentially destructive collision with conservative opponents at a time when the country is crying out for a uniter and not a divider.
Let’s also not forget the 800lb gorilla in the US political system; the courts. You can guarantee that any attempt at reform will prompt so-called family values activists to employ an army of lawyers to fight their battle in the courts at state and federal level. Expect to see them walk up the forty-four steps of the Supreme Court at every opportunity in an attempt to have any changes deemed unconstitutional. The Court has taken an increasingly conservative direction with the justices nominated by the Bush administration, and ultimately has the power to strike down any law, state or federal. There is still plenty of reason for optimism if a Democrat wins and maybe not the despair that many felt in 2004 if a Republican claims victory in the race.
If President Bush vetoes the Matthew Shepard Act on hate crimes or the latest Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), then resurrected versions may stand far more of a chance under a Democratic Presidency – assuming of course the party can maintain control of Congress. The news on the Republican side may not hold too much to fear for gays and lesbians. The GOP frontrunners are a liberal-leaning New Yorker who supports civil unions, an Arizona senator who once denounced evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell as one of America’s "agents of intolerance," a former Governor of Massachusetts who once claimed in a 1994 Senate race that he would be a stronger supporter of gay rights than Ted Kennedy and a non-church going former actor who champions states’ rights (and tacitly their right to introduce gay marriage) who recently told Fox News "we ought to be a tolerant nation." That is not to say the Republicans are likely to mount a campaign with any overt support of gay rights issues but a rollback to the Bush ’04 agenda emboldened by solid backing from the evangelical Right seems unlikely.
Demands for a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage appear to have fallen off the political radar. The GOP frontrunners know they have to promote a moderate, less divisive vision to present an electable alternative to the unpopular later years of the Bush Presidency. The evangelical movement is not dead and buried by any stretch of the imagination but it is already feeling marginalised in the 2008 nomination process. It also looks at if the era of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" may be coming to an end regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is commander-in-chief. It may not be the first priority for a new President fearful of a conservative backlash, but change could be inevitable. The reality of a shortage of troops to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the experience of other countries – including most countries in Europe as well as Israel, Australia and Canada – who allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, may bring change for pragmatic reasons rather than any commitment to equality.
Rudy Giuliani cannot realistically favour reform of the current policy if he wants the GOP nomination, but he has used a form of language that does not rule it out. It was the military who were at the forefront of the battle to stop President Clinton lifting the ban in 1993, but many former generals including John M. Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, now support an end to "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Polling the voting intentions of gay and lesbians can be notoriously difficult but most indicators show strong support for Democrat candidates, and for Hilary Clinton in particular. It will be heartwarming for many of us to have the most powerful woman or man in the world as a supporter. A message of tolerance and acceptance from whoever wins next year will be a welcome change for many LGBT Americans who felt alienated by the Bush administration, but the evidence of the recent past clearly demonstrates that warm words are not enough.
When Bill Clinton was elected many gays and lesbians rejoiced at the prospect of a new beginning with a champion in the White House. Having an ally may make us feel good but it does not bring legislative change. The euphoria of Clinton’s victory was short-lived after the disastrous handling of the efforts to end the ban on gays in the military, his inability to gain congressional support for ENDA despite his strong personal backing, and his endorsement of DOMA. The Clintons enjoy huge support from prominent activists but his legacy in terms of advancing the rights of gays and lesbians is mixed regardless of his good intentions.
In 2008 the gubernatorial, congressional, and state legislature elections may prove to be more important for the rights of America’s gays and lesbians than whoever triumphs in the race for the White House. The power to bring about change does not reside in the Oval Office. It is in the hands of lawmakers and judges in the nation’s capital and across the fifty states that make up the United States of America.
October 23, 2007
New Film Stirs Up ’Ex-Gay’ Debate
by Brian Theobald, EDGE Boston Contributor
After several decades of enjoying acclaimed works by filmmakers like Michael Moore, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog, some viewers may believe that the cinematic possibilities of the documentary form has been exhausted. If so, they would probably be prepared to be underwhelmed by a movie like Abomination, runs a scant 30 minutes. It also suffers from fairly amateurish production values and consists mostly of a series of talking-head interviews. They’d also be wrong. As an expose on the ex-gay movement and so-called "conversion therapy," simplicity and brevity are the best ways to make a direct hit with the audience’s understanding of this hot-button issue.
