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S.C. lesbian couple get life in prison for child's death; Kenneth Cole's new AIDS campaign
NATIONAL ROUNDUP: Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times.
2011-11-09

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In Colorado, lesbian couple Aimee Whitchurch and Christel Conklin have claimed that they were victims of a hate crime at their own home, according to Advocate.com . They said they went out to their garage in the condo complex where they reside, and found the words "kill the gay" spray-painted on the door; the next day, there was a noose on their doorstep. The couple admitted they've been fighting with their homeowners association, who accuse the women of not picking up after their dog.

On Nov. 1, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case Perry v. Brown filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit answering claims regarding now-retired U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, according to an American Foundation for Equal Rights press release. Supporters of Prop 8 claim that the Walker should have recused himself because he is gay and in a same-sex relationship. The plaintiffs (and Prop 8 opponents) responded, "Having spent years trying to strip gay and lesbian Californians of the right to marry, Proponents now aim to strip gay and lesbian judges of their ability—and their duty—to preside over cases challenging such discrimination."

In addition, a coalition of pro-LGBT groups (Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the ACLU of Northern California and Equality California) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the same case, according to a Lambda Legal press release. This brief contends that the Prop 8 supporters' motion parallels historical attempts to disqualify judges based on their race, sex or religion.

The nation's oldest Roman Catholic newspaper has yanked a column that suggests the devil is the reason same-sex attraction exists, according to Newser.com . In The Pilot (the Archdiocese of Boston's official newspaper), Daniel Avila—an associate director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—wrote in the column "Some Fundamental Questions on Same-Sex Attraction" that such attraction could be "imputed to the evil one." The piece was pulled from the website, with editors citing a "theological error" as the reason. Avila later apologized for the "hurt and confusion" the article caused; he subsequently resigned.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and 129 other members of the U.S. House filed an amicus brief in the consolidated case of Massachusetts v. Dept. of Health and Human Services and Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management, according to a press release. The Democratic members' brief (at www.nadler.house.gov/images/stories/documents/Amicus%20Brief%20on%20DOMA.pdf&; provides a comprehensive explanation of how Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act undermines Congress' legitimate interests. Section 3 prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) will host its fifth annual Fashion Forward Nov. 17 at New York City's Metropolitan Pavilion, according to a press release. Actress and philanthropist Tracee Ellis Ross (daughter of Diana Ross) and fashion celebrity Brad Goreski are the evening's emcees. Fashion Forward brings together international renowned fashion designers; the line-up includes Chris Benz, Thom Browne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Marlon Gobel, Sally LaPointe, Zang Toi, Timo Weiland and VPL.

In Ohio, felony charges have been filed in an attack on a gay student that was videotaped and posted online—and a second incident is being investigated for being motivated by hate, according to Advocate.com . Regarding the first attack, the victim's mother, Rebecca Collins, had called for "hate crime" charges against 15-year-old alleged attacker Levi Sever. The victim, identified as Zachary Huston, is getting support from more than 30,000 people who have signed a Change.org petition asking Union-Scioto High School and the school district to adopt anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. The second attack involved a freshman at Westerville South High School who was called "fag" and "faggot" while being beaten.

White House Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP)/Senior Advisor on Disability Policy Jeff Crowley issued a letter to friends and colleagues stating that he's leaving his post, according to LGBTpov.com . The letter reads, in part, "[N]ow is an appropriate time for me to move on to the next phase of my life." He added, "I am grateful to the HIV community and our many, many partners inside and outside of government that helped us develop a road map for moving forward at this critical juncture in our Nation's response to the domestic HIV epidemic."

Lesbian University of Texas San Antonio student Kristen Cooper has said that two men attacked her while she attended a Halloween party, according to the Huffington Post. She told a reporter than the men punched her, threw her into a trick and continued to beat her while shouting anti-gay slurs. "I just think it was a hate crime against me," said Cooper. Police are investigating, but haven't confirmed it was indeed a hate crime.

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) has announced the third annual Transgender Awareness Week, taking place Nov. 12-20, according to Bay Windows. The Network/La Red, State Street Financial, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition are co-sponsoring this year's Transgender Awareness Week 2011 throughout Massachusetts. The Transgender Day of Remembrance will be observed Nov. 20, with events happening around the country.

