Sunday, February 28, 2010

Will The Gay Community Ever Call Out The Religious Right On Their Lies?

By Alvin McEwen:

Recently, I posted two interviews with discredited researcher Paul Cameron conducted by Midweek Politics Radio.

The response to these posts have been, in my view, successful. Many people who weren't aware of Paul Cameron became educated on his lies about the gay community.

But then there was a segment who asked why was I giving Cameron attention. They claimed that any focus on Cameron validated him. They were under the impression that if Cameron was ignored, he would go away.

Unfortunately, this mindset also includes other lies told about the gay community by religious right groups. There seems to be this idea that when so-called traditional values groups tell outright fibs about gay lives, the way we have express our love, or our moral outlook, these claims should either be laughed at or ignored.

But what some in our community fail to understand is that the lies told about the gay community aren't going away and ignoring them doesn't diminish their power. These lies have the power to hurt the gay community if unaddressed.

A perfect example is a recent incident during a Minnesota legislative hearing on marriage equality:

Barb Davis White, a Tea Party activist and Republican candidate for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, prompted shocked gasps from the packed hearing room when she said, "Rosa Parks did not move to the front of the bus to support sodomy." Her testimony involved accusations that the movement for marriage equality is hijacking the civil rights movement.

"There is no difference between a black person and a white person other than their skin color when there's a tremendous difference between a man and a woman," said White, who was the GOP's endorsed candidate against Rep. Keith Ellison in 2008. "Allowing a black woman and a white man to marry does not change the definition of marriage. However, allowing two men or two women to marry would fundamentally change that definition."

White also garnered some laughs from the audience when she said, "Studies also show that the average homosexual has hundreds of sexual partners in his lifetime... and I repeat hundreds."

"I'm here today to tell you that homosexuality and lesbian behavior is unhealthy," claiming that gays and lesbians have higher rates of STDs than anyone else in the world, including "gay bowel disease," an ailment that does not exist and is often used by religious right figures to paint gay men as diseased.

The sad thing is not the fact that White actually believes this nonsense but her claims, in one form or another, are on a myriad of religious right web pages or have been repeated by their spokespeople as fact.

And the gay community and its leadership as a whole have yet to specifically address these lies with the expediency they deserve.

We as a community tend to forget that many people aren't as knowledgeable about us as they should be. Therefore they are susceptible to any group claiming to stand for "morality" or any speaker claiming to speak for "values, even if their definitions of "morality" and "values" involve unfairly painting the gay community as drooling sex-crazed miscreants from a movie co-directed by George Romero and David Cronenberg.

The question that needs to be asked is not whether gays are deserving of equality but why these so-called moral groups and spokespeople feel the need to deny us that equality through lies.

Gays aren't the ones creating phony medical terms designed to connote the worst images about sexual intercourse,

Gays aren't the ones manipulating the numbers of sexual partners,

and gays aren't the ones who have created a body of junk science based on the ravings of a man who couldn't be believed even if a vial of truth serum was pumped into his veins, i.e. Paul Cameron.

The culprits of these offenses are the so-called Christian groups such as the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the Concerned Women for America. The only reason why they have gotten away with it is because the gay community hasn't demanded that they explain their distortions.

And I can't help but to wonder if we are ever going to.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Williams Institute Studies Show Widespread Discrimination Against LGBT Employees

Two recent Williams Institute reports document a widespread and persistent pattern of employment discrimination against LGBT people in both private and public employment.

This week, the Chicago-Kent Law Review published a Williams Institute study showing that LGBT people face high rates of discrimination in private employment. The report summarizes studies from the past decade documenting discrimination against LGBT people. These studies include surveys of LGBT individuals’ workplace experiences, wage comparisons between LGB and heterosexual persons, analyses of discrimination complaints filed with government agencies, and testing studies and controlled experiments.

Key findings include:

• 16% to 68% of LGBT people report experiencing employment discrimination;

• 15% to 57% of transgender people also report experiencing employment discrimination;

• In states that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, LGB people file complaints of employment discrimination at similar rates to women and racial minorities; and,

• Transgender people report high rates of unemployment and very low earnings.

Full report, click HERE. Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination 1998-2008, M.V. Lee Badgett, Brad Sears, Holning Lau, and Deborah Ho, Chicago-Kent Law Review, Volume 84, Number 2 (2009)

When combined with the study released by the Williams Institute last fall, Documenting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in State Employment, Williams Institute research shows that discrimination against LGBT people is pervasive in public and private employment. This 1,500 page report shows a widespread and persistent pattern of unconstitutional discrimination by state governments on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Full report, click HERE.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Supporters launch campaign for anti-discrimination ordinance

by Keila Szpaller for The Missoulian:

A call for human rights Monday drew whoops and hollers and "Honk 4 Equality" signs in a downtown conference room.

The whoops were in support of an anti-discrimination ordinance - or a pro-human rights law - heading soon to the Missoula City Council. It's one several supporters said is long overdue.

"It could have been 10 years ago we were sitting here endorsing this," said Mark Anderlik, president of the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, before the event kicked off. "Shoulda been."

The proposal, the first of its kind in Montana, offers citywide protection from discrimination for all people, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in employment, housing and public accommodations.

During the event, some 60 people filled the Jack Reidy Conference Room outside Council Chambers and more spilled into the hall. One organizer asked people to stand.

"We're trying to make it look like a nice packed house here," the organizer said.

Part of the move involves collecting stories of discrimination as well as petition signatures, said Jamee Greer, organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network, leading the effort. People who have stories or want to gather signatures should contact Forward Montana at 542-8683 (that's 542-VOTE) or the network at (406) 442-5506.


The ordinance is rooted in principles already laid out in Montana and in Missoula. A Forward Montana spokesman pointed to the Montana Constitution, which says the dignity of the human being is "inviolable."

And Greer said the city's own charter notes Missoula is "enriched by the diversity and vitality of our people." Businesses such as DirecTV, Wal-Mart and the University of Montana have similar policies of their own, he said.

Councilwoman Stacy Rye, an ordinance sponsor, said she's spent much time rehearsing possible legal scenarios with the city attorney. Despite the core values expressed in the ordinance, people who don't identify themselves by name are posting hateful comments about it online.

"This is not a political issue. This is not a special interests issue," Rye said. "This is a human rights issue."

If it passes, Missoula will be the first city in Montana to protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Councilman Dave Strohmaier also is sponsoring the bill. Mayor John Engen spoke out in support at the event, and the ACLU of Montana and Montana Equality Now also are working on the effort, which Greer said will surely ripple across the state.

