September 28, 2007

HRC Steps Up Their Political Presence

The Human Rights Campaign, an organization I am a proud member of, has taken some important steps to become a factor in the 2008 political campaigns. From The Advocate:

The Human Rights Campaign marked a first in its history this month when it opened a campaign office in Concord, N.H. -- a central hub for presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

Though the move attracted little attention nationally, the ceremony drew about 100 people, including HRC members, staffers from the Obama, Edwards, and Clinton campaigns among others, and key state politicians such as Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic Party chair. State senate president Sylvia Larsen presented an official proclamation welcoming HRC into the mix.

The organization has also hired a full-time organizer and political operative, Heather Gibson, to help coordinate the efforts of LGBT groups and HRC members on the ground in New Hampshire.

National field director Marty Rouse said the move is part of a protracted campaign by HRC to have a presence in key states where the group can have an impact both locally and nationwide.

“We can’t be in all 50 states,” said Rouse, “so our goal has been to look across the country and see where we can be helpful in moving forward a GLBT agenda that, while important to the community members in that one state, also might have national implications.” He estimated that HRC would pour upward of $50,000 into New Hampshire during the primaries alone.

HRC has also been actively working in Iowa with One Iowa, the state's LGBT civil rights organization. In June they launched a campaign there to highlight the military contributions of LGBT soldiers called the Legacy of Service Tour, which received press coverage by most of the state's local TV affiliates, the Des Moines Register, and the Associated Press.

HRC also corralled 50 volunteers on September 16 to the 30th annual Harkin Steak Fry -- Iowa’s compulsory event for Democratic presidential candidates.

“Every single presidential campaign saw us and we have pictures of them holding up our T-shirts,” said Rouse. “What we’re trying to do is increase the LGBT visibility in these campaigns so the candidates know that they need to address our issues.”

Kudos to the HRC for being proactive, even aggressive in putting their message, quite literally, in front of candidates and voters. The $50,000 committed to New Hampshire might seem like a lot, but it's not. It means the HRC efforts will strongly rely on volunteers contributing a lot of sweat equity to get the message of GLBT equality out.

I usually don't do this here, but I want to encourage my readers to consider supporting the HRC, either by volunteering, donating, or both. They are trying very hard to make a difference in this nation's political landscape and deserve your support.

Fallout From Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Causing Split in African-American Community

Sadly, here is a situation where I think almost everyone gets it wrong. From the Miami Herald:

Inside Fort Lauderdale City Hall, a contingent of gay white men squared off against black ministers this month, arguing over civil rights.

Outraged over the ministers' decision to announce their support of Mayor Jim Naugle's crusade against homosexuals on Sept. 4, about 20 gay activists wearing red shirts and AIDS pins condemned the clergymen the next day for not being sympathetic to their cause -- one they say mirrors the African-American struggle.

The ministers did not agree.

''You didn't have to drink from separate fountains. Our struggle is not the same . . . you can't equate race and sexuality,'' O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center, told one activist. ``Slavery was not a choice.''

''Yours is a message of hate, minister . . . You don't speak on behalf of freedom,'' answered Michael Rajner of the Campaign to End AIDS, a nonprofit group.

Now the debate over gay rights threatens to drive a wedge between members of South Florida's black community. Despite the support that many black ministers showed for Naugle, the local NAACP took a public stand against the mayor, calling his crusade a ``hate campaign.''

''I'm not here to condone or condemn gay sex,'' Marsha Ellison, head of the Broward NAACP, told The Miami Herald. ``This is a hate campaign against gays launched by the mayor.''

She said the branch's position -- adopted after a unanimous vote of its 22-member executive committee as well as branch members -- echoes the national NAACP's position. ''Anytime any group is discriminated against it becomes a civil rights issue,'' she said.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond made national headlines with his recent endorsement of gay marriage -- a step several prominent black ministers publicly criticized.

