Recently by Daniel Villarreal

This past week, the petition site Change.org hosted a 500,000-signature petition asking the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove its "R" rating from director Lee Hirsch's anti-bullying documentary, Bully. The film's producers, The Weinstein Company, ultimately decided to release the film unrated and AMC Theaters CEO Gerry Lopez pledged to show the film so "guests [can] engage in the dialogue its relevant message will inevitably provoke."

According to Box Office Mojo, the movie brought in more than $115,000 this past weekend, despite only being shown in five theaters -- giving it the highest per-theater average among the top movies released this weekend.

Questions remain, however, about the unrated film's viability.

bully.jpgAccording to Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Caroline Winter, AMC Theaters are requiring children under 17 to have a parental guardian or a signed parental permission slip to see the film. The largest theater chain in the U.S. (Regal) is treating Bully like an R-rated film. The third largest (Cinemark) never shows unrated films, in support of the MPAA system.

A month ago, a Weinstein Company news release stated that an R-rating would not allow Bully to "be screened in U.S. middle and high schools, where it might otherwise reach a mass national audience of students and be used as a tool to stop an epidemic of physical, psychological and emotional violence."

But while the lack of a rating may help Bully get viewed in schools outside of the theater, the film's non-rating threatens its success while in the movie house.

Although Bully has an estimated production budget of $1.1 million dollars, more than half of the highest grossing NC-17 films of all time -- films in which no one under 17 is admitted -- have made less than a million dollars through combined ticket and DVD sales to date; most of them also feature graphic sex that parents might not want their children to see.

Although Bully only features swearing as opposed to adult sexual content, AMC is still offering only a limited release of Bully, with showings this past weekend in New York City's Lincoln Square AMC rather than the chain's nine other Manhattan locations, greatly reducing its potential audience. Despite its circumstances, a strong weekend opening could still help the film get a wider release. Michael Jones, deputy campaign director of Change.org called the AMC's parental slip requirement "testing the unrated waters" and "drastically new for the whole movie ratings system.

"What [The Weinstein Company] is hoping is that theaters will react to it like AMC," Jones said.


On Wednesday, Feb. 29, a rally in support of nine Harvard students expelled for homosexuality in 1920 coincided with the launch of Lady Gaga's pro-LGBT Born This Way foundation and the 62nd anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower's executive order requiring the firing of all LGBT American federal employees. Each offers a chance to consider the current state of LGBT student and worker rights.

harvard.jpgOn May 12, 1920, Harvard University undergrad Cyril Wilcox admitted to his brother George that he had been having an ongoing affair with older Boston cafe-owner Harry Dreyfus. The next day, Cyril killed himself by inhaling gas his parents' Fall River, Massachusetts, home.

After his death, George discovered two of Cyril's personal letters mentioning a group of gay students on campus. George located Dreyfus and beat more information out of him before approaching Harvard's Acting Dean Chester N. Greenough with his information. Within the month, Greenough and school president Abbott Lawrence Lowell (pictured) created a secret tribunal of five administrators to investigate student homosexual practices.

Over the next month, the tribunal (known as "The Secret Court") conducted more than 30 closed-door interviews, asking suspected gay students about their feelings on homosexuality, preferred reading, masturbation habits, sexual practices, overnight guests, alleged cross-dressing parties, and rumored gay establishments such as the Café Dreyfus, The Lighted Lamp, The Golden Rooster and Green Shutters.

By July, the tribunal had expelled eight students and an assistant professor, suggested that they leave Cambridge and wrote letters informing their families of the findings against them. One student under investigation killed himself via drug overdose a few days before his official expulsion. Another committed suicide via gas inhalation almost a decade later.

The dealings of the tribunal — hidden in an archive innocuously labeled "Secret Court Files, 1920" — remained amongst the employee, building and student records of the Nathan Marsh Pusey Library until a researcher from the school newspaper The Crimson uncovered them in 2002.

That same year, then Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers publicly called the Secret Court "extremely disturbing," expressed "deep regret" for all the pain that it caused and called the persecution of sexual identity an abhorrent affront to the school's values.

Though historian William Wright and filmmaker Michael Van Devere both published dramatic re-creations of the Secret Court investigations based on the tribunal's existing transcripts in 2006 and 2008 respectively, it wasn't until 2010 that Harvard students began a movement entitled "Their Day in the Yard" petitioning Harvard University to officially abolish the Secret Court, reverse its decisions and award posthumous honorary degrees to the seven expelled students who were not later invited back to finish their studies.

