And the South Shall Rise

After so many victories on the marriage equality front and with same-sex marriage sailing towards the Supreme Court, LGBTQ civil rights groups are shifting their attention to the Deep South. With a focus on improving job protections, passing local non-discrimination ordinances, bolstering the rights of gay parents, reducing anti-gay bullying in schools and nudging change in places that have resisted it, these organizations are moving forward in creating change.

Take an unlikely local LGBTQ rights advocate for example, Rev. Rob Hill, a Methodist pastor in Natchez, Mississippi who is now promoting LGBTQ rights in his rural community.

In July Hill came out of the closet in a big way . . . during a news conference orchestrated by the Human Rights Campaign, which “is pouring $9.5 million into an effort to push the needle of public opinion in the Deep South,” according to the Washington Post.

Being open and demanding equal treatment is exactly what the HRC is hoping local LGBTQ people and others in the region eventually will do. HRC has set up permanent offices in Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama this summer in the hopes of swaying public opinion in a region that has been resisting the tide of LGBTQ rights.

The Washington Post reports that “there is reason for HRC to be optimistic. Over the past year, eight small towns across Mississippi have passed resolutions meant to create a welcoming atmosphere for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Most of them passed unanimously.”

It was around that time that the Human Rights Campaign began its work in Mississippi, and eventually the group asked him to head the project. His job would be to meet lots and lots of people. He would help shepherd local resolutions and cultivate relationships with religious leaders — friendly and not — and collaborate with a lobbyist in the capital to resist anti-gay legislation and push favorable bills.

Hill has quit the church and took a position with the HRC as head of their Mississippi initiative and is working with progressive members of the rural community in advancing local non-discrimination ordinances.

I am a child of the South. My mother and her family were from Georgia, have been for hundreds of years. My many southern relatives fought for the Confederacy. I love the south but it needs to change its views on LGBTQ equality, but I know that once again it will rise again with greater equality for all.

Yes the south is slowly changing, and after the Supreme Court affirms marriage equality for all it will be a big boost to overall equality. But there are many miles to go before we can rest. Stay informed about the news from the south by reading out weekly queerNEWS links from around the world.

toothache

Toothache

The discerning QUEERtimes reader, which are all of you, have figured out by now that Thom Cardwell and I are producing Philadelphia’s new LGBTQ film Festival, qFLIX Philadelphia. So I won’t hash on it in this column again. However, I would be amiss if I did not thank those people who have already purchased their ALL ACCESS badges. This was done with very little programming announced and is a real vote of confidence for Thom and myself and the new community festival. Again, thank you for your confidence. We will not let you down.

Now, as I write, I’m suffering from a fricking toothache from a recent dentist visit and they can’t fit me in until next Friday. Thank God I have a large bottle of Aleve.

Speaking of toothaches, or things that are a fricking pain, what the heck is wrong with Pennsylvania and their lack of a non-discrimination law that includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer citizens. I’ve been writing about this subject for seven years now and quite frankly I’m tired of doing it.

I go as far back as blaming Ed Rendell for failure to use his political power to push through an inclusive non-discrimination bill when he had the opportunity as Governor. Yes, I know he has been a great ally, but he messed up back then and he’s never owned up to it.

Sadly with our advances on the marriage equality front in Pennsylvania, we can still be fired in 70% of the state for being gay. We can be thrown out of our apartments and denied other protections afforded to heterosexual people just for being who we are.

But today we have new champions on the fore front of the battle for equality.

Brian Sims comes to mind.

As Sims sails through to Election Day, which by default he has already won, this bulwark of a leader in our fight for equality is a testament to those who went before him and those who will follow. He has brought national attention to Pennsylvania’s hypocrisy; marriage equality okay, work place equality not.

While Sims has his distractors, sadly within our own community, I believe that he has done more to help advance our equality than most others have as a person his age. He is a testament to the good will and leadership that exemplifies our community.

But Sims cannot do it alone, and he is not. There is Ted Martin of Equality PA who fights daily on the frontline of our Pennsylvania non-discrimination battle. He is a godsend to the fight and should be thanked roundly for his efforts on our behalf.

Then there are the political funders of races that are important for our advancement, people like community angel Mel Heifetz, the number one political donor in Pennsylvania. This man is an example of a giving heart; we could only hope to be as giving as this man has been to all the causes of in community.

Here’s to all the members of our community who lead, work and give to the advancement of our freedoms. With diligence, hard work, and discipline the sources of our long discomfort with fade away and we will finally be a free and equal people.

