Boy Scouts boot lesbian mom, troop leader

We already know that the Boy Scouts of America can and will kick out gay Scouts and Scout leaders. Lawsuits against the Scouts date back to 1981 when 18-year-old gay former Scout Tim Curran sued for the right to be a Scoutmaster. And in each case, courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the Scouts have the right to exclude gays.

That discriminatory policy was in the spotlight here locally again when gay father Jon Langbert was “decommissioned” from his role as the “Popcorn Colonel” — leader of the annual effort to raise money by selling popcorn — for his son’s Cub Scout troup.

Now there’s this story to prove that the Boy Scouts’ homophobia isn’t gender specific.

After six years playing an active role in her son’s Boy Scout troup in Potomac Falls, Va., Denise Steele has been kicked out after another Scout’s mother discovered Steele is a lesbian.

Steele started out as a den leader for her son’s Cub Scout troop in elementary school when no one else would do it. Over the next six years, according to the Loudon Times, Steele’s son’s troop excelled at everything, winning the Blue and Gold Award — one of Scouting’s highest awards — for five years running. And when her son moved on up to the Boy Scouts, Steele moved with him.

All was fine until June this year when Steele accompanied her son and his troop on a Saturday-through-Monday camping trip. Because Steele had to work on Monday, her partner, Jackie Funk, showed up on Sunday night to pick her up. Assistant Scout Master Skip Inabinett then asked who the woman was that picked Steele up, and when she found out that Steele is a lesbian, and the woman giving her a ride was her partner, everything changed.

—  admin

Taking a stand for freedom

Russian activist hopes U.S. tour will focus attention on gay rights battle in his country, and that international attention will keep LGBTs there safer

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

A tide of revolution is sweeping the Mideast and Africa right now, proving to the world that citizens can stand up to unfair governments and make a difference. That’s a lesson that Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev has been intent on proving for more than five years, many times at great risk to his own personal safety.

Beginning in 2005, Alekseev has each year organized LGBT Pride celebrations in Moscow where he lives, and each year those celebrations have been banned in city officials there. But Alekseev and his colleagues have forged ahead, each year holding their events anyway.

Alekseev eventually filed suit in the European courts against Russian government officials, claiming that they were violating LGBT human rights by banning Pride events. Last year, the courts ruled in Alekseev’s favor, but last month the government officials asked the courts to reconsider the ruling, and the Moscow mayor vowed to once again ban Pride events planned for May.

Last Sept. 5, Alekseev was arrested at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow as he was preparing to board a Swiss Air flight to Geneva. There was at the time no clear information on who had taken the activist from the airport, why he was taken or where he was being held.

Interfax Belarus news agency reported that Alekseev had sent texts saying he was seeking political asylum in Belarus and was dropping his lawsuits in the European courts. However, friends and associates questioned those reports, saying that such statements were out of character, and helping focus international attention on his situation.

Alekseev finally resurfaced in Moscow, where he told his colleagues he was never in Minsk, never sent the texts and had no intention of dropping the lawsuits.

This month Alekseev, with the help of the Gay Liberation Network based in Chicago, is touring seven U.S. cities in hopes of raising awareness on the ongoing gay rights struggle in Russia. Prior to his visit to Dallas next week, Alekseev answered some questions, via e-mail, for Dallas Voice.

Dallas Voice: What happened that made you willing to put your personal safety on the line to fight for LGBT rights in Russia? Was there a single event or was it a culmination of things?

Alekseev: I never really thought about it, in fact, when I started and even after. If we go back to the origins, there was my dismissal from Russia’s most prestigious university where I was studying for my Ph.D., simply because I wanted to make my research on same-sex marriage issue. The faculty believed that it is not an appropriate topic for the Moscow State University.

But I am a person with principles and they were not able to persuade me to change this topic. So they sacked me. I sued them and I lost in Russia. Well, I had little hope to win. But now the case is pending with the European Court of Human Rights.

Working on this research made me look into activism. Quickly I understood that gay activism did not really exist in Russia. So I thought I could have an impact there. Then I came up with this campaign for Moscow Pride. It quickly became a hot topic for the media because the mayor immediately chose to confront us and try to scare us. But I was still so angry that I could not complete my Ph.D., that not the mayor or anyone else could frighten me.

