Is Wyoming the next gay marriage battleground?

State Rep. Cathy Connolly

In the state-by-state march toward marriage equality, four states have been on the radar for possible legalization of same-sex marriage this year. This week, a fifth state became a new possibility.

According to the Billings Gazette, Wyoming State Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, will file two bills. One would legalize same-sex marriage, the other civil unions. Connolly is lesbian.

Wyoming does not have a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. Bills have been filed to change that, and Connolly’s bills are in response.

Like Iowa, where same-sex marriage became legal a few years ago, Wyoming does have a history of equality. When Wyoming was admitted to the union in 1890, it became the first to allow women to vote and was the first to elect a woman governor. (That was 1924 and Texas elected a woman — “Ma” Ferguson — that year as well).

In Wyoming’s 60-seat lower house, only 10 of those seats are held by Democrats. In the Senate, only four out of 30 are Democrats.

Four other states that may consider marriage equality this year are New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Minnesota.

Of those four, Rhode Island and Maryland are the states where it is most likely to pass. Rhode Island’s new governor favors marriage equality and Democrats hold a strong majority in both houses. Their former governor opposed equality although the state already recognizes marriages performed elsewhere.

Maryland has been studying equality for more than a year and a bill is progressing.

New York recognizes marriages performed elsewhere and two courts have upheld that recognition. The state’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo, supports equality, as did their former governor, but the state Senate has a one-vote Republican majority that may block passage.

In his inaugural speech, Cuomo said, “We believe in justice for all, then let’s pass marriage equality this year once and for all.”

Minnesota’s new governor campaigned as an LGBT ally, countering his opponent’s staunch anti-gay bigotry. Support of the Republican is what led to an unorganized Target boycott. The new Democrat has said he supports marriage equality and would like to see a bill pass.

—  David Taffet

Gay intern credited with saving Giffords’ life

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is shown accompanying his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to an ambulance after she was shot on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Daniel Hernandez Jr., a 20-year-old University of Arizona student who’d been working as an intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for only five days, is being credited with saving her life after she was shot on Saturday.

Hernandez, who confirmed that he is gay in an interview with Instant Tea on Sunday morning, is a member of the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. “She’s been a great ally to the LGBT community,” Hernandez said of Giffords during the brief interview across a bad connection.

According to the Arizona Republic, Hernandez was standing about 30 feet from Giffords during the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway store near Tucson. When the gunshots began, Hernandez ran toward them and began checking the pulses of people who’d been hit. When Hernandez got to Giffords, he used his hand to apply pressure to the entry wound on her forehead.  He pulled her into his lap and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her blood.

Daniel Hernandez is shown with Giffords in this image from his Facebook page.

Hernandez used his hand to apply pressure to the wound until someone brought clean smocks from the meat department of the grocery store. He stayed with Giffords until paramedics arrived, then climbed into an ambulance with her. On the way to the hospital, he squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. From the Republic:

When they arrived at the hospital, Hernandez was soaked in blood. His family brought him clean clothes because the FBI took his for evidence.

He waited at the hospital while she went into surgery. He needed to tell police what had happened. He overheard people walking by talking about how Giffords had died. He also heard this on NPR. Later, he learned she had lived.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “She was one of the people I’ve looked up to. Knowing she was alive and still fighting was good news. She’s definitely a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for people in southern Arizona.”

The fact that Hernandez was nearby and able to react quickly probably saved Giffords’ life, said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and a hospital physician. He talked to Hernandez at the hospital after the shooting.

Eight hours after the shooting, Hernandez stood with Giffords’ friends and staff and told them what had happened. The tall, strong 20-year-old said, “Of course you’re afraid, you just kind of have to do what you can.”

They hugged and thanked him. Later, he sat with his mom and sisters and told them about his friends and the staffers who had died that day.

