Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Equality & Justice Day – “Strengthening the community we all work so hard to build”

Below is the third post in our series of E&J stories. Check back with us in the weeks leading up to E&J Day for more – and don’t forget to register for E&J Day.

Ceridwen Troy, Youth Program Assistant at the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, Rochester:

There's a saying that goes, roughly, "It's not the destination that's important, it's the journey." For me, this saying easily sums up my feelings about Equality & Justice Day. While it might be known casually as the "Pride Agenda Lobby Day," Equality & Justice Day is about so much more than just going to Albany to lobby.

For me, Equality & Justice Day means getting up at four in the morning and gathering in the parking lot behind The Village Gate with four huge buses and enough Rochesterians to fill them. It means a four hour trip to Albany with a bus full of Gay Alliance Youth Program members. It means watching the sun rise out the window, watching the youth as they interact with each other, watching movies on the overhead TV. Those four hours give us so many opportunities to connect in ways different from those inside the walls of the Youth Center. The center is a place for hanging out and finding support, but this trip shifts everyone's focus to their activism, to making a difference, and to seeing our needs met by the state government. With that shift in focus comes a shift in the conversations we have, about previous years' trips, about the activism they're doing in school, and about all kinds of topics we never thought we'd share with each other (four hours there and four hours back, after all, make up a lot of conversation time to fill!)

Those conversations build connections that last throughout the year, strengthening the community we all (staff, volunteers and youth) work so hard to build inside our center.

Then we get to Albany, to the Convention Center. Seeing just how many people come from all over New York is so inspiring. It's often easy, as an activist, to feel like you're alone in this work. Even when you know consciously that there are other activists and allies at your side, it can often feel like you're trudging through this by yourself. To see this huge mass of people gathered for the same cause can be very reinvigorating. It was especially wonderful for me to see the tables of people gathered from the rural areas of New York, the places where I grew up.

The connections made at Equality & Justice Day are so important to me, whether between the members of our youth community here in Rochester, or between activists all across this state; more important to me than the act of lobbying itself. This year's trip might lead to success or it might not, but those connections are what will sustain this community throughout this phase of the movement and beyond.

Want to join us in Albany for Equality & Justice Day? Click here for more information or to register.

Morning Sweep

A bill is moving through Connecticut's state legislature that would essentially confirm the State Supreme Court's marriage decision and automatically transfer all civil unions conducted before the decision into marriages by 2010.

A recently formed West Point LGBT alumni association has been grabbing a lot of headlines lately in their campaign to apply pressure for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

In a first for New York, a state Supreme Court judge has allowed a married lesbian couple (they went to Canada in 2004) in Binghamton to legally divorce.

Vermont Governor Jim Douglas has been receiving a lot of mail since he stated that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if passed by the state legislature (which is highly likely). Currently the pro-marriage equality letter writers are outnumbering the anti-equality forces by 60% - 40%.

In other Vermont marriage news--former governor-slash-presidential candidate-slash-DNC chairman Howard Dean is urging democratic lawmakers to pass the marriage equality bill.

Evan Wolfson writes on the Huffington Post about the imminent California Supreme Court decision on Prop 8 and argues that the Court should do what courts are constitutionally charged with doing: protecting a targeted minority.

A report released by the European Union shows that LGBT people across Europe face widespread discrimination and harassment.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Morning Sweep

Gay City News Editor in Chief Paul Schindler reports on Mayor Bloomberg's restatement of support for marriage equality, noting that the mayor made some of his strongest statements on the issue to date by promising "to go with Christine Quinn up to Albany and to testify and to do whatever it takes to keep the pressure on."

There is good news and bad news surrounding the movement of marriage bill in Vermont and New Hampshire.

In Delaware it's all good news: a bill that would have banned marriages between same-sex couples was defeated in the State Senate and one that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation passed in the State House.

Researchers from UC Davis in California and Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC have filmed for the first time an HIV-infected T-cell infecting a healthy cell. Towleroad has the fascinating video, which scientists hope will aid them in developing more effective HIV/AIDS treatments.

