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  WINDY CITY TIMES

National Roundup
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2011-03-02

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The U.S. House voted 240-185 to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood on Feb. 18, according to Politico.com . A group of Republicans applauded the vote when it hit 218 (the majority of votes); 11 Democrats joined them in voting against funding. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who proposed the defunding amendment, had tried three times previously to cut off legislative funding (Title X) for any group that provides abortions.

The Obama administration made a blockbuster announcement Feb. 23, saying it has concluded that one part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will not be able to pass constitutional muster in the 2nd Circuit and that the Department of Justice (DoJ) would not defend that part of the law in two pending cases in that circuit. It was a dramatic, unexpected and significant move by the Obama administration and one that could trigger maneuvers by DOMA supporters to appoint an intervenor to defend the law. But beyond the eventual legal consequences of the announcement, the political impact was characterized by most LGBT leaders as historic and monumental. "This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people," said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Hawaii has become the seventh state to legalize civil unions. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the bill legalizing civil unions into law Feb. 23. Before signing the measure, Abercrombie said, ""E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome. This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise." Same- and opposite-sex couples will be able to start entering into such unions Jan. 1, 2012.

In Maryland, the state Senate passed a marriage-equality bill 25-21 after an emotional debate, according to the Washington Post. During the debate, the bill's supporters argued that same-sex couples should be entitled to the hundreds of rights other married couples receive. The measure now moves on to Maryland's House of Delegates.

In an unprecedented effort to make Chicago, Ill., safer for transgender individuals, Genderqueer Chicago, a local youth group, launched the "T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative," a grassroots project that challenges business owners to recognize and protect gender identity in their public restrooms, according to a press release. This year, more than 500 businesses and organizations will be asked to sign a pledge that commits them to allowing gender-variant customers to use the bathrooms they choose.

An anonymous group has denied threatening to "eradicate" the websites of Kansas' anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church if members keep protesting this year, according to BBC News. News developed that the group of "hacktivists," simply known as "Anonymous," stated in an open letter to church members, "We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated." The church reportedly called the "Anonymous" members "a puddle of pimple-faced nerds." However, Anonymous has said it has more pressing matters than the church.

Speaking of Westboro, Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, has admitted that he physically abused her and her siblings so they would follow his teachings, according to an Advocate.com item. On The David Pakman Show, the host asked Phelps-Roper about abuse claims made by estranged brother Nathan Phelps. She replied that their father hit them to teach "children exactly like their creator told them to do it."

In Iowa, highly regarded high school wrestler Joel Northup forfeited his match after refusing to compete against a female student, Cassy Herkelman, in a state tournament, according to CBS News. Northrup praised Herkelman and Megan Black—who became the first two girls to ever make the tournament—but said he doesn't think males and females should compete in the same sport.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is endorsing a legislative measure that would ease criminal penalties for teens who engage in "sexting"—sending graphic images of themselves or other minors with mobile devices or computers, according to the Dallas Voice. However, there is still a difference for age-of-consent laws involving gay and straight teens. If a 17-year-old male has consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old male in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the convicted couple is heterosexual, the older person can argue an "affirmative defense" and have the charge dismissed on that basis.

In Texas, openly gay Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns has filed for re-election, according to the Dallas Voice. There are still a couple weeks before the filing deadline but so far, Burns is unopposed. Last year, Burns made headlines for delivering an emotional speech urging gay teens to not despair when they're being bullied.

The 19th annual Equality Forum—the largest annual national and international LGBT civil-rights summit with more than 40 programs, 25 panels, nine parties and seven special events—has launched its website. The forum, which will take place in Philadelphia April 25-May 1, will air such films as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and run panels on issues ranging from seniors to LGBT challenges in Latin America. See www.equalityforum.com .

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with Yale Law School, has launched a campaign called "Don't Filter Me" to assess censorship of web content in public high schools, according to a press release. The campaign asks students to check to see if web content geared toward the LGBT communities—a frequent target of censorship in schools—is blocked by their schools' web browsers. Students can report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project at http://action.aclu.org/dontfilterme.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan also welcomed an announcement by Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Mich., that it will allow students to vote for a "prom court" this spring rather than a prom queen or king. The announcement came after controversy erupted last fall when the school denied transgender student Oak Reed the chance to be homecoming king. The ACLU, with assistance from the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, sent the school a letter about suppressing free speech and practicing discrimination based on gender identity. Voting for the upcoming prom court will be open to all juniors and seniors.

Francis DeBernardo has written the book Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which discusses Catholics' support for same-sex marriage, according to a press release. Written in a question-and-answer format, the book dispels the myth that Catholic lay people follow the bishops' public opposition to same-gender marriage. In particular, the book looks at the state of Maryland, where legislators are considering a marriage-equality bill; DeBernardo says that the state's Catholics (23 percent of the population) strongly favor same-sex marriage.