“You just have to be calm and collected,” he said. “You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. … It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”

—  John Wright

Conversation with a straight Presbyterian ally

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to speak with an old friend who is on staff in a Presbyterian church (PCUSA) in northern New Jersey.  She’s been a straight ally for over 30 years, so I was curious to know how her allyship might play out in her church and if it doesn’t, what are the roadblocks.  She teaches in the church’s pre-school and directs the children’s choirs, so her job description doesn’t necessarily put her in a natural advocacy role that, say, a pastor’s or youth leader’s might.

I invite you to eavesdrop on our conversation with an eye towards respectful understanding that every congregations is different, and that there are complexities involved in being an LGBT advocate in a denomination that like President Obama “isn’t quite there yet”.  My take away from our conversation is that for my friend’s congregation, internal politics and lack of leadership are barriers to developing a new mission of active LGBT inclusion and advocacy.

This is not to say that I am looking to make excuses for the silence of some of our allies, but that the potential for progress always looks clearest to those farthest away from the action.  If you have straight allies who are people of faith but have faced roadblocks to living their allyship as people of faith, how have you helped them strategize ways around those roadblocks?  Please share your experiences in the comments.
A note on where LGBT people stand in relation to PCUSA

From what I can tell, PCUSA doesn’t have any set policies regarding transgender people.  PCUSA seems to view everything through the lens of sexual orientation.  The document The Church and Homosexuality published in 1978 and augmented by a 2005 study guide is the denomination’s guide for how “homosexuals” should be viewed by and treated in the church.  The Church and Homosexuality essentially says that gays are to be lovingly included into the life of the church and if celibate may be ordained as lay leaders or clergy, but that sexual relationships between two men or two women are sinful.

In 1997 PCUSA amended the denomination’s constitution The Book of Order (pdf) to ban the ordination of “unrepentant” lesbian, gay or bisexual lay leaders or clergy.

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and / or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. (G-6.0106b)

“The confessions” referred to above is the part of The Book of Confessions called the Heidelberg Catechism which lists “homosexual perversion” as a sin.  The current version of the Heidelberg Catechism reads:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator, or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.”

The original Heidelberg Catechism was written in the 16th century and made “no mention of homosexual perversion or of same-sex relations in any terms”, according to scholars.  ”Homosexual perversion” was added in 1962.

Efforts have been underway for about 10 years to remove the 1997 rules barring partnered LGB people from ordination.  In July, 2010 at the 219th PCUSA General Assembly the church’s legislative body voted 373 to 323 to replace the 1997 anti-gay ordination language with text that ignores the sexual orientation and relationship status of the candidate.  This vote must be ratified by 2/3 of the presbyteries (local governing bodies) and then again by the next General Assembly in 2012 to go into effect.  A similar effort was defeated in 2008 when the presbyteries declined to ratify the change.

At about the same time “The Church and Homosexuality” was adopted, the kernel groups of what would later become More Light Presbyterians formed.  More Light Presbyterians is a “network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”  They maintain a listing of Welcoming Churches.

My conversation with a straight Presbyterian ally

You’ve been a member of this church for almost 18 years.  What’s it like to work in your own congregation?

“Very dicey.  It’s a tricky position to be in.  I can’t always state my personal feelings, because I’m a staff member even though I’m a congregant.”  In other words, she doesn’t know whether congregants will interpret what she says as reflecting the church administration or her personal opinion.  ”It’s a tight rope, a fine line.”

She’s never experienced difficulties stemming from this dual role in the church because “I’m cautious.  I do not like confrontation.  So I’m not going to voice my opinion in any kind of situation where I’m going to have to become combative.  So I make sure I’m not in those positions.”

“When the presidential election was going on, this past one, the one before — oh the one before was horrible — because we have a staff member who is very Republican, very conservative, and no one else on the staff is.”

The situation (which hilariously in retrospect included a bumper sticker war) escalated to the point where “we actually said in staff meeting, you know we really have to kind of leave our politics outside of this building because we have congregants that go both ways and you don’t want to set a precedent that you can’t work with somebody that has a differing opinion.”

