Archive | May, 2011

Openly Gay Maine Couple Crowned Prom King & Queen

30 May

A beautiful story out of southern Maine (one of only two New England States not recognizing marriage equality). 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was just crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen.

Christian and his boyfriend, Caleb Jett decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state. With the help of his friends, Christian got enough votes to win Prom Queen. Happily, his boyfriend Caleb won King. The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance.

Here’s an interesting point. This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Many Congrats to Christian and Caleb and many thanks to them and their friends for doing something so courageous. Please know that your work now will make all the difference in the world to LGBT kids for generations to come.

Texas Judge to Void Marriage of Deceased Firefighter and Transgender Woman

26 May

Thomas & Nikki Araguz

This is one of those stories that not only explains precisely why we need equal protections on the Federal level, but it is also one of those stories that many of our friends, relatives and co-workers wouldn’t believe if they heard it.

Texas firefighter Thomas Araguz died on July 3rd, 2010 while fighting a fire on an egg farm in Boling, Texas. His wife, a transgender woman named Nikki Araguz – who changed her name legally in 1996, was devastated. Nikki was out of town when it happened and sadly, not one person in her husband’s family called Nikki to tell her of the tragedy. She learned about her own husband’s death from a posting on a social networking site. When she arrived home, she was treated like a stranger by her husband’s family, blocked from seeing her stepchildren and outcast from what she thought was a loving relationship with her husband’s family.

The day after her husband’s funeral, Nikki learned that there were two separate lawsuits filed against her in attempts to stop her from receiving the benefits a firefighter’s spouse usually receives. Her husband mentioned her in one instance, by name as the beneficiary should anything happen to him. This ensured that she and his two children would be taken care of. Still, Thomas’ mother and ex-wife filed these suits to grab at the money due to Nikki.

The most disgusting part of this whole situation is that the primary argument being used against Nikki is that her marriage should be voided because she was born a man. And a Houston judge is about to do just that. So on top of all the other challenges a transgender woman faces each day in a place like Texas, on top of losing her husband and a family with whom she thought she had a loving and supportive relationship, on top of losing funds which are rightfully due to her following her husband’s death, these shameful bigots are now going to void the marriage she had with Thomas.

Thomas’ ex-wife, Heather Delgado, his mother and the judges who are allowing this horrendous miscarriage of justice – District Judge Randy Clapp and Delgado’s lawyer, Edward Burwell should ALL be ashamed of themselves. This kind of hateful odious treatment of another human being should be reviled. Our thoughts are with Nikki at this tremendously difficult time.

Moses Mworenko, Ugandan Immigrant Wins US Asylum

18 May

Kushaba Moses Mworenko (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

We are thrilled to report that our friend, Kushaba Moses Mworenko – a gay Ugandan immigrant, has won his asylum to the United States.

We met Moses last summer when he marched with us as part of the Take Back Pride campaign in Washington, D.C.. Moses has had many twists and turns over the past two years in trying to win his right to live in America.

From Alison Gardner at Venus Plus X:

After many twists and turns since early 2010 that included a 6-month stint in San Francisco that resulted in Homeland Security terminating the case and forcing the Arlington, VA, asylum office to reverse its decision in favor of Moses. This was to take only 3 weeks from the judge’s order on January 1, 2011, and took nearly 5 months, but the day finally arrived this week. Moses thanks all of you for your support over the last 18 months that helped make this all possible.

Moses continues to work valiantly on behalf of the LGBT and HIV+ community in Uganda, and surely will be able to accomplish more now that his case has been settled. Moses’ continually updated Global Sexual Freedom Annotated Bibliography remains available to anyone who needs a quick education on the challenges we face to bring about equal rights for all sexual minorities, here and abroad. Moses is also helping Get EqualVenusPlusX, and other organizations to expose members of congress aligned with groups such as “The Family” (active in 192 countries) who are fomenting hatred and erasure of LGBT and HIV+ plus people everywhere, at American taxpayers expense.

Many thanks to all those who helped expedite Moses’ case. We are very lucky to have someone like him fighting on our behalf – here and in Uganda.

Dan Massey & Allison Gardner are seeking donations of any size for Moses’ certification as a home health aid, something he can start right away so he can work while he seeks employment more appropriate to his education and experience. Please send your contribution, if you can, to Moses c/o Massey and Gardner, 1700 Kalorama Road NW #502, Washington, DC, 20009.

Congrats Moses!

NOM’s Anti-Gay Rally Speaker Screams Gays are “Worthy to Death”

15 May

Rev. Sen. Ruben Diaz and NOM President Brian Brown (photo: Jeremy Hooper, GoodAsYou.org)

Due to inclement weather and a knee injury, I was unfortunately unable to attend today’s “Rally to Defend Marriage” in the Bronx, but thanks to the unending work of blogger and activist, Jeremy Hooper at GoodAsYou, we’re learning a lot about the event.