US Supreme Court Rainbow Flag

On the Way to the Supreme Court

According to reports by the AP, the defenders of the ban against marriage equality in Indiana and Wisconsin have had a hard time before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago.

Attorneys general in both states asked the appellate court to permanently restore the bans, which were ruled unconstitutional in June.

“Often-blistering questions” were asked of the attorneys representing the two states, with “one Republican appointee judge comparing them to laws, now defunct, that once outlawed weddings between blacks and whites.”

The AP reports that, “Judge Richard A. Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, hit the backers of the ban the hardest. He balked when the Wisconsin assistant attorney general, Timothy C. Samuelson, repeatedly pointed to tradition as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage.”

Judge Posner said, “It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry — a tradition that got swept away.” Prohibition of same-sex marriage, he said, derives from “a tradition of hate” and “savage discrimination” of gays.

Think of those words from a conservative judge . . . derives from “a tradition of hate” and “savage discrimination” of gays. What clarity of the overall situation.

The AP writes that Posner ran “through a list of psychological strains that the children of unmarried same-sex couples could face, including having to struggle to grasp why their schoolmate’s parents were married and theirs were not.”

“What horrible stuff,” he said. What benefit to society in banning same-sex marriage, he asked, outweighs that kind of harm to children?”

Judge Posner questioned the state’s attorneys with such insight that one could only feel pride for the man.

By all accounts Posner shredded the attorneys representing Indiana and Wisconsin and he became the darling of our community, well, at least those of us who follow such things.

It appears that Posner will not restore the state bans as requested by the states on the grounds of equal protection and his arguments will only support our position as marriage equality now races to the Supreme Court.

The AP reports that the 10th Circuit, in Denver, declared same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma to be unconstitutional, and the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., overturned Virginia’s ban. In each case, application has been stayed pending appeals to the Supreme Court. The Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, has heard arguments on marriage restrictions as well, but it has not yet issued a decision.

The arguments put forth by states who are defending their bans on marriage equality will not withhold scrutiny, as Judge Posner proved that in his questioning. And for that we should be very grateful.

depressed

Depression – The Silent Killer

To remember Robin Williams is like remembering an old friend who has sadly passed for horrible reasons way before they should have.

I recently lost a dear friend to pancreatic cancer. She faced it bravely ‘til the end while my friends and I journeyed with her on her path to death. From diagnosis to death was less than a year. One last laugh I hoped for.

One last laugh that’s what I want from Robin Williams. But sadly that will not happen. Depth of depression and despair killed. Yes I say killed him, just like cancer killed my friend.

I know, some simply say that Mr. Williams committed suicide . . . he took his own life, he killed himself. But I don’t think it’s that simple. And unless you have been chased by the demons of depression you will never understand the despair that is often felt.

Mr. Williams once said, “Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes. Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah.”

He knew he was being chased, he knew what the thorn in his side was. And for many years he faced it bravely till the end where one can only imagine the depth of his pain and the despondency he must have been suffering.

This is not like cancer. It’s a different kind of killer. One that comes out of the darkness. Often dealt with in silence . . . never revealing the truth to others for one reason or another.

Depression is dangerous because it grabs hold of the mind and twists it into unrecognizable shadows. Haunting and taunting until it grabs on in such an insidious way that control is futile.

Sadly for far too many this leads to death.

Let Robin Williams death be a light reflecting on the shadows of an issue which we speak so little about. Depression is still spoken of in hushed tones when in fact we should and must be speaking more about it.

I know depression, I have suffered from it most of my life and thankfully for my meds I have the beast under control. But there was a day.

Yes, there was a day when depression almost killed me. I was about 23 or 24 years old and I was at the depths of the darkness of depression and planned my suicide. To make a long story short I met a person who talked to me just when I needed it. He showed me a glimmer of hope and without him know he walked be off the edge. Without him depression would have killed me that night.

It has not been an easy journey to suffer from depression and I appreciate what Mr. Williams must have gone through his last hours. I never really spoke about it but there you have it.

The more you know the better we are at helping others in their depression. It should neither be a mystery nor a burden one should live alone with.

Mayor Michael Nutter

A Second Look

QUEERtimes became a weekly newsletter with our endorsement of Michael Nutter as Mayor of Philadelphia. This was back in May 11, 2007 and we have grown up with Nutter as mayor for the last 7 years. Times have changed but I thought it would be interesting to see what I wrote of Nutter back then.