“And that’s specific to the history in our church and some other things that have happened that divided us where they could not have differing opinions and work together.  It’s taken almost 10 years to heal something else that happened.  It was a horrendous time where some staff members could not even grocery shop in town.  If they saw somebody who was on the opposing side, they would be screamed at.”

This decade-old divisive event was due to an event within the church rather than external politics, but “it set up this feeling in our church that you can’t have any kind of differing opinion, because obviously we can’t play together in the sand box if we don’t agree on everything.”

Of course nobody agrees on everything, and so the church has been on tenderhooks since.  But hope is on the horizon.  ”A minister left, we’ve gone through a couple years of interims, and now we just now this month got our permanent head of staff who has a degree in counseling.  So there’s going to be a difference now I believe, and he’s going to force us over time to say ok, we can have differing views, and we can still work together for a common good”.

“I know other churches go through these kinds of things, and this is just where our church is right now.”

Has the congregation had to deal with any major problems during these past 10 difficult years, or has it been pretty quiet?

“Things have been pretty quiet because everbody’s scared.  In the mainline churches you’re losing members, so its pretty quiet.  The one issue particular to our town is undocumented workers.  That is a huge problem here.  Where do you stand as a church on that?  Do you feed and clothe them even though they’re undocumented, even though the Mayor is kicking them off the street?  Then do you go against the Mayor?  People whose cause this is have moved to the side and quietly done all the work they want to do on it, and the rest of the congregation doesn’t pay attention because they don’t care.”

So the rest of the congregation isn’t obstructing that work?

“They’re not obstructing them, although I know some of the older people in the church hate that.  They want all the undocumented workers kicked out.  But they don’t say anything, they just say OK that’s your thing I’m turning my head because there’s the sense of we need members, can’t upset anybody.”

Over the past 10-15 years, membership in the church has gone way down.  ”Whatever the national average is, we’re probably right there with them.  It’s down substantially.  …People are just too busy – they don’t come to church.  I don’t know whether they don’t believe, it’s the only day of the week I can sleep in blah blah blah, all the excuses you’ve heard over the years.

National polling shows the United States to be very religious, but apparently that doesn’t translate into as great a need to attend weekly church services as in the past.

Does the denomination interfere in issues of the local congregation or are you free to work out your own problems?

“In the Presbyterian Church you’re in your own church, then you’re part of a presbytery, which is a regional grouping.  And then the national office in Louisville, KY is in charge of everybody.  So from what I can tell, it comes down to how active, how good the head Presbyter is in terms of what they let you do, not do, get away with.”

“Part of what’s going on in the Presbyterian Church is we have huge congregations in the South who, as you can guess, are a lot more conservative.  That’s also true of some of the California churches – the big money California churches are more conservative than people would think.  And these huge churches are deciding they’re going to leave the Presbyterian faith because they don’t like the direction the Presbytery is going in.”

And what direction is that?  ”Being more inclusive, being gay friendly.  But those aren’t the only issues.  There are all kinds of management and administrative issues of which I’m not part of because as a staff member I can’t be in the ruling body of a congregation.”

Why are you a gay ally?

“Well I don’t know, I just always have been!  Why wouldn’t I be?  Obviously because of you is a good part of it, but part of it is, I was a music major. Basically, I was surrounded by gay guys.  If I wasn’t friendly, I wouldn’t have had any friends.  I can’t say that I was in high school and before because frankly it wasn’t on my radar and I didn’t even know what it was even.  And if I did I probably snickered like it was something funny.  And then I got into college and had this rude awakening like oh!  Oh, OK!  So I guess that’s it.  I just never wouldn’t have been from the time I got into college.

There’s a difference between treating gay people fairly and being an advocate — and advocacy takes all kinds of forms.  For example telling people you’re gay-friendly and why, I call that advocacy.  Do you see advocacy happening in your congregation either formally or informally, for example like with the congregants helping the undocumented immigrants, that it’s a calling for them?

