Archive | August, 2011

Fox News’ Van Susteren Defends Married Binational Gay Couple

11 Aug

Bradford Wells and his husband Anthony John Makk (photo by Noah Berger, Special to the SF Chronicle)

We posted the other day about the tragic story of Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk, a binational couple being split up by our federal government. Makk, an Australian citizen has been with his American husband for 19 years. This week, the Obama administration made the decision to deport Makk who was legally married to Wells in Massachusetts in 2004.

In addition to being legally married, Makk is Wells’ primary caregiver through his AIDS treatment. Their heartbreaking story is making the rounds on the internet and was featured on CNN:

http://youtu.be/tgPV8pw05nk

And in this storytelling and sharing of the couple’s life, minds and hearts are being changed. Coming from an unlikely source, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren took to her blog defending the couple in a post titled: “THIS IS CONFUSING: PRESIDENT OBAMA SENDING MIXED SIGNALS TO GAY AMERICANS”

One other personal, not legal, observation…these two men have been together 19 years….do you have any idea how many phoney applications are made by heterosexual foreigners who come to the USA, find a spouse (sometimes money is exchanged), marrying, getting a green card and then divorcing? It is a racket. We sure don’t try and stop those fraudulent relationships/marriages with any vigor. These two men, whether you are for or against, gay marriage, have been together 19 years (and yes, paying taxes!)

Of course the blog post is just a veiled attempt to attack President Obama and vilify him to the LGBT community, but the substance of it is clearly in support of protecting our rights. Minds can change so long as we continue to talk about equality.

UPDATE: After a little research, it seems Greta is talking out both sides of her mouth (which would be an accomplishment as she usually only uses one side). Greta invited John Boehner onto her show back in March to discuss Obama’s decision to stop defending DOMA in court. In the interview, she clearly sides with Boehner and claims that Boehner (in defending DOMA) is “doing the job that the Executive branch won’t do.” So this is just another case of someone using the LGBT rights movement as a political football. Either she believes that this couple should not be separated or she believes that DOMA should be the law of the land. Talk about mixed messages…

Always on My Mind: Transphobic Tampon Ad NOT the Work of P&G

10 Aug

Procter & Gamble, which consistently earns praise with a 100 rating in the  Human Rights Campaign Equality Index, is being blamed for a trans and intersex-phobic Youtube commercial for their Always feminine pads. But according to an Always representative, P & G has nothing to do with it.

The commercial features several drag artists looking overly distraught and crying to the standard, “Cry Me a River.” The text reads:

“There are some people who’d just love to have a period. Let alone a happy one. Have a happy period. Always.”

Firstly, the “commercial” seems to have confused drag performers with Male-to-Female (MTF) transgender people. Trans women are not men in dresses.

Secondly, mocking the infertility of trans women should not be used as a marketing gimmick by one of the world’s largest corporations.

I spoke with Velvet Gogol Bennet who is the Feminine Care External Relations representative and she was quite adamant that P & G had absolutely nothing to do with this ad. She does not know where it came from, but insists that Always and Procter & Gamble were no part of it.

“This video was made without our knowledge, consent, or permission. Always is a brand that believes in and stands for women.  It is against Always’ deepest principles to denigrate anyone and we would not endorse this kind of advertising”

A More Perfect World: Celebrating Our Families in Provincetown

10 Aug

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, MA (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

I had been to Provincetown twice in my life – once as a 13-year old with a summer camp field trip and once in 2005 on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise as a correspondent for BroadwayWorld.com. It was always an exciting place to be. A weird sort of Narnia where the world was upside down, straight was gay and gay was straight. But the Provincetown I saw last week changed my life.

Family Equality Council‘s Family Week is intended to bring together LGBT families from across the country for one week of sun and fun. But that’s not all it is. Throughout the course of the week, kids are in summer camp classes learning about photography, dance, playwrighting, nature and all sorts of other summer campy-type disciplines. Parents are taking part in “Parent Cafes” learning about the state of the movement and meeting with other LGBT parents struggling with a lot of the same challenges they face. The week is filled with teen dances, movie nights, clam bakes, and whale watches. In this magnificent Utopia, kids get to be kids instead of “that boy with two moms” or “that girl with two dads.”

Brent Wright (Family Equality Council), his daughter, Olivia (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

For three years, I was the camp director at Camp TLC – a summer camp for inner-city teens living with HIV and AIDS. Not since that time did I see the difference it made in a child’s life to feel like they weren’t alone. Like at Camp TLC, these kids got to spend one week out of 52 weeks a year where they weren’t “the other.” For this week, every kid they knew was in the same boat as them and the support they felt and gave each other was palpable. I like to think they’ll be able to carry that through the other 51 weeks a year.

Family Week Parade (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

Most of the families I met last week came from parts of the country where marriage equality is not the law and where bigotry and hatred is alive and well. One young girl told us the story of her school chorus singing a song where one of the lyrics was “gay.” The kids snickered as kids will do and the teacher explained that the word “just meant ‘happy,’ not the other kind of gay – the other kind of gay is just wrong.” This wasn’t the only time this daughter of two moms faced these kinds of comments. But not this week – this week, instead of finger-pointing and exclusion, these kids are literally celebrated in a special parade down the main street of town.