Britain's National Portrait Gallery announced that its "Gay Icon" exhibition will open in July--and don't be surprised if some of first names that pop into your head are missing from it. Of course, Queerty puts in their two cents on what should make a bona fide gay icon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Morning Sweep (PM Edition)

Last night at the annual dinner of NYC’s LGBT Community Center, Mayor Bloomberg urged the State Senate to pass marriage equality legislation saying "Make no mistake, the time will come ... and we will pass this bill." Here's the Daily News report and here's a NY1 video clip.

The AP reports that NYC will start allowing married lesbian couples to list both woman as parents on the birth certificate of a child when one of them is the birth mother. New York State started doing this everywhere else in December. NYC, which has always kept set its own rules, has now followed suit.

Another state legislative chamber passes marriage equality legislation. Earlier this week it was the Vermont Senate. Now it’s the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Funding problems have resulted in the shutdown of Catskill Rural AIDS Services in Oneonta.

Equality & Justice Day – “Treated as a friend and an ally of the LGBT community”

Below is the second post in our series of E&J stories. Check back with us in the next few weeks for more – and don’t forget to register for E&J Day.

Fareed Michelen, NYS AFL-CIO, Albany:

Last year I attended my first Equality and Justice Day in Albany. I have lobbied for years prior to this event, but was asked by a friend of mine to help out with the activities, to be a marshal for small groups, and to make sure no one got lost. I figured it would be like every other lobbying activity I went to before: people would gripe about their conditions, some politician or his/her aide would provide lip service and we would move on to our next appointment. I must admit I was grossly mistaken. For starters it was one of the most organized and fluid events I ever participated in. No one got lost, scattered or injured. The greatest debate we got into was who wanted to go to legislative visits and who wanted to attend the workshops being offered. There were enough participants to do both and not diminish the numbers or voices of the constituents at the visits with the legislators.

The most amazing thing for me was the stories told by the folks involved. As a heterosexual male, I had assumed I knew the troubles facing the LGBT community and that they suffered like the rest of us folks of color. While oppression is a universal pain, what I learned from the great folks I was with was that we do not experience it universally. The struggles, ostracizing, harassment and disenfranchisement faced by members of the LGBT community are very unique and complicated in our society. To be able to put a face and a voice to these struggles was as much of an educational opportunity for me as it was for the legislators we saw. The scope of the suffering inflicted on this community is beyond my ability to put in words. All I can say is that more people need to hear it and be involved to learn about it.

Not only was I treated as a friend and ally to the LGBT community, but they were so patient with my ignorance and prejudices. I am not a perfect person and I was raised in a family and culture not open to the LGBT community. To share this openly with the attendees and then have them take me under their wing to educate and nurture my development was an amazing experience. As a firm believer in equality and justice for all, I learned that I was unaware of the scope and depth of the inequality and injustice the LGBT community faces on a daily basis. I encourage more people to participate in this wonderful event.

Want to join us in Albany for Equality & Justice Day? Click here for more information or to register.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Morning Sweep (PM Edition)

The AP follows up on Sen. Charles Schumer’s announcement in support of marriage equality and the repeal of DOMA with some political insight.

In a first-ever meeting with an LGBT group, the new Secretary of Education met with GLSEN recently and pledged to make schools safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The Vermont Senate voted on Monday to pass the state’s marriage equality bill. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

Hawaii Senate Democrats are trying to revive the stalled civil unions bill.

It’s still not over: the city of San Diego is appealing the ruling that it must pay damages to four firefighters who claim they were forced to participate in a pride parade.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Equality & Justice Day – “The tools to lobby for equality with confidence”

This year, it’s more important than ever that you join us in Albany on April 28 for Equality & Justice Day, our annual lobby day when we demonstrate the power of our community to our elected officials. We’ve shown you what E&J Day is like, and now we want to tell you – in the words of LGBT New Yorkers and allies who have attended in years past. Below is the first post in our series of E&J stories. Check back with us in the next few weeks for more – and don’t forget to register for E&J Day.