“I don’t really see it in our congregation, and I think it’s because we don’t have a leader.  There’s not someone who says ‘My son’s gay and he needs equal rights so let’s go after them.‘  I don’t see any of the kids saying ‘I’m gay, I need support,’ because they would have it in the church – our church would support them.  If somebody was there and asked, it would happen, I think.”

“When I’ve been around some of the older — like I’d say 80s and up — opinionated people who throughout our congregation’s history have always caused trouble, those people will make cracks about ‘well you can just go to the Episcopal church down the street and have a gay man, you know, feed you the lord’s supper‘ or something, and they’ll make those kinds of comments, and you just look at them and go, you are so old.  Because I would say from age 80 down, most of the congregation does not feel that way.  They would not make that kind of comment.  Because almost all of them know somebody gay or have someone in their family who’s gay.  And so maybe some of them are advocates and are out doing things, but we don’t talk about it.”

“We refer to ourselves as ‘the frozen chosen‘, which means that we’re pretty stiff, tight-lipped, don’t talk about stuff.”

When the New Jersey legislature was voting on marriage equality this year and the Catholic church was aggressively lobbying against it, was any of that conversation brought into your church?

“No.  Our church, we were looking for our new minister and that’s all we focused on.  Oh, there’s a tsunami in the rest of the world?  Oh well.  We were focused on oh my goodness, we’re losing members, oh my goodness we need a new person to come here, oh my goodness I hope they don’t screw up and get an awful person like they did last time.  They had such blinders on, and then the only room they have is for their own particular cause.”

“We have people who their cause is helping the Katrina places, and twice a year they take a week or 2 weeks of their vacation and go down and build houses and paint houses and do Katrina stuff.  We have people that go to the Dominican Republic every year.  We have people that do a clothing bank out of the basement of the church every Tuesday for the undocumented workers.”

So your church is very mission driven.

“We are extremely mission driven.  Remember where we dropped the oranges off that one year?  We started that men’s mission.  Our church does a lot of mission stuff, but they don’t talk about it, they don’t advertise it.  And in fact when new people like new ministers come in they say ‘What’s wrong with you people?  You should be out there telling what you’re doing.’  But of course we don’t because you’re not supposed to do that.  You’re not supposed to wave your flag and say ‘look at all the good deeds I do‘.”

Reading some of the PCUSA literature you’d think this was the place to be for gay Christians because it talks about being joyously inclusive, etc.  But reading deeper you see it states that gay relationships are a sin.  So there’s a jarring disconnect there between treating people with humanity but then telling them their relationships are depraved.  In your 18 years at your church, what kinds of things have been said about gay people from the pulpit?

“The minsters have preached on tolerance, that’s their big thing. When __ was here, whatever gay issue the General Assembly was debating that particular summer, he gave a very good sermon that mentioned a big church change like allowing women to serve communion.  I don’t remember exactly but something big like that.  He said that took 125 years to get change.  He said it seems so simple to us, it seems like a no-brainer, but it took 125 years, or whatever the years were, but it was huge like that.  He said we’re starting the conversation now about allowing gays to serve communion, or whatever it was that particular summer, but it was something about a gay issue.  But he said, for the people who are disappointed in how it turned out I say to you, it took 125 years for women to serve communion.  He said, we’ll get there in the end, but it’s a process, so don’t give up.”

“I remember that sermon because I though, oh my goodness, he’s pro-gay, he just said it from that pulpit in a round-about way, and he actually did a sermon I can tell you about this many years later, that’s how much it struck me.  But never again.  He never said anything about gays again.  Then he left.”

“The next minister was definitely pro-gay and talked about his uncle being gay and how hard it was to watch people not accept him, but didn’t really say — all his sermons were about himself, so he didn’t tell us to do anything.”

“And then any of the interims we’ve had, who I can tell you whole-heartedly would be all pro-gay — because interims are far better than regular ministers as far as I can tell — and they’re more able to let people know how they feel because they’re going to be there 1 or 2 years.  So they are much easier about telling people how they feel, but again never calling people to arms or go fight for gay marriage.  I never heard that from the pulpit, I just heard ‘we’re all God’s children‘ kind of thing.”

