National Briefs

Posted on 10 Aug 2006 at 6:39pm

Shoplifting case ends for former Penn State player suing coach

HARRISBURG, Pa. A former Penn State basketball player who has accused the coach of anti-lesbian bias was accepted into an alternative sentencing program last week for a retail theft charge.

Jennifer E. Harris, 21, was ordered to perform 15 hours of community service and allowed into the state’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program in Dauphin County.

Court records indicate police charged Harris with stealing two shirts and two skirts, worth a combined $70, from a Harrisburg store in May.

Harris, who now plays for James Madison University in Virginia, is pursuing a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Rene Portland, coach of the Penn State women’s basketball team. Harris claims the coach discriminated against her because Portland falsely suspected she was a lesbian. Portland has denied the allegations.

Synchronized men’s swim team barred from meet at Stanford

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. A men’s synchronized swim team has been barred from a meet at Stanford University, reinforcing an International Olympics Committee decision designating the sport as women-only.

The San Francisco Tsunami Swim Club’s team was set to perform an exhibition at the FINA World Masters Championships now under way. But the international governing body that oversees the meet scuttled the plans.

The synchro team, in its fourth season, has competed at national competitions, the Gay Games and the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championships. San Francisco Tsunami describes itself on its Web site as a gay and lesbian aquatics team that is open to all.

Men have participated in synchronized swimming since the 1980s in mixed pairs, but have been banned from competing in the World Masters Championships because the Olympics classifies it as a female sport.

Gay marriage foes set to turn in petitions for ballot issue

DENVER, Colo. Opponents of gay marriage planned to turn in more than 133,000 petition signatures earlier this week in hopes of putting a measure on the Nov. ballot to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

State law already contains that definition, but the proposal by Coloradans for Marriage would add it to the state constitution, where it would be tougher to change.
At least 18 measures could go before voters, including four on gay marriage and one legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana statewide.

Seven measures were placed on the ballot by lawmakers. They range from directing the attorney general to sue the federal government to demand enforcement of immigration laws to requiring school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operational budget on “services that directly affect student achievement.”

Two proposals would establish legal domestic partnerships, giving gay couples some of the legal rights and benefits that married couples have. One was placed on the ballot by the Legislature; another is proposed by Coloradans for Fairness. Another would amend the state constitutional to prohibit state and local governments from creating or recognizing a legal status similar to marriage.

The marijuana initiative is similar to one that Denver voters approved last year. It would change state law to legalize possession of one ounce or less of the drug for people at least 21 years old.

Judge allows father of slain Marine to post suit against church

BALTIMORE, Md. Attorneys for a Pennsylvania man whose son was killed in Iraq have been given permission to use alternative methods to serve notice of a civil complaint against a fundamentalist Kansas church that stages protests at military funerals.

Albert Snyder’s son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed on March 3.

His funeral in Westminster, Md., was picketed a week later by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who maintain that military casualties in Iraq are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. The group typically carry signs with slogans such as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for IEDs,” a reference to the roadside bombs used by insurgents.

Snyder’s lawsuit alleges church members violated the family’s right to privacy and defamed the Marine and his family at the funeral and on the church’s Web site. Church leader Fred Phelps has denied any wrongdoing.

Kansas residents upset over flying of rainbow flag in front of hotel

MEADE, Kan. A 12-year-old son’s gift of a colorful flag he found while staying with his grandparents in California has put his parents in the middle of controversy in this small town.

J.R. and Robin Knight said they knew the rainbow flag was a symbol of gay rights when they decided last month to fly it on a pole in front of their business, the Lakeway Hotel. But that isn’t why they flew the banner.

“We just put it up. We didn’t think about it,” Robin said. “It has pretty colors, it’s bright, it’s summery.” And, J.R. Knight said, it was a symbolic way to have their son nearby.

The decision prompted a controversy in the town of 1,600 and eventually someone cut the flag down. It’s also prompted an Internet-fueled debate on gay rights in rural America, and the Knights say they have received messages of support from around the world.

Waitress Vicky Best said such a flag has no place in Meade. “It’s hard enough to keep your kids on the straight and narrow without outside influences like that,” she complains. “We stay in a small town to stay away from the crap like that that’s happening in big cities,” she said, calling homosexuality “biblically wrong.”

The Knights say they have no problems with homosexuals, but they have never taken a role in the gay rights movement.

The Knights say the anger displayed by some residents has strengthened their resolve to keep the rainbow flag flying.

Flying the flag not only protests discrimination, but they also believe giving into the pressure would send the wrong message to their son, Anthony. “It’s our business. It shouldn’t be dictated by other people,” Robin Knight said.

So, when someone cut away the flag last week, leaving behind only tattered corners, the Knights quickly ordered two more, and said more will be coming to replace any others that might be destroyed.

Black Episcopalians discuss gay issues at national conference

RICHMOND, Va. National Episcopal leadership is focusing on the issue of gay ordination at the cost of addressing minority concerns, and is enlisting African bishops to fight a battle that’s not theirs, speakers told a gathering of black Episcopalians Tuesday.

The church should look instead at fighting poverty and racism, and address the conservative versus liberal divide that underlies the gay debate, speakers said at the 38th annual conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

The national group, which represents close to 400,000 black Episcopalians, is meeting in Richmond all week. About 500 clergy and parishioners are expected to discuss topics such as reaching out to young black boys and strengthening the nation’s historically black, Episcopal colleges.

Reaction was strongest, however, on the ordination of gays an issue that black leaders say has ballooned out of proportion. “We waste our time trying to figure out who’s sleeping with whom, instead of being about doing the work of mission and ministry,” the Rev. Sandye Wilson, the group’s immediate past president, told an applauding crowd. “Don’t get sidetracked.”

Among black Episcopalians the issue takes a backseat to more standard minority concerns: improving the economy, health care and education, treasurer John Harris said. Episcopal leaders meet to discuss church issues at the General Convention every three years.

“The Union of Black Episcopalians is absolutely correct in identifying that life and death issues such as the eradication of hunger and poverty must have the church’s full attention,” said Robert Williams, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church. “The Episcopal church’s record for civil rights achievement has been strong.”

Wilson linked the debate over gay ordination to the decades-old ordination of women a pill she said conservative leaders never fully swallowed. With women now incorporated into many churches, she said gays have become a new scapegoat. She joined other leaders who said the church enlisted the support of right-leaning African bishops while overlooking issues facing their continent, including the HIV crisis.

On Tuesday, she asked black Episcopalians to remember the civil rights era as she held up a copy of the Windsor Report, a 2004 document that urged U.S. Episcopal leaders to apologize for dividing the faith.

“As I looked at the Windsor Report, there were echoes of all the oppression that I’ve experienced throughout my life as a black woman,” she said. “We who have been oppressed and rejected … do not need to be a part of rejecting and oppressing others.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 11, 2006.

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