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
June 01, 2007
Psychologists to revisit gay topics, Task force will weigh ex-gay conversion therapy
by Joshua Lynsen
Ten years after it issued a landmark statement on gay patient therapy, the American Psychological Association will revisit the topic. The organization announced last week it had formed a task force to review current scientific research and stances on “conversion therapy,” or treatment that purports to make gays straight. Dr. Clinton Anderson, director of the APA’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns office, said the topic remains a contentious one.
“The issue continues to be one of considerable controversy and there’s a lot of public and media attention to it,” he said. “For those reasons, we decided it would make sense to take a look at that new literature and new policies and see if the APA should revise its own policy.” When the APA last considered the issue in 1997, it said that gay youth and adults should not be labeled mentally ill solely “due to their sexual orientation.” It also said that psychologists should use “accurate information” and “appropriate interventions” when treating gay patients. Psychologists and gay rights activists welcomed the APA’s decision to revisit the issue.
“I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the right-wing, ex-gay therapies to professionalize what they’re doing, or get out of the business,” said Wayne Besen, gay rights activist and founder of Truth Wins Out, an anti-ex-gay organization. The task force’s report, due sometime in 2008 or beyond, could offer definitive advice on gay patient therapy when released. “This is the APA,” said Jim Kennedy, a social psychologist and APA member who lives in Rockville, Md. “When they make a statement, everybody listens to it. Everybody will be aware.”
Youth, adult topics split
Anderson, who is gay, said task force members would study separately the effects of conversion therapy on youth and adults. He said the task force’s review of youth topics would focus on two key issues. “One of the crucial issues is going to be around treating children or adolescents at the request of their parents when the child or the adolescent, him or herself, might not want the treatment,” he said. “I think that’s one issue that was sort of raised by the case of that young man in Tennessee.”
In 2005, Zach Stark attracted national media attention when the gay 16-year-old blogged his fears of being sent to Love in Action, a Tennessee facility that worked to change his sexual orientation. Stark eventually was released from the facility. “The other issue is, I think, the overlap of the concerns about gender presentation and expression in childhood and sexual orientation development,” Anderson said. “There has been some research that has indicated that for some people, a gender incongruity in behavior in childhood is a good predictor of their being gay or lesbian in adulthood.”
He said mental health professionals disagree how to best treat such children. “There are people in the field who say that children should be supported in their sense of themselves,” Anderson said, “and there are other people who say it’s appropriate to try to reduce the gender, you know, the transgender tendencies of children.”
Kennedy, who is straight but advocates on gay issues, said the APA must resolve this and similar disputes. “There’s a place here for an authoritative decision to be made,” he said, “an authoritative statement that will give parents and some pediatricians some guidance about what the appropriate approach here is.” In its review of adult topics, Anderson said the task force would consider religious influences. “It seems to me the main issues or concerns for adults are around religious commitments or beliefs on the part of adults that are motivating their wish to change their sexual orientation,” he said. “That seems to me to be where most of the issues are bound up.”
Kennedy said the task force must handle such a sensitive topic with caution and care. “I sympathize with a guy who is a member of a religion that doesn’t approve of his sexual orientation and needs to resolve that,” he said. “That is a real dilemma.”
Policy could stand, change
Anderson said the task force, which will make a preliminary and confidential report to the APA board in December, is not bound to recommend any policy changes. He said the task force’s six members could let stand the existing APA policy — or they could completely rewrite it. “That is certainly part of their mandate, to propose whatever they think is appropriate,” Anderson said, “and that could be a completely new statement.”
But Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, said that discretion wrongly empowers a task force that appears biased against ex-gays. She noted that all task force members were reviewed by the APA’s committee on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns, and some are openly gay. “If it’s fair and balanced, I just don’t see it,” Griggs said. “I’m looking at it as a layperson and I’m just confused. It’s not an evenly balanced committee at all.”
Kennedy, however, said it’s doubtful the task force will ask the APA to “come out with a statement that everybody should embrace their gay identity.” He said the task force is likelier to “move inclusiveness forward one small step” and take a stronger stand against conversion therapy. “So if someone goes to psychotherapy, I would hope the therapist would take the approach of making them more comfortable with who they are, because from everything that I can learn about this, it looks like your sexual orientation is not going to change,” Kennedy said. “You know, you can deny it, you can pretend, but it’s not really going to change. And it seems to me wrong — how do I say this — to forbid some people from having love in their lives.”
June 01, 2007
CDC turns to web to rally gay men against HIV, Atlanta agencies focus on group outreach
by Ryan Lee
Leaders at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention are adopting an increasingly forceful tone when discussing rising HIV rates among gay and bisexual men — demanding that gay men take ownership of their effort to remain HIV-negative, while forcing the rest of society to recognize how homophobia and other factors facilitate risky behavior among gay men. “The current rates of HIV infection among all [gay and bisexual men] are unacceptable,” Robert Janssen, director of the CDC’s division of HIV/AIDS prevention, said during a CDC webcast on May 17. “The HIV infection rates among African-American and Hispanic [gay and bisexual men] are especially alarming, and even more needs to be done to meet the needs of these disproportionately impacted communities.”
The two-hour CDC webcast — entitled “Preventing HIV/AIDS among Men Who Have Sex with Men: Challenges & Innovations” — offered a bleak assessment of the progression of HIV through gay America, noting that unsafe sex is on the rise among gay and bisexual men, as are HIV infection rates after more than a decade of decline. “From the earliest days of AIDS in the United States, [gay and bisexual men] have been at the center of the epidemic — they have been the risk group that has been most affected, by far, and they were the first to respond in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Janssen said. “Social and economic factors including racism, homophobia, poverty, lack of access to health care — they’re all significant barriers to receiving HIV prevention services, particularly for [gay and bisexual men] of minority races and ethnicities,” he said.
More than 300,000 gay and bisexual men in the U.S. have died of AIDS, which represents half of all of this country’s AIDS deaths, according to the CDC. In 2005, gay and bisexual men made up 53 percent of all new HIV cases in the U.S. and represented 72 percent of all HIV cases among men. In the early ’90s, one-third of gay and bisexual men reported engaging in unprotected anal intercourse, but now half of all gay men admit having anal sex without condoms. “These data do not mean that [gay and bisexual men] are no longer concerned about HIV,” Janssen said. “The majority of men continue to take action to protect themselves and their partners from HIV, but the strategies that some men are using have changed.”
Numb to the bi-polar debate about safe sex in America — either abstain forever or never have sex without a condom — many gay men are hoping more nuanced approaches to sex keep them safe. From “strategic positioning” (where HIV-negative men assume the insertive role during anal intercourse) to “serosorting” (sleeping only with men who have the same HIV status), gay men are taking calculated risks in an attempt to remain safe without condoms.
The CDC has adjusted its safe sex techniques as well — evolving from the wholesale distribution of condoms that defined the early years of HIV prevention, to efforts like the current “Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions.” Like all DEBIs, the CDC says the five programs that target gay and bisexual men are “scientifically proven” to reduce HIV-infection rates, usually by concentrating on smaller groups of men who are then charged to disperse information to their friends and sex partners and help create a broader safer sex culture among gay men.
The Atlanta-based National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities implements the DEBI known as Many Men, Many Voices, which “gives CDC a measuring tool” to ensure prevention dollars are having an impact, said Patrick Kelly, NAESM community relations manager. About 250 gay men per year participate in the “Prominent, Outgoing Opinion Leader” DEBI at AID-Atlanta, said Jay Dempsey, gay outreach program coordinator for the agency. Leaders participate in an hour-long workshop on the history of HIV, how it is spread and how they can share that information with their friends. “It’s so that when you’re at a bar or party and [HIV/AIDS] comes up in conversation, you’re prepared to disseminate the current and correct information,” Dempsey said. “One of the challenges we’re having is that maybe gay men aren’t prone to talk about that anymore since we’re not in crisis mode.”
June 3, 2007
Gay Inmates to Be Granted Conjugal Visits in California
by Jesse McKinley
San Francisco – Gay and lesbian prisoners in California will be allowed overnight visits with their partners under a new prison policy, believed to be the first time a state has allowed same-sex conjugal stays. The policy comes more than two years after a 2003 California law provided equal rights for registered domestic partners in California, including those of the same sex and non-married heterosexuals. Gay and civil rights groups had threatened to sue to permit the conjugal visits in prisons, which they say have been slow to enact changes promised by the law.
“It’s a little troubling that a state agency had to be threatened with legal action to obey state law,” said Geoff Kors, the executive director of Equality California, a gay rights organization. “There was no justifiable excuse for not complying.” Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the slow pace of change was due, in part, to considerations of whether allowing the visits would expose gay inmates to danger inside the prison, where they are sometimes singled out for attack. “We had to thoroughly evaluate all the security concerns,” Ms. Thornton said.
The policy change was spurred by a letter warning of legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Vernon Foeller, 40, a gay man who had been serving a 20-month sentence for attempted burglary at the state prison in Vacaville, Calif. Alex Cleghorn, an AC.L.U. lawyer, said that Mr. Foeller was eligible for a conjugal visit except that the prison system “didn’t recognize his partner as a family member. They have pages and pages of regulations that must be met to permit these visits,” Mr. Cleghorn said, “and Vernon met all of these requirements.”
Mr. Foeller was released in April.
Overnight visits, which can be up to 72 hours long, have been allowed in California since the 1970s, Ms. Thornton said, and are conducted in units inside prison grounds, often trailers. While suggestive of sexual activity, the visits sometimes include several family members, including children. “It’s not exclusive to conjugal activities,” Ms. Thornton said.
Gay and lesbian inmates were not allowed visits from their partners because only spouses were recognized as “immediate family.” Several categories of inmate are not allowed the visits, including those on death row, sex offenders, those serving sentences of life without parole, and those who have been violent with minors or family members. Prisoners also must have been on good behavior, with no violations. The new policy will allow only those currently registered as domestic partners to ask for the visits, and affirms that no prisoners will be allowed overnight visits with other prisoners, regardless of status.