While Bond has noted that ''no parallel between movements for rights is exact,'' his position differs with ministers and others who suggest that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. He wrote last year: ``Like race, our sexuality isn't a preference -- it is inborn, and the Constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.''

Clearly, Mayor Naugle is a bigot who has used the rest-room sex issue to get on his anti-gay soapbox. Enough said about that.

Minister O'Neal Dozier, supporting anti-gay views, is missing the boat and falling into judgement toward the GLBT community.

Those who try to closely tie the GLBT civil rights struggle with the African-American one also miss the boat, big time. There is truth to what Minister Dozier said. Although there are acts of discrimination and violence perpetrated against GLBT people in today's society, they barely scratch the surface of what African-Americans had to go through in the 1950's and 1960's (and many, many years before) to get where they are today, which is still not an environment bereft of prejudice.

I think GLBT activists, especially African-American ones, need to blaze their own trail and not act like they are walking the one of generations past. When gay men and lesbians are required to drink from different fountains, sleep in different hotels, use different restrooms, and sit in restricted sections at sporting events, then they've got a fair comparison. Until then, just focus on claiming equality going forward--fight this new battle, don't try to reenact previous ones.

September 27, 2007

Battle Lines Being Drawn In Maryland, in the Legislature and Churches

Groups on both sides are mobilizing in Maryland after last week's court decision that upheld the state's law banning same-sex marriage. It's not just in the political arena, it's also from pulpits around the state. From the Baltimore Sun (thanks to Equality Maryland for the tip).

Religious leaders in Maryland are sharply divided on the question of same-sex marriage, a fact that is likely to weigh heavily in an anticipated debate on the issue this winter in the General Assembly.

Religious leaders bring podiums, votes and organizations to a hot-button issue that is both religious and political.

When the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected same-sex marriage in a 4-3 ruling last week, "friend of the court" legal briefs from religious groups were among the stacks of material urging support for each side.

The decision prompted advocates from both sides to say they would seek legislation or a state constitutional amendment further clarifying the issue.

"Churches become very involved when they perceive it is a moral issue," said John C. Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Marriage, closely tied to Scripture and religious teachings, falls into that category.

Overall, he said, a 2004 Pew Forum study indicated this: Evangelical Christians tend to oppose same-sex marriage, with mainline Protestants somewhat more supportive and people with no religious affiliation tending to be more in favor. The more traditional the beliefs and practices -- such as with Hispanic Catholics -- the more likely the opposition to same-sex marriage. But younger people, even within conservative churches, are more open to same-sex marriage.

Douglas Stiegler, executive director of the Association of Maryland Families, said the Christian organization would continue pushing in the Legislature for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one-man, one-woman through its Family Protection Lobby regardless of what the opposing lobby seeks.

"We are not going to wait for the ACLU or Equality Maryland," he said. "We do it on our own."

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Bowie and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, has been a vocal critic of same-sex marriage and of framing it in a civil rights context, in opposition to the political action leadership of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches.

"I know people who used to be gay. I don't know any people who used to be black. This is not about civil rights," he said. "I take personal offense with someone equating their gayness with my blackness."

The Maryland Catholic Conference, opposed to same-sex marriage, "will oppose anything that appears that way -- if it is marriage by a different name, we will oppose it," Richard J. Dowling, executive director, said.

Nationally, the faith community on the pro-same-sex marriage side has mobilized more slowly, Green noted.

Equality Maryland has organized a coalition of religious leaders favoring same-sex marriage.
"I think some day, people are going to be embarrassed about the opinions they wrote and votes that they took," said the Rev. Phyllis L. Hubbell, who serves with her husband as a minister of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.

"We are going to continue the struggle as long as it takes," she said.

"We are in turmoil about this, like many other churches," Bishop H. Gerard Knoche of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said last week. "It is presently the most divisive issue in our church."

