Friday, September 28, 2007

Pride Agenda response to decision by House Leadership to strip ENDA of trans protections

We just put out this statement on ENDA and wanted you to know about it:

“Promise on ENDA was not kept,” says Pride Agenda’s Van Capelle

Statement by Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle
September 28, 2007

“We do not agree with the decision of the House Leadership to vote on a non-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Congressman Barney Frank should have tried harder. It appears taking out protections based upon gender identity in ENDA was his call. He made the wrong call. It does not reflect what the LGBT community wants. Speaker Pelosi promised LGBT Americans that the House would pass a trans-inclusive ENDA. The promise on ENDA was not kept; we are upset and disappointed.

Our community was ready to do the education that was required with the House of Representatives to get it to a place where it could be comfortable passing a bill that protects all of our community, even if it meant a delay in the vote. We were not given that opportunity when these last minute concerns came up.

The Pride Agenda is committed here in New York State to passing the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, known as GENDA (A.6584/Gottfried, S.3753/Duane), which will provide not only workplace protections based upon gender identity and expression, but also protections from discrimination in housing, public accommodation, credit and other areas of everyday life.

We will be looking to our Legislature to take GENDA up and pass it in 2008. Transgender New Yorkers should not have to wait one more day for the protections they so desperately need.”

HRC speaks on ENDA - it appears we will have two bills

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has just released a statement saying that there will apparently be two bills - one providing workplace protections based upon sexual orientation and another based upon gender identity.

It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway -- there will be plenty of discussion within the LGBT community about this decision.

The Pride Agenda is committed here in New York State to passing the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, known as GENDA (A.6584/Gottfried, S.3753/Duane), which will provide not only workplace protections based upon gender identity and expression, but also protections from discrimination in housing, public accommodation, credit and other areas of everyday life.

While HRC's statement appears to be on their blog, they're not allowing for responses. But they are asking everyone interested to email them at We encourage you to take them up on it.

ENDA update

Whether or not the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) remains trans-inclusive appears to still be up in the air. There are strong indications, though, that it may very well become a bill that provides workplace protections based just on sexual orientation with a new stand-alone bill being introduced that provides workplace protections based upon gender identity. The first would be voted on next week in the House of Representatives and the second would be on a "to-be-determined" track.

Again, though, the situation is still somewhat fluid, even though the Washington Post said today in an editorial that two separate bills are about to be introduced in the House Education and Labor Committee. We know for a fact that there are a number of efforts continuing today to try to keep ENDA trans-inclusive.

To make sure Congress understands that many in the LGBT community are against this, the Pride Agenda and many other LGBT organizations around the country have sent action alerts to their supporters urging them to contact their U.S. Representative to let them know they’re opposed to an ENDA without trans protections.

Yesterday, when it became apparent that an effort was underway to strip the gender identity piece out of ENDA, a number of groups sprang to action. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force coordinated and issued a statement on behalf of nine national LGBT groups. Ours came out minutes later. Other statewide groups like Garden State Equality and Equality Texas also issues statements yesterday. These twelve groups represented the first to go public about their opposition to passing ENDA without being trans inclusive. More statements have come out today and we know more will be issued on Monday.

This morning, The Advocate posted an article quoting HRC’s Brad Luna saying "The indication we are getting from the Hill is that the leadership will possibly move forward with a new version of ENDA that does not offer explicit protections for gender identity.” Luna also expressed HRC’s disappointment at the decision.

Steven Adamske in Congressman Barney Frank’s office has said, “My boss’s recommendation is to go forward with an historic ENDA bill and then, in the very near future, work on improving that bill, as has been done with every single civil rights bill that has been passed in the last 40 years.” Apparently Frank believes a trans-inclusive ENDA will result in a nasty floor debate and provide a wedge issue to Republicans.

For the record, more than a third of the U.S. population currently lives in a state or locality that provides workplace and other protections based upon gender identity and expression, including red state cities like Dallas, Tucson and Cincinnati. Here in New York State, 53% or 10 million New Yorkers live in localities with these protections. Fortune 500 companies are certainly no stranger to workplace protections based upon gender identity and expression – 152 of the 500 have them and the number keeps spiking up every year.

There is no controversy in any of the states, localities and companies that have done the right thing. No elected officials or corporate executives have lost their jobs -- to our recollection -- for doing this.

Congress should take it lead from the ho-hum reaction a third of the country has given to living in jurisdictions where there are protections based upon gender identity and expression. Right now, sadly, it seems that those who have gotten it in their heads the voters won’t go for this haven’t paid much attention to what the facts say around the country.

Morning Sweep

The Advocate reports on the likelihood of having trans-inclusive language stripped out of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Matthew Shepard Act passed in the Senate as an addition to the Department of Defense Authorization bill. Next stop: President Bush.

Republican presidential candidates (led by Mitt Romney) launched an attack against Democratic presidential candidates who stated in Wednesday's debate that they would be fine with public school teachers reading to second graders a story about two princes falling in love.

A high school student in Ithaca was told to go home because she was wearing a t-shirt saying "Gay? Fine By Me."

The Washington Blade profiles five 2008 Senate races that have the potential to make a big impact on advancing LGBT rights.

David Mixner provides an in-depth look at John Edwards' recently announced plan to tackle HIV/AIDS.

Both Out and Genre magazines have declared that we're living in a "post-gay" world, but they each have very different things to say about what that means. (via Queerty)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Log Cabin Republicans honor Miller, Sayward and Scozzafava

Last night at a reception in the East Village, Log Cabin Republicans honored the three Republican New York State Assemblymembers who voted to pass the marriage equality bill on June 19. Joel Miller (R-Poughkeepsie), Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) and Dede Scozzafava (R-Gouverneur) were all present and spoke briefly about their reasons for voting for the bill:

Joel Miller noted that civil unions are not acceptable alternatives to full marriage equality and that other states had exemplified this. He said that he knew personally of the hardships that same-sex couples face by being denied the right to marry because he has gay friends and family. Perhaps most interestingly, Assemblymember Miller also told of the unbelievable excuses that people would come up with and level of dishonesty that they would sink to in trying to explain why they wouldn't or couldn't vote to pass the marriage bill.