Gary Gilbert, Marriage Ambassador, Queens:

I highly recommend Equality and Justice Day to everybody because it builds up one’s confidence that one can lobby legislators. If one can do it in Albany, one can easily do it in one’s district.

My experience has been very positive. Three years ago, my husband and I visited our totally supportive Assemblymember. We bumped into him as he was stepping out of his office, and he was very happy to see that we had taken the time to visit him in Albany. This Assemblymember was for marriage equality years ago when LGBT activists were promoting domestic partnerships. His position, shocking to some activists at the time, was that if two people are going to commit to each other then they should be married like everybody else.

That first visit to an easy audience helped me to get used to the idea of visiting a politician. I remember I was nervous and kept referring to my sheet of bills we were supposed to talk about. But the Assemblymember was very friendly and reassuring. We spoke for twenty minutes about the issues, and then in the last five minutes the Assemblymember began to engage in small talk, which I had learned was a way for him to signal the visit was over. We walked out of the office with him, and then in the hall he told me about an unrelated bill and why he was voting against it, which allowed me to see that he reads the texts of bills very carefully and votes based on the exact wording. We felt that we had a very good picture of who this person is and how he does his job, which subsequently made it easier to contact him. We also got to visit our supportive State Senator’s office and spoke with a very nice aid.

After our first Equality and Justice Day, we found that we had built up our confidence that we could do district visits. The staff of both offices were very nice to us, and it became normal for us to stop in every now and then to talk. Our showing them that we were the kind of constituents who would travel to Albany to make a point seemed to help build our credibility with them. The second year was more of the same, with us visiting our friendly legislators. I led a group of constituents in a meeting with our Assemblymember, and learned how to be more assertive with the people I led.

Last year, I finally got to visit a State Senator who continues to sit on the fence for marriage equality. I was very nervous with him, but he smiled and treated me like a grandson. He told me he would vote for the Dignity for All Students Act and the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, but not marriage. I asked him why and he said his opposition was religious. I told him that this is civil marriage, and that the bill says that no church would be forced to marry a couple. It became clear from that encounter that his opposition was based on a lack of knowledge -- I had gathered important information that could be used for subsequent visits and lobbying. I had also become more self-confident in speaking with legislators about bills which are important to the LGBT community. Empire State Pride Agenda gave me the training and the tools to be able to go out there and lobby for equality with confidence.

Want to join us in Albany for Equality & Justice Day? Click here for more information or to register.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Morning Sweep

Breaking news: NY State Senator Charles Schumer has announced his support for marriage equality and the full repeal of DOMA. Read the Pride Agenda’s statement on Schumer’s positions here.

Long Island Episcopalians have elected a new bishop, The Rev. Lawrence Provenzano from Massachusetts, who said he firmly supports gay rights and believes in “the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church."

The New York Times tells the story of Ra Ruiz, a young lesbian who once took refuge among other LGBT youth at the Christopher Street Pier. Told through Ruiz’s own recorded words and poignant black and white pictures, the story is part of the Times’ “One in 8 Million” series, which adds new profiles of New Yorkers weekly.

Gay City News profiles The Reciprocity Foundation, a local organization that helps mostly LGBT homeless youth get much-needed job training.

Mass. Sen. John Kerry has asked the Obama administration to grant asylum to a gay Brazilian man whose former requests have been denied.

Ithaca College held a conference last week on the topic of sexuality in sports.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Morning Sweep

Elected officials and LGBT rights advocates, including the Pride Agenda, gathered at City Hall this week to announce a Council resolution asking the Obama administration to start counting LGBT people and married same-sex couples in the U.S. Census.

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn blogs on Huffington Post about her experience celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at the White House and her discussion with Obama about LGBT rights.

A 19-year-old Brooklyn man has been convicted of murder in the 2007 stabbing of a gay man he claimed had flirted with him, but there was not enough evidence for him to be convicted of a hate crime.

After a week of heated testimony, the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved the state’s marriage equality bill. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.

