Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Religion Does Not Mean Morality


by Wayne Besen:

If 2008 taught the world one lesson, it is that religious people are not morally superior to those who are non-religious. Indeed, faith often shelters the shameless and provides cover for the most corrupt among us.

Sanctimony was the sanctuary of Bernard Madoff, the con artist who bilked fellow Jewish people who never imagined this man of piety would mastermind a Ponzi scheme. A New York Times article summed it up: "...Jews all over the country are already sending up something of a communal cry over a cost they say goes beyond the financial to the theological and personal."

The article quoted Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angles who said, "I'd like to believe someone raised in our community, imbued with Jewish values, would be better than this."

Apparently, the rabbi has a short memory. In 2006, corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff disgraced the Jewish community. When he wasn't stealing from Indian tribes and polluting Washington, he could be found in synagogues extolling his Jewish family values.

Many in the Jewish community seem shocked by recent events. They have the same befuddled looks on their faces as Christians ripped off by televangelist Jim Bakker. Or, the wide-eyed puritans in the pews who were stunned that Revs. Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard had a proclivity for prostitutes.

This is not to say that religious people are necessarily more corrupt. But, the myth that faith makes one less fallible and more pure must be punctured. This fable comes at a great cost to the holy who keep getting hosed. Charlatans are acutely aware that when religious institutions confer credibility, it is easier to con the credulous. Needless to say, churches, temples and mosques are often a refuge for reprobates. As escaped slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglas noted in his tome "Autobiography," the most devout Christians made the most brutal slave owners.

Clearly, there are many people of faith who live exemplary lives of upstanding morality. It is the assumption, however, that attending temple makes one less likely to succumb to temptation that is dangerous. Madoff would still have fooled many of America's wisest investors had he not immersed himself in the Jewish community. But, without this powerful veneer of morality, perhaps investors would have looked closer at his scam.

In 1997, James Hedges, founder of LJH Global Investments, met with Madoff to discuss investing money for wealthy clients. He says that there were red flags for those who bothered to look.

"His whole tone during the meeting was curt, truncated, and he volunteered nothing," Hedges told Barron's. "It was an extraction process to get him to answer anything...What it told me was that it was a fraud."

A separate New York Times article discussed religious extremism among students in the nation of Jordan. Frustrated with dishonest "secular" politicians, these students wrongly assume that religious leaders are less corrupt and mindlessly regurgitate the slogan, "Islam is the answer." They ignore the endemic corruption among Shiite leaders in Iran, the barbarism of Al Qaeda and the suffocating repression in Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Honesty is the answer - not Islam, Judaism or Christianity. If people of faith happen to be honest, it is really beside the point, not a prerequisite for morality.

The largest problem with religious leaders is that they have trouble apologizing for their sins - because they are supposedly speaking for God. So, if they apologize, it is akin to God having been wrong.

One example of such spiritual arrogance is Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, who clearly and unquestionably compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia. As a result, gay activists accurately called him anti-gay. Now that his reputation has taken a hit, he put out a new video denying that he verbally assaulted gays. Wouldn't a true moral leader simply say, "I'm sorry," rather than offering slick PR from the pulpit?

San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project released a study this week that found that young gay people who are rejected by their parents after coming out were more likely to attempt suicide, experience depression and use drugs than those whose parents were accepting. Will a single religious leader, including Warren, reconsider the harm they are doing to gay youth?

The U.S. has spent more than $200 million on abstinence-only programs, which promote ignorance over education in schools. A new study, reported in Pediatrics, shows that such programs are a fraud, with teenagers who pledged to avoid sex until marriage as likely to have sex as other students. The teens that took virginity pledges were also less likely to use birth control pills or condoms than those making no promise. Will a single religious "leader" have the morality to give up their dogma to prevent the deaths of teens that are having unsafe sex?

This New Year, let's vow to judge people by their good principles and not their piety. As we learned in 2008 -- they are not necessarily the same thing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mildred Loving on Same-Sex Marriage: "I Understand It, and I Believe It."

The Color Of Love

from The New York Times:

In June 1963, Mildred Loving, the 22-year-old wife of Richard Loving, a bricklayer, sat down with a piece of lined loose-leaf paper and wrote a letter in neat script to the Washington branch of the A.C.L.U. “My husband is White,” she wrote, “I am part negro, & part indian.” Five years earlier, they married in Washington, she explained, but did not know that there was a law in Virginia, where they lived, against mixed marriages. Upon arriving back home, the two were jailed, tried and told to leave the state, which is how she ended up back in Washington. Her request to the A.C.L.U. was heartbreakingly humble: “We know we can’t live there, but we would like to go back once and awhile to visit our families & friends.” A judge had told them that if they set foot, together, in the state again, they would be jailed for one year. She hoped to hear from the lawyer there “real soon.”

The letter didn’t mention the details of the arrest: the three local authorities who let themselves into her mother’s home one hot June night, invaded the bedroom where Mildred and Richard slept and woke them with the blinding glare of a flashlight. She didn’t express the humiliation of spending five nights in a rat-infested jail (her husband, because he was white, spent only one night behind bars). She didn’t try to convey just how homesick she was for the small, rural speck of a town in Virginia where she had lived with her family all her life, just down the road from Richard, who started courting her when she was just 11 and he was 17.

Their relationship was, by all accounts, an uncomplicated love affair in Central Point, Va., an area in which racial divisions were far from straightforward. She and Richard grew up attending segregated churches and schools, but outside of those formal arenas, blacks and whites, many of whom also had Cherokee blood, freely socialized, worked side by side (Richard’s father worked for a black landowner) and occasionally fell in love. Richard first met Mildred when he went to hear her brothers play music at her home down the road.

Two young civil rights lawyers took up the case, and in 1967 the ruling came down from the Supreme Court, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren: Declaring that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” Warren argued that the Virginia statute violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. An unforgettable picture captures the Lovings at a news conference in their lawyers’ office the day of the ruling: Richard and Mildred, their heads leaning close, his arm draped possessively around her neck, Richard looking gruff, Mildred looking girlishly delighted. More than triumph, more than justice, the picture captured, at a glimpse, a couple in love.

In the years following the ruling, the Lovings turned down countless requests for interviews, public appearances and honors. Mildred Loving had no affiliations beyond her church and her family and never considered herself a hero. “It wasn’t my doing,” she said a year before her death. “It was God’s work.”

