In the News

NATIONAL ROUNDUP Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Andrew Davis
Windy City Times

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for violating the Antideficiency Act, according to a press release. Boehner directed the House Office of General Counsel to sign a contract to pay an outside firm $500,000 to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. "It is ironic that Speaker Boehner—a fierce critic of government overspending—did not hesitate to pledge half a million dollars he does not have to defend a law of dubious constitutionality," said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

In Kentucky, a disabled gay couple was ejected from a public recreation facility in Hazard, outraging local pro-LGBT organizations, Advocate.com reported. A maintenance technician turned away the developmentally and intellectually disabled couple, saying, "We own this place and can tell you to leave if we want to." Several organizations plan to stage a protest at Hazard City Hall and at the Pavilion, the facility that threw out the couple. Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman has apologized for the incident.

In Washington, D.C., a Safeway cashier has apologized after calling two customers "fucking faggots," according to Advocate.com. Jason Morgan—who went with partner Brendan Harrington to the store—said, We put our groceries up on the conveyer belt, some frozen dinner and wine, and [the cashier] said, 'Oh God, they're faggots. And then Brendan said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you said.' And she said 'You guys are fucking faggots.'" Resident Andrew Kloman then confronted the cashier with a video camera, asking her to apologize; she complied.

A coalition of religious and secular organizations advocating to end the harm caused to LGBT youth by religion-based bigotry held a historic meeting with the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Phoenix, Ariz., according to a press release. Six groups—Faith in America, Truth Wins Out, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Get Equal, Soulforce and Believe OutLoud—planned the meeting and circulated a petition that garnered more than 10,000 signatures, which they gave to SBC President Bryant Wright. Wright, whose own son was present at the meeting, said he would still love his son if his child came out of the closet, but added that still could not accept his son's homosexuality as normal.

In Los Angeles, Calif., a federal bankruptcy court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional in relation to a case involving a gay couple who filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, according to Advocate.com. Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, who were legally married in California in 2008, filed for bankruptcy protection under Title 11 of the U.S. Code. The United States Trustee wanted to dismiss this case, citing DOMA.

The Veterans Healthcare Administration has notified its hospitals and clinics that transgender veterans are eligible for hormones; care before and after gender-reassignment surgery; and mental-health counseling as part of their regular benefits, according to a Washington Times item. However, the administration reiterated that staff members are not allowed to perform genital surgeries on veterans in the process of changing genders.

The lesbian half-sister of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has come to his defense, Advocate.com reported. Candace Gingrich-Jones, who works for the Human Rights Campaign, said that he has softened his stance on gay-rights issues, crediting his third wife, Callista. A majority of Gingrich's presidential campaign staff resigned after Gingrich went on a two-week cruise, which many staffers said was inappropriate during this point of the campaign.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo submitted a program bill to bring marriage equality to the state, according to NY.gov. The Marriage Equality Act allows all couples to enter into marriage, thereby removing the current barrier same-sex couples face in recognizing their relationships, protecting their families and obtaining essential benefits. "On the issue of marriage equality, our state has fallen behind," Cuomo said. "When it comes to fighting for what's right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and marriage equality is the next chapter of our civil-rights story."

In Seattle, Wash., the operators of the structure known as the Space Needle told the city's gay community that it will fly a Pride flag from the top—if residents can raise $45,000 for LGBT charities, according to Advocate.com. The Needle flew the flag for the first time last year, but when asked to do it again, they presented the fundraising challenge to Seattle. The money will go to the Greater Seattle Business Association LGBT and allied scholarship fund; Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project; Lambda Legal; and Mary's Place, a trans-inclusive women's shelter.

A new issue brief from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) finds that LGBTQ Latinas face unique reproductive health and immigration challenges that are often overlooked, according to a press release. The report, titled LGBTQ Latin@s and Reproductive Justice, also examines the barriers LGBTQ immigrants and their families face to accessing healthcare and residency status, and the hardships they endure, including threats of violence. Nearly half of all immigrants in the United States are of Latino origin. 

In Texas, the El Paso city council restored health benefits to the gay and unmarried partners of local employees—with the help of Mayor John Cook, who broke a tie, Advocate.com reported. The development reversed a November vote by residents that rescinded the benefits. However, some of the pro-benefit council members are leaving office soon, only to be replaced by those who want to take back the benefits.

