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Catholic Church Fires Gay Music Director Suffering From Parkinson’s

26 Feb

As gay people, we are certainly no strangers to criticism, hatred and discrimination coming from the Catholic Church. And those who stand against equality are very fast to make claims that if marriage equality is passed, they will most certainly be sued until gays can marry in their churches. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they continue to make these bogus statements.

Of course, we see the utter hypocrisy coming from a place that has been no stranger to sexual scandals for generation upon generation, but what about the gays and lesbians who are still practicing Catholics? Specifically, what about the gay employees who continue to work for an employer which promotes intolerance against them?

Steav Bates-Congdon (R) and his husband Bill

One such former employee, Steav Bates-Congdon, worked as music director for St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC. Steav had worked for the congregation since 2004, and parishioners claim he’d been very open about his sexuality and his relationship of 23 years since his first job interviews. So imagine his surprise when he returned from his honeymoon after getting hitched in New York, to find his job was no more.

After a visit to the church following an emergency hospital stay for a burst appendix, he was handed a note by Rev. Frank O’Rourke which stated: “Employees of St. Gabriel … are expected to live within the moral tradition of the Church. … Your civil marriage stands in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church, therefore ending your employment with us.”

In June of 2011, Steav told Rev. O’Rourke of his intended nuptials and O’Rourke responded with a “Congratulations, I’m happy for you,” and followed with “but I can’t give you my blessing.” Steav replied “I wouldn’t ask you to.” More than six months later, he was out of a job. Had O’Rourke raised any concerns at the time, Steav said they would have postponed the wedding until they didn’t have to depend so much on his income.

To add insult to injury, Steav suffers from young-onset Parkinson’s disease and participates in Michael J. Fox Foundation clinical research in the hopes of finding a cure. We hope that he is able to find another job that will pay his health insurance as the compassion of the Catholic church that once employed him has seemingly gone out the window.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision, the church, along with 29 states can legally fire anyone they want for being gay or lesbian.

NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Proud to be from MA: Gov. Patrick Signs Transgender Protective Order

17 Feb

As a Massachusetts native, I’ve often been proud of my home state for the way it has led the country when it comes to equality for all its citizens. It was the place the pilgrims landed when they were trying to escape religious persecution. It was the place where patriots dropped case upon case of tea into Boston Harbor when we were being treated like second-class citizens by the British Crown (The only shame there is that the name “Tea Party” has been co-opted to mean something entirely different). And then in 2004, it became the first US State to officially recognize equality in marriage.

And since then, Massachusetts has not fallen off into the ocean and what’s more – much to the chagrin of the anti-gay, and quite contrary to their arguments that marriage equality will somehow negatively affect opposite-sex marriages, Massachusetts’ divorce rate is now at similar levels to what it was pre-World War II. Depending on the survey, it is 49th or 50th in the country when it comes to divorce.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

And today, according to the Boston Herald, Governor Deval Patrick signed an Executive Order banning discrimination within state agencies from making decisions based on gender identity.

The executive order revises an existing order, adding the words “gender identity or expression” to the state’s non-discrimination statutes, which also includes: race, color, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, creed, ancestry, national origin, disability, veteran’s status (including Vietnam-era veterans), or background.

Once again, I’m proud to tell people I’m from Massachusetts.

Helping Our Brothers And Sisters

9 Feb

Dr. Frank Kameny is one of the most significant figures in the American equality movement.

Dr. Kameny is a World War II veteren who, after being dismissed in 1957 from the Army Map Service, fought his unfair treatment all the way to the Supreme Court in 1961. Though he lost, Frank made history for filing the first civil rights case based on Sexual Orientation.

This marked the beginning of a decades-long career fighting for LGBT equality. Frank Kameny went from fighting Nazis to fighting the U.S. and DC government. He is widely credited as a pioneer of a new and aggressive movement for equal treatment of gay and lesbians, paving the way for the eventual explosion of post-stonewall activism. As a founding member of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, Frank helped organize the first ever White House protest and together with the Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Billitis expanded the picket line into what would later became the Annual Reminder.