"When this ordinance passes, it will be the first in Montana, but not the last," he said.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Penna. Court Case -- Unsupported Preconceptions And Prejudices No Longer Apply

PA Court Rethinks View On Gays In Custody Cases

by Marc Levy for the Associated Press:

A Pennsylvania appellate court has rejected a 25-year-old legal precedent and ruled that a parent's homosexual relationship cannot be used against the parent in determining child custody.

The eight-judge Superior Court panel issued its decision last month in a custody battle between a mother and father who were identified only by their initials.

It also reversed the lower court ruling that awarded the father primary custody of their daughter, and granted the appeal of the mother to continue shared custody.

In doing so, the judges said a 1985 Superior Court decision that said a parent must prove that their gay relationship is not detrimental to the child.

That presumption "is based upon unsupported preconceptions and prejudices _ including that the sexual orientation of a parent will have an adverse effect on the child, and that the traditional heterosexual household is superior to that of the household of a parent involved in a same sex relationship," Judge Christine Donohue wrote in the Jan. 21 opinion.

The state Supreme Court also advises against relying on presumptions in deciding child custody cases between the parents, Donohue wrote.

The trial judge _ who was not identified _ had relied, in part, on the 1985 case. In it, the Superior Court rejected a woman's contention that sexual orientation should not be a consideration in a custody determination, Donohue wrote.

A three-member panel, voting 2-1, dismissed the notion that a "homosexual relationship could ever be the equal of the traditional family as a suitable family arrangement, and indicated that it was 'inconceivable' that a child could be exposed to a homosexual relationship 'and not suffer some emotional disturbance, perhaps severe,'" Donohue wrote.

The father is a sergeant in a police department in suburban Harrisburg and the mother is a state police lieutenant, according to the court.

The World Is Changing And We Have To Change With It

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Human Rights

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Although she had already won international respect and admiration in her role as First Lady to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would become her greatest legacy. She was without doubt, the most influential member of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights.

Unlike most other members of the Commission, Mrs. Roosevelt was neither a scholar nor an expert on international law. Her enthusiasm for her work at the United Nations was rooted in her humanitarian convictions and her steady faith in human dignity and worth. Although she often joked that she was out of place among so many academics and jurists, her intellect and compassion were great assets, and proved to be of crucial importance in the composition of a direct and straightforward Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With characteristic modesty, Eleanor Roosevelt considered her position on the Commission to be one of ambassador for the common man and woman: "I used to tell my husband that, if he could make me understand something, it would be clear to all other people in the country, and perhaps that will be my real value on this drafting commission!"

The delegates to the Commission on Human Rights elected Eleanor Roosevelt their Chairperson. Like so many individuals throughout the world, the delegates recognized Eleanor Roosevelt’s unparalleled humanitarian convictions. During her tenure in the White House she had assisted her physically disabled husband in political matters, serving as his "eyes and ears," traveling throughout the U.S. to gauge the mood of the people. Through this work, she became widely esteemed as a person who both understood and felt the plight of the common man and woman.

Even prior to her years in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt was actively engaged in politics and advocacy on the local and national level. She was an astute, accomplished, and intelligent woman, thoroughly familiar with the world of political negotiation. Just as she had served as a liaison of sorts between the President and his constituency, so she acted as a liaison between the Commission and the hopes of humanity. She may have lacked certain factual knowledge, but she had a keen sense of what the average person expected out of life - what men, women and children needed to flourish as individuals.

Her common sense approach, constant optimism and boundless energy were integral to the smooth facilitation of meetings. On any given issue, her colloquial style and good humor were engaged not only to win over the majority of delegates who generally supported a particular U.S. position, but to confound those who opposed it. A New York Times reporter who was present at the Commission meetings wrote of the power Mrs. Roosevelt’s personality had over certain unreasonable diplomats:

The Russians seem to have met their match in Mrs. Roosevelt. The proceedings sometimes turn into a long vitriolic attack on the U.S. when she is not present. These attacks, however, generally denigrate into flurries in the face of her calm and undisturbed but often pointed replies.

If Mrs. Roosevelt made one sort of impression with her familiar style, she made another with her commitment to produce a universally accepted, "living" declaration. She was recognized as a tireless worker, stating triumphantly at one point, "I drive hard and when I get home I will be tired! The men on the Commission will be also!" Many of the delegates found this aspect of her personality less agreeable than her charm. One went so far as to suggest that his own human rights were violated by the length of the meetings!

Envisioning a declaration with enduring principles that would be perpetually recognized by all nations, she was a strong advocate of true universality within the Declaration. She was adamant that different conceptions of human rights be deliberated during the UDHR’s composition:

We wanted as many nations as possible to accept the fact that men, for one reason or another, were born free and equal in dignity and rights, that they were endowed with reason and conscience, and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The way to do that was to find words that everyone would accept.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal sense of accomplishment with the finished Declaration was unparalleled in her life. Her speech before the General Assembly as she submitted the Declaration for review demonstrates the historical significance she placed upon its adoption:

We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere. We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation in 1789 [of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man], the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the U.S., and the adoption of comparable declarations at different times in other countries...

Eleanor Roosevelt’s concern for humanity made her the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her leadership of the Commission on Human Rights led to the composition of a Declaration that has endured as a universally accepted standard of achievement for all nations. As our respect for and understanding of the Universal Declaration has grown, so too has our gratitude and admiration for this modest woman who passionately pursued what she imagined would become a cornerstone in the struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone - everywhere.

She lived her life in the center of what many would regard the Twentieth Century’s most consequential events, the Great Depression, World War II, the establishment of the United Nations and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She confronted both opportunity and adversity with a sense of optimism and determination. A former Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, once said of Eleanor Roosevelt, "She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genetics and Proposition 8

Human Sexual Orientation Has Deep Biological Roots

by Dean Hamer & Michael Rosbash for the Los Angeles Times:

February 23, 2010

There was an elephant in the San Francisco courtroom where lawyers contested the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California law that prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples. One key issue should influence every aspect of the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger proceedings yet remained unspoken: What makes people gay? Is it a choice or is it innate?

Most geneticists consider sexual orientation a phenotype -- namely, an observable set of properties that varies among individuals. Although physical phenotypes like height and weight are easier to quantify, behavioral phenotypes are intensely studied in animals and humans. Research from many directions leads to a strong conclusion: Human sexual orientation has deep biological roots.