Dede Scozzafava said that she initially had a hard time deciding to vote for the bill, but ever since has realized that it was the right thing to do and that it really wasn't hard at all to do something that was so obviously about equal rights. She mentioned that there is more support than people think for the issue in the North Country and that people there "have a libertarian streak." She has received a lot of feedback since the vote and it has been mostly supportive. She ended by saying that she had been listening to Ahmadinejad's comments on gay people while in New York and the U.S. leadership's response to him. How can we, she wondered, look at each other honestly until we have equal rights for everyone in our own country?

Teresa Sayward was there with her gay son and she stated that she never had any doubt in her mind as to how she would vote on this issue. She specifically noted that, although she was a Catholic, this was an issue of civil rights and not at all about religion. She said that, while her district is very conservative (Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-1), 63 percent of the calls/letters that she's received have been positive. She also mentioned that she's still actively working to get more Republicans to support the bill and that she believes that it will pass "sooner that you'd expect."

Jeff Cook, Log Cabin's Legislative Advisor noted at the beginning of the program that the event raised $70,000 for the organization. He also importantly pointed out to the crowd that Assemblymember Sayward was the first Republican anywhere to co-sponsor marriage equality legislation. Patrick Sammon, President of Log Cabin Republicans (who was once a TV reporter in Dede Scozzafava's district) said that the organization is committed to making sure that these leaders win their elections in 2008.

Note: at the time of the vote there were actually four Republican Assemblymembers who voted for marriage, but Assemblymember Mike Spano (Yonkers) has since switched to the Democratic Party.

Morning Sweep

A New Jersey commission is set to review the civil unions law. Same-sex couples and allies will testify before the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission to point out the current law's shortcomings and call for full marriage equality.

A serious new development has arisen in the U.S. House effort to pass ENDA: possibly removing gender identity/expression from the bill's language in order to increase the chance of passage.

The New York Press points out that the recently announced rapid increases of HIV/AIDS diagnoses is something that the gay community should take very seriously.

A high school student in Staten Island was arrested for a assaulting two lesbian classmates, first in a restaurant, then at a mall. The student will face charges of third degree assault as a hate crime.

New York Democrats may be running a popular former NFL player as a candidate for State Senate in the district that includes Syracuse.

The LA Times profiles T.R. Knight and discusses a difficult year for the openly gay and low-key Grey's Anatomy star.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Morning Sweep

The openly gay president of Hampshire College in Massachusetts married his partner of 25 years recently and talks with the Associated Press about being gay and in academia--and the fact that there are only 11 "out" university presidents in a country with more than 4,000 institutions of higher education.

The 21-year old defendant in the Michael Sandy hate crime/murder trial who claimed to be gay apparently has a girlfriend.

Page Six has an item about NYC Comptroller William Thompson's recent LGBT fundraiser at XES in Chelsea.

Queerty has CNN's coverage of the Ahmadinejad comments oh homosexuality in Iran (or lack, thereof...). The piece is definitely worth watching.

The US Senate is to vote Thursday on whether or not the Hate Crimes bill (Matthew Shepard Act) will be included as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill. It should be noted the Sen. (and presidential candidate) John McCain attempted to block the bill from going to the Senate floor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Morning Sweep

By now you've probably heard about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's absurd comment stating that gay people don't exist in Iran--that it's a "phenomenon" of other countries. Here are a few responses to his claim:

Here's the actual video clip of Ahmadinejad's full commentary on homosexuality in Iran. Al Jazeera provides a rather balanced view of the entire (controversial) Columbia University event (via YouTube). City Room live-blogged the entire event.

His comments about gay people led the New York Times front page article covering the event.

Martin Lewis writes on the Huffington Post that Iran is a social conservative's paradise...and that they should consider moving there.

The New York Sun interviews two prominent Iranian leaders within the LGBT rights movement, both of whom comment on the state of fear that LGBT people in Iran constantly live in.

And Queerty adds this cartoon, which is sadly--and morbidly--spot-on.

In other news:

Many cities in Southern Florida have outlawed discrimination against transgender people in response to Ft. Lauderdale's anti-LGBT mayor Jim Naugle and the firing of Susan Stanton as city supervisor of Largo, FL after she came out as transgender. (via Queerty)

John Edwards came out with a plan to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, which includes federally funded "age appropriate" sex education.

Democratic NY State Senator Craig Johnson (Nassau) is already under attack from the state Republican party, which hopes to win the seat back in 2008. Johnson won an expensive and high-profile special election in February and is vocally supportive of multiple pro-LGBT pieces of legislation, including marriage equality.

An HRC intern was the victim of a hate crime after leaving a Washington, DC bar.

A lesbian couple staged a sit-in in a state government building in Denver, CO after they were denied a marriage license...and were then arrested. (via Good As You)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Morning Sweep

Straight allies will be making a visual statement of support for LGBT rights across the country by participating in "Seven Straight Nights," an series of overnight vigils organized by Soulforce and Atticus Circle. The seven-day event (Oct. 7-13) will take place in 25 states and Washington, DC. Deb Price writes about the founder of Atticus Circle and the growing impact (and necessity) of straight allies. Go here to find more info about the NYC event.

The New York Blade talks with Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon about the organization's Albany strategy.

Black Enterprise features a story about the challenges and successes experienced by many African American LGBT employees of large corporations.

