National Briefs

Posted on 09 Feb 2006 at 11:14pm
By Staff and Wire Reports

Hawaii officials agree to make widespread changes at youth prison

The state announced an agreement with the Department of Justice on Tuesday to make “sweeping and comprehensive changes” at Hawaii’s only youth prison, hours after a federal judge ordered an end to the abuse of its inmates.

The announcement came after U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright granted a preliminary injunction against the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth.

The 77-page, detailed injunction said court records were “replete with documents and testimonial evidence demonstrating verbal harassment and abuse” of inmates by prison officials. It added that supervisors were aware of abuse, “yet they took no meaningful steps to remedy the conditions.”

Lois Perrin, legal director for ACLU Hawaii, said the injunction would ensure that inmates “are free from discrimination and abuse, which is rampant at that facility.”

“It was horrific,” Perrin said. “Our clients feel very vindicated.”

Seabright is waiting for the ACLU and the state to agree on the language for a final order, which Perrin expects to be issued in a few weeks.

Gov. Linda Lingle expressed concern for the conditions cited by the court.

“We accept Judge Seabright’s findings, and I am very troubled by the conditions he describes,” she said. “Harassment of any of the wards at the HYCF, whatever their race, gender, or orientation, is totally unacceptable. Harassment will not be tolerated.”

Bennett said the three-year deal between the state and the Justice Department is designed to ensure that there are polices to protect inmates’ rights and to give them grievance procedures. The state also said it has hired a national expert on secured youth facilities to assist.

Opponents stand out at New Hampshire hearing on anti-gay-marriage proposal

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage attracted more opponents than supporters Tuesday as several hundred people turned out for a hearing in Representatives Hall.

State law already bans same-sex marriage, but opponents want to go further by having the Constitution declare that “a marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state.”

They say adding that language to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights would keep the issue out of the courts, avoiding situations like those in Vermont and Massachusetts where the high courts ruled marriage cannot be limited to heterosexuals.

“Make no mistake, court cases are coming soon that will provide our judicial branch with the same opportunity to usurp legislative authority, crush the people’s right to govern themselves through their elected representatives, and rewrite the definition of marriage that has served human society so well,” Representative Michael Balboni, a Republican, told the House Judiciary Committee. Gay rights activists said no such lawsuits are planned.

“We’ve always had great success going to the New Hampshire Legislature,” Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, said after the hearing. “There will not be a lawsuit.”

Cook gets settlement from restaurant that fired him for being HIV-positive

A former cook at a Wrightsville Beach restaurant will receive an undisclosed amount of money because he was fired after the restaurant learned he had HIV, an advocacy group said Monday.

The attorney for the restaurant’s owners said they could not get clearance from the local health department to employ Aron Pelela, 31, as a prep chef. The restaurant admitted no liability in the settlement, its attorney said.

Pelela was fired in October 2005 from The Causeway Cafe, Lambda Legal said in a news release. Attorney Joyce L. Davis of Raleigh, with the help of Lambda Legal, then sued the restaurant under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pelela has found another job and will not return to work at the restaurant, Davis said.

In addition to the monetary settlement, the restaurant will ensure it doesn’t discriminate against others with HIV and conduct training sessions about how the disease is transmitted, Lambda Legal said.

“There is no risk of transmission of HIV through the preparation of food, yet myths about transmission are clearly running rampant,” said Greg Nevins, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta. “We are happy to see the owners of this restaurant instituting a policy based on the facts and training their employees on the truth about HIV transmission.”

Attorney Andrew Hanley of Wilmington, who represented the restaurant, said the owners thought they had a strong defense because a local health ordinance prohibits someone with a contagious disease from working in the food industry.

The department “refused to give us a statement that it was not a violation to employ Mr. Pelela,” Hanley said in a phone interview.

New York bill gives domestic partners control of loved ones’ remains

Domestic partners would have the same rights as spouses over decisions on how to deal with the remains of a loved one under a bill signed by Governor. George Pataki.

The bill, signed into law Feb. 3, places a domestic partner, just like a spouse, ahead of a surviving child or parent in decisions over burial.

“This is the first time in New York state law same-sex relationships have been given priority over a blood relative,” Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said in a statement.

The bill was sponsored by state Assemblymen Jeffrey Dinowitz and Richard Gottfried, both Democrats, and state Senator Michael Balboni, a Republican from East Williston.

“For too long in New York, same-sex partners who live together and care for each other have been legal strangers when one of them dies, ” Van Capelle said.
“This will have tremendous impact for our community,” said Ana Oliveira, executive director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 10, 2006.

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