News Briefs

Third Time is Charm in Maine

A right-wing attempt to repeal Maine’s law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity fell short Tuesday, garnering only 45 percent of votes on Tuesday. Maine had twice before voted to jettison gay civil rights protections adopted by the governor and Legislature.

Maine Won’t Discriminate led the fight against the measure, working tirelessly to identify voters sympathetic to protecting LGBT rights and getting them to the polls. They were aided in the battle by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, and MassEquality, their neighbors from the Bay State.

Opponents of LGBT rights tried to paint this as a referendum on same-sex marriage, which it was not.

Fifteen states, including all six in New England as well as New York and New Jersey, have laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Six of them, not including New York, cover gender identity and expression.

An American Enterprise Institute poll found that support for employment rights for LGBT folks went from 56 percent in 1977 to 87 percent in 2005. That number, however, often declines as a specific question is put on the table, and anti-gay opponents start spending money.

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Task Force Charges “Tyranny of Majority” in Texas

Texans overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment on Tuesday banning same-sex marriage or any other legal sanction for same-sex couples. More than 76 percent of those who went to the polls approved the measure.

Nineteen states have passed amendments preventing gay people from marrying and all but a few states have laws against it. New York is one of the few that have bucked this trend—so far. Massachusetts lets same-sex couples marry. Vermont and Connecticut offer civil unions. California and Hawaii have extensive domestic partners laws and New Jersey has a limited one.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which funded ads and other resources arrayed against the ballot measure, said, “All that today’s results show is that it is profoundly wrong and profoundly un-American to put the rights of a small minority of Americans up for a popular vote. This is not democracy; this is tyranny of the majority. No one would tolerate this being done to any other minority, but it’s still open season on gay people.”

State amendments against same-sex marriage are likely to be on the ballot in 2006 in California, South Dakota, Idaho, Wisconsin, Florida, and Indiana. There is a petition drive underway for one in Massachusetts, but that has to clear legislative hurdles before it could go on the ballot in 2008.

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Syphilis and Chlamydia Up, Clap Down

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on STDs in the U.S. in 2004 found syphilis cases up for the fourth year in a row, but gonorrhea at an historic low.

Syphilis cases rose eight percent to 2.7 per 100,000 after reaching an all-time low in 2000. The greatest increase was among men who have sex with men, the greatest decline among women and blacks, 55 and 37 percent respectively since 1999. In 2004, however, syphilis in the African-American community rose by16.9 percent, again primarily among men, suggesting a problem concentrated among gay and bisexual men.

Urban areas bear the greatest syphilis burden, with San Francisco’s rate topping out at 45.9 per 100,000, or roughly 17 times the nationwide average. New York City was not among the 10 cities with the highest incidence, though Jersey City, with a rate of 10.8 per 100,000 ranked ninth.

Gonorrhea, which has always had a higher prevalence, dropped to 113.5 cases per 100,000, down 1.5 percent since last year and as low as it has been since 1941 when statistics were first compiled on it.

Chlamydia rose 5.9 percent to 319.6 per 100,000 last year, though the CDC believes that a more aggressive testing program is responsible for the increase. Given the significant damage undetected chlamydia can do to women’s reproductive health, the CDC strongly recommends annual chlamydia screening for sexually active women under the age of 26. The agency estimates that there are 2.8 million new cases of chlamydia in the U.S. annually.

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Federal Marriage Amendment Approved by Senate Subcommittee

In a straight party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, chaired by archconservative Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, approved a reformulated version of last year’s Federal Marriage Amendment, now dubbed the Marriage Protection Act, which would put a ban on gay marriage into the U.S. Constitution. Brownback held hearings on the amendment earlier this fall, though Democrats refused to participate. Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who is a member of the subcommittee, voted for the amendment and has said he thinks the measure should receive an up or down vote on the Senate floor, so presumably he will move it through the entire Judiciary Committee. Last summer, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Senate Republicans pressed the issue, which had been endorsed by President George W. Bush, in an effort to put John Kerry and John Edwards, their party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees, on the spot. Sponsors of the drive, however, were unable to muster even a simple majority in a procedural vote designed to show their strength in beating back a threatened Democratic filibuster, which would have required 60 votes to overcome. Since the actual question was never called, Kerry and Edwards skipped the vote.