Over his nearly four decades of fighting the establishment on our behalf, he succeeded in repealing DC anti-sodomy laws, continuously pushed for federal workplace protections, and was instrumental in removing homophobia and junk-science from the American Psychiatric Association and sexual orientation from its manual of mental disorders.

And now Frank needs OUR help. After all he has done for us we have a unique opportunity to show our love, support, and appreciation for this true American hero.

Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS)  is an all-volunteer micro-charity that helps marginalized GLBT individuals in the Washington D.C. area meet short-term needs. HOBS‘ focus is on those who do not fit the criteria for help from other organizations or agencies.

For the past year HOBS has been helping Frank meet his basic needs. Like so many who have lost their jobs because of workplace discrimination his needs aren’t being met with his slim pension.

For the price of a nice cocktail you can make a small donation to HOBS and toast a truly remarkable man.

We named a street after him. Now we have a chance to truly honor this great man and show him how much we appreciate his life and work:

Buy Frank A Drink

BREAKING: US District Judge Opens Door for DOMA Challenge

19 Jan

More and more challenges to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) have been hitting the courts and getting shafted by Federal Judges.

Today, we have a new ruling out of California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, US District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland ruled that state employees can sue the federal government over their same-sex partners’ exclusion from long-term health care benefits. The judge denied a request from Obama’s Department of Justice to dismiss the case, opening the floodgates for lawsuits from gay federal employees around the country.

Currently, federal employees can enroll in federally-approved long-term health care plans. Employees of the state can buy coverage at below-market rates, use untaxed income to pay premiums and deduct future benefits from their taxes. The California agency has refused to sign up same-sex spouses because the Defense of Marriage Act denies federal tax benefits to any state that covers them.

Judge Wilken claimed that DOMA is “robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law” and made it clear she would be challenging parts of the law.

While this story doesn’t specifically address our personal stories, we thought it important to share the fact that a major decision was made today, that is in line with the decision of Judge Vaughn Walker’s which overturned California’s Proposition 8. With more and more judicial challenges to the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, it’s only a matter of time before we see it overturned in US Courts.

Straight to the Gay Bar: Friendfactor Makes a Splash

2 Dec

Most out LGBT people I know, can recall coming out to their best straight friend or their straight brother or sister or even their parents. When we recall that moment, it’s hard not to also remember the awkward questions that followed…

“So…have you ALWAYS been this way?”

“Do you like musicals now?”

and the ever-famous…

“So…how do you…do…it?”

What many of us don’t really notice is just how easy it becomes to communicate with our straight friends and family once the big questions have already been asked. Of course this isn’t ALWAYS the case and some of us are dismissed and disowned outright, and sometimes the conversation never moves past the awkward. But for those relationships that are lucky enough to move beyond that, Brian Elliot and his pals at Friendfactor want you to take the next step.

Having started a Facebook group called “Give Brian Equality,” Brian succeeded in getting 600 of his friends to join – to learn about the inequalities he faces. Brian was shocked to see that in just four weeks, the group had grown to 19,000 people. So he started Friendfactor, a new online platform designed to assist LGBT people in communicating with their straight friends about equality. We announced the launch of the app and website just a few weeks ago.

It’s time to move past “Does this belt go with this dress?” and on to “Did you know I can be fired for being gay in 29+ states?”

Tonight, Friendfactor had it’s first Friendraiser, encouraging LGBT people to attend and bring along a straight friend or two. The event, titled “Straight to a gay bar” was a huge success with over 200 attendees and a little education mixed with a few drinks. The approach was subtle and even featured a gameshow where the straight friend had to guess if the title read by the host was the name of a gay bar or a steakhouse, and the gay friend had to guess between straight bars and day spas. Needless to say, “Mantini” and “Touch” were among the stumpers. Visit www.Friendfactor.org to find out more information. Here’s a few photos from tonight’s event:

Patty Buckley, COO and Brian Elliot, Founder of Friendfactor

 

All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal; EqualityPhotography.com

UPDATED: GA Teacher FIRED Over Gay Film

20 Oct

Dave Dixon in Rehearsal (Haralson County High School Website)

Dave Dixon is the Drama teacher at Haralson County High School in     Tallapoosa, GA. and has been for four years. In those four years, Mr. Dixon knows that he’s personally responsible for stopping at least three kids from taking their own lives and at least a dozen more who’ve stayed in school because of him. On top of that, he has led the school to many victories in theatre competition (Think Sue Sylvester for the Drama Club set).

