Archive for July, 2011
A new policy providing clearer protections for LGBT students will be implemented by Miami-Dade County starting today.
Equality Florida — dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBT residents — explains that, “with this latest victory, 1.55 million students representing nearly 60% of Florida’s school population are now protected from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity – ranking Florida fourth in the nation.”
Equality adds that the Miami-Dade Safe Schools Coalition worked for more than a decade to expand this policy in Miami. The coalition includes the NAACP, AFL-CIO, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, United Teachers of Dade, SEIU, Save Dade and the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth.
A Save Dade press release states: “Three years after Florida passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which prohibits the bullying or harassment, including cyber bullying, of any public K-12 student or employee, Miami-Dade County Administration amended their policy to be explicitly inclusive of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).”
Save Dade is “dedicated to protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) against discrimination.”
The Jeffrey Johnston law, also known as “Jeffrey’s Law,” was named for a Cape Coral student who committed suicide in 2005 after bullying by a classmate.
According to a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network 2009 survey “of 7,261 middle and high school students,” “nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.”
A 2009 research brief by the organization on Florida schools found that “Florida schools were not safe for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) secondary school students. In addition, many LGBT students in Florida did not have access to important school resources, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, and were not protected by comprehensive bullying/harassment school policies.”
The data shows that while harassment in Florida schools was not limited to LGBT students, they did have the highest rates of verbal and physical harassment as well physical assaults, many of which were not reported to adult authorities.
Anthony Armstrong, executive director of the Orlando-based Zebra Coalition, told the Florida Independent this week that in schools there can be severe cases of bullying and name-calling but teachers and administrators don’t realize how those break a student down. This gap has inspired the Zebra Coalition to develop an education program to work with schools there.
from The Florida Independent
Aaron Pace is admittedly and noticeably effeminate, but he says he’s not homosexual.
Still, his looks, character and behavior prompted a blood donation center to reject him when he tried to donate blood recently and he’s miffed, to say the least.
“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Pace, 22. of Gary. “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”
Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma donations, up to $40 a visit. But during the interview screening process, Pace said he was told he could not be a blood donor there because he “appears to be a homosexual.”
No one at Bio-Blood returned calls seeking comment, but donation centers like it, and even the American Red Cross, are still citing a nearly 30-year-old federal policy to turn away gay men from donating.
The Food and Drug Administration policy, implemented in 1983, states that men who have had sex — even once — with another man (since 1977) are not allowed to donate blood.
The policy was sparked by concerns that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was tainting the blood supply. And, back then, screening tests to identify HIV-positive blood had not yet been developed.
Today, all donated blood is tested for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases, before it can be released to hospitals. This is why gay activists, blood centers including the American Red Cross, and even some lawmakers now claim the lifetime ban is “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
“It is unfair, outrageous and just plain stupid,” said Curt Ellis, former director of The Aliveness Project of Northwest Indiana, an agency that’s been educating the public about HIV-related issues for many years.
“The policy is based on the stigma associated with HIV that existed early on,” Ellis said. “It seems like some stigmas will just never die.”
The Indiana State Department of Health doesn’t have a policy regarding the collection of blood and its criteria. “Nor do we advise blood donation centers on their individual policies,” spokeswoman Amy Bukarica said.
But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year voted again not to recommend a change to the FDA’s policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men.
“The deferral of men who have had sex with other men is still in effect in Indiana and across the country — with all blood banks, not just the American Red Cross — because all blood banks must be in compliance with FDA regulations,” said Karen Kelley, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.
“We recommended that the deferral criteria be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections,” she added.
“While we are disappointed with the committee’s decision, our organization is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA regarding donor eligibility,” Kelley said.
The American Red Cross, which supplies approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, determines a potential donor’s sexual history through standardized health and lifestyle questions in a private, confidential health history review, she said. This is similar to how other blood donation centers, such as Bio-Blood, screen potential donors.
from The Chicago-Sun Times
President Obama nominated attorney Michael Fitzgerald to the federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday, making Fitzgerald the first openly gay nominee for a federal judgeship in California.
