Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Traditional Family Values' in the Oil Region

Man charged in Titusville death

Police say suspect buried girlfriend in snow

by Kristi Cummins for The Derrick:

It’s hard to tell that someone was murdered near the quiet apartment complex at 820 Rockwood Drive in Titusville.

There’s no crime scene tape, no crowds, and the only sound that could be heard Wednesday morning was the scrape of a shovel on snow nearby.

But late Tuesday night, Titusville police officers had reported to the scene — based on a confession from Michael Brooker — where they found the body of Renee R. Gates, 23, of Titusville, buried in the snow.

Brooker, 35, of Phoenix, Ariz., had gone to the Titusville police station Tuesday night to report what he’d done. After confessing, he was arraigned in court early Wednesday on one count of criminal homicide, and he is being held without bail.

Sandy Murphy remembers her neighbor as kind and caring, which made the news of the apparent homicide all the more shocking.

“Renee was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Murphy said. “She was friendly, outgoing, and just as sweet as they come.”

When Murphy was recently hospitalized, Gates was the first to visit her, offering to do anything she could to help Murphy out.

Murphy had no idea what happened sometime over the weekend between Gates and Brooker that led to her death.

“I didn’t hear a thing. I am absolutely stunned by this,” Murphy said.

Other residents of the Titusville Apartments agreed, saying even though they had been home at the time of the murder — and when police came to the scene to look for Gates’ body Tuesday night — they never heard a thing.

“We’re very sad about this,” said Diane Wagner, site manager at Titusville Apartments. “Our hearts and prayers go out to her family.”

.. .. ..

At about 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, Brooker entered the Titusville Police Department, where he told Capt. Glenn Ciccarelli that he had killed his girlfriend, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by police with Titusville District Judge Amy Nicols. Brooker was then interviewed by Officer Aaron Madden.

Brooker said about three days ago, either Saturday or Sunday, he went to Gates’ apartment, where they got into a physical fight.

During the fight, Brooker said he pushed Gates and then she scratched his face. The affidavit noted Brooker had visible scratches on his face.

Brooker told police he then punched Gates in the face, and she ran into the apartment’s master bedroom. She jumped out the bedroom window, turned right, and ran toward the apartment complex’s storage sheds, about 50 feet away.

In the affidavit, Brooker said he followed Gates out the window and caught her just as she reached the side of the storage sheds.

He took her back to the side of the building, about 10 feet away from the storage shed, when Gates began to scream.

According to the affidavit, Brooker said he put Gates in a headlock to stop her from screaming and continued to drag her back to the bedroom window.

Once he let her out of the headlock, Brooker said Gates fell to the ground but was still conscious.

Brooker told police he then placed his foot on Gates’ neck and stood on her throat “for quite a bit.”

When he removed his foot, Gates was not moving, he told police.

Brooker re-entered the apartment through the master bedroom window and retrieved a shovel to bury Gates’ body in the snow.

Brooker said he placed the shovel by the front door of the apartment. The clothes he was wearing, he told police in the affidavit, were covered in Gates’ blood.

At about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ciccarelli and Officer William Dilley located Gates’ body buried in the snow just where Brooker said she had been.

.. .. ..

Two sources told the newspaper that Brooker and Gates met while working in a carnival together.

In the court documents, Brooker is described as 6 feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes.

Nicols said Brooker was “very polite” when he was arraigned before her early Wednesday morning.

“He was very detached,” Nicols added.

Titusville police said there were no visible wounds or ligature marks on Gates’ body.

Crawford County Coroner Patrick McHenry said an autopsy will be conducted at the Erie County Coroner’s Office to determine the cause of death.

Nicols said Brooker was being held at the Crawford County jail without bail but was moved to a local hospital after an apparent suicide attempt.

Titusville police were assisted at the scene by state police, and an investigation is continuing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anti-LGBT Bullying: Are Venango County School Districts Doing Enough?

from the ACLU:

Stop Anti-Gay Bullying: Seth's Story

When Seth was in the fifth grade, other students started calling him "gay." As he got older, the harassment became more frequent and severe. By seventh grade, taunts and verbal abuse were a constant occurrence. Students regularly called him "fag" and "queer." He was afraid to use the restroom or be in the boy's locker room before gym class. Seth's mother and close friends report that teachers and school administrators were aware that Seth was being harassed and, in some instances, participated in the harassment. One teacher allegedly called Seth "fruity" in front of an entire class.

Wendy's pleas to the school for help were often brushed aside. Seth had always been a good student, receiving A's and B's, but his grades quickly dropped to failing as the harassment continued. Friends reported that he became depressed and withdrawn. A note Seth left upon his death expresses love for his family and close friends, and anger at the school "for bringing you this sorrow."

Seth died on September 28, 2010, after nine days on life support.

On December 16, 2010, the ACLU sent a letter to Tehachapi Unified School District officials urging them to take immediate and affirmative steps to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. The U.S. Department of Education is also investigating the district.

TELL CONGRESS TO Protect LGBT Students From Harassment and Discrimination

U.S. Department of Education Letter to Schools Outlining Legal Responsibility to Address Bullying and Harassment

Thursday, December 9, 2010

18 Municipalities in Penna. Prohibit Discrimination -- When Will Venango County Communities Join The List? Oil City, Franklin, What Do Ya Say?

Lower Merion Township Becomes 18th Municipality In Pa. To Ban Discrimination

by Cheryl Allison for The Main Line Times:

Lower Merion Township tonight became the 18th municipality in Pennsylvania to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The board of commissioners, following a public hearing on a third draft of an anti-discrimination ordinance, voted unanimously to adopt the legislation.

The measure affects discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

It also creates a seven-member local Human Relations Commission to receive, evaluate and investigate complaints, and potentially impose penalties – including fines up to $10,000 – in some cases.

For more than half a century, discrimination based on a number of other factors, including race, religion, sex, gender, age and disability, has been prohibited under Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act. The law has not provided such protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and efforts to extend it to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens has so far been unsuccessful.

The state law, however, does not preclude local municipalities from adopting their own anti-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT individuals, and, beginning in the 1980s with Philadelphia, 17 have done so.

The movement toward an ordinance in Lower Merion began this summer, when a 21-year-old Bala Cynwyd resident, Jason Landau Goodman, first asked commissioners in a public meeting to draft legislation.

Goodman also announced the formation of a new organization, Equality Lower Merion, supporting a local ordinance.

Over the past several months, three draft versions of an ordinance have been discussed, leading to tonight’s public hearing.

The ordinance has broadened in scope to some extent, in that it calls for the new commission to receive complaints of discrimination on any of the factors also covered by the state law. Any cases that cannot be resolved by initial mediation on factors other than sexual orientation or identity, however, are to be referred to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The Lower Merion ordinance lays out a progression of steps, beginning with mediation and ending with a formal public hearing and order, by which complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexuality may be resolved.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hate Under Cloak of Religion

The Southern Poverty Law Center rightly calls out the Family Research Council's anti-gay rhetoric.

by Tim Rutten for the Los Angeles Times:

The Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization with deep roots in the civil rights movement. Its ingenious lawsuits helped break the back of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist factions, and in recent years, it has joined the Anti-Defamation League as a reliable monitor of hate groups.