For this one week, these families got to see what life could be like in a place with no discrimination or hatred, where they were the “normal” ones. Also encouraging to see were a few straight families bringing their children to Family Week. I spoke with one Dad who told me that this is the world he wants his children to grow up in. His two boys were adopted and he said this was one of the only places he could take them where the majority of other kids are adopted as well.

I learned a lot this week – far more than I could ever teach or write about here – but more than anything, I learned that as cliche as it may sound – it’s not biology that makes a family… it’s love.

Please enjoy some of our photos from this week and check out the slideshow we put together with the Family Equality Council. And also drop by their site and make a contribution so that Family Week can continue and grow to include as many families as possible. (all photos copyright: Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

US Gov’t Rips Man Away From AIDS-afflicted Spouse

9 Aug

Bradford Wells and his husband Anthony John Makk (photo by Noah Berger, Special to the SF Chronicle)

After some legal wins in the cases of bi-national gay and lesbian couples, this devastating story comes out of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Bradford Wells, a U.S. citizen, and Anthony John Makk, a citizen of Australia. The two were legally married in Massachusetts seven years ago and have lived together 19 years, primarily in San Fran’s Castro District.

On July 26th, the Obama administration made the decision to rip the couple apart and send Makk out of the country, citing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Makk must leave the country by August 25th.

What makes this story even more heartbreaking and cruel is that Wells is suffering from AIDS and his husband is his primary caregiver. Wells told the SF Chronicle:

“I’m married just like any other married person in this country,” Wells said. “At this point, the government can come in and take my husband and deport him. It’s infuriating. It’s upsetting. I have no power, no right to keep my husband in this country. I love this country, I live here, I pay taxes and I have no right to share my home with the person I married.”

As we reported here at the end of June, the deportation case of Henry Valendia was dismissed following a series of questions asked by Attorney General Holder regarding another deportation case. Those questions were the reason Holder vacated an earlier decision to separate a family by deportation.

Unfortunately, the judge in the case of the Wells-Makk family did not see the Obama administration’s decision to no longer defend DOMA as reason enough to stop this injustice. Please read the entire heartbreaking story at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Would You Let Your Kids Play With Kids of Gay & Lesbian Parents?

2 Aug

photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

After posting a story regarding the census reports from the St. Louis area, finding that many gay and lesbian couples were raising children there, STLToday has posed the question: “Would you allow your kids to play with the kids of gay couples?”

As we’ve seen in recent stories like that of a Colorado Catholic School, or a Catholic School in Hingham, MA, children of LGBT parents are often discriminated against. So the questioned posed by the St. Louis publication is not that far a leap.

And while most readers of this blog are either LGBT themselves or allies to the LGBT community, it’s questions like this which shed light on the bigotry and hatred we face on a daily basis. You’ll find most of the comments already posted at STLToday find the very question to be offensive.

Brad Wolf commented:

“I will not allow my children to play with children of bigots because bigotry is actually a learned trait.”

Donna Savage wrote:

“why not let them play together. homosex— is not contagious.”

And Cynthia Prior added:

“I have seen first hand that many people are afraid to let there children spend the night or hang out at the home of my grandson. I’m not sure why I just know there has been an affect. Perhaps they are not sure of what there children might be exposed to or they don’t know how to explain the difference in the parents.”

While the context of Cynthia’s post was not described, and we’re not sure if her grandson is gay or if his parents are a same-sex couple, it’s clear that whether people find the question offensive or not, it’s a legitimate question that should be addressed. One commenter even mentioned that since comments could not be made anonymously, those who are homophobic are less likely to respond truthfully. Could this be true?

How interesting to see moments like this, or like the National Organization for Marriage trying to hide the names of their major donors for fear they might be seen as the bigots they are? Those who discriminate against LGBT people are afraid of receiving threats, as Anti-Gay Senator Chuck Grassley said in the recent Senate DOMA hearings. He claimed one of his potential witnesses was afraid to testify because she feared for her and her family’s safety. I know very few LGBT people who have not felt threatened at some point – and with good cause considering the violence and murder that has been a part of our everyday lives for generations.

So…would you let your kids play with kids of gay and lesbian parents? And if you’re offended by the question, ask yourself why.

Hege and Toril: Why We Write

2 Aug

Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen. Photo: Maija Tammi

Yesterday, we posted a story of the heroic Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, a married lesbian couple who rescued 40 teenagers after the Norway massacre last week. The story has happily drawn quite a bit of attention and I want to take a minute to clarify things following unprecedented traffic and comments on our blog, and to follow up on our first blog post from close to a year ago, Why Write?

Firstly, there was a large debate about how many people were killed. Reports on the internet range from somewhere in the 70’s to somewhere in the 90’s. As some commenters wrote, it doesn’t matter if there was one person killed or 200, the purpose of my post was to bring attention to this married lesbian couple who saved 40 kids from possible death. Facts matter, I agree – but in the new media age, facts are hard to come by – especially when there are so many conflicting reports. I have not called the Norwegian hospitals to find out precise counts, primarily because I do not speak the language and the long distance charges would be unbearable. Does this make this couple’s story any less compelling? No.