“And then our most recent interim, after Tyler Clementi died by suicide …she did a sermon that was just, ‘what is wrong with us that we would be in this society that we would allow this, that a child would not feel safe to go talk to somebody‘.  She said all the kids’ names — But again, her message was we need to love one another.  Period.”

Not ‘we need to make sure that gay people in our congregation know we’re there to support them‘?

“Right.  No, it was, we’re here, we need to love and accept each other, and that’s our mandate from God.  Period.  Be loving.”

So that was your most recent interim.  You have a permanent pastor now?

“Yeah he just got here this month so I have no idea.  So we’ll see with him.  He seems to be tolerant on the ‘we need to love each other‘ kind of thing, but we’ll see how that translates, you know.”

It sounds like in your church none of the ministers would be opposed to someone in the congregation starting a gay advocacy project, but the clergy isn’t going to initiate that.

“Exactly.  I would agree with that.  And they are walking a fine line, because they’ve got that 80 year old congregant who is in the last parts of their life who, and I hate to be this way but, who’s basically funding the church.  Because of course the people with money are the older people.  People who are younger, with families, they’re not giving as much money to the church.  And I don’t want to say you rule the church by money, but it is an important thing that somebody that’s giving a lot of money, is paying your salary.  So you have to at least acknowledge that they feel a certain way.”

A religion-positive pollster recently showed that 2/3 of Americans “see connections between messages coming from America’s places of worship and higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.”  At the same time, people tended to think their own church handled gay issues well.

“Wow.”

So the perception that churches are a detriment to gay people, that’s a widespread impression.

“Well and I think its those conservatives that do that.  I mean I would say that I think those conservative churches are brutal.”

I see two levels of problem.  There are those conservative churches that preach anti-gay stuff from the pulpit.  But then there’s a category of churches which I would put yours in — tell me if I’m being unfair — and that is just standing quietly by and maybe making occasional token efforts.  

It was good that gays were mentioned positively in those sermons at your church, but scared gay people can tell a meek token effort from something more substantial.  When the only religious voices out in the wider world are the homophobic ones and they don’t get countered out there by the loving ones, I think that’s noticed.  It’s not that the neutral churches like yours are doing anything wrong, but they’re not doing anything to counteract the nasty stuff that’s going on in the public square.  It makes them look like accomplices even though they’re not.

“Yeah.  I can see the undocumented workers probably feel the same way, the tea party that did something on the town green probably feels the same way.  It’s a difficult place to be in a mainline church, and I think until someone comes to be the captain, or to say ‘this is important to me‘.

That would seem to make sense for a church like yours where people are already very busy doing good things.  Your church does sound amazingly active in the issues it’s engaged in.

“Pretty much the people who are still members are the people that do stuff.  And it might not be very much because they’re busy, but they try and do something.  But they’re not the people who are going to start anything.  The people who start ministries — like one women found a connection in Newark so that for the holidays if you get a free ham, you take it to her, and she started with filling the trunk of her car and now she rents a truck 3 or 4 times a year to take all this stuff to these families in Newark — we’re doing a whole block now, helping this block out — but that was her, she happened to meet someone and talked to her and started a new mission.  And it’s those kinds of things where it’s one person.”

“But of course here’s the bottom line: she was retired.  All these things that start like this are retired people.  They’ve got the time, they’ve found meaning in something to do that inspires them.”

“The people in my generation who I would say, as it comes down in age where I would say I’m certainly gay friendly and an ally, but you go down to my son’s generation, they don’t even think about it.  It’s not even in their vocabulary to be gay-friendly because they just are.  They don’t think about it.  So as it goes down in generations, the group coming up I think there’ll be changes.

Was there anything else that came to mind that you wanted to mention?