Here it is:

Since an empty stomach is a bad political advisor, we suggest you all grab a bite to eat before you read this endorsement.

Okay, everyone ready? Here we go!

It’s been said that Philadelphia is the next Greatest American City. If this is true (and we believe that it is), then we must chose a mayor who will provide strong leadership, character, intellect, and a vision of change and growth.

We have watched the debates, seen the campaign ads, reviewed the policies and have carefully considered who this next leader should be. Each time the answer has been the same–Michael Nutter.

Mr. Nutter is by far the strongest candidate to move Philadelphia forward and to provide leadership to change the way Philadelphia is governed. Throughout the debate, Mr. Nutter proved himself to be the most mayoral of all the candidates with strength of leadership that far surpasses the other candidates.

As a member of City Council, he expressed his straightforwardness with the people of Philadelphia and stood up against decades of old school politics that, most agree, has held Philadelphia back all these years.

Mr. Nutter clearly presents the best credentials and agenda to really make Philadelphia become “America’s Greatest City”. He simply is the person for whom the city of Philadelphia will be proud to have as its mayor. When was the last time you felt that way?

If we really want a change in the way Philadelphia is governed and to have a better, brighter future for the city, then we must all take a stand. That stand is definitely a vote for Michael Nutter for our Next Mayor.

Get out and let your queer vote count. Bring all your friends. The future of Philadelphia weighs in the balance.

Well was I right or wrong?

I must admit I’ve had my disappointments with Mayor Nutter and I’m not quite sure that he provided “strong leadership, character, intellect, and a vision of change and growth.”

I still have the foul taste in my mouth of how he cut funding to the arts and the way he mishandled the Boy Scout eviction and subsequent law suit.

Even today he continues to disappoint with his “delay” of signing the new City Council bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana while a disproportionate number of the city’s poor are being unjustly criminalized and sent to prisons. The bill would end mandatory custodial arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana and relegate it to a fine.

This is a national trend and Major Nutter is far behind the curve…so far behind one wonders if he is just calling in his last year or so in office.

Nutter just thinks that people simply shouldn’t smoke pot. Well, that boat has already sailed.

Nutter is on the wrong side of history and today someone’s child or parent was hauled off to jail simply for smoking a joint. That is a travesty; our only hope is that this bill will become law automatically in September if Nutter remains inactive on it. Even If he vetoes it there are enough votes in Council to override it, so why not sign it now Mr. Nutter, and spare the hundreds of more citizens of your city jail time and court.

Not sure if I was right or wrong in that first issue of QUEERtimes but I know today I would most likely not support Nutter as I did then. But hindsight is 20/20 I’m told.

queerNEWS

queerNEWS

If you don’t know this about me, I love the news, everything about it. I can remember watching it with my “Pop,” my father’s father, at 6 pm whenever he was visiting us or us him. It grew up in the sixties, so my TV visions were of protests, war, assassinations, racial tensions and men walking on the moon. I guess I never realized how much I enjoy absorbing news, but then again I publish a queerNEWS section that has been referred to as the queer Drudge Report.

During the week I review well over 250 LGBTQ centric news items for our news section and often I’ll be inspired by one thing or another to write something for that week.

Recently two articles got my attention.

The first was an article by the Associated Press, as reported by ABC, about comments Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made in an interview with the AP. The 81-year-old Ginsburg stated that the high court would not duck the issue of same-sex marriage the next time it comes around to the court, and predicted that the justices would not delay ruling as they did on interracial marriage bans, which were not formally struck down until 1967.

She expects a case could be heard and decided by June 2016, and possibly a year earlier.

“I think the court will not do what they did in the old days when they continually ducked the issue of miscegenation,” Ginsburg said. “If a case is properly before the court, they will take it.”

Often talked about is the future of Ginsburg on the court, who told Yahoo News that “I’m still here and likely to remain for a while.” She predicting her retirement will come “when I feel myself slipping, when I can no longer think as sharply, write as quickly, that will be the time for me to leave the court.”

She asked AP, “So who do you think could be nominated now that would get through the Senate that you would rather see on the court than me?”

Great question! She is very politically astute.

Ginsburg knows that elections have consequences so who we vote for matters when it comes to our equality; Ginsburg’s replacement may not be as supportive of our equality as she. If it happens to not be Obama who makes that choice for our country and all of our futures, then who will select Ginsburg’s replacement? What will the Senate look like then?

Yes elections still matters when it comes to our equality.

