Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Compiled by Dawn Wolfe
Study finds that ballot questions on marriage will be harmful to communities
AMHERST, Mass. – This fall voters in a number of states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah, will go to the polls to vote on whether same-sex couples should be denied equal marriage rights. A new report shows that these elections may carry significant negative psychological and social consequences for local residents and for the community at large.
Research compiled by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS) finds that referenda can affect the lives of both gay/lesbian/bisexual and heterosexual people in several ways.
Earlier ballot measures on marriage equality and other gay-related issues have frequently resulted in divided communities, with hostile rhetoric a mainstay of such campaigns. The political fight often reinvigorates old stereotypes and has led to deep divisions within families and communities.
Lee Badgett, research director of IGLSS, notes, “Our research findings indicate that states may pay a heavy social price for putting the rights of any group up for a vote.”
In addition to the states already scheduling votes for the fall, other states (such as Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon) are still considering referenda on marriage.
Fired Iowa worker sues, claiming discrimination because of sex
DES MOINES, Iowa – A transsexual worker at an Iowa tractor dealership has sued her former employer, claiming she was fired solely because she was changing her gender identity from male to female. Lauren Jansen, formerly Larry Jansen, claims in the lawsuit filed June 7 that the Murphy Tractor and Equipment Co. and its president violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Jansen was undergoing gradual physical changes as part of the transition to becoming a woman when she was fired from the Sioux City dealership in January, the lawsuit said.
Courts historically have ruled that transsexuals are not a protected class under federal and states’ civil rights laws, but two weeks ago the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati became the first federal appeals court to extend the Civil Rights Act to protect people who change their sex against workplace discrimination.
The court noted the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 said employers could not discriminate against women who do not wear dresses or makeup.
“It follows that employers who discriminate against men because they do wear dresses and makeup, or otherwise act femininely, are also engaging in sex discrimination, because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex,” the appeals court ruled.
Jansen, who had worked as a parts salesman at the tractor dealership for 24 years, decided last year that he could no longer live as a man. Two managers informed Jansen in December that “because his sex was changing to female, he was going to be discharged,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims the mangers told Jansen the decision was made by Murphy Tractor President Thomas Udland and “was totally and singly based on the fact of his change of sex.”
Suit challenges campaign laws applied to church
HELENA, Mont. – A church has sued the state political practices commissioner after she launched an investigation into whether it became a political organization by urging members to support a proposed ballot measure banning equal marriage rights.
Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church of East Helena contends in the federal suit filed June 7 in Helena that the campaign finance laws at issue are unconstitutional. Applying the laws to churches stifles free speech and religious freedom, and the investigation has discouraged churches from collecting petition signatures to put the proposed ban on the November ballot, the suit claims.
The national organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of the church against Commissioner Linda Vaughey.
The suit is in response to a complaint filed with Vaughey last month, alleging a May 23 church event urging support for Constitutional Initiative 96 transformed the church into a political committee. The church failed to register as such with Vaughey’s office and to report spending associated with the event, the complaint stated. It was filed by Montanans for Families and Fairness, an organization formed to oppose the marriage equality ban in CI-96.
State high court to hear lesbian’s claim against San Diego club
SAN DIEGO – The state Supreme Court agreed June 9 to hear an appeal from a San Diego woman who contends that California’s civil rights law should protect her and her lesbian partner from discrimination based on marital status.
B. Birgit Koebke filed a lawsuit against the Bernardo Heights Country Club in 2001 because it requires her to pay guest fees whenever her state-registered domestic partner, Kendall French, plays golf at the club. Bernardo Heights maintains that only a member’s legal spouse is entitled to free use of the course and other family benefits.
In Atlanta, a city commission recently found that the Druid Hills Golf Club was found to violate the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance by refusing spousal benefits to a lesbian couple and a gay couple. Efforts to mediate a solution broke down in late May.
Koebke, a 47-year-old television sales executive, argues that the state’s 1959 Civil Rights Act protects her from discrimination based on marital status. Since California law bans equal marriage, Koebke contends, she cannot fully enjoy the benefits of her club membership, which she purchased in 1986.
A San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed her claims in 2002. In March, an appellate court ordered the trial court to review a portion of her case, but rejected Koebke’s challenges of the interpretation of the civil rights law.
The California Supreme Court voted 7-0 to review Koebke’s appeal of that decision. The court did not indicate when it would hear the case.
Reagan’s other legacy
SAN FRANCISCO – As one of the first physicians to confront AIDS when it began its rampage through the gay community, Dr. Marcus Conant lobbied the Reagan administration in 1982 to launch an emergency campaign to educate Americans about the disease. It took the president five more years to publicly mention the crisis. By then, almost 21,000 Americans had died and thousands more had been diagnosed. Conant, who lost scores of friends and patients to the disease, is still deeply angry.
“Ronald Reagan and his administration could have made a substantial difference, but for ideological reasons, political reasons, moral reasons, they didn’t do it,” said the San Francisco dermatologist, who now deals with a new generation of AIDS patients. “President Reagan and his administration committed a crime, not just a sin.”
Despite the accolades lavished upon Reagan since his death Saturday, his many detractors remember him as a right-wing ideologue beholden to monied interests and insensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable Americans.