A new study from the Williams Institute challenges the stereotype that the lesbian and gay population is an affluent elite. The study reveals that lesbian couples are more likely to be poor than married heterosexuals, and children of same-sex parents are twice as likely to live in poverty.

A bill to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income, HIV-positive people has been reintroduced in Congress.

A federal judge has given Louisiana officials just 15 days to add the names of the two New York gay fathers to the birth certificate of the Shreveport-born son they adopted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Morning Sweep

The Ithaca College student paper has a great Q&A with Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first Orthodox rabbi to publicly come out in 1999.

Remember the guy who got in trouble for climbing the New York Times building? His daredevil stunt resulted in time for a good cause -- He’ll be serving his community service sentence at Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

Everyone is up in arms about the Pope’s recent statements that condoms help spread HIV/AIDS, but David Mixner’s blog on the topic is the most eloquent and direct that we’ve seen so far.

Hundreds of people attended yesterday’s public hearing on the Vermont marriage equality bill.

GLSEN reports that transgender students are more likely to face harassment in schools that their lesbian, gay and bisexual peers, but that they’re also more likely to speak out about LGBT issues.

An openly gay candidate is running for mayor of Guadalajara, Mexico.

A radical right “news service” reports the story of the new definition of marriage in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Too bad they’re six years too late on this “breaking news” – the change was made in 2003.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Pride Agenda on Twitter

The Pride Agenda is now on Twitter! See our tweets and sign up to follow us here. We'll be providing you with short, periodic updates on what we're doing and how you can get involved -- and very soon on April 28, we'll be "tweeting" at Equality & Justice Day!

Morning Sweep

New Jersey police are investigating the attack of a gay couple after a Britney Spears concert this past weekend. Police are not yet certain if the couple was targeted because they are gay.

The Obama administration plans to endorse a UN resolution calling for the world decriminalization of being gay that the Bush administration had refused to support.

Deadlocked in the judiciary committee, the New Hampshire marriage equality bill will now go to the House floor for a vote without any recommendation from the committee.

The federal circuit court judge in yesterday’s hearing about the Arkansas unmarried couples adoption ban ruled that the ACLU’s lawsuit against the ban can move forward.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Morning Sweep

Irish NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn will not march in the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade today, in part because of its lack of inclusiveness of LGBT representation.

Vermont legislators have begun a week of hearings on marriage equality legislation. You can watch the testimony here.

A hearing on the lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ ban on adoption by unmarried couples begins today. The top state lawyer will reportedly argue that "there is not a fundamental liberty interest in adopting or being adopted."

Also in Arkansas, a state legislator has filed a bill that would ban domestic partnership registries in the state, including one that is already established.

An Oklahoma teacher has been fired for her actions regarding a class project inspired by the film “The Laramie Project.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scenes from Winter Heat 2009

As we prepared for Winter Heat this year, we had difficulty deciding which heat-themed musical slogans to use. We could have told you “It’s getting hot in here, so come to Winter Heat.” Or, we could hearken back to an earlier time and suggest “The heat is on.” Some of us even favored, dare I say, that we suggest you may be “Lookin’ for some hot stuff.”

Finally, we gave up and realized we had better things to do.

Despite our failure to pick the appropriate lyrics, more than 400 people were inspired to come to Winter Heat this past Thursday, 3/12 at BLVD Nightclub in NYC, and we’re glad they did. Thanks to our fantastic guests, great tunes courtesy of the legendary DJ Missy B and DJ Trini, and stellar planning by event co-chairs Marla Hassner and Antoinette Kenmuir-Evans and the Winter Heat committee, we all had fun and [insert bad pun about heating up a cold night here].

Pride Agenda Board Co-Chair Mitch Karsch, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn & Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle.

Sarah Ferguson, Zoe Rodriguez, Juliana Frei & friend.

Melinda Ziyadat, Rebecca Hopkinson & Winter Heat Committee Member Leone Kraus.

Winter Heat Committee Co-Chair & Board Director Marla Hassner, & M. Gerard Thompson.

Carmelyn Malalis & friends.