Moreover, the empirical evidence for the role of genetics in human sexual orientation has been quietly but steadily mounting over the last 15 years. Studies of twins -- the mainstay of quantitative human genetics -- have been conducted on large populations in three countries. The results unambiguously demonstrate that heritability plays a major role in sexual orientation and far outweighs shared environmental factors such as education or parenting.

During the early 1990s, there was an unfortunate flurry of less-than-convincing findings on specific genes and sometimes over-hyped media announcements. Indeed, critics of sexual orientation inheritance are fond of pointing out that there is no single identified "gay gene." However, they fail to mention that the same is true for height, skin color, handedness, frequency of heart disease and many other traits that have a large inherited component but no dominant gene. In other words, sexual orientation is complex, i.e., many genes contribute to the phenotype.

Gay genes appear paradoxical at first blush. From the perspective of natural selection, how could they persist in the population if they lead to fewer offspring? Recent research has uncovered several plausible explanations. For example, one set of studies found that the same inherited factors that favor male homosexuality actually increase the fecundity of female maternal relatives. By balancing the number of offspring, they would contribute to maintaining these genes over the course of evolution. This explanation may not be exclusive but serves to illustrate that the Darwinian problem is not necessarily overwhelming.

There have been other surprises. One is the importance of epigenetics -- changes that alter gene expression without a change in the DNA code of an affected gene. This is evidenced by the lopsided number of maternal versus paternal factors in male sexual orientation and by unusual patterns of DNA modification in mothers of gay men. Epigenetic changes may also explain the finding that a male's probability of being gay is increased by his number of older brothers.

Although these factors are neither genetic in the traditional Mendelian sense nor fully understood, they are still biological and affect phenotype in an involuntary manner. Who chooses his number of older brothers?

All of these findings demand the conclusion that most gay people no more choose their sexual orientation than most heterosexuals. ("Most" is used here to indicate that -- like almost everything biological -- these are statistical data and do not apply uniformly.) This conclusion is also consonant with our memories: Most of us were stunned as unsuspecting adolescents to discover our sexual orientation -- heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

Biology cannot be avoided in determining whether fundamental rights are protected under the equal protection clause of our Constitution. This is because "immutability" is one of the factors that determine the level of scrutiny applied to possible violations and that determine whether gays are awarded "suspect class" status, which would give them more constitutional protection. Heritability is not necessary for immutability or suspect class status (religion is the usual counter-example), but it should be sufficient; we do not choose our genes, nor can we change them.

The court of public opinion may be the ultimate arbiter, and here there is cause for optimism about what education can achieve. Recent studies in college classrooms show that exposure of students to information on the causes of homosexuality has a direct influence on opinions about gay rights. This fits with polling data showing that people who believe that gays are "born that way" are generally supportive of full equality, whereas those who believe it is "a choice" are opposed.

The importance of education is also underscored by the extent to which a lack of education is problematic. One national survey found that 70% of those who think being gay is a choice favored the re- institution of sodomy laws. This would turn some 15 million Americans into common criminals for simply being who they are. Science education must help people understand that phenotypic variation, including sexual orientation diversity, is an immutable feature of human biology.

Dean Hamer is a molecular biologist who works on human genetics and HIV prevention and is the author of scientific books, including "The Science of Desire." Michael Rosbash is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor at Brandeis University who studies circadian rhythms.

Uniting Communities

from The Western States Center:

The Uniting Communities project focuses on proactively bringing together the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community and communities of color to address racial justice and LGBTQ equality.

During the past 30 years of ballot measure fights on LGBTQ issues in the region, Western States Center has seen communities of color increasingly targeted by the Far Right. Playing into the stereotype that communities of color are more homophobic than white communities, the Right has tried to divide two communities that have a great deal in common and that have led the social change movement. We believe that mobilizing communities of color to support LGBTQ equality is critical to fighting back these attacks.

In early 2008 Oregon seemed likely to face two anti-gay ballot measures in the November election. Throughout the year, the Uniting Communities project worked with four organizations based in communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities to provide training and technical assistance to address LGBTQ issues. We also brought these groups together to network, strategize and learn from each other's experiences.

While the measures did not make the ballot, the work continued and each organization made significant progress in discussing and addressing homophobia, heterosexism and LGBTQ equality within their organizations and in their communities. The organizations also formed new relationships with LGBTQ rights organizations.

Uniting Communities reminds us that communities of color and LGBT communities need to work together today and in the future. It helps organizations of color open an intentional conversation grounded in what equity looks like, and what our organizations can do to build a solid foundation for working together towards equality.
- Tammy Johnson, Applied Research Center

Uniting Communities: The Toolkit

Building off of the work in Oregon, we have compiled a Toolkit with exercises to examine the obvious, and not so obvious, barriers that organizations need to clear to become inclusive of LGBTQ members. The Toolkit also contains 10 case studies that highlight the successes groups across the country have had in breaking new paths towards inclusiveness and culturally specific engagement.

Make no mistake, this is not a one sided conversation. LGBTQ organizations need to have meaningful engagement on issues of racial justice and immigrant rights. A companion toolkit produced by Basic Rights Oregon called Standing Together: Coming Out for Racial Justice contains exercises, how-tos, and case studies of how predominantly white LGBT organizations can become allies to racial justice organizations and campaigns.

Monday, February 22, 2010

National Rural Youth Assembly 
Call for Nominations

The National Rural Assembly will host a National Rural Youth Assembly on April 22-25, 2010, at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and seeks 50 young adults from rural communities across the country who will gather to discuss the issues they see as critical to their lives and communities.

The National Rural Assembly Steering Committee asks rural organizations and leaders to nominate young people who are interested in rural issues, invested in strengthening and making an impact in their local communities.

The Rural Youth Assembly will engage young people on the key policy areas of the Rural Assembly including the quality of education, stewardship of our natural resources, investment in our communities, and the health of rural people. Youth will represent the diversity of rural America in geographies, race, cultures, genders, incomes and sexual orientations. 

Criteria for participation HERE.

Join Us

There are thousands of cults in America.

This is the story of one.

Award winning filmmaker, Ondi Timoner, follows four families as they leave an abusive church in South Carolina and realize they have been in a cult. The film documents them as they enter Wellspring, the only accredited, live-in cult treatment facility in the world, where they learn the true extent of the brainwashing they have all experienced. Eventually they return home to bring the Pastor and his wife to justice, and to try to begin to rebuild their damaged lives.

JOIN US presents an intimate look at the inner workings of a cult from both the members and the cult leaders points of view. It is an emotional human portrait that explores the reasons why America is the number one breeding ground for cults in the world, and a chilling reminder that it can happen to anyone.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Come Out and Win!

