July 1, 2004
Ex-Cop Charged in Missouri Student Slaying–Love story ends in Tragedy
by Scott Charton
Columbia, MO. – A former police officer was charged with murder Thursday in the slaying of a college student who allegedly had threatened to expose their sexual relationship, authorities said.
Steve A. Rios was being held without bond in the death of Jesse James Valencia, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia whose body was found June 5, his throat cut. The two men had allegedly met when Rios arrested Valencia this spring. Rios, 27, was arrested at Fulton State Hospital, a mental hospital where he had been held because of suicide threats. He had been placed on paid leave after telling investigators of his relationship with Valencia and later resigned from the department. DNA matching that of Rios was found under Valencia’s fingernails, Columbia Police Detective John Short said in a statement filed Thursday with Boone County Circuit Court.
A witness told investigators that Valencia, 23, had planned to tell the police chief about his homosexual relationship with Rios, who is married, Short wrote. Rios’ attorney, Rusty Antel, declined to comment.
Rios had arrested the student in April for interfering with him and another officer as they answered a police call about a loud party. Police Chief Randy Boehm has said that was apparently the first time the men met. Boehm said the arrest of a fellow officer made it “a very sad day for the Columbia Police Department.” But he said he was also proud, because investigators had done a their job “with the utmost professionalism.”
Valencia’s mother, Linda Valencia of Perryville, Ky., told the Columbia Daily Tribune that she was relieved to learn of an arrest. “I knew in my heart that justice would be done,” she said. A first-degree murder conviction is punishable by death or life in prison without possibility of parole. Authorities did not say whether they would seek the death penalty.
July 14, 2004
Senate Vote Blocks Effort to Ban Gay-Marriage in Constitution
by Carl Hulse
Washington – Backers of a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages suffered a stinging defeat in the Senate today as opponents easily killed the initiative for the year in a procedural showdown.
Senators voted 50 to 48 against a call to cut off debate, 12 votes short of the 60 required and even below a simple majority of 51. It would have taken 67 votes to approve the amendment itself. The loss effectively ended a drive to move the proposal through the Senate before the November elections. Six Republicans helped block the amendment, illustrating the divisions in the party ranks over the idea of inscribing such a ban into the Constitution.
"The constitutional amendment we are debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. "It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed, and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."
Three Democrats sided with Republicans in trying to move to a vote on the language of the amendment itself. Under Constitutional rules crafted by the Founding Fathers to make it difficult to alter the document, a supermajority of 67 votes is necessary to start the ratification process by the states. Today’s vote did not reflect the full level of opposition since some Senate Republicans who were opposed to the amendment sided with their leadership on the preliminary vote.
"This is an unnecessary amendment that wrongly and certainly prematurely deprives states of their traditional ability to define marriage," said Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, as he joined many of his colleagues in asserting that marriage is an issue of state domain.
Democrats also accused the Senate Republican leadership of forcing the debate on an amendment they knew could not pass to create a wedge issue for the coming elections. President Bush is a strong supporter of the proposal and conservative activist groups had aggressively urged the Senate leadership to bring the matter to the floor. Backers of the amendment said they were only responding to court decisions they said were reshaping the traditional American view of marriage despite scant involvement on the part of the public.
"Marriage does matter," said Senator Wayne Allard, Republican of Colorado and the author of the amendment. "It matters to our children, it matters in America. Marriage is the foundation of a free society and courts are redefining marriage." Though they lost the vote, the backers of the amendment did succeed in getting lawmakers on record on the issue and they said they expected it to reverberate throughout the campaign season. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina, the two members of the Democratic presidential ticket, did not vote. They both oppose the amendment, however, saying that while they oppose same-sex marriage that the issue is a state concern.
The issue may still resurface in the House this year. A House panel was considering today a legislative proposal that its authors said could prevent federal judges from overturning the existing federal law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, though critics said they doubted the new proposal could survive a court test. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has said he might schedule a House vote later this year on a constitutional amendment.
July 28, 2004
American Psychologists to endorse gay marriage
by Marilyn Elias
Gay couples should be able to marry in civil ceremonies and, if they are parents, they deserve all the legal rights of straight parents, says a policy the American Psychological Association was expected to adopt Wednesday at its Honolulu meeting. "We’re going out on a limb," says Diane Halpern, president of APA, the nation’s largest group of psychologists. "But we’re doing what we should be doing." Denying gays the right to marry "puts a particular stress on them just because of their sexual orientation. It’s a health issue and a mental health issue," Halpern says.
President Bush favors a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. A Senate filibuster this month killed the federal amendment bill, but amendments to ban same-sex unions in state constitutions are on the ballot this summer and fall in seven states. Lawmakers in four more states are considering legislation to put the matter before voters. Children raised by homosexuals are just as mentally healthy as those with heterosexual parents, Halpern says. Although the research is limited, particularly for adolescents and kids raised by gay men, its quality is improving, and the studies are growing rapidly, says University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte Patterson.
But the studies are still sparse and use small, non-representative families, argues Peter Sprigg, director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "The very best you can say about homosexuals and parenting is that it’s a vast social experiment," Sprigg says.
There’s overwhelming evidence that children do best when raised by married, biological parents, adds David Blankenhorn, president of the pro-traditional marriage Institute for American Values, a New York think tank. But preventing gay parents from marrying hurts their children, as does denying them equal rights to health insurance, life insurance and Social Security benefits, says Aimee Gelnaw, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition, an advocacy and support group for gay families. "Separate is not equal," Gelnaw says.
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Randy Is Just Dandy – or Is He? ‘Cured’ of homosexuality, thanks to a group called Exodus
by Steve Lopez
Nearly 200 readers complained to The Times about a full-page ad last week in which a guy named Randy said he’d been cured of homosexuality, thanks to a group called Exodus. "Shame on you," wrote one reader, saying the ad spit in the faces of gays. Another reader wondered how The Times could accept money to spread hatred. This, of course, is a very sensitive matter. That’s why the newspaper called on its advertising standards department, which wrote the following in response to angry readers: "Advocacy ads must meet our advertising standards and communicate their points of view legally and responsibly. This particular ad met those requirements."
No word on what those "advertising standards" might be. But what would you expect from an outfit that rakes in bazillions of dollars from brassiere ads? As a 1st Amendment issue, I think people ought to be able to say what they wish and be judged by their words. But before I get back to the ad in question, here’s a little background on Exodus: The Florida-based group was inspired nearly 30 years ago in Anaheim by charismatic Christian leaders who declared homosexuality a sin. Just one problem. Two men who helped get the movement started were counseling gays to go straight when, lo and behold, they fell in love with each other.