"I was aiming for PBS," explains Dr. Alicia Seltzer, the film’s director and producer. "Ultimately, I just want the film to be a resource. My goal was to make the point as succinctly as possible." In spite of a near-unanimous consensus from the psychological community that homosexuality is a normal, natural, and fixed orientation, ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy groups have only grown larger over the years. Salzer decided to make the film after attending an annual American Psychological Association (APA) meeting, in which participants were becoming more and more concerned about the overwhelming efforts of ministries and organizations like Exodus and Love Won Out to target and conduct public outreach in the gay community.
"They’ve been spending enormous amounts of money trying to get the word out, and touting their success rates on billboards and TV and radio ads across the country," she says. "We were aware that this type of therapy very rarely if ever worked and is often associated with great harm. We felt that we had to counter their media presence with something that gave the other side." The result, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement (to give the film’s full title) has been shown in film festivals around the country and will premier in New York on October 24. It details the stories of three ex-ex-gays: a lesbian from Missouri who spent nearly 20 years trying to supress her feelings; a gay pastor who saw a direct conflict between his sexuality and relgious beliefs; and a New Yorker whose self-loathing and failed attempts and rehabilitation drove him to the edges of the gay sexual underground. By the end of the film, they all find conversion and reparative therapy to be unnecessary and inneffective, and learn to embrace their sexuality.
Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder 1973, when the APA dropped it from its list of diagnoses after scientific studies were done to show that it did not fit into society’s confomed standards of deviance. "There was the assumption a long time ago that gay people were depressed and they didn’t have satisfying relationships," Salzer says. "They didn’t have self-confidence and they weren’t happy in life. But a lot of this was based on stereotypes of the time that were not born out. Standardized indices were used to find that the gay people were no more depressed or unable to have stable relationships then the general population." Since then, nearly all avenues of reparative therapy have taken place in conservative religious circles well outside the realm of mainstream psychiatry. As such, ex-gay ministries tend to dissemenate information that the APA considers to be strongly outmoded, such as the conclusion that homosexuality stems from a childhood trauma or an unhealthy relationship with a same-sex parent.
’We were aware this type of therapy rarely if ever works.’One of the film’s major revelations is that these groups have been similiarly underhanded about their conversion rates. Of those polled, only 4 percent of reparative therapy clients could succesfully identify as heterosexual–and those were often people who were now working in the ex-gay counseling field. Other conversion claims were dubious at best. Some people say they’ve changed when they’re actually celibate because they’re happy that they’re not doing what they think is a sinful act," Salzer says. "Other people say the’ve changed because they’re able to marry and have kids and be with a member of the opposite sex–but they’re still struggling with gay feelings even though they’re able to consummate a heterosexual act. So there’s no concrete indicator, no litmus test as to what ’change’ actually consists of."
Although APA unanimously opposes any classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, it does not explicitly condemn reparative therapy. In July, a six-member task force was enjoined to embark on the first official review of its policy on the matter, originally drafted in 1997. A preliminary report is expected to be released in December. "Any science published before ’97 certainly suggested that there were problems with these types of therapies and that they should be approached with a lot of caution," said APA spokesperson Kanika Lewis. "Now we’re gonna take another look to see if there’s any new science that would lead us to re-emphasize that caution, or if there’s any reason to lessen the caution."
The announcement came at a time when gay activists have become increasingly critical of reparative therapy. On the other side, conservative religious groups claim that a patient’s personal wishes to seek treatment ought to be respected. Groups like the American Family Assocation and Focus on the Family have complained that the deck may be ideologically stacked against them. They point to the fact that Dr. Warren Throckmartin, a psychology professor who has championed patients’ rights to undergo reparative therapy, had been denied a seat on the taks force. "I am not a reparative therapist, nor do I recommend that people seek someone trained in reparative therapy as an exclusive approach to homosexual attractions," Throckmorton says. But, he adds, psychiatrists "work clients to pursue chosen values. If they are core, unwavering commitments to their religious belief, therapists should not try to persuade them differently under the guise of science.’’ Lewis agrees. "Respect for patient autonomy and desired outcome that the patient wants to reach is important," she says, and denies that there was any litmus test in choosing the task force. "We’ve had over 35 nominations, there simply wasn’t enough room for everyone. We tried to pick people with expertise in areas we thought most critical to the work. The task force will however look at published research by many people, and Throckmorton’s work is likely to be part of the bibliography under review."