In New York, six firms will host "Out on the Street," the first-ever annual LGBT leadership summit for the Wall Street community by the Wall Street community, according to a press conference. The event will take place March 30 at Deutsche Bank, and participating companies include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The summit will focus on two areas: Wall Street as a workplace of choice for LGBT professionals, and leveraging LGBT diversity to enhance business development.

In Kentucky, the Creation Museum informed a same-sex "couple" that they could not enter the facility—and reportedly did not refund their tickets, according to an Advocate.com item. LEO Weekly writer Jonathan Meador, his female guest and another man were waiting to enter the museum. When the other man, Joe Sonka, said that he was waiting for his male date, they were barred from entering. The museum's communications director, Mark Looy, said that promotional materials indicated that only heterosexual couples can enter the museum.

In Tennessee, Paul Monette's book, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, was pulled from a middle school's library, according to HIVPlusMag.com . A 12-year-old checked out the book from the Cheatham Middle School library, prompting his mother to complain to the school. In the book, Monette recounts his promiscuity and the AIDS-related death of his lover; in some sections, profanity is used.

In Vashon, Wash., the Two Wall Gallery has been forced to remove art that the building's owners objected to because of its gay content, according to Advocate.com . The owners—Ray Rice, wife Louise Rice and daughter Wendy Rice—have claimed that whatever is displayed is their choice. Ray Rice told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Louise didn't think it was appropriate to show the homosexuals doing their thing in the building, and that's her prerogative." The artwork, now being shown in a store across the street, were photos of semi-nude same-sex couples.

In a new poll, real-estate mogul/Apprentice host Donald Trump trails President Obama by just two percentage points, according to RawStory.com . A Newsweek/Daily Best survey had Obama with 43 percent of the public's support—and Trump with 41 percent. Trump has been considered a dark-horse candidate, and an online petition entitled "Draft Trump" has been launched. The poll was conducted with 918 probable voters Feb. 12-15.

In Wichita, Kan., an opinion column in East High School's newspaper, The Messenger, said that same-sex relationships "just are not normal" and that gays and lesbians should be punished with death, according to Advocate.com . Gay-rights activists are urging school leaders to "undo the damage and hurt" the column has caused. District officials and the newspaper's faculty adviser say that the column constitutes free speech and is protected by the First Amendment and the Kansas Student Publications Act.

In New York City, a lawsuit has been filed against Publicis Groupe, one of the largest advertising companies, alleging gender discrimination, according to HollywoodReporter.com . The suit claims that women—who compose 70 percent of the firm's global workforce—only make up 15 percent of the corporation's management. The lawsuit, which seeks more than $100 million in damages, also claims that the company fires women after they return from maternity leave.

In Philadelphia, Pa., the the William Way LGBT Community Center's board of directors will proceed with a proposed project that would create affordable senior residences connected to the facility, according to the Philadelphia Gay News. Construction could begin the middle of next year, and would result in 70 apartments for low-income LGBT and ally seniors and many renovations to the community center.

Gay adult entertainment entrepreneur Michael Lucas had threatened to organize a boycott against New York's LGBT Center because it had planned a party for anti-Semitic organization Israeli Apartheid Week—and the center responded by cancelling the event, according to JPost.com . The party was scheduled for March 5. Gay activists, Jewish and non-Jewish, were baffled by the center's decision to host the organization, which has no connection to LGBT rights.

The regents at the University of Alaska voted 8-2 to approve a policy that bans sexual orientation-based discrimination, according to LezGetReal.com . The proposal will add sexual orientation to an already existing policy that bans discrimination based on race, national original, pregnancy, age, disability and other classifications. The policy will cover the entire University of Alaska system, which includes almost 33,000 part- and full-time students.

In San Francisco, Calif., a proposal mural showing the LGBT history of Polk Street may never be painted because of neighbors' objections, according to the Bay Area Reporter. Two neighborhood artists, Helen Bayly and Aaron Bo Heimlich, drew a mock-up that shows police harassment, protests and public poetry readings. However, Polk Street locals have complained that the mural is "crude" and that it depicts the Castro, another area of the city.