The two men dumped their wives, abandoned Exodus, and wore each other’s wedding bands. Whatever you do, don’t tell Randy.
In the text of the ad for Exodus, which claims to have been "proclaiming freedom from homosexuality since 1976," Randy explained the evil force that pushed him over to the dark side. He said he was abandoned by his father and "felt desperate for the physical touch only a father can give."
I don’t remember my father ever sticking his hand down my pants, but I think I catch Randy’s drift. He said that when a male co-worker showed interest in him, "I was like putty in his hands." Soon Randy – that’s with a capital R, right? – developed a gay identity and did the club scene for several years, bouncing from guy to guy. But then an old friend helped him realize he was simply "medicating" his emptiness with sex, and he began to wonder if he was really a homosexual, after all. "Today I am an ex-gay," Randy says in the ad. "No, wait … I don’t define myself anymore with a sexual identity. I’m just … Randy."
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Whether he knows it or not, Randy may be a switch hitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with being bisexual. Just out of curiosity, I put in a call to Randy to find out whether more women, or men, responded to what looked like the largest singles ad in publishing history. While waiting for a callback, I perused the Exodus website. Turns out the group had a conference at Azusa Pacific University last week as part of a campaign "challenging mainstream America to question homosexuality and encourage the Church to provide the answer."
I don’t know how many sinners were rescued at Azusa Pacific. But by coincidence, this is an election year in which President Bush needs the Christian right to flock to the polls, and the Exodus website lauds Bush for his "courageous political stand" against gay marriage.
The Exodus site also offers a handy question-and-answer section:
Q: Is homosexuality genetic?
A: Probably not, according to Exodus. But even if it were, God declares that homosexual and lesbian activities are sin.
Q: If AIDS is God’s judgment against homosexuals, doesn’t befriending them interfere with his will?
A: You must decide that for yourself, Exodus says. But Jesus saves even the worst sinners.
Q: What can I do to help a gay person change?
A: Pray the Lord will help them reconnect with his original design and purpose for them as a man or woman.
In the case of a man, if prayer doesn’t work, try showing him some brassiere ads from Macy’s. If there’s no spark after seven days, switch to Robinsons-May bra ads. If that doesn’t work, it isn’t God’s will.
But don’t count me a doubter. In fact, Randy wasn’t the only reason I called Exodus. I wanted to find out what else they can cure. My sexual orientation is not in question, but sometimes I wonder who I am. I grew up with a father who spoke Spanish, but when he switched to English to fit in, I felt conflicted and abandoned. Naturally, I was putty in the hands of people who spoke Spanish. I fell in love with Mrs. Torres, my seventh-grade Spanish teacher, on the day we learned how to say, "Where’s the library?" and "Do you like meatball soup?"
But while I tried to be Hispanic on the outside, I was all gringo on the inside. Am I a switch hitter too? Help me, Exodus. Por favor. Give me the strength to say: "Today I am an ex-Hispanic wannabe. No, wait … I don’t define myself anymore with an ethnic identity. I’m just … Steven. Randy, are you out there? Throw me a lifeline, amigo.
July 29, 2004
The Honorable Barney Frank’s Speech Before the Democratic National Convention
The following is a transcript of The Honorable Barney Frank’s speech before the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, July 29, 2004:
On behalf of the Stonewall Democratic Federation, the national organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Democrats, I want to apologize to some people whose peace of mind we seem to be disturbing. I want to apologize to the various self-proclaimed divine messengers who appear deeply troubled by a dark plot they label the "gay agenda." Troubled as I am by the prospect of these pious men denied a good night’s sleep by their need to be eternally vigilant against us, I have decided to break the silence, decode the cryptogram, unravel the mystery and tip our hand.
We have an agenda, and we hope to achieve it through the Democratic Party. Specifically, we want all people in the United States to enjoy the same legal rights as everyone else, unless they have forfeited them by violating the rights of others. We believe this should include some things that are, apparently, very controversial. They include the right to serve, fight and even die on behalf of our country in the military; the right to earn a living by working hard and being judged wholly on the quality of our work; the right for teenagers to attend high school without being shoved, punched or otherwise attacked; and yes, the right to express not only love for another person, but a willingness to be legally as well as morally responsible for his or her well-being.
We also believe that we-and all Americans-should enjoy full access to health care; that strong environmental protection is fully compatible with economic prosperity. We know that the free market is the best way to generate our national wealth; and that we need cooperation between the private and public sectors to be sure that we as a society and as individuals get the maximum benefit from the wealth by the quality of all our lives. We are also convinced that America must not only remain the strongest nation in the world, but that our strength is magnified, not diminished, when we work with other nations and institutions for common goals. Some of these things are especially important to us because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. All are important to us as people. And taken together, it is why we are the national Stonewall G.L.B.T. Democratic Federation.
August 13, 2004
New Jersey Governor plans to leave office Nov. 15 McGREEVEY QUITS, ADMITS GAY AFFAIR
by Jeff Whelan and John Hassell Star-Ledger Staff
Gov. James E. McGreevey announced yesterday that he will resign, citing an adulterous affair with a male lover and declaring, "I am a gay American."
"Shamefully, I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony," the governor said from the Statehouse as his wife Dina stood, expressionless, at his side. "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable." McGreevey, the state’s 51st chief executive and the first to quit under the cloud of scandal, said he will step down Nov. 15 to protect the governor’s office from "rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."
"I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality," he said in a blunt six-minute speech that threw the state political scene into turmoil. He added, "I am required … to do what is right to correct the consequences of my actions." Although McGreevey did not name his lover, top administration officials identified him as Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen who resigned two years ago as the governor’s homeland security adviser amid questions about his qualifications for the position. Officials said they expected Cipel to file a lawsuit today in Superior Court in Mercer County, alleging sexual harassment. Cipel, a 35-year-old former public relations professional, could not be reached for comment.
Three administration sources said that a lawyer representing McGreevey, William Lawler, called the FBI in Newark yesterday morning to say Cipel was attempting to extort money from the governor. It was unclear why Lawler chose to file the complaint yesterday, or if the bureau had launched an investigation. FBI Special Agent Steve Siegel, a spokesman for the Newark division, said the office would have no comment. A source close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, however, confirmed that "they are taking the allegations very seriously and the matter is currently under investigation."