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Supreme Court Lets Transgender Job Bias Win Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear an appeal of an employment discrimination victory by Philecia Barnes, a transgendered Cincinnati police officer denied a promotion she deserved on the basis of her job performance and test results. Barnes succeeded in demonstrating that the police department raised red herring excuses as pretext to cover bias based on the fact that she was living as a woman off-duty while she continued to present as a male on the job during a period of pre-operative transition.

Like another transgendered law enforcement officer in Salem, Ohio, Barnes convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, that the bias against her was a case of sex discrimination, in violation of federal law, motivated by her failure to meet the gender stereotypes of her employer. The victories in Cincinnati and Salem provide hope that gender variant employees can be protected by federal civil rights statute, and the failure of the Roberts court to challenge that finding is one more step on that road.

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Two Men Charged in Village Bashing

The NYPD has charged two men with the bashing of a gay man in the West Village late last Saturday night. The police say that Gary Rodriguez, 38, and Francis Brand, 27, beat and hurled anti-gay epithets at Kyle Spidle on Grove Street not far from the Monster bar, where the victim works. Spidle’s jaw was shattered in the attack. The attack allegedly began when the men started yelling at Spidle from their car as he walked down Grove. Spidle shouted back and the two allegedly jumped from the car to assault him. Witnesses got the license plate of the car as the assailants fled. According to police, Rodriguez has been a city sanitation worker for the past eight years.

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Self-Defense Claimed by Gay Man who Killed Basher

Lucas Dawson, 21, who had just tried out for “American Idol,” was assaulted in Philadelphia on October 29 by four teenagers shouting anti-gay epithets. According to his father, he used a pocketknife to try to defend himself before running from the attackers. Gerald Knight, 17, allgedly caught him and in the scuffle, Dawson fatally stabbed him in the chest.

Police have charged Dawson with voluntary manslaughter and he is in jail awaiting trial because he cannot raise the $30,000 bail. He faces 30 years in prison. His family worries that even if he is acquitted, he faces retribution from the three teens who escaped and have threatened to kill him.

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PWAs Oppose Alito

The National Association of People with AIDS has come out against President George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, citing his “narrow and hateful willingness to allow irrational fear and hatred to become enshrined in law.” Working in the Reagan administration at the Department of Justice, Alito supported the firing of people with AIDS due to “fear of contagion whether reasonable or not.”

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New York City AIDS Response Hit

The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project released a study this week showing that city high schools, required to provide condoms to students who want them, had less than two available per year for each sexually active student. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Department of Education shot back that the figure doesn’t count condoms that are stockpiled and that the rubbers are supplied as requested by the schools.

Sarah Howell, program coordinator for CHAMP, told the Daily News, “The attitude is that providing access to condoms and straightforward education about how to use them is risky business in this sort of political climate.”

Condom availability in high schools and six AIDS lessons in every grade have been mandated since 1991, but these days those policies are more honored in the breach.

A just-released report from the New York City Commission on HIV/AIDS, available online at GothamGazette.com, recommended a “scientific and medical update” of the HIV/AIDS curriculum, which has not been changed since 1994 and monitoring of condom availability programs. During the just completed mayoral campaign, Bloomberg promised a new plan by December. The report said that “demonstrations of proper condom use,” banned by Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in classrooms, “could improve safer sex education.”

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Out Gay Bishop Disses Pope

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the out gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, met for four hours with the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, last week amidst turmoil in the Anglican Communion over his consecration and the blessing of same-sex unions in some dioceses. Lambeth Palace, the seat of the worldwide Communion, described the meeting as “friendly but candid.”

Robinson was allowed by Williams to participate in a debate at the Oxford Union, but not to officiate at services during his visit, a move the New Hampshire bishop termed “unusually cautious.” Robinson said he had no intention of repenting his gay life.

“That is not to say I’m perfect, but it is my belief that my orientation is value-neutral,” he said. “It is what I do with my relationship that God really cares about.”

One of the reasons for Robinson’s trip was the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Changing Attitude, a group that promotes the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. Speaking at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square, Robinson noted the drift of Roman Catholics into Anglicanism. “Pope Ratzinger,” he said, “may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church. I find it so vile that they think they are going to end the child abuse scandal by throwing homosexuals from seminaries. It is an act of violence that needs to be confronted.

