Thursday, April 30, 2009

Worst Person In ...

Hmmm ... MSNBC's Keith Olbermann names North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx the "Worst Person in The World" For Her Comment "Matthew Shepard's Death Not A Hate Crime" -- Since our own Diane Gramley of the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania has repeatedly uttered these same sentiments, does that make her the Worst Person In Venango County?

Local Voices: "Recent Events Show Gays Gaining Equality"

by Robert Gatesman of Oil City:

I am pleased and encouraged by recent events in the campaign for full civil rights for America's gay community. The Iowa supreme Court unanimously overturned that state's gay marriage ban. and the Vermont legislature legalized same-sex marriage over the Republican governor's veto.

Thus, in one week, the number of states granting their gay population full equality under the law doubled from two to four.

The same day Vermont decided, the city council in our nation's capital voted 12-0 to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. And legalizing it in Washington, DC, itself looms on the horizon.

New Hampshire, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Maine are considering full civil rights for gays; a bill already passed in New Hampshire's lower house.

The greatest obstacle to gay civil rights will, of course, by the solid South. Considering that they accepted civil rights for their black citizens 50 years ago only at the point of a National Guardsmean's rifle, winning them over will take time and much effort.

On a lighter note, I congratulate President and Mrs. Obama who, unlike the Bushes, invited gay couples and their children to join in the Easter egg roll at the White House this year.

The gay civil rights movement has seen some temporary setbacks such as Proposition 8 in California. And who can forget the damage done by the orange-juice queen, Anita Bryant?

But recent developments are encouraging.

The recently released, award-winning movie "Milk," which relates the life and death of the first openly gay man to be elected to city government, also has been an inspiration to Americans, both gay and straight.

I was fortunate enough to live in San Francisco at the time and was personally familiar with some of the characters portrayed in the film. It is an accurate depiction of the times and events.

I recommend it to anyone who wishes to know more about the roots of the American gay civil rights movement.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

GOP Hysterical Over Hate Crimes Bill Because It Would Protect Gay People

from Pam's House Blend:

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act was approved by the U.S. House 249 to 175. Virginia Foxx wasn't alone in her insane bigotry; the GOP fringe had their time on the floor to embarrass themselves, further driving the Republican party into the dustbin of history as the haven for extremists, eliminationists and know-nothings.

Check out this compilation from Think Progress of the parade of wingnuts, including Michele Bachmann, making asses out of themselves on the House floor. These members of Congress have been captured for eternity on video. Their grandkids are going to wonder what the hell was wrong with their kin when they see these hysterics.

REP MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): I feel that this hate crime legislation could be considered the very definition of tyranny.

REP. GRESHMAN BARRET (R-SC): This bill would inhibit religious freedom in our society -- a scary thought.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): You think a pregnant mother does not deserve the protection of a homosexual? You think a military member doesn't deserve the protection of a transvestite?

REP. STEVE KING (R-IA): I, Mr. Speaker, oppose and I defy the logic of the people that would advocate for such legislation the very idea we could divine what goes on in the heads of people when they commit crimes.

But we can't just rail about the batsh*t Republicans. Guess who voted against the hate crimes bill from the Blue Dog Dem Hall of Shame?

Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL)
Dan Boren (Blue Dog-OK)
Chris Carney (Blue Dog-PA) who still hasn't learned his lesson
Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS)
Lincoln Davis (Blue Dog-TN)
Joe Donnelly (Blue Dog-IN)
Brad Ellsworth(Blue Dog-IN)
Bart Gordon (Blue Dog-TN)
Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog-NC)
Charlie Melancon (Blue Dog-LA)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Mike Ross (Blue Dog-AR)
Heath Shuler (Blue Dog-NC)
John Tanner (Blue Dog-TN)
Gene Taylor (Blue Dog-MS)

Positive reaction to the passage of the bill

"All Americans are one step closer to protection from hate violence thanks to today's vote," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Hate crimes are a scourge on our communities and it's time we give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this serious problem."

"No one should face violence simply because of who they are," said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. "This bill is a critical step to erasing the hate that has devastated far too many families."

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

"Our country is on the cusp of recognizing and responding to the reality of hate violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is a national embarrassment that bigotry and ignorance have prevented enactment of substantive federal hate crimes legislation, but that goal is finally, truly, within our grasp.

"Laws embody the values of our nation, and through this legislation the House is clearly and unequivocally saying that America rejects and condemns hate violence against its people. The importance of this cannot be overstated, particularly in light of the toxic misinformation campaign that has been waged against the bill by right-wing forces who would rather see anti-LGBT crimes go unaddressed than have the words 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity' appear alongside other protected classes in federal law.

"We thank all the House members who voted for this bill today. We urge the administration to help usher this critical legislation through the Senate, and for President Obama to then quickly sign the legislation, as he has signaled he will do."

People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan:

"I applaud the House for passing this legislation. Hate crimes remain all too common in this county, and it's important that the federal government take strong stand to ensure that no one is subjected to the threat of violence because of who they are.

"I'm especially pleased that this bill contains strong First Amendment protections to ensure that no one's right to free expression will ever be affected by this law. All Americans have a right to live in safety, and all Americans have a right to speak, preach, and worship freely. This legislation helps ensure both of those goals.

"I want to thank the members of People For's African American Ministers In Action program who worked so hard to help pass this legislation. Their voices were crucial in pushing back against the dishonest attacks of those who wanted to derail this legislation.

"Now that the House of Representatives has acted, it's time for the Senate to do the same and send this bill to President Obama's desk."

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

"The critically important bill approved by the House today would give law enforcement officials a powerful weapon in battling the nearly 1,000 anti-gay and transgender hate crimes reported each year, and give victims and their families hope that our country will finally take serious steps to curb those attacks," said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG's executive director. "Too many families have lost a loved one to hate, and this bill would ensure that, moving forward, other families will be able to more easily seek, and find, justice in bias-motivated cases. This measure, which was supported by 31 attorneys general and more than 200 organizations from both sides of the political aisle, is long overdue and urgently needed. PFLAG families urge the Senate to quickly approve the measure as well, and send the bill to President Obama for his signature."

National Black Justice Coalition:

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) applauds the passage of H.R. 1913, Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which would allow the federal government to work with state and local authorities to prevent and if necessary punish hate crimes to the fullest extent possible. The House passed the legislation by a vote of 249 to 175.

Congress passed the Act ten years after Matthew Shepard's hate-motivated murder, giving the federal government the authority to investigate, prosecute, and help local law enforcement crack down on hate crimes. NBJC is pleased at the passage of H.R. 1913 and urges our members and supporters to work to ensure that the Senate adopt the companion legislation S. 909 and send the bill to President Obama for his signature.