By delaying his resignation until Nov. 15, McGreevey prevents a special election this fall to replace him, and instead allows the Democratic president of the state Senate, Dick Codey, to serve as acting governor for the remainder of McGreevey’s four-year term, which ends in January 2006. McGreevey said his timing was designed "to facilitate a responsible transition."
Codey, echoing the sentiments of leading Democrats, expressed sadness over McGreevey’s decision. "My heart goes out to Jim McGreevey and his family during this difficult personal time," Codey said. "Jim McGreevey is a good person and a good friend." Republicans described the delay of McGreevey’s departure as a ploy to preserve Democratic control of state government. Former Gov. Christie Whitman, for one, called for McGreevey to step aside immediately, saying any postponement "smacks of politics." McGreevey’s announcement, made shortly after 4 p.m., set off widespread speculation about who would run to replace him. Many leading Democrats reached out quickly to U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, who was traveling in California in his role as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Corzine released a statement later saying, "I applaud the governor’s decision to acknowledge a part of his identity for which he owes no one an apology." Addressing the calls for him to run, Corzine added: "Any speculation about my own political plans in light of the governor’s decision is entirely premature." If Corzine did mount a gubernatorial bid, his deep pockets and political connections probably would discourage many rivals, who potentially include Codey; Reps. Rob Andrews, Frank Pallone and Steve Rothman; and George Zoffinger, chairman of the state Sports and Exposition Authority.
On the Republican side, yesterday’s news did little more than fan the ambitions of a large field of possible candidates. They include former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler; former Rep. Bob Franks; Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey; state Sens. Leonard Lance, Diane Allen and Tom Kean Jr.; businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate Douglas Forrester; Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano; Morris County Freeholder John Murphy; and Bergen County businessman Robert Schroeder.
McGreevey’s speech, 690 words long, was stunningly direct, even by the standards of a self-revelatory era in American political life. Among other things, he acknowledged the pain he has caused to his wife, Dina, his former wife, Kari Schutz, and his two daughters, 3-year-old Jacqueline and 11-year-old Morag. "From my early days in school until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others," he said.
"But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent and adult behavior. "Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual, level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? Which master was I trying to serve?"
His Own Words
The governor finalized his decision to resign with top aides yesterday in the library of Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton. Among those gathered were chief of staff Jamie Fox, chief counsel Michael DeCotiis, state party chief executive Kevin Hagan, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive director Curtis Bashaw and three top political consultants — Steve DeMicco, Joel Benenson and Jim Margolis.
McGreevey presented the group with a draft of his speech, which he had written himself, and he resisted any heavy editing, several people present said. Then, shortly after 3:30, the governor and his wife joined his security detail in a two- vehicle motorcade to the Statehouse. After his speech, McGreevey returned to Drumthwacket, spoke with his advisers for 10 minutes, then retired to the mansion’s residential quarters with his family.
McGreevey met Cipel four years ago at a reception near Tel Aviv on a visit to Israel sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest. At the time, Cipel was working as a spokesman for the mayor of his hometown, Rishon Lezion, after a stint as chief information officer for the Israeli Consulate in New York. Six months later, McGreevey brought Cipel to New Jersey. From the summer of 2000 through the 2001 election, Cipel earned $30,000 a year as the Jewish outreach director for the state Democratic Party.
To supplement that salary, he also received $30,000 a year as an associate at a development firm owned by McGreevey’s top political contributor, Charles Kushner. Attorneys for Kushner — who was arrested last month and accused of hiring prostitutes to blackmail federal witnesses — denied yesterday that the fund-raiser has been cooperating in any matter involving McGreevey.
"Charles Kushner is no way involved in the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the government’s resignation," said the attorneys, Jeff Smith and Alfred DeCotiis. When Cipel arrived in New Jersey, McGreevey assigned campaign staffers to arrange for an apartment a tenth of a mile from McGreevey’s own condominium in Woodbridge. Then, after winning the election, McGreevey took time out from his transition plans to accompany Cipel on a last-minute walk-through of the West Windsor townhouse Cipel was about to purchase.
According to the seller, Elaine Dietrich, Cipel said he wanted McGreevey to see the townhouse before he signed the contract. "I thought it was highly unusual," Dietrich said afterward. "I’m counsel to the administrative director of the courts, and I’m not going to ask (the director) to come look at my place and approve a purchase. … You’ve got to admit, it’s a little bizarre." In January 2002, Cipel joined the governor’s staff at $80,000 a year, a salary that was raised to $110,000 within six weeks with no explanation.
Hired as special counsel on homeland security, Cipel quickly encountered problems. Federal officials told The Star-Ledger that because Cipel was an Israeli national — a foreigner who could not have top-secret security clearance — they would refuse to share sensitive information with him. Cipel resigned from the homeland security post after Republican leaders in the state Senate threatened to hold up key gubernatorial appointments until Cipel sat for questioning. Even so, Cipel retained the title of special counsel and his salary was unchanged.
In September 2002, McGreevey helped Cipel land a job at the prominent public relations and lobbying firm, MWW, for a salary of $120,000. The next month, just before MWW bosses planned to fire him, Cipel went to work for State Street Partners, the lobbying firm where McGreevey’s best friend, Rahway Mayor James Kennedy, is a partner. There Cipel got a $30,000 raise, bringing his salary to $150,000.
Cipel’s expected lawsuit against McGreevey, which officials said is likely to seek $5 million in damages, would come just before the expiration of a general two-year limitation on workplace sexual harassment claims. He resigned from state government Aug. 14, 2002. McGreevey’s resignation ends a political career that has consumed him since high school. He has always followed a fast track — whether it was the quick succession of degrees from Columbia University, Georgetown University Law School and Harvard University’s graduate school of education, or his early foray into politics.
From his first, successful run for the state Assembly in 1989 to his victory in the 2001 race for governor, McGreevey, 47, has maintained a dogged pace. Friends and foes alike have marveled at his peripatetic travels around the state, which often began well before dawn and lasted well into the night. According to McGreevey, his work ethic came from his parents, a former Marine Corps drill instructor and a nurse, and from his blue- collar upbringing in Jersey City and Carteret. McGreevey got his favorite motto from his father: "Plan your work and work your plan."
By the time McGreevey made his first, unsuccessful bid for governor in 1997, he had compiled an impressive political résumé, with stints as a state senator and assemblyman, mayor of Woodbridge, executive director of the state Parole Board, assistant prosecutor in Middlesex County and a government lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Merck. Many of McGreevey’s political connections have come to haunt him in the past couple of months, however, as his administration has been shaken by a series of high- profile scandals.