Only a handful of states — including New York — allow conjugal visits, which some prison officials say can help reduce the stress of prison life and maintain prisoners’ connections to their families. Critics, however, have cited a variety of reasons to oppose the visits, including the potential for spreading sexually transmitted diseases and the additional cost of maintaining separate conjugal prison quarters. Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, called the policy change a “great leap forward” but said gay and lesbian inmates were often still the target of discrimination and violence. “There are certain social arenas that have been insulated from social changes going on in broader society, and jails and prisons is one of those areas,” Mr. Minter said.
California has a ban on same-sex marriage, although that law has been the subject of legal battles. The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the law’s constitutionality as part of a suit brought by the City of San Francisco and a group of gay and lesbian couples. The policy change must be approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law before taking effect, most likely later this year.
June 14, 2007
Gay Marriage to Remain Legal in Mass.
by Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer
Massachusetts lawmakers threw out a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would have let voters decide whether to ban gay marriage in the only state that allows it. The vote _ which came amid heavy pressure to kill the measure from Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders _ was a devastating blow to efforts to reverse a historic 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
"Today’s vote is not just a victory for marriage equality. It was a victory for equality itself," said Patrick, who had lobbied lawmakers up until the final hours to kill the measure. As the tally was announced, the halls of the Statehouse erupted in applause. The ban needed 50 votes in consecutive sessions of the 200-seat Legislature to secure a place on the 2008 statewide ballot. At the end of the last session in January it passed with 62 votes, but this time it garnered just 45.
"We’re proud of our state today, and we applaud the Legislature for showing that Massachusetts is strongly behind fairness," said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. More than 8,500 gay couples have married there since it became legal in May 2004. With Thursday’s vote, the soonest opponents could get an amendment to voters is 2010. That would happen only with a successful new petition drive and the backing of 50 lawmakers in two consecutive sittings of the 200-seat Legislature _ including the one that just rejected the ballot measure.
With political support for gay marriage growing stronger, such a scenario appeared increasingly unlikely, but opponents of gay marriage vowed to press on. Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute that backed the amendment, questioned the legality of what he said was rampant horse trading in the final hours, saying there was "tremendous pressure and we believe some tremendous incentives" to flip votes. Nine legislators who had voted for advancing the amendment in January changed their votes Thursday, but Patrick said he made no deals, other than to agree to appear at fundraisers for lawmakers who opposed the amendment. Among those who switched was Rep. Richard Ross, a Wrentham Republican who said there was no trading for his vote.
Ross said he no longer believes that people should vote on the matter, and feared that "hatred and vitriol" would dominate the ballot question campaign. "Nine thousand of them have now married, who have blended into society, who have hurt no one," Ross said. "I just couldn’t see exposing them to all of that stuff over the next two years. I know there’s going to be a lot of folks that I need to apologize to in my district," he said. "Whatever happens I’m moving forward. I know I did the right thing."
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, now running for president, called the vote "a regrettable setback" and said it makes it more important now to pass a national amendment banning gay marriage. "Marriage is an institution that goes to the heart of our society, and our leaders can no longer abdicate their responsibility," he said.
Raymond Flynn, the former Boston mayor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican who was the lead sponsor of the proposed amendment, said the 170,000 Massachusetts residents who signed the petition for the ban "had their vote stolen from them." The state attorney general’s office said the earliest possible date a new petition amendment could make it to a statewide vote would be 2010. The secretary of state’s office said it would be 2012, according to its reading of the law. The legal fight over gay marriage began in 2001 when seven same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses sued in Suffolk Superior Court.
The case reached the state’s highest court, which ruled in 2003 that it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. It gave the Legislature 180 days to come up with a solution to allow gays to wed. President Bush criticized the decision, but the court was adamant that only full, equal marriage rights would be constitutional. Outside the Statehouse on Thursday, hundreds of people rallied on both sides of the issue.
"We believe it’s unconstitutional not to allow people to vote on this," said Rebekah Beliveau, a 24-year-old Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary student who stood with fellow college-age amendment supporters across the street from the Statehouse. We’re standing up not necessarily on the issue of same-sex marriage, but our right to vote," she said. Advocates said they had gathered 170,000 signatures supporting the amendment; the secretary of state’s office accepted 123,000 as valid. Across the road, gay marriage advocates stood on the front steps of the capital waving signs that read, "Wrong to Vote on Rights" and "All Families Are Equal."
Jean Chandler, 62, of Cambridge, came with fellow members of her Baptist church in an effort to rebuff the image that strict followers of the Bible are opposed to gay marriage. "I think being gay is like being left-handed," Chandler said. "If we decided left-handed people couldn’t marry, what kind of society would we be?" On Thursday, in contrast to previous joint sessions, there was no debate. Senate President Therese Murray opened the constitutional convention by calling for a vote, and the session was gaveled to a close immediately afterward.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat from Boston, worked on lawmakers to get them to oppose the measure, arguing that the rights of a minority group should not be put to a popular vote. Mineau, the Massachusetts Family Institute, said his group was vastly outspent by gay marriage supporters. "It certainly does appear that money speaks in this building," he said. Mineau pledged to continue fighting but wouldn’t commit to presenting another proposed amendment. "I don’t believe it’s dead because the people have not had the opportunity to have their vote," he said. "This will not go away until the citizens have their opportunity to decide what the definition of marriage is."
Associated Press writers Glen Johnson and Ken Maguire contributed to this report.
June 17, 2007
Massachusetts Victory Shared by Gay Rhode Islanders
For gay couples in Rhode Island, last week’s decision by Massachusetts lawmakers to block a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage felt almost as much like a victory as it did for couples in Massachusetts. While Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex couples to wed, Rhode Island is the only state to let gay couples cross the board to legally wed in Massachusetts. The vote, which keeps same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts for years to come, also keeps the marriage door open for gay couples from Rhode Island. The decision didn’t go unnoticed at Saturday’s Rhode Island Pride festival and parade, held just days after the 45-151 vote against the amendment. The vote added some weight to the three-decade-old festival.
"It was all fun and beer and drag queens (in the past)," Jessie Rauch-Dickson told the Providence Journal. "It’s also about civil rights." Five years ago, Rauch-Dickson and her then-girlfriend of seven year traveled to Vermont for a civil union license. But when the couple learned last year of a ruling that allowed Rhode Islanders to go to Massachusetts to get legally married, the two jumped at the chance, according to Jessie’s now wife, Tiffany Rauch-Dickson. Other couples, like Robert Waters and Andrew Snyder, who went to Vancouver, Canada, to marry last year, still see stumbling blocks to Rhode Island allowing same-sex couples to marry without leaving their native state. Gov. Carcieri opposed a measure last month to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
"The amount of burden that we have to go through to prove our marriage is truly unjust," Waters said. The defeat of the question in Massachusetts — after more than three years of sometimes wrenching debate — makes the successful mounting of a future challenge even more unlikely. Any effort to mount a new ballot question would take years at a time when political support in Massachusetts is swinging behind gay marriage and public attention has moved onto other issues, including the state’s landmark health care law and the possibility of casino gambling.
Despite the hurdles, supporters of the referendum vowed to press on. For gay couples in Massachusetts, the vote marked what could be the end of a struggle that began in 2001, when seven same-sex couples, denied marriage licenses, sued in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston to challenge the state’s gay marriage ban. More than 8,500 same sex couples have married in Massachusetts since the marriages became legal in May 2004.
June 18, 2007
New ground in debate on ‘curing’ gays
Christian ministries who see homosexuality as a treatable disorder are starting to think that choice may not be a factor.
by Stephanie Simon,Times Staff Writer
Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group’s Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won’t celebrate successful "ex-gays." Truth is, he’s not sure he’s ever met one. With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he’s a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he’s come to resent the term "ex-gay": It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said.
His personal denunciation of the term "ex-gay" — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality. Despite the fundamental gulf that divides them, gay-rights activists and those who see homosexuality as a sinful disorder are starting to reach agreement on some practical points. Chambers and other Exodus leaders talk deliberately about a possible biological basis for homosexuality, in part to explain that no one can turn a switch and flip from gay to straight, no matter how hard they pray. A leading conservative theologian outside the ex-gay movement recently echoed the view that homosexuality may not be a choice, but a matter of DNA. To the shock and anger of many of his constituents, the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that "we should not be surprised" to find a genetic basis for sexual orientation.
That’s heretical to many conservative Christians. But it’s a view increasingly embraced by the public at large; a Gallup Poll last month found that 42% of adults believe sexual orientation is present at birth. (Three decades ago, when Gallup first asked the question, just 13% held that view.) Mohler’s willingness to discuss the issue was welcomed by Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who advocates for gay rights and has been a vocal critic of the ex-gay movement. "I saw it as a sign of openness," Drescher said. "Something’s happening. And I think it’s very positive," agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.
Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month. But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges. He and other gay activists — along with major mental-health associations — still reject therapy aimed at "liberating" or "curing" gays. But Bussee is willing to acknowledge potential in therapy that does not promise change but instead offers patients help in managing their desires and modifying their behavior to match their religious values — even if that means a life of celibacy.
"It’s about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach. The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.
"What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization" common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist. "For many years, mental-health professionals have taken the view that since homosexuality is not a mental disorder, any attempt to change sexual orientation is unwise," said Spitzer, a Columbia University professor. Some therapies are widely considered dangerous, and some rely on discredited psychological theories. "But for healthcare professionals to tell someone they don’t have the right to make an effort to bring their actions into harmony with their values is hubris," Spitzer said.
Activists on both sides caution that the rapprochement only goes so far. Critics of Exodus note the group still sponsors speakers who attribute homosexuality to bad parenting and assert that gays and lesbians live short, unhappy lives. And though Chambers has disavowed the term "ex-gay," his group’s ads give the distinct impression that it’s possible to leave homosexuality completely behind. The Irvine conference, for instance, is being promoted with radio spots that talk of "sudden, radical and complete" transformation. (Chambers apologized for those ads in a recent interview, saying they were meant to urge church leaders to radically change the way they treat gays and lesbians, not to imply that conference-goers would magically transform their orientation.)
