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National roundup: Marriage in Ala. and Neb.; trans suicide
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley vowed he would "never do anything to disobey a federal court ruling" when asked about the legal fight over same-sex marriage in the Deep South state, a Politico item stated. "We are a nation under laws," Bentley said. "We may not always agree with them, but we obey them." Earlier, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore instructed probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a federal court ruling that the state's ban on such unions was unconstitutional.

However, in the latest development in the tug-of-war over marriage equality in Alabama, the state's supreme court ordered all the state's probate judges on March 3 to stop issuing marriages licenses to same-sex couples, according to NBC News. Several state and federal judges have gone back and forth over the issue, with the U.S. Supreme Court recently refusing to block a U.S. District Court judge's ruling overturning the ban—a move that allowed gay marriage to begin there on Feb. 9.

A federal district court judge has blocked Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage, setting a 38th state on the likely path to recognizing unions between gay couples, The Washington Post reported. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled in favor of several plaintiffs who sued over the state constitution's ban, which voters passed by a huge margin in 2000. Bataillon's ruling will take effect on March 9; however, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts—whose lesbian sister, Laura Ricketts, co-owns the Chicago Cubs—has filed an appeal.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, local LGBT community leaders are responding with messages of support and encouragement following the death of a transgender student, QNotes reported. Ash Haffner, 16, committed suicide; his mother, April Quick, said Haffner had been bullied in school despite receiving support at home and at groups like Time Out Youth. Time Out Youth Executive Director Rodney Tucker said his organization, which serves LGBTQ youth ages 11-20, is replying with support for other clients who knew Haffner.

The Bisexual Resource Center ( BRC ) has proclaimed March once more as Bisexual Health Awareness Month ( BHAM ), a press release stated. This year BHAM will incorporate three main values—intersectionality, support and advocacy—into its campaign to highlight the diverse challenges experienced by the bisexual community, promote bisexual-specific resources and propose interventions to decrease mental health disparities. Bisexual Health Awareness Month launched March 2 on the BRC's Twitter ( with hashtag #bihealthmonth ), Facebook and Tumblr pages.

As potential Republican presidential candidates gathered recently in Washington, D.C., for the Conservative Political Action Conference ( CPAC ), the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) released a new microsite called 2016: Republican Facts, according to a press release. The website ( ) highlights the public statements of candidates on key issues, including support for marriage equality, support for non-discrimination bills, opposition to conversion therapy, history of harmful rhetoric and support for the right of LGBT Americans to adopt. Additions, questions and suggestions can be sent to .

The Indiana Senate passed a controversial religious-freedom bill that could potentially allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to newly married same-sex couples, reported. Democrats claim the bill will allow major corporations, everyone from McDonald's to Home Depot, to discriminate. This bill passed on with Republican support, 40-10, and now heads to the House of Representatives.

The West Virginia House of Delegates is considering a bill that would eliminate several LGBT anti-discrimination measures passed in the state, according to The Huffington Post. The legislation would prohibit local governments from enacting anti-discrimination protections that are different from those in place at the state level. West Virginia's current anti-discrimination protections do not extend to LGBT individuals. The law would also nullify anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals that are currently in place in six communities, including the capital of Charleston.

Gay-rights activists and elected officials said they would continue to protest New York City's main St. Patrick's Day parade even as organizers prepared to let a gay group carry a banner this year for the first time in the parade's history, Yahoo! News reported. The problem, they say, is that the group—an organization of gay NBCUniversal employees—does not represent gay Irish-American people at an event that marks the most prominent celebration of Irish heritage in the United States. Parade organizers allowed only the group from NBCUniversal—the Comcast Corp unit that broadcasts the parade—to join on March 17, but suggested similar groups may be able to apply for the 2016 event.

The American Military Partner Association—the nation's largest organization of LGBT military families—is condemning a move by the Department of Veterans Affairs ( VA ) requiring a female Iraq war veteran, Melissa Perkins-Fercha, to pay back her federal veterans benefits tied to her legal wife and daughter because the state of Texas does not recognize her same-sex marriage. AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said, "No veteran should be treated like this. Melissa put her life on the line for our country, and now our country is telling her that her family doesn't count just because her spouse happens to be the same sex."

Author Brandan Robertson told Time magazine that prominent Christian publisher Destiny Image canceled his book project after he refused to say he did "not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle." Destiny Image told Robertson it would no longer publish his manuscript—Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between—for financial reasons. Robertson—the evangelical organizer for Faith in Public Life, who only makes a glancing reference to homosexuality in the manuscript—recently told Time that he identifies as queer.