Salzer also champions patient rights but says that, when treading into the waters of reparative therapy, clinicians should proceed with caution. "If patients are goint to pursue this, they should at least be told this is very expensive and is unlikely to work and you may come out harmed in a variety of ways," she says. "And if they still choose to pursue it-kind of like a risky elective plastic surgery procedure-it should be with full disclosure." Such discussions make Abomination all the more timely–and proof that there’s plenty of life left in the documentary format.
Brian Theobald is a freelance journalist. He lives on Long Island.
October 25, 2007
Out Traveler readers poll picks Fort Lauderdale as top gay resort town: Visitors bureau moves forward with new promotions
by Juan Corlos Rodriguez
For Nicki Grossman, Oct. 16 was an excellent day. Not only did she get an achievement award for her work as president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau but she was also interviewed on National Public Radio about Fort Lauderdale being chosen as the Favorite Gay Resort Town by the readers of Out Traveler in the magazine’s annual poll. “This is the most magical, wonderful award,” she told the members of the Rainbow Alliance, a coalition of gay business owners who honored Grossman with their first Diva award. “It sends a strong message to keep doing what you’re doing. This is a wonderful ending to a horrible saga for us.”
Grossman was referring to the turbulent summer that drew Fort Lauderdale, and its billion-dollar gay tourism industry, into the front lines of a national discussion about gays and public sex. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle sparked the turbulence with a series of statements in the media that most people viewed as anti-gay. Naugle made some of his statements on national news shows. Among his complaints was that Grossman’s office was indirectly fomenting Fort Lauderdale’s high HIV infection rates by including gay bathhouses in its brochures and featuring sexy images of naked men together. Being named favorite resort destination by gay travelers was the most appropriate answer to Naugle’s comments, Grossman said. “It’s a wonderful crown to wear,” Grossman told the Express. “The bottom line is [Naugle] was barking up the wrong tree.” Grossman was instrumental in confronting Naugle. In August, she urged Broward County commissioners to remove Naugle from the county’s Tourist Development Council, an advisory board that determines the direction of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Out Traveler: Lauderdale ‘chic’
Readers of Out Traveler named Fort Lauderdale top gay resort town for its gay accommodations, stretches of beach, plethora of gay bars and up-and-coming luxury hotels like the St. Regis, Hilton and soon to open W. “Homophobic mayor Jim Naugle has caused a stir recently, but even his hatin’ can’t overshadow now-chic Fort Lauderdale’s embrace of all things LGBT,” the Out Traveler article said. “It was a bit of sweet revenge,” said Richard Gray, owner of the Royal Palms Resort, and member of the Rainbow Alliance’s board of directors. Gray, whose resort was named top luxury guest house by the Out Traveler readers poll, was appointed in April to Broward County’s Tourism Development Council, the same committee Naugle was kicked off of in August.
In an interview with the Express, Naugle insisted that he does not intend his remarks to be homophobic. Instead, he said, his objection to the sexy promotional ads in the CVB brochures and website is intended to curb HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men. “[The advertisements] are harmful to homosexuals because they lead to HIV,” Naugle said. “The band continues to play on in Fort Lauderdale.” Naugle said images of naked men in bed together and listings for gay bathhouses and sex clubs in CVB promotional material send the wrong message to the gay community and scare away more conservative, family-oriented tourist.
Naugle: bathhouse ads demean gays
“I think it’s demeaning to homosexuals,” said Naugle, who rarely uses the word gay. “It’s demeaning and without dignity, and what it ends up doing is attracting a certain clientele that goes to bathhouses and sex clubs.” Naugle said he continues to stand by the statements he made this summer. He said that the area’s promotion of gay tourism might be seen as a success, “but at what cost?” Grossman said Naugle has misconceptions about how to promote tourism. “He doesn’t know anything about marketing,” Grossman said. “We’ve repeatedly responded to his complaints about our advertising, and we’ve never scared off one single family from our destination. His words have scared them off, but our advertising has not.”