The American Psychological Assn. set up a task force this spring to revise the group’s policy on sexual orientation therapy. The current policy is a decade old and fairly vague; it states that homosexuality is not a disorder and that therapists can’t make false claims about their treatments. The new policy, due early next year, must help psychologists uphold two ethical principles as they work with patients unhappy about their sexuality: "Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the patient, and a duty to do no harm," said Clinton Anderson, the association’s director for lesbian, gay and bisexual concerns. "It’s a balancing act."
Out and proud parents
Intro: The Economist, always one of the most gay friendly mainstream publications, has devoted its Lexington column (which analyses one current issue in the USA in depth), to how gay tolerance is spreading – not least because gays and lesbians are spreading too, outside the old gay ghettos. In doing so they are creating a normalisation around the issue of homosexuality from which there its unlikely there will be any going back. Its very good news, and from a longer perspective, a sign of how remarkably fast the gay rights movement has moved. This is not something to be complacent about, but it is something to count in our favour and a sign for hope in countries like India where we are just starting off.
Lexington column: Out and proud parents
As tolerance spreads, gay life is becoming more suburban, contented and even dull
A Few years ago, a Gay Pride parade passed The Simpsons’ house in Springfield. “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” chanted the marchers. Little Lisa Simpson replied: “You do this every year. We are used to it.” As usual, the cartoon was a few steps ahead of real life. But only a few. The New York Observer recently published an article about gays who think Gay Pride marches are pointless, since the big battles for gay rights have already been won. (The title: “Goodbye, Mr Chaps”.) One non-marcher remarked: “I live in New York, and it’s sort of like every day is Gay Pride Parade. I don’t need this special day where I’m out of the closet.”
Perhaps it is no surprise that gays find a hip city like New York hospitable. But two sets of data suggest that America as a whole is becoming steadily more tolerant. First, opinion polls show that homophobia has receded almost as far as Homer Simpson’s hairline. As recently as 1982, only 34% of Americans thought homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Now, 57% do. Since young Americans are far more relaxed about homosexuality than their elders—three- quarters of 18-34-year-olds think it is OK to be gay, whereas half of those over 55 think it is not—this trend is likely to continue. This year was also the first since Gallup started asking the question that a majority of Americans have not said that homosexual relations are morally wrong. And a hefty 89% think that gays should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. If that strikes you as no big deal, recall that a total ban on gays working for the federal government was repealed only in 1975.
Second, and more subtly, one can look at demography. Gary Gates, a Californian academic, has been mining census data to determine where gays live in America. He observes several trends. First, the number of openly gay households is growing five times faster than the population as a whole. The last full census, in 2000, counted nearly 600,000 same-sex couples. Five years later, the American Community Survey (in which the Census Bureau quizzes a statistically representative sample of 1.4m households) estimated that that number had increased by 30%, to 777,000. Mr Gates reckons the bulk of the increase is because as tolerance spreads, more gay couples are willing to be counted.
The increase was most pronounced in the Midwest, with Wisconsin showing an 81% jump in the number of same-sex couples and Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Indiana also among the ten fastest-growing states in this respect. What this means, perhaps, is that gay America is becoming more like Middle America. “Much of the stereotype around gays is a stereotype of urban white gay men,” says Mr
Gates. “The gay community is becoming less like that, and more like the population in general.” Gay couples are still more likely than straight ones to live in cities, but the gap is smaller than popularly believed, and closing. In 1990, 92% of gay couples but only 77% of American households were in what the Census Bureau calls “urban clusters”. By 2000, the gay figure had fallen to 84% while the proportion for households in general had risen to 80%, a striking convergence.
San Francisco is great if you are young, single and looking for a party. But if you want to settle down with a partner, the suburbs and the heartland beckon. Gays who have children—and a quarter of gay couples do—gravitate towards them for the same reasons that straight parents do: better schools, bigger gardens, peace and quiet. Mark Strasser, for example, lives with his male partner and their two children in Columbus, Ohio. He says they encounter no hostility eating out as a gay couple or picking up the children from their private school. He has to rack his memory for the last time anyone called him anything nasty for being gay. “That would have been in the late 1980s, I think,” he says. His employer, a private university, offers the same health insurance to employees’ gay partners as to spouses (as did most Fortune 500 companies, for the first time, last year).
Mr Strasser has worries, of course. Ohio is one of 26 states with a recent constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. Mr Strasser wonders whether a public school would recognise that his children have two fathers, or if a hospital would allow both of them to visit if one of their children fell ill. This is a serious matter. Only Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, although six other states have allowed civil unions that are marriages in all but name, and a law allowing full marriage rights passed through the lower house of New York’s state legislature on June 19th.
Most Americans are still uncomfortable about letting gays tie the knot, but support for the idea has risen from 27% in 1996 to 46% this year.
Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution argues that the campaign for same-sex marriage was spurred in part by AIDS. For gay Americans, the epidemic put a damper on exuberant promiscuity and highlighted the benefits of loving partnership. Although the last state anti-sodomy laws were struck down only in 2003, sexual liberation is now taken for granted, argues Paul Varnell, a writer. “Far from being radicals of any sort, most of us are just plain ol’ bourgeois,” writes Mr Varnell. “How much more bourgeois can you be than wanting to marry the person you love and wanting to serve in the military?”
The kind of gay activists who think you can’t be authentically gay unless you are permanently in opposition to the mainstream find the prospect of gay assimilation appalling. So does the religious right. A black preacher named Wellington Boone, for example, has circulated a pamphlet entitled “The Rape of the Civil Rights Movement: How Sodomites Are Using Civil Rights Rhetoric to Advance Their Preference for Sexual Perversion”. But he is howling at the incoming tide.
July 05, 2007
Gay Family Values
by Tim Padgett
Hollie Seeley and Christy Allen have been together for seven years, own a home in Denver and are raising two kids. So they were disappointed last fall when Colorado voters joined the bandwagon of states that ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. But the couple won a measure of vindication this spring when Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill making Colorado the 10th state to allow gay and lesbian partners to adopt children as couples instead of restricting parental rights to one partner. Now Seeley can legally adopt Allen’s biological daughter Amelia, 2, and Allen can adopt Seeley’s adopted son Foster, 1, and this ability to become more like other families delights the couple. "Being able to give our children that kind of legal, two-parent security," says Seeley, 36, a medevac nurse, "means more than being able to marry."
It also means a lot to the bill’s opponents, who fear that legalizing gay partners’ parenthood is tantamount to legitimizing their couplehood. Both sides recognize the paradox: some of the same states that have rejected gay marriage are endorsing gay adoption. After winning constitutional amendments in 11 states to ban gay marriage in 2004, conservatives put gay adoption in their crosshairs last year–and misfired in every state they targeted. Since then, they have continued to suffer legislative defeats in states like Arkansas, which banned gay marriage in 2004 but earlier this year saw a bill to prohibit gay adoption die in committee. Only Florida denies gays and lesbians the right to adopt under any circumstances.
But the gay adoption boom may be less about support for gay rights than it is about the urgency of finding homes for abandoned children. There are as many as 120,000 in the U.S. waiting to be adopted. After Congress ordered states in 1997 to move faster to find more families willing to take in these kids, "child-welfare organizations banded together to get legislatures to allow any qualified parent to adopt, irrespective of sexual orientation," says Rob Woronoff, gay and lesbian program director at the Child Welfare League of America in Washington. The movement got a boost in 2002 when the American Academy of Pediatrics said the "health, adjustment and development" of kids adopted by gay parents were no worse than those of kids placed with heterosexuals. By 2006, a Pew Center poll found, support of gay adoption had risen from 38% in 1999 to 46% and opposition had fallen from 57% to 48%.
While adopted children in gay and lesbian homes were scarce a couple of decades ago, they now number 65,000, or more than 4% of adopted children in the U.S., according to a new study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Washington’s Urban Institute. Almost 2% of the nation’s 3 million same-sex households include adopted children–and that growing pool, the UCLA study estimates, currently saves U.S. taxpayers as much as $130 million a year in costs for, say, keeping children in foster or institutional care and recruiting adoptive parents for them.
Gay advocates say they feel such data help account for another Pew poll finding: opposition to gay marriage dropped from 65% in 1996 to 51% last year. The trend is heartening to gay activists who believe that as acts like Colorado’s give gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to showcase their worth as partner-parents, the laws will help erode resistance to same-sex matrimony. "We now have a better chance to prove people’s fears wrong," says Allen, 39, a painter. Ellen Kahn, family project director at Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest gay civil rights organizations, agrees. "It definitely makes it easier to make the argument that gay marriage would bolster family life," she says.
Still, most acknowledge that a big reason Colorado’s law passed "was that it wasn’t [designed as] a gay-adoption bill. It was a second-parent adoption bill" that also allows unmarried heterosexuals to adopt jointly, says Colorado adoption attorney Seth Grob. "It was presented predominantly as child-friendly, not gay-friendly," and therefore ran less risk of alienating potential supporters than gay marriage does.
That approach has frustrated opponents like the Roman Catholic Church–some U.S. dioceses have stopped adoption services altogether rather than comply with state funding rules that require them to allow gay adoption–and the conservative, Colorado-based group Focus on the Family. Bill Maier, Focus’ vice president and chief psychologist, insists the practice "hurts children because it intentionally creates motherless or fatherless families," and he accuses child-welfare agencies of "a real biased push to normalize same-sex parenting." He adds, "I don’t see any shortage of heterosexual parents willing to adopt." Although they say it’s not linked to the anti- gay-adoption effort, Focus and other conservative Christian groups have begun their own adoption drives. Amen, say adoption experts. "We need more qualified parents, period," says Woronoff. On that point, at least, everyone seems to agree.
08 July 2007
Gay Sports Magazine Launched
First-of-its-kind publication to focus on the Local & Global Gay Athletic Scene
Tempe, Arizona – July 4th, 2007 – Media Out Loud, LLC owners Eric Carlyle and David Riach launched the new, first-of-its-kind Gay Sports Magazine — Sports Our Loud on June 9th. The first issue features amateur athletes from Dallas in a swim suit layout. The studio shoot was conducted by celebrated photographer Sean Northcutt. "Sports Out Loud is Men’s Health meets Sports Illustrated with just a hint of The Advocate thrown in," says Carlyle. "We hope to serve a healthy dose of sports and fun for both the gay spectator and gay athlete."