Alix Smith, Board Director Maneesh Goyal & Board Director Damon Bayles.

(All photos courtesy of Stephanie Seliskar)

Morning Sweep

An organization of LGBT youth called Fierce and the Urban Justice Center are fighting to have a say in how Pier 40, a massive rundown structure where West Houston Street meets the West Side Highway, will be redeveloped. The youth, who often hang out in the area, would like to see a 24-hour youth center built there.

Newsday has a great story on Long Island LGBT seniors who have come out later in life and their connection to the Long Island branch of Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE).

The New York Times’ Frank Rick writes that people have less tolerance these days for the moral scoldings of the radical right, and that more support for subjects like stem-cell research, marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has resulted.

The Washington Post editorializes in favor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their same-sex foreign-born partners for residency. The Post says the act, if passed, will “right a gross unfairness.”

A threefold spike in anti-gay hate crimes in the county near San Francisco in the past year is being blamed on all the attention surrounding Prop. 8.

Much has been written lately about the solution some think will solve the marriage equality issue: establish “civil unions” for all and take “marriage” out of the hands of the government altogether.

The West Virginia Senate has passed a sexual orientation non-discrimination bill which will now go to the House for a vote.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Morning Sweep

It’s Friday the 13th (again) and we’re still trying to cool down after Winter Heat last night, so pardon our lateness in posting the Sweep this morning – who are we kidding? – afternoon. Anyway, on to the news…

Back in 2007, four Rochester police officers were investigated – but never faced criminal charges – in an alleged gay bashing incident in which they arrested the victims instead of going after the antagonists. Now, the officers are suing the city for $40 million for being “publicly humiliated.”

The trial has begun in the case of a gay Brooklyn man who was allegedly murdered because his killer thought he was making advances at him.

As a result of two CA federal appeals court judges’ writing orders that employees of their courts are entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners, Obama must now decide whether the government will provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. A decision against benefits will put him in hot water with the LGBT community, while a decision in favor could upset Republicans.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele has gotten some heat for his recent interview in GQ, where he said that he thinks same-sex marriage should be decided by the states and that being gay isn’t a choice: “…You just can’t simply say, oh, like, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.’ It’s like saying, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.’”

The Army fired 11 soldiers in January for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to a monthly update on the impact of the policy. “How many more good soldiers are we willing to lose due to a bad policy that makes us less safe and secure?" asked Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, the member of the House panel that oversees military spending who asked for the updates.

One of our favorite radical right news services is taking the game of Life a little too seriously.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Morning Sweep

A measure that would give marriage-like benefits to same-sex couples in Washington has passed in that state's Senate and now moves to the House for a vote.

Vermont's governor said yesterday that he does not support a same-sex marriage bill because the issue is "divisive." He also believes that his state's civil unions law is adequate.

A lot of the LGBT chattering class came down hard yesterday on openly gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) for his flub on the status of federal hate crimes legislation. His response to Andy Towle is reasonable--and reminds us why we shouldn't be so quick to go after those who truly have the best interest of our community at heart.

For LGBT Jews in NYC, Eastern Bloc is hosting a gay Purim party tonight. For the non-chosen: Purim is like Jewish Halloween, therefore big with the gays.

Claudia Brenner, a victim of anti-gay violence in the late eighties, will be speaking at SUNY Cortland on March 30 about the continued prevalence of hate crimes committed against LGBT people across the country.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morning Sweep

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and Gay Men's Health Crisis will be gathering at City Hall with leaders of other AIDS service organizations, elected officials, teachers and clergy to call attention to the "alarming" infection rates among women and girls.

New Jersey Gov. Corzine has evolved from being a weak supporter of civil unions to a strong supporter of marriage equality.

A new poll shows that if a repeal of Prop. 8 were to be put on the 2010 ballot, voters would currently be equally divided for and against it.

A lawsuit against Arkansas’ ban on unmarried partners adopting or becoming foster parents will proceed.