The 2012 petition urging these actions from current President Drew Faust reads in part, "Until this is done, the Court and its work is still very much alive."

gaga.jpgHowever, the university released an official statement on Feb. 28, announcing:

"Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences does not award posthumous degrees except in the rare case of a student who completes all academic requirements for the degree but dies before the degree has been conferred."

The Harvard LGBT Caucus did not respond to Metro Weekly's request for information about whether they will pursue the abolition of the Secret Court and reversal of its rulings.

The Feb. 29 protest coincided with the on-campus launch of pop musician Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation which seeks to empower youth through creation of schools safe for LGBT and self-expression.

"This is not an anti-bullying foundation," said Gaga, "This is a youth-empowerment foundation."

Currently, a majority of U.S. states have not passed nondiscrimination laws specifically protecting LGBT students.

The protest also comes a day after the 62nd anniversary of President Eisenhower's Executive Order 10450 requiring all federal agencies and government contractors to fire known lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Even today, many LGBT Americans can still be legally fired from their jobs because of their sexual identity.

WATCH Lady Gaga talk about why she is launching the foundation:


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During his 88th birthday celebration this past Saturday, Feb. 25, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said "to hell with" British Prime Minister David Cameron over comments Cameron made at the October 2011 Commonwealth summit linking British foreign aid to the gay human rights records of recipient countries like Zimbabwe.

Mugabe's remarks come on the heels of a new constitutional draft just released by the country's parliamentary select committee co-chairmen last month. The draft contained no provisions to protect gay and lesbian rights, despite calls to do so from Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai this last October.

Though the committee is currently discussing sexual identity discrimination, the inclusion of protections in the final constitution seems unlikely as legislators say more voices oppose such measures rather than support them.

During his political opposition rallies last October, Tsvangirai criticized the Mugabe-led Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front for pursuing "issues which are not useful which do not bring bread and butter to the table." The country continues reeling from an economic and food crisis caused by governmental price controls and land confiscations as well as a nationwide drought and HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Zimbabwe currently outlaws same-sex acts and subjects gays and lesbians to incessant police harassment in form of arbitrary arrests, beatings, and even assassinations. African LGBT blog Behind the Mask has said that "Western pressure has even galvanized anti-gay sentiment in some areas" such as Zimbabwe, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda.

Mugabe, who has called gay people lower than pigs and instated violent punishments for his country's gay citizens, said during his birthday:

"We won't accept [gay rights in our charter]. There are other countries who have accepted that and put it in their constitutions. Please, young men and women, you don't have the freedom for men to marry men and women to marry women. You have the freedom for men to marry women. That's God's freedom. That's what created you and me."

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But despite Mugabe's political hostility, a United Kingdom immigration court recently ruled against a Zimbabwean lesbian seeking asylum for her sexual identity, because: "the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) which told a UK Border Agency fact finding mission that Zimbabwe is "not the worst place in the world to be gay or lesbian even though the President, government officials and church leaders have whipped up a climate of hysterical homophobia."

Zimbabwe's first-ever contestant for Mr. Gay World, Taurai Zhanje (pictured), also withdrew from the upcoming April competition citing "personal reasons" after receiving verbal attacks from his local community for participating in the international gay pageant.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission will soon release a study about discrimination against women based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


This past week, Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) held a hearing titled, "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" in which religious figures spoke out against the federal mandate requiring health insurers to provide full contraception coverage for employees of religious-owned businesses. bishop.jpg

During the two-day panel (which largely excluded women), Reverend William E. Lori represented the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a group that has spearheaded a nationwide, election-year effort along with the Southern Baptist Convention and National Association of Evangelicals to oppose birth control, abortion, adoption by same-sex couples and marriage equality as government intrusions on constitutionally-protected religious freedoms.

Reuters contributor Stephanie Simon recently reported that the Conference-led group will employ a D.C. lobbyist with a history of litigating religious liberty cases; TV, radio and social media marketing; and pastors and priests willing to speak from the pulpit to help build public opposition to such laws.

In recent years, Catholic-led adoption agencies in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have faced questions about their continued operation because of requirements that they provide equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. In Illinois, several Catholic bishops called the cut in taxpayer funds there "a war on religion." 

But Cardozo School of Law constitutional scholar Marci Hamilton says that "religious freedom must take a back seat to secular laws ... when religious institution[s accept] taxpayer money to do [public] work."

Simon also notes that "the wider theme of defending individual freedoms against government intrusion ... is expected to play prominently in the November election."

Indeed, the call for protections of religious conscience has grown over the years amid such cases as the ones involving Lisa Miller, the ex-gay woman who kidnapped her lesbian ex's daughter; Julea Ward, the evangelical Christian counseling student kicked out of her graduate program for refusing to counsel gay patients about their relationships; and the United Methodist-affiliated Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association found guilty of violating state public accommodations laws after denying a lesbian couple use of their facility.