After a power change in Congress, the loss of a few iconic leaders and a disappointing field of Republican presidential candidates, dispirited right-wing Christians me by using using marriage equality as their rallying point for getting out the vote in the 2008 elections.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Abstinence funding in New York, the NYCLU’s findings and LGBT youth

Yesterday, the New York State Department of Health and the New York Civil Liberties Union made important and related announcements about abstinence funding in New York State. (Full disclosure: the Pride Agenda endorses the NYCLU’s recommendations as they relate to the state of New York.)

First, state health commissioner Dr. Richard Daines announced that New York would be rejecting federal grants for abstinence-only sex education because the policy was “based on ideology rather than sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public health policy.” Second, the NYCLU put out a report providing an analysis of these programs in New York State.

To get an overview of both, read Jennifer Medina’s piece in today’s New York Times.

According to the NYCLU, New York received about $10.0 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2006 and matched it with about $4.0 million of its own to fund dozens of abstinence-only programs across the state. New York apparently has been the third largest recipient of federal funds behind only Texas and Florida.

The NYCLU’s analysis of programs in New York reveals that:

1. Abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used across the state contain serious medical inaccuracies and employ fear-based teaching methods.

2. The same curricula demonstrate serious bias in terms of gender and LGBT youth

3. At least 19 of the funded programs focused a significant amount of programming on after school recreational activities with no direct relation to sex education.

The programs in New York make use of four abstinence-only curricula and go by the names: Facing Reality, WAIT Training, Choosing the Best and Sex Respect. (To see who is using these curricula across New York State and to view a county-by-county breakdown of where abstinence-only funding has been going, go to pages 31 and 32 of the NYCLU’s PDF of the report.)

In terms of LGBT youth, pages 19-20 of the NYCLU’s PDF of the report provide details of how these four curricula display bias. Not surprisingly marriage between a man and a woman is presented as the only acceptable form of sexual relations, which of course totally excludes LGBT people from having any sort of intimate relations. Facing Reality encourages teachers to feel comfortable passing moral judgments on LGBT populations and Sex Respect only mentions LGBT issues within the context of HIV/AIDS. The NYCLU concludes that “these curricula ignore or demonize the experiences of an already marginalized, but significant, population."

One of the key NYCLU recommendations we want to highlight is the need to pass the Healthy Teens Act. This bill did in fact pass the Assembly this year, but stalled in the Senate. Sponsored by Assemblymember Gottfried and Senator Winner, it creates a grant program to provide age-appropriate, medically accurate, LGBT culturally competent sex education in New York public schools.

We thank the NYCLU for doing the research that made this report possible and we thank the New York State Department of Health for reversing course and refusing federal funds that perpetuate ignorance and harm New York’s youth.

Morning Sweep

In an interview with the New York Sun, Majority Leader Joe Bruno criticizes Governor Spitzer’s support for equal treatment of all New York families, saying Governor Spitzer “is so far up there on the liberal left … starting with gay marriage.”

The Blade reports that one or more of the three college students murdered in Newark in August may have been gay and that Garden State Equality has called for the authorities to investigate whether the murders were hate crimes. Juan Melli at BlueJersey blog has a longer discussion about all of this, including the text of a letter to Mayor Booker from a Newark LGBT group asking for answers.

A student provides an account of how one Cornell fraternity has been supportive of a member who has come out.

Now on The Gay Voters Guide to the GOP

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rabbi Rosenfeld's hope for the High Holidays

Last Wednesday, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Buffalo's Temple Beth Zion decided to deliver a sermon on the need for his congregation to actively embrace LGBT people as part of the congregation and community as a whole. He noted that, while the Temple may say all the right things, it is now time to do all the things to make sure that LGBT people do not feel like unwelcome strangers.

To those out there who are not Jewish, choosing this moment to deliver such a message is akin to a minister or priest choosing Christmas or Easter. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is one of the very few times of the year that most Jews attend religious services, no matter how observant. By choosing one of the High Holidays, Rabbi Rosenfeld no doubt wanted to make sure that his message was heard by as large an audience as possible.

A member of the Pride Agenda's "Pride in the Pulpit" program, Rabbi Rosenfeld represents an increasingly loud chorus of mainstream religious voices who are standing up to and speaking out against the loud and hateful language of many of the radical right-wing religious voices. His words are moving, and we hope you enjoy them no matter what your faith is.

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5768
Temple Beth Zion
Buffalo, New York
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Throughout our Torah, God exhorts us to remember those among us, either least able to care for themselves or easiest for us to forget. Over and over the Torah reminds us to, in its ancient language: “care for” or “not oppress” the widow, the poor, the stranger and the orphan. For us today, these categories represent those who still need an extra measure of our consideration, recognition, outreach and perhaps even help. Over the course of these High Holy days, we will look at each of these categories of people and our modern obligation to them. Tomorrow morning we will talk about the needs of children, on Erev Yom Kippur the poor, and on Yom Kippur afternoon the mourner. Tonight we begin by examining what I consider to be the overarching category, what it means to care for and not oppress the stranger.

The Torah gives but a few reasons behind the Mitzvot, the Commandments. Not oppressing others because: “we were strangers in the land of Egypt” ranks in the top two most frequent reasons the Torah does give. We often talk about the Exodus as our Meta story, the story which defines us as a people. Yet we also often forget that before we could move to freedom we lived as slaves, as strangers in a strange land. The Egyptians defined us as “other” as “strangers” enabling them to take away our freedom and impose forced labor upon us. In essence, our humanity became and remained invisible to the Egyptians.

Repeated through human history, the phenomenon of defining the stranger as other is almost a constant. Some of the most egregious recent examples include: the African slave trade, our American Constitution’s original definition of African Americans as 3/5 of a person, denial of suffrage to women in America until the 20th Century and of course the Nazi definition of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and people with limited intellectual capabilities as being sub-human.