Secondly, this is a story I’ve seen around the internet for several days now – our blog cannot claim credit for breaking this news in any way – what we did do was ask the question about why it wasn’t getting covered by the mainstream media. Several people have asked why it’s necessary to report that it was a married lesbian couple that committed this heroic deed. You never hear “A straight firefighter saved a family from a burning building.” I agree. You don’t hear in the press when someone is straight and does something good. You also don’t hear when someone is straight and does something bad. But when someone who is LGBT does something bad, you can BET that their sexual orientation or gender identity is one of the first important facts of the story.

We live in an era when unprecedented numbers of kids are taking their own lives because of the simple fact that they feel alone and trapped. For generation, at least in the US, we have raised children in a world where it is okay to discriminate against LGBT people. We have told kids as they grow up that there is nothing worse than being gay, that if you are gay, you will have no friends, no family and you will probably die of AIDS. When a child who is gay, grows up with society instilling in him the belief that being gay is a fate worse than death, you incinerate their hope.

In California, the legislature recently passed a law that would require the inclusion of LGBT history in their textbooks and curricula. The amount of pushback and hatred this new law has already received is astounding and could very well see it repealed soon – all because people are afraid that by hearing that someone gay did something great, children might make the choice to be gay – which is of course completely contrary to science. The state of Tennessee is close to passing a piece of legislation that has been called the “Don’t say gay” law. Teachers in that state are not allowed to even mention homosexuality exists – because if you don’t say it, maybe it will disappear. This is the United States our kids are growing up in.

This is a story of not only a lesbian couple that did a heroic thing, but a married lesbian couple – something that is still illegal across this country. Even in the handful of places an American can get married in this country, that marriage is not recognized by the Federal government. That leaves heterosexual couples with more than 1,100 rights which lesbian and gay couples don’t have.

Norway is a world leader when it comes to protecting LGBT people. It was the first country to enact anti-discrimination laws. They decriminalized homosexuality a full 20 years before the US (the land of the free and the home of the brave) did. They’ve had nationally-recognized civil partnerships since 1993 and marriage equality became legal in January of 2009. So it may not be a big deal in Norway that this was a married lesbian couple, but it should be a big deal here.

Thirdly – why has this story been ignored by the mainstream media? I don’t know. That’s why I posted the article. Is it because the couple is lesbian? Perhaps. Is it because the news cycle in the US is being taken-up by the imaginary “debt-ceiling” debate? Perhaps. The only thing we know for sure is that this is a story that needs to be told.

And finally, please accept our personal thanks for sharing this story on behalf of kids growing up thinking they won’t amount to anything. Thank you for sharing this story and letting young people know that no matter who they are and no matter who they love, they too can be heroes.

If a Married Lesbian Couple Saves 40 Teens from the Norway Massacre and No One Writes About it, Did it Really Happen?

1 Aug

Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen. Photo: Maija Tammi

By this point, most of you have heard about the tragedy in Norway a few weeks ago when a Christian Fundamentalist* murdered 77** people and injured another 96. The story has been well-covered by International media and the mainstream press here in the US.

What you probably have not heard about is the married lesbian couple who rescued 40 teenagers during and after the bloody event. Several blogs and gay and lesbian publications are now picking up the story, but the heavy hitters who usually kill for hero stories like this, have remained silent.

The Finnish capital city’s largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomatpublished this account (translated from Finnish):

Hege Dalen and her spouse, Toril Hansen were near Utöyan having dinner on the opposite shore across from the ill-fated campsite, when they began to hear gunfire and screaming on the island.

“We were eating. Then shooting and then the awful screaming. We saw how the young people ran in panic into the lake,” says Dale to HS in an interview.

The couple immediately took action and pushed the boat into Lake Tyrifjorden.

Dalen and Hansen drove the boat to the island, picked up from the water victims in shock in, the young and wounded, and transported them to the opposite shore to the mainland. Between runs they saw that the bullets had hit the right side of the boat.

Since there were so many and not all fit at once aboard, they returned to the island four times.

They were able to rescue 40 young people from the clutches of the killer.

“We did not sleep last night at all. Today, we have been together and talked about the events,” Dalen said.

Please share this story and make sure people know the heroism of Hege and Toril.

Check out our follow-up to this post here: Hege & Toril: Why We Write, which addresses many of your comments and questions about this article.

*The term “Christian Fundamentalist” has been disputed greatly in both the press and the comments section below this post. According to Norwegian police investigating the massacre, Anders Behrin Breivik was a “Christian Fundamentalist” as described by the New York Times and several Norwegian sources. There is a great post from CNN, which discusses at length, the use of the term being used for Breivik.

**Thank you to readers who have provided credible sources as to the actual number of deaths from this tragedy. We originally reported that 92 had been killed, but according to Norwegian sources, the total number is at 77, with many still in the hospital.

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