Everything came very quickly after that. We had the first Pride. It was banned; I was arrested. We managed to put our cause in front of the media and, as a result, in front of the society. That was the aim.

After, we launched several other campaigns on freedom of association, same-sex marriage, the [men who have sex with men] blood ban.

We managed to change one thing: The MSM blood ban was repealed after our actions.

DV: Has there been a specific incident in which you feared for your own life, or the lives of family and close friends?

Alekseev: Russian authorities like to pressure people. Some of our activists were pressured. The police ringed their doors, told their parents that they were arrested while taking part in “illegal actions of faggots” and that next time there could be consequences for them or for their other children. Sometimes, it created dramatic outings.

My family doesn’t really care. My parents are retired. The only thing one could do is cut their $200 a month pension. Not a big deal.

And when police ring our doors or sometimes call by phone, it became my dad’s best moment of the day. He likes to drive them nuts!

As for my own life, of course I had fears. But the more you are in this fight, the less you think about it.

I know that my phone is constantly being illegally [tapped] and that I was followed several times while preparing the Pride events. In May [when Pride is held each year], I have to move from place to place to make sure I am not arrested before the day of the Pride. This has a huge psychological impact.

DV: What happened when Russian officials abducted you from the airport? Why do you think they let you go?

Alekseev: The only aim was to scare me and to pressure me to withdraw our historic case from the European Court of Human Rights, which at that point was in its final stages. Ironically, just two weeks after that, the judges met privately and decided the case in our favor.

During detention, I had to bear every possible verbal insult towards gay people, which was far from being very pleasant. But when I returned and saw all the international solidarity I was amazed. So many people did protests around the world and so many people sent messages of support. At this point, I understood that international LGBT solidarity really exists and that it is not an empty word. But we should realize that it should be expressed not only at such difficult moments but every day in our fight for gay equality. I think this media and international attention saved me then.

DV: What do you hope to accomplish with this visit to the United States?

Alekseev: In short, I’d like to give people a message that wherever they are, they can make a change.

It’s not about supporting a cause by giving money. I don’t come here for that. I don’t need financial support. I have food at home and I don’t need to get paid for the ideal I pursue.

I’d like to explain to people that if all of them stand at the same time, they can really achieve something. American activists are often seen overseas as being self-centered and not interested in international issues. Perhaps this has to do with a fear of being seen as too colonialist.

You know, if 1,000 Americans sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before her trip to Russia in 2009, I doubt she would have quietly dedicated a statue to an American gay poet hand-in-hand with the homophobic then-mayor of Moscow, Luzhkov.

That was very close to the place where weeks before we were arrested for trying to stage our fourth Pride. She made a very good advertisement for him, which was used against us at that time by his PR team. She did not challenge him on his homophobia while she said she cares for LGBT rights and wants to put it forward in her diplomacy. I saw how she cared.

This should not repeat in Russia or elsewhere. I know some usually say “We cannot care for all the world,” but often it’s the same people who care for nobody! When you want to change things, you don’t pick and choose usually. You just follow your instinct.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Today In Frivolous Lawsuits

A New Jersey woman has filed a $ 5M class action lawsuit against NYC-based discount retailer Century 21 because when she returned items for a cash refund, she didn’t get 80 cents in credit for the coupon she’d used when making the original purchase.

In Manhattan federal court papers, Tova Gerson claims she used a coupon, good for $ 5 off a $ 50-or-more purchase during a Jan. 10 shopping spree at Century 21’s Paramus, NJ, store. Gerson plunked down a total of $ 106.82, before tax, for items that included faux-suede moccasins, a child’s dress, stuffed toy and little girls’ lace tights, underwear and T-shirts, according to the filing. But then, on Jan. 19, Gerson returned a $ 17.97 kid’s ensemble, claiming it was the wrong color, the filing states. Century 21 refunded her money — minus the 80 cents she’d saved, on a pro-rated basis, by using the discount coupon. Gerson, a hat designer who sells her creations from her suburban home, flipped her lid. Century 21’s take-back, she claims, deprived her of the “full benefit” of the $ 5-off coupon.