To be honest, the Torah used the term Ger – Stranger to indicate “non-citizens”, resident aliens in modern parlance. Rabbi Michael Goldberg in his book Why Should Jews Survive echoes the historic Jewish practice of the past 2000+ years to not take our texts literally but to find in them ways to expand their application in each time period to contemporary Jewish life. Using the example of counting women as equal to men in the minyan as a metaphor for the inclusion of women in every aspect of Jewish life he says: “…as the Exodus master story tells it – and as the minyan retells it every day – it is through the surviving presence of the community of the Jewish People in the world that God’s own presence is most clearly made known to the world. As Jewish women were counted among those God rescued in the Exodus from Egypt in ancient days, so, too, in our day they ought to be counted in the minyan among those who can rightfully proclaim God’s saving presence to the world.”

The Torah teaches that our Brit, our covenant with God includes all Jews alive and present at Sinai as well as those yet to be born, old and young, women and men, the so called upper crust of society and those whose work many consider menial. If all Jews count, then all Jews count!

Further, we are also taught that along with the Israelites, many non-Jews attached themselves to our people as they left Egypt. Thus today we include in our congregation non-Jews who choose to affiliate with us as a full part of our family.

If Torah teaches us to include all, then why do we still see some as strangers, as other? Part of the answer lies in our unintentional, and yes at times intentional blindness. As our eyes scan those around we tend to see only what stands clearly in our line of sight. We assume everyone resembles us or, we have yet to grow to perceive those that feel “strangered”, who feel unseen for what their uniqueness adds to our community.

For most of us, our cultural upbringing limits our vision. Some of you have heard me discuss the book: Gentleman’s Agreement written by Laura Hobson, a non-Jewish woman, in 1947. If you read the book or saw the movie you know Ms. Hobson tells the story of a non-Jewish newspaper reporter who poses as a Jew and experiences first hand the subtle, not quite below the surface, anti-Semitism of the post World War II era. The protagonist meets a divorced woman with a career whose ideal of being a complete, fulfilled woman means giving up her career for marriage and motherhood. A non-Jewish woman with incredible sensitivity and understanding of anti-Semitism could not see beyond the definition of ideal woman of her time period. How prescient must have been the leaders of the abolitionist, civil rights and gay rights movements to be able to see beyond their reality to identify others, or even themselves, as living as strangers in society?

Throughout our 157 years and particularly in the past four score plus years, our congregation and its leadership reached out to and tried to embrace the strangers among us. From Rabbis Fink and Goldberg’s leadership in the areas of civil rights and interfaith relations to our more recent efforts to reach out to the intermarried and those new to our community, we traveled on a road of welcoming the stranger. Not only accepting those who are different from us but striving to hear, appreciate and understand the uniqueness they add to our congregational family’s life.

But, others live and worship among us and still feel estranged, left out. Even though on a policy level we consistently “do the right thing”, on the personal level, on the individual level we sometimes fall short. My parents, especially my father, taught me to treat each person the same regardless of race, religion or background. Just as Michael Goldberg says in the quote above, it is my natural tendency to expand that “same treatment” to other groups of which my parents could not conceive. Feminism as a concept was as alien to them as it was to many of their generation. Homosexuality was buried so deep in the closet that the gay community was the only group I ever heard my father speak of disparagingly.

Just as my feminist awakening took place in rabbinic school, so did the beginning of my acceptance of the GLBT community. During my years in seminary, don’t ask don’t tell would have been considered a huge step forward. If a student came out as gay or lesbian, expulsion was automatic. But of course there were gay and lesbian students in my classes. Not as an open secret, but only acknowledged in quiet whispers behind the closed doors of dorm rooms or apartments. How far our Reform movement has come! The rabbinate now includes, not only gays and lesbians but the first transgender rabbi will be ordained in the next few years.

On an official level, Temple Beth Zion has moved with the times. In all of our staff searches since I arrived, the issue of sexual orientation has not been a factor in determining who we hire. While we have not, as of yet, hired gay or lesbian clergy, in our clergy searches, each search committee committed itself to the understanding that the sexual orientation of our candidates would not determine who we would bring into our congregational family. We have for other program and professional positions hired gay and lesbian men and women. And when it comes to lay leadership, just as they do in so many ways, our young people have led the way by not only electing gay and lesbian YPS/TBaZy members to positions of leadership but supporting their gay and lesbian members when they feel some want them to remain strangers.

Consistently, we reaffirm that policy stand. We perform same sex commitment ceremonies and I am a proud and active member of the New York State Pride Agenda working toward the day when marital rights and marriage itself will be available to all members of our society. Our withdrawal from the Buffalo Jewish Review has in part, led to the Review reevaluating its decision to not even mention the words gay or lesbian in its pages. Just a few weeks ago, the editor of the Review ran a notice that in light of the Conservative Movement’s decision to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis as well as the Gay Pride service at Temple Sinai, the Review will now cover events involving, gay, and lesbian and yes also transgender Jews. I will be meeting with the editor of the Review after Yom Kippur to discuss this change in their policy and, if appropriate, see how TBZ can be supportive of their new position.

If God redeemed every Jew alive at the time or yet to be born in the Exodus and all stood at Sinai and entered into the covenant between God and the Jewish people, then clearly all Jews became and remain a part of that covenant regardless of race, gender, social standing AND sexual orientation. Just look at the Confirmation pictures on the wall at the Broder Center and look around this room. It is easy to see Jews of different races. It is easy to see Jews of different genders. It is not as easy to see Jews of different social standing. It is nearly impossible to see Jews of different sexual orientations. But they are in the pictures and they are in this sanctuary tonight. Therefore we must take our “official position” and make it personal.
Have we done enough as a sacred community to recognize, accept, reach out and meet the unique needs of the GLBT members of our congregational and our Jewish communities as we have with for example our youth and our intermarried households?

