November 10, 2007

Gay Jamaican Man Granted Asylum in the U. S.

It's good to see that the federal government has not totally given up on the idea of protecting human rights. From PinkNews.

A gay man who feared persecution because of his sexual orientation if forced to return to Jamaica has been given asylum in the United States.

The grant of asylum to Ven Messam was issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and comes at a time when conditions for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Jamaica are getting more dangerous by the day.

International human rights organisations have described Jamaica as one of the most homophobic places in the world.

Gay and lesbian relationships are largely conducted in secret.

"I am grateful to the United States government for saving my life," said Mr. Messam.

"My life in Jamaica was constantly in danger, with angry mobs carrying machetes, stones, knives, and guns, threatening to kill me because I am gay.

"When I tried to contact the police for help, the police instead threatened to arrest me and told me to leave the country if I wanted to stay safe."

Sex between men in Jamaica is illegal, and punishable with up to ten years in jail, usually with hard labour.

November 08, 2007

ENDA Passes House, Still Nowhere Near Becoming a Law

As the New York times reports, the House of Representatives passed ENDA (the Employment Nondiscrimination Act), the version that did NOT include a gender identity provision (covering transgender people) by a 235-184 vote, well short of the 260 needed to override the threatened veto by President Bush. Senator Kennedy plans on introducing it in the Senate, but with the current session about to adjourn, there likely won't by any action until 2008, if then. Here are some excerpts from the Times' story:
The House on Wednesday approved a bill granting broad protections against discrimination in the workplace for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, a measure that supporters praised as the most important civil rights legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 but that opponents said would result in unnecessary lawsuits.

The bill, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, is the latest version of legislation that Democrats have pursued since 1974. Representatives Edward I. Koch and Bella Abzug of New York then sought to protect gay men and lesbians with a measure they introduced on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the brawl between gay men and police officers at a bar in Greenwich Village that is widely viewed as the start of the American gay rights movement.

“On this proud day of the 110th Congress, we will chart a new direction for civil rights,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and a gay rights advocate, in a speech before the vote. “On this proud day, the Congress will act to ensure that all Americans are granted equal rights in the work place.”

The House bill would make it illegal for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

“What should have been one of the most triumphant days in our movement’s history is not,” said Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It’s one of very mixed reactions.”

Foreman's quote came right after one from HRC president Joe Solmonese's statement that the passage of ENDA was "a significant step forward for our community."

I believe there is some truth to that, but the bigger question is how big a step back has the conflict over the exclusion of transgender protection been to the unity of GLBT activist groups.

A giant sized one, I'm afraid, but only time will tell how much damage has been done.

Taking the HRC to Task on ENDA Flip-Flop

In his most recent column, activist and writer Wayne Besen both defends the Human Rights Campaign's position in the GLBT community and slams their changing position on the inclusion of gender identity as a protect group in ENDA.

Whether you like it or not, HRC has built the best - or at least most financially viable - mousetrap. America is a free country, and if HRC detractors think they can do better - there is nothing stopping them from marching up to Capitol Hill and making it happen.

Now that I have taken a swipe at the irrational HRC haters, the organization has earned some legitimate criticism on their handling of the ENDA debate. They have made an absolute mess of the situation and damaged their reputation and credibility as an honest powerbroker.

For starters, Executive Director Joe Solmonese told a packed room of transgender people at the Southern Comfort Conference in September that HRC would oppose any version of ENDA that doesn't include protection for transgender people.

What is unacceptable, is for HRC to tell a packed house of transgender people that they will stand up for them - and then pull the rug out when the going gets tough. The promise of inclusion should never have been made unless HRC intended to keep its word.In full spin mode, HRC is claiming that they are simply adjusting their position to new facts on the ground - meaning they polled Congress and they won't pass a trans-inclusive bill.

HRC needs to learn to take a position and stick to it - or they can expect chronic detractors to stick it to HRC. A little honesty will go a long way in defusing battles that damage the entire community and divide our collective energies. There are those - like myself - who appreciate HRC as our voice in Washington. However, the organization is at its best when this voice is not coming from both sides of its mouth.

I have a face too...Imagine that!

Taking a lead from my dear friend, Jim, I am uploading a picture of myself and my lovely partner, Erica.

This was taken last weekend when we were visiting friends. I'm the one in shorts and sandals. We're in SE Texas and it's 60 degrees or warmer these days!

Erica is quick to point out that she doesn't agree with everything I believe, especially about abortion, so just know that going into it. Smile.

So, enjoy the pic. Have a great day and I'll write soon.


