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National: Pol and trans granddaughter; suicide; FBI and Fred Phelps
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2015-02-24

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U.S. Rep. Mike Honda ( D-Calif. ) has opened up about his transgender granddaughter, according to a Huffington Post column by Marsha Aizumi. Honda discussed his grandchild in a video at Courageous Conversation, a one-day symposium for superintendents and school leaders that focuses on how to make schools safer for their students. In addition, he posted a photo of both of them on Twitter, posting, "As the proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild, I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied." PFLAG National and The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance issued a joint note supporting Honda.

On Feb. 15, Zander Mahaffey—a transgender freshman at South Cobb High School in Austell, Georgia—committed suicide, Seventeen.com reported. Like Leelah Alcorn, the 15-year-old left a post on his Tumblr page beforehand in which he described how intolerable it was to not be accepted for who he was. Zander described his emotionally abusive relationship with his mother, who reportedly taunted him about a sexual assault he endured and accused him of stealing money. In addition, Mahaffey's final request wasn't honored, as his obituary and tombstone used only his birth name ( Sandra Nicole ) and female pronouns—causing an outcry on social media.

The FBI has released its case files for Fred Phelps, the pastor of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church who died last year, The Daily Caller reported. The documents, which are now listed on the FBI's website, mostly contain the FBI's communications with local law-enforcement officials seeking information on Phelps and his Topeka, Kansas-based church. The documents show that Phelps first came onto the FBI's radar in 1967, when the minister was working as a civil-rights attorney in Topeka. Phelps died last year at age 84.

Eric Fanning, who is openly gay, has been appointed the chief of staff for new Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, SDGLN.com reported. In June 2013, Fanning was named acting Air Force secretary; at the time, he became the highest ranking LGBT person in the Defense Department. Fanning had been confirmed as the Air Force Undersecretary in April 2013. Prior to his Air Force post, Fanning was Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy and deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, according to the Air Force Times.

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan ( D-Wis. ), David Cicilline ( D-R.I. ), Sean Patrick Maloney ( D-N.Y. ), Kyrsten Sinema ( D-Ariz. ) and Mark Takano ( D-Calif. ), co-chairs of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for clarification on the inclusion of Brunei and Malaysia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership ( TPP ) negotiations, a press release from Pocan's office stated. The lawmakers said in the letter: "In light of the decision to end trade preferences for Gambia, we write today to ask for clarification on the inclusion of Brunei and Malaysia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership ( TPP ) negotiations. These two countries are responsible for severe human-rights abuses, including adopting penal codes permitting the imprisonment and physical harm of LGBT people. It seems inconsistent for the United States to expand trade privileges to [Brunei and Malaysia] while taking action against Gambia."

The Washington Blade reported that the Labor Department announced that married same-sex couples will soon be eligible for benefits under the Family & Medical Leave Act ( FMLA ) even if they live in a state that doesn't recognize their union. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said a new rule is set to be final that will ensure individuals in same-sex marriages have access to federally protected leave from work to care for spouses with serious medical conditions. The FMLA was published Feb. 25 and will take effect March 27.

The National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ) has presented its 2015 Inaugural Cohort of 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch, representing a consortium of standout leaders who self-identify as Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-confirming and/or same-gender loving ( LGBTQ/SGL ), according to a press release. The release adds, "At NBJC, we recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants, like Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde and Marsha P. Johnson, who dedicated their lives to the cause for justice." The list is at http://www.nbjc.org/100-to-watch.

Republicans on an Indiana Senate committee didn't wait for the Democratic members to arrive Feb. 18 before pushing through a proposal critics say would allow people and businesses could refuse services for same-sex weddings because of religious beliefs, the Associated Press reported. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and some business executives argued that the proposal could hurt the state's reputation and make it more difficult to attract companies. The full state Senate may vote very soon on approving the proposal, which supporters say is modeled after a federal religious-freedom bill President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994.