The answer is: no we have not. But beginning with this sermon, we take the first steps. After airing their concerns, some of our members have graciously agreed to set up opportunities for Rabbi Schwartzman and me to listen to the voices of GLBT Jews and we have agreed to actively listen and hear as they tell us their stories. Then together we will begin to plan how to provide an extra measure of our consideration, recognition, outreach to meet the needs of GLBT Jews, who too often feel like our ancestors in exile; strangers in a strange land. We are also committing ourselves this year to take a serious look inward. Are there others who feel as strangers in our midst? How can we transform TBZ into a congregation that has no strangers, a congregation in which all are recognized for the unique qualities they bring to our community and our people.

If we do not follow the command to know and accept the stranger, then we are guilty of abandoning our identity as Jews – those who understand the heart of the stranger because we were strangers in the Land of Egypt. If we do not follow the command to know and accept the stranger, then we become the Egyptians, seeing some of those among us as “less”. In the ranking of sins, this falls among the most egregious.

One year during these days of awe, the Baal Shem Tov, the great founder of Chasidism passed near a small shul. The baal habatim, the leaders of the congregation, rushed out to meet him and invite him in to pray with them. The Baal Shem Tov agreed but when he reached the door of the shul he stopped and did not enter. “What is the problem?” they asked him. “Why do you just stand here and not enter to pray with us?” The Baal Shem Tov answered: “There is no room for me. Your words of welcome and prayers of teshuvah, of repentance and change cannot rise to heaven. They fill the room from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling.” “What can we do?” the people asked. Gently he replied: “Match your actions to your words, welcome the stranger, reach out to help those in need and truly direct your prayers to God and then your prayers will ascend in a whirlwind to heaven.”

This year and every year, may our actions match our words. May we reach out to those who feel as strangers among us, get to know them and help them become strangers no more. And then may our prayers ascend in a whirlwind to heaven.

Morning Sweep

The Advocate's editor Sean Kennedy interviews Hillary Clinton for an upcoming issue and New York Magazine has a preview of what she says about her position on gay marriage.

In a highly emotional press conference, San Diego's mayor stated his support for marriage equality noting that his position on the issue had changed since his daughter had come out as a lesbian.

***UPDATE: Here's the video of the incredibly moving press conference.

The Hudson River Presbytery, which represents 92 congregations in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties, is leading a national charge to strike down a ban on ordaining gay and lesbian clergy.

Richardson once again makes it clear that he mistakenly used the word "choice" in the August HRC/Logo debate and says that he is more of a grassroots candidate than any of the current frontrunners.

Mitt Romney attacks marriage equality in his latest pander to the religious right, uh, radio ad.

The AFL-CIO's Pride At Work LGBT constituency group has been gathering big union support for the passage of ENDA.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Morning Sweep

In an editorial, The Baltimore Sun expresses the need for Maryland's governor and state legislature to do what the state's high court could not do and pass a marriage equality bill. The editorial also discusses how it's becoming increasingly difficult for judges to rationalize denying same-sex couples the ability to legally marry.

Bill Richardson guest blogs on the Bilerico Project, calling for action on ENDA in the House and Hate Crimes in the Senate.

Fast becoming one of my favorite bloggers, Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio's "Media Matters" blog explains why the New York Post seems to be so homophobic.

The LA Times reports on a a transgender career expo recently held in Atlanta, GA. The story discusses the difficulties that transgender people often face within the entire spectrum of employment, from interviewing to transitioning in the workplace.

A student group at NYU held its first-ever LGBT talent show.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maryland Court of Appeals upholds gay marriage ban

A 250-page decision just came out of the Maryland Court of Appeals saying that the state's law banning same-sex marriage is not unconstitutional and any change to the law must be taken up by the state's legislature.

The Maryland decision cites the New York Court of Appeals' same-sex marriage ruling (Hernandez v. Robles) in a few instances, most notably:

By limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, [the State] is not engaging in sex discrimination. The limitation does not put men and women in different classes, and give one class a benefit not given to the other. Women and Men are treated alike-they are permitted to marry people of the opposite sex, but not people of their own sex. [Hernandez v. Robles, 855 N.E.2d 1, 6 (2006)]

The right to marry someone of the same sex, how ever, is not ‘deeply rooted’; it has not even been asserted until relatively recent times. [Hernandez, 855 N.E.2d at 9]

The dissenting opinion in the Maryland case also cites NYS Court of Appeals Chief Justice Judith Kaye in her dissent, saying among other things that marriage is a fundamental right (as proved in Loving v. Virginia). And in response to the argument about rights stemming from "deeply rooted" traditions, Kaye opines:

Fundamental rights once recognized cannot be denied to particular groups on the ground that these group s have historically been denied those rights. Indeed, in recasting the plaintiffs’ invocation of their fundamental right to marry as a request for recognition of a ‘new’ right to same-sex marriage, the Court misapprehends the nature of the liberty interest at stake.

How wise she is...

We now hope that the Maryland state legislature will move with the expedience that the New York state legislature has (thus far, at least) and pass a marriage equality bill so that all Maryland families will be protected equally.

Morning Sweep

A bizarre twist in the Michael Sandy murder trial: one of the defendants accused of perpetrating the hate crime came out as gay and insists that he was going to tell his friends the night of the killing and, according to his attorney "maybe get lucky."

HRC released its 2008 Corporate Equality Index yesterday. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle was quick to point out that there are four Rochester-area corporations with a perfect 100 rating.

A straight ally reports about a gay group at Syracuse University that deals with the complexities facing LGBT people of color.

A Methodist-owned boardwalk pavilion on the New Jersey shore has lost its tax exemption status because it denied a lesbian couple use of the facilities for their civil union ceremony.

Gov. Schwarzenegger announced that he will again veto the marriage equality bill passed by both chambers of the California state legislature.