The ‘Machiavelli’ Allusion
In early July, one of McGreevey’s top fund-raisers and friends, David D’Amiano, was indicted on charges that he extorted $40,000 in cash and political donations from a farm owner in return for his promise that the governor would help persuade county officials to double their bid for his farmland. The indictment revealed McGreevey was secretly recorded by the FBI using the word "Machiavelli," which prosecutors said was a code word for the bribery scheme. No charges were brought against McGreevey, who was referred to in the indictment only as "State Official 1." The governor acknowledged uttering the word but said it was an innocent literary allusion. He denied any wrongdoing and accused the U.S. Attorney’s Office of mounting a smear campaign against him.
A week later, federal authorities arrested Kushner, McGreevey’s one-time pick to head the powerful Port Authority. Prosecutors say Kushner’s efforts to entrap witnesses with prostitutes stemmed from an inquiry into allegations that he made illegal campaign and charitable contributions. The next day, William Watley, McGreevey’s commerce secretary, resigned amid conflict-of-interest questions and a state criminal investigation into spending at his agency. Authorities are reviewing if any laws were broken when the mother, sister and two sons of Watley’s chief of staff were hired by the agency.
McGreevey’s poll numbers had begun to rise earlier this year, after he pushed through a plan to increase income taxes on the wealthy to pay for larger property tax rebates for most New Jersey families. But a recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed the scandals ate away at the governor’s public support, and by early this month, half of the state’s voters said they had serious concerns about McGreevey’s integrity.
Staff writers David Kinney, John P. Martin, Robert Rudolph, Josh Mar golin, Robert Gebeloff, Christine V. Baird and Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.
August 13, 2004
TOP STATE COURT VOIDS S.F.’S GAY MARRIAGES–MAYOR OVERRULED: Newsom found to violate California law by issuing same-sex licenses
by Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
California’s highest court unanimously struck down San Francisco’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriages Thursday, saying Mayor Gavin Newsom had illegally defied the state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Ruling exactly six months after the first weddings were performed, the state Supreme Court also declared by a 5-2 vote that none of the 3,955 couples who flocked to City Hall in response to Newsom’s decree was ever legally married or entitled to the rights of spouses. Advocates of same-sex marriage were dismayed but said the more important battle would be fought when the court addresses the constitutionality of the state’s marriage law. Same-sex couples and the city have sued in San Francisco Superior Court, saying the law discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The case could reach the state’s high court in a year or two.
"We are confident that the court will live up to its own history and bring a swift end to marriage discrimination in California,” said Bob Kearney, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents six same- sex couples in one of the Superior Court suits. He noted that the California Supreme Court was the nation’s first court to strike down a state ban on interracial marriage in 1948.
A contrary view came from Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, which joined the state in fighting Newsom’s action and also is arguing in defense of the marriage law in Superior Court. "The justices have restored the rule of law in California,” Lorence said in a statement. "The decision shows that same-sex ‘marriage’ is not inevitable. " In Thursday’s 114-page ruling, justices steered clear of the constitutional issue and instead focused, as they had announced in advance, on the narrower question of whether a local official can refuse to enforce a state law before a court has declared the law invalid.
If officials like Newsom were free to disregard state laws they considered unconstitutional, "any semblance of a uniform rule of law quickly would disappear,” said Chief Justice Ronald George. He said the mayor’s action, if upheld, might allow other local governments to ignore state laws on civil rights, environmental protection or gun control. As for the couples who relied on Newsom’s authority, George said, "A same- sex marriage performed in violation of state law is void and of no legal effect.”
The court ordered the city to refund each couple’s $82 license fee and $62 fee for the wedding ceremony. If all 3,955 couples sought refunds, the total would come to almost $570,000. Both sides in the same-sex-marriage debate tried to put the best light on the ruling. Advocates portrayed it as a bump on the road, opponents as a decisive victory. But the news was devastating for the first couple married at City Hall in February, veteran activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
"Del is 83 years old, and I am 79,” Lyon said. "After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time." On the other side, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which has campaigned nationally to preserve opposite-sex-only marriage laws, called the ruling "a sweeping defeat for all those who would use the courts to redefine marriage." Newsom, speaking at a City Hall news conference packed with reporters from around the nation, said that his heart was heavy but that he would keep fighting for same-sex marriage rights.
"It is wrong to deny tens of millions of Americans the same rights and privileges that people like myself … have been afforded just through happenstance because we married somebody of a different gender,” the mayor said. "This ruling is merely a temporary delay in our ongoing struggle for equality.” Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office challenged Newsom’s decree in court, was a reluctant victor Thursday. He called the mayor’s action courageous, cited his own duty to defend the law and said the court had upheld "the important legal principle that nonjudicial elected officials do not have the authority to declare a state law unconstitutional."
The ruling effectively nullifies, in the eyes of the law, the events that happened between Feb. 12, when the first weddings were performed at City Hall, and March 11, when the state’s high court ordered a halt to the ceremonies and took up the case.
But the court’s rebuff of Newsom won’t undo all the effects of his action, which has caused elation and outrage in lobbying groups and living rooms across the nation, has galvanized public debate and has prompted a handful of local officials in far-flung states to follow the mayor’s example.
Judges in Oregon and Washington state have declared their states’ marriage laws unconstitutional, following the lead of Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages have been legally performed since May under a ruling by the state’s high court. In California, a state law is scheduled to take effect in January that would give domestic partners many of the same rights as married couples. It is being challenged in Sacramento County Superior Court by sponsors of a ballot measure, approved by the state’s voters in 2000, that reaffirmed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. That case also could reach the state’s high court soon.
Voters in as many as a dozen states will consider bans on same-sex marriages in November. Republicans have been hoping to make it a presidential campaign issue, but polls have indicated that it ranks nearly at the bottom of voters’ concerns. President Bush, who announced support for a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriages soon after the San Francisco weddings began, has not stressed the issue in his campaign speeches. The amendment fell far short of passage in the Senate last month, failing to win even a simple majority on a procedural move to bring the measure to a vote, but House Republican leaders say they will bring it up the week of Sept. 20.
Bush, who was campaigning Thursday in Southern California, appeared on CNN’s "Larry King Live" and replied to a question about the court ruling by reiterating the need for a constitutional amendment. "It’s a debate that the people need to be involved with and not the courts,” he said. "… And I just happen to believe and know that if you believe that traditional marriage ought to be the law of the land, that the way to guarantee that is through the constitutional process."