The Family Research Council is an influential Washington-based advocacy group with deep roots in the religious right. Its annual political forum, the Values Voter Summit, has become a nearly obligatory stop for ambitious Republican office-seekers hoping to win the support of so-called values voters. In recent years, the council has given an increasing share of its attention to opposing marriage equality and open military service by gays and lesbians.

Now, the two groups are locked in a sharp confrontation that raises crucial questions about where the expression of religiously based views on social issues ends and hate speech begins.

Last week, the law center added the Family Research Council to its list of more than 930 active hate groups, citing the anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders and researchers, which have included calls to re-criminalize consensual sex between individuals of the same gender. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as one with "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

The council's president, former Louisiana lawmaker Tony Perkins, reacted angrily to the designation, calling it "slanderous" and demanding an apology. "The left is losing the debate over ideas and the direction of public policy, so all that is left for them is character assassination," Perkins said, insisting that his group "will continue to champion marriage and family as the foundation of our society and will not acquiesce to those seeking to silence the Judeo-Christian views held by millions of Americans."

Other conservative commentators also have assailed listing the council as a hate group, calling it an affront to protected speech. That is a superficially compelling argument, but it won't withstand scrutiny. It is perfectly possible for a church or an organization associated with a denomination or religious tendency — as the Family Research Council is with evangelical Protestantism — to oppose, say, marriage equality as a departure from tradition and traditional notions of civic virtue without defaming gays and lesbians as a group.

But the council goes well beyond that. Over the years, it has published statistical compendiums purporting to quantify the "evils" of homosexuality. One of its pamphlets is entitled, "Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Homosexual Lifestyle." At various times, its spokesmen have spuriously alleged that the gay rights movement's goal "is to go after children" and that child molestation is more likely to occur in households with gay parents. Last week, one of its senior fellows, Peter Sprigg, told reporters on a conference call concerning repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that "homosexuals in the military are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are relative to their numbers."

Such rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of that with which religiously affiliated opponents of African American equality once defended segregation. It wasn't all that long ago that some of them argued against school integration because, they alleged, black adolescents were uniquely unable to control sexual impulses and, therefore, would assault white schoolgirls. Exhortations against "race mixing" were commonplace pulpit messages short decades ago, though we now recognize them as hate speech. It's past time to do the same with rhetoric that denigrates gays and lesbians.

So long as even the most objectionable religious dogma stays under the church roof, it's a constitutionally protected view. People's religious beliefs — even when noxious — are a private matter. Our churches are free to order their internal affairs as they will — to set the terms of sacramental marriage as they see fit, to discriminate in the selection of their clergy, to racially segregate their membership or to separate the sexes in their schools or places of worship.

However, when a group sets out to impose its views on the rest of society by lobbying for public policies or laws, it can no longer claim special protections or an exemption from the norms of civil discourse simply because its views are formed by religious beliefs. This is precisely the dodge the Family Research Council has been running.

Friday, November 26, 2010


This past August, Coudersport, PA resident Robert Wagner convened a “Bible Believing Christian” forum at the Coudersport Public Library at which he threatened to violently attack transgender individuals with a baseball bat.

Forum “special guest” Diane Gramley, whose Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania regularly plants seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” Gramley's disparaging term for transgender females, condoned Wagner's incitement without a word of protest.

(The American Family Association, parent organization of the AFAofPA, was recently designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.)

A video of Wagner's verbal assault, which attracted national media attention, can be viewed here:

Each November, the world commemorates the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to mourn and honor the many transgender lives tragically cut short by hatred, fear, and violence.

We are writing this open letter to call on Wagner and Gramley to take responsibility for the consequences of their rhetoric, publicly apologize for their remarks, and denounce anti-transgender bullying, discrimination and violence.

We also urge readers to raise their voices with others in the community to express support for the right of all people to live free of fear and discrimination, with dignity and respect, regardless of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.

Please let your voice be heard by writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper and sharing news of your action here, on the Out In The Silence blog or the Out In The Silence website.

Thank You,

Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

American Family Association Designated a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center

Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda

by Evelyn Schlatter:

Even as some well-known anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family moderate their views, a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously motivated, have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities.

These groups’ influence reaches far beyond what their size would suggest, because the “facts” they disseminate about homosexuality are often amplified by certain politicians, other groups and even news organizations. Of the 18 groups profiled, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will be listing 13 next year as hate groups (eight were previously listed), reflecting further research into their views; those are each marked with an asterisk.

Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.

The report includes the entry of the American Family Association, whose Pennsylvania chapter is based in Venango County, headed by anti-LGBT extremist Diane Gramley.
See the FULL REPORT Here.

Hate Groups Waiting In The Wings

from Truth Wins Out:

A steady theme of my weekly column this year is the notion that the LGBT community has reached a tipping point and is winning the war. While the trajectory of history is clear, there will be another 10-20 years of hard-fought battles ahead. During this period, life for LGBT people will gradually improve, punctuated by unsettling instances of violence caused by the increased desperation of anti-gay activists.

The only way the LGBT community can lose is if America is overcome by extremism. Thus, it is disturbing to see the radicalization of our opponents, and watch as these once semi-nuanced organizations have simply gone nuts.

This week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a landmark report on anti-gay defamation. The SPLC certified several new hate groups, including well-known organizations, such as The Family Research Council and The American Family Association.

A perfect example of alarming rhetoric came from FRC spokesman Peter Sprigg. Responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, Sprigg said, “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.”

Last February, Sprigg appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and said, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.”

“So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked.

“Yes,” Sprigg replied.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer claimed in a May 27 blog post that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.”

The Traditional Values Coalition, which was already an SPLC hate group, has a page on its website headlined “Homosexual Urban Legends”, which ridiculously asserts without evidence that, “[t]he cold, hard fact is that teens who are struggling with homosexual feelings are more likely to be sexually molested by a homosexual school counselor or teacher than to commit suicide over their feelings of despair.”

The words spewed by these organizations can create a climate that leads to violence, as they give unstable people a way to rationalize their aggression. “Hey, I’m just cleansing my community of immoral perverts,” the deranged thug might think after being exposed to the hate speech disseminated by these organizations.

In its report, SPLC analyzed hate crime statistics based on FBI figures. The SPLC compared the rate of victimization for gay people to that of the other groups. The figures show that homosexuals are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime attack than Jews. In the same way, gays are 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks; 4.4 times more likely than Muslims; 13.8 times more likely than Latinos; and 41.5 times more likely than whites. The bottom line, according to SPLC is that, “Homosexuals are far more likely than any other minority group in the United States to be victimized by violent hate crime.”

So, while life is improving for LGBT people – particularly in large cities and college towns – there is always the looming threat of random and capricious violence. Unlike heterosexuals, same-sex couples cannot enjoy holding hands in public without scanning their surroundings and analyzing, if only subconsciously, the risk of attack. If a person – gay or straight – does not fit gender norms, trouble is always lurking, fueled by the rhetoric of hate groups that inflame ignoble passions.

What truly concerns me are external issues that can lead to demagoguery and scapegoating. The high unemployment rate, a decaying infrastructure, the slow death of the American Dream, and political instability in Washington are factors that could undercut the hard-fought gains of the LGBT movement.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes that, “inequality in the United States has soared to levels comparable to those in Argentina six decades ago — with 1 percent controlling 24 percent of American income in 2007.”