The need is there. In the past year, a growing number of gay sporting events received national and international exposure. New York City hosted gay rugby’s premier tournament, The Bingham Cup. And in the summer, thousands of gay athletes from around the world descended upon Chicago and Montreal for the Gay Games and the World Outgames. What was missing from these monumental events? NO coverage by a leading gay sports magazine. Arizona-based Media Out Loud, LLC hopes to fill that void with its new entry into the gay publishing world, Sports Out Loud®.
Leading the editorial team is Echo Magazine’s (Arizona’s most widely read GLBT magazine) former assistant editor Ted Rybka. Rybka was also the former associate editor for a nationally-ranked top ten radio show whose work appeared nationwide in the Gannett Newspapers and on USA Today’s Web site. Rybka brings a master’s degree in mass media to his job and years of experience covering gay culture. But he is also an avid sportsman and athlete.
"To put it simply, I love journalism and I love sports. I feel very fortunate to be able to combine those two worlds," said Rybka. Rounding out the magazine’s creative team is Art Director, Phill Barber. Barber, a nationally recognized graphic artist brings his skills to his newest media—publishing.
For more information contact Eric Carlyle, CEO. Call 480-688-2080 or email email@example.com.
July 16, 2007
Line in sand for same-sex couples – Unlike a heterosexual spouse, a gay U.S. citizen cannot sponsor his or her noncitizen partner for a green card.
by Teresa Watanabe, Times Staff Writer
The American and Australian met in London. They fell madly in love. They got together, got a dog, got a house near Venice Beach. But there is no happy ending in sight for Tim Miller and Alistair McCartney. That’s because the couple is gay, and U.S. immigration law does not allow the Whittier-born Miller to sponsor McCartney for a green card as heterosexuals cando for their husbands and wives. Federal law reserves immigration benefits for those with "valid marriages" to U.S. citizens, defining them as unions between a man and woman. It supersedes state laws that recognize civil unions or, in the case of Massachusetts, same-sex marriages. Miller, a performance artist, and McCartney, a writer, are reluctantly contemplating moving to Britain as the clock runs out on the Australian’s teaching visa at Antioch University. Miller would be forced to leave behind his family and friends, a thriving career and two art centers he began that, he said, has employed hundreds of people and generated millions of dollars in revenue.
"U.S. laws are creating pointless heartache for thousands of American citizens," Miller said. The immigration difficulties faced by same-sex binational couples are explored in a documentary, "Through Thick and Thin," which is scheduled to premiere tonight at Outfest, the annual gay and lesbian film festival in Los Angeles. It marks the gay community’s latest effort to bring attention to the little-known issue, following a seven-year campaign for federal legislation that would bring the United States in line with at least 16 other countries and extend immigration benefits to same-sex binational couples. New York filmmaker Sebastian Cordoba, an Argentina native, said he made the film as a "tribute to the couples who fought [the system] and stayed together." His own relationship with an American broke up in part, he said, because of constant stress over the uncertainty of his visa issues.
But their cause faces widespread opposition.
"It’s one more area of trying to get privileges and benefits for relationships other than marriage," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "And marriage ought to be reserved for a man and a woman." About 36,000 same-sex binational couples were recorded in the 2000 census, although researchers believe that figure could be undercounted by anywhere from 10% to 50%, according to an 2004 Urban Institute analysis conducted for Immigration Equality, a New York-based advocacy group for gays and lesbians. The analysis by Gary J. Gates, now at UCLA’s Williams Institute, showed that nearly one-third of the couples live in California, and that Mexico was the home country for the largest number of foreign partners, followed by Canada. Same-sex binational couples say the legal restrictions cause them financial and emotional devastation. Some couples endure long-distance relationships, spending thousands of dollars on flights, phone calls and legal advice on how to obtain visas to reunite.
The problems don’t end for those lucky enough to obtain a visa, however. Visas expire, and then what? Some foreign partners go underground and live in the United States illegally. Those who refuse to do so face a wrenching choice: Break up or leave the country. Aaron Ashcraft, a 67-year-old retired auto executive, chose to leave Laguna Hills last November to live with his partner, Tomas Milian Peiro, 32, in Barcelona, Spain. Ashcraft came out eight years ago after his wife of 32 years died. He began a relationship with Milian Peiro, then a computer science student at Cal State Fullerton. Ashcraft said he was livid when he learned that he could not sponsor his partner for a green card. Milian Peiro is a talented software engineer who could contribute to the nation, he said, and he himself had more than enough financial resources, including homes in Laguna Hills and Colorado, to ensure that his companion would never become a public charge.
Milian Peiro refused to stay in the United States illegally, Ashcraft said, and returned to Barcelona in 2004 without him. Heartbroken and miserable, Ashcraft said he decided to sell his homes, leave his family and friends, give up his charitable church and civic activities, and join him. The experience has embittered him. The lifelong Republican said he would not vote for his party’s candidates again since the leadership had failed to support gay immigration rights. Ashcraft also said he had soured on American idealism, saying that patriotic songs now "turn my stomach." "When I hear the words about liberty and justice for all, I just say that’s a complete fraud," he said. "They’ve singled us out and said we don’t get the same rights as everyone else."
Rita Boyadjian, a Los Angeles entertainment marketing executive, is also facing hard choices. Her partner, who is seven months pregnant and asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals by immigration officials, is studying to be a chef in Santa Monica. But her student visa expires next year; unless she can get a work visa after that, the pair will have to move. Boyadjian said she researched, at considerable expense, different legal ways for her partner to stay in the United States. None panned out. An investor visa requires her partner to put up her own money, not Boyadjian’s. An H1-B work visa is difficult to obtain. Boyadjian’s partner has turned down offers by men to fake a marriage because they don’t want to skirt the law. The pair has reluctantly decided to relocate to Canada, if necessary, with Boyadjian commuting weekly between there and Los Angeles. But Boyadjian said she resented the specter of having to spend so much time away from her family, possibly missing her baby’s first steps and words. It will be costly, too, to pay for weekly flights and maintain two households and offices, she said.
"I’m angry that I’m a U.S. citizen, born in L.A., and I may have to leave my own country as a refugee," Boyadjian said, adding that her parents emigrated from Egypt in 1969 to escape persecution as Armenian Christians. "The whole thing has been a nightmare, quite honestly." The couples themselves aren’t the only ones who suffer. Families and friends do too. Some same-sex couples, forced to leave their home countries to stay together, must abandon aging parents, or siblings and friends in need. Cordoba’s film, for instance, chronicles the life of one man agonized at the thought of leaving a disabled sister, whom he regularly visits. "It’s not pleasant feeling your children have been exiled," said Anne Throckmorton, a San Diego real estate broker whose son, John, had to move first to France and then to the United Kingdom to stay with his partner.
Throckmorton described herself as a born-again Christian who doesn’t understand why secular laws on immigration should have anything to do with religious beliefs about homosexuality. "Our sons and daughters are having their rights taken away from them, and I don’t quite know what that’s based on," she said. "This country believes in separation of church and state." The battle over immigration rights for gays and lesbians has been fought in Congress and the courts for more than four decades. U.S. immigration law banned the entry of gays and lesbians in 1952, amid the Red Scare that linked homosexuals with Communists as subversive, according to a report on the same-sex immigration issue last year by Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality.
The ban was repealed in 1990. But HIV-positive gays and lesbians are still barred from entry.
To turn the political tide, gay and lesbian activists and their friends have turned to lobbying, networking and greater public outreach on the issue. The biggest push is in support of federal legislation by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to allow Americans in a same-sex relationship to sponsor their "permanent partners" for legal residency in the United States. The Uniting American Families Act, which was first introduced in 2000, would require that applicants be adults in "committed, intimate relationships" who intend a lifelong commitment to one another. According to Nadler’s office, at least 16 other countries grant immigration benefits to same-sex couples, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
In California, the San Francisco-based Out4Immigration advocacy group has focused on local advocacy. In 2004, the California Assembly and Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution supporting immigration benefits for same-sex binational couples. The group also has joined broader immigrant-rights marches and held workshops on how to apply for different visas, said Doug Haxall, a board member. The cause has yet to catch fire — the federal bill, for instance, has not managed to gain one committee hearing so far.
But activists say they will not give up.
"It’s outrageous that U.S. citizens are forced to choose between their country and partner," said Chris Haiss, another Out4Immigration board member. "What’s so threatening with people wanting to live here with their partners?"
23rd July 2007
Out US general to speak against gay ban
by GayLinkContent.com Writer
Army Brigadier General Keith H. Kerr, Army Colonel Stewart Bornhoft, Navy Captain Joan E. Darrah (all retired) and five other former military officers will speak out against the US military’s anti-gay ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy at a programme benefiting the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network (SLDN) in Chicago next month. General Kerr was one of three senior military officers – two generals and an admiral – to "come out" in the New York Times in December 2003. They wanted to help boost awareness of the negative impact of the military’s anti-gay policies. Their story has helped increase pressure upon the military and Congress to abandon the decade-old policy.
The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy makes the United States Military the only employer in America which must, by law, fire someone because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. More than 11,000 service members have been discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ including dozens of Arabic linguists and hundreds of people with skills for which the military is experiencing critical shortages. The policy has cost over $360 million (£180m) in tax payer funds between 1994 and 2003. "’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ prohibits and discourages loyal Americans who want to serve their country from doing so," General Kerr said.
"Americans who are interested in serving their country should be given the opportunity to do so." General Kerr (retired) entered the military as a Private in 1953 and retired as a Brigadier General in June of 1996 after 43 years of service to his country. "In theory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ allows lesbians and gay men to serve if they keep quiet about their sex lives," said Jean Albright, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant and member of the SLDN Advisory Board. In practice it forces them to lie, undermines trust, and is an insult to those who are willing and able to serve. The policy ruins lives and careers and undermines military readiness at a time when even the most conservative know that we need all hands on deck."