Asked whether same-sex couples should have the benefits of marriage, Bush said, "You can do that through the legal process." He did not elaborate. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate, also was in Southern California on Thursday. His campaign declined to comment on the ruling. In concluding that Newsom was obliged to follow the marriage law, the court said a public official’s oath to follow the Constitution does not give that official free rein to decide which laws are constitutional. "The determination whether a statute is unconstitutional and need not be obeyed is an exercise of judicial power” that is beyond the authority of local officials, George said.
While all seven justices agreed that Newsom had exceeded his authority, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said George was overstating judicial power and tying the hands of local officials who might be faced with enforcing clearly unconstitutional laws, such as the former racial segregation laws in the South.
As for the couples’ status, George said they were on notice from the outset that their marriages were legally questionable in light of the state law and a warning on the license applications that the marriages might not be recognized elsewhere. Practically speaking, he added, "it would not be prudent or wise to leave the validity of these marriages in limbo for what might be a substantial period of time given the potential confusion (for third parties, such as employers, insurers, or other governmental entities, as well as for the affected couples) that such an uncertain status inevitably would entail.” Werdegar and Justice Joyce Kennard dissented on that issue, saying the court should refrain from ruling on the validity of the marriages until deciding whether the marriage law is constitutional.
"Individuals in loving same-sex relationships have waited years, sometimes several decades, for a chance to wed, yearning to obtain the public validation that only marriage can give,” Kennard said. "In recognition of that, this court should proceed most cautiously in resolving the ultimate question of the validity of the same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco. ”
The case is Lockyer vs. San Francisco, S122923.
How they voted
The state Supreme Court’s vote Thursday in the same-sex marriage case:
— 7-0, led by Chief Justice Ronald George, in declaring that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by approving marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
— 5-2 in declaring that the 3,955 same-sex marriages performed under Newsom’s decree never had any legal status.
Majority: George, Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, Janice Rogers Brown, Carlos Moreno.
Dissent: Joyce Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.
The next battle over the legality of same-sex unions is likely to be fought over the constitutionality of California’s law that says marriage can be only between a man and woman. Two suits challenging the law are in San Francisco Superior Court. They have been consolidated into one case and assigned to Judge Richard Kramer. They are:
— A suit filed by the city of San Francisco and six gay and lesbian couples in the Bay Area.
— A suit filed by two gay couples in Los Angeles after they were denied marriage licenses. The case later was moved to San Francisco.
Marriage versus domestic partnership
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, marriage brings with it 1,049 federal rights and responsibilities. Most state laws bestow a few hundred more. For example, the federal government allows spouses to participate as a couple in:
— Major federal health and welfare programs, especially those considered entitlements, such as disability, Medicare and food stamps
— Bestowing of veterans’ benefits
— Filing federal taxes
— Sponsoring a non-American spouse for immigration
— Inheriting a spouse’s estate tax-free and without a will
— Receiving survivor’s Social Security benefits
Registered domestic partners in California currently are awarded some of the same rights as married couples in the state, including the rights to:
— Visit a partner in the hospital as next-of-kin
— Make medical, legal and financial decisions for an incapacitated partner
— Receive a partner’s state disability benefits
— Sue for compensation for wrongful death or injury of a partner
— Automatically be named executor of a domestic partner’s estate
— Adopt a partner’s child
— Receive unemployment insurance after relocating for one partner
— Use sick leave to care for a partner or partner’s child
— Receive domestic partner health insurance
— Receive death benefits and survivor’s allowances
— Take advantage of some non-federal tax benefits
A new California law granting domestic partners many of the same state rights as married couples is set to take effect in January but is being challenged in Sacramento County Superior Court. Even if the law survives the court challenge, it won’t give domestic partners hundreds of the privileges that federal law gives married couples.
Gay rights rulings
Past rulings by the California Supreme Court that affect gay rights:
1979: The state and state-regulated utilities cannot discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation. This ruling was issued before the state had a law that forbids such discrimination by any employer.
1995: An apartment owner may not refuse to rent to an unmarried couple for religious reasons.
1995: A private country club is covered by the state’s civil rights law and cannot exclude women or minorities as members, a ruling that also applies to gays and lesbians.
1996: Gay men arrested for soliciting sex from undercover officers can prove illegal discrimination with records that show gays were singled out for arrest without having to prove intent to discriminate.
1998: Boy Scouts can exclude gays as members or leaders.
2000: An insurance company cannot deny disability benefits to a man with AIDS solely because he was HIV-positive when the policy was issued.
2003: Second-parent adoptions, commonly used by gay and lesbian couples to let one partner adopt the other’s children, are legal.
Source: Chronicle staff
Chronicle staff writers Harriet Chiang, Ilene Lelchuk and Carolyn Lochhead contributed to this report.E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 17, 2004
America’s Best Gay College: Eugene Lange College in New York City
by Doug Windsor
New York City – What’s the most gay positive college in the country? That question was asked of 110,000 students at 357 of the nation’s top schools. The survey, by The Princeton Review, gives the honor to Eugene Lange College in New York City.
Each year the Review polls students on everything from what’s the best party school, to the most difficult to get into. That Lange was regarded as the most friendly to gays is not a surprise to students at the college. A stone’s throw from the Stonewall Inn, the home of modern gay liberation, Eugene Lange prides itself on its diversity. The college is the undergraduate, liberal arts division of the New School University. It grew out of a highly progressive Freshman Year Program developed at the New School in 1973. The school was originally recognized as the Seminar College, reflecting the style of teaching adopted by its faculty. In 1985, it was renamed Eugene Lang College, following a generous endowment from philanthropist Eugene Lang and his family. With a small enrolment, only 730 students, Eugene Lange offers intensive programs with majors in the arts, performing arts, media, design, and the humanities. It has a student/faculty ratio of 10:1, one of the best in the nation. The toughest college to get into, according to the Review poll, is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The best bargain for tuition is New College of Florida at Sarasota. And, the biggest party school in the country is the State University of New York at Albany.
Gay Americans marry in Belgium
by Rex Wockner (email@example.com)
Two American men who work in Belgium became the first U.S. same-sex couple to be married there Oct. 9, in the city of Enghien.
Phillip Sorensen, 46, and Christopher Staker, 49, both of whom work for NATO in Brussels, tied the knot in the City Hall civil-weddings room before local friends and 37 other friends and family members from around the world, including 25 who came from the U.S. for the event. An Oct. 1 law change made it possible for any foreign same-sex couple to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived there for at least three months. Previously, foreign same-sex couples could marry in Belgium only if their home country or countries also allowed same-sex marriage. Sorensen and Staker are from New Hampshire. The only U.S. state that allows same-sex couples to marry is Massachusetts.