Another Times columnist, Thomas Friedman quoted a Nov. 4 speech by Education Secretary Arne Duncan who said, “One-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year… America’s youth are now tied for ninth in the world in college attainment.”

Even in areas the U.S. is thought to excel in, we are falling behind. For example, the U.S. is ranked 22nd worldwide in Internet connection speed.

As many Americans grow angrier, poorer, and fall further behind, they may begin to look for answers in the wrong places. Stepping in to fill the dangerous vacuum are political extremists who will point fingers and blame minorities to increase their grip on power.

The SPLC report is a sober reminder that we must remain vigilant in combating extremism. There are well-organized and wealthy hate machines waiting in the wings, poised to cause tremendous harm to LGBT people if the opportunity ever presents itself.

Is This What "Traditional Family Values" Means?

Man sentenced in baseball bat death
2010-11-23 / AP News

ALLENTOWN (AP) — An eastern Pennsylvania man has been sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison for the baseball bat beating death of his estranged girlfriend last year.

Forty-three-year-old Alfredo Reyes Ortiz pleaded guilty last month to third-degree murder in the death of 29-yearold Francesca Isley. Authorities said he beat Isley in July 2009 with a wooden baseball bat, splitting it into several pieces, and then thrust one piece down her throat.

Lehigh County Judge Kelly Banach called Ortiz “a dangerous man” Monday and told him he needed to be locked away “for as long as the law permits.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bob Barr, the Architect of the Defense of Marriage Act, Again Calls for its Repeal

by Michael Jones for

When Bob Barr was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he became famous for quite a few things. Conservative as they come, Barr was an adamant supporter of impeaching President Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also once tried to get the Pentagon to ban Wicca in the military, and made controversial statements about how he couldn't take people with "cult hairstyles" seriously in meetings.

But despite these more bombastic and colorful moments of his Congressional career, Barr was also critically involved with major pieces of legislation. One of his biggest "accomplishments," much to the dismay of the LGBT community, was authoring a piece of legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act, known by most as DOMA. Barr wrote DOMA in 1996, fearing that state courts might make moves to legalize same-sex marriage, and he didn't want other states or the federal government to have to recognize those laws.

As we all know, DOMA passed with flying colors. And 14 years later, it's still on the books, preventing same-sex couples from hundreds of benefits that heterosexual-married couples take for granted. The fact that gay couples can't sponsor their binational partner for legal immigration status? It's because of DOMA. The fact that gay couples can't inherit social security benefits or share health insurance if one of them works for the federal government? It's because of DOMA. The fact that a legally-married gay couple in Massachusetts can travel to Florida (or any of the other 40+ states that do not recognize marriage equality) and be treated like a second class citizen? Yup, that's DOMA's fault, too.

All of this should be enough to get a picture of Bob Barr's mug placed on every gay person's dartboard around the country. Except now, Barr admits that he was wrong to write DOMA, and is urging Congress to repeal the Act, which he says failed miserably and actually ends up violating core parts of the Constitution.

Huh. Anyone know that song, "I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger?" If only Bob Barr had been privy to this song in 1996.

As Pam's House Blend notes in some awesome coverage of a November 12 symposium entitled "Legal, Secular, and Religious Perspectives on Marriage Equality/Marriage Protection/Same-Sex Marriage" at St. John's University School of Law in New York City, Barr once again called DOMA flawed legislation.

"Here we had a piece of federal legislation that said for federal law purposes only...this is what marriage means, reflecting the vast majority of Members of Congress representing the vast majority of people in the country at the time in 1996. A lawful union of one man and one woman. Yet what happened is rather than simply provide a shield for purposes of distributing federal moneys pursuant to that definition, the Defense of Marriage Act over the intervening years has been used as a club to force states not to adopt any definition of marriage other than the one that is supposed to apply just for federal law purposes," Barr said.

DOMA as a brutal club. Sounds like an apt analogy.

Barr continued by saying that he thinks LGBT Americans ought to have the legal right to marry. As Tony Varona reported for Pam's House Blend, Barr said that marriage equality was a "fundamental freedom."

"Speaking in favor of the right of same-sex couples to marry, Barr said that marriage equality 'is an issue of individual liberty,'" Varona reports. "He observed that 'back in the 1850s' marriage 'was considered for what it truly is -- a personal relationship, a contract between two individuals.' It was, according to Barr, only 'after the regulatory state began to take hold that government realized that [the regulation of marriage] was another way to control people.'"

So what's it say when the author of a particular piece of legislation says that it should be thrown out with the garbage? Seems like it says that it's time for DOMA to go.

Openly Gay Student Defends Teacher at School Board Meeting

Jay McDowell, a high school teacher in Howell, Michigan, was suspended last month for disciplining an anti-gay student. At a recent school board meeting, openly gay 14-year-old Graeme Taylor came to McDowell's defense with an incredibly articulate/inspiring speech.

Would students in Venango County feel safe or empowered enough to speak out so courageously?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Religion-based Bigotry Harms Youth

by Mitchell Gold for the Washington Post:

In the past few weeks, the shocking number of suicides by gay teenagers has sparked a serious national discussion about the root causes of anti-gay harassment and bullying. Across the country, parents, school officials, legislators, religious leaders, and others are recognizing that young people are deeply harmed by the message that being gay is sinful and wrong. For the first time, many voices are calling for accountability from groups and public figures who misuse religion to justify anti-gay bigotry.

Not surprisingly, those who have made careers of promoting anti-gay views are fighting back. Last week, Tony Perkins, the director of the Family Research Council, attacked those who "lay blame at the feet of conservative Christians who teach that homosexual conduct is wrong." In a guest voices column for On Faith, Perkins cynically denied any connection between the harassment of gay youth and the belief that gay people are sinful and disordered. According to Perkins, all responsibility must be placed on the bully, and not on religious teachings that condemn homosexuality as a threat to society. Incredibly, Perkins claimed that if gay youth commit suicide, it is because they "recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal," not because of rejection by family, friends, and religious leaders.

Perkin's distortion of scientific research and callous disregard for the harm caused by his anti-gay views have been widely condemned, and rightly so. And yet the views he expressed are shared by millions of Americans of integrity and good will who genuinely love and care for their gay children and family members. For decades, anti-gay religious leaders have taught that homosexuality is not an innate aspect of a person's identity, but a sinful choice to engage in immoral and abnormal conduct. Many people of faith have been deeply influenced by those teachings and have internalized them with little thought or reflection.

But unlike professional anti-gay advocates such as Perkins, most people who hold these views are genuinely unaware of the harm they are causing to gay youth. Tragically, many well-meaning and loving parents and family members who have been exposed to these teachings mistakenly believe they are protecting a gay child by rejecting their child and doing all they can to force the child to stop being gay. As a result, many gay teens are kicked out of their homes or sent to therapists who try to change their sexual orientation because their parents have been taught their child is choosing "an immoral lifestyle." Many loving grandparents reject a gay or lesbian grandchild because their church group said they must do so "for the child's own good." Too often, young people are ostracized by their families at the very time they most need their love and support--because the families have been taught that is what God would want them to do.