David Mixner thinks the U.S. should take a lesson from Britain’s LGBT-inclusive government.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Morning Sweep

Amid the outcry from LGBT advocates that police have been arresting gay men at NYC adult shops on false prostitution charges, the NYPD has decided that similar investigations will now have to be approved by the department's higher-ups.

The Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains has a new roommate: The Loft, a widely-known LGBT community center, has moved into vacant office space at the church after accepting a gracious invitation to co-habitate.

Reflecting on the CA Supreme Court seemingly leaning towards upholding Prop. 8 but still recognizing the 18,000 already-performed same-sex marriages, the L.A. Times writes on the repercussions for those marriages. Although some couples say they will be glad to have their marriages’ recognition solidified, they’re sad that they will be “on an island” and part of a small minority that their unmarried gay friends won’t be able to join.

The Advocate profiles seven LGBT White House appointees.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin will soon introduce the Domestic Partner Benefits & Obligations Act, which would extend benefits such as health, life and disability insurance to same-sex partners.

At a meeting at the European Parliament, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received praise for saying: "In particular, persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something we take very seriously."

Nearly 2,000 marriage equality advocates rallied in downtown Honolulu on Saturday in support of the state’s civil union bill.

Connecticut Catholic churches who don’t want to perform marriages for same-sex couples don’t have to. But for the Connecticut Catholic Conference, that’s not enough; they’re asking lawmakers to expand those who don't have to comply with the state's same-sex marriage law to florists, wedding photographers and justices of the peace. We have to second Republican Sen. John Kissel’s sentiments on this (even though he opposes same-sex marriage): “A law preventing a Catholic caterer from serving guests at a same-sex marriage could also be used by a Protestant baker who doesn't want to sell a cake to a Catholic father for his son's first communion. It could just as easily turn against each and every Catholic in the state of Connecticut." Amen.

Legislation in Kentucky to prohibit gay couples from adopting will advance to the Senate floor for a vote.

Two openly gay Minnesota lawmakers don’t see eye to eye on marriage equality. Gay Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble has proposed marriage equality legislation, but gay Republican Sen. Paul Koering opposes it, saying there are more “pressing issues” to focus on, like the economy.

The newest pointless, inaccurate study to hit the Internet declares that NYC is the least "manly" city in North America -- if you define manliness by factors like frequency of monster truck rallies and "emasculating" factors such as the number of home furnishing stores and subscription rates to beauty magazines. Wait a second...did we say inaccurate?

Friday, March 6, 2009

This Sunday, OffSprung presents: Out Artists Take the Stage

Join OffSprung! at The Living Room this Sunday, March 8 from 7-9 PM for a night of entertainment by lesbian and gay artists. OffSprung! is the Pride Agenda's series of programs and events that seek to engage the next generation of LGBT leaders and straight allies in advocacy, networking and volunteerism.

Enjoy some great music and comedy while meeting new people and getting engaged with OffSprung! We'll also be signing people up for Equality & Justice Day, the Pride Agenda's annual lobby day in Albany on April 28.

You can RSVP via e-mail or on Facebook here. We hope to see you there!

Yesterday’s Prop. 8 Oral Arguments

Analysis of yesterday’s California Supreme Court oral arguments on Prop. 8 is in, and it’s looking a bit somber. The justices, including ones who voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage last year, were skeptical about the argument that Prop. 8 was a Constitutional revision that needed to be put to the legislature and not just the voters. They cited a major voter-approved amendment that reinstituted the death penalty in CA and was later upheld in court. Justice Joyce Kennard, who was part of the 4-3 majority who supported same-sex marriage last May, said “It would appear to me that life is, at least in my view, a fundamental right. The court said that particular initiative restoring the death penalty in California was not a revision.”

Chief Justice Ronald George, the Republican justice who was also in the majority on the same-sex marriage decision and authored the opinion, seemed to agree with the anti-Prop. 8 arguments that constitutional amendments are too easy to pass in CA (the state’s constitution has been amended 500 times since 1911). However, he too expressed skepticism that the court should step in, suggesting instead that it is the legislature’s duty to reexamine the referendum process.