Staker is NATO’s director of health promotion and preventive medicine. Sorensen is NATO’s director of occupational health and epidemiology. Belgium granted same-sex couples access to marriage in 2002, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands. Since then, same-sex couples also have won access to marriage, via court rulings, in Massachusetts; in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec; and in Canada’s Yukon Territory. There are no residency requirements for marriage in Canada.
December 8, 2004
Sodomy conviction in military reversed–Gays praise ruling as key legal victory
Washington – A military appeals court has overturned the conviction of a soldier for consensual sodomy in a decision that gay rights activists are hailing as an important legal victory removing some of the barriers to homosexual activity in the armed forces. The previously unreported decision, handed down last week by the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, builds on a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down a Texas sodomy statute. It is believed to be the first time that a military court has upheld the right of consenting adults to engage in oral sex in private.
" It undercuts the premise of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ " said Washington lawyer David Sheldon, who represents several soldiers fighting their dismissal from the armed forces because of homosexual activity. He was referring to a Pentagon policy that has led to the discharge of more than 9,000 openly gay service members over the past decade. Last week’s court decision involved a male Army specialist who was convicted of engaging in oral sex with a female civilian in a military barracks. Kenneth Bullock was charged under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits "unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal."
Although the case involved a man and a woman, legal experts said the principles invoked by the three military judges were equally applicable to homosexual activity. The constitutionality of Article 125 has come under assault as a result of last year’s Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, which upheld the notion of a "zone of privacy" for sexual relationships involving consenting adults. This decision means that "even in the military you have a zone of privacy and can engage in sexual acts in private that used to be considered criminal," said Patricia Logue, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, which seeks to overturn anti-gay military statutes.
Legal experts said the Pentagon could appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces or to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the military is a special institution with its own disciplinary procedures. Military lawyers who argued the government’s case at the hearing at Fort Polk, La., did not return calls seeking comment.
December 6, 2004
Queer American Indians from New York to San Francisco are showing both their spirits
by Emily Alpert
New York – What surprised Sabrina Wolf, when she came out to her American Indian grandmother, was the older woman’s lack of surprise. “I started by telling her, ‘I’m different,’” the white-haired, soft butch activist recalls. And she had this look of, ‘Yeah, I know.’ And then she said, ‘There’s people like you at home [among Indians], and it’s a good thing.” In addition, her grandmother advised her, “You’re gonna hear … a lot in your life, that’s it’s a bad thing, here (among white people), but it’s not a bad thing, and you’ll know about it later.’” Wolf, a lifelong San Franciscan and “urban Indian” of both white and Native ancestry, was taken aback by her grandmother’s nonchalant response — a response which, she later learned, was representative of many Native groups.
The idea that various American Indian tribes historically recognized and even gave special roles to untraditionally gendered tribe members was written about in 1968, in an academic article by Professor Sue-Ellen Jacobs. But its wider acceptance has come about more recently with the development of vocal groups of queer Indians who, in addition to mining Indian history for traces of their presence, have created a modern name for people like themselves: “two-spirit.”
Coined in 1990 at an annual conference of queer-identified Native people, the International Two-Spirit Gathering, the term “two-spirit,” encompasses various American Indian traditions of tolerance and celebration of gender-variant people. Unlike modern concepts of sexuality, two-spiritedness refers less to sexual orientation than to gender, reflecting the idea that in a single person, both masculine and feminine energies may reside. Prior to the conference, the concept was referred to by different terms in each tribe: For example, winkte in Lakota, a Sioux dialect, nádleehí in Navajo, or problematically called berdache, a French word sometimes translated as “slave boy.” As an active member of the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS), a group organized in 1998 out of Gay American Indians (a product of 1970s San Francisco), Wolf now knows that two-spirits have a long and respected history within many North American tribes. With her own knowledge of two-spirit tradition, Wolf’s grandmother was receptive to the news that her granddaughter wasn’t straight. In contrast, Wolf hardly considered coming out to her white family, who seemed hostile to queer sexuality.
Similarly, Miko Thomas, a Chickasaw member of BAAITS, originally from Oklahoma, was relieved by his Native father and grandfather’s nonchalance at his coming out — a far cry from his white mother’s unease. But not all Indians have been accepting. The tradition of giving respected roles to specially gendered tribe members came under attack from colonization and Christianization, was all-but erased in official histories until the 1950s, and still finds resistance today. Reclaiming two-spirit identity is an enterprise fraught with intertribal tensions — made still more difficult by the political endangerment of the Native community.
And yet it offers American Indians a unique queer space, one both cozily familiar and excitingly new, organized along different principles than the mainstream, majority-white queer world. Creating a two-spirit community In New York City, the challenge of organizing two-spirit communities has been taken on by Harlan Pruden, the square-jawed and impeccably put-together founder of the newly-formed Northeast Two-Spirit Society. Leaning back at his desk at New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center, where he works as a coordinator of an anti-addiction program, Pruden muses on history, surrounded by splashy photos of drag queens and powwows. “There was a time on this land in which we did have full equality,” he comments.
“ There was a gender analysis with an open acceptance of same-sex couples and relationships. There was a place for all of it, and I think that it’s a shame that it’s been ignored.” Pruden sees this history as crucial to current two-spirit identity. “There is a model there that can be reactivated, claimed and worked on”, he says, although he adds hastily, “There is no going back to a traditional model.” Much of Pruden’s own knowledge of Native practices and attitudes regarding queer people comes from anthropologist Walter L. Williams’ 1986 book, The Spirit and the Flesh. Drawing on interviews in a variety of North American tribes, primarily in the United States, Williams highlights how, prior to colonial interference, two-spirit peoples were privileged to traverse the gender line by walking freely between gendered tents, for example, or taking on both types of gendered work — hunting and beadwork. In many cases, specific ritual roles, like holding the eagle’s wing or blessing marriages, were designated for two-spirit people. Compensation for ritual services meant that two-spirit people often prospered within their communities, and could use their financial wherewithal to support adopted children. Pruden notes that the current LGBT movement traces its history from events that are largely European, Western, or relatively recent, like New York’s 1969 Stonewall riots, in which gay bar patrons protested a police raid.