I was particularly stuck by Bishop Jackson's use of the phrase "personally offended" to describe comparisions of the GLBT civil rights movement to the one African-Americans have struggled so hard for. I found this on Joyce Meyer's site about "The Spirit of Offense."

The spirit of offense poisons lives and attitudes. According to Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the word offense is derived from a Greek word skandalon, which "originally was 'the name of the part of a trap to which the bait is attached, hence, the trap or snare itself....'" It was the part of the trap that lured or snared an animal.

We easily see that offense is what Satan uses to lure people into full-blown cases of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. Satan uses offense to cause us to stumble and fail to go forward with God.

The temptation to get offended is a trap that should be avoided like the plague. If we would not take poison, we should not take offense. If we would be champions for God we must not be easily offended.

Many people never become what God desires them to be because they get offended. They get bitter. Offense becomes a stumbling block to them, and they never progress beyond that point. They are the loser and the devil is the winner.

No person can do permanent damage to you if you are willing to be mature enough to refuse offense and trust God. This kind of attitude will make you a winner in life.

Although Joyce Meyer does not share the full revelation of the GLBT community's place in God's kingdom, she is an internationally reknowned evangelist and best-selling author. There are many things she gets, and this is one of them.

Is it any surprise that someone filled with the spirit of offense is trying to lead the charge to deny a group of people their legal rights?

Episcopals Straddle the Fence, Satisfying No One

That's what I get after reading this report from

The openly gay bishop at the center of the feud between conservative and liberal Anglicans says that the agreement worked out Tuesday by Episcopal bishops to halt the ordination of any more gay bishops is "fair".

Robinson said the talks between Episcopal bishops from across the country, and the worldwide leader of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams were "the two hardest days since my consecration."

But he said he thought the document was fair.

"I think people came here thinking this was going to be Katrina II," he said. "And what in fact happened was a coming together of the bishops of the church."

Many gays within the US branch of Anglicanism are less than pleased with some calling the agreement "a sellout."

Conservatives also are angry accusing the Episcopal leaders of not going far enough.

The document produced by the bishops affirmed that they will "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop and will not approve prayers to bless same-sex couples. The statement mostly reiterated previous pledges made by church leaders. (story)

Conservative Bishop John Howe of the Diocese of Central Florida said the statement wouldn't satisfy all the Anglican leaders. But Howe said "most will find it acceptable."

When both sides walk away from the table of a labor negotiation grumbling, conventional wisdom says it was probably a fair deal. When both sides reach a compromise short of what their side wanted in the political arena, they are usually applauded for being able to put aside partisanism to make a deal. That used to happen a LOT more than it does now, but that's a whole other story.

When a major religious denomination straddles the fence like it appears the Episcopal Church did here, I find it unsettling. After all, isn't the premise of a religion to pave a clear path to God, to take a stand on what is right and wrong? There does not seem to be a clear stand taken here. Instead, the focus seemed to be on keeping the church together, in name if not in spirit.

Is the ordiniation of gay bishops and prayers to bless same-sex couples right or wrong? The failure of the Episcopal church to clearly answer that question is not leadership, it's appeasement, and invariably little good comes from that approach.

If a church is not brave enough to take a stand on right and wrong, who is?

September 26, 2007

Businesses Becoming More Gay Affirming, And GLBT Community Rewards Them

Big businesses are continuing to realize that supporting quality GLBT employees is, well, good business. This from the Human Rights Campaign's latest Corporate Equality Index:

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation today released the sixth annual Corporate Equality Index showing an unprecedented 195 major U.S. businesses earned the top rating of 100 percent, up from 138 last year – a 41 percent increase. The Index rates employers on a scale from 0 to 100 percent on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors. The 195 businesses that met all of the criteria employ more than 8.3 million workers. When the Index was first released in 2002 only 13 companies, employing 690,000 workers, received the top rating.

"More businesses than ever before have recognized the value of a diverse and dedicated workforce," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "More importantly, these employers understand that discrimination against GLBT workers will ultimately hurt their ability to compete in the global marketplace."

