What’s Brewing: GLAAD president resigns; deal may be near on marriage equality bill in New York

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Jarrett Barrios

1. GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios has resigned in the wake of a controversy over a letter the organization sent to the FCC in support of Dallas-based AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile. Or at least we think Barrios has resigned. GLAAD’s letter to the FCC led to backlash in the gay blogophere because the telecom merger isn’t an LGBT issue and because the organization receives donations from AT&T.

2. The New York State Senate could vote as early as today on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s marriage equality bill, but at least one more Republican vote is still neeeded to ensure the measure’s passage. Republican aides spent the weekend working on the language of the bill to strengthen religious protections, and they reportedly made some headway. Today is the last day of New York’s regular legislative session, but it’s likely the session will be extended for a few days. Again, this is a huge impending victory for LGBT equality, as New York is the nation’s third-most populous state and the bill would double the number of Americans living in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal. Watch video below of a New York couple who’ve been waiting 61 years to marry.

3. A growing number pastors in the United Methodist Church are marrying same-sex couples in defiance of the church’s ban on the practice, the AP reports. Pastors who violate the ban risk dismissal from the church, and it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon.

—  John Wright

New Facebook statuses applauded by gay users

Civil union, domestic partnership added to relationship options

JOCELYN NOVECK  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Jay Lassiter is no longer “in a relationship.”

Let’s clarify that: Lassiter, a media adviser for political campaigns who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., is still with his partner of nearly eight years, Greg Lehmkuho. But since Thursday, when Facebook expanded its romantic-status options, Lassiter’s profile there echoes his relationship’s legal status: “Domestic partnership.”

It may not be a life-altering change. After all, you can call yourself anything you want on a social network. And Facebook is merely that.

But, Lassiter notes: “I’m no different from all those other Facebook users whose identity is tied up with their Facebook pages, for better or for worse.”

And so, he says: “It’s high time. It’s an affirming gesture. It’s sort of one tiny step for gays, but a giant leap for gay rights.”

Facebook’s addition of civil unions and domestic partnerships to the list of relationships its users can pick from came after talks with gay rights organizations, including GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The social network has “sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,” said GLAAD’s president, Jarrett Barrios. “By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media.”

He added that the new status options, available to Facebook users in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Australia, will serve as an important reminder that legal marriage is not an option for gay couples in most states.

Only Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex marriages. This week Hawaii becomes the seventh state to permit civil unions or similar legal recognition for gay couples.

Of course, there’s also a Facebook option to say “It’s complicated” — and that’s exactly how some users felt about the new changes. Because, for people both gay and straight, more options mean more decisions to make: What exactly is my relationship, and what should I call it?

“You go into a store and there are 27 kinds of soda, and sometimes it would be easier if there were just Coke and Pepsi,” explains Erik Rueter, who works in marketing at an educational nonprofit institution in Pittsburgh.

To Rueter, the essence of his relationship is crystal clear: He and his partner, Robb, will be together forever. “We complete each other’s sentences,” he says. “We’ll be sitting there in the nursing home, gumming up each other’s food, chasing each other in our wheelchairs.”

Two years ago, Rueter, 34, proposed to his partner on bended knee, despite the fact that in Pennsylvania they cannot marry. They’ve been engaged ever since, and that’s been his Facebook status — until Thursday, when he changed it to domestic partnership.

But Rueter is conflicted about the change.

“Part of me wants to go back to ‘engaged’ — because I still am,” he says. “Part of me wants to say ‘married,’ as in, ‘I don’t care what the law says.’ And part of me says, ‘It’s just Facebook!”’

And then ANOTHER part of Rueter tells him just how powerful and influential Facebook is, with well over 500 million users across the globe. “Just having the option to say, ‘This is what my relationship is’ is a really good thing,” he says.

It can be a good thing for some straight Facebook users, as well. Michael Stimson, a Scot who lives in Marseille, France, is not married to his partner, Izzy (short for Isabelle), but they live together and have a young son. He’s just changed his status from blank to domestic partnership.

For Stimson, it helps to clarify to other users with whom he’s chatting that he is not, well, available. “People do flirt with you on the Internet,” he says. “I like to put them in the picture a wee bit, so there’s no confusion.”

Izzy approves of his decision. “Most people that you speak with on Facebook are people you don’t know,” she says, speaking in French from home in Marseille. “This makes things more clear.”

Of course, there are no political overtones to the couple’s change in status. In the United States, though, there is a passionate debate over gay marriage. Lassiter, the campaign adviser from New Jersey, changed his status from “in a relationship” to “married” last year in an act of political defiance, he says, when the state legislature rejected a bid to recognize gay marriage.

But it just didn’t feel right, and he changed it back to “in a relationship” months later. Besides the fact that “married” wasn’t accurate, “I’m not really the marrying type,” he says. “Me and my partner have an equilibrium as things are.”

But “in a relationship” made it sound like a high-school relationship, rather than one that’s lasted a number of years.

So the new status feels better, says Lassiter. And he’s been encouraged by the positive feedback he’s gotten on just the first day from Facebook friends — including people from as far back as high school — giving him a thumbs-up.

Lassiter also thinks the change is most important for gay people — especially younger ones — living in areas of the country where their sexual orientation is less accepted than in the liberal Northeast.

“For those people, it legitimizes being in a gay relationship,” he says.

And so, maybe a social network can be something of an agent of social change.

After all, Lassiter says, “As Facebook goes, so goes the world.”

—  John Wright

Ricky Martin becomes a hero for Latino gays

SIGAL RATNER-ARIAS | Associated Press

NEW YORK — It’s been almost a year since Ricky Martin announced to the world he was gay, but among many gay Latinos, a community that has lived in obscurity for fear of harassment or rejection, his message is still making an impact.

