News Briefs

Brokeback Success—and Controversy

“Brokeback Mountain” has become a Hollywood success story and also a source of controversy.

Critic Gene Shalit set off a firestorm on NBC’s Today Show not due to his tepid review, but because he described the Jack Twist character as a “sexual predator.” The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation shot back that this was “defamatory anti-gay prejudice.” Shalit’s out gay son, Peter, who has been publicly supported by his dad, wrote to GLAAD that his father “defamed no one and he is not a homophobe.”

Shalit at first said he has a policy of not commenting on his reviews, then wrote GLAAD himself: “I used words (‘sexual predator’) that I now discover have angered, agitated, and hurt many people. I did not intend to use a word that many in the gay community consider incendiary.” He also said he regretted any “emotional hurt” he may have caused. GLAAD said it “applauds” him for the apology.

Ann Northrop, this reporter’s co-host on the “Gay USA” cable show, said, “This apology by Shalit and acceptance by GLAAD is wrong-headed nonsense. The point is that Shalit won’t see Jack and Ennis as two men in love. He sees Jack as forcing himself on Ennis. His apology deals only with his language and says he doesn’t want to defame the community. But the person he defamed was Jack.”

Meanwhile, the film was pulled from a megaplex in Sandy, Utah outside Salt Lake City without an explanation from the theater owned by Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller. But that hasn’t stopped the film from being a crossover success and having a higher per screen average than “King Kong.” Ray Price, head of marketing at Landmark Theatres, told the Rutland Herald in Vermont, “If you try to categorize this as a gay movie, then it’s the ‘Star Wars’ of gay movies.”

The film is up for a slew of Golden Globe Awards on January 16 and just garnered the most nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, airing January 29.

The National Association of Film Critics just honored another gay-themed film, “Capote,” as best picture of the year and gave its best actor award to Philip Seymour Hoffman for a performance as Truman Capote, who might be aptly described as a literary predator.

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Another Jamaican Man Killed in Gay Bashing

Nokia Cowen was chased through the streets by a mob that perceived him to be gay until he dived into Kingston Harbor where he died because he could not swim. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays called on the police to investigate the murder. “We implore the highest members of government to clearly indicate that violence based on sexual orientation, both perceived and actual, is unacceptable to Jamaica.

The British gay group Outrage! is calling for hate crimes laws, stronger enforcement of anti-incitement laws, and police training to combat the wave of anti-gay violence that also claimed AIDS activist Steve Harvey this past November and gay leader Brian Williamson in 2004.

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Arrest in NYC Gay Killing

Police have arrested Jose Tavares, 17, in connection with the murder of Schlomy Rejwan, 45, in Chelsea in December. Rejwan was found bound and gagged in his burning apartment, but medical examiners determined that the cause of death was strangulation. The victim had recently been charged with prostitution and was about to be deported to Israel, 365Gay.com reported. Tavares’s relatives said the suspect met Rejwan after he responded to an ad offering massages.

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Virginia Piles On

Some states, having moved on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, are looking for new ways to persecute gay folks. Virginia is now taking up a bill to ban unmarried women from using assisted reproductive technology. Equality Virginia called it “a direct attack on Virginia’s families” that would “preclude lesbian couples from conceiving through artificial insemination.”

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Cherokee Uphold Same-Sex Marriage

The high court of the Cherokee Nation has ruled that Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley, two women from the tribe who married each other in 2004, are still married, despite a subsequent vote of the tribal council to ban the practice. “The council members fail to demonstrate the requisite harm,” the court said. This may compel the U.S. federal government to recognize the marriage despite the Defense of Marriage Act because of “the sovereign status of Indian tribes,” Reuters reported.

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Washington State Gay Bill Boost

In Washington State, where the gay rights bill failed by one vote last year after Microsoft dropped its support, there is new hope for passage now that the Republican Senate leader, Bill Finkbeiner, a former Democrat, has said that he will support it. The margin is still so close, however, that proponents worry about one of their votes defecting under pressure. Microsoft is back on board after an outpouring of gay protest over its withdrawal.

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Anti-Gay Minister Caught with Pants Down

Lonnie Latham, 59, a fundamentalist preacher who has called homosexuality “a sinful destructive lifestyle,” was arrested for an act of lewdness—offering an undercover male cop oral sex. He faces a year in jail and a $2,500 fine and his Mercedes was impounded. “I was set up,” Latham said. “I was in the areas pastoring to police.” Indeed. Apparently the police concluded that he was pestering, not pastoring.