This year, the CVB has toned down its message. In its latest promotional brochure, the 2008 Rainbow Vacation Planner, the bureau has dropped its health and fitness listings, which last year listed The Club Fort Lauderdale, the city’s leading gay bathhouse. Nonetheless, the CVB is aggressively promoting Fort Lauderdale to gay travelers throughout the nation. In fact, the bureau allocated $400,000 to advertise to the GLBT market. In addition, this year, Visit Florida, the state’s official tourist agency, budgeted nearly $200,000 to promote Fort Lauderdale to gay travelers.
CVB officials host party in Manhattan
The CVB held a promotional party Oct. 21 in midtown Manhattan at the trendy Therapy-NYC nightclub. About 200 guests, mostly gay men, sipped mango-tinged Fort Lauderdale martinis, and sifted through glossy CVB brochures while vying for free stays at Fort Lauderdale hotels. Josh Winston, a CVB sales manager mixed and mingled in the crowd, selling the finer points of the destination. “We need to do all we can to put a better face on the destination,” Winston said. “We want them to know that we’re supportive of the gay community and that Broward County is not reflected by one person’s opinion.”
Winston is heading the CVB’s renewed push to market Fort Lauderdale in New York, Boston, Provincetown and Chicago, the top markets for gay tourists who come to Fort Lauderdale. He said CVB officials will be attending a slew of gay events across the country, as well as hosting cocktail parties at nightclubs. “We realize the importance of gay travel,” Winston said. Winston added that the CVB also plans to host more familiarization tours of the Fort Lauderdale area for gay press people and tour operators.
Grossman said that Naugle’s remarks may have had a minor impact on business. But the Out Traveler award could serve to ameliorate some of the damage this summer’s controversy might have done to business, she said. Grossman said the CVB will continue to promote the area to the growing LGBT market. “Hopefully, the new business should be helpful in counteracting any concerns regarding [Mayor] Naugle,” Grossman said.
October 26, 2007
Gene switch altered sex orientation of worms
by Julie Steenhuysen, Chicago
Altering a gene in the brain of female worms changed their sexual orientation, U.S. researchers said on Thursday, making female worms attracted to other females. The study reinforces the notion that sexual orientation is hard-wired in the brain, said Erik Jorgensen, scientific director of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. "They look like girls, but act and think like boys," Utah researcher Jamie White, who worked on the study published in the journal Current Biology, said in a statement.
Researchers in Jorgensen’s lab switched on a gene in female worms that makes the body develop male structures, but they only activated the gene in the brain. As a result, the female worms still had female bodies, but they behaved like males. "It suggests sexual behavior is encoded in our genes" and not caused by extra nerve cells specific to males or females, Jorgensen said in a telephone interview. Animals such as nematodes, fruit flies and mice share many of the same genes as humans and are often used as models to understand human genetics. But Jorgensen said the study is not likely to resolve the burning question about the genesis of sexual orientation in humans. "A human’s brain is much more complex than a worm’s brain," he said.
Many scientists think a host of factors such as genetics, hormones and environment may play a role in determining sexual orientation in humans, but this has not been proven. Jorgensen said the study is interesting because it suggests rather than being caused by extra, sex-specific nerve cells, attraction behaviors are part of the same brain circuit. The finding was part of a study looking at areas in the worms’ brains involved in sexual attraction.
Live in Dirt, Eat Germs
Nematodes, or C. elegans, are tiny worms about one millimeter long that live in the dirt, chomping bacteria. They have no eyes and rely on smell for navigation and propagation. There are few males, only one in 500, so most of these female nematodes are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. This gives the female worms the ability to fertilize their own eggs and produce offspring in the absence of a male. "For the most part they are females," Jorgensen said. "It’s really hard to tell that they are hermaphrodites, but they do make these few sperm." When they do mate with males, female worms produce 1,200 progeny, compared with just 200 when they produce their own sperm. The researchers were trying to understand the underpinnings of sexual attraction in the male nematodes.