However, Simon adds that NARAL Pro-Choice America and the 30 member organizations of the Coalition to Protect Women's Health Care have already started counter-opposition in the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll issued last week showed 58 percent of all American Catholics support the federal policy requiring mandatory contraceptive coverage. During his piece on Issa's hearing, National Public Radio's Rob Stein mentioned the concern that church-supported religious exemptions could allow health care workers to refuse care in any situation to which they morally object.


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Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) signed a statewide marriage equality bill into law this Monday, Feb. 13. The same day, the New Jersey Senate passed a marriage equality bill by a 24 to 16 vote. But both bills will continue to face political opposition, leaving both states' same-sex couples uncertain about their marriage prospects.

Also this week, the Colorado legislature has begun hearings on a bill to extend more rights currently extended to opposite-sex couples to the state's same-sex civil unions.

Oopponents of Washington's new marriage equality law have begun collecting the 120,577 signatures required by June 6 to get Referendum 74 on the ballot in November. An initiative seeking to restrict marriage equality also could be on the ballot.

Referendum 74 would ask voters to approve or reject the new marriage equality law. The iniative -- Initiative 1192 -- was filed last month by state attorney general candidate Stephen Pidgeon (R) and would ask voters to restrict the state's marriage statute to only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. There is, however, little to no organizing regarding Pidgeon's effort, according to organizers in the state.

If Pidgeon's initiative and Referendum 74 make the ballot, marriage equality supporters will have to vote "no" on 1192 and "approve" on 74 — potentially confusing pro-equality voters. In response, local activist Steven Puvogel has begun the Decline to Sign campaign to discourage support of both Referendum 74 and Initiative 1192.

However, if Referendum 74 fails to collect enough signatures by June 6th, same-sex couples could begin marrying soon after.

Gregoire sent New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a personal letter on Jan. 31, inviting him to discuss her personal journey towards supporting marriage equality as a Catholic. According to Think Progress, however, Governor Christie has not yet responded to the letter.

On Feb. 13, the New Jersey Senate passed the marriage equality bill 24 to 16, with Republican senators Jennifer Beck and Diane Allen voting for it and Democratic senators Jeff Van Drew and Ron Rice voting against it.

On Feb. 14, though, Governor Christie called the vote "a good bunch of theater" saying that the Senate will not secure the 27 votes needed to override his promised veto.

Though the New Jersey Assembly is expected pass the bill tomorrow , it would need 54 "yes" votes and the support of at least five Republicans to override a veto in the House. It also would need three more supporters in the Senate. If Christie were to veto the bill, as expected, state legislators will still have until January 2014 to secure the two-thirds veto-proof majorities needed in each chamber to turn the bill into law.

While a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Feb. 14 found that 54 percent of New Jersey residents support marriage equality, 53 percent also support a voter referendum on the issue, something which Christie has endorsed in opposition to State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D). A Kean University/NJ Speaks poll from last week also found that residents support marriage equality by 57 percent.

A 2012 Williams Institute study found that legalized marriage equality could add 1,400 new jobs and $102.5 million to the state's yearly wedding and tourism-related business sales as well as $7.2 million to the state’s yearly gross receipt tax revenues.

[CORRECTION: It will take 54 "yes" votes in the new Jersey Assembly to override an expected veto by Gov. Chris Christie (R), should the bill pass. This story originally stated an incorrect number of needed votes.]


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[Image: Screen capture of Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill sponsor David Bahati's appearance on MSNBC.]

As the Associated Press claims that Uganda's newly re-introduced Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) directly conflicts with the President Yoweri Museveni's foreign policy agenda, today Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin reported that the bill is so broadly worded that it could incriminate any clothed individuals who accidentally touch.

The AHB seeks to punish any promotion, abetting or practice of homosexuality with steep fines, life imprisonment and even death. But according to Burroway -- who has been tracking Uganda's anti-LGBT atmosphere for years -- writes that the law's definition of "aggravated homosexuality" is broad to the point of absurdity:

...the new definitions provided by the proposed legislation would greatly open the possibility for conviction to just about anyone who has simply bumped into or brushed up against an accuser with an axe to grind.
Look again at Clause 2, 1.c. A person, under this clause, can be sent to a Ugandan prison for life for merely "touching" someone, which under the definition provided under the first clause which includes touching "any part of the body" "with anything else" (a finger? a foot? a ten foot pole?) "through anything."
All of which means that someone can "commit homosexuality" even if they are fully clothed and there is no actual skin-to-skin contact. All that is required is "touching" with the perceived "intention" of committing the act of homosexuality, and that act, in turn, is defined as any same-sex "sexual act", which itself is broadened so as to "not necessarily culminate in intercourse."