The Southern Baptist Convention has not yet expelled Latham from its executive committee. “Typically, when there’s a moral failure of this sort, there’s a voluntary resignation,” a spokesman for the convention told ChannelOklahoma.com.

Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, “I only feel sadness for Rev. Latham and his family. Homophobia—directed at others and at one’s own very being—is the real perpetrator here.”

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Silver Anniversary for AIDS

However long HIV has been around, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly from the Centers for Disease Control didn’t take note of the emerging syndrome until June of 1981 so we can expect an outpouring of 25th anniversary stories about the pandemic in 2006. San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis wrote in his blog this week that January should mark the silver anniversary because that’s when the symptoms of a 30-year old American man with esophageal and oral candidiasis were first observed. Those symptoms later led to pneumocystis pneumonia, the disease to which so many people with HIV—then the unidentified virus—succumbed in the first 15 years of the pandemic.

The advances in treatment that have sustained so many people with HIV/AIDS in the developed world only reach a fraction of those with the syndrome in the Third World where 40 million people are infected. “Let the record show in year 25 of AIDS, the cure still ain’t here,” wrote Petrelis.

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Task Force: Stop Alito

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is urging supporters of LGBT rights to take immediate action to block President George W. Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, citing “extremist views” and a “20-year record of clear hostility to individual rights and equal justice.” Matt Foreman, executive director, noted that Alito’s nomination “elated” the extreme right wing in this country.

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton have yet to take a position on Alito, though Schumer has aggressively questioned him on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Task Force urges a call to the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to lobby for a no vote from your senators, especially if they are on the committee and also messages to friends in other states to make the same calls.

For more information, go to thetaskforce.org

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Huge Grant to Task Force

In other NGLTF-related news, the group announced Tuesday that it is the recipient of a $3 million grant for organizing, training, and capacity-building from the Arcus Foundation, a Kalamazoo, Michigan and New York City organization established in 2000 “to contribute to a pluralistic society that celebrates diversity and dignity, invests in youth and justice, and promotes tolerance and compassion.” The Task Force’s Matt Foreman said that he believes the award is the largest in the 50-year history of the modern LGBT rights movement.

The contribution comes amidst continuing efforts on the right to push back against the community’s legal and political advances—in partnership and family recognition, adoption rights, and even basic civil rights protections. This November, states including, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Minnesota may see anti-gay ballot initiatives. The Task Force is currently focusing on helping five statewide organizations—in Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington—build their organizational prowess.

A third of the Arcus grant comes personally from the group’s founder, Jon Stryker. During the past five years, Arcus has funded NGLTF to the tune of $1.6 million.

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No Marital Privilege Shield for Gay Long Island Defendant

Judge Alan Honorof in Nassau County has ruled that Steve Signorelli, the longtime domestic partner of Roslyn, Long Island School Superintendent Frank Tassone, may not invoke spousal privilege to prevent Tassone from testifying against him in an embezzlement scandal that has snared them both. The judge said the issue of whether same-sex partners could use the privilege was moot because communication between partners relating to their “joint participation in a criminal venture” is already exempt from use of the right.

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Ruling Liberals Lag in Canada Election Poll

Canadians vote for a new government on January 23 with the ruling Liberals lagging in the polls due to a financial scandal and its support for same-sex marriage. Conservative leader Stephen Harper is pledging another vote on marriage in Parliament, which made gay marriage a reality across Canada last year, if elected. But, legal experts say that the 2004 law can’t be overturned without invoking the federal Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause, that allows provinces a greater degree of autonomy than enjoyed by American states. Harper has said he won’t do that. Prime Minister Paul Martin, the Liberal leader, however, has made what is being called a “bombshell” pledge to get rid of the clause entirely, something that may be resisted in various parts of Canada, from French-speaking Quebec to red-state Alberta.

Whichever party prevails will almost assuredly lead a minority government like the present one, since most seats in Quebec go to a separatist party that has a better chance than ever of winning a referendum to make the province an independent nation.