One in six hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity/expression bias. In 2003, Sakia Gunn, a 15-year old African American lesbian, was murdered in a hate crime in Newark, New Jersey. On the night of May 11, Gunn was returning from a night out in Greenwich Village, Manhattan with her friends. While waiting for the #1 New Jersey Transit bus at the corner of Broad and Market Streets in downtown Newark, Gunn and her friends were propositioned by two men. When the girls rejected their advances, by declaring themselves to be lesbians, the men attacked them. Gunn fought back, and one of the men, Richard McCullough, stabbed her in the chest. Both men immediately fled the scene in their vehicle. After one of Gunn's friends flagged down a passing driver, she was taken to nearby University Hospital, where she died.

Another personal story begins to illustrate some of the unique experiences of Black SGL/LGBT victims of hate. Earlier this month a Colorado court convicted Allen Andrade of first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime in the death of 18-year-old transgender woman Angie Zapata. It was one of the first times in the country that a state's hate crimes statute was used in the investigation and prosecution of an anti-transgender murder case.

NBJC would like to thank the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who stood up and supported this Act by speaking out on the House Floor: Al Green (TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Robert "Bobby" Scott (VA), and Donna Edwards (MD), along with Chairman John Conyers of Michigan for his leadership in introducing this legislation and ensuring its passage.

"On May 11th we will commemorate the 6th anniversary of the brutal murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year old African American lesbian from Newark, NJ. In her name and in the name of the countless others who have suffered at the hands of anti-gay bigots we celebrate this step toward ensuring justice," said H. Alexander Robinson, Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC).

African Americans continue to rank as the highest target for hate crimes while gays and lesbians are ranked third by total number of victims.

NBJC Deputy Director for Communications and Connecticut State Representative Jason W. Bartlett noted, "Having legal protection for LGBT individuals is a key component in helping to stem the tide of violence directed towards lesbian, gay and transgender Americans as a group. I am please to see that as a country, we will no longer turn our backs on our brothers and sisters."

Pride Picnic in Union City on May 30

from Tenacious Art Pimp:

I want you to attend the largest gathering of the LQBTQ community in the smallest place on earth! We will kick off PRIDE festivities with a family picnic on May 30, 2009 from 1-5 PM at Caflisch Park on Willow Street in Union City PA.

Bring your kids to this historic event! I want to attract gays from all over the country. Let’s eliminate homophobia by gathering together and introducing ourselves to small-town folk in a community that desperately needs gays to be out, loud and proud!!!

The event will take place rain, or shine. Attendees are permitted to bring kids, dogs, whatever. The more the merrier! I will provide table settings. Those attending should bring their own food and beverages, if so desired. For more info, contact The Tenacious Art Pimp, (805) 617-8842, or browse to

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coming Out Of The Closet: Atheists Shout It From The Rooftops

By Laurie Goodstein for the NY Times:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

“Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?” asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of “ayes.”

More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).

They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.

They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.

Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords, a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason, which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.

Despite changing attitudes, polls continue to show that atheists are ranked lower than any other minority or religious group when Americans are asked whether they would vote for or approve of their child marrying a member of that group.

Over lunch with some new atheist joiners at a downtown Charleston restaurant serving shrimp and grits, one young mother said that her husband was afraid to allow her to go public as an atheist because employers would refuse to hire him.

But another member, Beverly Long, a retired school administrator who now teaches education at the Citadel, said that when she first moved to Charleston from Toronto in 2001, “the first question people asked me was, What church do you belong to?” Ms. Long attended Wednesday dinners at a Methodist church, for the social interaction, but never felt at home. Since her youth, she had doubted the existence of God but did not discuss her views with others.

Ms. Long found the secular humanists through a newspaper advertisement and attended a meeting. Now, she is ready to go public, she said, especially after doing some genealogical research recently. “I had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution so I could speak my mind,” she said.

Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate, one of many offered by the state, says “In Reason We Trust” — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said “Non Prophet Organization,” he said.

When their billboard went up in January, with their Web site address displayed prominently, they expected hate mail.

“But most of the e-mails were grateful,” said Laura Kasman, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The board members meeting in the Kasmans’ living room were an unlikely mix that included a gift store owner, a builder, a grandmother, a retired nursing professor, a retired Navy officer, an administrator at a primate sanctuary and a church musician. They are also diverse in their attitudes toward religion.

Loretta Haskell, the church musician, said: “I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. And what I’ve found is, I am not one of the humanists who feels that religion is a bad thing.”

The group has had mixed reactions to President Obama, who acknowledged nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. “I sent him a thank-you note,” Ms. Kasman said. But Sharon Fratepietro, who is married to Mr. Silverman, said, “It seemed like one long religious ceremony, with a moment of lip service.”

Part of what is giving the movement momentum is the proliferation of groups on college campuses. The Secular Student Alliance now has 146 chapters, up from 42 in 2003.

At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.

Andrew Cederdahl, the group’s co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their “coming out stories.”

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that “creationists lie.”

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Take Action: Let Your Representatives Know You Support Hate Crimes Legislation!

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee debated amendments to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act - H.R. 1913. Fortunately, amendments that would have stripped the bill of its meaning and power were defeated, but we still have a battle before us in the coming weeks. As you know, the bill would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the victim is chosen because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

When introducing the bill, Representative Conyers stated that the legislation "provides a constructive and measured response to a problem that continues to plague our nation. These are crimes that shock and shame our national conscience. They should be subject to comprehensive federal law enforcement assistance and prosecution."

Write your Representative today and share your support!

Representatives need to know you support HR 1913 as they plan to vote on the bill. We urge you to email them now and encourage them to support this critical legislation as they prepare to vote. Our opposition continues to barrage representatives with messages of fear and hate - please take advantage of this time to reach out to their representatives and show your support.

LGBT School Bullying Higher In Pennsylvania Than National Average

by Jen Coleta for PGN:

According to a study released last week by a national LGBT student-advocacy group, anti-LGBT bullying is a pervasive and ill-addressed problem in Pennsylvania public schools.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network published a research brief April 16 — the day before students from 22 public and private schools across the state participated in the national Day of Silence to protest LGBT harassment in the classroom — that revealed homophobia is alive and well in Pennsylvania’s education system.

The data was based on GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey, which was released in October 2008. The organization has recently begun releasing state-by-state statistics, publishing reports on trends in Arizona, California, Michigan and New York.

“Inside Pennsylvania Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students” drew from the survey responses of 242 Pennsylvania students.

About 98 percent of the respondents regularly heard the word “gay” used in a negative connotation, and 83 percent reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” in the classroom.