She resolutely lived out a private, ordinary life with its ordinary pleasures — a happy marriage, three kids, a home near family — and its sadly ordinary tragedies. One day when Mildred was 35, she and Richard were driving on a highway when another car crashed into theirs. Richard was killed instantly. Mildred, who lost her left eye in the accident, never remarried or considered it. She spent the second half of her life attending church, cooking for children and grandchildren, smoking unfiltered Pall Malls, drinking cup after cup of instant coffee with the neighbors and looking out from her back porch to a peaceful view of the fields.

Civil rights historians had pretty much accepted that they wouldn’t hear again from Mildred Loving. But last year, the 40th anniversary of the ruling, three colleagues working on behalf of Faith in America, a gay rights group, visited Loving at the small ranch house that Richard built after they moved back to Virginia. The organization was hoping to persuade her to make a statement in favor of gay marriage at a celebration of her own court ruling that the group planned to hold in Washington. “I just don’t know,” Loving told them. She hadn’t given it much thought. She listened sympathetically, a worn Bible on her end table, as the group’s founder, the furniture entrepreneur Mitchell Gold, told her of his own struggles as a teenager to accept that society would never let him marry someone he loved. She was undecided when the group left a few hours later, but told Ashley Etienne, a young woman who consulted for the group, that they could continue to chat about the subject over the phone.

Etienne, who said Loving reminded her of her own grandmother, started calling every few days. She asked Loving about how she and her husband endured their setbacks; Loving told her that she didn’t understand why two people who loved each other could not be married and express their love publicly. She talked, as she always did, about how much she loved Richard and what a kind, gentle man he was. On her own, she talked to her neighbors about the request; she talked to her children about it. And in the end, Loving told Etienne, yes, she would allow the group to read a statement in her name supporting gay marriage at the commemoration. “Are you sure you understand what you’re saying?” Etienne asked. “You understand that you’re putting your name behind the idea that two men or two women should have the right to marry each other?”

“I understand it,” Loving said, “and I believe it.”

Research Links Poor Health Of LGB Youth to Family Rejection


from Bio-Medicine:

Researchers have established a correlation between the health of lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents and how their families react to their coming-out.

“For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child’s sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood—such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts,” said Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University and lead author of the research.

The major research findings included:

• LGB young adults who experienced higher rates of family rejection had significantly poorer health outcomes.

• LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

• Latino males reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence.

“This study clearly shows the tremendous harm of family rejection, even if parents think they are well-intentioned, following deeply held beliefs, or even protecting their children," said Sten Vermund, a pediatrician and Amos Christie Chair of Global Health at Vanderbilt University.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In new video, Rick Warren accuses gays of "hateful attacks," "hate speech," "Christ-ophobia," and of being "evil"

Via John Aravosis at AMERICAblog, Rick Warren is doubling down and accusing his critics of "hate-speech" and "Christophobia."


Rachel Maddow has the video, and takes Warren to task for the hypocrisy of saying that it's unfair to call his views hateful while simultaneously accusing his critics of hate speech. Moreover, as Rachel notes, Warren flat-out lies about his comments comparing gay marriage to pedophilia and incest.

Setting aside Warren's role as inaugural invocation speaker (for a brief moment), I don't think there's any way to defend what he is now saying. I accept the proposition that it's possible to disagree on the issue of gay marriage without calling someone names.

But there's really no comparison between gay marriage and incest or pedophilia, and if Warren thinks they are equivalent, he's either a fan of incest and pedophilia, or he has serious problem with gay people. And calling his critics "Christophobes" just makes matters worse.

A simple apology from Warren for having made the comparison probably would have made this whole controversy go away. But now he's doubling down, and it's just making matters worse.

:::

Anytime Rick Warren's name is mentioned, there seems to be a fair number of people who just want the issue to get swept under the rug. I have great sympathy for that view. I want this mess to go away, too. Obviously, the last thing we need is a divisive force at the inauguration.

But it's important to remember that it is Rick Warren who is the divider, and the real division isn't between those who think he should speak at the inaugural and those who don't, it's between those who would deny gay citizens the same rights and privileges as everybody else, and those who believe gay citizens deserve the same rights and privileges as everybody else.

That's the real division, and Rick Warren is on the wrong side. Unfortunately, we're stuck with him, barring any unforeseen developments. But that doesn't mean we have to resign ourselves to accepting his views -- nor does it mean that Rick Warren has ruined the inauguration.

The truth is that this is a situation that demands a complex political position, recognizing that Obama's team screwed up by inviting Warren without losing sight of the fact that inauguration day will still be a great day, signifying not just the end of Bush's reign, but also the triumph of this nation over the terrible scourge of racism.

:::

Rick Warren's presence at the inauguration is a fitting symbol of the work that is still to be done, and perhaps the best thing that has come out of this whole affair is that those who support gay rights have learned how important their voice is.

In the end, Barack Obama's record on gay rights will be measured by what he accomplishes, and what he is able to accomplish will in large part be determined by what we as citizens empower him to achieve.

In recent days, we've once again seen the fundamental truth of those three little words: yes we can.

As Obama himself has said many times, it's not about him. It's about us, and what we can achieve, united. We have so much work to do, and we can't lose site of the fact that part of that work is achieving full equality under the law for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

Around Pennsylvania, Thanks To Diane Gramley, Venango County Is Becoming Known As The HOME OF HATE

LGBT People in Allegheny County Under Attack

from Steel-City.org

A newly proposed Allegheny County Human Relations Ordinance which would help protect people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry or place of birth, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, age" and use of animals to aid those with disabilities is facing major opposition from people who do not even live in Allegheny County.


The American Family Association of PA, headed by right-wing extremist Diane Gramley, appears to be the primary organizer of this opposition. Their mailing address is in Venango County. Their attacks on the Allegheny County bill center on their opposition to including sexual orientation & gender identity.

The proposed Allegheny County Ordinance is based on the current City of Pittsburgh Human Relations Ordinance which has included sexual orientation since 1990. Gender Identity was added shortly after.

According to Allegheny County Councilwoman Amanda Green, she has lost 3 co-sponsors to the human relations ordinance.

Allegheny County is the second largest county in Pennsylvania and failure to pass this ordinance could have state-wide ramifications.

There will be a public hearing on the bill on Jan. 15, 2009. In the meantime, if you live in Allegheny County please contact your County Councilor and ask them to support & Co-Sponsor the bill.

You can find out what County Council District you are in by clicking the link below:

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/council/dist.aspx

Click on the link below for Contact information for each County Council Member.

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/council/members.aspx

www.steel-city.org is working for the successful passage of the Ordinance & we are planning a Rally for the Ordinance in conjunction with the Nationwide DOMA protest set for 10 Jan 2009.