Although it may appear that the court is leaning toward upholding Prop. 8, the one pearl of good news is that it also seems opposed to throwing out the 18,000 marriages of same-sex couples already performed in CA. Although pro-Prop. 8 attorney Kenneth Starr argued that the proposition should be retroactive, several justices bristled at the unfairness of invalidating these already-established nuptials.

Of course, only time will tell exactly what the justices will decide and what their opinion will say. And since the court will hand down this decision in just 3 months or less – we’ll know soon where same-sex couples in CA stand.

In the meantime, for more on yesterday’s proceedings, click here, here and here.

Morning Sweep

Gov. Paterson has appointed two lesbian judges to the NYS Appellate Division. They will be the first openly gay judges to serve at this level.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested in Albany yesterday at a local high school and AlbanyU. They were greatly outnumbered by counter-protesters.

The Executive Council of the AFL-CIO has passed a unanimous resolution calling on the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8. Bilerico has an interesting post on what the NAACP’s opposition to Prop. 8 means to the movement. And for more Prop. 8 news, we’ll be posting shortly on yesterday’s oral arguments.

A bill before the Connecticut legislature would amend the state’s marriage laws to be gender-neutral now that marriage for same-sex couples is legal in the state. It would also transform civil unions into fully valid marriages by 2010.

Vermont’s marriage equality bill is on a fast-track through the Senate, and is likely to pass. Although it is also likely to pass in the House, it’s not known whether Gov. Jim Douglas, an opponent of same-sex marriage legislation, plans to veto it. If he does, the legislature may not have enough votes to override his veto.

The Illinois civil union bill has moved out of committee and will not be put to the House floor for a vote.

Legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

In more drama over high school productions, an ethics teacher in Texas has been suspended for moving forward with a production of “The Laramie Project.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Equality & Justice Day 2009 - The Time Is Now!

You’ve probably read about LGBT Equality & Justice Day, our one day of the year when hundreds of LGBT New Yorkers and our allies go to Albany to demonstrate the power of our community and lobby our elected officials. E&J Day 2009 will be the most important yet, because now, for the first time ever, we have a pro-LGBT Majority in the State Senate!

But this year, we don’t want to just tell you why you should register and come to E&J Day on April 28, 2009 – we want to show you.

You can learn more and register online here. Have any of you been to Equality & Justice Day in years past? Tell us about your experiences in the comments on this post – we and others would love to hear your stories about how you’ve made a difference in Albany on this vital day.

Morning Sweep

Last night, thousands of people marched from San Francisco's Castro District to City Hall to demonstrate their desire for the CA Supreme Court to invalidate Prop. 8. Oral arguments will take place today from noon to 3 PM Eastern time, and will be broadcast live online here.

The LA Times editorial board writes on the factors the Supreme Court will ponder in the Prop. 8 case: “Considering the ease with which a well-funded ballot initiative can garner millions of votes, the state -- and the high court -- would do well to consider how easily the majority can tyrannize a minority through the amendment process.”

Queerty has an interview with the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Executive Director Kate Kendall on their legal arguments against Prop. 8. NCLR legal director Shannon Minter will present these arguments today.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that her first two LGBT-related legislative priorities are an inclusive hate crimes law and an inclusive ENDA.

Legislators in Oregon have introduced their state’s version of a Dignity for All Students bill to protect all students – including LGBT students – from bullying in schools.

A Minneapolis news magazine has a comprehensive story on trans youth.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Morning Sweep

Thousands of people are expected to watch tomorrow’s arguments in the California Supreme Court Prop. 8 case. Legal experts are already weighing in on possible outcomes. The hearing will be broadcast live on a giant outdoor screen at the San Francisco Civic Center, and will be available live online here.

Obama has begun consulting with his top defense advisers about how to best get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor says Obama is working to make sure “that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.”

Anti-gay activists rallied outside North Carolina’s Legislative Building yesterday, but the legislature likely won’t respond to their hateful calls for a same-sex marriage ban.