Approximately 88 percent of the students said they’d been verbally harassed — either through name-calling or threats — for their sexual orientation and 63 percent reported verbal attacks stemming from their gender identity or expression.

About 52 percent said they were physically harassed — pushed or shoved — and 27 percent were physically assaulted — punched, kicked or injured with a weapon — because of their sexual orientation, while 36 percent were physically harassed and 18 percent assaulted on account of their gender identity.

Fifty-four percent of students who’d experienced either verbal or physical harassment didn’t report such incidents to school staff and, of those who did, only 32 percent said their admissions resulted in effective intervention.

Carrie Jacobs, executive director of The Attic Youth Center, noted that while some local schools are guided by principals and staff who are conscious of LGBT issues, many do not make the needs of these students a priority.

“The majority of our schools, particularly the middle schools, seem insensitive and unaware of the experiences of LGBTQ youth in their school,” she said. “There is a lot of talk about bullying and harassment but no one seems to make a particular issue about antigay abuse and language. My opinion is that schools need to be more intentional about addressing the hurtful and destructive antigay messages, and provide ongoing and consistent training and support for school staff.”

The report also found that the harassment had a negative impact on the students’ attendance.

About 39 percent of the students had skipped class in the month prior to the survey because they felt unsafe, and 44 percent missed at least one day. Students who were more frequently harassed in the classroom were more than twice as likely to miss school than those who experienced harassment less frequently.

In comparison to the national averages released in last fall’s report, Pennsylvania ranked higher in every single category of verbal and physical harassment.

For instance, 44 percent of LGBT students across the nation experienced physical harassment because of their sexual orientation and 30 percent for their gender identity, and 22 percent reported physical assault because of their sexual orientation and 14 percent because of their gender identity.

Likewise, about 32 percent of national LGBT students who were harassed missed one class the month before the survey, and 33 percent missed an entire day.

GLSEN spokesperson Darryl Presgraves said the discrepancies could be a result of Pennsylvania’s lack of legislation to ban anti-LGBT bullying in schools.

“Our hope in doing this research is that we can raise awareness of the problem of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in Pennsylvania schools,” he said. “Pennsylvania is one of 43 states that doesn’t protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, so we hope that this can bring some attention to this issue.”

Jacobs suggested that the Philadelphia School District could enact an anti-LGBT bullying policy, which could serve as a model for the rest of the state.

“There is still so much work that needs to be done in our schools to keep our youth safe,” she said. “Until we become specific and focused on protecting LGBTQ youth, they will remain unsafe.”

To contact the local GLSEN chapter, located in Pittsburgh, call (412) 361-6996 or e-mail

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Thought Police"

By Linda Henderson:

It is so ironic - even humorous, if it wasn't so perverse - that the right wing has now labeled GLBT equality efforts as a form of "thought policing".

The terms "thought police" and "thought crime" come from George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty Four". The crime was based on attempts to limit free thinking. Only thoughts in line with a totalitarian state were allowed.

Hmmm? Who is promoting a totalitarian state? Is it the GLBT community or is it right wing Christians?

Who is actually promoting "thought police" and "thought crime"?

The extreme right wing Christian viewpoint is totalitarian. I must say, they are so right, they are wrong. Any religious movement, any political movement, any movement at all that's basis is "because I say so" or "because I say God says so" is inherently flawed.

Their goal is clear: "Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a concept used to describe political systems whereby a state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life." (Wikipedia)

Is that what our United State Constitution is about? Do you want a particular religious sect to have totalitarian rule? What if it is not your religious sect? And if it is your religious sect today, whose religious sect will it be tomorrow? Are you willing to turn that over to the government or "majority rule" to decide?

Hopefully, as the religious right sees that their "majority" is quickly shrinking, they begin to see the light. I, as a lesbian American, will defend their right to exist and practice their religion as long as they do not impede my right to exist and practice mine.

The only policing I want to see is the kind that leads to actual Thinking. The only religion I want to see in regulation is one that reflects a very universal truth of "love one another" and "do unto others as you would have do unto you". There is one Law and one common Truth. And when we find that, it does not divide based on religion or sex or age or sexual identity. It divides based on truth and love.

See more from Linda at Linda Underground

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Insidious Scourge of the Homophobic Bullying of Children

With the anti-gay bias that is constantly whipped-up by the American Family Association of Pennsylvania and other local extremists, is it just a matter of time until such tragedy strikes here in Venango County?

by Charles M. Blow for the NY Times:

On April 6, just before dinner, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a Massachusetts boy who had endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped an extension cord around his tiny neck and hanged himself. He was only 11 years old. His mother had to cut him down.

On April 16, just after school, Jaheem Herrera, a Georgia boy who had also endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped a fabric belt around his tiny neck and hanged himself as well. He too was only 11 years old. His 10-year-old sister found him.

Two beaming little boys, lost. To intolerance? Too tragic.

The sad ends to their short lives shine a harsh light on the insidious scourge of the homophobic bullying of children.

Children can’t see their budding lives through the long lens of wisdom - the wisdom that benefits from years passed, hurdles overcome, strength summoned, resilience realized, selves discovered and accepted, hearts broken but mended and love experienced in the fullest, truest majesty that the word deserves. For them, the weight of ridicule and ostracism can feel crushing and without the possibility of reprieve. And, in that dark and lonely place, desperate and confused, they can make horrible decisions that can’t be undone.

For as much progress that’s been made on the front of acceptance and tolerance of all people, regardless of our differences, enough hatred remains–tucked in the crags and spread about the surface–to force Carl and Jaheem into the abyss.

We should commit ourselves to ensuring that their deaths are not in vain, that their lives are the last page in this sorry chapter of our development as a people. And, the first step in that direction is to fully understand the scope of the problem.

In short, homophobic bullying is pervasive. It disproportionately affects black and Hispanic kids. A new study suggests an apparent link between bullying and suicide. To wit, black and Hispanic adults who are gay reported higher “serious suicide attempts” than their white counterparts, most of those attempts taking place when they were young.

Continue Story HERE

Weathering The Storm

Thanks to PseudoPiskie for bringing this to our attention!

Love Not Laws is a coalition of people of various ages, races, and beliefs, who came together to show solidarity and support for same-sex marriage. In response to videos that are circulating the internet that use fear and falsehoods to promote an offensive agenda of 'separate and unequal', Love Not Laws created a video that was grounded in compassion, emotion, and heart.

If you oppose same-sex marriage, we hope that this video will cause you to examine your own biases. If you are in support of same-sex marriage, we hope that this video inspires you to act. And if you feel that you are too small, or that your efforts won't matter, we ask you to remember that we were a group of people who, individually thought they could do nothing... but together, were able to accomplish something bigger than all of us.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gay Marriage = Religious Freedom

One of the more ludicrous statements made in the recent NOM Gathering Storm ad was the claim that legalizing gay marriage somehow takes away freedom from those who oppose it.

