Florida appeals court upholds decision overturning nation’s only gay adoption ban

Case likely headed to state Supreme Court

CURT ANDERSON  |  Associated Press

MIAMI — A Miami appeals court has upheld a ruling overturning Florida’s law banning adoption by gays.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal issued its decision Wednesday, Sept. 22 affirming a lower court’s decision that the ban is unconstitutional.

Florida is the only state with a law flatly banning gays from adopting children without exception. Gays can be foster parents in Florida.

A Miami-Dade County judge ruled the gay adoption ban unconstitutional in 2008, but the state appealed. The case will ultimately go to the state Supreme Court.

Martin Gill and his male partner, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit in their attempt to adopt two brothers who have been their foster children since December 2004.

—  John Wright

ACLU executive director to speak on BOE’s highjacking of public school curricula

Back in May, we published this story about the new social studies curriculum approved by the Texas State Board of Education that, according to activists, completely ignored the Lone Star State’s LGBT community and the contributions that community has made to the state over the years.

Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, had attended a public hearing on the changes, and he said the SBOE, weighted with religious conservatives, was using the curricula to impose the religious beliefs of some board members on the state’s public schools. He said: “They want this to be a theocracy, based on religious law, but with their own personal version of religion. And it’s incredibly narrow. There’s nothing in this about being for the benefit of the kids. It’s all definitely to perpetuate their world view, their religious views.”

And some of those revisions, Terrell added, were just “bat-shit crazy.”

The LGBTs weren’t the only ones condemning the curricula changes. Folks with the Texas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had some pretty strong words to say about it, too — and they still do.

Texas ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke will be in Dallas on Wednesday, Sept. 15, to talk about “the State Board of Education’s recent abuse of its authority, including the efforts of some members to insert personal ideology into curriculum content. She will also discuss issues of importance to voters in the upcoming State Board elections in November,” according to an ACLU press release sent out today.

Burke’s speech, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session, begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff, 3839 W. Kiest Blvd. The meeting is open to the public, and admission is free.

—  admin

Local briefs • 09.03.10

Artists Against AIDS auction set for October at Community Arts Center

AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County’s annual Artists Against AIDS Silent Art Auction is set for Oct. 23, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
Artwork will be on display from Oct. 1 to Oct. 23.

The event will feature food, entertainment, an open bar with wine and beer and a silent auction including a selection of high-quality fine art from local and regional artists. Tickets for the auction and party are $75.

This year’s honorary co-chairs are state Sen. Wendy Davis, and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns. Event co-chairs are Cynthia Hodgkins and Sarah Garrett. Featured artists for the evening are Henrietta Milan and Eric Stevens.

ACLU executive director to speak at Oak Cliff Unitarian

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, will will speak Sept. 15 on recent decisions by the Texas State Board of Education that some people believe were an abuse of authority by board members who forced their own personal ideologies into Texas public schools’ curricula.

The meeting will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff, 3839 W. Kiest Blvd. in Dallas. The event is co-sponsored by the ACLU of Texas and the Unitarian Church of Oak Cliff. Admission is free and open to the public.

Black Tie offers Joan Jett VIP  Weekend for Four, more in auction

Black Tie Dinner announced that bidding has opened for a Sept. 18 Joan Jett weekend VIP package for four courtesy of DiamondJack’s Casino and Resort. Bidding will close on Wednesday, Sept. 8 at 9 p.m.

The package features two nights’ accommodations for four people (two rooms) at the Casino Resort in Shreveport/Bossier City, four VIP tickets to the  Joan Jett and the Blackheart performance on Saturday, Sept. 18 and a meet-and-greet with Jett. Dinner for four at DJ’s Steakhouse (up to $400), Saturday buffet lunch and two breakfast buffets for four and $500 in cash are also included.

Go to the BlackTie.org to bid.

The Friday B4Black Luxury Auction will move from a live auctioneer to a real-time ‘Big Board.’ Bidding on interactive touch screen displays will be available on the entire Big Board Luxury Line-up from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. at the event.

This new auction technology will continually display the Friday Luxury Line-up on prominent screens.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Miss. lesbian student sues over rejected tux photo

SHELIA BYRD  |  Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Another teenage lesbian is suing a rural Mississippi school district, this time over a policy banning young women from wearing tuxedos in senior yearbook portraits.

Ceara Sturgis’ dispute with the central Mississippi Copiah County School District started in 2009, well before a student in another Mississippi school district, Constance McMillen, found national attention in her fight to wear a tuxedo and take a same-sex date to prom.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit for Sturgis, claiming the Copiah County district discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were kept out of her senior yearbook.

The ACLU first contacted the district in October 2009 about the issue, but officials said they would adhere to a school policy. By the time Wesson Attendance Center yearbooks were released this spring, school officials had made clear Sturgis’ photo in a tuxedo wouldn’t be included. But Sturgis was surprised to see even her name was left out of the senior section.