The aggravated homosexuality section also adds extra punishments if the offender has HIV or provides any stupefying "drug, matter or thing" to their "victim."

Even though Bahati himself has vowed to remove the death penalty from the final version, local activists report that the newly republished bill still contains it.

Neverthless, the bill also contains a broad view of what constitutes a "homosexual offense," using discriminatory language to vilify gays as promiscuous, pedophilic predators.


While the Washington state House passed a Senate-approved state marriage equality bill that will soon be signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire (D), three out LGBT Illinois state representatives -- Kelly Cassidy (D), Greg Harris (D) and Deb Mell (D) -- introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize marriage equality in Illinois.

The Illinois bill would amend the 2011 Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act to grant the state's currently existing civil unions the legal designation of marriages with "the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law."

Currently, Illinois enforces the 2010 Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which specifies valid marriages as only those between a man and a woman.

BernardCherkasov.jpgAlthough the state has civil unions granting same-sex couples such rights as shared employment benefits, co-adoption privileges, and medical decision making among others, Bernard Cherkasov, executive director of the Equality Illinois statewide LGBT equality organization, said in a news release today:

"In following experiences of thousands of couples in civil unions over the past year, we confirmed what we always suspected to be true: that creating a separate institution to provide substantially the same rights did not add up to full equality under the law.

"A pharmacist who denied prescription pick-up to the patient's civil union partner didn't think it's the same thing as marriage. A coroner who refused to issue a death certificate to civil union partner survivor did not think that civil unions are the same as marriage. Tax preparers, estate planners, employers and employees do not think that civil unions are the same as marriage.

"Separate is not equal."

Rep. Harris first introduced the marriage equality bill on February 22, 2007 and then again on January 14, 2009, but both times it died in committee.

Though state legislators eventually legalized civil unions with a 61-52 House vote where five Republican votes helped the bill pass despite 12 Democrat nays. Only one Republican Senator, Dan Rutherford supported the Senate bill which passed in a 32-24 vote.

Cherkasov warns that the marriage equality bill is not a slam-dunk and that advocates will have to reach out their elected officials and fellow voters to compel legislators to pass the bill.

A 2010 poll of Illinoisans found that two-thirds favored legal recognition of gay couples the majority were split over their preference for civil unions and marriage.

However, shifting national attitudes in favor of marriage equality and the 2010 U.S. Census results showing 32,469 gay and lesbian couples living in Illinois could have positively affected public opinion in favor of marriage equality since the state's civil unions began.


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During the Feb. 2 New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the state marriage equality bill, Greg Quinlan president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX, pictured right) testified against the bill by saying that homosexuals, with therapy, can convert into heterosexuals -- a notion discredited by the American Psychological Association.

Nevertheless, Quinlan and his practices have found dissemination through Maryland's Montgomery County school system, Super Bowl XLVI commentator David Tyree and various religious and media figures around the world -- even as evidence builds of the harm these programs inflict on young Americans.

During his testimony, Quinlan said in part:

"Homosexuality is not immutable. People do change. People have a right of self-determination. They can choose to change from being gay to straight. Why can't they choose to change from being straight to gay? People do it all the time. There are many ex-gays. Anne Heche, to name one. Sinead O'Connor. And myself."

As such, Quinlan continues to champion a practice denounced by the American Psychological Association as harmful to gay-identified people and responsible for discrimination and violence against gays.

PFOX itself came under scrutiny last week for distributing ex-gay literature to Maryland high schoolers, something Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson Dana Tofig says the school system must allow due to PFOX's status as a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Gay conversion therapy has found unlikely national supporters over the past years, including two figures highlighted by the Feb. 5 National Football League Super Bowl game.

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Regular CNN contributor Rowland Martin (pictured left) found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation calling for his termination in light of a tweet questioned by advocates and others that he made in response to a Super Bowl ad for the H&M David Beckham underwear line. GLAAD also mentioned Martin's ongoing record of homophobic comments, some of which include support for his wife's "successful" ex-gay therapy work.

Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree -- who provided NBC Super Bowl pre-show analysis yesterday -- publicly tweeted his loving support for "former homosexuals" earlier last year, around the same time that he emerged as a spokesperson for the National Organization For Marriage -- saying that gay marriage in New York would lead to "anarchy."

But more directly religous supporters of the therapy also have made headlines more recently.

This past week, the Maine Catholic Diocese of Portland announced an expansion of its ex-gay "Courage" ministry purportingconversion via a celibate 12-step program.