The U.S. Navy officially approved the request of transgender individual Paula Neira, filed in March 2014, for a name change on what's known as a DD-214—the military form that veterans present as proof of service whenever they apply for jobs or a variety of veteran benefits and services, DailyKos.com noted. Approval of Neira's name change was a first for the military branch. Neira served in the Navy under a different name, but underwent gender-reassignment surgery in 1995 after leaving the service.

LPAC, the country's first lesbian political action committee, announced political veteran Beth Shipp as the organization's first executive director, according to a press release. Shipp joins LPAC after serving as the political director of NARAL Pro-Choice America for 10 years. At NARAL, Shipp led all national political activities for the organization, including its electoral efforts, independent expenditure campaigns, and ballot initiative campaigns. Since the 2012 founding, LPAC has mobilized thousands of people in political giving, raised $1.9 million in contributions from 48 states and built a grassroots community of more than 25,000 people.

Lambda Legal announced it has elected three new leaders to serve on its board of directors, according to a press release. They are Dr. Beth Meyerson, assistant professor of public health policy and administration at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana; Roderick Hawkins, vice president of external affairs with the Chicago Urban League; and David de Figueiredo, senior vice president and risk management manager with Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. Chicagoan Stephen Winters, former general counsel for BP America, has been elected co-chair of the national board.

The Texas Supreme Court has issued an emergency order blocking gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses after a lesbian couple wed in Austin, according to NBC Dallas/Fort Worth. The license was issued exclusively for Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who requested the license in Travis County two days after a local judge ruled in an unrelated estate case that Texas' gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional. The couple cited that case, saying it should allow them to wed.

Kate Brown became the highest-ranking openly LGBT person to hold office in the United States Feb. 18 when she was sworn in as governor of Oregon, according to Advocate.com . Brown, who was Oregon's secretary of state, assumed the office after Gov. John Kizhaber resigned after he and his environmental-consultant fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, were accused of ethics violations. In her speech, Brown said, "Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. That changes starting today."

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock offered a novel—if unlikely—approach to avoiding the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in a brief opinion attached to a related ruling, Advocate.com reported. If Alabama must permit same-sex couples to legally marry, perhaps the state should abolish the institution of marriage altogether, Murdock offered in a two-page opinion issued along with the court's refusal to clarify Chief Justice Ray Moore's directive telling probate judges they could ignore a federal ruling bringing marriage equality to Alabama.

A man exonerated after spending 22 years in prison for the murder of his mother, sister and her friend has filed a federal complaint against New York City, Courthouse News Service reported. DNA evidence proved that "the real killer got away and went on to kill again seven years later," Antonio Yarbough says in the lawsuit, filed one year after his release from prison along with fellow exonerated inmate Sharrif Wilson. The complaint alleges that since both Yarbough and Wilson were gay and friends, police concocted a theory that the pair killed Yarbough's mother because she disapproved of their relationship.

More than a hundred people of faith gathered at the Texas Capitol to call on lawmakers to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, Statesman.com reported. The rally happened after nearly a half dozen bills and amendments have been filed this session that would strip the rights of the LGBT community, advocates say. "We believe that laws that protect LGBT people strengthen every Texas family, bring together our communities and protect rights in ways that are important to all of us," said the Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas.

American Unity, a pro-LGBT Republican group that formed in 2012, is getting new leadership and aiming over the next two years to double the $22 million it already has spent on LGBT efforts in the party, BuzzFeed reported. Tyler Deaton will assume the senior leadership role for American Unity Fund and American Unity PAC, taking the place of Jeff Cook-McCormac. Deaton has run state efforts for American Unity for the past two years, after coordinating the successful Republican-based effort to keep marriage equality in New Hampshire.

In Washington state, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom ruled that a florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated state consumer protection and anti-discrimination law, The Chicago Tribune reported. Ekstrom rejected arguments from the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland that her actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion. While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't necessarily protected, he said.