Fitzgerald, 51, a UC Berkeley law school graduate, was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles from 1988 to 1991 and has worked at private law firms since then. He has also been a lawyer for the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and for a panel that investigated police wrongdoing.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who recommended Fitzgerald to Obama, said his “sharp intellect, record of public service and broad legal experience will be a real asset on the federal bench.”
Obama has nominated three other openly gay men and lesbians to federal courts. One, Paul Oetken, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to a judgeship in New York City.
Another New York nominee, Alison Nathan, won Senate Judiciary Committee approval last week. The third, Edward DuMont, was nominated in April 2010 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in patent and trademark issues, but his candidacy has been stalled in the Judiciary Committee.
The nation’s only other openly gay or lesbian federal judge is Deborah Batts, appointed by President Bill Clinton to the federal court in New York in 1994. San Francisco’s former chief federal judge, Vaughn Walker, confirmed media reports that he is gay after he retired from the bench in February.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, said Obama’s appointments of gays and lesbians are in keeping with his record of diversifying the bench.
“Look at ethnicity and gender. He’s eclipsed all prior presidents,” Tobias said.
from The San Francisco Chronicle
I hate to give the ESPYs much attention. They’re a slurpfestapalooza, a publicity-seeking exercise that just might lift the spunky little network responsible for them to real sports prominence. Gosh, I hope so.
But when an athlete shows up on the red carpet in a spux — a spandex tuxedo — you pretty much have to slam on the brakes, roll down the window and throw that notion right out.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold San Francisco Giants reliever Brian Wilson.
After the visual impact wore off, it got a little weird when Wilson, like all sportlebrities, was asked to describe his outfit.
“Well, I have a seal skin tuxedo suit with the orange — very appropriate — bow tie,” Wilson said (via Big League Stew) the day after earning a save in the National League’s All-Star Game victory. “It’s a onesie, so it has built-in gloves that are a little dirty because I’ve been getting a little awkward here on the carpet. And I’ve got my cougar cane — my ‘plus one’ tonight.”
A cougar cane. Um, okay.
“And the socks came in the fan mail from a San Francisco Giants fan. You know who you are, thank you,” Wilson said. “It said: ‘Enjoy.’ That was the letter. And I’m currently enjoying them. Ninja socks.”
from The Washington Post
ATLANTA – An AIDS drug already shown to help prevent spread of the virus in gay men also works for heterosexual men and women, two studies in Africa found. Experts called it a breakthrough for the continent that has suffered most from AIDS.
“These studies could help us to reach the tipping point in the HIV epidemic,” said Michael Sidibe, executive director of the United Nation’s AIDS program, in a statement Wednesday as the study results were announced.
“This is really a game changer,” said Dr. Jared Baeten, the University of Washington researcher who was a leader of one of the studies.
The prevention drug is Truvada, a pill already on pharmacy shelves to treat people with HIV. It’s made by Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, Calif. Another Gilead drug, Viread, was also used in one of the two African studies.
Earlier research with Truvada found it prevented spread of HIV to uninfected gay men. But experts were thrilled Wednesday at the first compelling evidence that AIDS medications can prevent infection between men and women. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which gave advice last fall for use of the preventive drugs among gays, is now developing guidance for heterosexuals in this country.
At the same time, national and international health officials said it’s far from clear how preventive use of these drugs will play out. How many people would want to take a pill each day to reduce their risk of HIV infection? Would they stick with it? Would they become more sexually reckless?
Another issue: There already is a supply problem. In Africa, 6.6 million people are now on AIDS drugs, but 9 million people who are eligible for the treatment are on a waiting list, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, many state assistance programs that help people access AIDS medications also have waiting lists.
The first of the new studies, run by the CDC, involved more than 1,200 men and women in Botswana. About half took Truvada each day. The other half got a fake pill.
An analysis of those who were believed to be regularly taking the pills found four of those on Truvada became infected with HIV, compared to 19 on the dummy pill. That means the drug lowered the risk of infection by roughly 78 percent, researchers said.