The second article that caught my attention was one from last week from PennLive. It told of a ruling by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue where they accepted the argument that a widow and her same-sex partner were in a common law marriage and would have been married if not for the law. In the ruling the widow was for the purposes of inheritance tax, which is 15% in Pennsylvania, declared a spouse and therefore owes no inheritance tax and her $21,000 in taxes levied against the estate were waived.

Bravo to the Department of Revenue for doing the right thing. It’s now time to refund the monies to widows and widowers of same-sex partners who met the criteria for a common-law marriage in the state, who if not for the law would have been married.

So you see news is my passion that’s why QUEERtimes takes the time to put together the most comprehensive selection of global LGBTQ news anywhere. We are dedicated to sharing the global LGBTQ experience to as many people as we can, LGBTQ and our heterosexual allies alike. Knowledge is free . . . enjoy!

Homeless Youth

Homeless Queer Youth

A working group here in Philadelphia is seeking to find a solution to the LGBTQ youth homelessness problem. They recently received a briefing from the Attic Youth Center and the numbers and facts they presented are staggering and eye opening.

According to the briefing…

Nationally there is an estimated 1.6 million to 2.8 million homeless youth in the United States out of that 40% of these homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

Locally we find that “during the Philadelphia school year, 1,688 LGBTQ children and youth experience homelessness. On any given school day, 720 LGBTQ children and youth are experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.” And, “of the 2,500 Philadelphia youth ages 18 -20 who have been discharged from DHS (Department of Human Services), an estimated 1,000 are LGBTQ.”

Existing housing for homeless youth in Philadelphia is dismal. According to the Attic, “emergency youth shelters have a total of 18 beds available for youth who are not involved with DHS,” and “only one youth program exists in the city that offers crisis shelter for youth 18 -21 (they can accommodate up to 60 youth when using floor mats)” and “there are 91 beds available for the 2,500 youth ages 18 -20 who have been discharged from DHS.

As you can clearly see there is a housing crisis among our homeless youth, especially our LGBTQ younger brothers and sisters who disproportionately make up the youth homelessness crisis.

To help the working group understand LGBTQ homeless youth issues better, the Attic put together a focus group of 20 LGBTQ youth, whose average age was 19, “all of whom had some experience with homelessness and/or were currently homeless.” The average age of the first group of homeless youth was 16.8 years old.

The focus group was asked three questions:

  • How did you become homeless?
  • What was your experience after you became homeless?
  • What would your ideal housing program look like?

Nationally the top five reasons why LGBTQ youth are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless is that 46% ran away because the family rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity, 43% were forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity, 32% because of physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home, 17% because of aging out of the foster care system and 14% because of financial or emotional neglect from their families.

The experience of our homeless youth is a sad story for these brave LGBTQ persons.

“I stayed at 4-5 different shelters while trying to get into a youth housing program. I was living day by day and was assaulted regularly. I still wake up terrified each day,” reported one focus group member. Another said, “as a trans woman, staying at the shelter was as scary as it gets.” Another youth “stayed at a shelter and was sexually assaulted.”

Another added that “at the youth housing program, I was told that if I told my roommates I was gay they would hurt me or try to sleep with me. I was kicked out a month later after someone planted a knife in my locker.”

This is scandalous.

The needs in this city alone are so great and overwhelming that it is hard to know where to start first, but bravo to this working group for taking up the cause and helping to seek a solution to this problem.

In time your help will be needed to help fund the solution, as we cannot count on the government on this one. Until then do what you can do to help alleviate the suffering and misery of our homeless queer youth.

Brides

Marriage Now and Then

This has been a whirlwind week for me, as I was on Long Island preparing for and attending my niece’s wedding to her long term partner. Actually this was their second wedding . . . their first ceremony was a private wedding in Vermont last year, this was their public ceremony.

The families were all gathered with anticipated joy as the happy couple was walked to the gazebo, where the ceremony was held, by their mothers. Beautiful vows were exchanged and my brother-in-law, my niece’s father, shared beautiful words for the happy couple.

We eat, drank, danced and talked for eight and a half hours before the newlyweds left for their bridal suite where chilled champagne awaited them. As I kissed the brides good night I was walking on air with such happiness because my 86 year old father lived long enough to witness the marriage one of his lesbian granddaughters. And that my mother, who has always wanted to attend a same-sex marriage, perhaps a hint to me, finally got her wish.

Mazel tov to the couple and a long and happy life be theirs!