In Ferndale, Mich., vandals committed a hate crime by tossing paint onto the house and car of a gay couple and carving the phrase "white fag" on the vehicle's door, according to Advocate.com. Anti-gay slurs were also spray-painted on the house. Police Sgt. Patrick Jones said that the incident will be investigated as a hate crime. Ferndale, which has a large LGBT population, was the first city in the state to elect an out gay mayor (in 2007).

The Daily Beast has reported that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed in 2005 that a lesbian and an ex-nun almost abducted her in a bathroom. Bachmann—who had previously been caught hiding in the bushes of a gay-right event—was a Minnesota state senator at the time. When Bachmann refused to talk about same-sex marriage at a forum and went to the restroom, the two women went there and questioned her on the subject. No charges were ever filed.

In Portland, Ore., authorities are asking for help in identifying suspects who committed a violent hate crime in late May near Hawthorne Bridge, according to Advocate.com. Two gay men—Brad Forkner, 23, and Christopher Rosevear, 25—were holding hands when three men attacked them. The victims had minor injuries, and Rosevear needed stitches. 

A security guard admonished a lesbian couple after they kissed during a Minnesota Twins game at Target Field—but the baseball team has reprimanded him, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Kelsi Culpepper said, "When I kissed my girlfriend and went to the [restroom] the security guard approached Taylor Campione, my girlfriend, shaking his head and saying, We don't do that here. There's no grab-ass in the stadium." Culpepper then contacted LGBT publications and emailed the Twins. Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said that the team gave a guard verbal and written reprimands.

In Holland, Mich., the city council has voted down a gay-rights amendment after a heated meeting, according to WWMT.com. More than 200 people packed the almost-six-hour-long meeting, with dozens voicing their opinions. The Holland Human Relations Commission had unanimously recommended that the council pass the ordinance.

In San Francisco, gay- and women's-rights activists bombed GOP presidential candidate and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty with pink glitter, according to Advocate.com. Pawlenty was signing copies of his book, Courage to Stand, at a conference for private health insurers when members of the women's-rights organization CODEPINK showered his table with glitter and yelled at him. Pawlenty supported Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In New York City, Starbucks is investigating a Long Island customer's claim that a gay employee was publicly heckled and forced to quit, according to the New York Post. Self-proclaimed Starbucks fanatic Missy Alison wrote, "What was most concerning about it was it was perpetuated by not one, not two but THREE of your employees and it was directed towards a fourth employee." Starbucks said that any disciplinary action that may happen will not be made public.

Also in New York City, Staten Island Catholic schoolteacher Danielle Johnsen, 29, allegedly had sexual contact with a 16-year-old female student, according to the New York Post. Johnsen's attorney, Leo Duval, said that the schoolgirl invented the story because the teacher reportedly broke her heart. The charges stem from three makeout sessions Johnsen allegedly had with the student earlier this year.

In California, the Sacramento Sikh Temple is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man responsible for the attack on Seth Parker outside an entertainment center in Elk Grove June 5, the Sacramento Bee reported. Parker, who got into an argument with the suspect in the center's parking lot, believes he was attacked because he is gay and that the attack should be investigated as a hate crime. The suspect punched Parker in the face and then ran off with another male.

Despite a statement by President Barack Obama's White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer June 17 that a 1996 survey response was not written by the then-candidate for Illinois state Senate, Windy City Times newspaper stands by the reporting on Obama's early support of gay marriage in at least two gay surveys. The surveys were from a 1996 response to Outlines newspaper (which now owns and publishes Windy City Times) and IMPACT, a now-defunct gay political action committee. Pfeiffer, asked by Joy Gray of the Daily Kos about the surveys, during the Netroots Nation convention in Minneapolis, said, "If you actually go back and look, that questionnaire was actually filled out by someone else, not the president."

Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, praised the Senate Armed Services Committee's mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, according to a press release. The mark-up would repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice—the military's sodomy law. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis issued a separate statement also lauding the development: "This action has been recommended by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission, which includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group."