Here is an eloquent response to that claim. This clear and well made video exposes some of the myths and mis-information about the threat that gay marriage poses to religious freedom. In fact, the host makes the argument that only WITH gay marriage can we have religious freedom!

Check Out Waking Up Now

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Local Voices: "Let's Stop The Attacks And Offer Solutions"

The following letter, by Chris Billetdeaux of Clarion, was recently published in The Derrick. It is worth repeating here!


As I read through our papers, walk down main street, walk through our mall, walk down our school hallways, listen to our radios or watch our news commentators, I have begun to wonder if the most gifted animal on earth has not become the most incompetent and disabled.

How is it that wielding a poison pen, hateful speech, or offering twisted truth gives one a sense of self worth or demonstrates any positive solution for the difficulties this nation or our community face?

Regardless of one's political policies or religious beliefs, how does promulgating only the most fearful and hateful opinions not separate everyone further?

Do we want to continue to elect our government officials or our judges based on who or whom is the most negative or hateful or is the most skilled at bashing and demeaning the opponent?

I would submit it is way past time that our efforts are based not on the negatives but on the positives; that we find those areas of agreement and a way forward, that we consider candidates based on credentials and truthful solid facts and not on distortions and innuendos and party affiliations. We are the only ones who can stop the twisted half-truths and negative campaigns!

We all have a responsibility to sort the poisons from our lives and our politics. The hate filled and twisted politics are not solutions for our schools, community, churches, neighbors or our futures and the futures of our children.

Please lay off the distorted talking points and do some digging for the facts. Offer positive solutions not just negative attacks. Get involved in helping to solve our problems in respectful ways. Actively participate in helping to find positive, honest and workable solutions to our problems.

Stop the negative language and attacks!

Stop the poison pens!

Stop teaching our children hate!

Chris Billetdeaux - Clarion

It's a Crime The Religious Right Has To Lie To Protect Themselves

by John Aravosis:

Hey, I appreciate a good homophobe as much as the next guy, but Tony Perkins, the head of the anti-civil-rights group Family Research Council, crosses a line when he outright lies. Which is far more often than he should for someone who claims to be a Christian.

The issue is hate crimes legislation. And more specifically, why Tony Perkins already has hate crimes legislation protecting him. And why he hasn't renounced it.

You see, the U.S. has had hate crimes laws for decades. They cover race, religion and national origin. The hate crimes bill you keep hearing about over the past couple of years isn't new legislation. It's a new amendment to OLD legislation that would simply add gender, disability and sexual orientation to the already-existing hate crimes law.

Regardless of your view on hate crimes laws, since the U.S. already has such a law, shouldn't it cover everybody? Why does Tony Perkins get special rights that you and I don't have? When I see Tony Perkins send out an action alert about the hate crimes amendments, and spread outright lies, it still surprises me, even though I know that the bigots of the religious right have no honor. Here is what Perkins wrote today:

Adding "sexual orientation" to thought crimes legislation gives one set of crime victims a higher level of protection than it gives to people like you and me.

ALL people deserve to be protected from crime, not just certain groups.

Well, no, Tony. It doesn't give other people more protection than it gives people like you. People like you are already covered under the "thought crimes" legislation that's already on the books. You didn't bother telling your members that fact, did you. You also didn't tell your members that in the decades that your special rights have been law, no one has been prosecuted for thinking, for example, that you're a bit questionable as a real homophobe. So what makes you think that by letting other people in on your special rights, somehow, suddenly, all legal hell will break loose?

I wonder why it is that Tony Perkins thinks he has to lie to his members in order to keep them hating gay people. Perhaps Tony is afraid that if his members knew the truth, they might like gay people just a little bit more, and him a little bit less.

The media needs to ask Tony Perkins and the rest of his religious right coven why they aren't calling for the repeal of the current hate crimes laws that already protect them, if they're so convinced that hate crimes laws are bad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Tide Is Turning In Venango County!!!

While elected officials, civic and religious leaders have yet to raise their voices for fairness & equality for Venango County's GLBT residents, or to challenge the viciously bigoted messages of the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania or local "Christian" Radio Station WAWN, the area's newspaper, The Derrick, shows its courage!

The following article was recently printed on The Derrick's opinion page.

The tide is indeed turning!

By Barb Shelly, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist:

As a kindergarten student, McKinley BarbouRoske mentioned that she had two moms. A classmate said he didn’t think that was possible.

McKinley shrugged. “Yes, it is true because I do have two moms,” she said.

Now it’s official.

Blond-haired McKinley, now 10, is the girl whose picture appeared on hundreds of news sites last Friday, fists in the air, joy on her face.

Her two moms, Jen BarbouRoske and Dawn BarbouRoske, were among the winning plaintiffs in a court decision saying they had the right to marry. In Iowa, of all places.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot exclude gay Iowans from civil marriage, which “must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or … religious views,” Justice Mark S. Cady, the appointee of a conservative Republican governor, wrote on behalf of a unanimous court.

This week may be remembered as a corner turned in the quest of gay and lesbian couples to achieve equal status under the law.

The Iowa court decision was followed four days later by the Vermont Legislature’s legalizing gay marriage over Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto.

Then the Washington, D.C., City Council unanimously voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

For good measure, the White House announced it was inviting families headed by gay and lesbian couples to this year’s Easter Egg Roll.

The struggle is not over, of course. Iowa opponents of same-sex marriage are strategizing about outlawing it in a constitutional amendment. Opponents in Vermont will try to overturn the new law. In states such as Missouri and Kansas, foes of gay marriage are giving thanks for constitutional amendments that ban it.

But the tide of public opinion is pulling toward acceptance. Polling by Newsweek shows that the percentage of the public that favors legal recognition of gay partnerships — either through marriage or civil unions — increased from 47 percent to 63 percent between 2004 and 2008.

The rationale against same-sex marriages was weak in the abstract. There was never any evidence to suggest that gay and lesbian unions would weaken the institution of marriage, or harm children.

Now that same-sex marriages are becoming reality, the grounds on which to oppose them are even shakier.

Gay and lesbian partners are good neighbors. They raise happy, well-adjusted children. They lead parents’ committees in schools, and coach soccer teams. It is difficult to oppose a way of life that looks a lot like one’s own.

The Iowa Supreme Court decision says this about the 12 plaintiffs who sought to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage:
“Like most Iowans, they are responsible, caring and productive individuals. They maintain important jobs, or are retired, and are contributing, benevolent members of their communities.… Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected.”

In an affidavit in the Iowa case, Jen BarbouRoske, a registered nurse, explained why marriage matters.