In reality, however, sexual orientation is a God-given trait--not a "choice." There is not a shred of evidence it can be changed. And just as is true for heterosexual people, it is a very central and important part of one's being. When parents reject or punish a child for being gay, they are rejecting the essence of who their children are as people.

That rejection can have deadly consequences. Gay youth who are rejected or ostracized by their families are at high risk of depression, substance abuse, HIV infection, and dropping out of school. They are also at least four times more likely than other youth to commit suicide. For gay youth who are sent to a therapist who tries to change their sexual orientation, that risk is even higher. Let me emphasize, it is not their being gay that puts them at risk but rather how they are treated by their parents and clergy. And by people like Tony Perkins.

During my visits with people of faith in all parts of the country, I have spoken with Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants and Jews who have been taught that homosexuality is immoral and wrong. Almost invariably, they are surprised and concerned when they hear about the harms caused by those teachings. Many have told me they had not fully considered the impact on a gay young person of being told that he is sinful and abnormal, or that he will be cut off from God's love unless he can do the impossible and change who he is.

It is tragic that it has taken the death of so many young people in the past few weeks to focus national attention on the impact of anti-gay beliefs and the central role played by anti-gay religious leaders in promoting those beliefs. Once people of faith are made aware of these facts, they must ask themselves whether causing such severe harm to young people can exist comfortably with their deepest religious values.

True faith, compassion, and love do not ask any person to harm another human being. The past weeks have made the harm caused by anti-gay attitudes painfully clear. People of faith must ask whether they are complicit in causing such devastation and whether their beliefs give them the right to judge and condemn others--even when those beliefs may convince a young person that he would rather be dead than gay.

Mitchell Gold is co-founder of renowned home furnishings brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, and founder of Faith in America, a 501 C-3 non profit whose mission is to educate about the harm caused to LGBT Americans by religion based bigotry; and in 2008, published a book entitled CRISIS: 40 Personal Stories Revealing The Personal, Social and Religious Pain And Trauma Of Growing Up Gay In America.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

American 'Family' Association: Former Employees Say It's Racist, Anti-Immigrant & Rife with Other Forms of Abuse

At right, Venango County-based Diane Gramley heads the American Family Association of Pennsylvania. She has yet to publicly disavow her participation, as the featured "special guest," at a "Bible Believing Christian" event in Coudersport, PA that promoted violence against transgender people.

Former Employees: Racism & Abuse in Leading Religious Right Org

by Sarah Posner for Religion Dispatches:

Just before this year's Values Voter Summit, the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way called on Republican elected officials and candidates to condemn virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements made by the American Family Association’s director of public policy, Bryan Fischer.

Fischer, who hosts a daily radio show on AFA's radio network of 180 stations, has, among other things, claimed that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; called for the deportation of Muslims and for banning them from military service; claimed that gay sex is "domestic terrorism"; called gay adoption a "terrible, terrible, inexcusable, inhumane thing to do to children"; and claimed that Hitler and his Stormtroopers were all gay.

No one took PFAW up on its suggestion, and AFA's founder and chairman emeritus Don Wildmon was feted at the Summit's gala with the James C. Dobson Values & Leadership Award, which declared him "one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time." At the award dinner, anti-gay marriage crusader Bishop Harry Jackson called him a "legend" and "the ultimate advocate for the kingdom of God"; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called him "a wonderful man of God" who had a "great influence" on the culture; and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson added, "I don't think there's been a more fearless defender of righteousness and truth than Don Wildmon."

The AFA, founded by Wildmon in Tupelo, Mississippi back in 1977, was known as the National Federation for Decency until 1988. Today, along with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, it’s one of the powerhouses of the religious right. Contributions to the nonprofit exceeded $19 million last year, according to financial data made available by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. In 2008, the organization donated $500,000 in support of Proposition 8 in California, twice the amount donated by Focus on the Family, and Jackson said it gave him money for his anti-gay marriage effort in the District of Columbia. It was one of the first religious right organizations to claim a role in the Tea Party movement.

"The American Family Association is one of the oldest, largest, and most radical religious right groups, and it has always played a major role in the right wing movement's efforts to denigrate gay Americans and to convince conservative Christians that liberals are out to destroy religious liberty and silence people of faith," said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. "The AFA has also played an active role in driving the national right-wing agenda—at the so called Values Voter Summit this year, GOP leaders echoed the AFA's talking points on gays and lesbians, Islam, and the supposed persecution of American Christians."

And yet, while the AFA has long been known for its invective against the "homosexual agenda" and its boycotts of companies that fail to meet its standards of "decency," Fischer—no policy wonk, despite being director of “Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy”—has taken the public rhetoric to a new, ugly level.

According to former employees of the AFA, the views represented by Fischer are not only tolerated within the organization, but any opposition to its anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant invective—including reliance on white nativist sources in the AFA's media programs—is dismissed. What's worse, former employees say, anyone questioning such attitudes as un-Christian is denigrated, and in some cases forced out.

Former AFA employees describe Wildmon—who led the organization until just last year—as an autocratic micromanager incapable of socializing with or showing empathy for his own employees.

Since the elder Wildmon passed the presidency on to his son Tim last year, Fischer has increasingly grabbed the spotlight. According to Allie Martin, who worked as a reporter for AFA's news service from 1997 until he was fired earlier this year, "there's really nobody else there who could step into that role."

"On paper," Martin said, "Tim is in charge," and is probably the "only person who could reel him [Fischer] in." But that hasn’t happened.

Within the organization, "people may not be comfortable" with Fischer’s rhetoric, said Martin, "but they aren't going to say much about it. They are afraid to say anything about it."

"Puppies In The Corner Who Learned to Keep Our Mouths Shut"

Martha Swindle, who worked as the elder Wildmon’s secretary from 1991 until 1999, when he fired her, said that he was perceived by donors to be a "great conservative leader," and that, "while I was there, the majority of funding came from $10 and $15 donations, people who believed in what AFA stood for." Swindle, too, believed in that vision, until Wildmon started "snooping" through her desk drawers and even her trash, she believes, ultimately firing her after another employee had found an off-color joke email she had forwarded to co-workers, an act she says she now regrets.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the AFA said it was the organization's policy "not to discuss issues regarding specific former employees."

Swindle had initially believed in the AFA's mission. "I believe God used him for his vision for the ministry," she said, adding that she is a conservative who supports Focus on the Family and similar ministries, "because I do believe in that vision."

Swindle said she still supports what the AFA stands for. "But by the time I left, it was no longer God's ministry. It had become Don's ministry."

Brad Bullock, who worked for the organization for 17 years spearheading the launch of the radio station and producing the daily radio report, was forced out 3 years ago. He said he admired Wildmon and considered him a friend, but that in dismissing him, Wildmon told him, "you have a problem and you don't know it."

Bullock said the group is "too harsh on homosexuals," though if anyone voiced concerns, "they would be attacked." He described the leadership as "autocratic" and tolerant of petty gossip among employees, like spreading rumors about employees having extra-marital affairs with one another.

