Supreme Court declined to hear anti-gay photographer’s appeal

Posted on 07 Apr 2014 at 11:01am

New_Mexico flagThe U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a New Mexico case challenging the state’s anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

The case involves a lesbian couple planning their wedding reception. Elaine Photography of Albuquerque turned down the couple’s request to shoot the wedding, saying they work only “traditional weddings.”

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state’s anti-discrimination law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation “in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

While ruling that the New Mexico Human Rights Act ensures “businesses offering services to the general public do not discriminate against protected classes of people,” it acknowledges “businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs.”

That free speech would would allow a business to post on a website or in advertising that it opposes same-sex marriage, but it complies with nondiscrimination laws.

The photography business appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, the court declined to hear the case next session, so the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling stands.

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Out former Husker urges support for Neb. bill to update nondiscrimination laws

Posted on 04 Apr 2014 at 4:59pm
ericl

Eric Lueshen

More than a decade ago, Eric Lueshen did the unthinkable at a Division I school. He walked out on to the football field as an out gay player. It was 2003. And it was at the University of Nebraska, a heavyweight in college football. No other player at a major university had done that.

Dallas Voice interviewed Lueshen and published a story about his experiences in the Feb. 14 issue. His dedication to LGBT causes and equality issues hasn’t dissipated since his college years. Lueshen has recently accepted requests to be the grand marshall in Pride parades, and he’s now writing letters to gather support for the passage of Legislative Bill 485, which would change Nebraska’s non-discrimination statutes to extend special protections to sexual orientation and gender identity. Several newspapers, including the McCook Daily Gazette have published his letter. You can read it below.

Dear Editor,

From 2003-2006, I was an openly gay Husker football player hailing from Pierce, Nebraska. Teammates, coaches, fellow athletes, my family, and people from all over supported and accepted me for who I was. What mattered to them was the person I was on the inside; someone with strong moral values and great character.

If my fellow teammates could accept and love me for being gay over a decade ago, why is it so hard to accept other LGBT people in the workplace here in Nebraska now?

LB 485, pending before the Nebraska Legislature, would update our nondiscrimination laws to include equal employment opportunities for LGBT Nebraskans. Current law already protects people from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. No one should be fired for who they are and who they love. It is a simple matter of fairness and justice. It sends the positive message that Nebraska is a welcoming place to live and work.

Gay and Lesbians in Nebraska pay taxes, vote, serve in the military, and run successful businesses. We go to school, play football, and cheer for the Huskers. We should be treated equally under the law.

I believe that most Nebraskans want to treat each other fairly and do the right thing. But when good judgment breaks down, we need to have laws that protect people. No one should have to live in fear that they can be fired from their job for a reason that has nothing to do with their job performance.

I fully support LB485, and I’m sure my former Husker teammates and coaches do as well. Please join me in the fight for equal employment opportunities for LGBT Nebraskans. I urge you to ask your legislator to act for equality and vote for LB485.

Sincerely,

Eric Lueshen

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Judge to end Ohio ban on recognizing gay marriage

Posted on 04 Apr 2014 at 4:02pm
Al Gerhardstein

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, left, stands with several same-sex couples at a news conference Friday in Cincinnati. (AP Photo)

A federal judge said Friday that he will strike down Ohio’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage, a move that stops short of forcing Ohio to perform same-sex weddings but will make the state recognize gay couples legally wed elsewhere, The Associated Press reported.

Judge Timothy Black announced his intentions in federal court in Cincinnati following final arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the marriage ban.

“I intend to issue a declaration that Ohio’s recognition bans, that have been relied upon to deny legal recognition to same-sex couples validly entered in other states where legal, violates the rights secured by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Black said. “(They’re) denied their fundamental right to marry a person of their choosing and the right to remain married.”

The civil rights attorneys who filed the February lawsuit did not ask Black to order the state to perform gay marriages, and he did not say he would do so.

The Cincinnati-based legal team asked Black to declare that Ohio’s gay marriage ban is “facially unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable,” and indicated that following such a ruling, the window would be open for additional litigation seeking to force the state to allow gay couples to marry in Ohio.

Attorneys for the state argued that it’s Ohio’s sole province to define marriage as between a man and a woman, that the statewide gay marriage ban doesn’t violate any fundamental rights, and that attorneys improperly expanded their originally narrow lawsuit.

“Ohio has made its own decision regarding marriage, deciding to preserve the traditional definition,” state’s attorneys argued in court filings ahead of Friday’s hearing.

They argued that prohibiting the state from enforcing its marriage ban would “disregard the will of Ohio voters, and undercut the democratic process.”

He didn’t say why he made the announcement on his ruling before he issues it. But by stating his intention ahead of his ruling, Black gave time for the state to prepare an appeal that can be filed as soon as he does.

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SMU students vote down LGBT senate seat

Posted on 04 Apr 2014 at 11:08am

SMUAfter the Southern Methodist University Student Senate voted last week to approve an LGBT student senate seat, the student body voted the proposal down.