Her daughter, McKinley, was born prematurely in California, she wrote. The two women who intended to raise her hovered over the infant in the neonatal intensive care unit. But only Jen BarbouRoske, who had delivered the child after an artificial insemination procedure, could exercise parental rights on the girl’s behalf.

Jen BarbouRoske later had to briefly give up her parental rights to participate with her partner in a joint adoption.

“Someday a classmate is going to ask if her moms are married,” Jen BarbouRoske wrote. “We’d like her to be able to say yes. We want our children to have equal footing in the eyes of the government and, by extension, among their peers.”

Now they do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Time: Demand Hate Crimes Legislation Now!

What an incredible couple of weeks for all people who believe in equality! Iowa and Vermont have now joined Connecticut and Massachusetts in guaranteeing full marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the D.C. Council voted unanimously to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

And, after months of anticipation, Rep. John Conyers has introduced comprehensive hate crimes legislation in the House. That's the good news — the bad news is that right-wing extremists are already flooding their representatives with letters and calls opposing hate crimes legislation.

We need your help to drown them out today.

Click here to contact your representative and ask him/her to support federal hate crimes legislation.

This is our chance to secure federal protections for the LGBT community from vicious attacks and hate. But we've got to flood our legislators' inboxes and phone lines to make sure they hear our message loud and clear.

Please take action now, then urge everyone you know to get in touch with their representatives.

Thanks for your activism today, and we'll keep you updated as this critical legislation moves through the House of Representatives.


Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Bigots' Last Hurrah

by Frank Rich for the NYT:

WHAT would happen if you crossed that creepy 1960s horror classic “The Village of the Damned” with the Broadway staple “A Chorus Line”? You don’t need to use your imagination. It’s there waiting for you on YouTube under the title “Gathering Storm”: a 60-second ad presenting homosexuality as a national threat second only to terrorism.

The actors are supposedly Not Gay. They stand in choral formation before a backdrop of menacing clouds and cheesy lightning effects. “The winds are strong,” says a white man to the accompaniment of ominous music. “And I am afraid,” a young black woman chimes in. “Those advocates want to change the way I live,” says a white woman. But just when all seems lost, the sun breaks through and a smiling black man announces that “a rainbow coalition” is “coming together in love” to save America from the apocalypse of same-sex marriage. It’s the swiftest rescue of Western civilization since the heyday of the ambiguously gay duo Batman and Robin.

Far from terrifying anyone, “Gathering Storm” has become, unsurprisingly, an Internet camp classic. On YouTube the original video must compete with countless homemade parodies it has inspired since first turning up some 10 days ago. None may top Stephen Colbert’s on Thursday night, in which lightning from “the homo storm” strikes an Arkansas teacher, turning him gay. A “New Jersey pastor” whose church has been “turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch” declares that he likes gay people, “but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies.”

Yet easy to mock as “Gathering Storm” may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a historic turning point in the demise of America’s anti-gay movement.

What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.

“Gathering Storm” was produced and broadcast — for a claimed $1.5 million — by an outfit called the National Organization for Marriage. This “national organization,” formed in 2007, is a fund-raising and propaganda-spewing Web site fronted by the right-wing Princeton University professor Robert George and the columnist Maggie Gallagher, who was famously caught receiving taxpayers’ money to promote Bush administration “marriage initiatives.” Until last month, half of the six board members (including George) had some past or present affiliation with Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (One of them, the son of one of the 12 apostles in the Mormon church hierarchy, recently stepped down.)

Even the anti-Obama “tea parties” flogged by Fox News last week had wider genuine grass-roots support than this so-called national organization. Beyond Princeton, most straight citizens merely shrugged as gay families celebrated in Iowa and Vermont. There was no mass backlash. At ABC and CBS, the Vermont headlines didn’t even make the evening news.

On the right, the restrained response was striking. Fox barely mentioned the subject; its rising-star demagogue, Glenn Beck, while still dismissing same-sex marriage, went so far as to “celebrate what happened in Vermont” because “instead of the courts making a decision, the people did.” Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the self-help media star once notorious for portraying homosexuality as “a biological error” and a gateway to pedophilia, told CNN’s Larry King that she now views committed gay relationships as “a beautiful thing and a healthy thing.” In The New York Post, the invariably witty and invariably conservative writer Kyle Smith demolished a Maggie Gallagher screed published in National Review and wondered whether her errant arguments against gay equality were “something else in disguise.”

More startling still was the abrupt about-face of the Rev. Rick Warren, the hugely popular megachurch leader whose endorsement last year of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, had roiled his appearance at the Obama inaugural. Warren also dropped in on Larry King to declare that he had “never” been and “never will be” an “anti-gay-marriage activist.” This was an unmistakable slap at the National Organization for Marriage, which lavished far more money on Proposition 8 than even James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

The Obamas’ dog had longer legs on cable than the news from Iowa and Vermont. CNN’s weekly press critique, “Reliable Sources,” inquired why. The gay blogger John Aravosis suggested that many Americans are more worried about their mortgages than their neighbors’ private lives. Besides, Aravosis said, there are “only so many news stories you can do showing guys in tuxes.”

As the polls attest, the majority of Americans who support civil unions for gay couples has been steadily growing. Younger voters are fine with marriage. Generational changeover will seal the deal. Crunching all the numbers, the poll maven Nate Silver sees same-sex marriage achieving majority support “at some point in the 2010s.”

Iowa and Vermont were the tipping point because they struck down the right’s two major arguments against marriage equality. The unanimous ruling of the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court proved that the issue is not merely a bicoastal fad. The decision, written by Mark Cady, a Republican appointee, was particularly articulate in explaining that a state’s legalization of same-sex marriage has no effect on marriage as practiced by religions. “The only difference,” the judge wrote, is that “civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”

Some opponents grumbled anyway, reviving their perennial complaint, dating back to Brown v. Board of Education, about activist judges. But the judiciary has long played a leading role in sticking up for the civil rights of minorities so they’re not held hostage to a majority vote. Even if the judiciary-overreach argument had merit, it was still moot in Vermont, where the State Legislature, not a court, voted to make same-sex marriage legal and then voted to override the Republican governor’s veto.

As the case against equal rights for gay families gets harder and harder to argue on any nonreligious or legal grounds, no wonder so many conservatives are dropping the cause. And if Fox News and Rick Warren won’t lead the charge on same-sex marriage, who on the national stage will take their place? The only enthusiastic contenders seem to be Republicans contemplating presidential runs in 2012. As Rich Tafel, the former president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, pointed out to me last week, what Iowa giveth to the Democrats, Iowa taketh away from his own party. As the first stop in the primary process, the Iowa caucuses provided a crucial boost to Barack Obama’s victorious and inclusive Democratic campaign in 2008. But on the G.O.P. side, the caucuses tilt toward the exclusionary hard right.