On another note the Associated Press is reporting that a “The Connecticut high court ruled unanimously Wednesday that a woman whose wife died amidst a medical malpractice case may sue a doctor over the loss of her wife’s companionship and income, even though that right to sue was limited to heterosexual married couples at the time.”

The issue it raises, the AP points out, is whether same-sex marriage rights should be “applied retroactively and qualify same-sex couples for rights and benefits for which they weren’t entitled before state laws allowed them to marry.”

“Although no states that allow gay marriage have made their laws retroactive, many same-sex partners believe they should have received Social Security survivor payments, tax breaks, inheritances and other benefits that were afforded only to heterosexual married couples before gay marriage laws were passed,” reports the AP.

Anti-same-sex marriage advocates believe this ruling could open the floodgates of “reparation” claims. But it really doesn’t. What is does is simply apply the law as if it had always existed. Same-sex marriage has always been a fundamental constitutional right, it has just been denied for far too long. Many couples have suffered from this discrimination. Fortunes were lost to state and federal governments in inheritance taxes alone. These monies correctly, by constitutional right, belong to the long term partners of the deceased.

No, this is not “reparations.” This is returning money that rightfully belongs to the partner of a same-sex couple, married if not for the law.

ENDA.01

The End of ENDA?

This week might have marked the end of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, which passed the U.S. Senate last November, as six major LGBTQ civil rights organizations pulled their support for it because of the current way it is written and the semantics dictate.

Blame the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling where they found that “closely held” stock corporations can choose to be exempt from being required to provide employees with certain types of contraception under the Affordable Care Act based on religious preferences.

In light of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center all now cite concerns over the broad religious exemption included in ENDA. They worry that it could be used by corporations to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people due to religious beliefs.

“Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable,” the ACLU said in a statement. “It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need, and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects.”

The problem is that the religious exemption clause will allow religious organizations, and now perhaps “closely held” corporations, to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The morning after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate. We are deeply concerned that ENDA’s broad exemption will be used as a similar license to discriminate across the country. We are concerned that these types of legal loopholes could negatively impact other issues affecting LGBT people and their families including marriage, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to other reproductive health services. As one of the lead advocates on this bill for 20 years, we do not take this move lightly but we do take it unequivocally – we now oppose this version of ENDA because of its too-broad religious exemption. We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law”wrote the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s executive director, Rea Carey in a separate statement.

In June, President Barack Obama announced that he will issue an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ employees. But the question is, will he add a religious exemption clause or will he heed to voices of justice and right and stand with history and issue an executive order without such a clause?

Make your voices heard, call (202.456.1414) or email the President and ask him not to include a religious exemption clause in his non-discrimination order.

happy_birthday_america

Happy Birthday America

I grew up in an era when the whole town would fall out for the Independence Day parade. The vets, the police and fire departments, all the scouts, marching bands and American flags galore march down the main street through town. I loved seeing the red, white and blue lead the parade and carried by every group represented.

As a Cub Scout and then Boy Scout I was taught the respect of the U.S. flag. In school I was taught the history of it and the men and women who died for it. In the 60’s I watched it both glorified and burned for the sake of freedom. In the 70’s I honored it in many a ceremony and join the Armed Forces to serve under it. In the 80’s I grew a deeper respect for the flag as I lived in Europe and yearned to return to its home. In the 90’s I contemplated it over theological discourse. And in to 00’s I have finally experienced it’s call for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a LGBTQ rights advocate.

And here we are today, the 238th anniversary of the birth of our great nation where in many parts of the country I am still considered a second class citizen. And while I can marry in many states I can be fired for doing it. I can be legally discriminated against. And there is something seriously wrong with that.

I love the patriotic songs and the stories of the great battles for independence. How many LGBTQ people fought and died alongside their heterosexual brothers and sisters for their God given rights; unalienable rights that we who are created equal should enjoy from our birth?

How many LGBTQ peoples have fought for the freedoms we still seek under the stars and stripes throughout our history?

I fly a flag in my office and I have a couple of flags that have flown over the U.S. Capital. I love that banner of freedom.

Today some member of our community was denied access to their sick partner in a hospital. Today a trans* brother of sister was denied proper healthcare. And today a young person was kicked out of a home for being queer.

I am moved when I see the star spangled banner fly high above buildings, on homes and poles in towns, as a standard for the freedoms, but sadly denied to us.

Today we must hold the flag of the United States of America even higher, on this the celebration of our freedom so that we are reminded of our struggles so as to relish in our victories.

Happy Birthday America, I long for the freedoms that you continue to deny us.