The rally, first proposed and planned by Reverend Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. of New York, was supposed to bring more than 20,000 people to the Bronx to fight against marriage equality. Diaz is the most fiercely anti-gay politician in New York, despite having two gay brothers. This rally was planned after New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell introduced legislation (again) to bring marriage equality to New York State.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) jumped on board to sponsor the march and pay for commercials and other event costs, thus endorsing the things being said in the rally by their guests. In the past, NOM has been very careful about speaking against the violence their rally attendees frequently endorse towards LGBT people. After Larry Adams attended a NOM rally in Indianapolis last summer carrying a sign indicating that the solution to gay marriage is to murder gay people, NOM tried to distance themselves from the message.

This time, it may not be so easy for NOM to distance itself from the message. Whereas previously the violent message was coming from rally attendees, at today’s rally in the Bronx, the quote from one of the rally’s speakers referred to gays and lesbians as “worthy to death.” Perhaps there was something lost in the Spanish to English translation, but it seems clear from the speakers as well as the crowd’s response that an endorsement of murder is the message being presented. Many thanks to Jeremy Hooper for this video. Please visit this link at GoodAsYou.org for the full disturbing video.

Christian Group Member Throws Girl From Wheelchair at Hateful Counter-Protest

14 May

We believe that a good counter-protest is what free speech is all about. That is why Talk About Equality was one of the sponsors of last summer’s “The Big Commit” in Washington DC – a response to the National Organization for Marriage’s hateful anti-gay bus tour. The event was peaceful and featured several positive speakers from a wide variety of social and religious backgrounds. We were proud to take part.

Unfortunately, the hate that drives so many individuals to fight against gays and lesbians around the world, also fuels violence. In Adelaide, Australia today, 150 members of the LGBT community gathered to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. During the rally which featured mock weddings and calls for equality, a Christian group decided that the peaceful protest needed to be broken-up.

The group screamed and chanted over the rally and then marched alongside the gay and lesbian group as they walked for equal rights. A young lesbian was pulled from her wheelchair and thrown to the ground during the march.

The hatred that we so frequently see in dark alleys or outside gay bars late at night as gay men and lesbians are beaten and killed, was in full view today in Australia. When the only way you can get your point across is by physically assaulting another human being, you clearly don’t have much of an argument. It’s sad when a rally to end homophobia only ends up proving just how needed a day like this is.

School Principal Bans “Bohemian Rhapsody” Because a Gay Man Wrote It

13 May

My senior year at Marshfield High School was getting rolling and auditions for our drama club’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” were scheduled for the afternoon. We’d had a reading of the script and everyone was excited about it. It was about a private girls’ school where this nasty little girl decides to spread a rumor that two of her teachers are lesbians. Turns out one is and is actually in love with the one that isn’t. *Spoiler Alert* Drama ensues, lesbian teacher kills herself over the rumors and unrequited love in the end. That morning, the principal got on the loudspeaker and announced that the auditions were cancelled and that the drama club would be selecting a new play. We were all confused and some of us marched down to the his office to find out what was up.

It seems the principal had heard from a few freshman parents that the play was all about lesbians and he decided it wasn’t appropriate. We hemmed and hawed and the principal told us his decision was “final.” So I marched over to the library (the librarian loved me and let me hang out in her office and use the phone if I wanted), and I called the ACLU. The next morning, the officers of the drama club were called down to his office – “I rented the movie last night and my real problem is that there’s a suicide, so just make sure that happens offstage and you can do the play.” Cuz ya know, we were thinking it might be fun to have someone shoot themselves center stage. Anyway…I was reminded of this story when I read this little morsel of bigotry straight out of Sarah Palin’s hometown.

Wasilla High School’s Symphonic Jazz Choir had been working on Freddie Mercury’s hit anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” all year in preparation for a performance at the school’s graduation next month. The song had been played at several school events including the prom and (as is the case for several decades now), no one seemed to have a problem with it. Until now.

Wasilla High School Principal Dwight Probasco

It seems Principal Dwight Probasco received some phone calls from some angry parents who deemed the song “inappropriate” because it was written by a gay man. So, instead of realizing he was the principal of a high school which more than likely taught about Michelangelo, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Stein, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Melville, Tchaikovsky, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Hans Christian Anderson, Aristotle, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, he decided to ban the song.

The students were naturally up in arms about this, having been practicing for some time. Choir member Casey Hight went so far as to contact a gay and lesbian organization in Anchorage for some help. Monday, reportedly due to fear of the ACLU, Probasco lifted the ban and is allowing an edited version of the song to be performed (to leave out the parts about killing). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

NY Dem Senator Diaz Ignores AIDS, Leads Anti-Gay Rally

13 May

As many of you know, there is a vote that is close to happening in New York for marriage equality. It happened in 2009 and failed after many Democrats bailed on promises and betrayed their progressive values because of pressure from influential money groups. One of those Democrats that voted against it, was only trying to hide his closeted behavior and his corrupt political behavior.

The NY Assembly (which has now voted and passed a marriage equality bill three times previously) is ready to vote again on the bill presented by openly-gay Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell. But as we can see, the Assembly is not the problem. The problem is the NY Senate, which clearly has issues of it’s own when it comes to a bill which a majority of New Yorker’s now support.