At the same time, former Canterbury Archbishop Reverend Lord Carey recieved criticism for supporting the professional reinstatement of Lesley Pilkington, a Brish therapist barred from practice for using ex-gay therapy; both the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have called ex-gay therapy "absurd." 

Finally, also outside the U.S., LGBT Rights United Arab Emirates denounced a recently released six-minute video entitled "Be Yourself," which depicts an effeminate man "turned straight" by adopting masculine gestures, shortened hair, nails and a lower voice.

Both at home and abroad, the fact that, as its site says, "since 1974, the American Psychological Association (APA) has opposed stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and has taken a leadership role in supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals," efforts to "change" LGB people remain an ongoing practice and a regular source of public commentary.


Virginia Anti-Gay Adoption Bill Could Cost State Taxpayers Millions

Posted by Daniel Villarreal
February 3, 2012 3:12 PM |

baby.jpg Today, the Virginia legislature took two steps toward passing a bill allowing private adoption agencies to refuse adopting to same-sex couples based on "religious or moral beliefs." Sen. Jeffrey McWaters (R) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R) introduced the bill which passed 8 to 7 along party lines in the Senate committee and 71 to 28 in the state House.

If the full senate passes the measure, which is not certain because opponents of the bill would only need to win one Republican vote in the evenly split chamber, and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) subsequently signs the bill as expected, it could cost the state millions.

According the D.C.-based Children's Defense Fund, in January alone, Virginia had 5,927 children in foster care with only 663 adopted that month.

The 2010 census shows that more than 14,000 same-sex couples live in Virginia. The legislation could effectively disqualify all 14,000 from financially caring for the thousands of children still in Virginia state care.

Depending on their age, each child in foster care costs the state anywhere between $368 and $546 per month; thus, in the month of January alone, unadopted children cost Virginia taxpayers a minimum of $1.9 million to $5 million.

The national adoption advocacy group Childrens Rights estimates that 25 percent of all Virginian orphans end up placed in facilities rather than family foster homes. In addition, unadopted children who age out of state care have higher rates of mental health problems, unemployment and homelessness, potentially costing taxpayers even more money.


susan_g_komen.jpgOn Tuesday, the pink-ribboned breast cancer charity known as Susan G. Komen for the Cure stopped issuing grant money to Planned Parenthood, a nationwide, nonprofit provider of reproductive, maternal and child health services which also include breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Susan G. Komen says its decision comes from a new rule forbidding funding to any organizations under government investigation; in September, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) began investigating whether Planned Parenthood uses federal money to provide abortions, making the organization ineligible.

But Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said that Komen "succumbed to political pressure" by anti-abortion advocates to end its relationship with the nation's largest abortion provider.

While several anti-abortion and anti-LGBT groups -- such as the Family Research Council -- have lauded Komen's decision to cut funding, anti-abortion site LifeNews credited Komen's senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, for the cuts.

handel.jpgDuring her 2010 Republican bid for Georgia governor, Handel supported defunding Planned Parenthood as well as outlawing gay adoption and criminalizing same-sex marriage statewide. In an interview with 11alive, an NBC affiliate, she was interviewed about her view on same-sex relationships:

Q:  You have said that you are -- you're against gay marriage, right?

A:  Mm hm.  Absolutely.  Marriage is between one man and one woman.  And I've been very very clear about that.  And the record is clear about any of the other issues like domestic partner benefits or anything like that.  In fact in Fulton, I voted no on domestic partner benefits.

Q:  Are you against civil unions for gays?

A:  Yes.  I think that's not an issue that has come forward in Georgia.  We have the constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and I don't want to see any taxpayer funding going toward benefits etcetera for a couple that is not married.  In our state and for me, marriage is for one man and one woman.

Planned Parenthood says that last year Komen granted the organization and at least 19 of its affiliates roughly $680,000 for breast-cancer screening and breast-health services. Since the organizations began their partnership in 2005, Komen has helped finance nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals aided by Planned Parenthood.

Cancer screenings and preventions account for sixteen percent of Planned Parenthood patient care services while abortions account for only three percent. Overwhelmingly Planned Parenthood provides contraceptives along with STD testing and treatment more than any other service it provides.

Citing research from the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Insittute, Jorge Rivas of Colorlines.com says that the people that will be most affected by Komen's cut in funding will be poorer women of color:

"African-American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Women of color in general are more likely to be diagnosed late and die from breast cancer, due in large part to poor access to early screening and treatment—which is precisely the type of programs Komen used to fund at Planned Parenthood."