Adding a senate seat required approval by two-thirds of the voters. The election was held on Thursday, and only 53 percent of those voting were in favor of adding the seat. Of SMU’s 11,000 students, only about 2,000 voted.

“However, 53 percent is not a two-thirds majority and it does not get us representation in senate,” Shelbi Smith, vice president of SMU’s LGBT group Spectrum, said. “It does not change the everyday reality for LGBT students who are discriminated against at SMU.”

Smith called this a set-back, but explained the proposal isn’t completely dead for this semester.

“Now, we have to collect 1,100 signatures on a petition to get a re-vote,” Smith said. “We are hoping to get the signatures in time to have a re-vote before the end of the semester. Otherwise, we start from ground zero next year.”

She called the vote by the Senate “a huge victory.” In previous years, the Senate voted down the proposal, in some years by large margins. This is the first time the proposal went to students for a vote.

“This is about so much more than a senate seat,” Smith said. “This is about equality. This is about making LGBT people feel welcome and included at our great university.”

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Mozilla CEO quits after anti-gay contribution controversy

Posted on 03 Apr 2014 at 4:27pm

Firefox logoAlthough I’m not big on boycotts, I do choose which companies I do business with. So I began posting an earlier version of this story on my newly downloaded version of Safari. When I heard Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO of Mozilla, however, I switched right back to Firefox.

Mozilla is the not-for-profit company that created the browser Firefox.

Soon after Eich was promoted on March 24, his $1,000 donation to support Proposition 8 that ended same-sex marriage in California for four years went public. Companies like OkCupid called on users to switch browsers.

In a series of interviews this week, Eich repeatedly refused to comment about the donation. In explaining his position and why he would remain at the head of the company that clearly includes LGBT equality as part of its corporate culture, he used twisted logic that a community like Mozilla should also support what many consider intolerant beliefs. Put another way, if you’re tolerant, you should tolerate my bigotry.

On Monday, Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of Mozilla, wrote on her blog:

“Speaking as the Chairwoman, I want to speak clearly on behalf of both the Mozilla Corporation and the Mozilla Foundation: Mozilla supports equality for all, explicitly including LGBT equality and marriage equality.”

This afternoon, Baker updated the Mozilla blog.

“Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO” she said. “He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community.”

Eich is one of the creators of Firefox. When his donation first came to light in 2012, his coworkers at Mozilla were surprised. He had never shown any indication of personally opposing equality or working against any LGBT employee’s equality at the company.

“My experience is that Brendan is as committed to opportunity and diversity inside Mozilla as anyone, and more so than many,” Baker said.

Once Eich was named CEO, websites like OKCupid encouraged its users to try another browser.

“Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid,” the company wrote in a letter to its users.

OkCupid explained that 8 percent of the relationships the site help form would be invalid if Eich had his way.

Now that Eich is gone, Baker wrote, “We will emerge from this with a renewed understanding and humility — our large, global, and diverse community is what makes Mozilla special, and what will help us fulfill our mission. We are stronger with you involved. Thank you for sticking with us.”

OK. I tried using Safari. I didn’t really like it. Although I didn’t really want to use it, I felt like I couldn’t write the original story I had about Mozilla’s CEO on Firefox. Eich’s gone and I’m happy to say, I’m back.

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University of Houston student Senate introduces bill to help trans community

Posted on 03 Apr 2014 at 12:27pm

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 12.19.48 PMStudents at the University of Houston are considering a bill to help transgender students and staff better identify themselves as their gender identity on campus.

The bill, the Josephine Tittsworth Act, was introduced by the student Senate Wednesday and calls upon the university to “fulfill its existing nondiscrimination policy (of the UH Student Handbook)” in regards to LGBT students, the student newspaper The Daily Cougar reports.

The bill seeks to acknowledge that “gender expression is the external characteristics presented by an individual such as masculine or feminine features displayed in mannerisms, speech, social environments or attire,” and to formally acknowledge “the terms, gender identity and gender expression represented trans, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff” on all University documentation.

It would allow students to have their preferred name on rosters and other university documents.

“Honestly, this is a freedom of speech issue. It allows people to choose which box to check. Over the past few weeks, people had unfortunately misinterpreted (the bill). This bill is about respect and tolerance on this campus,” newly elected student body President Charles Haston told the paper.

The bill comes a few months after the student government at the University of Houston-Downtown approved gender-neutral restrooms.

UH students at the meeting Wednesday explained the bill would help address students who go by a name associated with their gender identity only to be outed as trans when the professor calls roll, revealing their legal name.

The bill cites “high rates of harassment, physical violence and sexual assaults” as a result of failing to acknowledge trans and gender-nonconforming identities.

“This bill will translate into people being open with their identity,” said Tanzeem Chowdhury, former undergraduate-at-large senator.

“I think it would create a safer campus. Currently, UH is the second-most diverse campus in the nation. We’re always making progress in acceptance, and this would be a strong move forward — it would create a safer campus not only for members of the LGBT community, but for the entire student body.”