Gerson’s suit was filed by her lawyer father, who makes his living suing retailers over similar “coupon schemes.” According to the above-linked story, some retailers have settled out of court rather than deal with the lawsuits.

Joe. My. God.

—  David Taffet

Concise Guide to Gay Marriage Lawsuits

[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]

Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. The number of gay marriage lawsuits has been adding up, so it’s worth reviewing them all. Here’s what you need to know.

Perry v. Schwarzenegger

Overview: The lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8. It’s also the most well-known out of all the lawsuits challenging gay marriage bans. At the most basic level, the lawsuit is a federal challenge to a state marriage ban. The suit alleges that marriage is a constitutional right, and that the government doesn’t have a good enough reason (rational basis is the legal term) for denying that right to same sex couples.

The couples filing the lawsuit are Kristin Perry & Sandra Stier and Paul Katami & Jeffrey Zarrillo. Also notable are their attorneys, Ted Olsen and David Boies, who were on opposite sides of the Bush-Gore election court battle in 2000.

Location: California.

Status: The case went to trial, and Judge Walker decided against the gay marriage ban based on both the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. The case has been appealed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a 3 panel judge will issue an opinion. The court will hear oral arguments on December 6.

Outlook: Uncertain. No matter what the Ninth Circuit does, the case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. That process will take years. In the meantime, judicial orders will likely be stayed pending appeal, meaning that they have no effect while the case is still being resolved.

Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services

Overview: Unlike the other lawsuits, this lawsuit was not filed on behalf of particular people, but on behalf of the state itself. The Massachusetts government alleges that Congress didn’t have the authority to regulate marriage and pass the Defense of Marriage Act, the law prohibiting the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. In other words, it violates the Tenth Amendment, which says that unless the Constitution grants the federal government a specific power, the power is left to the states. Regulating marriage is one of these powers, Massachusetts alleged.

Location: Massachusetts

Status: Judge Louis Tauro ruled against the government back in August and declared DOMA unconstitutional for violating the Tenth Amendment. The judge said that the federal government cannot decide who gets to be married—instead, states do.

The case has been appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision is stayed pending the appeal.

Outlook: I like this case because it uses traditional conservative arguments (state rights) to support what is traditionally a liberal cause (gay marriage). On the other hand, it’s tough to say that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. The federal government has always been involved in marriage through the Internal Revenue Code (tax laws) and even the Social Security Act. Massachusetts will have to show why the government can define marriages through the tax code, but not through DOMA.

Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management

Overview: This case is about the financial benefits to being married. There’s multiple plaintiffs, but Joanne Pedersen is the main one. She’s legally married to her same sex spouse, but can’t put her on her health plan because of DOMA. The other plaintiffs, also legally married, can’t get Social Security benefits or benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act for their same sex spouses.

Location: Connecticut.

Status: This case was just filed this week.

Outlook: Pretty good. The lawsuit was based on Gill v. OPM, a Massachusetts, case in which the federal judge said that DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the 10th Amendment (see below). In this case, the lawsuit alleges that DOMA violated the due process clause (found in the 5th and 14th amendments). Still, the attorneys for Pedersen modeled the case after Gill—so it’s basically the same laws with near the same facts. They might add the 10th Amendment argument later.

Gill v. Office of Personnel Management

Overview: This case is about whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. It was filed on behalf of same sex legally married couples who were denied federal benefits because of DOMA. In short, their state said they were married, but the federal government said they weren’t.

Still, this case does not ask the federal government to recognize a same-sex right to marry. Instead, it says that the government should get out of the business of defining marriage. It involves same sex couples who are already married, not who want to get married.

Location: Massachusetts

Status: Judge Louis Tauro, the same judge from Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services (see above), ruled against the government and declared DOMA unconstitutional for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In short, the judge said that the government didn’t have a good enough (or rational basis) reason for discriminating against same sex couples. The case is on appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Outlook: Like most of these cases, this one will probably end up in the Supreme Court. The case involves constitutional principles like equal protection and state rights, which are issues the Supreme Court tends to handle.

Windsor v. U.S

Overview: This is the case filed just this week by the ACLU. The plaintiff, Edie Windsor, had to pay 0,000 in estate taxes upon the death of her same-sex spouse, Thea Spyer. If she were married to an opposite sex spouse, she wouldn’t have to pay any of it. As the lawsuit says, if “Thea” were “Theo,” the estate could have passed to Edie tax-free.