Bullock added that Wildmon "chastised" people for taking anti-depressants, and that "a lot of people who had problems felt like they were second class," including Bullock, who said that he suffered from depression while working at the AFA. Employees were fearful of speaking out, according to Bullock. "We were puppies in the corner who learned to keep out mouths shut."

Inside the One News Now Newsroom

The AFA's radio and news division, in particular, said Martin, had become a place where authority could not be questioned, and where the "news" was nothing more than a mouthpiece for conservative "sources" whose views were portrayed as fact. (The Values Voter Summit award citation to Wildmon described One News Now as a "respected online news service.")

And those views were extreme, even by Martin’s standards of conservative evangelicalism. He said that the director of the news service, Fred Jackson, had a "hateful, hateful attitude" that "carried over" into stories. Martin described editorial meetings in which "liberals were accused of hating their kids," while Chad Groening, who covers immigration, described gay people as "degenerates" and "reprobates."

In the newsroom, said Martin, "I saw the tone of stories develop in a way I thought was disturbing."

"They get people as news sources to say what they want to say but can't say," he added.

After Obama got elected, said Martin, "this went up to a whole new level, we have to vilify this man."

Questioning Authority="Attitude Problems"

In 2008, Jackson sent Martin an email with the subject line "attitude problems," citing scripture he said governed "a worker's attitude toward their [sic] superiors." The verses he cited included Ephesians 6:5-8 ("Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, singleness of your heart, as unto Christ") and Colossians 3:22-25 ("Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.") He closed the email with a "final warning" that "any further breaches in this area will be turned over to Brother Don."

Among the topics about which Martin had raised concerns was the news room's approach to immigration. Martin said that Groening has, for example, called undocumented immigrants "stupid," "scumbag lawbreakers" and "freeloaders." Groening believed that illegal immigration would "destroy" the country, and that "we have the best way of life, and if our borders aren't secured, this country would be destroyed."

Martin also noted that Groening had referred to Muslims as "raghead scumbag terrorists" and referred to Allah as "Satan."

According to him, Groening received a subscription to American Renaissance magazine at the office. American Renaissance is published by white nationalist Jared Taylor, and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the magazine and website "regularly feature proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists." Taylor's New Century Foundation, which runs the magazine, "also sponsors American Renaissance conferences every other year where racist 'intellectuals' rub shoulders with Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists."

AFA did not respond to requests to interview Jackson and Groening.

A 2005 profile of Taylor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described Taylor’s beliefs that: "black people are genetically predisposed to lower IQs than whites, [and] are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives.” The profile went on to note that, “Race-relations expert Jared Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial 'separatists' and far-right extremists."

In a 2004 article for One News Now, reprinted on the American Renaissance website, Groening relied entirely on the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for a story claiming that FAIR, which he characterized as an "immigration reform organization," had revealed purported "voter fraud" in Wisconsin that proved that "non-citizens of the United States could decide the 2004 presidential election."

FAIR, which has been designated a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center, is one of a network of groups founded by Michigan activist John Tanton; the SPLC describes the organized anti-immigrant movement as "almost entirely the handiwork" of Tanton. His network of groups was behind the passage of Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, and other initiatives.

The SPLC chronicled Tanton's ties to the nativist movement in a 2009 report based on his own papers, finding that:

[T]he papers in the Bentley Library show that Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era. He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage "race betterment" at a 1997 meeting at a private club. He wrote a major funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to "give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life" — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor's theories on the Jews. He practically worshipped a principal architect of the Immigration Act of 1924 (instituting a national origin quota system and barring Asian immigration), a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi American Coalition of Patriotic Societies was indicted for sedition in 1942.

The report also detailed Tanton's admiration for Taylor, noting how he "promoted Taylor's efforts repeatedly" and encouraged FAIR employees to receive American Renaissance mailings.

Leonard Zeskind, author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, first detailed the Tanton network, including its ties with white supremacist organizations and militias, in a 2005 article in The American Prospect. Zeskind reported that Tanton wrote in 1986, "To govern is to populate . . . .Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? . . . . As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?"

Groening continues to cite Tanton groups as authoritative, tellingly describing NumbersUSA as an "immigration reduction advocacy organization" in an August 2010 piece and citing FAIR in a story claiming that "illegal aliens" would "trump veterans at US medical offices."

Groening also praised a Mississippi immigration raid, citing the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (MFIRE), listed on FAIR’s website as a "local group" and which is promoting an Arizona-style immigration law in Mississippi. According to a 2010 report by the SPLC, "FIRE took the lead last year in coordinating the activities of the often fractious nativist extremist movement," including launching "The Patriot Coalition, an antigovernment outfit battling 'globalism,' 'socialism' and the 'loss of National Identity and Culture.'"

The head of MFIRE, Dr. Rodney Hunt, is also treasurer of the Mississippi Tea Party. MFIRE’s tagline is "To Promote and Preserve National Sovereignty." In a recent press release, Hunt said, "We can't continue to allow the Mexican drug lords, human traffickers and terrorists organizations to enter our country at will or for illegal aliens to continue to take jobs badly needed in our state and across the nation."

Promoting white nativist views may put AFA at odds with its own allies in the religious right. In the early 2000s, Wildmon was instrumental in putting together the Arlington Group, a coalition of religious right leaders formed to fight gay marriage that also aimed to bring more African-American pastors into the fold. The AFA is also a member of the Freedom Federation, a coalition of religious right groups which described its first summit as "multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational faith-based and policy organizations and leaders committed to plan, strategize, and mobilize to advance shared core values to preserve freedom and promote justice."

Many of the prominent members of the Freedom Federation, including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Liberty Counsel, have expressed support for immigration reform.

Blessed By Americanized Christianity?

Zeskind told RD, "even though the FAIR staff would tell you they are not white nationalists, their concerns are the defense of country, the character of our country, and protection against the future when white people become the minority in a nation of minorities. . . . That's what the anti-immigrant movement is about."

Martin remarked that Groening's attitude toward immigration "goes to the heart of why a lot of the tea partiers and other Christian activists (not all of them) feel the way they do and are so upset. I believe they are afraid that their 'comfortable' lifestyle will be interrupted. They have bought into this idea of Americanized Christianity, that tells them God has blessed them, and evidence of that is their stuff and comfort."

This point of view is reflected in AFA's programming. In 2005, after Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles, Jackson said on the radio, "we don't want to have two nations within our borders that can't communicate with one another... natural hostility will develop."

The following year, in an exchange between Jackson and Don Wildmon on the radio, Wildmon claimed the immigration issue was a conspiracy between "mainstream media" and "undocumented immigrants" to "weaken the red states." Jackson added, "Because we know the vast majority of mainstream journalists are liberal in their theology and in their politics, they see these people as helping to vote Democrat in the coming elections."

From Boise To Tupelo

Even before Fischer started with the AFA, Groening was hailing his anti-immigration work in Idaho, where progressives had endured years of Fischer’s vitriolic activism as head of the Idaho Values Alliance, the AFA affiliate run by Fischer, his wife, and daughter.

Leo Morales, an Immigrant Rights Organizer with the Idaho Community Action Network, said Fischer "has a very strong immigrant restrictionist perspective," and "was involved in opposing efforts around creating in-state tuition opportunities for undocumented students. He was also involved in pushing for legislation that would deny public benefits to undocumented immigrants."