Former longtime Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, 67, is facing charges that he sexually abused eight boys, according to the Wall Street Journal. He is charged with, among other things, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse of someone under 16; aggravated indecent assault of someone under 16; and corruption of minors. The paperwork listed 40 counts, with offenses dating back to the mid-1990s. Also, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, 57, and Gary Schultz, 62, the school's vice president for finance and business, have been charged with perjury and failing to report what they knew about the allegations. (They have resigned.) Sandusky retired more than a decade ago after working for 32 years under coach Joe Paterno.

Three men have been arrested for a brutal attack on Burke Burnett, a Reno, Texas gay man, according to the Huffington Post. Mickey Joe Smith, Daniel Martin and James "Tray" Mitchell Laster III have been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault causing bodily injury. The three allegedly stabbed Burnett with a broken beer bottle and threw him into a fire; Burnett needed 30 stitches to close the stab wounds.

A Public Religion Research Institute survey showed that overwhelming majorities of Americans believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others, according to a press release. Approximately 9 in 10 people—including strong majorities of all religious and partisan groups—agree that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other U.S. residents. Also, approximately three-quarters (74 percent) also favor Congress' recent expansion of hate-crimes legislation to protect transgender people.

Kenneth Cole has launched the campaign "Come Together," with amfAR and the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, on the reinterpretation of the iconic AIDS ribbon, according to a press release. The new ribbon (retailing for $5) features a double loop symbolizing the coming together of individuals and the re-doubling of efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Celebrities featured in the campaign include Ke$ha, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cyndi Lauper, Estelle, Skylar Grey, Cheyenne Jackson and Rose McGowan.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has praised the 70 businesses and organizations that filed a brief in federal court claiming the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has caused to U.S. companies, according to a press release. The brief—signed by a wide diversity of corporations from tech giants Microsoft and Google to consumer brands Nike and Starbucks—supports the Gill v. OPM case that challenges DOMA. "Not only does DOMA hurt families, now we have a clear picture of how it also harms American business," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "With a majority of Americans also opposing this law, the time has come for the federal government to treat all legally married couples equally."

In Washington, D.C., ex-cop Kenneth Furr will probably get a plea deal for shooting at a car three months ago that had five people in it, including three transgender women, according to MetroWeekly.com . At first, Furr faced a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon after his arrest for the shooting; Furr's vehicle also hit the car containing the women. A felony status hearing is slated for Nov. 18; Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Worm and Furr's attorney, Harold Martin, are attempting to negotiate a deal.

In Washington state, three transgender youths were reportedly kicked off a Spokane bus after their talk about LGBT issues upset the driver, according to Advocate.com . The trio said they sat in front of the bus because things have gotten hostile with other passengers in the back. The driver allegedly told them that their conversation was inappropriate; when they replied that she was being discriminatory, she threw them out a mile from their destination.

In Colorado, the Denver gay bar JR's suddenly closed its doors after a lease dispute with the landlord, the Denver Post reported. "JR's was the most popular gay bar in Denver at its time," said Larry McDonald, former vice president and general manager who opened the place in 2000. "We were Budweiser's largest account in the state of Colorado."

Nikkie Poteet, the current Miss Virginia USA, has responded to allegations that she used anti-gay slurs against her roommate, WTVR.com reported. Poteet said she had an argument with roommate Derek Powell after asking him to end a party around 2:30 a.m., and has denied using any homophobic slurs. In a statement, she said, "I currently, and will continue to, show respect and support for diversity throughout the Commonwealth." Powell said Poteet was drunk when she used the slurs against him and his friends.

In Florida, lesbian couple Rachel and Charlotte Lambert-Jolley said that employees at a Pinellas County DMV lied to them and then denied them licenses when the newlyweds tried to change their names on the documents, according to WTSP.com . Carrying what they thought was the necessary documentation—including a marriage license from Connecticut—the couple went to the DMV. After waiting for an hour, an employee denied them licenses because the state doesn't recognize marriage equality. A DMV spokesperson said that the couple still should've been able to get licenses if they had additional documents, such as a passport.

In Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed wants to hold a videotaped conference with attorneys representing patrons in the Atlanta Eagle the night of the 2009 gay bar raid, according to the Georgia Voice. Reed wants the talk "so we can stop having this argument" over whether the Atlanta Police Department has implemented changes required in the settlement of the federal lawsuit. Reed made the pledge at an LGBT town-hall forum that also covered issues such as Occupy Atlanta and Reed's position on same-sex marriage.

In Tennessee, teenager Kasey Landrum received a three-day in-school suspension for wearing make-up 10 minutes after classes had ended, according to the Huffington Post. The 16-year-old Landrum, who identifies as gay, received the suspension from Lexington High School after being notified he violated the dress code. Landrum said that another "punk-rock" student who had been wearing make-up that same day was not reprimanded. "He had it on all day, and I was like, 'If he can wear make-up, so can I,'" Landrum said. After the Tennessee Equality Project and LGBTQNation took action, the suspension was reversed and a new policy allowing make-up was instituted.

Second Lady Jill Biden spoke out against bullying and in favor of supportive parents when she was the keynote speaker at the national convention of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), according to the Old Town Alexandria Patch. Biden, a local college English professor, referred to an open letter from a PFLAG father to the country's youth; the man stressed that he loved his gay and straight sons equally. "At its core, it's such a simple message: 'We love our sons,'" Biden said. "But that acceptance and support can make all the difference." She also talked about what the Obama administration has done to advance LGBT rights.

Family Relations, an interdisciplinary journal of the National Council on Family Relations, published the first longitudinal study on dissolutions among lesbian couples whose children were born after their relationships were formed, a press release stated. The study, based on interviews with 40 separated lesbian couples and their 17-year-old adolescents, found no difference in the well-being between children who had been adopted by their co-mothers and those who had not. However, the study did find that the mothers were more likely to be sharing custody if there had been a co-parent adoption, and that the former couples with co-parent adoptions also remained in their relationships significantly longer.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released its report, "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Intimate Partner Violence in the United States in 2010," according to a press release. (Additionally, NCAVP received a $25,000 grant from Verizon Wireless to increase access and support for LGBTQ and HIV-affected victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence.) Among the report's findings is that there were six intimate partner violence (IPV)-related murders—the same number as the previous year. The report is available at http://www.avp.org/ncavp.htm.

In Arizona, the state's top education official has apologized to the LGBT community for statements he made during a recent public appearance, the Arizona Republic reported. John Huppenthal, state superintendent of public instruction, sent a letter to the pro-LGBT group Equality Arizona apologizing for indirectly including the gay community with a reference to "inappropriate behaviors" by other groups, including neo-Nazis. A spokesman for Huppenthal said that the superintendent will meet with Equality Arizona to discuss anti-gay bullying.

In West Virginia, an anti-bullying policy for the state's schools is generating controversy because it includes sexual orientation and gender identity as unjustifiable reasons for harassment, Advocate.com reported. The policy, which will be voted on Dec. 14, lists 12 common reasons a child could be bullied, including academic status and race. However, groups such as the Family Policy Council have called the policy "dangerous and expansive" for including sexual orientation and gender identity.

In an address to the National Institutes of Health, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she had designated Ellen DeGeneres as a special envoy for global AIDS awareness, Advocate.com reported. "Your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation," Clinton wrote to DeGeneres in a letter. In her address to NIH, Clinton also stressed voluntary male circumcision and mother-to-child transmission-reduction efforts.

In Charleston, S.C., a lesbian couple caused chaos after a judge sentenced them to life in prison for a child's death, according to Advocate.com . Erica Mae Butts and Shanita Cunningham, both 25, fell to the floor and had to be restrained and led out of the courtroom. Butts admitted to whipping 3-year-old Serenity Richardson two years ago for urinating on the floor; the girl was dead by the time paramedics had reached her "but had been placed on ice and exposed to bleach in desperate attempts to revive her," the Post and Courier stated.

The co-chairs of the Congressional LGBT Caucus released a video for the "It Gets Better" project, according to a press release. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Congressmen Barney Frank, Jared Polis and David Cicilline (D-RI)—the only openly gay members of Congress—produced the video to reach out to young LGBT people facing harassment, bullying and rejection. "I hope young people viewing our video will hear our message that there's a world of opportunity awaiting them and things really will get better," Baldwin said.


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