In 2008, 60 percent of Iowa’s Republican caucus voters were evangelical Christians. Mike Huckabee won. That’s the hurdle facing the party’s contenders in 2012, which is why Romney, Palin and Gingrich are now all more vehement anti-same-sex-marriage activists than Rick Warren. Palin even broke with John McCain on the issue during their campaign, supporting the federal marriage amendment that he rejects. This month, even as the father of Palin’s out-of-wedlock grandson challenged her own family values and veracity, she nominated as Alaskan attorney general a man who has called gay people “degenerates.” Such homophobia didn’t even play in Alaska — the State Legislature voted the nominee down — and will doom Republicans like Palin in national elections.

One G.O.P. politician who understands this is the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, who on Friday urged his party to join him in endorsing same-sex marriage. Another is Jon Huntsman Jr., the governor of Utah, who in February endorsed civil unions for gay couples, a position seemingly indistinguishable from Obama’s. Huntsman is not some left-coast Hollywood Republican. He’s a Mormon presiding over what Gallup ranks as the reddest state in the country.

“We must embrace all citizens as equals,” Huntsman told me in an interview last week. “I’ve always stood tall on this.” Has he been hurt by his position? Not remotely. “A lot of people gave the issue more scrutiny after it became the topic of the week,” he said, and started to see it “in human terms.” Letters, calls, polls and conversations with voters around the state all confirmed to him that opinion has “shifted quite substantially” toward his point of view. Huntsman’s approval rating now stands at 84 percent.

He believes that social issues should not be a priority for Republicans in any case during an economic crisis. He also is an outspoken foe of the “nativist language” that has marked the G.O.P. of late. Huntsman doesn’t share “the view of some” that “the party was created in 1980.” He yearns for it to reclaim Lincoln’s faith in “individual dignity.”

As marital equality haltingly but inexorably spreads state by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have spread the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be afraid.

Creativity and Openness

Amazing and beautiful things are happening in Oil City and throughout Venango County these days.

Named one of Ten Great Towns for Working Artists, Oil City has a great open page where artists and friends exchange information and ideas for the area's arts revitalization. Check it out HERE.

An excerpt from an article on Oil City in The American Spectator magazine said:

Indeed, Oil City continues to have the energy of a city that evolved with a giddy haphazardness around an unexpected boom. A program to bring artists and traditional craftsmen to town with promises of cheap studio space and low cost of living has been popular, the accompanying cafes and niche stores moving into storefronts long gathering dust. "People are starting to buy into the idea that there could be a next step for the community," Mayor Sonja Hawkins said.

Check out the complete article HERE.

And by all means, please visit the ARTS Oil City web site.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Erie Pride Picnic Planning Meeting" on Sunday, April 19 -- Please Join Us!

Come help us plan for the 17th Annual Erie Pride Picnic!

The meeting takes place:

Date: Sunday, April 19
Time: 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: Panera's Yorktown Plaza, 2501 W 12th St, Erie, PA

For more information, contact: Michael Mahler. Phone: (814) 456-9833. Email:

The Pride Picnic takes place on June 13 ... Learn all about it HERE.

Winning The Freedom To Marry? Cue The Right Wing Attack On The Gays!

by Evan Wolfson of Freedom To Marry:

Computer-generated clouds roil on an apocalyptic backdrop as fake lightning flashes. Actors stiff as zombies recite horror stories, punctuated by protestations that they are animated by love. Is this new political ad warning of the economic hardships confronting families, a call to action on health care or job loss? Is it an effort to unite Americans to help solve our shared problems?

No, it's the latest assault on gay couples seeking to build and spend their lives together in - cue spooky music - marriage.

The ad was unveiled by the National Organization "for" Marriage ("NOM"), which ironically is against marriage for committed couples if they are gay. It's brought to you by the folks who brought California the 40-plus million dollar Proposition 8 attack campaign, including the same front-group for right-wing funders and church hierarchies, and the same political consultant/public relations firm. Now that the unanimous Supreme Court in Iowa and a super-majority of elected legislators in Vermont voted to end same-sex couples' exclusion from marriage in the past week, NOM and its backers are funneling the ad into states such as Maine, New Jersey, and New York — whose legislatures are all weighing the evidence that shows no good reason for denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

But beware: the NOM campaign is bait-and-switch. The real agenda here is not just resistance to marriage rights, it's undermining the broader civil rights laws that ensure that we can all participate equally in society, even if other people don't like us. Though they wrap it in marriage, the opposition is actually about gay - and they are attacking the idea that civil rights laws should protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation at all.

At a time when most Americans have had their fill of years of polarization and want to see us come together to deal with the pressing problems that hurt us all, gay and non-gay, could a negative ad campaign like NOM's work? Who would buy these obvious scare-tactics?

Alas, too many. NOM's public relations roll-out has already had some temporary traction in changing the subject from the merits of the case for marriage equality to the politics of this ongoing civil rights battle. And the agenda of the groups behind NOM is even more scary than just another cruel attack on gay couples' freedom to marry. The campaign to "defend" marriage (as if marriage needed "defense" against couples seeking to marry) and to block even partnership protections for gay families masks an effort to erode the whole idea of civil rights laws.

Consider what the actors in the NOM ad pretend to be:

* A doctor who wants to discriminate against her patients, despite civil rights laws and medical ethics that the California Supreme Court upheld - in a case having nothing to do with marriage.

* An officer of a New Jersey group that for years voluntarily operated a beachside pavilion with special tax-breaks that required it be open to the public - but then tried to turn down a lesbian couple. The case did not turn on marriage, since New Jersey doesn't yet allow gay couples to marry, but, rather, basic civil rights laws about open access to public accommodations.

* A Massachusetts parent who sought to dictate public school curriculum about the diverse families children will need to be aware of to thrive in a diverse world, and then wanted to remove her child from classes in a way that would have disrupted class and imposed unreasonable burdens on the school and other kids.

The law in California, as elsewhere, is that doctors can't discriminatorily refuse to treat patients — Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, gay or non-gay; that has nothing to do with marriage, and yet NOM incites fear. The law in New Jersey, as elsewhere, says that organizations running public accommodations such as restaurants or rental halls cannot discriminatorily exclude people — African American, Latino, or Asian, gay or non-gay; that has nothing to do with marriage, and yet NOM says that the discriminators are somehow the victims. The law in Massachusetts, as elsewhere, of course allows parents to teach their kids whatever they want, and even to send them to private schools or do home-schooling. The law also rightly sets rules for determining public school curriculum without having every parent, or special interest with an agenda, coming in and imposing their views on everyone else's kids — yours or mine, gay or non-gay.