According to Jody May-Chang, an independent journalist and LGBT rights advocate in Boise, while executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, Fischer hosted anti-gay activist Scott Lively, former head of AFA's California affiliate, as part of a "Shake the Nation" conference, in 2008. In his new book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, Jeff Sharlet describes Lively as a "catalyst" for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, which calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. During a 2009 visit to Uganda, Lively likened gay people to Nazis and suggested they had instigated the Rwandan genocide. In early 2009, One News Now promoted Lively's book, Redeeming the Rainbow: A Christian Response to the Gay Agenda, as a "textbook on family values." On his radio show this year, Fischer claimed that criminalization of homosexuality was mandated by biblical law.

The Lively visit to Boise sparked a "visceral response" from the community, said May-Chang, including a letter from the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, calling on a local church hosting the conference speakers to reconsider. Rusty Thomas, also a Shake the Nation conference speaker who works with the radical anti-choice group Operation Save America, referred to the Interfaith Alliance in an online report as "the synagogue of Satan and heresy." In the report, Thomas claimed his group was "storming the gates of hell in Idaho," where they "went to the local death camp" (Planned Parenthood), and described the "sodomites" who protested outside the church where the conference was held. Thomas added that they "challenged the Church, and particularly men, to connect their testosterone with Biblical Christianity."

In an online column, Fischer defended Lively's preposterous and debunked "history" of a Nazi-gay link, claiming "the masculine homosexual movement in Germany created the Brown Shirts, and the Brown Shirts in turn created the Nazi Party." In a column earlier this year opposing repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, Fischer recycled that 2008 column, adding, "Even today in America, it is chic in some homosexual circles for individuals to wear replicas of Nazi Germany uniforms, complete with iron crosses, storm trooper outfits, military boots and even swastikas."

Speaking of Fischer, May-Chang added, "I would venture to say that he would've joined Scott Lively in Uganda if he could've." Calling him "an embarrassment to fair-minded Idahoans," May-Chang said that his writings while in Idaho made clear that he favored criminalization of homosexuality. She maintains a dossier of Fischer's radical homophobia on her website.

All three former AFA employees who spoke with RD said they were happier no longer working there. Martin has started a blog, where he hopes to spark conversation among Christians about how their message is being "presented, perceived, and received."

"I'd much rather be working in the secular world than for a ministry," said Swindle. "The secular world is nicer."

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, is RD’s associate editor and covers politics for the site. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Salon, The Washington Spectator, the religion blogs at the Washington Post and the Guardian, and other publications

Monday, October 4, 2010

Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers

What has been the toll on youth in Venango County and all of Pennsylvania due to the climate of fear, ignorance and hatred stirred by the likes of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, the Catholic and other area churches, indifferent / intolerant school administrators, and all those whose hearts are too cold and closed to a just and humane world?

from The New York Times:

FRESNO, Calif. — When Seth Walsh was in the sixth grade, he turned to his mother one day and told her he had something to say.

“I was folding clothes, and he said, ‘Mom, I’m gay,’ ” said Wendy Walsh, a hairstylist and single mother of four. “I said, ‘O.K., sweetheart, I love you no matter what.’ ”

But last month, Seth went into the backyard of his home in the desert town of Tehachapi, Calif., and hanged himself, apparently unable to bear a relentless barrage of taunting, bullying and other abuse at the hands of his peers. After a little more than a week on life support, he died last Tuesday. He was 13.

The case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a sexual encounter with another man was broadcast online, has shocked many. But his death is just one of several suicides in recent weeks by young gay teenagers who had been harassed by classmates, both in person and online.

The list includes Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Ind., who hanged himself on Sept. 9 after what classmates reportedly called a constant stream of invective against him at school.

Less than two weeks later, Asher Brown, a 13-year-old from the Houston suburbs, shot himself after coming out. He, too, had reported being taunted at his middle school, according to The Houston Chronicle. His family has blamed school officials as failing to take action after they complained, something the school district has denied.

The deaths have set off an impassioned — and sometimes angry — response from gay activists and caught the attention of federal officials, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who on Friday called the suicides “unnecessary tragedies” brought on by “the trauma of being bullied.”

“This is a moment where every one of us — parents, teachers, students, elected officials and all people of conscience — needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms,” Mr. Duncan said.

And while suicide by gay teenagers has long been a troubling trend, experts say the stress can be even worse in rural places, where a lack of gay support services — or even openly gay people — can cause a sense of isolation to become unbearable.

“If you’re in the small community, the pressure is hard enough,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which is based in New York. “And goodness knows people get enough signals about ‘how wrong it is to be gay’ without anyone in those communities actually having to say so.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Ms. Byard’s group, nearly 9 of 10 gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual middle and high school students suffered physical or verbal harassment in 2009, ranging from taunts to outright beatings.

In Mr. Clementi’s case, prosecutors in New Jersey have charged two fellow Rutgers freshmen with invasion of privacy and are looking at the death as a possible hate crime. Prosecutors in Cypress, Tex., where Asher Brown died, said Friday that they would investigate what led to his suicide.

In a pair of blog postings last week, Dan Savage, a sex columnist based in Seattle, assigns the blame to negligent teachers and school administrators, bullying classmates and “hate groups that warp some young minds and torment others.”

“There are accomplices out there,” he wrote Saturday.

In an interview, Mr. Savage, who is gay, said he was particularly irate at religious leaders who used “antigay rhetoric.”

“The problem is that kids are being exposed to this rhetoric, and then they go to the school and there’s this gay kid,” he said. “And how are they going to treat this gay kid who they’ve been told is trying to destroy their family? They’re going to abuse him.”

In late September, Mr. Savage began a project on YouTube called “It Gets Better,” featuring gay adults talking about their experiences with harassment as adolescents.

In one video, a gay man named Cyrus tells of his life as a closeted teenager in a small town in upstate New York.

“The main thing I wanted to come across from this video is how different my life is, how great my life is, and how happy I am in general,” he says.

Glennda Testone, the executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, said their youth programs serve about 50 young people a day, often suffering from “bullying, harassment or even violence.”

“The three main groups of pivotal figures are family, friends and their schoolmates,” she said. “And if they’re feeling isolated and like they can’t tell those people, it’s going to be a very rough ride.”

Here in Fresno, in California’s conservative Central Valley, groups like Equality California have been more active in trying to establish outreach offices, particularly after an election defeat in 2008, when California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

In Tehachapi, in Kern County south of here, more than 500 mourners attended a memorial on Friday for Seth Walsh. One of those, Jamie Elaine Phillips, a classmate and friend, said Seth had long known he was gay and had been teased for years.

“But this year it got much worse,” Jamie said. “People would say, ‘You should kill yourself,’ ‘You should go away,’ ‘You’re gay, who cares about you?’ ”

Richard L. Swanson, superintendent of the local school district, said his staff had conducted quarterly assemblies on behavior, taught tolerance in the classroom and had “definite discipline procedures that respond to bullying.”

“But these things didn’t prevent Seth’s tragedy,” he said in an e-mail. “Maybe they couldn’t have.”

For her part, Ms. Walsh said she had complained about Seth’s being picked on but did not want to cast blame, though she hoped his death would teach people “not to discriminate, not be prejudiced.”