Location: New York (they were married in Canada, but New York recognizes same sex marriages performed elsewhere)

Status: The case was filed just this week.

Outlook: What’s unique about this case is that it’s based on discrimination through the Internal Revenue Code. It reminds me what Kelly Erb, also known as the taxgirl, said a few months ago, that a proper and potentially winnable DOMA challenge requires a good set of facts. I’m not sure this is the right set of facts, here’s what the case has going for it:

  • There’s a lot of money involved (0,000)
  • You couldn’t as for a better plaintiff. Edie lost her same sex spouse after decades battle with multiple sclerosis and then a serious heart condition.
  • The facts are media worthy—news outlets will pick up on the sympathetic plaintiff and in the simplicity of the discrimination (If “Thea” were “Theo”…).
  • The remedy is financial. They want a check back from the government for the estate tax.

Still, like every other case here, don’t expect much until the Supreme Court touches it, which won’t happen for years.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Obama: Lawsuits, Not DADT Itself, Is ‘Very Disruptive’ to Unit Cohesion

I've been a strong believer in the notion that if somebody is going to serve in the military, in uniform, putting their lives on the line for our security, they should not be prevented from doing so because of their sexual orientation. … The overwhelming majority of Americans feel the same way. It's the right thing to do. As commander-in-chief, I've said that making this change needs to be done in an orderly fashion, and I've worked with the Pentagon, Sec. Gates, Adm. Mullen, to make sure that we are looking at this in a systematic way that maintains good order and discipline, but that we need to change this policy. … Keep in mind, we've got a bunch of court cases that are out there as well, and something that would be very disruptive to good order and disclipline and unit cohesion is if we've got this issue bouncing around in the courts as it already has over the last several weeks, where the Pentagon and the chain of command doesn't know at any given time what rules they're working under. We need to provide certainty. … This should not be a partisan issue.

—President Obama, speaking to reporters after today's live press conference, isn't changing his Don't Ask Don't Tell tune just because his party lost control of the House. But hey, the Log Cabin Republicans seem to be taking the president's request to get "two to five Republican votes in the Senate" seriously: Executive director R. Clarke Cooper says they've got a short list of names, and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are already on board.

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—  admin

Trustee says DISD administration resisting protections for gay students in bullying policy

Bernadette Nutall

The Dallas Independent School District’s administration is reportedly resisting an effort to include specific protections for LGBT students in a new bullying policy, setting up a possible showdown over the issue during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday that the district’s attorneys are objecting to her proposal to list categories of protected students in the bullying policy, because they say it could open up the district up to lawsuits from those who are left out.

Nutall said she submitted a fully inclusive policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the administration on Tuesday, Nov. 2. However, the administration has posted a noninclusive version of the policy that doesn’t list any categories of protected students on Thursday’s agenda.

Nuttall encouraged people in the LGBT community to attend the board meeting and speak in support of the substitute policy she’s proposing along with Trustee Lew Blackburn. Those who wish to speak at the meeting must sign up by calling 972-925-3720 before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the board room at district offices, 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to put it in there,” Nutall said. “I was very frustrated. I really don’t understand the resistance. I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer, but I’m finding out that it’s not. … The community needs to drive this policy.”

A DISD spokeswoman said the board of trustees will discuss the proposed bullying policy on Thursday but will not take a final vote.

“They will be talking about the policy that you see [on the agenda], and they can add or change the language as they see fit,” the spokeswoman said. “Tomorrow’s briefing will kind of determine what direction this is going to take and what additional language, if any, they want to see.”

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said Wednesday that at least three LGBT leaders, including himself, plan to speak at Thursday’s meeting. The others are Jesse Garcia, president of the LULAC Rainbow Council, and Roger Poindexter, the new director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.

McDonnell said he’ll request that the board of trustees delay consideration of the bullying policy until it can further discussed.

“Even if people don’t want to speak, I think we need to pack the chambers,” McDonnell said, noting that many other school districts around the nation have adopted fully inclusive bullying policies without objections from attorneys. “Clearly there are other legal minds who come to a different answer.”

—  John Wright