An inspirational and effective guide to grassroots LGBT organizing by NGLTF's Sue Hyde

Come Out and Win, will educate, engage, and agitate LGBT and straight activists to become involved in the political movement to win full equality under the law and sexual/gender freedom. Spurring a new generation of activists to positive social action, it not only tells the history of gay liberation but, crucially, offers guidance and practical advice for building organizations and taking concrete action to eradicate homophobia.

From starting a gay-straight alliance in your high school to the most effective way to lobby your state representative face-to-face, Come Out and Win explains how to organize and become politically engaged in a clear and user-friendly manner. Other issues explored include youth organizing, marriage equality, legislative change, public relations, having a voice in the mainstream press, putting on a street demonstration, and political organizing from local to national levels. Grappling with the complexity of grassroots political interactions, Come Out and Win suggests ways for LGBT communities to form coalitions with women’s organizations, communities of color, and faith communities.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Welcoming Town ...

By KEILA SZPALLER of The Missoulian:

When Douglas finally worked up the moxie to tell his boss he was changing his female body to match his male identity, he figured he'd be out of a job.

"I sort of got the gumption up and was terrified. Absolutely terrified," said Douglas, a Missoula engine mechanic. "I had this job. I expected the worst. I expected at the very worst to be punched in the face and at the least to be fired."

Douglas, 30, still in his probationary period, blurted out the message with zero finesse. The transition, the name change, everything. His boss stared.

"Slower this time," Douglas said. "I'm going to transition. I'm going to take hormones. I'm going to present as male. I feel like a guy. If you have a problem with that, you have to fire me right now. Because this is what I'm going to do."

He said his boss stared some more. Then, the man asked Douglas if he was happy. Douglas said he was. And that settled it for the local business.

"He said, ‘That's all I need to know,' " Douglas said.

That was four years ago, and Douglas said he is lucky to work for such an employer and such a company. But he said many other people who identify as "trans" encounter just the opposite. Employers rescind job offers. Workers fear applying.

And while Douglas considers himself fortunate in his job, he also isn't sharing more than his middle name for this story because he fears retribution for being transgender.

That's one kind of discrimination the Montana Human Rights Network wants to curb with a municipal non-discrimination ordinance advocates believe is a first for a city in Montana. Network organizer Jamee Greer said supporters are collecting signatures and he expects a proposal to come this spring to the Missoula City Council.

"Missoula is a welcoming town," Greer said. "This is a way for us to come together and brand the city and say we don't stand for this kind of intolerance."


The ordinance is being drafted. In brief, its aim is to protect people from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

"Right now, if you're discriminated (against) based on your race or religion, the Montana Human Rights Act will offer you legal recourse," Greer said.

It won't if you're discriminated against based on gender identity. The Network, a human rights advocacy and organizing group, has tried unsuccessfully for 20 years to pass such a ban statewide. Now it's taking the plan to cities.

City Council members Stacy Rye and Dave Strohmaier plan to offer up the law in Missoula. Rye said she expects the matter will come to a council committee sometime in March. In the meantime, other organizations are rallying support. The ACLU of Montana, Forward Montana and Montana Equality Now all are working on the effort.

Montana Equality Now co-chair and co-founder John Blake said the political action and education group collected the first 400 signatures on the petition, all on the University of Montana campus. Blake also said the citywide ordinances are true needs and not just olive branches.

"A lot of people are very surprised when we say things like we can get rejected at a hotel room based on perceived sexual orientation," Blake said. "We can get fired from a job based on perceived sexual orientation."

Missoula has a reputation for being a relatively tolerant community, though. Even during a low point in 2002 when a lesbian couple was burned out of their home, Greer said the overwhelming response in support of them seemed to balance out some of the fear that arose. But there's still work to do.

"The great thing is we're not getting a lot of discrimination from LGB," Greer said of people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. "We are getting a lot of discrimination from trans folks."


That's people like Douglas, who said his story is one of success but it's unusual. He declined to name his employer for this story. He said such an ordinance in Missoula would be a stepping stone to more protections for trans people.

"I can guarantee you a majority of employers wouldn't touch that person with a 10-foot pole," Douglas said. "Not because they are personally discriminating against transgendered people, but maybe they're worried (about) how their clients might."

Many times, the matter arises after an employer offers a job to someone who looks, say, male. At that point, the job candidate has to present a driver's license, and it says the candidate is female. The offer vanishes.

The discrimination against transgendered people isn't surprising, said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC is a national organization working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights.

"There's still a lot of fear," Warbelow said. "People are unsure of what to expect."

She said "transgender" is an umbrella term that includes people transitioning from female to male or male to female, but it also includes people who identify as gender queer. That's people who aren't transitioning but identify in a non-gendered way.

While Missoula appears to be at the forefront of such legal protections in Montana, Warbelow said cities have been adopting these ordinances since around the 1980s. The more cities and counties that adopt such policies, the more pressures it puts on states to do the same. That pushes at the national level.

Cities are a good place to start. At home in their communities, she said people see the laws don't have negative consequences.

"The world doesn't come crashing down because you protect people on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation," Warbelow said.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Fundamentalist World

Fundamentalist Christian “Training” Linked To Child’s Death In California (Thoughts on Extremism)

by Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out:

A fundamentalist Christian couple are accused of murdering their adopted daughter and severely injuring another through a Fundamentalist Christian “parenting method” in California:

OROVILLE — A fundamentalist religious philosophy that espouses corporal punishment to “train” children to be more obedient to their parents and God is now being investigated in connection with the death of a young Paradise girl and serious injuries to her sister.


Ramsey said he is also exploring a possible connection to a Web site that endorses “biblical discipline” using the same rubber or plastic tube alleged to have been used to whip the two young ridge girls by their adoptive parents.

In court Thursday, a judge granted a two-week postponement before the children’s parents, Kevin Schatz, 46, and Elizabeth Schatz, 42, enter a plea to murder and torture charges that could carry two life terms in prison.

Oy. Here’s the thing. If we were like the anti-gay public mouthpieces we deal with on a daily basis, we would immediately use this as an example of how the Fundamentalist Christian Agenda is dangerous for children. But we are not they. Should we be?

Prosecutors allege the two victims were subjected to “hours” of corporal punishment by their parents on successive days last Thursday and Friday with a quarter-inch-wide length of rubber or plastic tubing, which police reportedly recovered from the parents’ bedroom.

Police allege that the younger girl was being disciplined for mis-pronouncing a word during a home-school reading lesson the day before she died.