A coalition of organizations, including GLAAD and Gay Men's Health Crisis ( GMHC ), launched a new PSA and social-media campaign starring actor Alan Cumming to raise awareness about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ( FDA's ) blood-donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, according to a press release. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi NY and Bullitt, #CelibacyChallenge urges the FDA to implement a blood-donation system that screens all donors based on risk for HIV transmission, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. More info is at www.CelibacyChallenge.com .

The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors has announced a groundbreaking agreement to make a hepatitis C cure more financially accessible to those with HIV, according to HIVPlusMag.com . The AIDS Drug Assistance Program Crisis Task Force has reached a new pricing agreement with the biopharmaceutical company AbbVie for Viekira Pak to treat chronic hepatitis C in those living with HIV. Hepatitis C is a liver disease that can become a lifelong chronic illness, and is of particular concern for HIV-positive people.

Jeb Bush, a possible 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, is hiring an openly gay man as his top communications aide, Gay Star News reported. Tim Miller, 33, is currently executive director of the America Rising Political Action Committee ( PAC ). Bush has not formally announced his candidacy so Miller would, for now, be senior adviser for Bush's Right to Rise PAC.

A Jacksonville, Florida, man refused to take part in jury duty at the Duval County courthouse in order to show his support for same-sex marriage, First Coast News reported. Chuck Chapman refused to serve on a jury because of the Clerk of Courts' recent decision to stop all courthouse weddings because he wasn't comfortable performing gay-marriage ceremonies. Soon after telling the judge about his discomfort in the courthouse, Chapman said he was not held in contempt of court but released from jury duty.

The University of Colorado ( CU ) expects to soon begin covering the cost of transition surgery for transgender faculty and staff, the Associated Press reported. When new insurance plans take effect with the start of the fiscal year on July 1, a new benefit will likely be coverage of gender-confirmation surgeries for those whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. CU-Boulder students in the university's health insurance plan already receive coverage for such surgery up to $10,000.

In New York City, a basketball fan charged in an attack on a gay couple outside Madison Square Garden pleaded guilty to a hate crime, according to DNAInfo.com . Martin Martinez was arrested in October 2013, four months after he and a group of Knicks fans came across Nick Porto and Kevin Atkins walking arm-in-arm on Eighth Avenue. The group of fans hurled anti-gay slurs at the then-couple and beat them, breaking Porto's nose and Atkins' wrist.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are pulling the plug on this year's Pink Saturday in San Francisco due to "an escalation in violence" that marred the staple of Pride weekend, SFGate.com reported. The Sisters, a self-described order of queer nuns known for their elaborate garb and makeup, have put on the annual Pride event, which shuts down Castro Street, since 1995. Last year, a member of the Sisters and her husband were attacked by a group of three men and a woman who shouted homophobic slurs at them and punched the member. This year's Pink Saturday would have been June 27.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) released long-awaited guidance to ensure equal access for transgender people in homeless shelters, according to a press release from the National Center for Transgender Equality ( NCTE ). The guidance, issued to shelters and transitional housing programs across the country, call for access to shelter and programs to be based on a person's self-identified gender. This follows similar guidance issued by the Department of Justice in 2014 for domestic violence shelters and other programs funded by the Violence Against Women Act ( VAWA ).

A federal agency says Walmart discriminated against a lesbian employee who sought health coverage for her ailing wife and has ordered "a just resolution" for violating her civil rights, according to Newser. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered the retail giant to work with Jacqueline Cote of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who hopes the ruling will help her pay off $100,000 in medical bills. Cote tried to enroll her partner in Walmart's health plan repeatedly starting in 2008, but coverage was denied, and the company didn't provide it until 2014.