WE NEED VOLUNTEERS. If you would like to help email historycat101@aol.com &/or just come to the planning meeting described HERE

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another Gay Bashing By Bush As He Heads Out The Door


Change could allow doctors to reject gay patients
At issue is HIV testing, artificial insemination


by Chris Johnson for The Washington Blade

The Bush administration issued a “right of conscience” regulation last week that could enable health care workers to deny treatment to gay patients based on religious beliefs, according to activists.

Issued Dec. 18, the rule allows the federal government to withhold funds from health care facilities if they do not permit workers to opt out of performing medical procedures they find objectionable based on religious or moral grounds.

The 127-page regulation, which is estimated to cost $44 million to implement, is primarily aimed at allowing health workers to opt out of performing abortions, but Lara Schwartz, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the rule could enable health care providers to decline to provide services for gay people — even for treatment of a common cold.

“It’s not clear that that is the intent,” she said, “but it absolutely does not preclude that result, which is one of the reasons that HRC submitted comments asking them to draft it differently.”

Schwartz said refusing to provide artificial-insemination services for a lesbian couple would be one possible procedure that medical workers could refuse to participate in based on the regulation.

In a Dec. 19 statement, HRC said a health care worker might be able to refuse to administer an HIV test to gay patients and even be exempt from telling them where else they could receive the test.

Additionally, pharmacists could refuse to fill a prescription for hormone therapy if they have objections to transgender people, HRC says.

Health & Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, in a statement Dec. 18, said the rule “protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience.”

“Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience,” he said.

Kevin Schweers, a spokesperson for the Department of Health & Human Services, said the new regulation does not change existing civil rights laws in any way and said “it would be impermissible to decline to provide or participate in a service if the decision is based on an individual’s characteristics that are federally protected.”

There are no protections for sexual orientation under federal law, but HIV-positive people enjoy protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Schweers said under the new regulation, an HIV/AIDS clinic funded through the Ryan White Care Act must still “serve its target population.”

The Department of Health & Human Services will review any complaints alleging discrimination under the new regulation on case-by-case basis, Schweers said.

The regulation goes into effect around the time President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20.
Cristina Finch, senior legal counsel for HRC, said Obama could issue another rule to rescind President Bush’s upon taking office, but undoing the regulation could take several months.

Congress also could take action on the regulation, but there is no indication from lawmakers or from the Obama administration on how they plan on reacting to the rule, Finch said.
The Obama transition team did not respond to a request for comment on how it would respond to Bush’s regulation.

Last month, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced legislation to repeal the rule, but the bill will die when the congressional session ends this year.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the only out lesbian in Congress, condemned the regulations in a Dec. 18 statement and said she is “deeply troubled by the Bush administration’s latest attack on patients’ rights and the doctor-patient relationship.”

“Medical care must be based on science and the patients’ best interest, not the providers’ religious, political or other philosophical views,” she said.

HRC President Joe Solmonese said in the Dec. 19 statement that the regulations “sacrifice patients’ right to medical care, permitting providers to refuse to do their jobs when they choose.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry War on Christmas -- Religious Extremists Aren't Going Anywhere


By Frederick Clarkson, The Public Eye


The Christian right has launched a permanent religious war to thwart, and even to roll back, advances in civil rights.


Editor's Note: The idea that Bush's departure and Barack Obama's election herald a decline in power for the Christian Right in America is sorely mistaken. As the "War on Christmas" turns into an annual outrage, and progressives argue against the choice of anti-gay, anti-abortion Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration, we are reminded all too soon that the Religious Right is a steady force in the political and cultural arena. Frederick Clarkson's essay makes the case that we are in the middle of a religious war -- and that we should always be on alert against it.

For a year or more in the run-up to the elections, we heard claims that the Religious Right is dead, dying or irrelevant and that the so-called Culture Wars are over, or about to be. Such declarations have turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

There are many reasons for the staying power of the Religious Right. Among them is an extraordinary infrastructure developed over decades, especially at the state level. This infrastructure is an important part of the reason the movement will be able to sustain, restore and replenish itself as the founding generation of Religious Right leaders passes from public life and why it will be able to regroup in the wake of national Republican electoral losses in 2008. But this is not the only reason.

The Religious Right is on a mission, or rather a cluster of interrelated missions. They are religious in nature and transcend not only electoral outcomes but the lives of individuals and institutions. This is much of the source of both the movement's resilience and its development of a vast capacity to move people and shape events to raise up leaders, and to field effective organizations able to wage electoral campaigns at all levels and effectively use the process of state ballot initiatives to drive wedge issues and, ultimately, their legislative and constitutional agenda.

That is why the Religious Right will be a major factor in American politics for at least as long as the life of anyone reading these words.

Meanwhile, to get a sense of where things stand, let's look at an album of snapshots of what is happening on the ground, in the states, where most of American political life and government takes place. But before we do, let's begin at the beginning.

Article Continues HERE

Venango County, Could We Be The Buenos Aires Of The North?

from The Economist:


"First you step, then you change direction. Don't try to do both at the same time!" implores the instructor at La Marshall, a tango school in a sparsely decorated apartment in the centre of Buenos Aires. But one couple is having trouble taking any steps at all. A paunchy, middle-aged man with a shaved head awkwardly holds his partner - a much younger, thin, dark-skinned man from Australia - while attempting to shepherd him across the floor. Finally, after a few missteps, they decide to switch roles, with the slimmer man taking charge and deftly piloting his partner.

La Marshall, a predominantly same-sex venue, is one of many specialized attractions Buenos Aires offers gay tourists, who have flocked there since Argentina's 2002 currency devaluation made it one of the world's most affordable destinations. Tourism officials reckon that at least a fifth of foreign visitors to the city are homosexuals.

In recent years, Buenos Aires has hosted a gay tourism symposium, a gay football tournament, a gay film festival and the first gay cruise in South American waters; it is now home to a gay hotel, a gay bookstore, and a network of stores providing discounts to customers wielding a "gay-friendly Buenos Aires" card.

The influx of so-called "pink money" has become a pillar of the city's economy. Gay tourists, most of whom are affluent and childless, spend on average around $250 a day on top of their hotel bill.

The city's combination of European architectural elegance and Latin American flair at knock-down prices has attracted tourists of all sexual orientations. But unlike many other Latin American cities, Buenos Aires has established a reputation as being open and tolerant in a region where homophobia remains prevalent. It has been a regional leader in expanding gay rights.

The city council has approved a law authorizing same-sex civil unions, and taken other measures that provide for benefits to pass to surviving partners in such unions and to require hospitals to refer to transgender patients by their chosen rather than legal names. And its array of gay-themed or gay-friendly venues comfortably eclipses the offerings in Latin American capitals.