November 07, 2007

Campaign Battles Transgender Youth Suicide

From TransYouth Family Advocates:

Today, TransYouth Family Advocates (TYFA) launches the Amethyst Ribbon Campaign, an awareness project to battle suicide among transgender youth.

The Amethyst Ribbon Campaign was established as part of the Ian Benson Project. Ian was a 16-year old affirmed male who took his own life in October 2007. Ian’s mother, TYFA’s secretary/treasurer, hopes to help other children and families avoid the pain and struggles that can lead to suicide among trans youth.

“Transgender” (or the abbreviation “trans”) describes people whose gender identity or expression differs from expectations for their physical sex characteristics or sex assigned at birth. Recent estimates conclude approximately 1 in 500 people seek surgical reassignment during their lives, with many more expressing their gender in other ways. Studies suggest that among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans youth, 50% end up ideating or attempting suicide before adulthood.

TYFA President Shannon Garcia described the symbolism of the Amethyst Ribbon Campaign. “The brilliant violet color of amethyst is also a blend of the pink and blue traditionally used to designate the male/female binary. Amethyst is a precious gem, chosen to represent how precious trans children are to their families and friends.”

TYFA Executive Director Kim Pearson said, “Ian was our friend, he was the friend of our children, he was part of our hearts and the hearts of his family. To keep Ian’s memory alive, we will help other families and children by telling the stories of our children and families, to reach out to the other Ian’s of the world. We can help them and their families find the answers. In honor of Ian and all transgender people, we ask that you share this message and vision.”

TransYouth Family Advocates is a coalition of parents, friends and caring adults dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the medical and cultural challenges faced by children with gender variant and gender questioning identities and the families who love them.

To learn more about the Amethyst Ribbon Campaign, please visit the TYFA website at or call 1-888-IMA-TYFA. The site includes information and resources for trans youth and their families.

Gay Population Exploding in Red States

From PinkNews

An American sexual orientation think-tank has released a report that reveals a "gay demographic explosion" in some of America's most conservative regions.

It was found that the number of same-sex couples in the United States has quadrupled since 1990, about 21 times higher than increase of the population as a whole.

The biggest growth came in regions the study termed "Southern," "Midwest" and "Mountain," including Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arizona and Utah.

The conservative regions all showed above-average growth in the numbers of same-sex couples since 1990, while the liberal regions all showed below-average growth.

Similarly, state recognition of same-sex unions was found to be inversely related to the rate of migration.

States that legislated same-sex civil unions or marriage between 2000 and 2006 showed a below-average increase (23 percent, compared to the national rate of 31 percent).

States where same-sex marriage was prohibited during those years experienced an above-average (37 per cent) increase, the states where marriage bans were enacted via voter referendum showing the highest increase of all (41 per cent).

The researchers put the increase down to greater acceptance of LGBT couples nationwide, more LGBT people choosing to couple and co-habit, and more couples moving to the suburbs, in migration patterns that differ from the nation as a whole.

This editorial from the Los Angeles Times says this is a natural result of more acceptance of gays in American society.

Gates' research on U.S. Census data drives home a point that the gay vanguard has been wrestling with for a while: The hedonistic, transgressive, radical ethos (and stereotype) that once characterized gay culture doesn't represent reality anymore. The decline of urban coastal gay communities, the increase in the gay population in the interior U.S. and the overall diversification of the gay population are facts. What's more, Gates argues, these trends are a function of the growing acceptance of homosexuality among the American public.

Acceptance? Really? Has Gates forgotten about the 45 states that have laws or constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage, or the anti-gay discrimination bill that is stalled in Congress and faces opposition from the White House?

Not at all. There is, he says, a vocal, virulent -- and sometimes violent -- anti-gay movement, but it doesn't negate decades of opinion surveys that show a marked increase in tolerance in most Americans' attitudes toward gays and lesbians. In 1998, for example, a Gallup poll found that only 33% of Americans thought that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal. By 2007, that figure had risen to 59%.

Growing acceptance of homosexuality means a decline in social stigma associated with same-sex relationships, and a consequent shift in the politics of coming out. The more people come out, the more accepting people are around them, and the more accepting the public becomes, the more people come out.

More and more people are realizing that GLBT people are just that--people. No matter how complicated homophobes try to make things, it reaslly is that simple.

November 06, 2007

LGBT Community Split on ENDA Strategy

What once appeared as if it could be a major victory for the LGBT community is instead becoming a major wedge issue. The exclusion of transgender people from the version of the bill that will likely be voted on later this week has caused LGBT activist groups to chose sides and perhaps burn some bridges. From

The move to remove gender identity from the bill infuriated a large number of rights groups and several committee Democrats, including presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich refused to support the measure without the inclusion of protections for trans people.