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PlanetOut Buys Advocate, Out

PlanetOut Inc., a worldwide media and entertainment company that operates the PlanetOut and gay.com Web sites and publishes Out and About travel magazine, announced on November 9 that it had acquired LPI Media, publisher of The Advocate and Out magazines, for a total purchase price of $31.1 million, $24 million of which was in cash. The company estimated that 2005 revenue increase it will see as the result of the purchase of LPI is roughly $29 million.

PlanetOut Inc. is a publicly traded company. LPI Media was privately held. A planned acquisition of LPI by PlanetOut several years ago was never consummated.

“This transaction will further advance our strategy of building a far-reaching media and entertainment company which aggregates the largest gay and lesbian media brands,” said Lowell Selvin, chairman and chief executive officer of PlanetOut Inc., in a written statement. “This combination provides a larger, more diverse foundation for additional growth, particularly in our advertising business, as it becomes a larger percentage of our overall revenue… Besides, this is one gay marriage the laws do allow!”

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Baylor Cuts Ties to Gay Grad, Keeps Donations

Tim Smith, a 1983 graduate of Baylor University, has been dismissed from the Baptist school’s business school advisory board because he is gay. He had donated $65,000 to his alma mater and raised $60,000 for a scholarship fund. Smith told the school newspaper, the Lariat, that to discriminate this way “in the name of God is shameful.” Baylor banned Starbucks coffee cups bearing a quote from Armistead Maupin, the gay author of the “Tales of the City” series, in September and forced a gay student to withdraw earlier.

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FEMA Recognizes Gay Couple to Screw Them

The federal government forbids recognition of same-sex marriages, but FEMA flouted the law in New Orleans to deny a gay man disaster relief. At a meeting with survivors of Katrina, David Hart of the federal agency was told by a gay man that he got a $2,000 check from FEMA but his partner did not.

Hart said, “Well, if you’re living together at the same address, FEMA processors may have listed you as a couple and qualifying for only one payment.”

“Let me make sure I have this right,” the questioner said. “The federal government refuses to recognize my partner and I as a couple, but FEMA does, and therefore denies my partner assistance?”

Hart couldn’t answer and a transcript says the room erupted in “laughter and applause.”

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Un-Partnered Same-Sex Couples in UK to Lose Benefits

In December, same-sex couples in Britain will be able to register under the Civil Partnership Act, carrying with it most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. A side effect of the new law is that same-sex couples living together without registering will face the same scrutiny from the government in allocation of benefits as heterosexual unmarried couples have.

The LGBT activist group Outrage! said that joint assessment of the un-partnered couples could reduce pension benefits by as much as a third. If one person earns a good living and the other has a means-tested benefit, the poorer one could lose the benefit entirely.

A spokesperson for the Blair government told Gaydar Radio, “The act requires us to treat same-sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples. This is equality in action.”

Meanwhile, Lady Hale, the only woman on the Supreme Court of Law Lords in Britain, praised the act in a recent speech.

“Not all homosexuals are equally thrilled by this,” she said. “If people want both the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage, I do not see why we should deny it to them.” She noted that marriage was once designed “to preserve the purity of the male line, but that is not what it is all about these days.”

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Foreman Returns to Bloomberg Commission He Quit in Protest

In October 2004, Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, resigned from the City Commission on Human Rights to protest the decision by Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who appointed him, to challenge the Equal Benefits Law, that requires city contractors to treat domestic partners of employees the same as they treat spouses, in court. A few weeks ago, Foreman accepted an offer from Bloomberg to return to the Commission, despite the fact that the mayor is still in court preventing the partner law from going into effect. Foreman said that there were some critical issues around implementation of the transgender rights law that he wanted to work on among other things. He did not endorse a candidate for mayor in this week’s election.

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Anderson Cooper Inned

Summarizing the news of the week, The New York Times wrote without irony, “Anderson Cooper is in. Aaron Brown is out.”

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Indianapolis Bans Gender Identity Discrimination

Mayor Bart Peterson of Indianapolis issued an executive order protecting transgendered employees in city employment. The state of Indiana already had such a policy in place under the last two governors.

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