“Today I ACCEPT MY HOMOSEXUALITY as a gift that gives me life,” Martin wrote last March in an open letter to his fans, after refusing to speak about his sexual orientation for years. “I feel blessed to be who I am!”

“By hiding, he validated millions of closeted gays’ that homosexuality is not honorable,” Daniel Shoer Roth, a Venezuelan columnist of the Miami Herald who is gay, told The Associated Press recently.

“In the gay community we have always known that Ricky Martin is one of us,” he added. “Because he is an idol, Ricky has paved the way so these gays now say, ‘If he could do it, so can I.”’

The revelation of the Puerto Rican singer and activist, whose album Music+Soul+Sex came out last week, has had positive effects for the Latino gay community and the society in general, according to advocates for the gay, lesbian and transgender community.

“The example of Ricky Martin as citizen of the world, humanitarian, father, intelligent person, is a good example for those who have obvious stereotypes and also for those who don’t have prejudice but have ideas that may act as barriers in the lives of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT),” said Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). “Ideas like ‘a gay man is good to water my flowers at home but not for business’ limit the opportunities for the LGBT community.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, communications manager of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says that “when Ricky made the announcement the tectonic plates moved, it was almost like an earthquake.”

“It was one of the most important news in the fight for equality that the Latino LGBT community leads. It touches the hearts and opens the minds of many people,” said Serrano, who became a friend of the artist after his announcement.

Ricardo Torres, a Mexican man who was raised in Texas and lives in Chicago, was in the audience when Oprah Winfrey interviewed Martin last year. He thanked Martin, saying that his revelation was good for his own relationship with his mother.

“For the first time my mother asked me personal questions. For almost 20 years she has known that I am gay but she never asked anything … she told me not to tell anyone else in my family. It was a secret … a big taboo,” Torres, 38, told the AP.

“Everything changed after Ricky came out of the closet,” he added. “Like someone in our family came out and by doing so gave us the right to live more openly.”

And the audience in general seems to support Martin.

Me, which came out Nov. 2, was a New York Times best-seller and its Spanish edition, Yo, reached No. 1 biography in the United States. His single “Lo mejor de mi vida eres tu,” released the same week of the book, was at the top of Billboard’s Latin Pop Songs chart (English version “The Best Thing About Me Is You” debuted on Oprah and was officially released on Feb. 1.)

“If in Puerto Rico people used to love him, now they love him even more,” said Serrano, who recounted that during Martin’s first public appearance post-announcement, in April at the Latin Billboard Awards, the singer not only received a standing ovation in the theater but a multitudinous cheer from the people on the streets.

“That says a lot about the welcoming and I think demonstrates the reality of our society,” he said. “Even though we still have to fight a lot of homophobia, there is much more acceptance today.”

According to statistics published online by The Trevor Project, a help-line for LGBT teenagers who may be contemplating suicide, LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers; more than one third have attempted taking their own lives and those in highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Torres considers that “one of the biggest positive effects (of Ricky’s coming out) is that Latino teenagers that are struggling with their sexuality have an example to follow.”

“Ricky gives hope to thousands of teens that are recognizing their sexual orientation or their gender identity and this tells them that even when there is homophobia and lack of acceptance, they can get to be whatever they want to be,” Serrano concluded. “I believe that with his story he is saving lives, and for me that is crucial, it is wonderful.”

—  John Wright

GLAAD marks 25 years

DERRIK J. LANG | AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES — The gay advocacy group GLAAD is happy to be turning 25 years old.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation celebrated its anniversary Friday night, Dec. 3, with a swanky cocktail party at the Harmony Gold Theatre in Los Angeles. Chaz Bono, Jean Smart, Amber Heard and Ed Begley Jr. were among the celebrity attendees who toasted the group, which focuses on how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks are presented in the media.

“We’ve made great progress in these media capitals,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD. “Beyond Hollywood, beyond New York, between these blue states, right at this nation’s red center, we have miles to go. How far do we still have to go to ensure that an environment of respect exists for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people?”

GLAAD was first formed in 1985 in New York to protest the New York Post’s coverage of AIDS. The organization went on to push for several changes throughout the media, such as the inclusion of a same-sex couple on the viewer-voted wedding contest on NBC’s Today show and modifications to how gays are referred to in The Associated Press Stylebook.

The group now annually holds the GLAAD Media Awards, which actor Steven Weber called the “gayer Oscars,” and releases the “Where We Are on TV” report, which tracks LGBT characters on network shows. This year’s report found that there were 23 gay and bisexual characters on scripted network TV out of a total of 600, up 3 percent from last season.

“The steady stream of negative portrayals and censorship of gay and lesbian lives on film and in television has given way to much more realistic and life-affirming depictions, such as this year’s The Kids Are All Right and TV’s Glee,” said Richard Jennings, a former president of GLAAD who received the first-ever Founders’ Award at the event.

Throughout the ceremony, attendees heard from former GLAAD board members, watched video montages of hallmark moments from the organization’s past 25 years — such as when Ellen DeGeneres’ character revealed she was a lesbian on her ABC TV comedy series in 1997 — and hissed at mentions of opponents of gay rights initiatives — such as Anita Bryant, Laura Schlessinger and Mel Gibson.

Jonathan Murray, co-creator of MTV’s The Real World, the long-running cable TV reality series that regularly includes gay and lesbian cast members, was bestowed with the Pioneer Award, given to a person or organization who significantly contributes to raising LGBT visibility in the media. Murray admitted the series never received much criticism.

“I think it’s because it was real,” he said. “How can you argue with something that’s real?”

—  John Wright