The second study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and run by the University of Washington. It involved more than 4,700 heterosexual couples in Kenya and Uganda. In each couple, one partner had HIV and the other did not. The uninfected were given either daily placebos or one of the Gilead pills – Truvada or Viread.
The study found 13 HIV infections among those on Truvada, 18 in those on Viread, and 47 of those on dummy pills. So the medications reduced the risk of HIV infection by 62 percent to 73 percent, the researchers said.
“Our results provide clear evidence that this works in heterosexuals,” said Baeten, who co-chaired the study.
An independent review panel on Sunday said the benefit was clear-cut and stopped handing out placebos, instead offering the preventive drugs. Essentially, they deemed it unethical to withhold the medications from people who had been on placebo, Baeten said.
In both studies, participants also were offered counseling and free condoms, which may help explain the relatively low overall infection rate.
The studies were to be announced at an AIDS conference in Rome next week. But following the recommendation of the review panel to the University of Washington study, both study teams made hasty decisions to release the results.
These are the third and fourth widely reported studies of Gilead’s treatments.
The first was announced last year, involving gay men in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and the United States (San Francisco and Boston). Truvada lowered the chances of infection by 44 percent, and by 73 percent or more among men who took their pills most faithfully.
Experts celebrated. The CDC advised doctors on prescribing the pill along with other prevention services for gay men, based on those encouraging results.
But momentum seemed to stall in April, when an interim analysis of a study of 3,900 women in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa did not show a benefit from Truvada. Scientists can’t explain the failure in that study but one theory is that the women did not take the pill as often as they should have, said Dr. Lynn Paxton, who has coordinated the federal agency’s HIV prevention research.
Gilead Sciences is a major producer of AIDS drugs. On Tuesday, United Nations health officials announced the company had agreed to allow Truvada, Viread and two other drugs to be made by generic manufacturers, potentially increasing their availability in poor countries.
That was seen as good news, but something short of a major coup.
“I wouldn’t expect an immediate dramatic effect on the generic availability” of those drugs in Africa, said Tido von Schoen-Angerer, executive director for Doctors Without Borders’ campaign for access to essential medicines. The agreement limits the number of additional countries that can produce the drugs, he said.
Officials say they will have to determine how much of the medicine can be produced and how much it will cost, and priorities will have to be set when it comes to who would get the drugs for prevention.
A 30-day supply of Truvada costs about $900 in U.S. pharmacies, and the same amount of Viread costs about $600. Prices charged in developing countries are much lower, but still can be hard to shoulder.
“Countries need to identify which populations could benefit the fastest and at the lowest cost,” said Cate Hankins, chief scientific adviser at the United Nations’ AIDS agency.
“There has to be some soul-searching about the costs of current drugs,” she added.
Without WHO or UNAIDS guidance on how to roll out the prevention regimens, experts say it’s unlikely any countries will take serious steps to do that. UNAIDS said they hoped that guidance would be ready next year.
from The Associated Press
NEW YORK – Some of the first gay marriages in New York will literally be a theatrical event.
The Broadway theater where “Hair” is being performed this summer will be the stage where some same-sex couples will be married on July 25, the day after gay marriage becomes legal in the state.
Rory O’Malley, a star of “The Book of Mormon” and a co-founder of the gay-rights group Broadway Impact, said several gay couples from the Broadway community will be married on stage right after that evening’s performance of “Hair.”
“It’s not just a summer of love,” he said at a press conference Wednesday in front of the St. James Theater, where the touring revival of the hippie musical has landed. “It’s a summer of equality.”
Other theater celebrities on hand for the announcement included Joel Grey from “Anything Goes,” the cast of “Hair” and Will Swenson from “Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical.”
“Theater people tend to shoot our mouths off about everybody,” said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater. “But there’s absolutely one subject that the theater actually has an expertise in: We know that gay and straight equality is not simply a political opinion. It’s an existential fact. We prove it every day of our working lives.”
Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns and operates the St. James, said he was proud to be able to host some of the first same-sex weddings in New York state. He said there was a natural connection between the theater and weddings.