The Rev. Malcolm Boyd—the gay Episcopal priest whose book Are You Running With Me, Jesus? took prayer into the city streets—has died at age 91 from complications of pneumonia, The L.A. Times reported. In 1961 in the segregated South, he was among the first white ministers to work the voter-registration drives. In 1976, he announced that he was gay, and, in 1984, he helped organize one of the first Christian Masses for people with AIDS. Boyd and Mark Thompson, a senior editor for The Advocate, married in July 2013, after Proposition 8 was overturned and same-sex unions resumed in California.

Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese's schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other "evil" behavior, reported. Cordileone also said he is dropping an effort to designate high school teachers as "ministers," which, under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, would have removed government-mandated employee protections by placing them solely under church control.

The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) announced it is joining forces with Georgia Equality, an organization working to advance fairness, safety and opportunity for LGBT communities and allies throughout the state, for a project called "Georgia Unites Against Discrimination," according to a press release. Launched by Georgia Equality in January, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination is a bipartisan grassroots campaign dedicated to protecting LGBT Georgians from discrimination as well as ensuring that individuals and businesses aren't able to use their religious beliefs to harm others.

Also, HRC has responded to media reports that Jeb Bush is the "gay-friendly Republican" of the 2016 cycle. In a press release, HRC's Fred Sainz said, "While the tone of Jeb Bush's language and word choice may have changed, he hasn't yet articulated different policies from when he opposed marriage equality and opposed discrimination protections as governor." At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bush was slated to meet with anti-LGBT activist Tony Perkins. However, Bush recently hired an openly gay man, Tim Miller, as his top communications aide, Gay Star News noted.

In addition, HRC has called on Psychology Today to stop accepting online listings from mental health practitioners who offer to "cure" LGBT people, a press release stated. HRC leadership made the request directly to executives of the publication in a letter that further urged them to build on Psychology Today's history of LGBT inclusion and affirmation by posting an article condemning the use of "conversion therapy." "So-called 'conversion therapy' is a dangerous and discredited practice that falsely claims to change one's sexual orientation or gender identity," said Fred Sainz, HRC's vice president for communications and marketing.

The longest serving woman in Congress in U.S. history is ready to retirem, NBC News reported. Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski will not seek a sixth term in the Senate in 2016. Mikulski, whose direct and feisty character paved the way for women who joined the male-dominated Senate, joined the upper chamber in 1987 after 10 years in the U.S. House. The 78-year old intends to serve out the remainder of her current term until January 2017.

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association announced a call for entries for the Leroy F. Aarons and the Kay Longcope scholarships to honor and advance fair and accurate coverage of the LGBT community. Applicants must be planning to pursue a career in journalism plus be able to demonstrate their passion and commitment to the profession. Applications are available online and will be accepted until Friday, May 15. Visit .

Three couples challenging Tennessee's marriage ban filed a brief in the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the court to rule that same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, according to a National Center for Lesbian Rights press release. The Tennessee plaintiff couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. Same-sex couples can now marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

The national queer, trans, and ally youth leadership organization Gay-Straight Alliance Network ( GSA Network ) announced a shift in organizational structure with the appointment of two long-term organizational leaders, Ginna Brelsford and Geoffrey Winder, as co-executive directors, and the departure of Deputy Director Laura Valdez. A press release added, "GSA Network decided to explore this new leadership model after eight months of organizational reflection and strategic thinking following the departure of the organization's founding executive director."

The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) issued a statement commending Facebook for a new, inclusive feature the social-networking giant rolled out that will allow individuals to use their own words to describe their gender identity. The change builds on the "Custom Gender" option that Facebook introduced last year; it provides users a list of more than 50 gender identities users can choose from to describe themselves while building their online profiles. "Facebook is a place where many LGBT users can be exactly who we are, free of the legal, social and financial barriers facing us offline," said Jay Brown, director of program strategies for the HRC Foundation. "Creating a free-form field for gender is a perfect solution for ensuring gender-expansive users have that kind of freedom."

AIDSVu, a tool that maps HIV in the United States, has launched a new project called that allows users to see how many people are being linked to care according to location, a press release stated. The maps indicate new diagnoses, late diagnoses and the number of people engaged in each stage of the care continuum, from diagnosis to engaged in care to virally suppressed. By mapping the treatment cascade, allows local communities, health departments and policy makers to visualize areas of success and opportunities for improvement in HIV testing, care and treatment.