Activists point to Reagan’s early silence on the AIDS crisis as doing the bidding of the far right, with devastating results. In San Francisco, the number of AIDS cases peaked during the Reagan administration. AIDS activist Rene Durazzo remembers it as a frightening time when “chronic death” seemed to pervade the city streets.
“The number of people dying was horrific. The disease was very visible – people were suffering and wasting,” Durazzo said. “It was a very volatile environment, there was so much anger at the government for not paying attention.”
SF mayor’s gay marriage stand brings out Hollywood heavyweights
SAN FRANCISCO – In another sign that his decision to sanction equal marriage rights is paying political dividends, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will be honored at a fund-raiser staged by Hollywood heavyweights who see him as a rising Democratic star.
The June 14 event at the Los Angeles-area home of actor and director Rob Reiner will be co-hosted by the likes of Barbra Streisand and husband James Brolin, television producer Norman Lear, billionaire entertainment mogul Haim Saban, GeoCities founder David Bohnett and celebrity designer Michael Smith.
Proceeds from the $750-per-person reception, a price that is the maximum allowed under San Francisco’s campaign finance laws, will help retire the $400,000 debt from Newsom’s mayoral campaign last year. Several hundred invitations have been mailed.
Reiner first contacted Newsom with an offer of help back in February, when the 36-year-old mayor made national headlines by directing his administration to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
His equal marriage policy, which let about 4,000 couples marry, also earned him a place as a celebrity grand marshal at San Francisco’s June 27 gay pride parade. The California Supreme Court ordered a stop to the unions in March pending its review of whether Newsom exceeded his authority as a city official.
G-8 adopts plan to speed HIV vaccine
SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Bush administration won backing from major allies for a proposal to accelerate development of an HIV vaccine, and Bush on June 10 proposed spending $15 million to launch it. The $15 million would gather people together at a yet-to-be undetermined medical center in the United States to advance vaccine research, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.
Group of Eight countries meeting at an economic summit this week in Sea Island adopted Bush’s plan for a “Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise” – a blueprint for speeding up development of a vaccine. The plan, Fauci said, would set up HIV vaccine development centers around the world to coordinate efforts; work to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity; standardize laboratories’ measurement systems around the world; build a network of clinics for trials; and allow regulatory authorities in different countries to recognize clinical trials across borders.
State pulls funding for GLBT Center’s anti-smoking efforts
SALT LAKE CITY – Possibly because of a controversial gay t-shirt campaign aimed at teenagers, the Utah Department of Health has cut funding for the GLBT Community Center of Utah’s anti-smoking efforts. The campaign was funded by money from the tobacco industry settlement managed by the department.
Jennifer Nuttall, director for adult programs at the GLBT Center, believes the funding cut is directly related to a campaign that outfitted gay teenagers with shirts that said “Queers Kick Ash.” At least four suburban Salt Lake City high school students were suspended for refusing to cover or change the shirts, which were created by a teen task force to combat the high rates of smoking among GLBT youth.
“The UDOH came to this decision in an attempt to prevent the anti-tobacco health message from being overshadowed by unrelated advocacy activity,” said UDOH public information officer Jana Kettering in a statement. “The UDOH remains concerned about tobacco use among this population and urges those served by the center to access available cessation services through their local health department or through the Utah Tobacco Quit Line.”
Nuttall called the decision an irresponsible, knee-jerk response to publicity created by the suspensions.
Methodist bishop names another gay pastor to lead congregation
SEATTLE – The bishop of the United Methodist Church’s Pacific Northwest Conference, a focal point of the church’s debate over homosexuals in the ministry, has appointed a lesbian pastor to the same congregation that two other openly gay ministers once led.
Bishop Elias Galvan has named the Rev. Katie Ladd, currently pastor at Crown Hill United Methodist Church in Seattle, to succeed the Rev. Mark Williams at Seattle’s Woodland Park United Methodist Church on July 1. Williams, who disclosed he was gay at the annual gathering of the regional conference in 2001, is leaving to pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington.
Church charges against Williams were dropped a year after his disclosure, after an investigative panel decided it had insufficient evidence that he had violated church law. He remains a minister in good standing in the conference, which encompasses Washington and northern Idaho.
Ladd’s appointment comes less than three months after the Rev. Karen Dammann, who served as Woodland Park’s pastor before Williams, was acquitted at a church trial of violating Methodist rules barring “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the ministry.
Thirteen fellow pastors in the jury said Methodist laws and teachings against homosexual acts were not strong enough to find that Dammann had engaged in practices that were “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In Other News
New PETA ad a real drag for KFC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – New York drag star Lady Bunny, who has appeared on Sex and the City and in Britney Spears’ recent MTV special, flew to Louisville to make her next appearance outside a KFC on June 4, where she unveiled her new parody campaign for PETA. In the ad, Bunny wears a fluorescent mini-dress while holding up KFC’s trademark bucket beneath the caption “Sometimes Big Bright Packages Contain Dirty Little Secrets.” The text describes Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe as cruelty to animals and urges people to “kick the bucket” and join the growing KFC boycott.
PETA and Lady Bunny are calling on KFC to make several basic reforms in the way the company treats the chickens who end up in its buckets and boxes, including ending painful debeaking and scalding of live birds. Undercover investigations into KFC suppliers in the U.S., Germany, India, England, and Australia have revealed crippled chickens living in crowded, filthy conditions.