Wow. But no, we won’t take the dishonest angle Fundamentalist Christian mouthpieces use to smear gay parents, because we are better than they are. And of course, if we did, we’d be missing a larger discussion.

In my experience with Fundamentalists (and I have quite a lot), I find that most of them actually mean well. They may be highly misled as to the facts, on many issues, but most of them feel that they are acting out of love. But this, to me, is an example of how extremist rhetoric, and an extremist worldview, can permeate and percolate throughout a religious community, to the point that certain people take it to an entirely new, entirely violent level. Because though these parents may claim that they were merely adhering to their deeply held religious beliefs, they are sadists. Only sadists would “discipline” their children this way.

The article points out that there is disagreement over corporal punishment in the Fundamentalist Christian world, and I’ll grant that. I don’t personally believe in spanking, but at the same time, I don’t believe that all parents who spank their kids are necessarily scarring them for life either. Normal, well-meaning people of all stripes can have honest disagreements about this sort of thing. But here’s where it gets sketchy: You take two parents who believe in spanking, and then you combine that with an authoritarian worldview where “Father Knows Best” (whether the human father, the version of God the father that the religion sells, etc.) and children are meant to be obedient soldiers to their parents’ orders, and in some cases, you’ll have a recipe for a situation like this one. Among your garden variety Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, the ones who truly are well-meaning, the most extremist elements of the religion won’t manifest. (Yes, they can still hurt people, as the LGBT community well knows, but I’m getting to that.) But there will be certain mentally unstable people, sick people, who take the dogma in its most literal form and run with it.

Think of the difference between conservative Muslims and those who actually strap on bombs and blow themselves up; think of the difference between regular “pro-lifers” and those who pick up a gun and murder abortion providers. And, of course, think of the difference between regular old “pro-family” people who simply want to “protect marriage,” and the disturbed people who end up beating/maiming/killing LGBT people. Do you see what I’m getting at? The common thread is that these are ideologies which lend themselves to this kind of violence, for certain people.

In the aftermath of Prop 8, the Religious Right has been bitching and moaning about supposed “violence” that’s been done to them by the big bad gay community, but the worst thing they’ve come up with is an old lady who got knocked over in a mob of people. Oh, and there was that one time a lady who ran a restaurant lost some customers because they learned that she voted yes. (Boo…hoo?) But there’s a reason that most of their tales of woe and lamentation are sort of boring — because we all know that it’s highly unlikely that the LGBT community is going to start beating or killing Fundamentalists. It’s just not gonna happen!

And why? It’s quite simple. The entire point of coming out is living with integrity; the entire point of fighting for our equality is bringing us up to the same level as everyone else! We’re not seeking to take anything away from anyone. Our motivation isn’t a distaste for anyone else, but rather a love for ourselves and a belief in our inherent dignity. The endgame of the LGBT civil rights movement is displayed proudly on our sleeves, for god’s sake. We simply want to live our lives with the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms as everyone else.

But this is not so in the Fundamentalist world. They want to take away women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions. They want to take away children’s rights to be educated in actual science, in order to prop up their creation myth. They want to keep LGBT people in the closet (or worse), in order to not disrupt the tenuous grasp the patriarchy still holds in Western society, where the man of the house is elevated above all others. Children free to learn and grow as individuals, women with minds of their own, and all consenting adults living freely and passionately with those that they love? That’s just a bridge too far for them.

I’ve said it a million times, but the elevated place in society held by Fundamentalist Christians is not merited. They have done nothing to earn it. They are not paragons of moral virtue. In fact, they’re no better than the rest of the population. They’re not producing our great thinkers, our great artists, our great writers, or anything else “great.” And they know it. They know the jig is up. They’re watching their young adult children leave their shackles in droves, and they’re looking everywhere but inward for someone to blame. As their influence wanes (slowly — they’re so politically entrenched that it will be a long time before their political influence matches their dwindling numbers), they’re going to turn up the volume on their rhetoric and on their actions.

We’re already seeing this in the LGBT community, as certain Religious Right figures don’t seem all that bothered by the anti-gay legislation in Uganda, while others, like Bryan Fischer and Peter Sprigg of AFA and PFOX are openly calling for the criminalization of homosexuality. We’re seeing this in the aftermath of George Tiller’s assassination, as Randall Terry of Operation Rescue is loath to actually denounce Scott Roeder’s actions, and in fact, lends them rhetorical support every time he opens his mouth in public. We’re seeing this in Texas, as a band of Fundamentalists seek to destroy children’s educational opportunities by intentionally altering their textbooks to reflect a worldview that reflects a fantasy world of their own creation.

And as the rhetoric grows, there will, unfortunately, be more and more people who are pushed to the breaking point of insanity, and they’ll do more and more to hold on to the thread that is their completely debunked worldview. The tough thing is that it’s hard to tell who’s going to snap. It’s hard to tell which Fundamentalist parents will become so overwhelmed by fear and dogma that they literally control their children to death. It’s hard to tell which rejected men will translate their rage against women into a pulled trigger and the death of another abortion provider. It’s hard to tell which frightened, closeted person will try to kill off that which they hate in themselves by killing a gay person. It’s just hard to tell.

But it does represent a teachable moment, because again, I may take some flak for this (and you might be surprised to hear it from me, the resident atheist), but I do believe that the majority of Fundamentalists are well meaning people. And really? The ball’s in their court. They’re not going to listen to us anyway. But to any who might be reading this from that side of the fence, I say only this: You need to weed your backyard. You need to fumigate your rhetoric. And you need to control your own. Because again, over on this side of the fence, we don’t pose any threat to you. Oh, occasionally, little radicals pop up here and there, but the difference between this side and that side is that we marginalize the hell out of our extremists. (Bash Back, I’m looking at you.) But it seems that these days, Fundamentalists marginalize their freaks less and less. And that’s scary, not just for the LGBT community, but for civil society. Religiously-motivated murderers, abusers, rapists, etc. — they don’t exist in a vacuum. They have to be propped up by someone, whether it’s whatever crazy Fundamentalist website that motivated the couple in California, or MassResistance or the American Family Association or Liberty University or whoever. Someone motivates the people who commit these acts of religious violence.

Are you one of those someones?

Tea for You? -- Fear and Anger

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Equal Justice Under The Law

Remarks by Justice Carlos R. Moreno at the Equality California Awards Gala in San Francisco, February 13, 2010

I am truly honored by your invitation and award and I am humbled by your applause and welcome. I do well to introduce you to my wife, Chris (26 years) who inspires me, cajoles me, speaks to my inner voice and conscience.