Teaching tolerance to his students has always been a high priority for Dixon, having grown up in theatre and having lost several friends to AIDS in the 80s and 90s – and with the current state of things he has tried to step-up the anti-bullying education in his own High School.

Last week, Dixon showed a clip from an award-winning film featuring his friend, openly-gay actor Bruce Hart. The film -“The Reckoning” is about a gay man kidnapped and tortured into revealing information about the gay community. Admittedly, some of the dialogue in the short clip on Hart’s demo reel might be a bit shocking, but according to Dixon “it’s nothing these kids don’t hear or say everyday.” Dixon believes if the film was about heterosexuals using similar language, he would not be attending a hearing this week over his termination.

Dixon told Talk About Equality:

“During this time of so many kids hurting themselves over bullying, I thought it would be a good subject.  I was wrong.  I teach my students about the human condition in my theater classes, and to play a part means to understand the character.  Through that understanding, I hope my students will become more tolerant of all types of people, regardless of background, race, orientation or behavior.”

Charles Needham, the principal of the High School said that his school has “no

Principal Charles Needham (Haralson County High School website)

more incidents of bullying than any other high school” and doesn’t personally know of any students in his school that are gay. When asked if there was any club or alliance in place for LGBT students, Mr. Needham referred to the “Partners Club,” which from a quick hearing of the club description, appeared to be focused primarily on students with disabilities and/or different “social choices.” Nothing in the club’s description mentioned LGBT students in particular. He refused to comment on Mr. Dixon’s pending termination hearing.

No matter what the outcome of Mr. Dixon’s case, it seems Haralson County High School has some work to do when it comes to being a comfortable place for LGBT students.

****************************

UPDATE: We understand that Mr. Dixon was terminated last night. Tonight, Dixon spoke to Talk About Equality:

“I was fired for what they called an ongoing problem of insubordination. They claimed I didn’t follow the rules. Although I can’t remember a specific rule they told me I didn’t follow. Now they state that no teacher can show any film, or film clip, until it has been approved by a supervisor. That means if I teacher finds a teachable moment, a chance to make a difference, but it is not in the lesson plan, then they cannot do it. We are appealing. A lot of the case was about the article in Teaching Tolerance. They claim I have no right to speak my opinion about the school or the system.”

We wish Mr. Dixon luck in his appeal. Any teacher interested in educating about diversity in a community that so desperately needs it, deserves our support.

Harassed and Fired for Being Gay

28 Sep

It’s legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian in 29 states. It’s legal to fire someone based on gender identity in 38 states. Thankfully, Fernando Sampaio is protected by both.

After requesting health coverage for his partner once he became eligible for employee benefits at his place of employment, Seaside Refrigerated Transport, Inc., Fernando Sampaio went through horrific harassment from his coworkers and supervisors alike. Shortly after making his request, he was asked not to use the work restroom because he might “contaminate it.” When Mr. Sampaio did use the bathroom, coworkers would frequently and repeatedly pound on the bathroom door.

He put up with comments such as the usual “God Hates Fags” and his status as a black gay immigrant was threatened with “the definition of nobody is being FNF (fag, nigger, and foreigner).” After putting a “No on 8″ sign in response to the “Yes on 8″ signs all over the cars in the work parking lot, the company President said (in Sampaio’s presence) “I will not permit gays to work here because they contaminate us with their lifestyle” and warned that “I have a way of getting that out of my parking lot.” Mr. Sampaio returned to his truck the next day to find that it had been scratched with a key.

We need to pass the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW! but until we do, it’s good to have brave men and women standing up to tell their stories. We look forward to the results of this lawsuit.

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