Following the vote Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) proposed an amendment that would reinstate gender identity and secured the support of House leadership to introduce it when ENDA reaches the floor. (story)

Tuesday, however, it appeared there are not the votes to pass an all inclusive version of ENDA and in an open letter to members of Congress, HRC, the NAACP, the National Education Association, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees and a number of other groups said they would support ENDA without gender identity.

The letter says that it is "beyond dispute that transgender employees are particularly in need of those protections. They face far more pervasive and severe bias in the workplace and society as a whole."

But it goes on to say: "As civil rights organizations, however, we are no strangers to painful compromise in the quest for equal protection of the law for all Americans. From the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the almost-passed District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, legislative progress in the area of civil and human rights has almost always been incremental in nature. With each significant step toward progress, the civil rights community has also faced difficult and sometimes even agonizing tradeoffs. We have always recognized, however, that each legislative breakthrough has paved the way for additional progress in the future.

"With respect to ENDA, we take the same view.

I am on record here as agreeing with the above position, a belief I have not changed.

I have seen the opinion offered that, since there appears to be no chance that President Bush would sign this bill with or without the transgender provision, they might as well include it to make a statment of solidarity.

While I understand that logic, I have a hard time accepting what to me would be an exercise if futility. If there is a chance of getting something passed, do it. If not, work harder and lobby longer until there is enough support to pass it.

That's what I've heard as the reasoning for withdrawing the transgender provision from ENDA.

If congressional and LGBT activist leadership have done this for no legal benefit, I believe they not only won't have moved LGBT equality forward, the division caused within the community will have set it back.

November 05, 2007

I Love It When This Happens

I love it when publicly homophobic people have to deal with a gay child in their own home. That's the situation in this story from PinkNews:

The daughter of a vehemently anti-gay activist has revealed that she is a lesbian.

Claudia Contrada, whose mother Amy Contrada forms one half of the US hate group MassResistance, has stood up for young people struggling with homophobia in their homes or communities.

In 2005, Mrs Contrada attended a conference which advocated sending gay teenagers to conversion camps.

MassResistance is a homophobic organisation in Massachusetts, which has campaigned zealously against all pro-gay developments since its inception in 1995.

Describing her relationship with her mother, Claudia Contrada admits that "It's difficult."

"I am a lesbian, which my mom still does not get. She just says that I am confused.

Hopefully Mrs. Contrada loves her daughter enough to see through homophobia and learn a lesson about acceptance.

Yes, I Do Have a Face

In an effort to make this blog a bit more personal, I'm posting a couple of photos to show you what I actually look like. I haven't been hiding, I just haven't fooled with uploading any pictures until now. The one on the left is of the beautiful Pastor Brenda and myself prior to our Christmas Eve worship service last year. I'm the one with the mustache. She loves me in purple, which was a primary color at our wedding (black and purple, Baltimore Ravens colors btw).

On the right is Pastor Brenda and I at the recent PFLAG national convention. I've grown a beard since then. I was previously hesitant to do so since I knew it would come out mostly white, and as I approach my 49th birthday next month, I didn't want to make myself look any older (coloring my hair, mustache, or beard is NOT an option I would consider). During a vacation we took in August, I had reached the point where I was comfortable enough to just let it grow, and I'm actually pretty happy with it. The knuckleheads I work with (I say that with love) now call me Big Foot, I suspect since none of them know how to spell Sasquatch.

Lesbian & Gay Recruiting Guide Available in the U.K.

American television likes to copy ideas from across the pond in Great Britian, and here's another idea that's worth brining over the continent. From PinkNews

The Labour and Conservative parties are among the organisations and businesses featured in the latest Stonewall guide for gay and lesbian job seekers.

The third Starting Out guide was launched last night at the University of London Students Union (ULU).

Representatives of many of the companies listed in the guide attended, as did LGB students from across the country.

At 322 pages, this year's Starting Out is the biggest so far, and a speaker at the launch expressed the hope that in years to come it will be the size of a phone book.

Police forces, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, banks, government departments and agencies, fire and rescue services, local authorities, media companies, well-known high street retailers and third sector organisations all feature in the guide.

Ben Summerskill, speaking at last night's launch event, thanked ULU for their continued support and told the audience that in his student days meetings for gay people could not be held in students unions because it was too dangerous.

"This year's guide is remarkable," he said.

"We did a calculation yesterday that the companies and public sector organisations that feature in this year's guide between them employ more than 10% of the UK workforce.