"How many gay discos are there in Ecuador?" asks Alfredo Ferreyra of Buegay, a tour company. "Here, we speak the same language as our clients."

Some complain that the gay scene in Buenos Aires has become too mainstream. They question how deep the tolerance goes. "I don't know how people would react if you walk too close together with your partner or hold hands on the street," says Urs Jenni, a Swiss guest at the Axel, a "heterofriendly" gay hotel where rooms cost up to $500 a night. The only notable gay element in its futuristic lobby is the silhouette of a man's torso imprinted on a glass barrier.

Others worry that homosexual tourists are no better shielded from the world financial crisis than anyone else. "At this time of year, we had 120 to 150 people a night," says Roxana Gargano, the organizer of La Marshall. "Now we're down to around 80. It's hit us pretty hard."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Great News for Pennsylvania!

from Equality Advocates:

On December 22, the Harrisburg City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to create a Life Partnership Registry, allowing unmarried, committed couples to affirm and recognize their relationships with the city. By a vote of 7 to 0, the Harrisburg City Council has taken an important step to streamline the process for domestic partners to obtain healthcare and other benefits afforded to married couples

"This vote shows that people all across Pennsylvania are committed to treating same-sex couples with the same respect and dignity as other married couples," said Jake Kaskey, policy and outreach coordinator with Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization. "This type of legislation has strong support across Pennsylvania, and will concretely help countless unmarried couples obtain benefits afforded to married couples."

Kaskey noted that polling conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research in November 2007 found that 91% of people polled supported hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.

Equality Advocates Pennsylvania worked with Councilman Miller and Harrisburg Attorney Benjamin C. Dunlap, Jr. to draft the ordinance.

Councilman Dan Miller, who introduced this legislation, remarked, "I am proud that the Harrisburg City Council unanimously passed the Life Partner Registry Bill last night. It is a positive step toward equality for all residents. I hope this new law expanding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in the state capital will inspire state legislators to take similar action."

Lesbian and gay, as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, can register with the city. Harrisburg would become the third municipality in Pennsylvania to approve this type of registry, joining Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The ordinance now awaits the approval of Mayor Stephen Reed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Warren On? Party Off!

By Richard Cohen for The Washington Post:


Not that he was planning to attend, but Barack Obama should know that my sister's inauguration night party -- the one for which she was preparing Obama Punch -- has been canceled. The notice went out over the weekend, by e-mail and word of mouth, that Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation had simply ruined the party. Warren is anti-gay, and my sister, not to put too fine a point on it, is not. She's gay.

She is -- or was -- a committed Obama supporter. On the weekend before the presidential election, my sister and my mother drove from the Boston area, where they both live, to Obama's New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester. There my mother made 76 phone calls for Obama, which is not bad for someone who is 96, and gives you an idea of the level of commitment to Obama in certain precincts of my family.

I should say right off that my mother feels less strongly about Warren than my sister does. But I should add immediately that my sister feels very strongly, indeed. She's been in a relationship with another woman, the quite wonderful Nancy, for 19 years, and she resents the fact that Warren has likened same-sex marriage to incest, pederasty and polygamy.

"I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage," Warren told Beliefnet.com's Steve Waldman. "I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

Waldman asked, "Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?"

"Oh, I do," said Warren.

There you have the thinking of the man Obama has chosen above all other religious figures to represent him in this most solemn moment. He likens my sister's relationship -- three children, five grandchildren, so loving as to be envied and so conventional as to be boring -- to incest or polygamy.

The conventional thing to say is that Obama has a preacher problem -- first the volcanic Jeremiah Wright and now the transparently anti-gay Warren. But the real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama's inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.

This was apparent to me almost a year ago when I reported that Obama's church, the Trinity United Church of Christ, had given a major award to Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. The award was presented in Wright's name and featured in a cover story in the church's magazine, Trumpet. When I asked the Obama campaign about this, I was told that Obama himself did not agree with Farrakhan. What a relief!

And what a joke. I never for a moment thought Obama viewed Farrakhan any differently from the way I do. But I also thought that as a U.S. senator, as a presidential candidate or even as a mere citizen, he had an obligation to denounce the award -- maybe quit the church. Do something! He did nothing.

Now we have a repeat of that episode. This time it is not Obama's preacher who has decided to honor a bigot, it is Obama himself. And, once again, we get the same sort of rationalizations. Obama says he does not agree with Warren about all things. Obama says he himself is not anti-gay and, in fact, although he does not support same-sex marriage (as opposed to civil unions), he has been a stalwart champion of gay causes. Therefore, it seems to follow, he can honor an anti-gay activist.

I can understand Obama's desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, "we're not going to agree on every single issue." He went on to say, "We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans." Sounds nice.

But what we do not "hold in common" is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.

Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue -- the rights of gays to be treated equally -- as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that's nothing to celebrate.

The party's off.

The Signs and Pain Have Been Everywhere

Another in the Voices of Venango County series, this by Robert Gatesman of Oil City:


Chris Packer sure went ballistic when I dared compare anti-gay bigotry of today to anti-black bigotry of earlier times. I guess he things that because there are no "Heterosexual Only" signs posted, there is no discrimination against gays.

I assume he was not harassed and humiliated in school by obnoxious jocks, long on brawn and short on brains; called names like "fag," "fairy," and "fruit;"or condemned as a "sick pervert" or a sinner who will spend eternity in hell's fire.

He hasn't experienced being refused a job or promotion or a place to live, hasn't been told by the military that he's not good enough to defend his country and hasn't been bombarded with the never-ending drumbeat of messages trying to convince him he's a sick pervert or a soul lost to the devil.

Yes, Chris, everywhere I've looked for nearly 70 years I've seen "No Homosexuals Allowed" signs and felt the pain and humiliation they engendered.

Is it any wonder I would see the wisdom of teaching children not to humiliate and denigrate their classmates? If he thinks it's wrong for one group of people to treat another group with respect, I feel sorry for him.

Finally, he wants to make a deal - allow children to be taught to respect others who are different if I will allow American public schools to be turned into Christian indoctrination centers. Sorry, no deal.

The Bible is an integral part of western civilization and as such should be part of a well-rounded history curriculum. But if, as I suspect, he wants children to be taught that the Bible is the only true source of spirituality and philosophy and all other beliefs are either tragic errors or the works of the devil, sorry.

I'd rather go back in the closet than make any deal that would turn our schools from institutions meant to teach students to think into factories to turn out cookie-cut Christians with braces on their brains. Sorry, no deal.

Excerpted from a letter to The Derrick, 7/24/07.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Small Town - Big Town: Hate Is Hate

This testimony from Washington DC is a reminder that the violence of bigotry and discrimination is everywhere ... and that we in Venango County have the opportunity to make sure something like this does not happen here on our watch.