Also introduce staff attorneys — Michael Nava and Tami Fisher.

You know what we consider to be self evident in the law has changed over time, and the law has changed in response. Indeed, changes in how we as a state, and as a nation, view the nature of a family has prompted important changes in family law, much of that change coming from the courts.

A mere 62 years ago — now, I know 62 years seems like a very long time to many of you, but it no longer seems like such a long time to me and one or two others here tonight — but a mere 62 years ago, it was not self-evident that a white woman could marry an African-American man.

In 1948, our state law prohibited a white person from marrying a “Negro, mulatto, Mongolian or member of the Malay race.” A white woman named Andrea Perez and an African-American man named Sylvester Davis were denied a marriage license and claimed the law violated their right to religious freedom, because they were Roman Catholic and their church did not prohibit interracial marriage. A closely divided California Supreme Court, led by the great Justice Roger Traynor, struck down the law, holding that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by “impairing the right of individuals to marry on the basis of race alone and by arbitrarily and unreasonably discriminating against certain racial groups.”[i] The decision in Perez v. Sharp recognized that discrimination could not be justified by the fact that it had “been sanctioned by the state for many years.”[ii]

It took almost 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court came to the same conclusion at a time when 16 states still barred inter-racial marriage.

Prior to our Marriages Cases our court had a series of cases dealing with advances in reproductive technology and the rights of non-birth lesbian partners. In one of those cases, Elisa B., we stated that: “We see no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women.” In the In re Marriage Cases (2008),[iii] we recognized at the outset that same-sex couples enjoyed virtually all of the substantive legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, with one significant exception: their “officially recognized family relationship” was called a domestic partnership, rather than a marriage. Ultimately, as you well know, we held that not permitting same-sex couples to marry denies them equal protection of the law.

Several factors led us to this conclusion. First, denying same-sex couples the right to marry “clearly is not necessary in order to afford full protection to all of the rights and benefits . . . enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples.” Second, such a denial “impose[s] appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children” because it robs them of the “dignity” and “stature . . . equal to that of opposite-sex couples.” Finally, we noted that denying same-sex couples this right perpetuates the “premise . . . that gay individuals and same-sex couples are . . . ‘second-class citizens’ who may, under the law, be treated . . . less favorably than . . . opposite-sex couples.”[iv]

The holding in The Marriage Cases that same-sex couples must be permitted to marry was short lived. Only 170 days later, on November 4, 2008, the voters passed Proposition 8, providing that: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Ironically, that same day, the voters also passed an initiative regulating the confinement of chickens in coops. As Chief Justice George noted, “Chickens gained valuable rights in California the same day that gay men and women lost them.”

As you know, the California Supreme Court upheld the validity of Prop. 8 despite a very persuasive concurring and dissenting opinion,[v] that I wrote. (I don’t think you’re honoring me for my opinions on arbitration and insurance coverage issues!) Well, at least I thought it was persuasive; unfortunately, none of my colleagues agreed. But the central issue in the Prop. 8 decision actually was not same-sex marriage (and its conclusion that gays and lesbians constituted a suspect class was not contravened by Prop. 8); it was the limits of the electorate’s ability to amend the California Constitution using the initiative process.

In my view, Proposition 8 was a “change to one of the core values upon which our state constitution is founded.”[vi] As I wrote in my dissent, “[e]ven a narrow and limited exception to the promise of full equality strikes at the core of, and thus fundamentally alters, the guarantee of equal treatment. . . . Promising equal treatment to some is fundamentally different from promising equal treatment to all.

Promising treatment that is almost equal is fundamentally different from ensuring truly equal treatment.

I relied on the fact that the equal protection clause of the California Constitution “is intended to operate independently of and in some cases more broadly than its federal counterpart”[vii] and concluded that the majority “essentially strip[ped] the state Constitution of its independent vitality in protecting the fundamental rights of suspect classes.” (Id.)

To me, Proposition 8 was thus a revision of — not an amendment to — the California Constitution. Such a fundamental change in the meaning of equal protection, to the promise of equality, and the protection of family rights and the right to privacy, can be accomplished, if at all, only by either a constitutional convention or a measure passed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature and approved by the voters — and not by a simple majority of the voters.

Thus, sixty years after Perez v. Sharp broadened the definition of the family to include marriage between people of different races, Proposition 8 narrowed that definition to exclude marriage between people of the same sex.

But neither the passage of Prop. 8, nor our court’s decision upholding that initiative measure, has put an end to the debate over same-sex marriage, just as it took a number of years, and perhaps decades, to reduce the debate and controversy over inter-racial marriage. A challenge to Prop. 8 based upon the federal Constitution is now pending in federal district court. The debate will continue, the nature of the family will continue to evolve, and the law will change in response, from the people, and from the Courts, and perhaps at some point, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judges and lawyers know that change in these matters does not come quickly, but it does come, step by step, measure by measure, and it doesn’t come easily, as we have seen. Things that seem self-evident now — like that interracial couples have the right to marry — were not always so. What will appear self-evident, and commonly accepted, throughout our state and nation, 20 years or more from now, only time will tell.

So I thank you, and I join all of you in the struggle for “Equal Justice under the law” as our Supreme Court proclaims — we, you, deserve nothing more and nothing less.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Controversial Film Comes To Patterson Library

from The Dunkirk Observer:

WESTFIELD, NY - Patterson Library has announced a free screening of the film "Out in the Silence" on Friday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. Funded in part by the Sundance Institute, the movie follows the story of a small Pennsylvanian town confronting a firestorm of controversy ignited by a same-sex wedding announcement in the local newspaper. The documentary is described as illustrating the challenges of being an outsider in a rural community. It takes place in Oil City, Pa., less than two hours from Westfield.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, including a prominent player in the film, Roxanne Hitchcock, proprietor of the Latonia Theater in Oil City. Also on the panel are Rev. Steve Aschmann of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie, Pa.; Deb Christina, lifelong resident and longtime business owner in Westfield; Beth Robson of the Watchfire Alliance; Marvin Henchberger, executive director of Western New York Gay and Lesbian Youth Services; Bob Reider of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); and Father Gordon De La Vars of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

According to directors Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, a geneticist and author of "The God Gene," "The aim of 'Out in the Silence' is to expand public awareness about the difficulties that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face in rural and small town America and to promote dialogue and action that will help people on all sides of the issues find common ground."