A town hall meeting to discuss the act will be at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Carson City ends opposition in challenge to Nev. same-sex marriage ban

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 6:15pm

Clark-County-GOPThe Clark County, Nev., Republican Party edited its official platform statement over the weekend to remove a section defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, cut out a statement opposing abortion and added a section affirming people of all sexual orientations The Associated Press reported.

The pivot came over the weekend after some debate and a vote at the group’s central committee meeting in Las Vegas. Strong statements on social issues don’t align with the group’s belief in individual freedom, according to Nick Phillips, the organization’s political director.

“A big part of it has to do with personal liberty and smaller government,” he said Tuesday, “and other people not infringing on our rights and beliefs.”

The Clark County GOP is among the first in the country to make such changes to their platform statement. It comes amid overall shifts in public opinion on same-sex marriage, changes in the county party leadership and efforts to appeal to a broader base.

“Younger people believe they’re getting screwed by the Democrats on fiscal issues, and screwed by Republicans on social issues,” Phillips said. “Take that away and you’ve got a party you can get behind.”

About 570 people attended the committee meeting, and about 100 to 120 people opposed overhauling the platform statement in a vote Saturday, Phillips said. Critics raised concerns that abandoning the marriage definition would lead to the government forcing churches to perform weddings for gay couples.

Removing the anti-abortion provision drew even more strident opposition, Phillips said.

The platform now includes seven tenets outlining the Republican stance on jobs, public education, health care, immigration reform, taxation, fiscal responsibility and personal rights.

Clark County is home to three-fourths of Nevada’s residents, but it’s unclear whether the state Republican Party will follow suit and eliminate abortion and gay marriage language in its platform statement.

The state party is scheduled to hold its convention in Las Vegas April 11 and 12.

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Mississippi passes anti-gay hate law

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 3:31pm

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi Legislature passed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill on Tuesday  similar to the one vetoed in Arizona. The law legalizes anti-gay discrimination as long as it’s done in the name of religion.

The bill that passed was rewritten after the Arizona bill was vetoed. The blatant anti-gay animus was removed. The new bill is simply written ambiguously so that there’s nothing unconstitutional about its wording. However, if anyone tries to use the law to justify discrimination, courts could strike it down as written only because of extreme animus against the LGBT community.

“The language still exposes virtually every branch, office and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Eunice Rho told MSNBC.

Wording of the bill is modeled after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That law, though, passed by a bipartisan coalition, was not intended to encourage discrimination or limit anyone’s civil rights.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

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Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest

Posted on 02 Apr 2014 at 3:27pm

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A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”

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Report shows LGB people face additional health risks, transgender issues require another report

Posted on 01 Apr 2014 at 3:26pm

health-rainbow2_0A report released recently by the Boston-based Fenway Institute has found important health-related risks within the LGB community that are not well-documented or well-known and not addressed by prevention and treatment programs.

Many studies have shown that gay men have a higher risk of HIV infection and that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied and considering suicide. But the new Fenway policy brief  shows that the LGB community has a higher rate of tobacco use than the general public, that lesbians have an increased risk of being overweight and that LGB elders have an increased risk of disability.

The Fenway report is based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys (BRFSS) in all 50 states, reaching 506,000 people. CDC provides the core questionnaire for each state to administer, asking questions about such health-related matters as diet, physical activity, smoking, immunization and sleep.

CDC does not include a question about a survey participant’s sexual orientation on the core questionnaire or on a list of additional optional questions states can add. Only 27 states have, on their own initiative, begun asking questions about sexual orientation and/or same-sex sexual behavior, according to the Fenway report.

Because sexual orientation data is not collected in all 50 states, says the Fenway report, “it is impossible to compare their health behaviors to those of other groups.”

“Without this information, states may miss the opportunity to develop programs, policies and services to address local health disparities.”

The Fenway report urges all states “to include, at a minimum, a sexual identity measure, and, whenever possible, to also include a sexual behavior measure.” Due to the “nuances and complexity of measuring gender identity, and the unique and understudied health disparities transgender people face,” said the Fenway report, “a comprehensive assessment of these issues” requires another report.

Some of the specific findings of Fenway’s analysis of the data collected by the 27 states that do ask questions about sexual identity and/or same-sex sexual behavior include:

  • Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to obtain mammograms and Pap tests
  • Gay men have higher rates of alcohol and drug use
  • LGB people have higher rates of tobacco use and are more likely to lack health insurance
  • LGB older adults have increased risk of disability, excessive drinking and smoking
  • 18 percent of doctors in California are “sometimes” or “often” uncomfortable treating gay patients
  • 9.4 percent of men who identified themselves as “straight” in New York City had sex with another man during the past year.
  • 76 percent of self-identified lesbian sexually active adolescents reported having had sex with a male

Of the 27 states which have asked people about their sexual orientation, some have asked the question in only one year; some every year. The 27 states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The report urges all 50 states to begin asking about sexual orientation.

“Collecting sexual orientation data at the state level,” says the report, “can propel the federal initiative forward and enhance states’ ability to document and work toward eliminating health disparities experienced by their own populations.”

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

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