These have nothing to do with marriage, and yet NOM would have public schools pretend that gay people don't exist or, even worse, teach all kids that it is okay to look down on people who are different (including the parents of some of their classmates, and even other students themselves). The Human Rights Campaign issued a thorough refutation of the ad's deceptions. In a remarkable expose, HRC's website revealed the audition tapes for the NOM's attack ad, with actors stumbling through the scripts, reciting disproven claims about gay people as a threat.

All of NOM's actors are invoking as supposed arguments against the freedom to marry examples that, as HRC puts it, "involve religious people who enter the public sphere, but don't want to abide by the general non-discriminatory rules everyone else does." But in a complicated world, where lots of people "disapprove" of other people's beliefs and lives, or race and religion, we can't allow our ability to have a job or a home, or get medical care or a marriage license, turn on whether our boss, landlord, doctor, or government clerk likes us. If we did, we'd have chaos. The point of civil rights laws is to make it possible for all of us to live together in one nation.

This past week, the Vermont legislature and the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court both offered reassurance that Americans can respect one another's religious freedom while protecting everyone's personal freedom and equality under the law. As Justice Mark Cady, a Republican appointee, explained:

[W]e give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles....The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

The millions of dollars that NOM and its backers threaten to spend fostering yet another cultural and political war against gay people and threatening civil rights protections would be better spent addressing the real problems facing all our families today. What's truly scary is they don't seem to be feeling that love.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gay Students Don't Feel Safe In Pennsylvania Schools

By Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Today's National Day of Silence is intended to stop name-calling, bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students at school, a need that was highlighted by a new study.

The findings are based on a survey of 242 Pennsylvania students who participated in GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey.

"As Pennsylvania students prepare for the National Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, we learn just how pervasive the problem is in Pennsylvania schools," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "Pennsylvania has lagged behind other states in taking the simple and effective steps to begin addressing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Pennsylvania and all of its schools need to commit to making sure that schools are safe for all students."

The survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students in Pennsylvania showed:

• Almost 9 of 10 have been harassed verbally in the past year.

• More than half said they had been harassed physically.

• More than a quarter said they had been physically assaulted.

• Ninety-eight percent sometimes, often or frequently hear the word "gay" used in a negative way.

• Most of those harassed or assaulted didn't report it, but only about a third of those who did report it found school staff intervened effectively.

• Because they felt unsafe, 39 percent had skipped class at least once in the preceding month and 44 percent had missed at least one day of school.

On the National Day of Silence, students pledge to call attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. Some remain completely silent while others are silent in breaks between classes and others speak out against bullying. According to GLSEN, students in 271 middle and high schools in Pennsylvania have registered to participate.

Western Pennsylvania: Help Pass Legislation Banning Discrimination!

from Equality Advocates:

This past weekend we had a very successful and productive organizing meeting to plan out exactly what we need to do to see House Bill 300 passed THIS YEAR, and what needs to happen in Western PA.

When passed, House Bill 300 will prohibit discrimination in Pennsylvania on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

The next meeting will be on Sunday, April 19 from 2:00-4:30 at the United Steelworkers Building in downtown Pittsburgh (corner of Stanwix and Blvd of the Allies, first-floor conference room). We will have food.

We will spend our time making action plans, and figuring out how to better involve every person and organization around the table. Together we can organize more effectively and magnify our collective voice in western PA!

We really have an opportunity to see this bill passed this year, but can only do so with every organization, every person, fully engaged with this process. Whether it’s sending action alerts, working your own membership, or simply raising the visibility of LGBT discrimination and what we can actually do about it — everything is helpful. What’s most important is that we bring everyone together around the table, and we have a chance to do that on April 19.

Please forward information about this meeting to everyone who would be interested in attending, and anyone looking to get involved. Please also forward to organizational leaders and movement leaders to help bring in as much talent, energy, and ideas as possible.

Come out on April 19 to find out what YOU can to do help thousands of LGBT people across PA!

Date: Sunday, April 19, 2009
Time: 2:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: United Steelworkers Building
Street: Stanwix and Blvd. of the Allies
City/Town: Pittsburgh, PA

Contact: Jake Kaskey, Equality Advocates
Phone: 215-731-1447

Young and Gay in the Bible Belt: 'My Mom Came at Me With a Butcher Knife!'

For many Bible Belt gays, "home" is not a haven from the outside world. Home may be more dangerous than the streets.

by Bernadette Barton for AlterNet:

The crisis gay youth face in the Bible Belt struck home particularly hard for me this week while dining with members of a gay/straight alliance in a small Southern town.

After asking the conversation-opener of the group -- "So, would you like to all share your coming out stories with me?" -- a young woman on my right named Angie* immediately burst out, "My mother came at me with a butcher knife!"

Stunned, I was trying to process this when a young woman to my left whispered, "You don't want to hear my story, it's too violent." More violent than your mother attacking you with a butcher knife? How is that possible? What does that mean?

I usually visit with the gay/straight alliance students during my campus visits. At this particular tiny university town in a remote corner of the South, we had a room to ourselves at a not-very-fancy Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. The students were adorable -- sweet, eager to please, charming.

Sipping hot oolong tea, I tried to wrap my mind around the image of my mother, the person who is supposed to love me the most, coming at me with a big knife. Blood-soaked footage from the movie Carrie filled my head. I thought, "Your mother is the one who's supposed to protect you from the person holding the butcher knife, not be the person wielding it. What kind of psychological damage does this do?"

It emerged that Angie's 14-year-old younger sister had outed her to their mother. How scary for the younger sister to witness such a dire reaction to a petty act of tattling. This mother's violent, homophobic response to Angie psychologically abused both girls.

Meanwhile, the alliance students, although attentive and respectful to Angie and one another, did not act disturbed or even very surprised by the butcher-knife story or the ones that followed. Their general demeanor suggested that these kinds of horror stories were simply business as usual in their lives.

We all got up, filled our plates and upon our return to the table, they continued to share.

"My mother didn't speak to me for three months."

"My partner and I had to fake a breakup so I could keep my car."

"My father called me an abomination and quoted Scripture."

"My parents disowned me."

"I haven't come out to my parents because they couldn't handle it."

No one's opinion is more important, no one's rejection more painful, and no one's support more sought than the families -- and especially the mothers -- of the gay men and lesbians I have interviewed.

History and culture instruct us that relationships with family members mean something special and different than those with the rest of the world. We learn that "family is always there for you" and "you can't divorce your family." We are told to "take care of family" and that "a mother's love is unconditional." Family "takes you in when no one else will have you." Home is a "haven."