This is a very encouraging trend, but still far short of being able to leave companies to their own devices, which is why the Enployee Non-Discrimination Act needs to be passed by Congress.

In a somewhat related story, gay men and lesbians are responding to companies with anti-gay policies in the most effective way they can--by taking their business elsewhere. From

Seven in ten gay men and lesbians have switched products or service providers because they learned the company engaged in negative actions toward the LGBT community a poll released Monday shows.

In addition, the survey by Harris Interactive in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications found that over the past 12 months about one in four members of the LGBT community switched products or service providers because they found a competing company that supports causes that benefit the LGBT community.

Gay men were more likely to switch. The survey found that a third of those polled online said they had switched because they found a competing company that supports LGBT causes.

The survey also found that a high proportion of gay men and lesbians (70%) had switched products or service providers because they learned the company engaged in actions that are perceived as harmful to the LGBT community.

The most effective way to get someone's attention in the business world is to hit them in the pocketbook, rewarding positive corporate practices and punishing negative ones. Right-wing organizations hold press conferences and send endless e-mail blasts to boycot companies that are not bigoted enough for them, but a grass roots change in purchasing behavior, although not trumpeted by sympathetic media, is still heard loud and clear and I believe is more effective in bringing about change.

This proves again that you don't need to bring attention to yourself, like the AFA relishes doing, to draw attention to your cause.

Gains For Transgender People in South Florida

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Transgender is quietly becoming a protected class in South Florida as cities vote to prohibit discrimination against a group that faces tremendous challenges fitting in.

Palm Beach and Broward counties may extend the protection next, which could leave the broadest imprint by affording civil rights to people for their gender identity or expression. The movement accelerated with the March firing of Largo City Manager Susan Stanton, who transitioned from male to female this year.

"It shined a light on what this discrimination is," said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Stanton's attorney. "It really underscored how important it is to have these ordinances."

Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Tequesta and Oakland Park have approved nondiscrimination clauses this year either covering city employees or all residents. Oakland Park was the latest last week and Wilton Manors may consider adding transgender as well.

County ordinances would go further by outlawing discrimination in the workplace and housing in all cities and unincorporated areas. Thirteen states and more than 90 cities and counties already have such laws, with the first passed more than 30 years ago. Advocates hope local ordinances will lead to a statewide law, health insurance coverage for sexual reassignment surgery and greater acceptance.

Advocates, though, say it's not about cross-dressing. Employers would not be asked to modify dress codes. But such suggestions speak toattitudes about gender.

Advocates like to speak of transgender more broadly as gender expression and identity to cover more people than only transsexuals.

"The transgender community is sadly one that is almost like an underground movement because of the fear of the unknown out there," said Michael Emmanuel Rajner, co-founder of the Transgender Equality Rights Initiative. "They're living, breathing human beings. They should have the same rights as everyone else."

Treating trandgender people as human beings--pretty radical but it just might catch on.

September 25, 2007

Fighting For the Right to Discriminate

That's the approach taken by numerious (straight) "family-oriented" organizations like the American (Straight) Family Association and the (Straight) Family Research Council. They combined to send out another e-mail trying to influence people to push their legislators to vote against ENDA (Employee Non-Discrimination Act) when it comes up on the floor of the House of Representatives very soon. Here's an excerpt followed by my comments:

o ENDA affords special protection to a group that is not disadvantaged.
That is so ignorant and offensive that it deserves no further attention.
o The issue is not job discrimination: It is whether private businesses will be forced by law to accommodate homosexual activists' attempts to legitimize homosexual behavior.
"Legitimize homosexual behavior?" If by that they mean people having gay sex on the job, I'm not if favor of that myself. If they mean, as I suspect they do, that being a homosexual is not a "legitimate" way to live, then they have claimed a moral high ground that they do not own--only God does. Since he made folks GLBT, they will be just as legitimate in God's eyes as the folks from AFA if they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
o The first "religious exemption" clause is very narrow and offers no clear protection to church-related businesses: Religious schools or charitable organizations, religious bookstores, or any business affiliated with a church or denomination fall outside this narrow definition, and could presumably be required to hire homosexual applicants.
No one is making religious organizations run businesses above and beyond being a church. If they are participating in the business world, they should have to follow the same rules as everyone else.
o The second "religious exemption" clause fails to offer protection for all hiring by church-related organizations or businesses. The position of a teacher of religion at a church-related school would be exempt, but, e.g., that of a biology teacher would not. Thus, most of the teachers and staff at a religious school would be covered by ENDA, which means that the church would be forced to hire homosexual applicants for such positions-despite the fact that their lifestyle would be in direct opposition to the religious beliefs of the organization or company.
Again, if an organization has a business aspect beyond the realm of having church, they should be held to the same standard as a secular business.
o It is unlikely that the "religious exemption" included in the bill would survive court challenge: Institutions that could be targeted include religious summer camps, the Boy Scouts, Christian bookstores, religious publishing houses, religious television and radio stations, and any business with fifteen or more employees.
Let's face it, there aren't many people who will try to go work somewhere they are so clearly not wanted, so this is not really that much of an issue. I don't think drag queens will be lining up to fill out job applications for the Boy Scouts or the local Christian bookstore. If they do and they meet the qualifications, they should be hired. That's the way a free market economy, something which the right-wingers love to support, is supposed to work.
o ENDA violates employers' and employees' Constitutional freedoms of religion, speech and association. The proposed legislation would prohibit employers from taking their most deeply held beliefs into account when making hiring, management, and promotion decisions. This would pose an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into people's lives.
Folks with this viewpoint think it is perfectly alright to limit the Constitutional freedoms of GLBT people. The only freedom the FRC and AFA support is the freedom to agree with them. Anything else is fair game.
o ENDA would approvingly bring private behavior considered immoral by many into the public square. By declaring that all sexual preferences are equally valid, ENDA would change national policy supporting marriage and family.
I hate to bring this up, but this "private behavior" is already in the public square, restrooms at airports, etc. National policy toward marriage NEEDS to be changed and become inclusive, and if ENDA helps move that ball further downfield, that is merely another benefit to be derived by its passage.

All men (and women) are created equal, and all employment applicants should be treated equally based on the merits of their qualifications. Big business is already waking up to that, actively recruiting and tayloring benefits to attract and keep GLBT employees with valuable skills.

It's a shame to see big business claiming the moral high ground over a block of narrow-minded Christians on this issue.

September 24, 2007

Strong Editorial Against Same-Sex Marriage Ban Amendment

The folks at Fairness For All Families, a Florida GLBT advocacy organization, sent out an e-mail with a link to an editorial from the Florida Today newspaper in Daytona Beach. Titled "Our View: Say No to Bigotry" voiced the paper's opposition to the proposed Florida state constitutional amendment that would add a ban of same-sex marriage.

When misguided religious and political groups attempt to deny gays legal rights under the guise of protecting marriage, you better watch out for your own rights.

It would write discrimination into the Florida Constitution, stripping gays of protections solely because of whom they choose to love or live with.

That's wrong, and makes it unconscionable that U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Indialantic, and state Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, have endorsed the amendment, according to the Web site of Orlando-based which is pushing the issue.

The amendment is also supported by Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Republican Party, Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Catholic Conference and fundamentalist Christian groups.

The amendment further jeopardizes basic legal protections like inheritance rights, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights for anyone outside its narrow limits.

It is, in short, a vengeful, bigoted proposal flown under the false banner of a religious cause.

Vengeful and bigoted are two descriptions I would not want attached with my religion, yet they are sadly very appropriate here.

September 23, 2007

Seven Straight Nights For Equality Update

I'm very happy to see that things have really taken off with the Seven Straight Nights For Equality event. As of 9/22, 26 cities were listed that are having vigils.