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Worldwide Panics over Same-Sex Kissing

Jessica Bradley, a student at the Covenant Christian Academy in Loganville, Georgia, was expelled in April for kissing a sister ninth-grader or two, despite her 3.5 grade point average and the fact that none of the other girls was disciplined, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. She sued the school for a million bucks. In response this month, the school told the court it has a right to expel students for “sexual immorality.” It is also claiming “ecclesiastical abstention,” challenging the right of a civil court to interfere with a church.

In New Zealand, a cricket stadium banned displays of same-sex affection after two female fans were pictured on the venue’s big screen giving each other a friendly peck. A guard told them they would be ejected if they did it again. An out gay cabinet minister, Chris Carter, told the Dominion Post that the policy was unfair unless opposite sex couples were also banned from kissing. The cricket association apologized to the women, but the security guard company called their behavior “inflammatory.”

In Mexico, two men who kissed in the pool at a luxury hotel in Los Cabos in December where thrown into the street with their luggage. Leftist legislators who demanded an investigation were hooted down in Congress this week, Reuters reported. The men, themselves Mexican, claimed it was a “two-second” kiss, but that they were called “faggots” by security guards. The hotel spokesman said the establishment is “gay-friendly” but that the men were being inappropriate.

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Same-Sex Relationships Advance in Europe

The European Union’s Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights issued an opinion this week saying that “assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, and access to contraception” should be guaranteed as human rights to all citizens in EU nations, C-FAM reported.

In Austria, the Constitutional Court ruled that social health insurance legislation was invalid because it did not include same-sex partners—the first time in Europe that a law has been struck down for not being gay-inclusive.

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Transsexual Threatened with Annulment in Britain

The limitations of the U.K.’s Civil Partnership law are rearing their head. The Reverend Dian Parry, a male-to-female transsexual in Wales, is not going through gender reassignment surgery because the government would then annul her marriage of 44 years to her wife Anita. The couple would then only have the Civil Partnership option if they wanted to continue to be legally united.

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Rainbow Shamrocks

Northern Ireland is rapidly diversifying these days, so the Belfast City Council planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year not with green shamrocks, symbolic of republicanism, but with rainbow-colored ones, The Observer reported. The Council apparently did not know the gay significance of the rainbow, but the move has prompted the local gay group, Rainbow Project, to apply to participate in the carnival celebrating the feast.

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Closing the “Book of Daniel”

NBC’s new “Book of Daniel” about an Episcopal priest (Aidan Quinn) who talks with Jesus and features a family out of “Desperate Housewives” was preempted by two stations in Arkansas and one in Indiana where another station, WB42, picked it up and received death threats for doing so.

Quinn’s gay Republican son is played by Christian Campbell who is neither. He is on the governing board of New York’s Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, named for the early gay leader. Allen Roskoff, president of the club, gathered 25 friends to watch the premier of “Daniel” last week and cheer on their colleague. Roskoff said his crowd liked the program, which he called a “breakthrough” on many levels.

Jack Kenny, the creator of “Daniel” is gay but not Episcopalian. He told Planet Out that his partner of 24 years, Michael Goodell, is. He said he cast Campbell both for his “incredible depth” and “cuteness.” Campbell, 33, is playing a 23-year old on the show. He played a gay guy in the 1999 movie “Trick” and was given an award by City Council Speaker Gifford Miller last year for his support for gay rights.

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Rosie on Logo

Rosie O’Donnell has signed on to produce a sketch-comedy show, “Simply Sketch” for the gay Logo network featuring new gay and lesbian comics. It is set to bow on June 30.

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George Takei Beams Down to Howard Stern

Actor George Takei, who recently came out publicly, is the new announcer on Howard Stern’s uncensored radio show on Sirius Satellite. “The revolution has begun,” Takei said as the program got underway, adding that “its five-year mission: to seek out new lesbians with sexy stories,” in a nod to one of the radio star’s obsession. Stern questioned Takei about his sex life, though presumably it does not involve lesbian action.

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Ali Smith Wins Literary Award

The prestigious Whitbread Novel of the Year Award has gone to Ali Smith for “The Accidental,” a story of a teenage girl who stays with her extended family. Smith said, “Being a Scot and a lesbian are two big handy ticks next to my name right now. And I’m fashionable, but not that fashionable—I don’t do historical bestsellers, I’m just a little bit too literary.” Smith won £5,000. She now competes against books in other categories for the Whitbread Book of the Year award and £25,000.

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