Colonel Bornhoft is a former commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Captain Darrah served in the office of the Director of Naval Intelligence. All are members of the SLDN Advisory Board.
Joining Kerr, Bornhoft and Darrah at the programme will be:
Capt. Robert Dockendorff, U.S. Navy (retired) is a Vietnam veteran who was stationed on the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War.
Capt. Sandy Geiselman, U.S. Navy (retired) served as White House liaison to the Secretary of the Navy.
Col. E.A. Leonard, U.S. Army (retired) was an intelligence officer with the infantry, special forces, parachute, and foreign language training. He is a Vietnam veteran.
Chief Master Sgt. David Lee Gainer, U.S. Air Force (retired) was a combat crew member at NORAD Cheyenne Mountain and served at the Air Force Military Personnel Center.
Chief Petty Officer Vince Patton, U.S. Coast Guard (retired) served as the Eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard.
"These officers represent the best of our nation’s military," said Sgt. Albright. "They are courageous men and women whose love of freedom prompt them to speak out for fairness and equality."
Gay partners make it official
by Andrew Garber, Seattle Times Olympia bureau
Olympia – Richard Sturgill and James Malatak showed up at the Secretary of State’s Office at 4 a.m. Monday — four hours before the doors opened. They didn’t intend to be first in line to register as domestic partners under a new state law. They wanted to avoid the rush later on. "We just wanted to get in today," said Sturgill, 53, a nurse from Seattle. More than 100 gay and lesbian couples took advantage of the new law Monday that gives them some of the rights granted to married couples, including the right to visit a partner in the hospital, inherit a partner’s property without a will and make funeral arrangements.
Couples also can register by mail.
To qualify, couples must file an affidavit of domestic partnership with the Secretary of State’s Office. The state then gives them a certificate with a state seal, and plastic cards that say, "State registered domestic partnership" and lists their names. On the back it cites the chapter where the law can be viewed. No protesters were on hand Monday, but the Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor of Cedar Park Assembly of God church in Bothell and a prominent opponent of same-sex marriage, sent out a statement opposing the law. "God’s law is established in the male-female relationship," he said. "When the state acts to replace the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the Legislature, we are headed for an uncertain future, and that is putting the best face on it."
Unmarried heterosexual couples in which at least one partner is 62 or older also can register as domestic partners. Lawmakers say older heterosexuals were included because they face the possibility of losing pension rights and Social Security benefits if they remarry after a spouse dies. Outside the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday, people were in a festive mood. By the time the door opened at 8 a.m., a line of couples stretched around the corner. There were men in suits, women in wedding veils and cars festooned with signs that read: "Just registered!" One woman in a wedding dress stood through the sunroof of a car waving as it sped through downtown with its horns blaring.
"We love hanging out with other people. It’s a celebration for us," said Barbara Gibson, 77, who was there with her partner, Carol McKinley, 67, of Olympia. McKinley, echoing the sentiments expressed by many couples Monday, said that in addition to extending important rights to gays and lesbians, the new law is a symbolic victory for them as well. "It represents to the people that the state itself is recognizing the importance of these couples," she said. "I think it’s important just for social acceptance and validation of our acceptance."
Sturgill and Malatak agreed.
"This is our state," said Malatak, 65, who is retired. "I don’t want anything other people don’t have; I just want to be one of the guys."
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882
July 10, 2007
Persecuted Gays Seek Refuge in U.S. – Foreigners’ Abuse Increasingly Seen as Grounds for Asylum
by Pamela Constable , Washington Post Staff Writer
One night in 2003, on the wintry streets of Kosovo, a group of thugs stalked and beat Gramoz Prestreshi almost to death. Police in the war-scarred Balkan province laughed and called him names. The emergency room workers made him mop up his own blood. It was a sordid but hardly unusual episode in the hostile environment homosexuals encounter in societies of all kinds. Unlike many such victims, though, Prestreshi kept his wits about him. He had photographs taken of his injuries. He complained to the press and clipped every article. When his family disowned him, he joined a gay rights organization and slept in its office. This spring, his determination bore unexpected fruit, and Prestreshi was accepted as a legal refugee in the United States. He now lives in the District.
"I am happy because I don’t have to live like a prisoner anymore in a society where no one is allowed to be different," said Prestreshi, a slight, nervous man of 22, who won his asylum case with help from Whitman-Walker Clinic in the District. "But I can never forget what happened. It hurt when the police called us ‘faggots.’ It hurt when my parents screamed and beat me after they found out. It still hurts." Harassment and abuse of gay men and lesbians is becoming increasingly accepted as grounds for legal asylum in the United States, even at a time of conservative judicial activism, fear about HIV/AIDS transmission and increased scrutiny of asylum seekers. The government does not disclose a breakdown of reasons for granting asylum petitions, but legal advocacy groups in several major U.S. cities said they have won dozens of cases.
Homosexuality, once a de facto condition for barring foreigners from entering the country, is now officially recognized by the U.S. government as a category that might subject individuals to persecution in their homeland, just as if they were political dissidents in a dictatorship or religious minority members in a theocracy. But although petitioning for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation has become far easier since 1994, when then-Attorney General Janet Reno ordered that a groundbreaking case involving a gay Cuban refugee be viewed as a legal precedent, such asylum cases are still extremely difficult to win, according to lawyers in Washington and elsewhere. One reason is that applicants face multiple burdens of proof. They must demonstrate that they were abused or harassed by authorities, not merely by angry relatives or drunken hooligans, or that the authorities failed to protect them. They must also prove that they were abused because they are homosexual — and thus prove that they are, in fact, gay.
Raul Calderon, 40, the ex-soldier from Colombia, said he was raped as a recruit of 15 but commanded by officers who constantly exhorted the troops "not to act like women." In an atmosphere of civil war militarism, he said, he felt equally threatened by the guerrillas, the armed forces and members of the right-wing squads who called themselves social cleansing committees. "To them, people like me were filth," he said. Often, Pilcher and others said, foreigners living in the United States who have possible grounds for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation are afraid to come forward or unaware that there is a one-year deadline to apply. Even in societies with freewheeling, tolerant urban cultures, homosexuals can be harassed to the point of seeking refuge abroad. Brazil, for example, has a huge population of gays and transvestites, and last month’s annual gay pride festival in Sao Paolo drew 3 million people, according to Gay Life, a Baltimore newspaper.
Yet J.C., a District man from Rio de Janeiro who spoke on condition he not be further identified, won his asylum petition in 2001 after proving that he had been repeatedly beaten and abused by powerful, armed street gangs in his hillside slum, known as a favela, and that the local police force had failed to protect him. Fear of AIDS is another frequent factor in public and private harassment of homosexuals abroad. A doctor from Venezuela, who treated people with HIV and AIDS there and championed their cause within his profession, was granted asylum this year after being kidnapped, beaten and sexually humiliated by a police squad.
"I was lucky because I could prove my case, because I speak good English and have a useful profession," said the man, a D.C. resident who spoke on condition he not be identified because he does not want to jeopardize his job as a U.S. government medical researcher. "A lot of people don’t have winnable cases, but they are living desperate lives." Ironically, experts said, it might be harder for homosexuals to win asylum claims on grounds of sexual orientation if they come from countries with dictatorial governments that repress a variety of people. Victoria Neilson, legal director of a private New York agency called Immigration Equality, said that seeking asylum from a country with a great deal of violence might work against a gay applicant.
"We have cases from all over the world, but sometimes people who come from the scariest countries have the hardest time proving their case," said Neilson, whose office currently represents asylum seekers from 26 countries including Albania, Indonesia, Jamaica, Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe. "If you come from Iraq, where nobody feels safe, it is hard to show why you would be singled out," she said. In one recent groundbreaking case, a lesbian from Uganda won U.S. asylum after her family had a stranger rape her as a "cure" for being gay. Neilson said the woman’s petition was rejected initially because the abuse had been carried out in private, but an appeals court in Minnesota reversed that decision and approved her claim, noting that conditions in Uganda were so hostile that she could not seek protection from the state.
Often, even in countries where legal help is available theoretically, social hostility to homosexuals can overshadow their formal rights. Kosovo, for example, is governed under a postwar U.N. mandate. It has laws banning discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and has an active, liberal press. None of that, however, was enough to protect Prestreshi or his friend Korab Zuka, 23, who fled to the United States this spring and is awaiting an asylum hearing. Zuka was a leader of the fledgling gay rights movement in Pristina, and he was featured last year in a British gay magazine article called "Europe’s Hidden Homos." Zuka said his public profile led to unbearable pressure and a series of threats. He said he repeatedly called the Kosovo police, who shrugged off his complaints. "It was very frightening to live there as a gay person," Zuka said during a recent interview at Whitman-Walker. "You always had the fear that someone would come up and kill you. At least here I can walk down the street without looking around to see who is behind me."
July 22, 2007
For Gay Parents, a Big Week in the Sun
by Fred A. Bernstein
Provincetown, Mass. – In 1996, Tim Fisher and Scott Davenport, a couple living in New Jersey, brought their daughter, Kati, and son, Fritz, to Provincetown for a vacation. After a week of meeting other gay and lesbian parents at the beach, they invited about 15 families to their rented house for dinner. It was a magical event, Mr. Davenport recalled, at which children of gay parents — many of whom didn’t know other families like theirs — suddenly felt less alone. Over the next decade, the event — which came to be known as Family Week — grew so large that by last summer a family parade seemed to stretch from one end of Provincetown to the other. Among those working as volunteers were Kati and Fritz, now teenagers. They had become used to Family Week’s low-key style; the annual highlights included a fish fry at the Provincetown Inn.
This year, Family Week has bigger fish to fry. R Family Vacations, a company founded, in part, by Rosie O’Donnell, has taken over the running of Family Week from the nonprofit Family Pride Coalition. And that means that the whole event is being redesigned with more razzle-dazzle. “Rosie’s idea is that if we’re going to do it, we have to be the biggest and the best,” said Gregg Kaminsky, one of the three principals of R Family, along with Ms. O’Donnell and her partner, Kelli O’Donnell. The fish fry, for example, has been replaced by a circus-themed party, Mr. Kaminsky said. His tasks include finding accommodations for the performers who will be on hand to provide Broadway-style entertainment.