They reasoned it could arise from four extra smell-related nerve cells found only in male worm brains, from four core nerves found in both males and females or from a mix of both. When they systematically neutralized the male-only neurons, mature male worms still responded to the females. The findings imply nerve cells common to both male and female worms are central to sexual attraction and sexual orientation. "They have genes for both male behavior and female behavior in them," Jorgensen said. "It suggests the brain determines behavior."
The study expands on prior studies suggesting a genetic component to sexual orientation. "This is one more observation. We’ve seen this in flies and in mice," he said. "The difference is we know what cells are involved."
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.
October 28, 2007
Atlantis purchases rival gay line
by Spud Hilton
San Francisco Chronicle – Gay cruise company Atlantis Events recently bought out rival RSVP Vacations, but don’t expect big changes coming from the merge, according to company officials and observers. "Both brands will continue to be operated separately and distinctively. Future RSVP cruises will continue to be consistent with our heritage, our culture and our guest expectations," the companies said in a letter to customers, signed by the CEOs of PlanetOut and Atlantis. "RSVP will not be merged into Atlantis and (RSVP customers) will not be sailing on an Atlantis cruise." PlanetOut, which owns Gay.com, The Advocate and Out magazines, and which bought RSVP in March 2006, has been struggling financially this year, in part because of troubles with marketing and booking several big RSVP all-gay cruises, one on the Queen Mary 2. Atlantis will take over, but will likely let RSVP be RSVP, somewhat the same way Carnival owns upscale, more sophisticated cruise lines that maintain their own identity.
What’ll it mean for customers?
Most important is the financial stability of RSVP, according to Jonathan Klein of Now Voyager, a travel agency in the San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood that serves a largely gay and lesbian clientele. "People can have the confidence that any of the trips they’re advertising are really going to happen," Klein says. Each brand maintaining its current identity — and related customer loyalty — also is a big issue, Klein said. "They do have some differences." Atlantis tends to attract a more party-hearty crowd, including passengers who Klein calls "circuit party boys." "They’re always going to be a contingent of that on an Atlantis cruise." While hardly sedate, he said, RSVP has tried to appeal to a wide range of subgroups within the gay community. "There tends to be a bit more diversity on an RSVP trip and a bit more of a comfort level for those guys who don’t feel up to competing with the circuit party boys."
Some of that tone is set by the chartered ship: Atlantis leans toward Royal Caribbean vessels and Celebrity; RSVP cruises are often with Holland America. According to Klein, RSVP also may benefit from Atlantis connections to the entertainment industry, possibly resulting in higher-profile performers onboard. All existing reservations with RSVP will be honored, according to the company statement, and all announced vacations will operate as scheduled. Visit rsvpvacations.com
Yearning to spend a little time with a home-run hitter whose record never had an asterisk and who might actually be (gasp) a nice guy? Hall of Famer Hank Aaron will be on deck (several of them, actually) during a 15-day Panama Canal voyage aboard Crystal Serenity (1,100 passengers) that leaves Miami on Jan. 4. Aaron, whose major league home-run record stood for 33 years, will talk about his life and career, as well as field questions and pose for photos with passengers. The voyage, which ends in Los Angeles, includes calls in George Town, Grand Cayman; Cartagena, Colombia; Caldera, Costa Rica; Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Fares begin at $4,495 per person, double occupancy.
For more, contact a travel agent, visit crystalcruises.com or call 888-799-4625.
First, there was the Queen Mary. Then came a sister, the Queen Elizabeth, named for the Queen Mother (then Queen Consort) to a younger, current Queen Elizabeth. After that burned and sank, Cunard launched another Queen Elizabeth, this one reportedly named after the first ship, not for a younger relative of Queen Mary (also a Queen Consort), and sporting a "2" just for clarity. Eventually, there was Queen Mary 2 (named for the same semi-monarch as the first ship, not the ship itself) and, coming in December, the Queen Victoria, named for, well, Queen Victoria, and to be christened by won’t-be-Queen Camilla and Prince Charles. Following so far?
Now, in a royal version of "I’m My Own Grandpa," Cunard plans to build another Queen Elizabeth (note the lack of "3"), likely to replace the aging QE2 that is being shipped off to Dubai to become a hotel — much like the Queen Mary (QM1, not QM2). The new QE (2,092 passengers, 92,000 tons) is scheduled to enter service in 2010.
Who OK’d the name?