“The theater is the place where we come together to celebrate and affirm who we are as a people. It is the place where we stand in front of our community on a stage and we speak our truths. That’s what theater is and that’s what a wedding is.”
New York will become the sixth and largest state with legal gay marriage when the law takes effect after the stroke of midnight signals the beginning of July 24, a Sunday.
from The Associated Press
An 18-year-old gay man from Texas allegedly slain by a classmate who feared a sexual advance. A 31-year-old transgender woman from Pennsylvania found dead with a pillowcase around her head. A 24-year-old lesbian from Florida purportedly killed by her girlfriend’s father, who disapproved of the relationship.
The homicides are a sampling of 2010 crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people compiled by a national coalition of anti-hate organizations.
The report, released Tuesday, showed a 13% increase over 2009 in violent crimes committed against people because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or status as HIV positive, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
Last year’s homicide count reached 27, up from 22 in 2009, and was the second-highest total since the coalition began tracking such crimes in 1996. Of those killed, 70% were minorities and 44% were transgender women.
The data are compiled by the coalition’s 43 participating organizations and are not comprehensive. They include crimes reported to the groups by victims who did not seek help from law enforcement. In fact, 50% of the 2010 assault survivors did not make police reports, with minorities and transgender people the least likely to come forward, the report said.
Among the cases was an April 2010 attack on Cal State Long Beach transgender student Colle Carpenter, who was cornered in a campus restroom by an assailant who carved “It” on his chest. Jake Finney, project manager with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, said campus police initially “were not clear that the word ‘It’ was a slur and indicated anti-transgender bias.” The center contacted the FBI, which assisted in the investigation, and the crime was ultimately classified as hate-motivated, Finney said.
The 2010 murder count is second to the 29 logged in 1999 and 2008. Among the 2008 fatalities was gay Oxnard junior high school student Larry King. The classmate charged in that killing, Brandon McInerney, is on trial.
Coalition members said hate crimes tended to increase after other high-profile attacks and when civil rights advances for the LGBT community were publicly debated.
“As we move forward toward full equality, we also have to be responsive and concerned with violence that may run alongside of it,” spokeswoman Roberta Sklar said. “We don’t want to go back into the closet to avoid it.”
from The Los Angeles Times
Having been accused of homophobia, anti-semitism, racism and violence, Mel Gibson’s reputation has plummeted beyond the depths of repair.
But the troublesome A-lister appears to have been offered a lifeline by his adopted gay brother.
Andrew Gibson has leapt to the defence of his Oscar-winner sibling, claiming he has ‘never heard anything anti-gay come out his mouth’.
The 43-year-old broke his silence in a candid interview, saying: ‘When I heard them (the accusations) I just thought, “That isn’t Mel”.
‘He has never said anything abusive, aggressive or racist in his life.
‘I just had to turn the TV off and turn it to the wall for two weeks so I didn’t have to listen. The rest of the family did the same.’
But contradictory to these claims, Andrew does acknowledge Mel made a homophobic remark during a 1991 interview, but defends his slurs.
The Braveheart star riled the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) campaigners at the time, saying: ‘With this look, who’s going to think I’m gay? I don’t lend myself to that type of confusion. Do I look like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?’
Andrew, a PA to a financier, said: ‘He’s a straight man and he was illustrating that fact. In the same way a gay man wouldn’t want to have sex with a woman.
‘He never meant to upset anyone. I have never once heard anything anti-gay come out of his mouth.’
Andrew, who told his family the truth about his sexuality when he was 22, told The Sunday Times it was ‘one of the most terrifying things’ he’s done.
He revealed his father broke down in tears, but Mel reportedly took the news well, saying: ‘It’s not my choice, but I love you and you’re my brother.’
But all of Andrew’s good work could soon unravel as new pictures of Mel have emerged, painting him in an unflattering light as he rants and staggers around.
The 55-year-old looked ready to topple over as his legs buckled outside of Malibu’s famed Greek restaurant Taverna Tony.