It looks like even Marty Markowitz is doubting his own endorsement of anti-gay (and perennial candidate) Noach Dear for a Brooklyn Civil Court seat.

And finally, this cartoon was forwarded to me by a reader:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Morning Sweep

NYC's LGBT Center hosted a "Men Having Babies" workshop yesterday, which guided interested gay couples through the complicated process of surrogacy.

A civilian review panel in Rochester has determined likely wrongdoing by local police officers in their response to an anti-gay bias crime last June. The police officers allegedly let the attackers go and instead harassed the group of gay and straight victims.

The New York Times over the weekend featured a moving story written by a seventeen-year old lesbian about what it's like to be out and living in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens.

Congressional leaders expect movement on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the near future, possibly as soon as this week.

It's the New York Times vs. the New York Post in the (most recent) battle over the Post's usage of the term "gay lifestyle."

Sen. Joe Biden spoke about gay issues to an Iowa crowd over the weekend. Most of his positions are good, but he panders to religion (unnecessarily) in his case for civil unions and against full marriage equality.

And from Neil Patrick Harris bringing his boyfriend to Tina Fey thanking the 30 Rock cast and crew's same-sex partners, last nights Emmy's were as gay as it gets.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Morning Sweep

An editorial in the Ithaca Journal applauds Comptroller DiNapoli’s decision to respect all valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples and calls upon the leadership in Albany to make marriage available for same-sex couples right here in New York. The paper states that the status quo is “a system of unfairness, something New York shouldn’t be proud of.”

Rochester's Police Chief has announced that several police officers are facing multiple counts of misconduct in the way they handled a reported June 1 hate crime attack.

The NYT reports that Garden State Equality is threatening a lawsuit over the August 30 decision by Evesham Township school district to pull the film “That’s a Family!” that shows different forms families can take. The controversy is about an appearance in the film of a student who introduces his two dads.

The Daily News has endorsed Karen Yellen over anti-gay Noach Dear in next Tuesday’s primary for the Civil Court, 5th District (Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Sunset Park).

HRC has opened an office in New Hampshire for the Presidential Primary elections.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

DiNapoli and Levi on State Supreme Court Ruling

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and the Pride Agenda's Director of Public Policy & Education Ross Levi speak to radio station WAMC about yesterday's announcement that the State Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Comptroller's decision to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages as the same as any other marriage in New York.

Also, New York Law School professor Art Leonard provides an insightful analysis of the case on his blog, Leonard Link.

Morning Sweep

New York State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith put out a statement yesterday in support of the State Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Comptroller's recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. In it he said that the ruling was "a step in the right direction in our struggle to provide full marriage equality to all families." Read the entire statement here (via The Politicker). We're very happy to see such strong leadership on at least one side of the isle...

The Buffalo News was the first to report that the anti-gay Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund will appeal the State Supreme Court ruling.

Towleroad features two very different perspectives on gay rights in America from two very different young people. One is the courageous high school student from Vermont who gave John McCain a tongue lashing, the other is, as Andy puts it a "bigoted slug...the spawn of the worst kind of Bible Belt bigots."

Using some bizarre line of logic, a student at Cornell opposes a recent resolution brought before the student government that would allow for gender-neutral housing. In his "treatise," this student draws upon divorce research from the Heritage Foundation and asserts that the LGBT rights movement is a mix of "science and dogma."

LGBT activists are not happy about Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's endorsement of anti-gay Noach Dear in a race for Civil Court Judge. Markowitz, who has been endorsed many times in the past by various LGBT groups, insists that Dear "would place equal treatment, respect for diversity, and reverence for human rights above all else." Others are not convinced: Dear has a shady electoral past and is rated as "not approved" for the seat by the New York City Bar Association.

Four months after oral arguments were presented, same-sex couples in Connecticut are anxiously awaiting the state's Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

Looks like times are tough for Focus on the Family.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Court ruling upholds NYS Comptroller's decision to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

Comptroller DiNapoli's office announced today that the New York State Supreme Court (which is not, despite its name, the highest court in New York State) has ruled to uphold the 2004 decision by then Comptroller Alan Hevesi to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in Canada as the same as any other marriage in New York State when it comes to benefits provided through the New York State Retirement System.

It tosses out challenges to recognizing out-of-state marriages based on the Hernandez v. Robles ruling in July 2006, which stated that it was not inherently unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry in New York State. That case discussed only the issuing of marriage licenses in New York and had no bearing on marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions. Therefore, private entities (like businesses) cannot point to the Hernandez case if trying to rationalize denying spousal benefits to gay couples who have gone to Canada, for example, to get married.

It should also be noted that Comptroller Tom DiNapoli went a step further by stating that not only Canadian marriages, but all out-of-state marriages (from states/countries that legally perform same-sex marriages) would be recognized.

Hevesi's decision in 2004 ultimately led to other entities recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, most notably Mayor Bloomberg's decision (also in 2004) to require New York City's pension fund to recognize these marriages as fully legal and valid.

Hevesi's original decision is based on New York State's comity laws, which holds that couples who are legally married in another jurisdiction shall be treated as any other married couple in New York State. Eliot Spitzer, who was Attorney General at the time, also interpreted the laws to include legally married same-sex couples.

Read the Pride Agenda's press release here.

Morning Sweep

Startling new statistics reveal that young gay men in New York City--especially men of color--are contracting HIV at increasingly high rates.

New York City Comptroller--and likely 2009 mayoral candidate--Bill Thompson is hosting an LGBT cocktail reception at XES on September 19.

Because there are apparently so many lesbians in Hollywood, W Magazine has begun calling them the "Rubyfruit Mafia."

Former Top Chef contestant and lesbian Josie Smith-Malave was, along with a group of friends, a victim of an anti-gay bias attack in Long Island over labor day weekend.