Regardless of the validity of these cultural narratives in any particular family, they function as an ideological backdrop against which most of us measure our family relationships.

Home is not a haven for many Bible Belt gays. Home may be more dangerous than the streets. A 2006 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study found that of homeless teens, 42 percent identify as gay. If one considers that the most generous estimates of the percentage of gay people in the general population is 10 percent, such a statistic illustrates an alarming over-representation of gay kids among the homeless.

After traveling around parts of the Bible Belt collecting the stories of lesbians and gay men, I believe that gay children and adolescents are the victims of institutionally sanctioned child abuse.

The Centers for Disease Control, with the Department of Health and Human Services, distinguishes between "acts of commission and omission" in defining child abuse. Acts of commission include physical, psychological (emotional and mental) and sexual abuse, specifically language and actions that cause harm, potential harm or the threat of harm to a child. Acts of omission refer to all forms of child neglect: a "failure to provide" for the physical, emotional, medical and educational well-being of a child.

Some gay children and adolescents suffer these dimensions of abuse not simply because their individual families are dysfunctional and violent, but because cultural institutions -- like schools and churches -- support the abuse of gay kids for being gay.

People in the Bible Belt, gay and heterosexual, learn that homosexuals are bad, diseased, perverse, other and inferior within a number of social institutions. Like a creepy, mirrored fun house, abusive language about and threatening actions toward homosexuals on the playground, from the pulpit, in the bar, at work and during family dinner amplify and reinforce one another.

Thus, parents who exclude gay youth and family members who ostracize gay relatives are only mimicking behaviors modeled in churches, schools and the military. Not only then do local officials and local institutions fail to protect gay children and adolescents from maltreatment, in their worst manifestations they teach homophobic families how to abuse their gay children.

As a nation, we need institutional support for gay relationships to serve as models for both the gay youth among us and the heterosexual family members steeped in toxic homophobic attitudes about homosexuality. Bible Belt families need some tools to help them support their gay children, not more ways to hurt them.

Legal recognition of same-sex civil union or marriage is one such powerful tool -- "If the general assembly supports same-sex unions, maybe I can learn to live with the fact that Tommy is gay."

Maybe not. But at least it's a step in the direction of reducing needless suffering, not increasing it. Kudos to Iowa and Vermont this week! Your gay youth are a little safer.

I too am a Bible Belt gay -- I've lived in Kentucky for 17 years. Yes, I care deeply about gay rights. Yes, I am personally invested. But I've been cushioned from the worst manifestations of homophobia.

Originally from Massachusetts, I've been spared the destructive, spirit-crushing upbringing most Bible Belt gays endure. To me, it's just common sense: Of course gay people are OK and good and wonderful. Of course we should be treated well, loved and appreciated. Of course we are not monsters.

I didn't realize that standing up and saying this publicly would be such a radical act.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Bernadette Barton (Ph.D. University of Kentucky 2000) is associate professor of sociology and women’s studies at Morehead State University. She is the author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (2006, New York University Press), and numerous articles on sexuality studies. Barton’s current research project examines the experiences of gay men and lesbians, and is the focus of an upcoming book, Pray the Gay Away: Religion and Homosexuality in the Bible Belt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Merciless Anti-Gay Bullying Leads To Child's Suicide

With the vicious, relentless, unchallenged, anti-GLBT rhetoric of Venango County-based groups such as the American Family Association of Pennsylvania and Christian Radio Station WAWN, will such a tragedy happen here?

We hope and pray not!

Words That Kill

by Wayne Besen:

It's been a heady couple of weeks for gay activists -- and it keeps getting better. There were twin marriage victories in the unlikely states of Vermont and Iowa -- doubling the number of places where gay people can get hitched. If that wasn't enough, the New York Times reports that New York Gov. David Paterson will unveil plans this week to introduce marriage equality legislation.

On New York City's Upper West Side, the Jewish Alliance for Change presented a benefit concert on Monday evening (pictured Right) for marriage equality that Broadway Eventfeatured a stunning array of stars. I spoke at the event and followed Linda Lavin -- who played the lead in the television show "Alice." It was exhilarating to be among the Broadway glitz and glamour. Most important, the event encapsulated what the movement has worked decades to achieve: broad mainstream support and cultural acceptance.

Unfortunately, while our movement bathed in the well-deserved spotlight, not everyone felt its warm glow. There are still gay people -- particularly of school age -- who feel the cool sting of homophobia. They are teased, harassed, humiliated and beaten on a daily basis. They enter the schoolyard in sheer terror -- as if it were a prison yard ruled by fearsome gangs.

Teachers -- who are supposed to be in charge -- act no better than prison guards, indifferent to the pain and suffering. The cries of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students often fall on deaf ears. It is a living Hell and one that too often ends in tragedy.

In 1988, I remember an effeminate male student in high school who was teased mercilessly. He was assaulted verbally and physically -- and it got so bad he had to drop out. Teachers who allowed bullies to ruin his life curtailed his right to an education.

Thanks to groups like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) much has changed. There are many openly gay GLBT students who have uneventful -- if not enjoyable -- high school experiences.

Still, if a student ends up in the wrong school -- it might as well be 1988 (or even 1958). One such student is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. He was an 11 year-old boy who was taunted by bullies who repeatedly called him gay. On April 6, he hung himself in his Springfield, Mass. Home.

It is heartbreaking to hear Sirdeaner Walker, Carl's mother, talk about her son's death. She did everything in her power to alert the school and they failed to intervene.

"I have been homeless, but Carl made it through," Walker told ABC News. "I was a victim of domestic violence, and we made it through. The one thing we couldn't get through was public school."

Last week, parents in Ohio sued a high school after their son, who did not claim to be gay, shot himself after bullies clobbered him with anti-gay epithets. This problem is as pervasive as it is perverse. It is an open secret and offhandedly dismissed, as "boys will be boys." Of course, this response comes from the boys actually throwing the slurs and punches and not the victims and their families.

Equally tragic, is that this problem is not considered a major story in the mainstream media. We are treated to countless hours of babbling baloney and blithering buffoonery -- but the preventable suicide by an 11-year old boy is considered an afterthought.

In my view, this tragedy should be on the front page of every newspaper in the nation. Satellite trucks should be parked in front of Ms. Walker's home to address a serious issue that affects far more people than stories about the latest star in rehab.

On Friday, April 17 students across the nation will participate in GLSEN's 13th GLSEN annual National Day of Silence, where they will take a one-day vow of silence to shine a light on anti-gay bullying. More than 8,000 schools are expected to participate in this incredible show of solidarity.

Now, if the media will just end its "century of silence" and elevate this issue, we might see less eleven year olds committing suicide.