And this story defies understanding:

Lesbian's brutal gang rape investigated in Calif.
By Lisa Leff, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.

Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.

"It just pushes it beyond fathomable," he said. "The level of trauma — physical and emotional — this victim has suffered is extreme."

Authorities are characterizing the attack as a hate crime but declined to reveal why they think the woman was singled out because of her sexual orientation. Gagan would say only that the victim lived openly with a female partner and had a rainbow flag sticker on her car.

The 45-minute attack began when one of the men approached the woman as she crossed the street, struck her with a blunt object, ordered her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her on the spot with the help of the other men.

When the group saw another person approaching, they forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building, where she was raped again inside and outside the vehicle. The assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car. Officers found the car abandoned two days later.

The woman sought help from a nearby resident, and she was examined at a hospital. Although the victim said she did not know her attackers, detectives hope someone in the community knows them. One of the men went by the nickname "Blue" and another was called "Pato," according to authorities.

Richmond police are offering a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the attackers.

Gay rights advocates note that hate crimes based on sexual orientation have increased nationwide as of late. There were 1,415 such crimes in 2006 and 1,460 in 2007, both times making up about 16 percent of the total, according to the FBI.

Avy Skolnik, a coordinator with the New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, noted that gay, lesbian and transgender crime victims may be more reluctant than heterosexual victims to contact police.

"Assailants target LGBT people of all gender identities with sexual assault," he said. "Such targeting is one of the most cruel, dehumanizing and violent forms of hate violence that our communities experience."

Skolnik said the group plans to analyze hate crime data to see whether fluctuations may be related to the gay marriage bans that appeared on ballots this year in California, Arizona and Florida.

"Anytime there is an anti-LGBT initiative, we tend to see spikes both in the numbers and the severity of attacks," he said. "People feel this extra entitlement to act out their prejudice."

Some Christians Fail To Understand Message


Another in the Voices of Venango County series, this by Christopher Thomas Cummins of Franklin:


It amazes me how many "Christians" in our society want to micromanage sinful behavior, often through the government. In doing so, they fail to understand what Christ's message is about.

From the beginning of time, people were meant to look at each other as sisters and brothers, as family, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, political or national affiliation. it means we are supposed to look out for, assist and provide for one another, not to condemn, but to be compassionate to our sisters and brothers.

Each of us has many opportunities to make others' lives better by giving of our time, money or any other resource we have to offer. In doing so, God will bless us and forgive us when we screw up.

As God's children, it is up to us to help and uplift our sisters and brothers, to assist them in becoming stronger spiritually, emotionally, financially and socially. We have a justice system to deal with lawbreakers and God to punish sinners; it is not His children's business to persecute others, but to show compassion, as they would want mercy from God.

We should not be viewing people strictly by their sexuality, religiou, political background, nationality, race or gender, but as family whom we have an obligation to help. The godless government only looks out for the poor because it has to, as nobode else is willing to do the job. In a truly Christian nation, those who have would give generously to those without, no strings attached.

Please remember the way in which you view and deal with others will eventually be used to judge you. If you live strictly by the law, you will be judged by it. If you live by the law, tempered with love, compassion and mercy, you will be saved by it. You can follow Mammon or God, not both.

Excerpted from The Derrick 2/28/08.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why Get Worked Up Over Who Someone Loves?


Another in the Voices of Venango County series, by Scott Zelinsky of Oil City:

As I read The Derrick the other morning, I had to laugh. I saw an announcement in the wedding section for a gay couple and knew that the small-minded fury would be churned up again in the editor's section.

I moved to this area several years ago because of the beautiful scenery, kind and caring people, and hospitable nature of the people here. It still surprises me to this day that people can get so worked up over who another person chooses to love.

We are still talking about love after all. Gay or straight, love is still a good thing, right? Two people who have pledged their commitment to each other is hardly a reason to be moved to a "shaking anger" as one reader wrote. The last time I checked, The Derrick was a public forum.

Lastly, do these readers who believe that their letters degrading gays and lesbians should be published, also really believe that letters and articles supporting gays and lesbians should not? Sounds like a double standard to me. Long live free speech!

Excerpted from The Derrick 5/20/04.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Choice Words . com


Submitted by Steve Plummer of Pittsburgh:

The day that our 15 year-old son came out to us was a difficult one for my wife. She did and said all the right things. Most importantly she told him it didn't change the way she felt about him in any way and that we would always love him.

But she worried.

She has no issues with gay people but she was afraid for him. Afraid he'd get sick. Afraid he'd be alone. Afraid he be a victim of a violent hate crime.

From that day on she was very open about our son's orientation and most people were accepting if not supportive. She would argue with the few who were negative about it and one of the most common arguments she encountered was about whether or not homosexuality was a choice. She believed it was not, but didn't know how to convince someone else.

Then one night during her evening commute she was listening to a talk radio show when a caller began to rant about gay people and when the familiar argument came up, the radio host responded “if homosexuality is a choice, then heterosexuality must also be a choice…can you tell me the exact moment when you ‘decided’ to be straight?”

This was the answer she was looking for and the inspiration for this project. We hope that sharing experiences will promote understanding, and we believe that understanding is a major step towards acceptance.

Please visit the project web site to learn more and contribute: My Choice Words

Friday, December 19, 2008

UN: General Assembly Statement Affirms Rights for All


66 States Condemn Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity


(New York, December 19, 2008) – In a powerful victory for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 66 nations at the UN General Assembly yesterday supported a groundbreaking statement confirming that international human rights protections include sexual orientation and gender identity. It is the first time that a statement condemning rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has been presented in the General Assembly.

The statement drew unprecedented support from five continents, including six African nations. Argentina read the statement before the General Assembly. A cross-regional group of states coordinated the drafting of the statement, also including Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway.

The 66 countries reaffirmed "the principle of non-discrimination, which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." They stated they are "deeply concerned by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on sexual orientation or gender identity," and said that "violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity."

The statement condemned killings, torture, arbitrary arrest, and "deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health." The participating countries urged all nations to "promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity," and to end all criminal penalties against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to calculations by ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association) and other organizations, more than six dozen countries still have laws against consensual sex between adults of the same sex. The majority of these laws were left behind by colonial rulers (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/17/alien-legacy-0). The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core UN treaty, held in a historic 1994 decision that such laws are rights violations – and that human rights law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity happen regularly around the world. For example:

* In the United States, Amnesty International has documented serious patterns of police abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including incidents amounting to torture and ill-treatment. The United States refused to sign the General Assembly statement.