Of this limited perspective, Pruden says, “To me, that’s bullshit.” And there is evidence to back him up. The 1980s and 1990s saw a host of publications and research on gay Native traditions. Yet, while Pruden hopes to raise awareness of Native communities’ traditional acceptance, tolerance, and even reverence of gender-variant people, and to draw strength from an authentic queer history, he has no illusions that a complete history can be uncovered, or should be. According to Pruden, the history of acceptance toward queer identity in American Indian culture has been concealed by two major factors: colonial suppression of Native sexual tolerance, and Christian Indians’ rejection of traditional practice. Thus, for most American Indians, identifying as two-spirit is a process of discovery, not an organic outgrowth of living in modern communities. Pruden explains that, “even if there is a reactivation or an honoring of two-spirit people, sometimes there’s not even an explanation because of the stigma associated with it.”
Pruden recalls being approached, after a lecture on his Woodlands Cree reservation in Northeastern Alberta, Canada, by a woman who said she finally understood why, during the men’s sweat lodge, the medicine men permitted her gay cousin to hold the eagle’s wing — a role of honor traditionally accorded to a two-spirit person. “[T]hat elder was reactivating and staying true to the tradition,” explains Pruden, “by finding someone who was queer-identified and giving him that high office.” Prior to Pruden’s talk on two-spirit traditions, however, the man’s cousin “had no point of reference, as a straight woman, to know what was happening before her.” “You have to start looking for things that are incredibly subtle,” continues Pruden, “and if you’re an outsider, or it’s not of your tradition, you can’t even see what’s going on.”
Seeking suppressed traditions of tolerance Jeannette Torres, the only female member in the nascent Northeast Two-Spirit Society, angrily recounts the violence visited upon two-spirit people in the colonial era. Torres is of both Peruvian and Puerto Rican heritage, but she identifies mainly with her Incan lineage, having been raised by her father’s Peruvian family who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. With her pixie haircut, men’s clothing and lipstick, she seems an apt illustration of the gender play inherent in the two-spirit idea. Her black eyes flash as she describes the brutal treatment of two-spirit people by European colonists. “When these colonists came, British and Spanish, they practically decimated us,” she says. “The communities kind of hid what was left of their [queer] people — either hid them, or kept it on the down-low.” On top of colonial persecution came Christian rejection of the two-spirit tradition.
Miko Thomas was combing through his great-grandfather’ s Bibles in his native Oklahoma when he found a sermon condemning a Choctaw stomp-dance leader who “either condoned homosexuality or he himself was homosexual.” For Thomas, it was proof-positive that two-spirits had existed previously. “This was the first time that I ever saw anything like this about my tribe.” Previously, a Christian elder in his tribe had told him, “‘There are no gay Indians. There were never any gay Indians.’” Pruden likewise contends that he has “met elders that just lied to me — Christian elders, rather than traditionalist elders.” At an American Indian men’s health summit, Pruden says, he asked an elder what the word was for “the two-spirit folk. And he’s like, what is two-spirit? So I explained, and he goes, ‘I know what that is — the word is wiktigu.’ Wiktigu is a cannibalistic spirit … a way of keeping kids close to the camp.”
Harlan says his confusion cleared, however, when he heard the elder speak, claiming that the medicine bow is a symbol for the Christian cross, and that braided sweetgrass symbolized the holy Trinity. “I just dismissed what he said, and since then I went seeking actual, traditional elders.” The lack of open, explicit dialogue about queerness in Native culture means that most two-spirit people, as Thomas laments, “have to go through a book to find where you’re represented as a gay Indian.” The dearth of research on specific aspects of two-spirit life can be frustrating; there’s a notable lack of information on two-spirit women, a gap that Pruden attributes to male privilege: “We live in a patriarchal society. Who has the choice and the power to sit around and write?” He points out that Walter L. Williams himself is a white gay man.
However, some two-spirit people have found that tolerance is nonetheless expressed in Native communities — if not through explicit practice, in quieter, everyday behavior. Ben Geboe, one of the founders of Wewa and Barcheampe, a previous effort at two-spirit organizing in New York City, found that in his Native community, being queer set him apart but did not isolate him. Blue-eyed and pale-skinned, he is usually read, racially, as white, but is of both Sioux and Norwegian descent, and grew up on a reservation in Mission, South Dakota. Growing up, Geboe recalls, “People knew that I was very effeminate.” Though he was sometimes called winkte, a Sioux word that translates, roughly, as “woman’s way,” Geboe explains that “it was never derogatory, never meant as an insult.
It was more a kind of joking, a subtle ribbing.” Both his Sioux and his Norwegian family were supportive of his coming out. Torres shares Pruden’s frustration with the lack of research on women, and adds that she remains uneasy with some extinct two-spirit traditions, as uncovered in books like Williams’s. She explains that two-spirited peoples sometimes did not self-identify, but were designated as such. In a family of five boys, Torres posits, the youngest might be chosen to be two-spirit, and raised accordingly. Selection might be based on a child’s predilection to gender-bend, but it was nonetheless an elder’s selection. Furthermore, the sexual aspects of some two-spirit traditions, not practiced today, are another source of discomfort for Torres. For instance, in some traditions, a male-to-female two-spirited person would be expected to take a formerly straight male lover. “This man considered it a privilege to be taken sexually or just picked, in general, by a two-spirit person as their partner — it’s like being chosen by a god,” she explains. Sometimes this partnership was only temporary, its duration determined by the two-spirit partner, “And this man [the straight partner] would go back to being straight again.”
Torres is reluctant to revere such practices, which she finds incredible from a contemporary vantage point. “I can’t see taking on a straight lover even if it’s for a million dollars,” she muses. How could a straight man, she wonders, be expected to take on a gay one? A gender emphasis – “it’s not about who you’re fucking” Pruden acknowledges the tension between modern, sexuality-oriented identifications and the two-spirit concept. “It’s a gender theory — it has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” he says. “Some nations have as many as five distinct genders. Each has a role and a responsibility as well as a sphere within the context of the community.” However, because “today, it’s gay-identified Native Americans who are two-spirit identified . . . that component of gender is basically taken out in practice.” For example, Pruden notes that while some two-spirits in reservation settings are taking up traditional two-spirit roles again, such as ceremonial cooking, healing, and telling sacred stories, they “do couple up with other two-spirited people in a contemporary way,” rather than taking a straight identified partner as was tradition. As Torres mentions, it’s not a change that most two-spirit people today would lament. However, as Pruden points out, the traditional emphasis on gender, rather than sexuality, expands the discussion from sex to society.