“It’s really interesting in talking, I’m thinking well how would our church even have a discussion?  And I thought OK, we do an adult morning seminar at 9:15 and they have different speakers, all kind of speakers: we have interfaith marriage speakers coming in because we have a lot of Presbyterian-Jewish families in our congregation; the migrant worker speakers come in, the undocumented workers speakers come in.  And I thought, you know, we could have somebody come in and talk about the gay issues and the problem that somebody sees around the church and I thought that would be one way.  And I’m thinking, how could I get them in the church?

That could be a very calm, non-confrontational way to broach the subject.

“I work with the woman who runs the committee who gets all those people in.  That would be an interesting way to see who showed up to listen to it.”

And also to test the waters to see whether that very gentle approach would ruffle any feathers, although I would presume that anyone whose feathers would ruffle just wouldn’t come to it.

“I would believe that.  I do believe we have people in their 60s and 70s in our congregation who do have gay children.  So it would be interesting to see who would come and who wouldn’t.  Would the regulars all come or not?  I’ll suggest that to the coordinator, and she’ll take it to the committee…because you know we’ve got to do everything through a committee.  The committee is made up of people my age, so they’ll probably think it’s a good idea.  I think they did their layout through May already, but certainly for the fall.  They’re always looking for ideas.

How shall I refer to you in my post, how specific or not specific shall I be?

“You can say I’m from northern New Jersey.  I thought about, can she use my name?  You know I’ll go out there and trumpet gay rights and I have no problem saying to anyone that I’m pro-gay, and I would say that the the parents of the children that I work with, but there’s something about putting my name, and I work with children.  Because people can be so fricken bizarre about children.  And I have to tell you, in our church we had a convicted pedophile.  And nobody was happy with it but they dealt with it, but that’s who they know as being gay.  Not good!  We need some other gay people in our church!

Yes you definitely need some regular out gay people in your church!

“And we probably do have some but I wouldn’t know them because I can’t hang out with the congregants of the church because I’m working.  There could be a whole sub-culture, I don’t know.

You know, you just momentarily became an honorary gay person by having to think in those ‘will they assume I’m a pedophile‘ terms.  I’ve always been extremely self-conscious around kids because I know the assumptions about gay people, and they’re not true – there’s a difference between pedophiles and gay people.

“Exactly!  And I do make a big point about that when I talk to people.  And I have a little more leeway because I’m a woman.  If I was a man, wow, they have a horrible time of it.  I can be pro-gay and say things and because I’m a woman I think people would not respond as negatively as if I were a man.”
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Anti-bullying bill leaves out trans protections

Rep. Mark Strama, who’s considered an LGBT ally, may not realize how big a mistake he’s making by omitting gender identity/expression from his bullying bill.

Later today the Dallas ISD’s board of trustees will vote on a bullying policy that, if approved, would make the district the first in the state to specifically outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Obviously one of the keys here is gender identity/expression, which covers not only students who are transgender, but also students who are perceived by classmates as not meeting gender stereotypes. Clearly, this is a major factor behind bullying — students who are made fun of, for example, for being “sissies” or “tomboys.”

So why, then, would a state representative who is considered an LGBT ally file an anti-bullying bill that includes sexual orientation but NOT gender identity/expression?

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, last week filed HB 224, this session’s version of the comprehensive anti-bullying legislation that Strama authored in 2009. But for some reason, and we still aren’t exactly sure why, Strama has left out gender identity/expression this time. The 2009 version of Strama’s bill, HB 1323, which almost made it to the House floor, included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. However, this year’s version includes only sexual orientation.

We contacted Strama’s office on Wednesday, but we still haven’t heard back. Earlier today we spoke with Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, who assured us he’s well aware of the omission. Smith said “gender identity/expression” was in every version of Strama’s bill  that Equality Texas reviewed, but suddenly disappeared from the version that was filed.

Smith said he was in the office this afternoon despite the fact that he’s supposed to be on vacation — for a meeting aimed at getting a trans-inclusive version of Strama’s bill filed in the Senate. Smith said Strama’s bill can’t be amended until it goes to committee, which might not be until March, and Strama isn’t willing to pull the bill and re-file a trans-inclusive version.