* In Egypt, Human Rights Watch documented a massive crackdown on men suspected of homosexual conduct between 2001-2004, in which hundreds or thousands of men were arrested and tortured. Egypt actively opposed the General Assembly statement.

* The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has documented how, in many African countries, sodomy laws and prejudice deny rights protections to Africans engaged in same-sex practices amid the HIV/AIDS pandemic – and can actually criminalize outreach to affected groups.

The signatories overcame intense opposition from a group of governments that regularly try to block UN attention to violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only 57 states signed an alternative text promoted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. While affirming the "principles of non-discrimination and equality," they claimed that universal human rights did not include "the attempt to focus on the rights of certain persons."

At first, the Holy See had voiced strong opposition to the General Assembly statement. Its opposition sparked severe criticism by human rights defenders worldwide. In a significant reversal, however, the Holy See indicated to the General Assembly today that it called for repeal of criminal penalties for homosexual conduct.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the General Assembly statement reaffirms the reach and breadth of UDHR principles. The statement is non-binding, but restates what UN human rights bodies have repeatedly said: that no one should face rights violations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Navanetham Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, strongly supported the statement. In a videotaped message, she cited South Africa’s 1996 decision to protect sexual orientation in its Constitution. She pointed to the "task and challenge to move beyond a debate on whether all human beings have rights," to "secure the climate for implementation."

Since the Human Rights Committee’s landmark decision in 1994, United Nations experts have repeatedly acted against abuses that target lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including killings, torture, rape, violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy.

Other international bodies have also opposed violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including the Council of Europe and the European Union. In 2008, all 34 member countries of the Organization of American States unanimously approved a declaration affirming that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier in the day, the General Assembly also adopted a resolution condemning extrajudicial executions, which contained a reference opposing killings based on sexual orientation. Uganda moved to delete that reference, but the General Assembly rejected this by 78-60.

For more info, go to IGLHRC

Our Quest Can Continue Or We Can Step Backward


Another in the Voices of Venango County series, by Robert Gatesman of Oil City.

I'd like to respond to the homophobic tirade of Dian Gramley of the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania in the newspaper's opinion page in which she bemoans the fact that some schools are becoming "institutions for social change."

Apparently, in her myopic view, education consists of merely stuffing our children with traditional facts and figures that their parents and grandparents learned. Any school worth its salt is an institution for social change. It strives to produce students who have a broader, more realistic view of the world than the previous generations.

We want our children to be better informed, more capable and, hopefully, more tolerant than we were. We want them to be better prepared to enter society and to seek to change that society in a changing world.

Ms. Gramley wouldn't be so afraid of "social change," of course, if it complied with her traditional, white, right-wing Christian views. She shudders to contemplate that, somehow, somewhere, someone dares to have an un-Gramley thought or express an un-Gramley opinion.

Perhaps we should throw out our entire public school curriculum and invite Ms. Gramley to devise one to her liking. Then we can all join hands and in lockstep march backward. Or, on the other hand, we could continue our quest to expand our children's minds and hearts and consign the narrow-minded view of education to the obscurity it so richly deserves.


Excerpted from a letter-to-the-editor in The Derrick, 4/23/07.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bigotry Cannot Be Tolerated

A Lynching in Brooklyn
A New York Times editorial 12/17/08


The murder of José Sucuzhañay, an Ecuadorean immigrant who died over the weekend at a hospital in Queens, has thrown a harsh light onto a savage, hate-inspired crime that should sicken us all. This horror is also a reminder that bigotry can be deadly, not just to the groups intentionally targeted, but to anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path.

José and his brother Romel appear to have been misidentified as gay as they walked home, arms around each other, on a predawn morning in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Romel managed to escape the three men who emerged from a passing car wielding a baseball bat and shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets.

José was struck on the head with a bottle, then kicked and beaten into unconsciousness. He was subsequently declared brain dead and expired last Friday night, one day before his mother, who was traveling from Ecuador, could reach him.

The victim, who had come to this country a decade ago, had been living the immigrant dream. Starting out as a waiter, he eventually bought several buildings and became co-owner of a real estate agency in Bushwick. He cared for his community and was well-liked in return.

This was the second recent killing of an Ecuadorean in the New York area. In November, Marcelo Lucero was stabbed and beaten in the Long Island village of Patchogue by a group of teenagers who, the police say, had been roaming the streets looking to beat up “a Mexican.”

Several teenagers have been arrested and charged in the Long Island case. But New York City police, who are still searching for Mr. Sucuzhañay’s killers, need to do all they can to bring those people to justice. A lynching in the heart of New York City is more than enough to remind us that bigotry cannot be tolerated.

Discrimination, Disrespect of Gays is Appalling

Another in the Voices of Venango County series, this letter, by Jon Burrows of Oil City, followed a barrage of letters-to-the-editor criticizing the local newspaper, The Derrick, for publishing a same-sex wedding announcement:


I am writing today to protect all gays of America.

I have many friends who are gay and it is absurd to read so much disrespect and discrimination in the paper about them.

I think it is great for two people of the same sex to fall in love, and I am appalled by these people, especially some people for what they say about gays. America is a free country and everybody is supposed to be treated fairly. It's not up to anybody to judge any person for what they do or believe in and you know that.

All you're doing is teaching our children to disrespect and discriminate against people.

That's something my children will never be taught. Like, "Oh my, there's a gay marriage in the paper - everyone cancel their subscriptions."

That's ridiculous. Why can't we just all get along? America and its people have a lot more to worry about than gay marriages.

The only reason those heterosexual couples are going to remember their announcements in the paper is because of you, not because of The Derrick.

It is a normal occurrence in today's society, all over the world, and it's happening, so get over it.

And to think that you believe love of the same sex is not worthy enough to put in the paper.

to all gays who are married or want to get married, the best of luck to you. I'm proud of you, so stannd up and fight back. There's no reason you shouldn't. Good luck.

Printed in The Derrick 6/4/04.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't Use the Bible as a Weapon Against People


Another in the Voices of Venango County series ... by The Rev. Sandra Miller Ingham of Burlington, Iowa:

During a visit to Franklin, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my hometown newspaper had the courage to print a same-sex wedding announcement. By printing this announcement, you have done a service to the community.

The subject of gay rights needs to be discussed openly, freely and compassionately.

I followed the subsequent letters-to-the-editor with interest. I am saddened every time the Bible is used as a weapon to discriminate against any group of people.

In the past, the Bible has been used to justify slavery and to maintain the second-class status of women. Currently, the Bible is being used to justify the oppression of homosexuals.