An AP story reveals that a well-known Russian scholar has some interesting predictions for our country’s future: President Barack Obama will order martial law this year and the U.S. will split into six separate countries by 2011. Igor Panarin says that it’s all due to our moral decline, which is mostly the fault of gay men. Start digging your bomb shelter now!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lawsuit will challenge federal DOMA

In a major move that will shape the fight for LGBT rights on the federal level for years to come, a legal advocacy group will file suit in the Federal District Court of Boston today seeking that some of the federal benefits that come with marriage be extended to legally married same-sex couples. If the lawsuit is successful, gay and lesbian New Yorkers who have been married in Massachusetts or Connecticut will gain several of the federal benefits of marriage that pertain to Social Security, federal income tax, federal employees and retirees, and the issuance of passports. If the marriage equality bill becomes law in New York, the benefits would also apply to residents who marry here in their home state.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders – the group that successfully argued for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts – will challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. From the New York Times: “’In our view, it’s a straightforward equal-protection issue,” said Mary L. Bonauto, civil rights project director for the group, referring to the constitutional mandate that laws be applied equally to everyone.”

The lawsuit focuses on gaining equal protection under the law for a select few of the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage. What is will not do, however, is challenge the part of DOMA that allows states to decide whether or not they will recognize and respect marriages of same-sex couples that were performed out of state, as New York does. Legal experts hope this will allow the Court to focus on the fairness issue.

The plaintiffs in the suit include eight couples and three widowers. One of them, Herbert Burtis, 78, lost his spouse last year, but cannot under federal law receive the $700 a month in Social Security survivor benefits that he would get if had he been in a straight marriage. According to the Times, Burtis doesn’t expect to win federal benefits for same-sex marriages in his lifetime, “But at least I can be part of what I think would be a historic moment to help someone in a future generation get equality under the law,” he said.

Yes he can – and we thank him for doing so as we wait to see what happens in this crucial case.

Morning Sweep

New Jersey Gov. Corzine says he hopes to sign marriage equality legislation into law in 2009. He has also announced a new regulation allowing transgender NJ residents to provide an affidavit of their gender identity to change the gender on their driver’s licenses, instead of the old requirement of proof of gender reassignment surgery.

The California House and Senate have both approved resolutions calling on the state Supreme Court to declare Prop. 8 illegal. The court will hear arguments on Thursday and will rule within 3 months.

We usually wouldn’t waste our breath on the ridiculous anti-gay antics of Westboro Baptist Church’s Pastor Fred Phelps, but we’ll make an exception for anything that involves the Supreme Court. The Court has ruled against Phelps, who sued the Casper, Wyoming City Council for not allowing a statue declaring that Matthew Shepard went to hell be erected in a government park.

While we’re on the topic of crazy, hateful anti-gay activists, let’s talk about the latest comments from Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. He claims that young conservatives who favor civil unions for same-sex couples are confused by the crafty gays, who have tricked them into not realizing how dangerous civil unions are to society and what a threat they are to religious freedom. Even we don’t think we’re that clever…

Monday, March 2, 2009

Morning Sweep

The Poughkeepsie Journal writes on the fight for marriage for same-sex couples in New Paltz.

The lawyer for Keith Phoenix, one of the two men charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of Jose Sucuzhanay in Brooklyn, claims the killing was not a hate crime. He will argue that client acted in self-defense, believing that the victim was reaching for a gun during their confrontation.

A Troy resident writes on the changing climate for marriage equality in light of the pro-gay acceptance speeches at this year's oscars in this Albany Times-Union op-ed.

Legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will likely be introduced in Congress today.

Prop. 8 faces the California Supreme Court this week. The L.A. Times does a great job of breaking down the arguments on both sides. And not surprisingly, a profile of the two lead lawyers in the case shows they couldn’t be any more different than each other.

CNN reports that hate groups are experiencing a surge in membership since Obama took office.

James Dobson, famous anti-gay chairman of Focus on the Family, has stepped down. But as Joe.My.God puts it, "Don't expect Dobson's stepping down as chairman to have the slightest change in their evil doings."