“We’re aware of it, we’re disappointed in it and we’re trying to fix it by having a Senate version of the bill that would be what we want it to be,” Smith said. “Our policy is that we don’t support bills that don’t include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. We’ve been working on this since HB 224 got filed on Nov. 9 and we realized that it wasn’t in there anymore.”

—  John Wright

Yet another gay teen takes his own life

Raymond Chase

Believe it or not, another openly gay teen has taken his own life, bringing the total to six in the month of September. The latest victim is Raymond Chase, a 19-year-old student at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., who hung himself in his dorm room on Wednesday, Sept. 29. While it’s unclear whether bullying was a factor in Chase’s death, clearly at this point we are witnessing an extremely alarming trend. Chase’s death marks the sixth known suicide by a teenager who was gay or perceived to be gay in the month of September. All of the other five had been victims of anti-gay bullying. They are Asher Brown, 13, of Houston; Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, Calif.; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Ind.; Tyler Clementi of New Jersey; and Justin Aaberg, 15, of Minnesota.

What’s going on here, folks, and what are we gonna do about it? Here’s the full press release from Campus Pride on Chase’s death:

Campus Pride Demands National Action to address LGBT Youth Bullying, Harassment & Suicide

In the wake of two college suicides Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University & Raymond Chase of Johnson & Wales, Campus Pride reissues findings and recommendations from the “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People” released last week at a U.S. congressional briefing on Capitol Hill

(Providence, RI) Campus Pride, the nation’s leading non-profit organization working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally college and university students, offers its condolences and support to the family of Raymond Chase who reportedly hung himself in his residence hall room this past Wednesday, September 29, 2010 on the campus of Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI.

“The loss of Raymond this week is the second college LGBT-related suicide in a week and the fifth teenage LGBT suicide in three weeks. The suicide of this openly gay young man is for reasons currently unknown; however, the recent pattern of LGBT youth suicides is cause for grave concern,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director and founder of Campus Pride. “Campus Pride demands national action be taken to address youth bullying, harassment and the need for safety and inclusion for LGBT youth at colleges and universities across the country. We must not let these tragic deaths go unnoticed.  Together we must act decisively to curb anti-LGBT bias incidents, harassment and acts of violence.”

Through its Q Research Institute for Higher Education, Campus Pride released last week its “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” The in-depth research study is the most comprehensive national LGBT higher education study of its kind. Campus Pride surveyed more than 5,000 LGBT students, faculty and staff for the report. Findings demonstrate that these recent suicides and incidents of harassment are neither rare nor fleeting– they are REAL.

Among the findings in the report:

-One quarter (23%) of LGBQ staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Almost all identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty, & staff reported experiencing harassment (39%) with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experiences by transgender people was more overt and blatant.

-One-third of LGBQ (33%) and transgender (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate.

-More than half of all faculty, students, & staff hide their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation.

-More than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff(43%) and13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety.This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.

For more information about Campus Pride’s “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People” report, visit www.campuspride.org/research.

—  John Wright

LGBT community loses an ally

Rabbi Jake

When I hear about religious people being put on trial, as in the case of Rev. Jane Spahr, or religious schools rejecting children because their parents are gay or lesbian, it makes the death last week of Rabbi Lawrence Jackofsky so much sadder because we need religious allies.

Rabbi Jake was the director of the Southwest Council of the Union for Reform Judaism. His office was in Dallas and he was always on the side of the LGBT community.

Rabbi Jake helped Congregation Beth El Binah become a member of the Union for Reform Judaism. His only change in the temple’s bylaws was wording of a sentence that called the group a gay and lesbian synagogue. He said synagogues don’t have a sexual orientation and other synagogues weren’t straight synagogues.

But at the time other synagogues weren’t welcoming the LGBT community. His goal was to have a synagogue with outreach to the LGBT community in every city in his district.