The trial has started for the transgender woman accused of giving a fatal silicone injection to a British tourist, Philadelphia Gay News reported. Padge Victoria Windslowe, 43—who goes by the name "Black Madam"—is charged with third-degree murder and related charges in the 2011 death of Claudia Aderotimi, an exotic dancer who traveled to Philadelphia for a buttock enhancement. Windslowe is also charged with aggravated assault in connection with another injection that put a woman in the hospital.

The South Carolina private Christian school Erskine College has condemned homosexuality—making it a bit awkward for two of the school's volleyball players who came out as gay last year, The New York Daily News reported. Despite the school's conservative ties to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, both Drew Davis and Juan Varona found acceptance playing men's volleyball at Erskine. Varona—of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico—feels the college took "several steps back" with its anti-gay policy that could squash future attempts for LGBT students to come out.

The American Military Partner Association ( AMPA )—the nation's largest organization of partners, spouses, families and allies of LGBT service members and veterans—announced that retired transgender U.S. Navy SEAL Kristin Beck will be honored at the 2nd Annual AMPA National Gala on May 9 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., according to a press release. Brett Jones, the nation's first openly gay U.S. Navy SEAL, will be a featured speaker at the gala dinner.

In Washington state, a Christian florist who was sued and found guilty of discrimination after refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding isn't planning on backing down, recently issuing a defiant letter rejecting a settlement agreement and revealing plans to appeal her case, The Blaze reported. After Barronelle Stutzman, 70, declined a $2,001 settlement offer in a letter to the state's attorney general, her attorney—Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm—said that a judge's decision that Stutzman violated anti-discrimination law will be challenged in the state court system.

In New Jersey, a Union Township High School teacher suspended in 2011 for posting anti-gay comments to her Facebook page won a pivotal victory in a two-year legal battle to win back her job, reported. U.S. District Court Judge Kevin McNulty rejected an effort by Union Township Board of Education officials to dismiss a 2013 lawsuit filed by Jenye Viki Knox, who claims school officials violated her free speech and religious rights. The ruling means Knox, who has not worked since 2012, could soon have a chance to argue her case before a federal jury.

Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank will be coming to Center on Halsted, a Chicago LGBT facility, to promote his book, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, according to Chicago Phoenix. The retired politician served the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts as a Democrat from 1981 to 2013. Frank came out as gay in 1987.

In Illinois, a town-hall event at Wheaton College turned sour after a student had an apple thrown at him over a question concerning human sexuality, Religion News Service reported. After student Phillip Fillion asked about the relationship between Wheaton's LGBT students and the college's theological stance on same-sex relationship, another student pelted him in the back with an apple. "Questions typically range from very playful to very serious, and are not screened in advance," said Latonya Taylor, director of media relations at Wheaton College.

A gay man who sued when he was fired from his job at an Oregon adult bookstore has been awarded more than $76,000 in damages, Insurance Journal reported. In his lawsuit, 73-year-old Wilford Bearden contended Fantasyland II allowed a hostile work environment, treated him differently because of his sexual orientation and fired him after he complained about sexual harassment. The bookstore manager, Tammy Mansur, said other employees complained that Bearden was overbearing, intrusive and sometimes hostile.

The Unicorn, one of the few remaining gay porn shops on Eighth Avenuevin New York City, closed its doors for good because of a city crackdown and a rent increase, reported. In January, the Department of Buildings issued a violation to the 21-year-old store, saying it was not allowed in the neighborhood because more than 40 percent of the merchandise was sexual in nature.

Embattled Congressman Aaron Schock ( R-Ill. )—who has come under fire for his spending on office decor as well as travel—has hired a team of lawyers from the Washington, D.C., firm Jones Day, according to ABC News. He has also hired a public relations firm, Ron Bonjean Strategies, headed by communications operatives and veteran Congressional aides Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh to help the congressman respond to his recent troubles. Schock's troubles first began when The Washington Post ran an article revealing the congressman's office in the Rayburn House Office Building was modeled after the red room in the PBS television series Downton Abbey.

Andrew Caldwell—the 21-year-old who made a splash when he announced to the parishioners at his St. Louis church that he was no longer gay—said he's had a change of heart after a few months of Internet fame in the rear-view mirror, reported. Caldwell said that while he still wants to change, he still has feeling for men—and hopes there's a place for gay people in his faith. "They think that they can preach the homosexuals away in the Church of God in Christ," he added. "And you can't."

Alaska has become the third state to officially OK marijuana use, CNN reported. Following Colorado's lead, voters passed the Alaska Marijuana Legalization ballot measure in November. There are limits, though: People still can't legally have more than one ounce of marijuana on them, nor can they harvest more than four ounces in their home.

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