NYPD arrested more than a dozen employees of Mr. Black, and temporarily closed down the NoHo gay nightclub. DJs, waiters and bartenders were arrested for allegedly selling drugs. One employee, however, noted that the police officers were blatantly homophobic, saying things like "Sorry, homos, you're gonna have to find somewhere else to go hang out" to the crowd of patrons who were forced to leave. According to witnesses, the officers also used the term "fairy" in passing and referred to the transgender door-woman as "it."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six years ago at the Pride Agenda

As we look back in solace on the events of September 11, 2001, Joe Tarver remembers what it was like to be in New York City on that day--and what the LGBT community did to make sure that surviving partners of same-sex relationships were not forgotten in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Six years ago today we all came together here in New York City, united by what had just happened down at the World Trade Center and determined to do what we had to do to bring some sense of normalcy back to the city we all loved.

Outside the Pride Agenda’s old offices on Hudson Street several blocks south of 14th Street, we could see the twin towers by standing across the street and looking south. Traffic that morning was not only gridlocked, it had stopped and everyone stood in the street and on the sidewalk looking south just watching. None of us imagined the towers would collapse until they did and even then it was difficult to accept what we had just witnessed.

Very soon most vehicular traffic was gone--completely gone--as the city had been shut down. And then the people showed up--large numbers of people--walking north from the financial district. They had on their business suits, some carried their shoes, they were covered by a thick coat of grey dust.

We gave them water and let them use our restroom. We did what everyone else was doing that day. We tried to comfort our fellow New Yorkers.

Very soon thereafter, however, it became clear the Pride Agenda and the LGBT community would be doing more. Matt Foreman, who was then the Pride Agenda Executive Director, sat down with me and we sketched out a plan for making sure LGBT people who had lost a loved one in the attacks would be taken care of in just the same way all other families were being helped.

One of the top priorities was determining whether the major relief groups would be treating our families in the same way they would be treating all other families. Another would be outreach to find those who had lost a partner in the attacks and, when finding them, to begin the advocacy that would be necessary with relief agencies and local and state government on their behalf.

I made the calls to the Red Cross and United Way to ask how they would be treating our families. I did receive generally positive feedback from both, but quickly realized they had no real conception about how to determine our families were in fact families. After all, those who can marry just needed to present a marriage license or say they were married and the process moved forward for them. Our families didn’t have such a magic piece of paper that would move the process forward for them.

To find those LGBT New Yorkers who had lost a loved one and to let them know assistance was available, Matt and I wrote the following message and sent it out through various email networks and had it posted on LGBT news sites. It said:
“If you or someone you know is gay or lesbian and was injured, killed, or otherwise harmed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, please know that there are public and private emergency funds available to provide relief from both short and long-term economic hardships you may be facing. (There are also many other free programs including counseling, childcare, emergency shelter, etc.)

Gay and lesbian survivors will face obstacles in obtaining equal benefits because of the lack of legal recognition of their families and relationships. Fortunately, a number of relief funds have already indicated that they will be taking an expansive definition of "family" and that lesbian and gay survivors will qualify. In addition, please know that there are LGBT social service and advocacy organizations in New York City and Washington, D.C. ready to help and advocate for survivors to obtain as equitable relief as possible, both in the public and private sectors. For instance in the New York City area, the Anti-Violence Project, 212-714-1184, is ready to help with applications for emergency funds, counseling and advocacy efforts.

If you need further information, assistance, and referrals, please call 212-627-0305, the Empire State Pride Agenda.”
Soon the calls started coming in and in collaboration with Lambda Legal, the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Stonewall Community Foundation we began a concerted, coordinated effort on behalf of the almost two dozen individuals that stepped forward from around the country to say they had lost their partners and needed help.

While there would be many challenges in the coming months advocating for these families, we would eventually be successful in getting our state and the Red Cross to craft policies that acknowledged and accounted for the difficulties our families would have in proving their relationships, given the absence of a relationship mechanism, like marriage, that other families had.

In the weeks after September 11 our community from across the country would also come together and contribute tens of thousands of dollars to a fund we helped set up to take care of these LGBT surviving family members.

In light of these stories, the national press wrote about “what is family” and how family is recognized in America. On September 11 and for many days and weeks afterwards, we were all family here in New York City--LGBT, straight or otherwise. And I believe a good majority of New Yorkers still feel this way.

On September 11, New Yorkers found support and strength from each other. For me, it is an intense, shared bond that I will always carry with me.

Morning Sweep

A column in the Boston Globe points out that the Republican Party's use of gay issues as a wedge closely resembles the strategies that the Party once used when dealing with issues of race and trying to attract white socially conservative voters.

Paradoxically, the Republican who (at one time) supported abortion, gay rights and gun control is currently leading the pack of GOP presidential contenders.

If you are unclear as to where Fred Thompson stands on the issue of marriage equality, watch this video clip (via Towleroad).

New Jersey Governor John Corzine stated the inevitability of full marriage equality in the Garden State, but said that advocates needed to wait until after the 2008 elections to push the issue forward.

The Advocate is turning 40. Along with a makeover (she needs it), the magazine is featuring the top 40 "heroes" of the LGBT world. Ellen DeGeneres is #1.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Morning Sweep

The Saturday New York Times had a front page story about Mitt Romney's rapid backpedaling on his previous support for LGBT issues.

Evangelicals--desperate for a presidential candidate they can rally around--are having troubles cozying up to Fred Thompson, partly because of his ambiguous stance on some gay issues.

In a story about a Hudson Valley principal coming out as transgender, students seem much more enlightened than some of the older community members. But overall, Genna Suraci (formerly Gary) has met support and encouragement.

More and more American universities are offering courses--and even minors--in LGBT studies.

The Buffalo News has a profile on BlogActive founder Mike Rogers, formerly a Buffalo-area LGBT activist and founder of the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus.