The primary opponent of marriage equality in the New York Senate is Democrat Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Pentecostal minister from the Bronx. This Sunday, instead of supporting the AIDS Walk, Diaz is holding an anti-gay rally in the Bronx.

According to studies, Sen. Diaz’ Borough leads the state in new HIV/AIDS cases amongst Latino men, yet clearly the Reverend feels it is more important to rally against gays and lesbians than to work to change these horrifying statistics. Diaz has gone so far as to ask Christians to not attend church on Sunday May 15th and instead attend his anti-gay rally.

Diaz has claimed that there will be more than 20,000 bigots at his rally. And this time, he has the support of the National Organization for Marriage – one of the country’s foremost hate groups – who has been sending out mailings and buying up millions of dollars worth of anti-gay television advertisements in NY these past few weeks.

We will be attending the anti-gay event to take photos and will be reporting back on Sunday evening with some coverage of the hateful event.

The First Openly-Gay Congressman

9 May

This Thursday would have been the 74th birthday of the first openly-gay federal politician. Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was my Congressman growing up and I can proudly say that both my mother and my aunt took a major part in getting Gerry elected.

When he was first elected in 1972, he was not out of the closet. It wasn’t until a scandal outed Gerry, that he admitted publicly to being gay. Gerry was censured by Congress for having a sexual relationship with 17 year-old page Dean Hara. He fought to avoid a hearing so as to avoid outing young Hara. But instead of abandoning his post, like many outed politicians do, Gerry was re-elected six more times, until he retired in 1997 after serving the country for 25 years. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gays and lesbians.

Following his retirement, Gerry continued to lobby for the fishing industry – one of the primary industries of his constituents in Massachusetts.

Gerry Studds and his husband Dean Hara

Gerry defended himself regarding the scandal by saying that he was in a consensual relationship with the the young man. In 2004, one week after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my aunt got a call from Gerry inviting her to his wedding. Gerry was marrying his partner of 25+ years, Dean Hara. Two years later, Gerry passed away following a pulmonary embolism. Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, Dean was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

Christian College Freshman Harassed By Students and Professors

9 May

Isaia Thomas (photo by John C. Whitehead for The Patriot News)

Openly gay freshman Isaiah Thomas has discovered Messiah College in Grantham, PA is not quite a good fit. According to PennLive, The student has been through hell at the Christian College – from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class to receiving a death threat on his facebook page. Isaiah has decided to transfer at the end of the semester.

The Christian College requires all students to sign a “Community Covenant” which forbids homosexual behavior, according to school provost Randy Bassinger. he also claimed the school had a very strict harassment policy and has investigated the claims from Isaiah, but they refuse to release the results of any of those findings.

What we find most interesting about Isaiah though is not that he was harassed and is leaving, but he actively worked to change the school’s policies. He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. And when Isaiah learned about the Covenant, he actively worked for more inclusion, but each teacher he spoke to defended the covenant.

Back in March, we reported that another Christian school, Harding University was under fire from LGBT bloggers and press after they blocked an HU gay student website from being accessed from on-campus. The University defended it’s bigotry and it’s censorship of several students continues.

UPDATE: Is DOMA Sinking? AG Holder Vacates Gay Deportation Case

5 May

While Organizations like ALL OUT and GetEQUAL are pushing to stop tomorrow’s deportation of Henry Valendia, thus tearing him away from his legal marriage with Joshua Vandiver, it seems Attorney General Eric Holder is taking further steps to discredit the ant-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

According to Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, AG Holder has vacated a decision made by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision.

Holder writes:

“Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.”

Geidner continues:

Saying the attorney general “has taken [an] extraordinary step” with the decision, attorney Eric Berndt — the supervising attorney for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities at the National Immigrant Justice Center — told Metro Weekly, “It adds some heft to our requests for prosecutorial discretion in individual cases in which the foreign partner” of a same-sex bi-national couple is seeking a green card because of his or her citizen same-sex partner.

Holder goes on to state four questions that he directs the BIA to consider:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

This could be extraordinary news, considering Holder’s specific questions. It’s apparent from his requests to the BIA that state’s rights may be violated by DOMA, considering his mention of “New Jersey law.” Let us hope this is good news for Joshua and Henry (who is set for deportation tomorrow).

There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow in Newark from 11-12am – Department of Homeland Security/Newark Immigration Court – Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ. Please attend if you can and also please visit ALL OUT’s Petition to help stop this cruel punishment for a couple whose only crime was getting married.

***************UPDATE********************

According to Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner:

Attorney Lavi Soloway tells Metro Weekly that Henry Velandia’s deportation proceedings have been adjourned, in part, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in another case involving a same-sex couple on Thursday. Moreover, Soloway says, “The government attorney agreed to adjourn the case.”

This is excellent news and proves that when we rally and get people to join together around something, we can win. Please keep this in mind and kep working hard when we ware called to action. We CAN make a difference!

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