“I truly hope,” she said, “that people understand that.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Anti-Gay Industry Responsible For Creating Hostile Climate That Leads To Tragedy"

TWO Deeply Saddened By Three Gay Teen September Suicides Resulting From School Bullying

by Wayne Besen for Truth Wins Out:

NEW YORK – Truth Wins Out expressed a sense of deep sorrow and loss as news of three gay teen suicides in September rocked the LGBT movement. In each case, the victim was a target of relentless harassment and bullying by school peers. Truth Wins Out blames the anti-gay industry and negligent school officials for creating a hostile climate that places lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at risk for psychological abuse, violence and suicide.

“Our hearts go out to the families of these young men and we feel a deep sense of sorrow and regret for these needless tragedies,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “We blame the anti-gay industry for fighting measures to end bullying in schools, and school officials who turn a blind eye to brutality. We are fed up with what amounts to anti-gay schoolyard muggings that are foolishly dismissed as ‘boys being boys’. In reality, it is ‘boys beating boys’, and these bullies receive tacit approval for their violent, homophobic behavior by teachers and certain vocal segments of society.”

Through their annual “Day of Truth” campaign and web site, Focus on the Family and the “ex-gay” group Exodus International actively and continuously obstruct anti-bullying programs in schools across the country. Instead of opposing violence, both organizations remain dedicated to pretending the problem of anti-gay bullying does not exist, or downplaying the deadly results.

“The goal of Exodus International and Focus on the Family is to purge LGBT people from society, although they disingenuously frame the issue as eliminating homosexuality, which is not possible,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “When you target homosexuality, the result is persecution and punishment of LGBT people, and in many cases it leads to gay bashing or suicides. The anti-gay industry should dismantle these despicable programs and work towards creating solutions instead of suicides.”

In September, there have been three gay teen suicides as a result of school bullying:

* Seth Walsh, the Bakersfield, CA 13-year-old who hanged himself from a tree in his back yard after years of being bullied, died Tuesday afternoon after nine days on life support. Police investigators interviewed some of the young people who taunted Seth the day he hanged himself. “Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears,” Police Chief Jeff Kermode said. “They had never expected an outcome such as this.”

* Asher Brown, 13, an eighth-grader killed himself last week. He shot himself in the head after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment from four other students at Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston Texas. Brown, his family said, was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.

* Billy (William) Lucas, 15, a student at Greensburg Community High School in Greensburg, IN, was found dead in a barn at his grandmother’s home Thursday evening — he had hanged himself. Friends say that he had been tormented for years. “He was threatened to get beat up every day,” friend and classmate Nick Hughes said. “Sometimes in classes, kids would act like they were going to punch him and stuff and push him. Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation.

“This insanity must stop and all school districts must commit to making school safe for LGBT students,” said TWO’s Besen. “It is inexcusable and unconscionable that bullying is tolerated in this day and age. Those responsible for allowing such tragedies to occur should be held responsible.”

Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization that fights anti-LGBT religious extremism. TWO monitors anti-LGBT organizations, documents their misinformation and exposes their leaders as charlatans. TWO specializes in turning information into action by organizing, advocating and fighting for LGBT equality.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oil City Council Proclaims Day of Recognition for "Fair and Equal Treatment for All People"


Fairness and Equality Proclamation Signed by Oil City Council

City council members signed a proclamation Monday night that designated the day (Sept. 13) as Joe Wilson Day. The tribute refers to former Oil City resident Joe Wilson who with his partner Dean Hamer, directed and produced the award winning film “Out in the Silence.”

The film celebrates diverse lifestyles and was shot in Oil City and the surrounding area.

Joe Wilson’s film shows Oil City to the rest of the country as a town capable of positive change and documents progress in fair and equal treatment for all people in this community,” notes the proclamation.

Council was asked in June by local resident George Cooley to adopt a formal human rights policy and to embrace Wilson’s film on tolerance in small towns. The documentary tells the story of a gay high school student and explores small-town reaction to same-sex marriage.

"Many important topics were discussed at last night's City Council meeting," said Colley, "but we were proud to see the Oil City Council sign the proclamation. This is a first step in a marketing attitude toward our city. It is also a step towards a progressive Human Rights Initiative."

"A Special Blend of People"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Event Featuring Diane Gramley and the AFAofPA Slanders Gays and Promotes Violence Against Transgender Persons

Dispatch from Coudersport, PA

by Joe Wilson, August, 31, 2010:

Diane Gramley sat peacefully behind Robert Wagner in the Coudersport Public Library as the retired physician shared his views on transgender individuals with the assembled audience. “I'm gonna put a ball bat in my car,” he said, “and if I ever see a guy [Wagner refuses to use proper pronouns] coming out of a bathroom that my granddaughter's in, I'm gonna use the ball bat on him.”

Moments later he added: “In the good old days, before 'she-males' existed, they just called such people perverts.”

Gramley is no stranger to such ideas. As President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Family Association, a 'traditional family values' organization based in Mississippi, she spends much of her time planting similar seeds of suspicion about the dangers posed by “men who think they are women,” her disparaging term for transgender females. She also crusades relentlessly against what she and the AFA call the “homosexual agenda” and the type of legal protections that her and Dr. Wagner's threatening rhetoric suggests are needed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Gramley was in Coudersport, a small town of 2,600 residents in the sparsely populated north-central part of the state known as the Pennsylvania Wilds, as a special guest of Dr. Wagner for what he titled “A Bible Believing Christian's Response to OUT IN THE SILENCE,” my documentary film about the quest for inclusion, fairness and equality for LGBT people in the small town where I was born and raised, Oil City, PA, just a two-hour drive from Coudersport.

Gramley, who also happens to call the Oil City area home, plays a central role in OUT IN THE SILENCE as a result of the firestorm of controversy she helped to ignite in opposition to the publication of my same-sex marriage announcement in the local paper. It was that controversy that compelled my partner, Dean Hamer, and I to go back to my hometown with our cameras to document what life is like there for LGBT people, and to show hopeful and inspiring stories about the growing movement for equality.

The film was produced in partnership with Penn State Public Broadcasting, received support from the Sundance Institute, premiered at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, and has been broadcast on PBS stations around the country. We're now using it as an educational tool in a grassroots campaign to help raise LGBT visibility and to bring people together in small towns like Oil City and Coudersport to begin building bridges across the gaps that have divided families, friends, and entire communities on these issues for far too long.

As part of this campaign, OUT IN THE SILENCE had screened just a month earlier for a standing-room-only crowd in the Coudersport Public Library despite vehement opposition from Dr. Wagner and the efforts of the local Tea Party and a small group of fundamentalist preachers to shut the event down and have the library 'de-funded' for making its space available for such a program.

Wagner's “Bible Believing Response,” he told the crowd of approximately 60 local church people, “was intended to expose the filmmakers’ real agenda and to question the directors’ assertion that the community should tolerate alternative lifestyles.”

During the two hour program, Wagner asked special guest Gramley a few questions about her experiences as a minor subject of the film, but he used her more as a prop, seated silently behind him, providing an odd sort of legitimacy as he put forth offensive theories and mischaracterizations about LGBT people, including that “AIDS is the gay plague” and “gays can't have families.”