Newsweek's international edition features a cover story called "Sex and The Macho Man" and deals with increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the non-Western world. (via Blabbeando)

Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic is set to star Sean Penn (as Milk) and Matt Damon (as Milk's killer) and will be produced by the duo who put together American Beauty.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Morning Sweep

Mike Rogers, creator of BlogActive and "outer" of Larry Craig, posted a warning to those like Craig on the Huffington Post yesterday.

A columnist writing in Politico suggests that the recent Iowa court ruling in favor of "gender-neutral" marriages may end up--like the 2003 Massachusetts ruling--hurting the short-term political advancement of the LGBT community.

Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson (officially) entered the presidential race on Tuesday night. The AP has a concise list of his position on important issues.

Jeff Bercovici, media blogger for Conde Naste's Portfolio magazine, called out the New York Post for being homophobic.

Gay City News has a profile on the anti-gay (and anti-pretty much anything progressive) former NYC Councilmember Noach Dear, who is running for office in Brooklyn...for like the 700th time.

We love Brothers & Sisters, Rachel Griffiths and gay kissing.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Maggie Gallagher, don't apply directly to forehead

Question: What’s the difference between Head On and Maggie Gallagher?
Answer: People paid attention to Head On

You remember that “Head On, apply directly to forehead” commercial? Hearing it was like having nails pounded into my head. But it sure got my attention.

Not so with Maggie Gallagher and her column in the New York Post and on Yahoo about Presidential candidates and gay marriage. Except for the nail pounding that is.

Gay marriage! Gay marriage! Gay marriage!

Pound! Pound! Pound!

It was painful, repetitive reading. The New York Post gave her twelve column inches in today's print edition and it was clearly too much for her to handle.

Her obsession with whether or not we should be allowed to marry has ballooned to the point of being freaky and bizarre. It so dominates her writing that any point she’s trying to make just gets lost.

Now don’t get me wrong. I certainly have no problem with that!

She’s in trouble though with this issue and the desperate tone in her writing shows it.

America’s moving away from her on the marriage issue and there’s not much she can do about it.

When Sam Brownback gets booed at a Republican Presidential candidate debate for stating his support for a Constitutional amendment banning marriage between two people of the same sex, you know things are changing.

Perhaps it’s the war. Perhaps it’s the decline in America’s reputation around the world. Perhaps it’s the skyrocketing economic and political clout of China.

Whatever it is, it’s seems evident that the days of gay marriage as a wedge issue in national elections are coming to an end. That’s good for all of us, whether we be LGBT or otherwise.

Now maybe we’ll start talking about the tough issues we’ve been ignoring.

Maggie, are you listening?

Morning Sweep

Sam Brownback was booed at last night's debate between Republican presidential candidates when he stated that he believed that there should be a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Always progressive, the Netherlands has initiated a publicly funded web-based campaign to aid young people through the coming out process.

As the Jewish high holidays approach, some openly gay observant Jews are hosting viewings of the controversial film "Trembling Before G-d," which deals with issues of homosexuality within the Orthodox community.

One of the two Wachowskis (the filmmaking siblings who brought us The Matrix trilogy) is coming out as a transgender woman. Lana (formerly Larry) and her brother Andy will sit down in front of cameras to discuss her transition after the release of their latest project, Speed Racer.

Connecticut's state legislature may pass a transgender non-discrimination bill during the next legislative session.

As the school year starts, a column in the Buffalo News makes the case once again for the need to guarantee a safe educational environment for LGBT students.

And if you're still interested in what the papers are saying about the Larry Craig affair, you can read this, this, this and this for a range of New York perspectives.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Morning Sweep

The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is set for a hearing in the U.S. House of Representative's Housing, Employment, Labor and Pensions subcommittee on Sept. 5.

In a great column in The Nation, Timothy Patrick McCarthy dissects the Larry Craig incident and determines that we should be more concerned about the hate rather than the hypocrisy when it comes to Republican attitudes on gay people.

Jerry Lewis is very sorry about being an old bigot.

John McCain gets a verbal smack-down by a high school student who tried to get the slowly sinking presidential candidate to rationalize his opposition to various pro-gay bills.

Transgender activist Monica Helms writes about her experience at a recent Las Vegas meeting of the Democratic National Committee, where it was made clear that transgender issues would be part of the 2008 DNC platform.

Iowa's governor says he supports Iowa's DOMA, which was recently struck down by a district judge. He did, however, say that he would allow the judicial process to work the issue out.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Morning Sweep

Mike Rogers is currently the talk of the town in Washington, DC, especially now that Larry Craig has officially resigned his seat in the Senate. Rogers promises more "outings" of closeted anti-gay politicos in the coming months.

The editor of the Albany Times Union defends the journalistic integrity of the Idaho Statesman while dealing with the complex question of whether--or how--Larry Craig's sexual orientation was newsworthy.

The Niagara Falls Reporter has a column by one of USA Today's cofounding editors pointing out both the strategy and hypocrisy in the Republicans' decision to get rid of Larry Craig so quickly.

Because he knows better than perhaps anyone, Jim McGreevey offers some deeply personal perspective and words of advice for Larry Craig in a column in the Washington Post.

In a smartly written column in The New York Times, Laura MacDonald suggests: "for our part, let’s stop being so surprised when we discover that our public figures have their own complex sex lives, and start being more suspicious when they self-righteously denounce the sex lives of others."

A Binghamton LGBT youth group is sponsoring a seminar next week on the disproportionate number of homeless LGBT youth.

Irish president Mary McAleese is the latest European leader to publicly support equality for LGBT people.

GLAAD is announcing their celebrity-filled "Be An Ally and A Friend" PSA campaign today. The ads will feature gay and straight stars such as T.R. Knight, Rachel Griffiths, Sara Ramirez, Jason Lewis, Rebecca Romijn and Martina Navratilova, to name a few.