In Indiana, Valparaiso University student Tia Kolasa believes that she was removed from a leadership position because she's a lesbian, according to WBEZ.com. Kolasa, 19, was elected to a seat on the student senate but was subsequently removed. University spokesman Reggie Syrcle said she was ousted because the seat is served for someone representing a racial or ethnic minority, adding that if Kolasa runs for an at-large seat and wins, it's fine for her to serve.

A U.S. couple celebrated Nepal's first public lesbian wedding ceremony June 20, according to the Huffington Post. The Himalayan country recently began recognizing gay rights and drafting anti-gay laws. Courtney Mitchell, 41, and Sarah Welton, 48, from Denver, Colo., celebrated in a Hindu Nepalese tradition at a temple south of the capital of Katmandu. Local gay rights activists and supporters cheered the ceremony. Same-sex marriages are not legal in Nepal, but activist Sunilbabu Pant said the ceremony "was a huge achievement for the gay-rights campaign in Nepal."

Bob Bland, one of the original members of the New York Gay Liberation Front (GLF), passed away June 7, at the age of 64 at the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, according to a press release. In 1970-71, Bland was an active member of New York GLF and part of the 17th Street Collective household and Gay Flames, a GLF publication. In 1972, he returned to North Carolina and founded the Triangle Gay Alliance, the first LGBT organization in that state.

Immigration Equality has called on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to broaden and clarify the definition of "family" and "spouse" used in a June 17 memo to ICE field offices, special agents and counsel, according to a press release. The memo—which outlines cases in which ICE officials should exercise "discretion" when prioritizing who should be targeted for removal from the United States—does not specifically include lesbian and gay spouses or partners, despite earlier correspondence indicating those families would be given such considerations.

A Wisconsin circuit court has upheld the state's domestic-partner registry as constitutional, according to a press release. In Dane County, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Daniel R. Moeser wrote, "Ultimately, it is clear that Chapter 770 does not violate the Marriage Amendment because it does not create a legal status for domestic partners that is identical or substantially similar to that of marriage. The state does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage. Moreover, domestic partners' have far fewer legal rights, duties, and liabilities in comparison to the legal rights, duties, and liabilities of spouses."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has released its 51st and final video featuring iconic and everyday New Yorkers for marriage equality, according to a press release. "This has been an incredible campaign. We are in the home stretch. We are grateful to all New Yorkers who lent their voices to the fight for equality," said HRC Senior New York Strategist Brian Ellner. HRC's New Yorkers for Marriage Equality videos—featuring such people as Joan Rivers, Anna Wintour, Larry King and Bill T. Jones—have collectively received more than 1 million views on YouTube.

In Oregon, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alec Esquivel, 41, a state employee who was denied insurance coverage for surgery because he is transgender, according to a press release. In 2010, as part of his transition-related health plan, Esquivel's doctor recommended that he undergo a hysterectomy as part of his gender-identity disorder treatment and because he was at heightened risk for uterine and ovarian cancer. Lambda is arguing that Oregon's antidiscrimination law prohibits an employer from denying insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity.

A story in Politico predicts that Texas Gov. Rick Perry will again have to deal with rumors about his sexuality if he runs for president, according to Advocate.com. Sites ranging from The Huffington Post to The Drudge Report have posted headlines such as "Rick Perry Gay Rumors." Perry, a conservative Republican, is staunchly anti-gay; he is planning a prayer session in August in Houston, and praying to end homosexuality's effect on society is on the schedule.

In New Jersey, Alrashim Chambers has been indicted on charges of bias intimidation and murder in the 2010 death of transgender woman Victoria Carmen White, according to Advocate.com. Last September, White was dancing with her cousin when she met Chambers and Marquise Foster; they all went to the cousin's apartment, and an altercation led to White being shot several times. Authorities believe Chambers killed White after learning the lingerie model was transgender.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters that her department "fully intend[s] to collect LGBT data," including on national health surveys, according to a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) press release. HRC President Joe Solmonese said, in part, "We applaud Secretary Sebelius for her commitment to collecting critical data on the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It has been repeatedly demonstrated—including in a major LGBT health report issued just months ago by the Institute of Medicine—that LGBT people experience significant health disparities and that we cannot fully understand those disparities and how to address them until major health studies ask about our community."