In a culture clash — between less and more — more seems to be winning. Mr. Kaminsky said that R Family had not yet made a profit, and he acknowledged that Family Week would not help that. “We’ll be lucky to break even,” he said, adding, “Rosie is very generous.” Ironically, R Family had its genesis at Family Week. In 2002, the O’Donnells attended the event with their three children. (They have since had a fourth.) The oldest, Parker, then 7, was amazed to see so many other same-sex couples with kids, said Mr. Kaminsky, a family friend. “He kept pointing and saying, ‘Two mommies. Two mommies.’ ” Within a year, the O’Donnells and Mr. Kaminsky, a veteran travel executive, had decided to try to offer other children the same opportunity. Their first trip was a Caribbean cruise in 2004. Since then, R Family has offered half a dozen trips.
There have been a few bumps along the way. When the first R Family cruise arrived in Nassau three years ago, the ship was met by protesters carrying signs denouncing homosexuality. Their loud taunts caused some children on the ship to cry and induced Rosie O’Donnell to remain on deck — rather than enter into what was certain to be a televised shouting match. This year, the company avoided another shouting match — or worse — by canceling a planned stop in Bermuda. In February, that country’s leading newspaper, The Royal Gazette, published the news that a ship chartered by R Family would be visiting the island in July. A religious group said to represent some 80 Bermudian churches announced its opposition. Soon the letters column of The Gazette had turned into a forum on homosexuality. By the time Ewart Brown, the minister of tourism — now also Bermuda’s premier — said he would be happy to welcome R Family, the company had decided to substitute a stop in Port Canaveral, Fla. “People save up all year for our trips, and they deserve incident-free vacations,” Mr. Kaminsky said. But the flare-up had a cost: some people who had signed up for the cruise — in part to see Bermuda — canceled their reservations, he said.
And the company has had less luck running land vacations than cruises. Though a weekend in Philadelphia in March was a modest success, the company canceled plans for a trip to Albuquerque during International Balloon Fiesta in October. But Mr. Kaminsky is optimistic about the company’s future. For one thing, he points out, trips for gay parents attract many people who are not gay parents. They include gay men and lesbians who don’t have children but like being around those who do. And they include straight friends and relatives. Next March, R Family will be host to a cruise to the Mexican Riviera in conjunction with Pflag — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — which has chapters in 50 states.
There has also been an increase in the number of gay dads seeking out others like them. “The first time we came to Family Week, three years ago, there were maybe one gay couple for every 10 lesbian couples,” said Jason Charette, of Windsor, Conn., who was in Provincetown last summer with his partner, Eric Lazarus, and their daughter, Rebecca Lazarus, 12. By last summer, the ratio seemed to be about one to three, Mr. Charette and others observed. Among the gay dads in town was Cory Provost, from Warwick, R.I. At the Provincetown Inn pool one afternoon, he watched as his sons, Dashawn, 9, and Troy, 10, did jackknife dives into the pool, while Troy’s twin, Eva, floated in a rubber tube. “It’s such a welcoming environment,” said Mr. Provost. The single gay dads in attendance included Howard Huberty, of Wilton, Conn., who had become expert on pushing a double stroller — containing his 7-month-old sons, George and Nick — down Provincetown’s narrow streets.
But most of the parents were moms. Stacey Harris of Boston was crowded into a restaurant booth with her partner, Jessie Harris, their son, Zion, 6, and their daughter, Torin, 3. Ms. Harris said that Family Week gave children like hers a chance to focus on “similarity instead of difference.” All that conviviality comes at a price. The bigger the Provincetown gathering has become, the more it has cost Family Pride to run. “We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Family Week,” said the organization’s executive director, Jennifer Chrisler, in a telephone interview, “and it isn’t our core business.” The size of Family Week, she said, was making it hard for the organization to focus on education and advocacy around the country.
Family Pride already had a partnership with R Family — providing seminars on the company’s cruises. During the Philadelphia weekend, Ms. Chrisler gave a talk at the National Constitution Center. “When the Constitution was written, as great a document as it was, it wasn’t perfect,” she told the crowd during lunch — a buffet that, in typical R Family style, seemed to provide more food than the crowd could eat in a week. Family Pride will continue to provide educational events at Family Week, which this year will begin on July 28.
Mr. Davenport, who was present at the creation, said he wasn’t unhappy that Family Week was changing. “Gregg and Kelli have been to enough Family Weeks that I think they understand the magic,” he said. Besides, Mr. Davenport (who now lives in Maryland) said, it didn’t matter if children who attended Family Week went to a fish fry or a circus. What matters, he said, “is that they get to grow up knowing other families like theirs.”
July 26, 2007
New Mexico gays can marry in Massachusetts
Following up on a March 2006 court ruling, Massachusetts officials announced last week that New Mexico same-sex couples who want to marry in Massachusetts may legally do so. New Mexico is one of very few states that do not explicitly limit marriage to opposite-sex. (The others are Rhode Island, New York before July 6, 2006, and of course, Massachusetts itself). Massachusetts began marrying same-sex couples in 2004, triggering hope among couples elsewhere—and a nationwide tsunami of prohibitory legislation. Then-governor Mitt Romney forbade city and town clerks to let out-of-staters wed, a prohibition some clerks defied. In March 2006 the state’s highest court ruled that same-sex couples who live in any other state would not be allowed to marry in Massachusetts if their own state prohibited same-sex marriage, unless they indicated an intent to live in Massachusetts after marrying.
Subsequent rulings upheld marriage rights for gay Rhode Islanders and for gay New Yorkers who’d wed before a New York appeals court’s July 6, 2006, crackdown. On July 18, in a further clarification, the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics issued notice to the state’s city and town clerks that same-sex couples from New Mexico may apply for marriage licenses.
Equality New Mexico applauded the move.
"We congratulate Massachusetts for again leading the way, and while we appreciate Massachusetts’s inclusion of New Mexican families as couples to whom Massachusetts is extending full equality, the reality is that couples from New Mexico have already been traveling to Canada and other countries to marry for some time," Equality officials said in a written statement. The group cautioned couples, however, that taking a wedding trip East would not be "just a political gesture" but an entrée into responsibilities and, in many cases, discrimination.
"Some but not all [New Mexico] businesses, the state, and others may refuse to honor these lawful marriages, along with the federal government. Couples must be prepared to live with a level of uncertainty while we continue our work to end marriage discrimination," Equality officials said. New Mexico confers some partner rights, but a bill that would create domestic-partner status, though backed by Gov. Bill Richardson, died this spring in a special session of the state legislature. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)
July 27, 2007
Without gay priests Church would be lost claims Bishop Gene
by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The openly gay bishop whose ordination sparked the crisis in the Anglican Communion has claimed the Church of England would be close to shutting down if it was forced to manage without its gay clergy. The Bishop of New Hampshire in the US, the Right Rev Gene Robinson, who is divorced and lives openly in partnership with a gay man, said he found it "mystifying" that the mother church of the Anglican Communion was unable to be honest about the number of gay clergy in its ranks. He said many of the English church’s clergy lived openly in their rectories with gay partners, with the full knowledge of their bishops. But he criticised the stance of bishops who threaten the clergy with emnity should their relationships become public. Speaking in an interview in London, Bishop Gene said: "I have met so many gay partnered clergy here and it is so troubling to hear them tell me that their bishop comes to their house for dinner, knows fully about their relationship, is wonderfully supportive but has also said if this ever becomes public then I’m your worst enemy.
"It’s a terrible way to live your life and I think it’s a terrible way to be a church. I think integrity is so important. What does it mean for a clergy person to be in a pulpit calling the parishioners to a life of integrity when they can’t even live a life of integrity with their own bishop and their own church? So I would feel better about the Church of England’s stance, its reluctance to support The Episcopal Church in what it has done if it would at least admit that this not an American problem and just an American challenge. If all the gay people stayed away from church on a given Sunday the Church of England would be close to shut down between its organists, its clergy, its wardens…..it just seems less than humble not to admit that." He said The Episcopal Church, under threat of sanctions from the Communion’s Primates if it does not row back on its liberal agenda at a meeting of its bishops in September, had been ordaining gay priests "for many, many years."
He said: "Not every bishop will do that but many do. I will and have. Many make a requirement that the person be celibate, but many do not make such a requirement. It’s interesting that the wider Anglican Communion has either not known that or has not chosen to make an issue of it before now." He was "surprised" that this did not become an issue until his election, and argued that if the principle of gay ordination is wrong, it should be wrong for both priests and bishops, not just bishops. Speaking of his recent meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is currently on study leave during which he has almost completed a book on Russian author Dostoekvsky, Bishop Robinson said: "It was very private and I was eager and willing to accommodate him and when he asked me not to function liturgically or to preach I was saddened by that but I want to help him as much as I can. I’m limited in what I can do and I won’t step down, but other than that I am eager to try and help him any way that I can. I certainly would not do so (celebrate or preach) without his permission."
He said bishops in the Church of England had backed him but declined to name them. "I have received huge support from the Church of England both from the clergy and from the pews. Hardly a day goes by never mind a week that I don’t receive encouraging words of support. I think the thing that is the most mystifying to me and the most troubling about the Church of England is its refusal to be honest about just how many gay clergy it has – many of them partnered and many of them living in rectories." He attacked the proposals to discipline The Episcopal Church for its actions in consecrating him. "Let me say two things about that. One is the whole notion of punishment being meted out to provinces of the Anglican Communion that are somehow non-compliant is somehow antithetical to the whole Anglican tradition, positing some sort of centralised Curia that has the ability and the authority to do such a thing, is about as un-Anglican as you can imagine. After all, our church was founded in resistance to a centralised authority in Rome. And so to pose the possibility of such a centralised Curia with those kinds of authorities seems to me to be as un-traditional as it could be."