"That means if you are young and lesbian or gay, you can have a real ambition to work for an employer who will value and nurture you in the years to come.

Valuing and nurturing gay and lesbian people is an idea that is gradually catching on.

You can view the guide here.

Stonewall's site is here.

November 04, 2007

Two Views From the Right on The Priority Given to Homophobia

Matt Barber, right-wing mouthpiece for the Concerned Women of America (I wonder why they couldn't they find a woman spokesperson, but I digress) and his somewhat more moderate brother Jared, debated the priority given to the perceived sinfulness of homosexuality. I'll post a couple of excerpts, first from Jared, then from Matt, and follow with my comments.

Jared:Christians, as a whole, focus too much on the homosexual issue alone. They attack it solely, denounce it, and live whichever way they please. Adultery, fornication, racism, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, drunkenness; all of these immoral acts take to the background in view of homosexuality, and so we as Christians are set up as anti-gay instead of anti-immorality. We need to end our own hypocrisy, all of us, I as much as any, so that we can more blamelessly broach this subject and others.

Matt: Unlike the sin of homosexuality, the other sins you cite -- the sins of adultery, fornication, racism, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition and drunkenness -- do not have the benefit of a tremendously powerful and prosperous lobby which is blindly supported by people in positions of political influence, and other leftists in media and elsewhere who have been duped by the crafty and disingenuous rhetoric of "tolerance" and "diversity."

Proponents, practitioners and enablers of homosexual sin demand that we all renounce God's express condemnation of such conduct and embrace this spiritually and physically destructive behavior as virtuous -- as a wholly equal, alternative sexual "orientation." They believe that the only thing objectively immoral is to reckon there are things objectively immoral. Yet, when others find freedom from the homosexual lifestyle -- as untold thousands have done through the loving and redemptive power of Jesus Christ -- those former homosexuals are maliciously maligned for committing a betrayal most immoral. Like that popular hotel in California, "You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave."

While of course disagreeing with the notion of homosexuality being inherently sinful, Jared offered a well balance view, calling out fundamentalists for ignoring their own sins and those of ones who believe as they do at the expense of dumping all their guilt on homosexuals.

Matt, of course, couldn't let that stand, offering the ludicrous, lame excuse of focusing on homosexuality essentially because it has a powerful political lobby. The countless thousands he refers to as finding "freedom from the homosexual lifestyle" are for the most part also nameless. Beyond the cottage industry of "ex-gays" who make a living holding seminars and being interviewed, there are few documented situations of people actually having their orientation changed. There are a larger number of celebate or delusional homosexuals who have chosen, mostly out of guilt or conviction by people like Matt Barber, to deny how God made them and live as a heterosexual.

Matt Barber's weak rationalization, assuming that's the best he could come up with, demonstrates that there is truly no good reason for the right wingers to jump all over gay issues, other than to divert attention from their own sins and shortcomings.

They may think they are coving up in their churches and right-wing organizations, but God knows who is a hypocrite and who isn't.

Black GLBT Forum in Boston Draws Mostly Whites

Boston has a reputation of being a racially divided city, but this story from Bay Windows has to be discouraging for those trying to get the African-American community more involved in GLBT equality issues.

At the start of a town hall meeting at Boston’s Club CafĂ© to discuss the relationship between the marriage movement and the black community, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson wasted no time in pointing out the elephant in the room: While the town hall meeting featured a panel of black speakers and a black moderator, the 25-person crowd in the audience was overwhelmingly white. Wilkerson said the fact that so few people of color turned out for the event shows how much work the marriage equality movement must do going forward to reach out to communities of color. She referred to remarks made earlier in the evening by MassEquality board president David Wilson, who is black, that there had long been a perception by many in the community that the marriage movement was a white movement.

"I just want you to know that I think that it is not unusual that the audience makeup is what it is precisely because of what David has said. And so no one should take this as a sign of discouragement as much as affirmation of the work that we have to do," said Wilkerson.

She added that while marriage equality is an important topic, it is not the most pressing issue facing the black community in Boston."

But I do think that there are still many people of color, particularly in the LGBT community, who are still living their life and all of the issues that we have to deal with every day, and so an invitation to talk about this may not sound like something at the top of the list. It doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It just means there are a whole lot of other things that are on that plate," said Wilkerson.

I certainly don't blame Sen. Wilkerson for trying to put a positive spin on this, but this has to be disappointing. The Senator is right, they appears to be a LOT of work ahead to get the African-American community seriously engaged in working toward LGBT equality.