National Briefs

Posted on 08 Feb 2007 at 8:23pm
By Staff and wire reports

Penn State, former basketball player reach settlement in lawsuit over discrimination

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. A former Penn State women’s basketball player on Monday, Feb. 5, settled a discrimination lawsuit filed against longtime Lady Lions coach Rene Portland and the university.

Jennifer Harris had said in the December 2005 lawsuit that Portland discriminated against her because the coach perceived her to be a lesbian. The suit alleged that Portland tried to force Harris, who says she is not gay, to leave the team.

Harris, Portland and Penn State athletics director Tim Curley, another defendant, said in a joint statement that they had reached “an amicable settlement.”

“Penn State, Mr. Curley and Coach Portland have disputed Ms. Harris’ allegations and have denied any liability with respect to the complaints filed against them,” the statement said. “Ms. Harris has agreed to permanently withdraw and end her legal actions against all parties.”

Harris will also withdraw her complaint about Portland filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Harris’ lawyer, Karen Doering, said, “Jennifer is very pleased with the settlement.”

The university had its own investigation and reprimanded Portland last April, threatening to dismiss her for any future violation of the school’s discrimination policy. She was also find $10,000 and ordered to take professional development “devoted to diversity and inclusiveness.”

Portland disagreed with the school’s findings.

Utah lawmakers reject attempt to prohibit gay-straight alliance in public high schools

SALT LAKE CITY The House rejected legislation Monday, Feb. 5, to heavily regulate school clubs that had been designed to prohibit gay-straight alliance clubs in Utah high schools.

Instead, the House voted 39-26 to require students to get parental approval to join any extracurricular club.

The measure rejected by the House would have banned student clubs from discussing human sexuality or contraceptives, but it didn’t stop there.

The bill would have cast a wide regulatory net over all clubs, requiring students to draw up a charter and bylaws for something as simple as playing ping-pong or chess.

Even many House Republicans argued that the state didn’t need to get interfere with school districts’ own club-making rules.

Monday’s compromise was brokered by Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, who got House members to strip the original bill of most of its 16 pages of regulations for clubs. Among the provisions taken out was a requirement that clubs submit discussion handouts for approval to school principals a week ahead of a club meeting.

The defeated bill sponsored by Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, also would have required visitors to get a school’s permission to address a club, Wyatt said.

The substituted version of House Bill 236 now goes to the Senate for approval.

Baptist church resigns from convention rather than repeal welcome to gays

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Another Baptist church has voted to leave the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina rather than face expulsion under a new policy to ban congregations that welcome gays and lesbians.

Members of St. John’s Baptist Church tentatively voted Sunday, Feb. 3, to drop affiliation with the convention, three months after the state Baptists decided at its annual meeting in Greensboro to investigate and expel member churches that accept gays and lesbians.

The vote will not be effective immediately because the church is still investigating what effect its departure from the convention would have on its tax status as a charitable organization, the pastor, the Rev. Richard Kremer, said.

The statement approved with an overwhelming show of hands accused the state convention of choosing “to narrow its membership to exclude churches and institutions that do not adhere to its exclusive and discriminatory view of who is welcome in its fellowship.”

The convention’s new policy, adopted in November, states: “Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the convention are churches which knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior.”

It affects nearly 20 Baptist churches in the state that are affiliated with the liberal Alliance of Baptists, based in Washington, which allows member churches to accept gays and lesbians.

Women’s Network, ACLU among groups pushing for anti-discrimination bill

BOISE, Idaho Activist groups are hoping to convince state lawmakers that even if Idahoans don’t think gay people should marry, they shouldn’t be discriminated against in areas such as housing and employment.

The groups, led by the Idaho Women’s Network and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, are trying to pass an amendment to the Idaho Human Rights Act that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Right now, the act protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Three Idaho cities Boise, Troy and McCall have already passed local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and at least 17 states have similar laws, including Washington, which passed its version last year.

The groups presented their proposal before the Idaho Human Rights Commission on Monday, Feb. 5. The commission can only choose to endorse the amendment, which specifies discrimination in housing, employment and education. For it to take effect, it must be approved by the state’s conservative Legislature, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 79-26.

Montana activists to try again for law banning anti-gay discrimination

HELENA, Mont. Gay rights advocates, whose efforts to enact a law that would outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians failed two years ago, are reviving the issue.

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, an openly gay Helena Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would add “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” as categories under the laws prohibiting discrimination. The laws currently cover race, religion, gender and other areas.

Kaufmann said her proposal makes good on promises of equality laid out in the state and U.S. constitutions. She compared the measure to the civil rights movement.

Opponents said the measure discriminates against Christians who believe homosexuality is immoral, or extends legal privileges that will be used in ways that can’t be predicted.

The measure was supported by groups such as the Montana ACLU, the Montana Advocacy Program, the Montana Human Rights Network and gay activists.

It was opposed by the Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law, the Eagle Forum, the Montana Catholic Conference, the Montana Boy Scouts and others.
The governor’s office supports the bill.

Anti-gay-marriage bills apparently dead in this session of New Mexico Legislature

SANTA FE Two measures that would ban same-sex marriage in New Mexico were tabled in a House committee on Thursday, Feb. 1, apparently killing them for this session of the Legislature.

The four Democrats on the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to table the measures; the three Republicans on the committee voted against tabling.

House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Vaughn, R-Alamogordo, would have let state voters decide whether to amend the constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

House Bill 395, sponsored by Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, would have added that same definition of marriage to state law.

Gay bar president resigns over comments on discrimination suit against law firm

The president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Law Association has resigned over comments he made to the press about an sexual orientation discrimination suit filed by an associate against the international law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, according to reports published Monday, Feb. 5, on Law.com.

Shortly after Aaron Charney filed his Jan. 15 complaint, John Scheich, then-vice president of LeGAL, told ABC News that the firm had been a strong supporter of gay lawyers and suggested that even though he did not know Charney or the details of the case, he would side with Sullivan & Cromwell.

In a statement issued late Feb. 1, Scheich said he disaffirmed his statement to ABC and apologized to Charney.

“As a former litigator I should have known better,” he said. “The plaintiff should be given every opportunity to prove his case and should not be prejudged simply because I knew more about the defendant than I did him.”

Scheich, who was only recently elected president of LeGAL, said he was resigning because the controversy was damaging the organization.

Charney’s suit claims several Sullivan & Cromwell partners discriminated against him because he is gay and retaliated against him when he made an internal complaint. The firm has categorically denied the allegations.

Catholic Citizenship head facing another possible charge for incident at rally

Larry Cirignano, the outgoing head of the Catholic Citizenship group who has been under fire for allegedly pushed a counter-demonstrator at the agency’s anti-gay marriage rally at City Hall, now faces an additional accusation of interfering with civil rights, according to reports published this week in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Cirignano already faced a possible charge of assault and battery as a result of the incident during the rally on Dec. 16. A magistrate will decide in a hearing set for Feb. 20 if that charge should be brought before a judge, the newspaper said.

Human Rights Campaign announces first chief diversity officer

The Human Rights Campaign this week announced the appointment of Cuc Vu as its first chief diversity officer. Vu’s job will be to foster a work environment where diversity is recognized as a fundamental part of HRC’s organizational culture regardless of rank and title, officials said.

Vu, who will report directly to Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, will also oversee the organization’s outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities of color.

Vu most recently served as the Immigration Campaign manager at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for almost five years where she helped build coalitions with churches and immigrant, labor, civil rights, student, business and ethnic media groups.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 9, 2007

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