Activists: Anti-gay Tennessee law will be challenged

DICTATING MORAL POLICY | Tennessee Republican State Rep. Glen Casada told a Nashville television station he introduced legislation preventing local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances because such ordinances dictate moral policy. Gov. Bill Haslam signed Casada’s bill into law this week.

Governor signs state legislation that could gut some local nondiscrimination ordinances

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

Gay legal activists are already working on a legal challenge to a new state law in Tennessee, signed into law Monday, May 23, by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, which prevents local governments from requiring their contractors to abide by local human rights ordinances.

The legislation, entitled the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” was aimed at undermining a new Nashville metro area ordinance, signed into law in April. The ordinance prohibited city contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was passed by the Nashville/Davidson County Metro Council.

Abby Rubenfeld, a Nashville attorney and a former legal director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Tuesday, May 24, that the new state law will “definitely be challenged — we are working on it right now.”

Gov. Haslam, who took office Jan. 15, pitched his support for the law as a pro-business act, saying it relieved businesses of the necessity of navigating differing non-discrimination regulations from city to city.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee argued that it does not target LGBT people, and noted that the law does not affect the Nashville Metropolitan Government ordinance prohibiting discrimination by the government against LGBT people.

But no attempt was made prior to passage of the Nashville ordinance to relieve businesses affected by a Nashville ordinance that prohibited contractors from discriminating based on age, race, sex or disability.

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal’s Atlanta office said Lambda is not involved in mounting a legal challenge against the Tennessee law, but he called it “a terrible piece of legislation.”

The Human Rights Campaign said Haslam was trying to score “cheap political points” by giving a “green light” to anti-LGBT discrimination. HRC noted that a number of large corporations — including FedEx, AT&T, Comcast and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce — opposed the new state law.

FedEx issued a statement May 20 saying it “values and promotes the unique contributions, perspectives and differences” of all its employees and is “committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

State Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from Williamson County, introduced the “Equal Access” bill after the Nashville Metro Council passed a law requiring city contractors to sign an affidavit promising not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Specifically, the bill prohibits local ordinances from having non-discrimination laws broader than that of the state. According to Lambda Legal, Tennessee has no statewide laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in either public or private employment.

Casada told local television NewsChannel 5 that the Nashville ordinance amounted to having the city “dictating moral policy.”

Another anti-gay bill — one that sought to prohibit teachers from providing any information about homosexuality to public school students in grades K through 8 — passed the Tennessee Senate 19-to-11 on May 20 but did not get a vote in the House before the General Assembly adjourned May 21.

The original bill — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” — was amended to limit sex education curricula “to natural reproduction science.”

The Tennessee Equality Project said the bill “remains a threat to safe schools for all students in Tennessee,” even though the bill no longer references homosexuality specifically.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Lambda Legal releases study on HIV-related stigma, discrimination

In advance of World AIDS Day next Wednesday, Dec. 1, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has released “HIV Stigma and Discrimination in the U.S.: An Evidence-Based Report,” which focuses on the continuing stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV to policy makers and advocates.

Scott Schoettes, HIV Project staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said over the next year, Lambda Legal continue to press the legislators and policymakers at all levels to address these issues as they imoplement the strategy.

Findings in the report include:

• Nearly 63 percent of the respondents who had HIV reported experiencing discrimination in healthcare.

• A Kaiser Family Foundation report shows that the percentage of people who incorrectly believe that HIV can be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass is actually higher now than in 1987, and the percentage of people who incorrectly believe that transmission can occur by touching a toilet seat actually rose between 2006 and 2009.

• People with HIV are subject to prosecution and/or harsher sentencing for conduct that is not criminal. For example, in 2009, Daniel Allen was charged with violating a Michigan bioterrorism statute outlawing the use of harmful biological substances, based on allegations Allen has HIV and bit his neighbor during a fight. That charge was dismissed.

• Discrimination against people living with HIV as they seek to access elder care occurs throughout the country. Robert Franke, a 75-year-old retired university provost and former minister, was abruptly ejected from an assisted living facility in Little Rock, Ark., in 2009 because he has HIV. Representing Franke and his daughter, Lambda Legal sued the company operating the facility, alleging violations of the ADA and the federal Fair Housing Act, as well as similar state antidiscrimination laws.

This case recently settled.

To see the complete report, go online to LambdaLegal.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Gramick: Equality is a Catholic value

Nun began working toward acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church in 1971

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo
SOCIAL JUSTICE | Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo spoke to a group of Metroplex Catholics at Resource Center Dallas on Aug. 11. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

In 1971, Sister Jeannine Gramick became friendly with a gay man while she was working on her doctorate in mathematics education.

“Sister, what is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” he asked her.

She realized the answer was, “Very little.”

That’s when Gramick began working on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church and has since dedicated her career to helping gays and lesbians.

In 1977, Gramick co-founded New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for the reconciliation of lesbian and gay people and the church. She founded several local Dignity groups and has served on the board of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“I do this because I believe this is what God is calling me to do,” said Gramick, who was in Dallas this week for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

DeBernardo said he came of age after Vatican 2 in the social justice tradition of the church. He said what’s more important isn’t someone’s sexual orientation but that people are not being treated equally.

New Ways helps parishes that want to become more gay friendly and helps them develop strategies to do that.

Gramick said that since she began her work, a number of bishops in the United States have supported her. But more and more conservative members of the clergy have been appointed to higher positions since she first took her vows.

In 1999, the Vatican prohibited her from doing pastoral work with gays and lesbians and the next year she was ordered to stop speaking about homosexuality and about Rome’s investigation into her work.

She refused to be muzzled and continued working tirelessly.