Patrick Hurd, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Virginia, said, "It sounds almost trite, but cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative. Victims of cancer could care less about people's politics."

UPDATE @ 7:45PM - In a newly released statement, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell said:

"How sad, destructive and unconscionable for Susan G. Komen for the Cure to turn its back on the very women it pretends to help. When self-interest and wealth accumulation become your primary goals, the first casualties are integrity and values. The only action Komen can take to restore some shred of dignity is to reverse this tragic decision."

Creating Change International Panel Highlights Trans Abuses And Ugandan Needs

Posted by Daniel Villarreal
January 31, 2012 5:15 PM |

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Moderator Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, noted that more than 80 countries around the world still have laws targeting sexual and gender identity at the plenary panel on "International LGBT Issues and Organizing" this weekend at Creating Change.

What's more, he said, other countries are creating new laws or worsening the penalties of their pre-existing ones. Even when such laws do not exist on the books, Johnson said, LGBT people still face arrest, abuse, and imprisonment for such crimes as loitering, immorality, and (his personal favorite) "vagabonding."

Referring to anti-LGBT Christian evangelical "shame peddlers" like Scott Liveley, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge, he said they have roused anti-LGBT politics in Africa, noting, "[They] are taking their failed show on the road to places where their money can buy power."

Johnson then noted that nearly one in every four gay African males faces blackmail at some point during his life and that even European countries thought of as progressive such as Sweden and the Netherlands still require transgender people to undergo forced sterilization before changing genders on their government ID.

Johnson then added: "Violence against LGBTs is not cultural, it is criminal."

Johnson recognized four panelists who stepped forward to tell their stories.

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While transitioning from male to female at age 21, Nisha Ayub -- program manager of the Transgender Programme of the Pink Triangle Foundation of Malaysia -- was arrested under a Sharia law forbidding men from impersonating women. Religious police forces put her in a camp where she faced regular torture and sexual abuse in a jail cell; at one point, the officers stripped her naked and forced her to walk around while the officers insulted and spat on her.

Malaysia allowed sex changes to occur in the country before the 1980s, but current religious laws have made it so that transgender Malaysians cannot change the their name or sex on any government identification.

Also, because trans people can be arrested and fired from their jobs at any moment, she said she and many other trans people have resorted to sex work because they cannot find safe and secure, paid jobs otherwise.

Ayub has protested against the rise of boot camps in her country set up to "correct" effeminate boys. Malaysian LGBT people who choose to enter same-sex unions in other countries can never return home, Ayub said, mentioning Ariff Alfian Rosli, a Malyasian man who could face 20 years in prison for marrying a man in Ireland if he ever returns to his home country.

Though the Malaysian government refuses to fund trans organizations, Ayub contends that all twenty of the country's states have trans communities and that organizations like Justice for Sisters have begun fundraising on their behalf in hopes of raising awareness about their plight. val_kalende.jpg

Val Kalende with Sexual Minorities Uganda said that although most of the LGBT stories coming out of Uganda focuses on bad news -- like the murder of her peer David Kato more than a year ago and the "Kill the Gays" bill that she has spent much time working against -- the media ignores mention of progress and what the country's LGBT community actually needs.

Originally, she said the country's LGBT movement was limited to only about four or five individuals. But now she sees larger groups of students and other young people working as activists because they have been influenced by her work and the international attention placed on Uganda's LGBT issues.

She has also seen a rise in the number of non-government organizations stressing the need to oppose violence and homophobia.

In her conclusion, Kalende noted that is is time to speak up against homophobia globally and that any conversation about the global LGBT movement must include African voices.


Maryland Governor O'Malley: "We Must Choose Words and Laws" Of Compassion

Posted by Daniel Villarreal
January 29, 2012 5:00 PM |

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[Photo: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) addresses the 2012 Creating Change conference on Jan. 29, 2012. (Photo by Michael Maldonado.)]

At the closing brunch of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 2012 Creating Change conference, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) spoke of his newly introduced civil marriage bill, the state's gender identity bill, the country's other recent advances in LGBT rights and -- possibly -- referenced his wife's recently having called anti-marriage legislators "cowards."

O'Malley began by talking about the state's history of addressing human rights and dignity. He said that during the Revolutionary War, 60 percent of Marylanders fighting against the British were Native Americans and one in five were black -- some free, most slaves. Since Maryland joined the union as a refuge for religious liberty and individual conscience, he said, the state's history compels it to continue forging into its laws the inalienable rights and dignity of every individual.