"We are delighted that Her Majesty the Queen has given her blessing to our calling this new Cunarder ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ after our first vessel of that name," said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line. For those keeping score: There are two Queen Mary ships, both named for Mary of Teck, who never actually ruled anything; and three Queen Elizabeths, none named for the current Her Majesty. Go figure.
October 30, 2007
Gay Enclaves Face Prospect of Being Passé
by Patricia Leigh Brown
San Francisco, Oct. 24 – This Halloween, the Glindas, gladiators and harem boys of the Castro — along with untold numbers who plan to dress up as Senator Larry E. Craig, this year’s camp celebrity — will be celebrating behind closed doors. The city’s most popular Halloween party, in America’s largest gay neighborhood, is canceled. The once-exuberant street party, a symbol of sexual liberation since 1979 has in recent years become a Nightmare on Castro Street, drawing as many as 200,000 people, many of them costumeless outsiders, and there has been talk of moving it outside the district because of increasing violence. Last year, nine people were wounded when a gunman opened fire at the celebration. For many in the Castro District, the cancellation is a blow that strikes at the heart of neighborhood identity, and it has brought soul-searching that goes beyond concerns about crime.
These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village, with population shifts, booming development, and a waning sense of belonging that is also being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla., to West Hollywood, as they struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification. There has been a notable shift of gravity from the Castro, with young gay men and lesbians fanning out into less-expensive neighborhoods like Mission Dolores and the Outer Sunset, and farther away to Marin and Alameda Counties, “mirroring national trends where you are seeing same-sex couples becoming less urban, even as the population become slightly more urban,” said Gary J. Gates, a demographer and senior research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the same time, cities not widely considered gay meccas have seen a sharp increase in same-sex couples. Among them: Fort Worth; El Paso; Albuquerque; Louisville, Ky.; and Virginia Beach, according to census figures and extrapolations by Dr. Gates for The New York Times. “Twenty years ago, if you were gay and lived in rural Kansas, you went to San Francisco or New York,” he said. “Now you can just go to Kansas City.”
In the Castro, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society held public meetings earlier this year to grapple with such questions as “Are Gay Neighborhoods Worth Saving?” With nine major developments planned for Market Street, including a splashy 113-unit condominium designed by Arquitectonica, anxiety about the future is swirling. Median home prices hover around $870,000. Local institutions like Cliff’s Variety, a hardware store selling feathered boas (year-round) are not about to vanish from this storied homeland of the gay rights movement. But the prospect of half-million-dollar condos inhabited by many straight people underscores a demographic shift.
“The Castro, and to a lesser extent the West Village, was where you went to express yourself,” said Don F. Reuter, a New York author who is researching a book on the rise and fall of gay neighborhoods, or “gayborhoods.” “Claiming physical territory was a powerful act,” Mr. Reuter said. “But the gay neighborhood is becoming a past-tense idea.” In the Castro, the influx of baby strollers — some being pushed by straight parents, some by gay parents — is perhaps the most blatant sign of change. “The Castro has gone from a gay-ghetto mentality to a family mentality,” said Wes Freas, a broker with Zephyr Real Estate. The arrival of a Pottery Barn down the street from the birthplaces of the AIDS quilt and the Rainbow Flag is a nod to change.
Sakura Ferris, a 28-year-old mother of a toddler, moved to the Castro because she liked its new eclecticism. At the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, a parent hot spot rife with Froggie pull-toys, Ms. Ferris’s tot mingles with infants in onesies that read, “I Love My Daddies.” The Castro remains a top tourist destination for gay and lesbian visitors. But Joe D’Alessandro, president and C.E.O. of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and a gay parent who lives in the Castro, predicted that eventually the neighborhood would go the way of North Beach, “still a historic Italian neighborhood though Italians don’t necessarily live there anymore.” The Castro became a center for gay liberation in the late 1960s and early 1970s in a declining Irish Catholic and Scandinavian neighborhood. At its helm was Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city supervisor in San Francisco whose slaying in 1978 by a disgruntled former supervisor, Dan White, galvanized the community and set off riots when White was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.