In San Antonio, that meant a new small temple. Beth El Binah now has a torah on long-term loan to that synagogue. In Houston, it meant connecting LGBT leaders from that city and Dallas. There, the larger synagogues established programs to welcome the LGBT community. In New Orleans and Austin, it meant bringing speakers from Beth El Binah to help open their temples to LGBT members where they are now important parts of their synagogues.

When the AIDS crisis hit Congregation Beth El Binah hard in the early 90s, Rabbi Jake spent quite a bit of time visiting members in hospitals and at home. In June, Rabbi Jake was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. He died on Aug. 23 and is survived by his wife, Ellen, and son Daniel.

—  David Taffet

Trial Starts for Gay Ally Pastor

REV JANE SPAHR X390Prosecutors argued Wednesday that the Reverend Jane Spahr violated Presbyterian Church law when she performed same-sex wedding ceremonies during
the short period that gay and lesbian couples could marry in California.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  John Wright

Actress and Ally Julianne Moore Featured in HRC’s Equality Magazine

Julianne Moore is such a great friend of the LGBT community. And so much fun to talk to. The actress spoke with HRC’s Equality magazine about her new, big-buzz film, The Kids Are All Right, and more. She clearly knows a lot about our issues – speaking out, celebrating pride, safety in schools, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Wow. We definitely need more allies like her.

Moore spoke about the need for everyone – straight and LGBT alike – to speak up about LGBT families – to help change public opinion, to help more people know we’re just like them, living very ordinary lives. Moore is also really fired up about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And she talks about that in our interview.

Moore, who lives in New York with her husband and two kids, doesn’t just talk the talk, either. She has a new children’s book coming out that includes a two-mom family.

Of course, Moore – known for her work in Boogie Nights and A Single Man – is pitch-perfect in The Kids Are All Right. She and Annette Bening are a lesbian couple – what a pair! – with two teens in this touching, funny film, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, known for the lesbian classic, High Art. We also interview Cholodenko, who is openly gay, in the summer issue of Equality.

Check out excerpts of our interview with Moore here. Or become an HRC member and start getting your own free issue of Equality.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Anne Rice quits Christianity, but not Christ

Anne Rice

I have been a fan of author Anne Rice for years. I read her books — the vampire books, the Witching Hour series — over and over. And one of the personal highlights of my 28 years as a journalist was getting the opportunity to interview some years ago.

Then I found out that her son, Christopher Rice — a successful author in his own right — was gay, and that she supported him completely. And I loved her even more.

Then a few years ago, I heard that Anne Rice, who had been an atheist, had found God and become a Christian convert. I couldn’t help but wonder: How would her conversion  affect her relationship with her son? Would she continue to support and love him as always? Would she take the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach? Would she insist he be “cured” of homosexuality? Would she turn her back on him completely.

I also wondered how her conversion would affect her stance on LGBT rights overall and if we were losing an ally.

Well, as it turned out, Anne Rice didn’t think converting to Christianity meant becoming anti-gay. Unfortunately, “Christianity” didn’t agree.

So this week, on Wednesday, July 28, Anne Rice posted a notice on her Facebook page declaring she has “quit Christianity.”

Here’s what she said: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

And there was more. She also said, “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

So, I knew there was a reason I am an Anne Rice fan! I don’t think I have ever heard anyone give a better explanation of the difference between following Christ and being “a Christian.”

Read Karen Ocamb’s blog about Ann Rice’s announcement here. It includes a statement from Christoper Rice as well. Here’s what he had to say:

“For ten years I watched my mother bravely attempt to engage the hostile fundamentalist forces that dominate the leadership of almost every popular Christian denomination. She was met, in most instances with an iron wall of derision and scorn. Her departure from organized religion is a testament to the moral rot that exists at the politcized core of most church leadership. Throughout it all, her love and support of me as a gay man has never wavered and I love her just as much today as I did when she considered herself a member of the Catholic church.”

Oh, and here is the link to Christopher Rice’s Facebook page, just for good measure.

—  admin

DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

—  admin