Dean and I were in the library for the presentation. We made the six-hour drive to Coudersport from our home in Washington, DC because I wanted to bear witness to this event, to experience for myself, if only for a few hours, what it feels like to be so close to such willful ignorance and brazen cruelty.

As I sat there, listening to 'amens,' snickering laughter, and even a roar of approval from the people around me when asked if they agree with the AFA assertions that there “should be legal sanctions against homosexual behavior” and “homosexuals should be disqualified from public office,” I felt a sadness unlike any I have known before. A sadness for those who fall prey to such bigoted and hostile bombast, who carry the feelings these things stir into their homes and family relationships, and for the communities that suffer the sometimes-violent consequences of such mean-spirited divisiveness.

But as I looked at Gramley, unmoved next to Wagner, condoning the ugliness without a word of protest, I thought of all the courageous people who have attended OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign events over the past many months in far flung places, including there in Coudersport, who refuse to be silent anymore, who are working for change in their communities against great odds, and I was inspired all over again.

It is in their spirit that we will continue our campaign to speak out in the silence and to help build the movement for fairness and equality in small towns and rural communities across America.

I hope you'll join us! Learn more at


9 Women Complain About Pastor

Sexual abuse allegations .. were made about the late Donald Davis, a former Episcopalian bishop.

By Sheila Boughner for The Derrick (Oil City, PA)

Rowe Rowe Nine women have come forward to say they were sexually abused or sexually harassed by a former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Erie-based diocese and former rector of St. John Episcopal Church in Franklin, announced in early July that four women had made credible allegations that as girls they were sexually abused by the late Donald Davis, bishop of the diocese from 1974- 91.

Rowe asked any other women who may be have been abused by Davis to come forward, and quickly heard from five more women.

Rowe said in mid-July that he would provide an update on the situation at the end of the summer, and in a letter to the members of the diocese’s 34 churches released Sunday, Rowe said no additional women have come forward.

Of the five women who did come forward, three said they were sexually abused by Davis when they were girls and two others said they were “harassed and intimidated” by Davis when they were adults, Rowe said.

According to the initial allegations, two of the girls were abused at a diocesan summer camp in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and two were abused repeatedly over a period of years. Rowe said in an interview that the girls were about 10 at the time of the alleged incidents.

“I have had conversations with all five of the women who contacted me since my invitation in early July, and they have told me their only interest in coming forward has been in helping me arrive at a fuller picture of the scope of Bishop Davis’s abuse,” Rowe said in his letter Sunday.

He said he has also been in contact with the bishops of other dioceses where Davis served as a priest or lived in retirement and will speak further with those bishops at this week’s House of Bishops meeting in Phoenix, Ariz.

Rowe urged any others who may have been victimized by Davis to come forward.

Rowe wrote that while he cannot undo the past, he can do his best “to ensure that this diocese continues to tell the truth and seek healing and reconciliation for those who have been harmed.”

“I believe that our diocese now has a particular responsibility to observe the highest possible standards in dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct,” Rowe wrote.

He said the diocese is intensifying the education and training of all clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children and has strengthened its misconduct policy.

“Even as we seek healing for the past, we will also dedicate ourselves to ensuring that the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania is a place where children are respected and nurtured, where people can come with their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe, and where we show the power of God’s love to all among whom we live and serve,” Rowe wrote.

When he first announced the abuse claims in July, Rowe indicated that while church officials were aware of the allegations against Davis as early as 1993 and removed Davis as bishop in 1994, the matter was never made public, possibly because several of the women specifically asked that their situations not be revealed.

Rowe, however, decided to take the matter public.

“Christians tell the truth,” he said in an interview. “That’s what we need to be doing. Repentance means that when you are in the wrong, you have to make amends and be willing to change. And we can t do that unless we name what we have done.”

Davis, who died in 2007 at the age of 78, was born in New Castle, but was raised in Frederick, Md., before returning to northwestern Pennsylvania to attend Westminster College.

He graduated from Westminster in 1949 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1952. He was ordained in 1955 and later received a master’s degree from Bowling Green University and an honorary doctorate from Westminster.

He served in several dioceses in Washington, Indianapolis and Ohio before he was elected the sixth bishop of the Northwest Pennsylvania diocese.

The diocese covers 13 counties in northwest Pennsylvania and includes St. John Episcopal Church in Franklin, Christ Church in Oil City, Christ Church in Meadville, St. James Church in Titusville, Church of the Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg.

Rowe, who at 35 is the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church, was rector at St. John’s in Franklin for seven years prior to becoming bishop of the diocese in 2007. He also served on the Franklin School Board.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Traditional Hetero Family Values? - Ear-Biter Gets Prison Time

from the 1409 News Blog - Bradford, PA:

A Bradford woman has been sentenced to state prison for biting off her boyfriend's ear during a domestic dispute.

27-year-old Erin Moore will spend 19½ to 51 months in state prison for the incident that happened in May at Kiwanis Court.

District Attorney Ray Learn says the stiff sentence was prompted by Moore's history, which includes an incident when she attacked an ex-boyfriend with a baseball bat.

Learn also says a child was present when she bit off her Roger Kline’s ear.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Marriage Equality, The Public Has Reached A Turning Point

Over Time, a Gay Marriage Groundswell
(Even in Pennsylvania!)

from The New York Times:

Gay marriage is not going away as a highly emotional, contested issue. Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage, has seen to that, as it winds its way through the federal courts.

But perhaps the public has reached a turning point.

A CNN poll this month found that a narrow majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage — the first poll to find majority support. Other poll results did not go that far, but still, on average, showed that support for gay marriage had risen to 45 percent or more (with the rest either opposed or undecided).

That’s a big change from 1996, when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. At that time, only 25 percent of Americans said that gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry, according to an average of national polls.

The more important turning points in public opinion, however, may be occurring at the state level, especially if states continue to control who can get married.

According to our research, as recently as 2004, same-sex marriage did not have majority support in any state. By 2008, three states had crossed the 50 percent line. *

Today, 17 states are over that line (more if you consider the CNN estimate correct that just over 50 percent of the country supports gay marriage).

In 2008, the year Proposition 8 was approved, just under half of Californians supported same-sex marriage,. Today, according to polls, more than half do. A similar shift has occurred in Maine, where same-sex marriage legislation was repealed by ballot measure in 2009.

In both New York and New Jersey, where state legislatures in the past have defeated proposals to allow same-sex marriage, a majority now support it.

And support for same-sex marriage has increased in all states, even in relatively conservative places like Wyoming and Kentucky. Only Utah is still below where national support stood in 1996.

Among the five states that currently allow same-sex marriage, Iowa is the outlier. It is the only one of those states where support falls below half, at 44 percent.

This trend will continue. Nationally, a majority of people under age 30 support same-sex marriage. And this is not because of overwhelming majorities found in more liberal states that skew the national picture: our research shows that a majority of young people in almost every state support it. As new voters come of age, and as their older counterparts exit the voting pool, it’s likely that support will increase, pushing more states over the halfway mark.

By ANDREW GELMAN, JEFFREY LAX and JUSTIN PHILLIPS, professors of political science at Columbia University.