Decimated during the AIDS epidemic of 1990-1995, the neighborhood rebounded in the boom economy of the late 1990s. But the social forces that gave rise to the Castro and other gay neighborhoods like the West Village and West Hollywood may be becoming passé. While the state’s Eighth Congressional District, which includes the Castro, saw an increase of about 20 percent in the number of same-sex couples from 2002 to 2006, surrounding districts had a 38 percent increase in same-sex couples, according to Dr. Gates.
In West Hollywood, another traditional gay haven, the graying of the population and the high cost of real estate have resulted in once-gay watering holes like the Spike and the I Candy Lounge going hetero. A new kind of gentrification is under way in which young gay waiters and school teachers move instead to Hollywood and other surrounding neighborhoods. “We often clamored for equality where gay and straight could coexist,” said Mayor John Duran of West Hollywood, who is gay. “But we weren’t prepared to give up our subculture to negotiate that exchange.”
While the Castro has been the center of a movement, it is also home to “an important political constituency,” said Elizabeth A. Armstrong, an associate sociology professor at Indiana University and the author of “Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco 1950-1994” “When people were angry about Dan White they were able to assemble quickly, spilling out of the bars,” Professor Armstrong said. “Physical location mattered.” The Castro still has the city’s largest progressive Democratic organization, the Harvey Milk Club. A survey of registered voters earlier this year by David Binder, a San Francisco political analyst, found that 33 percent of the Eighth District identified themselves as gay or lesbian, compared with 13 percent citywide. The Castro’s activist legacy continues to exert a strong emotional pull: the corner of 18th and Castro Streets, where Harvey Milk; Diana, Princess of Wales; and Matthew Shepard were mourned and where gay marriage was fleetingly celebrated, is for many a mythic homeland.
Amanda Rankin, a 40-year-old tourist from Hamilton, Ontario, was taking a “Cruisin’ the Castro” walking tour with three lesbian friends the other day. “In America there still seems to be a lot of sexual repression left over from Puritanism and the pilgrims,” Ms. Rankin said. “Then there’s San Francisco.” But its legacy has not prevented the neighborhood from harsh urban realities. As San Francisco real estate skyrocketed in the 1990s, the Castro had the city’s highest concentration of evictions, as speculators “flipped” buildings, many of them housing people with disabilities and AIDS, to convert to market-rate apartments, said Brian Basinger, the founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance. Even before Halloween, the Castro was grappling with violence and crime. Allegations of racial profiling at the Badlands, the neighborhood’s most popular bar, led to a widespread boycott in 2005 and intervention by the city’s Human Rights Commission.
The highly publicized rape of a man in the Castro in September 2006 led to the formation of Castro on Patrol, a whistle-wielding citizens’ street brigade. In that attack, Mark Welch was raped five blocks from a store he managed on Castro Street. He said in that he later learned there had been two previous similar rapes in the neighborhood, but that had not been widely reported. He said it took months for it to surface on a sex-crimes Web site maintained by the authorities. There are signs that the dispersing of gay people beyond the Castro vortex and the rise of the Internet are also contributing to a declining sense of community. An annual survey by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Community Initiative indicated that in 2007 only 36 percent of men under 29 said there was a gay community in the city with which they could identify. Doug Sebesta, the group’s executive director and a medical sociologist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said, “I’ve had therapists who have told me they are asking their clients to go back to bars as a way of social interaction.”
The Internet is not a replacement for a neighborhood where people are involved in issues beyond themselves, said John Newsome, an African-American who co-founded the group And Castro For All after the Badlands incident. “There are a lot of really lonely gay people sitting in front of a computer,” he said. Which is why the cancellation of the Halloween party by the city has provoked such a sense of loss. Many residents say that their night has been taken away. “It’s proof that whatever sense of safety we have is incredibly tenuous, “ Mr. Newsome said.
The city is shutting down public transportation to the Castro on Halloween and has begun a Web site, homeforhalloween.com, that lists “fun” alternatives, including a Halloween blood drive and a “Monster Bash” — in San Mateo. On a recent Saturday, Sister Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an activist coterie of drag queens, sashayed down Castro Street in heavy eye shadow and a gold lamé top. Though she looked well prepared for Halloween, she said she planned to be in hiding that night. She wasn’t feeling too deprived, however. “Sweetie,” she said, “every day is Halloween in the Castro.”