Amy Buttery is leading the event in Lansing Michigan.

As GLBT allies, my husband and I hope to model for our boys the values of tolerance, of equality and justice, and of standing up for one's beliefs. We hope and expect that someday (perhaps soon?) they will model these attitudes through their behavior among their peers, even when it might be uncomfortable to do so, and we'll inch (or sprint) forward to a more equitable society, where families are defined by the bonds of love.

We are just learning about the ways we can actively participate in this movement, by identifying other straight allies and encouraging them to take a stand, by gently but insistently bringing up the issue at church and at other public settings, and by simply asking the community how we can help.

Plymouth Congregational Church is hosting a showing of the film "For The Bible Tells Me So," which reconciles homosexuality and scripture, and a candlelight vigil will follow outside the church.

Jack McKinney, the pastor or Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, is leading a vigil at the North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh.

His co-pastor, Nancy, and her partner Vickie have an adopted daughter. Only one of them is considered the legal parent of the child; the other partner is not allowed to adopt her. So if something tragic happens and the "legal" mother dies, there is no law protecting her wishes that her partner raise their daughter. Why? Because they have been in a committed relationship for 10 years? Because one is a minister and the other a teacher? No! Because they happen to love someone who is of the same gender.

Where is the fairness in this? Even at a young age our children expressed their disgust at this injustice. So what do we do? Tell our children, "Life is not fair?" No! We make choices to support our friends. We take a job in a church which supports LGBT people. We march and demonstrate for equal rights. We hold vigil. Come and join us as we not only tell our children "Life is not fair" but demonstrate how to be the change we want to see.

Kari Danskin will lead a vigil at Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, California.

I don't see the justification in making LGBT rights a "straight issue," or just a "gay issue" for that matter; it's an issue of fairness and equality. Our constitution guarantees every individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage, respect and justice are all a part of that guarantee, regardless of color, sex, religious status or sexual orientation. How straight people can believe that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, adopt children or make medical decisions for their partners would affect their own marriages is beyond my comprehension.

I am too young to have been a part of the civil rights movement of the sixties, or the women's movement that followed. This is my chance to stand up for what is right. Today, only five states are without a statute or constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage. It is imperative that the straight community stand up and be heard for their support of equal rights for all Americans.

I encourage you to visit the Seven Straight Nights home page to learn more about the leaders of this event and to see if there is one close enough for you to participate in.

UK Schools Receive Official Guidance in Dealing With Bullying

Instead of acting like the problem doesn't exist or that it is the victims' fault, as so often happens in the United States, schools in the United Kingdom received some official guidance in how to prevent GLBT kids from getting bullied and how to react when it does happen.

From PinkNews:

The Department for Children, Families and Schools has issued guidance to schools in England and Wales on how to tackle homophobic bullying.

The new guidance from the government gives teachers, head teachers, school governors and support staff practical advice on how to recognise, prevent and respond to homophobic language and physical abuse.

It follows on from Stonewall's wide-ranging study into homophobic bullying published in June this year, entitled The School Report.

Nearly two thirds of LGB students reported instances of homopbobic harassment.

That figure jumps to 75% of young gay people attending faith schools.

The survey of more than 1,100 young people found that only 23% of all UK schools explicitly condemn homophobic bullying.

92% of gay, lesbian and bisexual pupils have experienced verbal abuse, 41% physical bullying and 17% have been subject to death threats.

30% of pupils reported that adults have been responsible for incidents of homophobic bullying in their schools.

That's a bad mix; 41% of GLBT kids victimized by physical bullying but only 23% of UK schools condemning it. It is also sickening that the worst percentage is in "faith schools." Not surprising, but still very disturbing. Just how does faith tie in with bullying a gay kid? I don't quite get the connection.

Kudos to the British government for stepping up and taking steps to get this situation under control.

Anybody in Washington paying attention?