Mel currently has a restraining order to stay away from ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva following a domestic violence dispute and also has an impending divorce from his wife of 28 years, Robyn.
from The Daily Mail
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – When the city of Cambridge issues paychecks to its public employees, nearly two dozen workers find a federal tax on their income that their colleagues don’t have to pay.
Like many people, these 22 school and city workers chose to put their spouses on their employer-provided health insurance. Because they’re in a homosexual relationship, the value of that health coverage is considered taxable income by the federal government.
But starting this month, Cambridge will become what is believed to be the first municipality in the country to pay its public employees a stipend in an attempt to defray the cost of the federal tax on health benefits for their same-sex spouses.
The city employees hit by the extra tax pay an additional $1,500 to $3,000 in taxes a year and officials estimate the stipends would cost the city an additional $33,000.
“This is about equality,” said Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge city councilor. “This is a city that models what equality really means.”
Of the thousands of legally married gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts, none can receive the federal benefits offered to heterosexual married couples because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
Those benefits include Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration rights, family leave and the ability to file joint tax returns.
The council last month approved the measure that would provide quarterly stipends to any city or school employee who puts a same-sex spouse on their health insurance. The vote came after council members began looking in January for a way to offset what they called an unfair and discriminatory tax.
“This is ultimately a fairness issue. Two people who do the exact same job should be paid exactly the same for what they are doing at work,” said Leland Cheung, a Cambridge City Councilor who pushed for a proposal with fellow councilor E. Denise Simmons, who is openly gay.
Decker and Cheung said the additional funds needed from the city’s personnel budget is a minor cost in the city’s more than $500 million budget, but some say the public’s money should not be used to go against established law.
“It’s a travesty of using taxpayer monies to circumvent a national policy,” said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, an advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage.
The 15-year-old federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, allows states to deny recognition of same-sex unions performed elsewhere and prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. This provision federal prevents even gay and lesbian couples married legally by a state 7/8- as in Massachusetts – from receiving any federal benefits.
The act has faced setbacks lately, including President Obama’s order in February for the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the federal law.
The key part of the law denying federal benefits for married gay couples was also ruled unconstitutional in the state by a U.S. District judge in Boston last year. That decision is being appealed.
Mary Bowe-Shulman of Acton, Mass., who was one of the plaintiffs in the case against DOMA, said she was happy that Cambridge employees would see financial relief and that the city was taking action on what she saw as a civil rights issue.
“I think that’s a wonderful thing for them to make up for that,” she said.
Bowe-Shulman, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, said she loses $7,800 a year to federal taxes on health insurance for her wife of 6 years, money she would rather be putting in a college fund for the couple’s two children.
“It just makes me feel like my family is being treated differently than everyone else’s,” she said.
Although Bowe-Shulman applauded the Cambridge policy, she said hopes the court ruling stands so that such policies are unnecessary.
“I think it’s just ridiculous that the state would have to expend some of its limited dollars to make up for this discriminatory policy,” she said.
While Cambridge is known for its liberal policies and has had three consecutive openly gay mayors, the city is not the only employer offering additional pay.
Since 2009, at least 17 companies that offer benefits to same-sex spouses or domestic partners have supplemented employees’ income to cover the tax, according to Sarah Warbelow, a legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. Some of those companies include Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook and the Boston Consulting Group.
The number of same-sex spouses and partners receiving health benefits will soon increase as New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage, joining Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. The District of Columbia also recognizes gay marriage.
Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
New legislation is being proposed nationally by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to eliminate the tax on health insurance for same-sex partners and spouses.
The lawmakers say this change will help individuals and reduce payroll taxes of the employers that offer benefits to same-sex partners and spouses without forcing employers to recognize domestic partners. Opponents say the proposal conflicts with current law.
“This appears to be another tactic to circumvent the intent of the DOMA, which is that federal tax dollars will not be used to benefit any kind of relationship outside a marriage between a man and a woman,” said Mineau, who also criticized Obama’s refusal to defend DOMA.
Still, Cambridge lawmakers are optimistic the policy will spread to other municipalities and states.
“Cambridge is a city on the cutting edge, and I think this is another example of that,” Cheung said.
from The Associated Press