The film has won wide recognition for its respectful treatment of both sides of a controversial issue. It covers Joe Wilson's dramatic journey as he is drawn back to his home town by a plea for help from the mother of a gay teen being tormented at school. It is a story about the unique challenges of being different in a small town, and the potential for change when the environment for dialogue is created. A subplot is the economic necessity in modern day rural America for tolerating and even encouraging diversity in order to attract and keep talent.

According to Patterson Library Director Eli Guinnee, the film fits perfectly with the public library goal of promoting knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect.

"The film follows a story of firestorm and controversy, but at its heart is a message that when we take the time to get to know each other positive change can occur," Guinnee said. "The organizers of this event have done a great job of assembling a distinguished panel and I think the panel will do a great job of carrying on the conversation started by this film."

The free event is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. The film runs less than one hour and will be followed by a panel discussion. For more information, call Patterson Library at 326-2154.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Law Would Ban Marriages Btw People Who Don't Love Each Other

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other

Community Screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE in Westfield, NY on Feb. 19

The public is invited to a screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE, a documentary film about the quest for fairness & equality for GLBT people in rural and small town America, on:

Friday, Feb. 19 at 7:00 PM at:

Patterson Public Library
40 S Portage St
Westfield, NY 14787

The screening will be followed by a community dialogue with local civic and faith leaders as well as some of the film's characters.

The film has been chosen for this presentation because of its respect for the viewpoints on all sides of the issues and its emphasis on helping communities find common ground.

Following the story of the small northwestern Pennsylvania town of Oil City confronting a firestorm of controversy ignited by a same-sex wedding announcement in the local newspaper, OUT IN THE SILENCE illustrates the challenges of being an outsider in a conservative rural community and the change that is possible when courageous people speak out and search for what they have in common rather than what sets them apart.

For more info about this event, contact Rev. Steve Aschmann at (814) 440-0902 or email

Learn more about the film HERE.

Monday, February 15, 2010

GLBT Legislation and Legislative Advocacy Meeting - Feb. 18 in Erie

You are invited to a meeting to discuss legislation and legislative advocacy related to the GLBT community:

Thursday, February 18 at 7 PM at

Craze Night Club
1607 Raspberry St
Erie PA 16502
Phone: (814) 456-3027

At the meeting will be Jesse Salazar, who heads Senator Casey’s statewide GLBT and Latino Affairs.

Also present will be Gary van Horn, president of the Delta Foundation in Pittsburgh.

For more info contact: Michael Mahler of Erie Gay News:
Phone: (814) 456-9833.

RSVP/Register/Tickets at

You can also sign up for the GLBT Voter/Activism list (as well as other lists) at

A Family's Story: The Case for LGBT Immigration Reform

by Steve Ralls for The Huffington Post:

On January 28, 2009, there was a knock on Shirley Tan's door.

The mother of two, originally from The Philippines, was starting her morning as usual. She was getting her 12-year-old twin sons ready for school, and preparing to see her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, off to work. The scene in their home in Pacifica, California, could have been any day in virtually any family's home in America.

That is, until the 7am knock on the door.

When Shirley answered, she was told that agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency were "looking for a young Mexican girl."

In fact, they were looking for her.

The ICE agents produced an order of deportation, which Shirley had never seen before, then handcuffed her and threw her into a waiting van.

Shirley, who had been violently assaulted by a relative in her native Philippines, was detained and told she would be sent back there because her application for asylum, filed years earlier, had been denied. Her attorney, who had moved since the original asylum request was filed, did not receive notice of the denial. Instantly, Shirley's entire family - and the life she had built over two decades with them - was in jeopardy.

Despite the fact that Jay is an American citizen, and that both of her sons are also citizens, Shirley was faced with leaving all of them behind. Because Jay is also a woman, she could not sponsor Shirley for residency, as straight Americans with spouses can do. The twins would be unable to sponsor their mother for residency for another 9 years.

"[W]e can't even protect Shirley," Mercado says in a new film, directed by filmmaker Stewart Thorndike, released today by Immigration Equality, an organization working to end discrimination against lesbian and gay binational families. "They wanted us to be torn apart, and that's something you don't do to a family."

Yet, for more than 36,000 lesbian and gay families like Shirley and Jay's, separation is a very real possibility. Nearly half of those families, like the Tan-Mercados, are also raising young children.

"The lack of recognition for lesbian and gay couples under immigration law is, literally, ripping loving families apart," said Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality's executive director. "For every day that passes without action from Congress, another family faces separation and another child is put in jeopardy of losing a parent."

"People of conscience cannot sit idly by and let this happen," she says. "A generation of children are at risk of losing the only families they know."

Beginning today, house parties across the country will screen the group's new documentary, which is premiering exclusively here at HuffingtonPost Impact (see below). Its debut coincides with the launch of the Immigration Equality Action Fund, which will lobby Congress to pass an immigration reform bill that includes lesbian and gay families.

"This is our moment," Tiven said, referring to pledges by the White House and Congress to tackle immigration reform this year.

Tan remains in the country because of a rare "private bill" introduced on her behalf by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who sponsored the measure after hearing from many people in their community, including her parish priest, who weighed in on behalf of Tan, a Eucharistic minister in the local Catholic church.

Now, Tan and Mercado have joined Immigration Equality in working for passage of the Uniting American Families Act - a bill to end discrimination against lesbian and gay immigrant families - either on its own or as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"What will make me feel safe," Tan says in the film, "is [when] the Uniting American Families Act will pass . . . so I can stay here . . . without any fear that I can be picked up at any time; that I can be deported at any time."

It is a campaign that has taken on personal importance for her sons, Joriene and Jashley, too.

"Why is this happening to our family?," one asks in the film.

"My mom's a good person," his brother adds.

You can make an impact in the lives of Shirley, Jay and their sons - and tens of thousands of other families like theirs - by watching the video, passing it along and visiting to learn more.

"We're premiering this film on Valentine's Day," Tiven said, "in solidarity with every family who just wants to be with the people they love."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Blessings

On Wednesday, February 10th, LGBT activist Kitty Lambert attempts to receive a marriage license from the Buffalo City Clerk's office. Denied, she then turns to the crowd where a willing, previously unknown, male steps forward. Family values!

2010 Pride Picnic Planning Meeting - March 7 in Erie

The 18th Annual Erie Gay News Family Pride Picnic will be Saturday, June 12, 2010 at the Rotary Pavilion.

Your ideas are needed at the upcoming planning meeting to make this picnic the best one yet!