“I guess in the back of my mind I knew that was going to happen, but I did have a little hope. I cried. I put my head down and put my hand over my face,” Sturgis said Tuesday.

The suit challenges the district’s policy allowing male students, but not female students, to wear a tux for senior portraits. The suit alleges a violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

Sturgis, who has worn masculine clothing since ninth grade and began classes at Mississippi State University on Wednesday, Aug. 18, said she felt as if she was being punished “just for being who I am.”

District Superintendent Rickey Clopton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Sturgis graduated with a 3.9 grade point average and participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including band and soccer, her attorneys said.

“Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance,” Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project said in a statement Tuesday.

“It’s unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people.”

The ACLU attorney also represented McMillen, who drew inspiration from Sturgis in challenging Itawamba County school officials about McMillen’s plans for prom this year.

“I inspired her to do what she did and now we are friends,” Sturgis said.

But Sturgis didn’t face the same hostility as McMillen. Sturgis said her classmates and teachers were supportive, but she hopes hoping the suit will help other gay teenagers who feel they must conceal their gender identity.

“There are students who are hiding it their sexuality,” Sturgis said. “They have come up to me and told me they are. I had already decided what I was going to do, but it just took a little while.”

While she finished her senior year, Sturgis was living last fall with her grandparents in Wesson, a town of about 1,700 founded during the Civil War and 45 miles south of Jackson.

The students took their yearbook portraits at a studio and Sturgis tried on one of the “drapes” that females students are required to wear.

“The thought of a portrait of her in the ‘feminine’ clothing as a representation of her senior year embarrassed her, and she began crying,” the lawsuit states.

Sturgis later put on the tuxedo and was photographed.

School officials informed Sturgis’ mother, Veronica Rodriguez, early in the school year that the tuxedo photograph wouldn’t be allowed, according to the suit. At the time, Clopton said federal court decisions supported the school’s policy.

The lawsuit names the school district, superintendent Clopton and school principal Ronald Greer. It seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

The filing comes weeks after McMillen reached a settlement in her federal lawsuit against the Itawamba County School District.

The north Mississippi district had canceled its prom rather than allow McMillen attend with her girlfriend. The district agreed to pay $35,000 and follow a nondiscrimination policy as part of the settlement, though it argued such a policy was already in place

—  John Wright

ACLU sues Alaska over same-sex property taxes

MARY PEMBERTON  |  Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday, Aug. 3 challenging the way property taxes are assessed for households headed by same-sex couples.

State regulations as interpreted by the state and the municipality of Anchorage discriminate against same-sex couples by denying property tax exemptions allowed for senior citizens and disabled veterans, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of ACLU in Alaska.

“We are asking the court to overturn an unconstitutional practice of the state of Alaska. Lesbian and same-sex couples who are homeowners in the state of Alaska are discriminated against,” Mittman said at a news conference outside Superior Court in Anchorage.

The ACLU says some same-sex couples are being forced to pay more in property taxes on their homes than married couples, and that is a violation of equal protection rights under the Alaska Constitution.

The lawsuit asks the court to require the state and the municipality of Anchorage to apply the tax exemption to three couples represented in the lawsuit as if they were in marriages the state recognizes. Alaska does not recognize marriage between same-sex domestic partners.

Mittman said married couples can apply for a $150,000 tax exemption regardless if the home is jointly owned or not. Same-sex domestic partners, however, are allowed only half the exemption because the state considers them roommates instead of married couples, he said.

Department of Law spokesman Bill McAllister said it was too early to comment on the lawsuit because it had not been reviewed yet.

Julie Schmidt, 67, and Gayle Schuh, 62, have been together for 33 years. Their bank accounts and real estate holdings are jointly owned. After retiring from long careers in education in Illinois, they moved to Alaska in 2003 and four years ago bought a home in Eagle River. When Schmidt turned 65, they applied for the tax exemption for senior citizens.

Schuh said they have never been allowed the maximum exemption.

“As a retired couple, this hits us in our pocketbooks and we would like some fairness and equity. It would only take a little bit for the state of Alaska to recognize us and give us the maximum benefit of this tax exemption,” Schuh said at the news conference. “We would like all committed couples in Alaska to be able to say their state recognizes their commitment to each other and their state believes in equality for all of us.”

The other plaintiffs are Julie Vollick, 45, and Susan Bernard, 41, who have been together for seven years and are raising four children in a home they purchased in Eagle River. Vollick has a service-related permanent disability from her 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force.

Fred Traber, 62, and Larry Snider, 69, have been together for 28 years and got married in California in 2008. They live in an Anchorage condominium that is in Traber’s name. Therefore, they have been denied any part of the exemption, the lawsuit says.

“If Snider and Traber were a married couple under Alaska law, the full tax exemption would apply regardless of whether the house were in Traber’s name, Snider’s name, or held jointly between them,” the lawsuit says.

Mittman said the same-sex couples are being penalized for being in relationships.

“They are not roommates. … They are family,” he said.

—  John Wright