Biblical passages that can be read as condemning homosexuality need to be read in the context of the times in which they were written.

The Bible is open to different interpretations; many understand it as primarily the story of humanity's struggle against oppression. Using the Bible to justify existing prejudices does not give the Bible the respect it deserves. Using the Bible to condone discrimination discredits that sacred, beautiful text, ignoring the bigger picture the Bible presents: all people are precious; all love is valuable.

The Rev. William Sloan Coffin said that we must "quit using the Bible the way a drunk uses a lamp post - more for support than for illumination."

While my heart goes out to those who seem so afraid of homosexuality, I do not understand their fear. Gays and lesbians are not out to convert people to their lifestyle. when was the last time you had a homosexual knock on your door and try to convert you to the "homosexual lifestyle?"

Yet, most of us have had religious people come to our doors in hopes of converting us.

The only agenda the gay community has is to be protected against discrimination and oppression. Gays and lesbians want what we all want: the right to live safely, without fear of being judged because of whom we choose to love.

Today's world too often has a shortage of love. We should celebrate it wherever it is found.

Perhaps one day, humans will realize that love and compassion are stronger than fear.

Printed in The Derrick 7/29/04

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Fanatacism and Bigotry Are Forever Busy"

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same ...

Too Many Treat Bible Like A Smorgasbord


Another in the Voices of Venango County series, by Christopher Myers, Tionesta:

To those who would use the Bible as a tool of condemnation of homosexuality, allow me to offer up a few things for your consideration. in the same books and verses that prohibit same-sex relations, one can also find such things as:

Slavery is allowed as long as slaves come from neighboring nations (look out Canada); rebellious sons must be stoned to death; oxen, lambs or doves must be sacrificed to atone for the "sins" of childbirth, menstruation and other natural bodily functions; adulterers must be stoned to death; women from conquered nations can be taken against their will and forcibly married - after which time, they must shave their heads; wearing wool and linen together is an abomination; it is forbidden to eat any animal that chews its cud; one cannot plant two different kinds of crops in the same field; and the list goes on.

The point is very simple. Too many people treat the Bible like a smorgasbord, taking what they want (or is most convenient to suit their agenda) and leaving the rest.

Therefore, until we start sacrificing our farm animals, executing our teens for breaking a curfew, and marrying off captured Iraqi women, the Bible is now a way to achieve moral high ground without the risk of becoming hypocrites.
I am not pro-homosexual. I am pro-truth.

from The Derrick, 6/7/04

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gay Anti-Violence Group: 2008 Attacks Up


NEW YORK (AP) -- A rash of attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the country -- including the severe beating of a New York man whose attackers believed he was gay -- suggests the number of reported assaults could rise in 2008, an advocacy group said.

The number of reported attacks against LGBT people increased 24 percent in 2007 over 2006, and they were expected to jump in 2008, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

Officials were still crunching the 2008 figures, which will be released next spring, Stapel said.

The baseball bat beating of Ecuadorean immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay in New York on Sunday was the latest in a number of reported assaults, said the project, which coordinates organizations that document violence against LGBT and HIV-positive people. The attack left Sucuzhanay, 31, brain dead.

Since the February fatal shooting of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old Los Angeles boy who endured harassment after telling classmates he was gay, ''we are witnessing what appears to be an increase in both the occurrence and severity of violence motivated by racism, homophobia, and transphobia,'' said Stapel.

Stapel attributed the increase in part to more people reporting incidents, but she believed there actually could have been more assaults because 2008 was an election year.

''Election years are always violent years for us because of wedge issues,'' Stapel said, referring to ballot measures this year banning gay marriage in California and Florida. ''With increased visibility comes increased vulnerability to LGBT stereotypes and violence. We've seen some of the most violent hate crimes that we've seen in a while.''

In the case of Lawrence King, one of his classmates was charged as an adult in the slaying, which prosecutors classified as a hate crime.

Other incidents include the discovery of Angie Zapata's body in July in her apartment in Greeley, Colo. Zapata, 18, was a transgender woman. Police have charged a man with murder as a hate crime in her death.

In June, a surveillance tape was publicized showing Memphis, Tenn., police officers beating Duanna Johnson, a transgendered woman, and shouting slurs in a jail booking area; a public outcry erupted. Johnson was found fatally shot on a Memphis street in November.

Also in New York City, police arrested four teenagers on charges of assaulting a priest outside a shelter he ran for homeless transgender youths in July. Witnesses said the four teens had harassed and taunted residents with homophobic slurs and insults before the assault.

''I expect the number will increase from 2007 to 2008,'' Stapel said. ''I hope I'm wrong about that.''

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stories from the Front Line: Small Town Gay Boys & Girls

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The Trevor Helpline is a free and confidential service that offers hope and someone to talk to, 24/7. The Trevor Helpline's trained counselors will listen and understand without judgment. If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our highly trained counselors, dial 866-4-U-TREVOR.

Don't Hide Behind Religion


Another in the Voices of Venango County series ... this from John Greenlee of Polk:

Letters to the editor in The Derrick can be very revealing of the character and motives of the authors.

Very often references are made to God and Christian principles as justification for the stated point of view. This has been true lately with regard to letters concerning the war in Iraq and the issue of homosexual relationships.

It is to the authors of these letters that I address the following: Is it not cowardice that prompts you to support irrational positions on how to deal with your fellow man whether they be gay, straight, Iraqi, or Muslim?

I saw cowardice because such opinions are rooted in fears that that which is foreign to you is necessarily out to harm you. Such fears, whether or not they are based on fact, are very real and need to be confronted and resolved. it is in the resolution of these threats where controversy arises.

When the chosen path is to attack a person or a country based on morals rooted in religion, the supernatural is put above provable science. One acts in erroneous belief that one is not worthy of making his own moral choices and that if that happens, God will exact a punishment either in this life or what may come in death.

On the contrary, those with healthy self-esteem, morals based on facts, not imagination, and respect for the rights of others need not fear such retribution. They know that it is in this life that heaven and hell exist, created primarily by us and by nature.

In reality, there is no justifying our behavior by saying it is God's will or law. If we do good, we will reap the benefits. If we attack or offend others, we will pay the price. No Bible was needed to tell us this.

Our actions are a burden and responsibility we should accept humbly and not hide behind religion, claiming all is God's will.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Daily Show’s Jon Stewart Corners Mike Huckabee on Gay Marriage

from The Advocate:

Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee dropped by Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Tuesday to promote his new book, Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America.

In the book Huckabee states that all people are created equal. But when talk turned to the subject of gay marriage, Stewart took the conservative politician to task by saying that for gay people, Huckabee believes that “it is corrosive to society to allow them to have the privileges that all humans enjoy.”