Pro-LGBT group Equality Florida has objected to the appointment of conservative political activist Terry Kemple to Hillsborough County's human-rights board, according to TBO.com . Nadine Smith, executive director of the organization, said in a news release that Kemple "has consistently opposed equal protection under the law for gay people and has advocated against the freedoms of those who don't share his particular religious views." As one example, Smith cited Kemple's attempts to prevent the launch of gay-straight alliances in local schools.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have filed a joint complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against Liberman Broadcasting, Inc. and KRCA, a broadcast television station serving the Los Angeles area, a press release stated. The complaint is in response to a string of broadcasts of the Spanish-language television talk show "José Luis Sin Censura," which the groups say often contains indecent, profane and obscene material, offensive language, nudity and on-air verbal and physical attacks against women and the LGBT community. To view footage of these episodes, visit http://www.glaad.org/jlsc.

Feminist sculptor/art historian Merlin Stone recently passed away after a lengthy illness, according to Wildhunt.org . Stone is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking 1976 book When God Was A Woman, a work that influenced feminist theology. She was also the author of short stories, book reviews and essays, including "3,000 Years of Racism."

In Philadelphia, openly gay professor Father James St. George was fired from Chestnut Hill College after officials learned of his sexuality, according to Advocate.com . In a statement, administrators said, "It was with great disappointment when we learned through St. George's public statements of his involvement in a gay relationship with another man for the past 15 years." St. George said, "A school that is supposed to teach religious understanding is not even being tolerant."

Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Lee—who left office after shirtless photos of him surfaced on Craigslist—supposedly desired transgender women, according to an Advocate.com item. Two transwomen, Fiona and Holly, have claimed that Lee approached them, looking for a casual encounter. Fiona claimed that Lee said he dated a transgender woman when he attended business school at Chapman University.

In Bourne, Mass., fireman Richard Doherty has been fired after he posted anti-gay slurs on Facebook, according to Advocate.com . Doherty, a veteran firefighter of 16 years, allegedly used profane language and bigoted remarks last year while criticizing local police officers, his deputy fire chief and Bourne itself. A spokesman for the firefighters union said that the organization will appeal the firing.

In New Jersey, a jury awarded gay couple Peter Casbar, 43, and Noel Robichaux, 46, $3.15 million after Burger King employees chased and beat them, according to Advocate.com . A dispute with the person taking the orders escalated to the point where other workers became involved. Casbar and Robichaux said they were victims of a hate crime and brought the lawsuit under New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws.

Larry Sinclair, a man who claimed to have been President Obama's sex partner, received $10,000 from WhiteHouse.com to take a polygraph test—which he failed, according to Gawker.com . Sinclair has contacted various media outlets, claiming he performed oral sex on the president back in 1999. WhiteHouse.com was going to pay Sinclair $100,000 if he had passed the test.

In Louisiana, Rev. Grant Storms—one of the loudest voices against the annual gay event known as the Southern Decadence festival—was arrested Feb. 25 for masturbating in a public park, according to Advocate.com . Storms was arrested in Lafreniere Park in Metairie, a suburb outside of New Orleans. Two women in the park saw Storms allegedly masturbating in his van while watching children; the females then notified a parks employee, who called police.

In Amarillo, Texas, transgender woman Sandra Dunn is challenging a homophobic pastor for the position of mayor, according to Advocate.com . Dunn is running against David Grisham, a minister who once called for a boycott of Houston because it has a lesbian mayor (Annise Parker). Grishman's reaction to Dunn's announcement was, "I'm not sure that's who you want as mayor. If they're indecisive about who they are, are they indecisive about other issues?"

In Wyoming, a bill that would ban the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages has stalled in the state Senate, according to Advocate.com . There is actually a stalemate between the state Senate and House involving court-system access for couples in civil unions. A proposal that would ask voters to change the constitution to ban marriage equality has died after a procedural error.

Harvard Divinity professor Peter Gomes died Feb. 28 of a brain aneurysm and a heart attack at the age of 68, according to WBUR.org . Gomes grew up in Plymouth, Mass., and was an openly gay African-American Republican who was fascinated with the Pilgrims. Gomes had planned to retire next year after more than 40 years at Harvard. Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement that "[f]or those of us who are religious and affirm the dignity of all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Rev. Gomes was a light and a model."

Instead of allowing a student to form a gay-straight alliance, Texas' Flour Bluff Independent School District has banned all extracurricular clubs from meeting on campus in order to comply with the Equal Access Act, according to a Texas Tribune article. Superintendent Julie Carbajal's decision came after Flour Bluff High School senior Bianca "Nikki" Peet's proposed club garnered attention from national organizations like GLSEN aand Change.org . Carbajal has defended the decision and added that the school was committed to "upporting the cultural diversity of all students in our community."

Bluehost.com, a Utah-based web-hosting company, has temporarily removed an anti-gay website that claimed gay people caused the recent earthquake in New Zealand, QSaltLake.com reported. ChristchurchQuake.net blamed the huge tremor—which has killed approximately 200 individuals—on gays.


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