After recounting the recent extensions of hospital visitation and end of life decision-making to same-sex couples, he reaffirmed the necessity for LGBT people to be able to own property and work without penalization for their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Specifically referencing the gender identity nondiscrimination bill's protections, he spoke about human dignity, saying that "discrimination based on gender identity is wrong" and adding that "passing a law to protect transgender Marylanders from employment, credit and housing discrimination is the right thing to do."

He went on to say that part of human dignity was "[t]he dignity of a free and diverse people who at the end of the day, all want the same thing for their children: to live in a loving and caring and stable home that is protected equally under the law.

O'Malley then mentioned his civil marriage bill -- which could make Maryland the seventh marriage equality state in the U.S. -- while underscoring the bill's religious freedom protections and recognition of individual rights.

In what was perhaps an oblique reference to his wife's having called the state's anti-marriage legislators "cowards," O'Malley said, "When we use words of hurt and fear instead of love, understanding and compassion… when this occasionally happens, we must have the humility to apologize. We must choose words and laws of understanding, compassion and justice."

Maryland First Lady Catherine Curran O'Malley apologized for her comment late last week.

Pledging his conviction to help legalize marriage equality in Maryland this year, O'Malley then thanked the conference and departed.


Maryland's First Lady Catherine Curran O'Malley has apologized after a statement she made on Jan. 26 during her opening remarks at Creating Change, the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality.

katie2007.jpgDuring the speech, she referenced the failed 2011 marriage equality bill saying, "We didn't expect things that happened to the House of Delegates to occur," O'Malley said, "but sadly they did, and there were some cowards that prevented it from passing."

Her comment came a day after Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) introduced a marriage equality bill with religious exemptions to the state Senate; a House version of the bill has not yet been introduced.

In her apology O'Malley said, "I let my feelings get the better of me. I deeply respect that there are strongly held and differing views on marriage equality in Maryland, but hope that our state's elected officials will come together to fairly address this important issue for our families and children."

Maryland, however, is only one of eight states currently considering marriage equality laws. Below are the most current developments in each:

California: An organization called Love Honor Cherish has begun collecting the 807,615 signatures needed by May 14th to get a Proposition 8 repeal on the 2012 ballot. They have stated, however, that they will not submit the signatures if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholds District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Maine: Voters will decide on a measure put forth by marriage equality supporters to legalize marriage equality on the November 2012 ballot. Current citizen support in favor of the measure stands at 54 percent.

Minnesota: This week, Senator Al Franken (D) made a video for the HRC's Americans for Marriage Equality campaign stating, "I think everybody should be able to marry the person they love. And I think our government should help people make those life-long commitments." The state will vote in November on a constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality.

New Hampshire: This month, Republican House leaders delayed a vote on a bill to repeal the state's marriage equality statutes. The vote is projected to occur in February.

New Jersey: On Jan. 24, the state Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a marriage equality bill that Governor Chris Christie (R) promised to veto. African-American legislators from the state denounced Christie for preferring a voter referendum on a civil rights issue.

New Mexico: This Wednesday, state Rep. David Chavez (R) introduced a constitutional amendment to ban recognition of any same-sex marriages that occur within or outside of the state.

North Carolina: The organization, Protect All North Carolina Families has pledged to hold 1 million conversations with the state's 6,262,566 registered voters. Residents will vote on a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality this May.

Washington: Though the state's governor, senators and representatives have pledged to help legalize marriage equality in the legislature, opponents of the bill could still attempt to repeal the law with a 2012 ballot measure this November.

[Photo: Maryland First Lady Catherine Curran O'Malley.]


Rea Carey at Creating Change: "We Are Not A Single-Issue Movement"

Posted by Daniel Villarreal
January 27, 2012 4:40 PM |

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[Photo: Rea Carey at the 2012 Creating Change conference. (Photo by Michael Maldonado.)]

During her State of the Movement Address at the 2012 Creating Change conference this afternoon, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) executive director Rea Carey emphasized, "We are not a single-issue movement," effectively warning activists and media creators against focusing singularly on marriage equality at the expense of other equality issues affecting people of color, students, immigrants, the homeless, unemployed, and transgender citizens -- "the very base of the progressive movement."

She began by comparing the LGBT movement to Elphaba, the widely-despised witch from the musical Wicked who is reviled by the public and yet defies an oppressive government.

Noting this last year's political victories -- including the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the legalization of marriage equality in New York and the passage of transgender employment protections in Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada and Massachusetts -- she highlighted the other significant changes in federal policy that came about in part, she said, thanks to partnerships made between politicians and the NGLTF's 26-organization strong campaign known as the New Beginning Initiative.

Among these victories, she mentioned the national directives extending pubic housing, house loans and hospital visitation rights to LGBT families; de-prioritizing the deportation of LGBT spouses and ensuring care for transgender veterans.