Huckabee fell back on the argument he’s long used to rationalize being opposed to gay marriage -- that to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples would be to require opening marriage to include practitioners of polygamy, among other “alternative lifestyles.”

Stewart countered by offering a look back at how this country used to define marriage -- with laws that didn’t allow mixed race couples to marry -- and suggesting that under Huckabee’s rationale, “what if we make it that Hispanics can’t vote.”

Predictably, Huckabee countered by saying he didn’t think that was a good idea, but went on to say, “There is a big difference between a person being black and a person practicing a lifestyle and engaging in a marital relationship that ...”

“This gets to the crux of it,” Stewart interrupted, saying the difference in opinion is “between what you believe gay people are and what I do.”

“I'll tell you this,” he continued. “Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality. And the protections that we have, for religion -- we protect religion -- and talk about a lifestyle choice! That is absolutely a choice. Gay people don't choose to be gay.”

Though Huckabee has long tiptoed around this issue, his Daily Show appearance marks the first time the Republican politician has said on television that he believes homosexuality is a choice.

UN General Assembly to Address Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity


Statement affirms promise of Universal Declaration of Human Rights


from the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Coalition:

(New York, December 11, 2008) - As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the UN General Assembly will hear a statement in mid-December endorsed by more than 50 countries across the globe calling for an end to rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A coalition of international human rights organizations today urged all the world's nations to support the statement in affirmation of the UDHR's basic promise: that human rights apply to everyone.

Nations on four continents are coordinating the statement, including: Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. The reading of the statement will be the first time the General Assembly has formally addressed rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"In 1948 the world's nations set forth the promise of human rights, but six decades later, the promise is unfulfilled for many," said Linda Baumann of Namibia, a board member of Pan Africa ILGA, a coalition of over 60 African lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups. "The unprecedented African support for this statement sends a message that abuses against LGBT people are unacceptable anywhere, ever."

The statement is non-binding, and reaffirms existing protections for human rights in international law. It builds on a previous joint statement supported by 54 countries, which Norway delivered at the UN Human Rights Council in 2006.

"Universal means universal, and there are no exceptions," said Boris Dittrich of the Netherlands, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program. "The UN must speak forcefully against violence and prejudice, because there is no room for half measures where human rights are concerned."

The draft statement condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also condemns killings and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.

"Today, dozens of countries still criminalize consensual homosexual conduct, laws that are often relics of colonial rule," said Grace Poore of Malaysia, who works with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "This statement shows a growing global consensus that such abusive laws have outlived their time."

The statement also builds on a long record of UN action to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In its 1994 decision in Toonen v. Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee - the body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the UN's core human rights treaties - held that human rights law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, the United Nations' human rights mechanisms have condemned violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, torture, rape, violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy.

Other international bodies have also opposed violence and discrimination against LGBT people, including the Council of Europe and the European Union. In 2008, all 34 member countries of the Organization of American States unanimously approved a declaration affirming that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Latin American governments are helping lead the way as champions of equality and supporters of this statement," said Gloria Careaga Perez of Mexico, co-secretary general of ILGA. "Today a global movement supports the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and those voices will not be denied."

So far, 55 countries have signed onto the General Assembly statement, including: Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay, and Venezuela. All 27 member states of the European Union are also signatories.

"It is a great achievement that this initiative has made it to the level of the General Assembly," said Louis-Georges Tin of France, president of the International Committee for IDAHO (International Day against Homophobia), a network of activists and groups campaigning for decriminalization of homosexual conduct. "It shows our common struggles are successful and should be reinforced."

"This statement has found support from states and civil society in every region of the world," said Kim Vance of Canada, co-director of ARC International. "In December a simple message will rise from the General Assembly: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is truly universal."

The coalition of international human rights organizations that issued this statement include: Amnesty International; ARC International; Center for Women's Global Leadership; COC Netherlands; Global Rights; Human Rights Watch; IDAHO Committee; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA); and Public Services International.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Cape Town and Buenos Aires. For more information visit IGLHRC

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gays to Celebrate Move Toward Equality


Another in the Voices of Venango County series, this June 2005 essay by Robert Gatesman of Oil City seems more relevant than ever in the wake of California's discriminatory Prop. 8 and other anti-gay activities and is worth keeping in mind as we forge ahead in efforts to achieve fairness and equality for all here in Venango County:


On June 27, gay people around the world will celebrate the 36th anniversary of the Stonewall riot in New York City, which launched the Gay Liberation Movement.

Prior to that event, it was considered natural, and quite legal, for police to raid, beat up and arrest patrons in gay bars and at gay social events. Names were routinely published in local papers and gay people had to bear the humiliation and expense of arrest, trial and often prison.

On that 1969 evening, police goons conducted a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. But instead of meekly surrendering, a group of gay men and women decided they'd had enough and fought back. The cops, who routinely received payoffs from bar owners, were totally unprepared for resistance from a "bunch of sissies and pansies" and as the bars closed they soon had a full-scale riot on their hands.

The howls of protest caused New York to review and amend its treatment of gays, and other major cities eventually followed suit. From there the gay pride movement has spread to most of the world.

It marked the beginning of the end of anti-gay persecution, prejudice and discrimination in jobs and housing and put us on the road to eventual complete equality. it's a goal still unrealized, but it's begun.

So, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will be flying the rainbow gay pride flag over the next few weeks. Parades and special events will "Remember Stonewall" in most larger cities here and abroad.

To all my brothers and sisters and those who support our struggle for justice and equality: Happy Gay Pride!

Printed in The Derrick 6/17/05

Great Fun this Saturday Night at the Latonia Social!!!‏


Word is spreading about the Latonia Gay/Straight Alliance Socials and this Saturday, Dec. 13, is no exception.

Once again friends will join us from Pittsburgh, Erie and Clarion and we've just heard from a new group in Butler. We look forward to meeting all of you. The folks from all these areas are also sponsoring events so this is a great chance to network.

TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

DON YOUR GAY APPAREL

AND JOIN US IN CELEBRATION

OF THE TRUEST MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

PEACE ON EARTH

GOODWILL TOWARD ALL!

Jill from Pittsburgh will DJ
along with a live performance surprise or two!

Saturday Dec. 13 @ 8 PM

at The Latonia
One East First Street
Oil City, PA
814-677-1260
$5 BYOB


We are also ready for "Open Mic". All you talented folks who want to do a number, bring it on! Jill, our DJ can "T" up your background music and we have mics ready. Call ahead if you need something special - 814-677-1260.

Celebrate the season!

Network! Have fun!

Look forward to seeing you!