The Southern Poverty Law Center ( SPLC ) has filed a federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender woman who has been denied medically necessary treatment and sexually assaulted by other inmates while held at a men's prison, according to a press release. Since entering prison three years ago for a non-violent offense, prison officials have allegedly denied 36-year-old Ashley Diamond the female hormones that she had been receiving for 17 years. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, describes how denying this medically necessary care has resulted in grave physical and mental harm to Diamond, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In an amicus brief asking a federal appeals court to dismiss a challenge to Kansas' ban on gay marriage, the Westboro Baptist Church claims that gay men and lesbians face "zero" discrimination in the United States, On Top Magazine noted. Kansas became the 33rd state to allow gay couples to marry after the Supreme Court refused to delay implementation of a federal judge's ruling striking down the state's restrictive marriage ban; officials, however, continue to defend the ban in court. U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree has twice refused to allow Westboro to intervene in the case, but he said that it was welcome to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

An Oklahoma bill to punish any local or state employee who issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be heading to a vote in the state House of Representatives after a committee approved the legislation, Reuters reported. The bill, called the Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act, is one of several in the Republican-dominated statehouse to impose restrictions on same-sex marriages that have been proposed after a U.S. federal judge last year ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Detroit-area pediatrician Dr. Vesna Roi refused to see a baby because the parents are lesbians, according to CBS Detroit. Jami and Krista Contreras, of Oak Park, brought their 6-day-old baby to Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville for a checkup; however, Roi refused to see them. "Under current Michigan law, a doctor has an absolute right to refuse medical treatment on the basis of sexual orientation," said legal analyst Charlie Langton. The situation happened last October, but the Contrerases decided to go public with their story to raise awareness about discrimination against same-sex parents.

In Omaha, Nebraska, a jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Gregory Duncan, who is accused of a hate crime, according to KMTV.com . Jurors deliberated for several hours before finding Duncan guilty of third-degree assault/discrimination. In 2013, prosecutors say Duncan punched Ryan Langenegger, who was with his friends, one of whom was a drag queen. "My intent was never to go out and bash anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any type of physical altercation because of their sexual orientation," Duncan said after testifying.

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, today announced that it has created a $100-million investment strategy in support of its Countdown to a Cure for AIDS initiative, launched last year with the aim of developing the scientific basis of a cure by 2020, a press release stated. The establishment of the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research within a major academic research institution with a grant of $20 million will be the centerpiece of the investment strategy. To complement the Institute, amfAR will award a range of grants ( innovation, impact and investment grants as well as an opportunity fund ) totaling $80 million to support the work of research teams worldwide.

Police have charged a suspect with first-degree murder in the fatal Jan. 26 shooting of 24-year-old trans woman Ty Underwood in North Tyler, Texas, Advocate.com reported. Carlton Ray Champion, Jr., 21, was charged after electronic and video evidence revealed that he was meeting Underwood for a date at the time she was killed. Police say that Champion, a student at Texas College, and Underwood, a nursing assistant planning to attend Kilgore College's nursing program, had been in a "brief relationship" prior to Underwood's death.

In Wyoming, a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity cleared a critical committee hearing, and now heads for a vote in the full state House of Representatives, the Associated Press reported. Same-sex couples in Wyoming gained the right to marry last year only through federal court action. The bill has cleared the Senate and recently cleared the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee by a vote of six to two.

Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief who was fired over anti-gay comments, has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Mayor Kasim Reed and the city, On Top Magazine reported. In a self-published 162-page book titled Who Told You That You Were Naked, Cochran describes gay people as "unclean" and homosexuality as a "sexual perversion" similar to bestiality. Reed fired Cochran after he served a 30-day suspension without pay. Cochran claims in the lawsuit that he was fired because of his faith.

A Lawrence, Massachusetts, man has been arraigned in connection with the stabbing death of his boyfriend, NECN.com reported. Miguel Rivera, 50, was arraigned on a murder charge at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital; he was held without bail. The victim, 39-year-old Omar Mendez, was pronounced dead at the scene. Rivera, who also suffered stab wounds, is scheduled to appear in Lawrence District Court on March 31.