He admitted that if The Episcopal Church were to be expelled, it would be "diminished" by its lack of connection to the church in the rest of the world. "The other thing that needs to be said is that we have deep and abiding roots in Africa and in Asia and in South America and no matter what happens to the Communion we will keep up those connections. As you and I sit here right now there are I think 40 bishops from Africa and 40 bishops from America meeting in Spain. These are bishops who have had connections between America and Africa for many many years and I can’t imagine that change in status would destroy those connections." He also emphasised his roots in evangelicalism. "As a matter of fact I’m more evangelical than almost anyone you would run into in the Episcopal Church… When I speak to gay and lesbian groups I don’t talk to them about gay rights, I talk to them about their souls. My goal is to get them to church and bring them to Jesus."
July 27, 2007
Vermont to consider legal ‘gay marriage’
by Michael Foust
Burlington, Vt. (BP) -Vermont, the same state that introduced America to same-sex civil unions, could become the next state to legalize "gay marriage."The state’s top two legislative leaders, House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin — both Democrats — announced July 25 the formation of a 10-member commission that will study whether the state should legalize "gay marriage." According to the Burlington Free Press, the commission will hold six public hearings and talk to experts before making a recommendation in April.The recommendation likely will be submitted too late for the legislature to consider it until 2009, although it will place it squarely as an issue in the 2008 gubernatorial race, where Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, who opposes "gay marriage," could seek re-election.Shumlin supports "gay marriage" and believes the state eventually will accept it.
"It’s not a question of yes or no," he said, according to the Free Press. "It’s a question of when."Said Symington, "I think many people saw civil unions as a first step. … It’s time to ask whether it is in Vermont’s interest to continue to maintain a separate legal status for same-sex couples."Vermont’s landmark civil unions law took effect in 2000, granting homosexual couples all of the state’s legal benefits of marriage. It came months after the Vermont Supreme Court ordered the legislature either to legalize "gay marriage" or something like it. Legislators chose the latter.
Now, though, some in the state say it’s time to take the next step.
Stephen Cable, president of the pro-family group Vermont Renewal, said the commission is stacked in favor of homosexual activists."We’re now calling it the kangaroo commission, because literally everybody on the commission is already pro-gay," Cable told Baptist Press. "They may not be pro-gay marriage, but they’re pro-gay."The commission, he said, was handpicked by Symington and Shumlin, both of whom he described as "very liberal and very pro-gay."Former Rep. Tom Little, a Republican who will chair the commission and who backed the civil unions law, supports "gay marriage," the Free Press reported."The way I’m framing the issue is, are there any good reasons grounded in law or morality or ethics that point to why we shouldn’t do this?" he was quoted as saying.
Opponents of "gay marriage" still have an ally in Douglas, who won re-election in 2006 — a tough year for Republicans nationwide — and is serving his third two-year term."We went through a very difficult experience seven years ago when the legislature enacted the civil unions law," he said, according to the Associated Press."I think most Vermonters have come to accept it," Douglas said at a Montpelier news conference. "I don’t think it would be in the state’s best interest to reopen those wounds to have that controversial debate because we’ve extended full privileges, full legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples."
There have been few polls done on the issue in the state. A Vermonter Poll conducted early in 2004 by the Center for Rural Studies found 47 percent of adults opposed to "gay marriage" and 40 percent in favor. The poll interviewed 607 people. But since then, two New England states — Connecticut and New Hampshire — have legalized civil unions, and another state, Massachusetts, has legalized "gay marriage."Vermont, Cable said, should serve as a warning to other states that civil unions "always" will be used as a steppingstone to "gay marriage." He said the law has had an impact on all facets of life, including public schools, where he says some teachers "almost consider it their right that they can teach [about homosexual relationships] because the state approves of it."
The Free Press reported that, in addition to Little, the following people will serve on the commission: state Sen. John Campbell, Democrat; Mary Ann Carlson, former Democratic state senator; state Rep. Johanna Donovan, Democrat; Berton R. Frye, owner of Frye’s Quarry in West Danville; Former Gov. Phil Hoff; Barbara Murphy, president of Johnson State College; Helen Riehle, former Republican state representative; Michael Vinton, former Democratic state representative; and Nancy Vogele, Episcopal minister.State supreme courts in Maryland and Connecticut could issue "gay marriage" rulings any day, and California’s highest court will hear such a case later this year or early next year.
July. 27, 2007
Challenges facing gay black and Hispanic men
by Steve Rothaus, The Miami Herald
When Charles Martin became executive director of the South Beach AIDS Project in 2005, he found that all the educational materials were in English and showed only pictures of gay white men.Since most of the agency’s clients are black and Hispanic, that didn’t seem very effective. He replaced the old posters with bilingual ones showing black and Hispanic male couples.Invisibility in the gay mainstream is just one of the special challenges facing gay black and Hispanic men. Those issues were front and center last weekend at Miami Beach Bruthaz, a four-day, mostly male South Beach retreat for gay blacks and Hispanics.
Attendees from all over the nation talked about gays in the military, HIV/AIDS, gay marriage and relationships, rebuilding credit and the closet, among other topics.“When you don’t feature the black community, it’s like it’s not existing,” said Alex Clark, 24, an editor at FlavaLife, a national gay magazine for people of color published in Miami.A variety of pressures make many black and Hispanic men hesitant to identify themselves publicly as gay. Those include messages from church, family and community that being gay is a sin or makes a man less than a man, Martin said.Bruthaz event coordinator Ian Smith, 36, says it’s an ongoing, “tough internal battle” for many black men to tell family and friends they are gay.
“If somebody has grown up in that cycle of the church being such a part of their life, just being an adult doesn’t make it easy,” he said. “They’re still carrying those beliefs and mores, and understanding that this is what life is about. They still want that acceptance.” Hispanic men share the same experience, said William Castillo, a Bruthaz speaker who is writing Latino Men in America.A lot of the issues black American gay men go through are very similar to Latino men in terms of family and religion,” said Castillo, a 43-year-old gay man born in Miami to Cuban parents.“For the Latino man, the religious omnipresent is still very strong. In Latin America, for example, religious baggage or influence permeates the culture,” he said. “They see it 24/7.” Many say it’s easier today for younger black and Hispanic men to be open about their lives.
Adriel Munoz, an aspiring singer-dancer, came out six years ago at age 18. Munoz, 24, recently was crowned “Mr. Gay South Florida” at Miami’s biggest gay Latin nightclub, Azucar.“Mr. South Florida in the gay community is a prestigious honor,” Munoz said. “It’s a beauty pageant with talent. But it’s more community, based on what your platform is. Creating positive change in the young gay community. That is my platform in life.”
July 28, 2007
Young and out on the field…An emerging generation of gay athletes in high school and college is changing the rules.
by David Wharton, Times Staff Writer
Seattle -The guys in his boat took to calling him "Badger" because of the grimace he wore during races. Part of a junior rowing club that ranked among the fastest in the nation, Lucas Goodman was relentless on the water. It was a different story on land. The teenager with the powerful build and close-set eyes had to be careful. He hung back ever so slightly when teammates shot the breeze, talking about girls. "You get tired of constantly watching what you say, constantly watching how you act," he said. "You’re almost paranoid."
Goodman felt so uneasy that he finally told the Green Lake Crew his secret: He is gay. The 18-year-old belongs to an emerging generation of openly gay and lesbian athletes on high school and college campuses across the country. These young men and women are quietly venturing where no pro football or baseball star has gone, challenging the conformist, if not downright homophobic, tradition of the playing fields. Their numbers are difficult to gauge because many confide only in peers. Experts chart the trend anecdotally through athletes who join gay rights clubs at school, e-mail gay rights advocates for advice or announce their sexual orientation on websites such as Facebook and MySpace.
"This is an issue that’s in transition even as we speak," said Jay Coakley, a noted scholar and author on sports culture. "We’re looking at how the world is changing." Not all the stories have happy endings — a high school football player in Northern California tells of being ostracized. But others, such as a Delaware runner and a Georgia hockey player, say they were welcomed by their teams. Sociologists see the openness as a generational shift. Polls suggest a growing percentage of young people have more relaxed views about sexual orientation than their parents did. In Seattle, Goodman began dropping hints around his eight-man boat more than a year ago. He talked with his best friend, and with another rower who seemed both understanding and physically large enough to make a good ally.
When word spread, no one teased or whispered about him. The crew saves money by sharing hotel beds on the road, and the teammate who bunks with Goodman didn’t mind. "So what if I sleep in the same bed with a straight guy or with Lucas?" Casey Ellis asked. "Either way, there’s going to be another guy there with me." Within a few weeks, Goodman figures, the surprise of his announcement wore off and "it ended up not being that big a deal." Which is what makes his story, and others like it, a very big deal.
Allan Acevedo tends to speak hurriedly, words stacking up against each other. Finished with his morning run of three miles, sitting in a coffeehouse, the thin young man with dark sideburns rushes through a telling anecdote. Two years ago, he and the rest of the track team from Bonita High School in La Verne were talking idly before a meet. "When I get married," he recalled saying, "the guy has to be — " A teammate interrupted. "Did you say guy?" "Oh," Acevedo replied. "You didn’t know?"
Young athletes come out for various reasons. Goodman tired of pretending to like girls. Acevedo had something different in mind. He volunteers for gay rights groups and said he once tried to enlist in the military to confront the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. When he insisted on telling, he said, the recruiter declined to complete his paperwork. Acevedo joined the track team partly for love of the sport and partly to break stereotypes: "I wanted to say that I’m more than just gay." Some teammates at Bonita High quietly switched aisles in the locker room, he said. Others seemed to run harder in practice, apparently determined not to lose to a gay guy.
Acevedo was undeterred, and was open about his sexual orientation when he transferred to a Chula Vista school. At 18, he finds support in a development that encourages other young gay athletes: a shift in public opinion. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans viewed homosexuality as an "acceptable alternative lifestyle," an increase of 11 percentage points from four years ago. The percentage was higher among 18- to 29-year-olds. Almost three-quarters of heterosexual adults said they would not change their feelings toward a favorite male athlete if he came out, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications.