“It’s not about who you’re fucking — it has nothing to do with sex.” Unlike sexual orientation, gender “something that is distinctly ours — that we perform within the community,” argues Pruden. Two-spirit people, he says, must grapple with the question of “‘What is our role within the community at large?’ not just ‘Who am I sleeping with?’” The emphasis upon a socially-situated role is, for many Native Americans, a welcome change from mainstream queer communities, which often focus on personal identity as separate from the political, cultural and spiritual spheres that form the foundation of two-spirit groups.
Due to the myriad modern threats to American Indian communities, such as marginalization, poverty, poor education, alcoholism and other diseases, Ben Geboe says, people who identify as two-spirit “are more concerned about the racial and ethnic issues than they are about gay and lesbian issues.” Issues such as gay marriage, argues Geboe, are petty compared to American Indians’ struggle to survive as an ethnic community. “We’re still fighting for land, we’ve still got these social problems, we have the highest incidence of disease,” he says.
Thomas agrees that his primary allegiance, as an activist, is to the Native community. Growing up on his Oklahoma reservation, he explains, “this whole structure around you … says that you need to be politically active,” especially in the hostile political climate generated by anti-Native groups such as One Nation, which has advocated against tribal sovereignty. Wolf agrees that “gay is second to our role as a two-spirit person walking in the world.” In her view, two-spirit identity is informed by the deep spirituality inherent in Native tradition.
“A lot of two-spirit people view themselves as called to a kind of spiritual service,” she remarks. Wolf feels that this spiritual emphasis, compounded with the problems of “alcoholism and drug addiction on the rez”, lends two-spirit gatherings a different tenor than mainstream queer events. “Our meetings aren’t all about partying,” she says, noting that almost any two-spirit event will include a prayer or speech by an elder. “There are people of color who are gay, and there are white people who are gay” The communal concerns of two-spirit people can generate discomfort for them in mainstream queer communities. “The LGBT movement is fighting for equality,” argues Pruden, “but it’s equality in a model that is being basically driven by white privilege.” Geboe perceives a racial divide in urban gay life: “You can be [white and] gay, live in Minnesota, and come to New York and feel that you’ve arrived in this mecca, and that everything in this world is there to promote your survival as a person.” In contrast, he continues, “You can come to New York as a Native American from South Dakota, and if you’re a person of color, immediately understand that there are two [queer] societies —there are people of color who are gay, and there are white people who are gay.” Besides their shared political and spiritual concerns, two-spirit people take comfort in not being tokenized in Native settings, the way they frequently are in the larger queer community.
Before Wewa and Barcheampe formed, Geboe explains, ”it seemed like we were doing more for the overall gay and lesbian community than we were doing for ourselves,” constrained to perform as ethnic “representatives” symbolizing the diversity of the gay community. Wolf complains that “in the gay community at large, we’re sort of a novelty, or we don’t exist — because in mainstream society, we don’t exist.” Two-spirit gatherings are one of the few places where Harlan says he doesn’t feel a need to “take count” to determine his comfort level. Normally he says he asks himself, “Is this safe or is this not safe? How many people of color are here? How many other gays?” However, he feels, “When I go to these two-spirit gatherings, I never count. I don’t have to count. It’s very affirming.”
Two-spirit people also draw from experiences of poverty on the reservation that, Wolf notes, are typically far removed from the experience of white Americans. Thomas explains that, for rural gay Indians in particular, the cultural connection is essential as they seek new communities in larger cities. “For us it’s very important to connect with people we identify with. Growing up impoverished is something that unites us.” Thomas reflects, “You can’t just joke around with Caucasian people, saying, ‘Yeah, when I was a little kid, I used to have to haul water, so we could take a bath.’” In his experience, such anecdotes are often met with disbelief or derision. For the approximately 1.2 million American Indians who live on reservations, however, “That’s just a part of our lives!” Creating two-spirit culture across tribes
At the same time, the intertribal reach of two-spirit organizing presents its own problems. “Some tribes don’t have a tradition of tolerance of lesbian and gay activity,” Geboe remarks. Consequently, there are a number of Native people who view two-spirit traditions “as an outside thing coming in, and not as something that’s always been there and now is more visible.” He discovered this hurdle himself in an “uncomfortable confrontation” at a Native conference, in which “this elder got up and said that everything we [two-spirit organizers] were doing was wrong.” Intertribal respect, however, prevailed, and it was agreed that the tribes’ traditions differed. Within two-spirit groups, tribal diversity can also be problematic, but, paradoxically, may produce greater solidarity.
“When we come together,” Wolf explains, “we have different traditions around how you say the prayers, and how you have rituals and ceremonies. The interesting this is, when we get together and ask [those questions] we find that, you guys may do this little thing a little bit different” but there’s a basic “connectedness.” In a way, she remarks, “we’re creating two-spirit identity all the time.” At a time when the queer community on the whole is grappling with its priorities and considering new privileges such as marriage, military service, and adoption, two-spirit organizations like Pruden’s offer an alternative model of queer empowerment. Reflecting on two-spirit and mainstream gay communities, Geboe summarizes the difference: “The gay way,” he says, ”is that you become gay, you live in the gay community and you do things that identify you with the gay community. The two-spirited way is that you’re a Native American first, and that’s your culture, but there’s also this gayness. But it’s integrated with your culture. It’s something you don’t leave to become.”
Author’s note Tribal names have been chosen in accordance with the preferred terms of those interviewed. For the purposes of this article, the terms ‘American Indian’, ‘Native American’, and ‘Native’ have been used interchangeably to describe persons descended from the original, tribally-organized peoples of North and South America. In this article, the term ‘queer’ is used to describe all people who either do not identify as straight, do not identify as the same gender as their biological sex at birth, or both.
Story Index > The Northeast Two-Spirit Society meets on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at New York City’s LGBT Center.
Contributor > The writer Emily Alpert, INTHEFRAY.COM Contributor BOOKS >
Purchase these books through Powells.com and a portion of the proceeds benefit INTHEFRAY.COM:
Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spiritualityby Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, Sabine Lang URL: http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=7-0252066456-0
Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America by Will Roscoe URL: http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=62-0312224796-0
Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology Edited by Will Roscoe URL: http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=17-031203475x-0
Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture by Walter Williams URL: http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=7-0807046159-1 ORGANIZATIONS >
Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits URL: http://www.baaits.org The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center URL:http://www.gaycenter.org Northwest Two-Spirit Society URL:http://www.nwtwospiritsociety.org/index.html