Date: Sunday, March 7, 2010
Time: 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: Presque Isle Gallery Coffeehouse, 35 Peninsula Drv, Erie PA 16505

For more info, contact Michael Mahler at (814) 456-9833 or email

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mighty Real

Despite what many Tea Partiers think, real Americans can be gay or straight

By Sean Bugg for Metro weekly:

Being a product of the ''Real America'' — that halcyon collection of rural farmlands and evangelical hotbeds that see themselves as the authentic bedrock of the nation — I still have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I'm no longer real.

Real Americans are once more in the news, although when you look closely enough they never really left. But from Sarah Palin's evocation of the real Virginia in the last presidential campaign — as opposed the fantasy Virginia of the Washington suburbs, with its heady mix of culture, class, race and orientation — to the current saber rattling of Tea Partiers who can't see America's coastal cities as anything but socialist dens of iniquity, it's obvious that the Real Americans see themselves as a beleaguered minority with no other choice but to fight back.

I know that much of rural and small-town America has an inferiority complex when it comes to the country's teeming cities and urban-oriented entertainment industry. I grew up around both families and churches who took it as a matter of faith that country life was better life. But that just masked a more basic, usually unspoken, fear: the idea that someone, somewhere was making fun of them.

I have some sympathy on this point. As desperate as I was to leave my rural upbringing behind, when I arrived at college with my hick accent — sharper than the more gently rolling accent of the upper-class South — I quickly learned how it felt to be disdained for my background. Later I would joke that when I introduced myself as a Kentuckian to my well-heeled classmates they would look down to see if I was wearing shoes.

That experience makes it one of the greater ironies of life that the disdain directed at me these days comes from the same people I grew up with, the self-proclaimed Real Americans.

Unlike me, my sister is real. She still lives in rural Kentucky, complete with barns and fields where she and her husband raise horses. You can only see a handful of other houses from her porch, and most of those look tiny in the distance across the hilly fields.

You don't always see a lot of people out in Real America.

I, on the other hand, moved away from rural life as quickly as I could, and now live with my husband...well, really, I don't have to say anything more beyond ''my husband'' to establish my unreality.

But perhaps my sister isn't so real, after all. She and her husband were part of my own wedding ceremony, and they happily host us for holiday visits and family affairs. They treat both of us as equals — as real.

That any particular group or person is more authentically American than another is one of the most pernicious and anti-American ideas to continually resurface in our politics. It aims to keep LGBT people, among others, firmly ensconced as less than — less than people, less than Americans.

While the political atmosphere at the moment seems poisoned beyond repair, we have to remember that with greater acceptance by a majority of people comes greater resistance from a minority of them. What's important is for us to continually remind everyone — rural and urban, heartland and coastal — that we are as authentic and American as our neighbors, families and friends.

We are the real deal.

How Christian Were the Founders?

By Russell Shorto for the NY Times Magazine:

LAST MONTH, A WEEK before the Senate seat of the liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy fell into Republican hands, his legacy suffered another blow that was perhaps just as damaging, if less noticed. It happened during what has become an annual spectacle in the culture wars.

Over two days, more than a hundred people — Christians, Jews, housewives, naval officers, professors; people outfitted in everything from business suits to military fatigues to turbans to baseball caps — streamed through the halls of the William B. Travis Building in Austin, Tex., waiting for a chance to stand before the semicircle of 15 high-backed chairs whose occupants made up the Texas State Board of Education. Each petitioner had three minutes to say his or her piece.

“Please keep César Chávez” was the message of an elderly Hispanic man with a floppy gray mustache.

“Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and should be included in the curriculum,” a woman declared.

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.

McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.

Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.

This is how history is made — or rather, how the hue and cry of the present and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper. Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money. The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online —are still the backbone of education.

The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late 1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local school-board elections — Robertson’s protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members” — and Texas was a beachhead. Since the election of two Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance a Christian agenda. “They do vote as a bloc,” Pat Hardy, a board member who considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the Christian faction, told me. “They work consciously to pull one more vote in with them on an issue so they’ll have a majority.”

This year’s social-studies review has drawn the most attention for the battles over what names should be included in the roll call of history. But while ignoring Kennedy and upgrading Gingrich are significant moves, something more fundamental is on the agenda. The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Continue reading article HERE.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Update on the URGENT ALERT About Religious Extremism In NW PA Public Schools

Thanks to the vigilance of a few concerned Venango County residents, the Ground Zero Master's Commission event known as "Explicit Truth" that was scheduled to take place during a Feb. 8 Rocky Grove Jr-Sr High School assembly (discussed in an Urgent Alert post here on Jan. 28) was canceled by Principal Matt Laverde upon the advice of the Valley Grove School District solicitor.

It was reported that the solicitor based his decision on the fact that the assembly was sponsored/paid for by religious groups and that local churches had described the assemblies as having religious content/motivation.

General information from legal advocates about these sorts of assemblies advise that:

- Schools should be extremely cautious about allowing such assemblies because they (the schools) will be held responsible if the assembly includes any religious content. The groups that offer these programs are often designed as vehicles for proselytization, so even if the group performing at the assembly claims that the content of its program is not religious, it may introduce or encourage religious views in subtle, but still unconstitutional ways. There is an additional concern that some of these groups promote their religious views, which may be homophobic or otherwise not inclusive.

- There are two common tactics that these groups use to convert a presentation into a religious message:

First, the presenters, in introducing themselves and perhaps explaining how they come to be doing this work, may talk about their religious backgrounds. That sets the stage for the entire presentation to be couched as a religious message.

Second, these groups will often use the school assembly as an opportunity to invite the students to "continue the conversation" at a pizza party or other local event off campus, which turns out to be religious in nature. It is unconstitutional for schools to provide an outside group with this type of opportunity to invite students to a religious event.

- Because the school will ultimately be held responsible for anything that an outside group says when the school invites the group to give a presentation to students, it is important for school officials to know exactly what will be included in the presentation before allowing a church-sponsored group to give an assembly to students.

This incident demonstrates the importance of being aware of what is taking place in local public schools and the effectiveness of asking questions when something doesn't seem right.

Congratulations and Thanks to those who understand the Constitution and who seek to uphold the principle of the separation of church and state for the benefit of all.


Please Call To Express Concern About Religious Proselytization In Public Schools:

Cranberry High School - Cranberry Area School District
Superintendent - Nicholas Bodnar
Phone: 814-676-5628 x509

Complaints Can Also Be Made To The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission via

Ann M. Van Dyke
Education/Community Services Division
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
P.O. Box 3145, Harrisburg, PA 17105
P: 717/783-8438