She also highlighted the enormity of Hilary Clinton's United Nations declaration that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights," and Obama's statement that "We consider LGBT families to be families."

Moving on to marriage equality, Carey said, "Since the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' people think our movement is about one thing and one thing only -- marriage," but then added, "The LGBT movement is not a movement for marriage only ... we are in the movement for the full dignity of our lives. The challenge is, when the LGBT movement is framed by the media and seen by others as a single-issue, marriage-only movement, it limits what we can achieve."

Once LGBT people achieve full marriage equality around the U.S., Carey said, a huge part of the current movement will become politically disengaged. Carey noted that despite the historic decision of Roe v. Wade, the women's movement still has had to stay engaged to stave off attacks on abortion and reproductive rights in states like Mississippi, where activists help defeat a so-called "personhood" measure that would have outlawed the termination of any fertilized egg cell.

However, Carey also said that "we want more than marriage" noting the elimination of discrimination, violence, bigotry, systemic racism and sexism, as well as unfair housing and immigration laws that continue to disproportionately harm LGBT citizens.

Thumbnail image for Rea Carey by Todd Franson.jpgToward this end, she declared that the movement's immediate sights fall on ending the abuse of transgender immigrant detainees, obtaining equal benefits for same-sex military spouses, trans-inclusion in the military and combatting the rising AIDS infection rates for gay, bisexual and men of color concomitant with the decrease in AIDS services and funding.

"Progress for some is not progress for all," Carey said. "We will not stop until we are all fully free."

She concluded the speech by focusing on the 2012 elections. Though the LGBT community will need to actively rebuff the falsehoods spread by anti-queer political forces, she stated, the right wing knows it can no longer compete by simply whipping up the socially conservative base.

Rather, she said, the right wing has focused its attention on voter suppression measures "taken right out of the Jim Crow playbook" seeking to disenfranchise the very populations most likely to support progressive measures -- namely the impoverished, unemployed, elderly, immigrants, students and people of color.

Highlighting the many voter suppression measures already instated in the South, she added that it is no coincidence that a dozen new voter suppression measures will be in play in the next two years in states like New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and North Carolina which are currently considering revisions in marriage equality laws.

If we do not protect the people's right to vote, she said, measures on immigration, non-discrimination, affirmative action and marriage will both fail and eventually weaken.

She concluded by calling on all LGBT people to help "occupy the vote" by registering all potential voters and offering rides to the polls. Should one face voter suppression, she suggested casting a provisional ballot, documenting and sharing the story online and then alerting the civil rights division in the Department of Justice.

[CORRECTION: Transgender employment protections were introduced, but not passed, in the Maryland legislature in 2011.]

[Photo: Carey (Photo by Todd Franson.)]


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A week after calling for a public vote on marriage equality, Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D) has pledged to support a bill legalizing marriage equality all across the Evergreen State. Her support marks the crucial 25th vote needed to pass the Senate bill in the 49-person chamber, which is the last hurdle to passage of marriage equality in the state.

The House version of the bill already has the votes needed for passage, and Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) has said that she will sign it into law. Washington would join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, as well as the District, in allowing same-sex couples equal marriage rights should the bill become law.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Haugen serves a conservative voting district with a lot of evangelical voters -- a factor she took into consideration when making her decision:

"I've weighed many factors in arriving at this decision, and one of them was erased when the legislation heard today included an amendment to clearly provide for the rights of a church to choose not to marry a couple if that marriage contradicts the church's view of its teachings. That's important, and it helped shape my decision.
"My preference would be to put this issue on the ballot and give all Washingtonians the opportunity to wrestle with this issue, to search their hearts as I have, and to make the choice for themselves. But I do not know that there are the votes to put it to a ballot measure. So, forced to make a choice, my choice is to allow all men and women in our state to enjoy the same privileges that are so important in my life."

Just last week, Sen. Jim Kastama (D) pledged to vote for the bill while Senators Joe Fain (R), Brian Hatfield (D), Andy Hill (R) and Paull Shin (D) remain undecided.

With two Senate Republicans and two Republicans in the House already having voiced support for statewide marriage equality before today, the National Organization for Marriage has pledged $250,000 to help unseat pro-equality Republican legislative incumbents.

Nevetherless, many businesses -- including Washington-based Microsoft -- have supported the state's marriage equality efforts with Mircosoft general counsel Brad Smith saying, "As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington's employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families."

Pro-equality state Sen. Ed Murray (D) also cautioned voters that eve if marriage equality passes the legislature, that it could still face a November ballot amendment like the state's domestic partnership law faced with Referendum 71 in 2009.


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