"It’s not like the old days," said David Kopay, a former National Football League player who stirred controversy by announcing he was homosexual in 1975. Back then, gay athletes felt compelled to keep quiet, fearing hostile locker rooms and coaches who might cut them from the team. Like Kopay, others waited until retirement to come out. In baseball, there were former Dodgers Glenn Burke and Billy Bean; in football, Roy Simmons of the Washington Redskins and, five years ago, Esera Tuaolo of the Green Bay Packers. John Amaechi revealed his sexual orientation in a recent autobiography, "Man in the Middle," published after he left the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Assn. He sensed the change in attitude when he visited a Southern college campus during a promotional tour.
"A bunch of shirtless frat guys playing volleyball recognized me and started yelling," he said. "They were saying that they love what I’m doing." Joey Fisher encountered a similar response at the University of Georgia, where his teammates recall thinking, Wow, gay people play hockey? when the goalie came out. No one mentioned anything to him at first. But then, Fisher said, "about three days into training camp, one of my teammates tried to set me up with a friend of his. A guy." Heterosexuals aren’t the only ones acclimating to the idea of homosexuals in sports, Acevedo said. His gay friends were initially shocked when he ventured into the world of jocks.
"They said, ‘You should wear a pink shirt,’ " he recalled. "But then a lot of my friends went to my races." Acevedo possesses a resilience common to athletes interviewed for this article. A fight with his parents — mainly over his sexual orientation — prompted him to move in with an older sister. He worked two jobs to support himself, which meant skipping track his senior year. After graduating in the spring, he took a summer internship with a gay rights group in Washington, D.C., where he continues running on his own, staying in shape to try out for the team at San Diego State this fall. "When I get there," he said, "I’ll come out again."
There were no big announcements, no heartfelt talks in the locker room. As a freshman at Harvard, Sarah Vaillancourt simply decided to stop hiding her sexual orientation. Whenever the subject of dating or relationships arose, she spoke frankly. "If they weren’t going to accept me on the team," she said, "I wasn’t going to stay." It helped that Vaillancourt quickly established herself among the top scorers on her college hockey squad and a rising star for Team Canada back home in Quebec. But she knew that as a lesbian, she would encounter challenges different from those facing gay male athletes. On the plus side, she grew up with role models such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in tennis, Sheryl Swoopes in basketball and Rosie Jones in golf. Fans have come to expect a certain percentage of lesbians in women’s sports.
This expectation also counts as a negative. In some circles, athletic women are automatically presumed to be lesbians, which can spark resentment among straight athletes. Caitlin Cahow, a Harvard player and member of the U.S. women’s hockey team, said: "Rumors get started and that makes everyone defensive about their sexuality, gay or straight. That’s when it becomes a problem." Vaillancourt, so candid at Harvard, acknowledges she is more cautious around the Canadian national team. "They don’t want me to talk about it so much, because if one person comes out, everyone’s [going to be labeled] a lesbian," she said. "My whole team is not lesbian."
In college sports, negative recruiting is another concern. Some coaches try to scare high school prospects away from rival programs by suggesting those teams are predominantly lesbian. Kathy Olivier, the UCLA women’s basketball coach, blames a hyper-competitiveness fueled by large coaching salaries. "These are big-time positions," Olivier said. "I feel like some coaches would do anything." At the University of Delaware, runner Lauren Stephenson said that coming out brought her closer to teammates. Stephenson announced her sexual orientation as a junior, trying to soften the blow by saying she was bisexual. Soon, she found herself consoled in the locker room after a girlfriend cheated on her.
"All my teammates were telling me, ‘You’re so much hotter than she is, what is she thinking?’ " Stephenson said. "It was just amazing." Vaillancourt has had similar experiences in hockey, a sport she discovered as a toddler watching her brother play. She has always been strong-willed, with a hint of defiance in her French Canadian accent and the arch of her eyebrows. Her parents worried when she came out in college. "I know how people react sometimes," her mother, Monique, said. "People can be bad and mean." Harvard players said they quickly warmed to Vaillancourt’s wit and self-confidence and her straightforward manner in speaking about her sexual orientation. Off the team, some classmates did not react as kindly.
"I think it’s because they don’t have gay friends," said Laura Brady, a Harvard forward. "They just don’t know." Vaillancourt, now a 22-year-old junior, occasionally wonders about all the fuss. With so much of her time spent playing hockey and studying, "being gay is only a small part of who I am," she said. In moments of impatience, she reminds herself that some people struggle to accept homosexuality for religious and other deep-seated reasons. "You have to give people a chance to get used to all this," she said.
The gym door was locked when Brian Schwind and his football teammates trudged off the practice field that day almost three years ago. As they waited for coaches with a key, Schwind realized he was surrounded. The sophomore was new to Foothill High School near Redding. By football standards he was smallish, a special teams player who stood only 5 feet 7. The larger players crowding around him demanded to know: Was he gay? "Either I could tell the truth and have the crap beat out of me or I could lie and save myself," Schwind said. "My mom always told me to stand up for what I believe, so I told them."
A linebacker stepped in to prevent further trouble, but for the rest of the fall Schwind felt ostracized. After football, he went out for wrestling. "Nobody wanted to wrestle with me," he recalled. "During weigh-ins, everybody was like, ‘Get him out of the room.’ " His experience offers a reminder that poll numbers and television ratings for "Will & Grace" do not always translate to the schoolyard. A 2005 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 64% of homosexual students had experienced some form of harassment in school. Gay rights groups cite higher suicide rates among homosexual teens, though the statistics are not universally accepted.
In sports, young gays face a paradox. The social status of playing athletics gives them a better chance of being accepted, but they must confront long-held biases. The locker room can be especially tricky for boys. Corey Johnson, who in 1999 came out to his high school football team in Massachusetts, addressed the issue of shared showers and locker rooms head-on. "I didn’t touch you last year and I’m not going to do it this year," he told his teammates, adding: "And who says you guys are cute enough, anyway?" The joke elicited a nervous ripple of laughter.
At Washington University in St. Louis, Adam Goslin came out as a sophomore in 2004 and was welcomed by the football team. But the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defensive lineman often overheard teammates toss around homophobic slurs common to the locker room. Even players sensitive to his feelings could not always help themselves. "I’ve had a couple of close friends tell me, ‘I’m really trying not to, but I’ve been saying it for so many years and sometimes it slips out,’ " he said. The atmosphere confronting Schwind in Redding was more difficult. Outed by the football team, he became more assertive, trying to form a club for gay students on the small-town campus. His efforts seemed to antagonize some athletes at a time when wrestling coach Jerry Vallotton was working hard to build Foothill High’s program, with team unity a key element.
Schwind was new to the school "and that in itself is difficult," Vallotton said in a recent interview. "Then if you carry a banner for another cause, whatever that cause may be, that’s a double whammy." The coach said he thought "all parties did the best they could." By his junior year, Schwind gave up football and wrestling, sticking to swimming, where he felt more accepted. The experience has prompted him to consider a career in civil rights law. "There can be a closed-minded shell around sports," he said. "Definitely, high school had a huge effect on my ideals about how things should be."
When Lucas Goodman thought about coming out, he wasn’t terribly concerned about acceptance — not as an accomplished rower and honors student headed to MIT this fall. He knew that Seattle had a large gay population and that crew was "one of the most elitist liberal yuppie sports you could think of." Goodman was more fearful that his sexual orientation might overshadow everything else. "I want to be known as a rower," he said. "Not as the gay kid." Gay rights advocates are just as eager for openly homosexual athletes to become so common that the issue fades away. That is why they place such hope in the new generation.
"A superstar coming out — I think it will happen, but I don’t think that’s how you create enormous change," said Johnson, the former high school football player, who now works as a media strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "You have enormous change with story after story about young people having positive experiences." Goodman has already made a difference with the Green Lake Crew. "Your impulse is not to talk about it because you don’t know if that’s private information or not," Coach Ed Maxwell said. "But the more you know and the more you understand about people who are different from you, the better off you are."
The experience has helped Goodman too. He still rows fiercely, still bugs teammates about eating right and getting sleep before races. But now he is happier. On a recent afternoon, the rowers shouldered their sleek boat to the edge of a small lake north of downtown. They were in a good mood after winning a silver medal at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championship, joking and laughing, talking about parties. It was the type of chatter that used to make Goodman nervous. Not anymore.
31st July 2007
UPS gives marriage benefits to civil partners
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
Delivery company UPS has announced it will offer health care benefits to all civil union partners of employees in New Jersey, including those in the Teamsters union. Gay rights groups had criticised the company for denying some employees in same-sex partnerships the same rights as married workers. "Based on an initial legal review when New Jersey’s law was enacted, it did not appear that a ‘civil union’ and ‘marriage’ were equivalent," noted Allen Hill, UPS’s senior vice president for human resources. Over the past week, however, we have received clear guidance that at least in New Jersey, the state truly views civil union partners as married. We’ve heard that loud and clear from state officials and we’re happy to make this change."
The change in policy came after the New Jersey Governor called on UPS to comply with the state’s civil union law. "We commend UPS for taking this step," said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Workplace Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. The extension of benefits to civil union partners of hourly employees in New Jersey will cover approximately 8,700 workers, although it is not known how many of those employees have joined in civil unions. About 5,400 non-union UPS workers in New Jersey were already eligible.
According to New Jersey law, same-sex couples in civil unions have equal entitlement to employment benefits. UPS had said that it was not acting out of homophobic sentiments but according to New Jersey law, where the non-discrimination legislation was only valid for those employees not organised in a union. A spokesperson of New Jersey’s GLBT rights organisation Garden State Equality said that they have had over 200 complaints about similar employer discrimination.
Lilo Stainton, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, told The New York Times:
"The governor is extremely pleased with the news, not just for what it means for these couples, but also for the larger implication and the greater meaning of New Jersey’s civil union law." Gay rights groups regard this case as an example of how civil unions cement discrimination against gays, because if the state had legalised gay marriage none of these contentions would have arisen. UPS driver Tom Walton, who appealed to the company over benefits for his civil partner, was pleased with yesterday’s announcement, but told The New York Times that applying for a home loan shows why civil unions are not the same as marriage.
"They asked if we were married. We said, well we’re civil union partners. But there was no box to check. There was single, married, and divorced. The woman looked at us like she had never heard of such a thing. The fact is, we have to explain ourselves."