U.S. District Judge William Duffey Jr. has ruled that an inmate's claims that a prison doctor sexually abused him will go forward despite the federal government's effort to dismiss them, Courthouse News Service noted. Howard Brons sued the United States on March 25, 2014, for negligent hiring and retention, claiming that Atlanta prison physician Dr. Lewis Jackson sexually assaulted him during an exam. Jackson has previously pleaded guilty to sexually abusing inmates, according to the ruling. The federal government filed a motion to dismiss last June, arguing that hiring decisions are protected, discretionary functions and that it's not liable as an employer under Georgia law.

In a related matter, a prison doctor in New Mexico has been accused of sexually assaulting seven inmates with rectal exams for everything from tooth pain to toenail fungus, according to Courthouse News Service. The prisoners claim ( four in one lawsuit, three in another ) Dr. Mark Walden regularly performed "digital rectal exams" for no legitimate medical reason, sometimes without wearing gloves, and fondled them inappropriately. Among the charges are medical malpractice, negligence, gross negligence and civil-rights violations.

Over the Valentine's Day holiday, the Ad Council—in partnership with nonprofits and companies—launched a new "Love Has No Labels" ad campaign to promote diversity and inclusion of all Americans, according to HRC.org . Nonprofit advocates including the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League joined with leading companies such as PepsiCo, State Farm and Unilever to support the new ad campaign, which aims to address 'implicit biases,' or unconscious negative perceptions we harbor about others. The new ads launch in March; visit LoveHasNoLabels.com .

A research team has shown that a lab-made molecule that mimics an antibody from our immune system may have more protective power than anything the body produces in dealing with HIV, keeping four monkeys free of infection despite injections of large doses of the virus, according to ScienceMag.org . Viral immunologist Michael Farzan of the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, and 33 co-workers recently took a different strategy, building a novel molecule based on knowledge of how HIV infects cells.

The board of directors of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center is pleased to announce the selection of Karen Gotzler as the organization's new executive director, effective immediately, according to a press release. Gotzler will take the role after serving as interim executive director since July. Gotzler has been consulting with a wide range of organizations from businesses to government and nonprofit groups over the past 15 years as a part of Urban Strategies/Sector Management Consulting Group. Previously, she served as president/CEO of Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin.

A leather-themed public plaza would be built on the roadway outside the Eagle bar in San Francisco's South of Market ( SOMA ) neighborhood under a proposal backed by the developer of a new mixed-use housing and retail development, according to The Bay Area Reporter. Since the 1950s, the neighborhood has been home to a number of gay bars and nightclubs, many catering to the leather scene. The city has designated that section of western SOMA as part of an LGBTQ cultural heritage district.

A pastor is using the publicity surrounding the Fifty Shades of Grey movie to protest against same-sex marriage, Gay Star News reported. Rick McDaniel claims it is a result of divine intervention, that "God dropped the idea" in his head. McDaniel—pastor of the Richmond Community Church in Glen Allen, Virginia—has claimed this is the best way to respond to the popularity of E.L. James' BDSM novel adaptation. The "five shades of grey" he will be preaching against, aside from marriage equality, are pornography, divorce, cohabitation and adultery.

In Virginia, two months after his face graced a Richmond-area interstate billboard, an "ex-gay" model is back, but this time he's got a different message, LGBTQ Nation noted. In December, model Kyle Roux of Cape Town, South Africa, had his image featured on a billboard for conversion-therapy proponents PFOX: Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. But it turned out that Roux is not only not a twin—he's actually an openly gay man. Now, in a new billboard, he says, "Dear PFOX: Identical twins? I'm not. I'm gay. Regardless of what you believe I was born gay. And I'm proud of who I am."

In Utah, the Queens' Tea company will keep its name after settling a federal trademark lawsuit with a Seattle tea company, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Last year, Seattle's Queen Mary tea company sued Seth Anderson and partner Michael Ferguson for "willful trademark infringement," alleging the company name was too similar to its Queen Mary Tea Room. As the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Utah—soon after a federal court struck down the state's gay marriage ban in December 2013—they say the word "queens" in their business name refers to the slang term for a gay man and has nothing to do with British royalty.


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