The head of her order was worried that Gramick faced excommunication. She suggested they travel to the tomb of the founder of their order in Munich, Germany, to pray for divine intervention.

They flew from Baltimore to Rome where they changed planes for Munich. On the plane from Rome, she sat next to a man she thought might have been a priest.

That’s where the divine intervention happened.

She interrupted him to introduce herself.

“I’m a nun,” she said and asked if he was with the church.

The man introduced himself as Cardinal Ratzinger. When she told him her name, he joked that he had known her for 20 years,meaning they had a thick file on her and had been investigating her for that long.

Before they landed, the head of her order told the cardinal her concern that Sister Jeannine would be excommunicated.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Gramick said the future Pope Benedict told her. “It’s not that level of doctrine.”

Gramick said that the work of New Ways Ministry is not considered an excommunicatable matter. She noted that despite the Vatican’s position on LGBT issues, no one has been excommunicated for working on gay and lesbian social justice issues.

Although Gramick disagrees with the pope’s position on a number of issues and believes the Vatican still doesn’t understand the impact pedophile priests have had on so many lives, she is gracious in describing him.

She recalls him as a friendly, spiritual, holy man.

“He was praying when I interrupted him,” she said. “He has a good sense of humor.”

She said that meeting him put a human face on the institution.

DeBernardo explained the work of New Ways Ministry. Helping parishes become more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics is a major focus of the organization. He suggested a number of ways parishes can become more supportive.

“The oppression runs the gamut from silence to violence,” said DeBernardo. “Just breaking the silence is a good way.”

He suggests starting support groups in churches. Some churches have integrated gays and lesbians into their education programs.

“If you’re having a discussion on sexuality, you have to mention homosexuality,” he said. “You can’t ignore it anymore. It’s an important part of the current discussion on sexuality.”

Recognizing the gifts gay and lesbian members bring is another important step. One parish, he said, recognizes a lesbian mom or the mother of a lesbian every Mother’s Day.

He said his approach is not “one size fits all.” What works in one area of the country won’t work elsewhere. What works in one church won’t work in a neighboring parish.

In Maryland, New Ways is experimenting with a new program targeting legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters.

DeBernardo said support of gay and lesbian issues is strong among the grassroots and among middle managers in the church.

“But bishops get the media,” he said.

The project, that they will bring to other states debating same-sex marriage legislation or other equality laws, helps educate legislators that they will not lose Catholic votes by voting in favor of social justice.

Gramick said that there is a disconnect between the church hierarchy and Catholics in the pews.

She spoke at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 11, to a group of Catholics from around the Metroplex interested in her work.
A teacher who attended said she was afraid she would lose her job if she helped gay students who came out to her.

Gramick suggested the teacher help her students by teaching the full range of Catholic theologies. While the hierarchy teaches one thing, a vast majority of Catholic writers and theologians teach something else, Gramick said.

A parent of a gay son wanted to know how to help others in her parish and in other parishes around the diocese.

“Baby steps,” DeBernardo suggested.

He said the church puts a strong emphasis on family.

“Catholics are so much about keeping families together and when you have large families, you’ll have gays and lesbians in your family,” he said.

“Church leaders think a lot about sex,” he said. “For people in the pews, while sex is important, they don’t think of it as the primary way of interpreting the world. People know that sex is only one part of their lives.”

Gramick estimated that as many as half of all priests are gay. She said that the Catholics in the pews, however, separate the pedophile priests scandal from homosexuality.

Gramick said that when the scandal first erupted, there was a lot of confusion between sexual abuse and gay priests.

She said that people came to church because they liked their priest and didn’t care about his sexual orientation.

Congregations are showing their independence on the issue, Gramick and DeBernardo said.

One church in Greenwich Village has marched in the New York gay Pride parade for years. This year, New York’s new archbishop told them they could not carry their church’s banner in the parade.

Instead they all wore T-shirts with their church’s logo and carried a blank banner.

“They were on CNN. That was great publicity for the church that was being gay friendly,” Gramick said. “Not so good for the archbishop.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Local briefs • 08.06.10

RCD names new board members

Chuck MarLett and Linda Moore were elected by current board members to join the Resource Center Dallas board of directors during the board’s monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 2.

MarLett is a former vice president and associate general counsel for AMR Corporation, the parent company of Fort Worth-based American Airlines. He was one of the founders of the airline’s LGBT resource group, GLEAM, and served as its senior officer advisor.

MarLett is also a former co-chair of the board for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, was a founding member and director of the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas and served on the boards Dallas Summer Musicals and Dallas Theater Center. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, an MBA from Wharton and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Moore is a former board member of the center who served on the center’s finance committee for five years and was board president from October 2005 to March 2008. She is also the co-chair of the center’s capital campaign.

Moore is a commercial litigation attorney with K&L Gates in Dallas and also served as a board member for Elder Power. Her passion for cocker spaniels led her to serve in several board positions for the American Spaniel Club and American Spaniel Club Foundation, and a black cocker spaniel she owns is currently one of the top 10 dogs in the country.

Gramick to speak in Dallas

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministries, and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, will be the featured guest speakers about the movement for equality for LGBT people in society and the Catholic Church on Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., at Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan St.

Gramick, who joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame in the 1960s, obtained her masters degree from the Catholic school in 1969 and later earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, Gramick became friends with a gay man, and that friendship led her to begin ministries within the church for lesbians and gays.

Gramick eventually helped create three organizations for lesbian and gay Catholics, including, with Fr. Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministries.

However, in 2000 after more than 20 years of working with the LGBT community, Gramick was ordered by the School Sisters of Notre Dame — under orders from the Vatican’s Congregation For the Doctrine of Faith, which accused Gramick of having made grave doctrinal errors — to end her work and not speak publicly on LGBT issues.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens