Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Someday, Venango County's Proponents of Bigotry and Hate Will Also See the Errors of Their Ways ... and that Day Cannot Come Too Soon!

By Joseph Sabino Mistick for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mister Rogers spent a lifetime telling children "It's you I like."

Kids are not always likable on the surface but Fred was referring to "that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war and justice that proves more powerful than greed."

Inexplicably, those sentiments earned Mister Rogers the wrath of a disbarred lawyer and self-proclaimed "righteous" man of the cloth named Fred Phelps. Phelps, pastor of the independent Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kan., is infamous for his anti-gay sentiments and demonstrations. But at least he is an equal opportunity hater.

Phelps is also anti-Irish, anti-Italian, anti-Swedish, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-American-war hero, anti-Matthew Shepard, anti-Billy Graham and, apparently, anti-Mister Rogers. Outside of Fred Rogers' memorial service at Heinz Hall in 2003, Phelps' acolytes trampled an American flag and ranted against Fred for not speaking out against homosexuals.

Phelps is the same guy who stages hate-filled demonstrations at the funerals of fallen soldiers, sometimes turning their final honors into a circus by incongruously linking their combat deaths to his anti-gay message. He connects his anti-homosexual theology to everything and everyone and calls the United States a "sodomite nation of flag-worshipping idolaters."

But there is a new Phelps coming to town and this one is doing all he can to counter the grief and heartache inflicted by his father. At the stroke of midnight on his 18th birthday, Nate Phelps left his father's oppressive ideology of hatred behind. It was a scary decision but even back then Nate sensed that his father was "about control and violence, not about God and religion."

Nate is 51 now, having been married, divorced and recently engaged and he is a straight guy with a passion for justice and equality for all -- especially his gay fellow citizens. As he says, "Today, I see the struggle of the gay community the same as the struggle of the black community in the '60s. We have, as a society, blinded ourselves to the very real prejudices we carry against gays."

Nate has an easy chuckle and speaks in the deliberate fashion of someone who takes care not to seem too sure of himself. He has traveled a rocky path, strewn with bad memories, depression and years of therapy and he makes it clear that he is still "a work in progress." But the one thing about which he is certain is that there is "no right to affect the lives of other people."

Nate will be in Pittsburgh this Friday to deliver that message of love that is so different from his father's. At 6 p.m., on the steps of the City-County Building, Nate will help kick off the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh's Advocacy Rally and it will be the first time he has spoken at a Gay Pride event.

Nate's father may not be pleased with his son's appearance at the rally but Martin Luther King Jr., who knew something about discrimination, said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Mister Rogers would have agreed. And he probably would have told Nate Phelps, "It's you I like."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Presidential Proclamation--Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month

We Work Till The Day That Such A Proclamation Is Issued in Oil City, in Franklin, and Other Communities in Venango County.

from The White House:

As Americans, it is our birthright that all people are created equal and deserve the same rights, privileges, and opportunities. Since our earliest days of independence, our Nation has striven to fulfill that promise. An important chapter in our great, unfinished story is the movement for fairness and equality on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. This month, as we recognize the immeasurable contributions of LGBT Americans, we renew our commitment to the struggle for equal rights for LGBT Americans and to ending prejudice and injustice wherever it exists.

LGBT Americans have enriched and strengthened the fabric of our national life. From business leaders and professors to athletes and first responders, LGBT individuals have achieved success and prominence in every discipline. They are our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, and our friends and neighbors. Across my Administration, openly LGBT employees are serving at every level. Thanks to those who came before us the brave men and women who marched, stood up to injustice, and brought change through acts of compassion or defiance we have made enormous progress and continue to strive for a more perfect union.

My Administration has advanced our journey by signing into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which strengthens Federal protections against crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation. We renewed the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides life saving medical services and support to Americans living with HIV/AIDS, and finally eliminated the HIV entry ban. I also signed a Presidential Memorandum directing hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to give LGBT patients the compassion and security they deserve in their time of need, including the ability to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions.

In other areas, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a series of proposals to ensure core housing programs are open to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD also announced the first ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has created a National Resource Center for LGBT Elders.

Much work remains to fulfill our Nation's promise of equal justice under law for LGBT Americans. That is why we must give committed gay couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. We must protect the rights of LGBT families by securing their adoption rights, ending employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, and ensuring Federal employees receive equal benefits. We must create safer schools so all our children may learn in a supportive environment. I am also committed to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so patriotic LGBT Americans can serve openly in our military, and I am working with the Congress and our military leadership to accomplish that goal.

As we honor the LGBT Americans who have given so much to our Nation, let us remember that if one of us is unable to realize full equality, we all fall short of our founding principles. Our Nation draws its strength from our diversity, with each of us contributing to the greater whole. By affirming these rights and values, each American benefits from the further advancement of liberty and justice for all.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2010 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


Friday, May 28, 2010

The Bible Does Not Tell Me So

By Rev. Richard A. Moyer, Pastor, Community United Church, for the Erie Gay News:

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a man who described himself as a Christian evangelist. He wrote that he had seen our church advertised on the internet as a congregation that is open and affirming. It seemed to bother him a great deal that we would welcome LGBT persons into the life, ministry and fellowship of our church. He stated that he had a background in Biblical studies. He asked why I do not preach Jesus’ teaching against homosexuality to my congregation.

I was amazed that a person who claims to have a background in Biblical studies would imply that Jesus preached against homosexuality. Most everyone who is reading this article already knows that he did not. Jesus is never recorded in the gospels as mentioning homosexuality. On that subject, Jesus is completely silent. It’s always interesting to me that the very subject that has created so much hurt and turmoil in the Christian church does not seem to be a subject Jesus had much concern about at all.

I decided not to reply to this evangelist’s e-mail since he obviously did not seem to know what he was talking about. If he had challenged me to respond to the teaching of Paul on his references to homosexuality or to the references about homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures, I would have e-mailed him back.

The Apostle Paul does make reference to what some Bibles scholars have translated as references to homosexuality in three of his Epistles. The references are found in I Corinthians, I Timothy and Romans. However, it is the understanding of most Biblical scholars that the word homosexual does not appear in the New Testament at all.

Any Bible scholar or theologian who is legitimate is going to agree that Paul’s reference to sexuality in I Corinthians has uncertain meaning. While The New International Version of the New Testament does insert the word “homosexual”, the New Revised Standard Version translates it as Paul’s objection to male prostitution. Even in the original Revised Standard Version there is a footnote that the English translation of the word is uncertain.

The reference in I Timothy is a little ambiguous. This is not a reference to homosexuality but to pedophilia where sexual abuse of children by an adult (both homosexual and heterosexual) is condemned.

I am convinced that neither of the above references are about homosexuality per se.

The one New Testament reference that has had more interest for me is the Romans passage. Here Paul does speak out against what he calls “unnatural” sexual relationships. However, for the person who is homosexual in orientation it is natural to be attracted to a person of the same sex. It is more likely that Paul is here speaking about persons who are heterosexual but acting as homosexuals – against their own sexual orientation.

It goes without saying that people who quote Scripture need to be very careful. The Bible, of course, was not written in English. And, it is always an extraordinary effort to translate any document from one language to another. When it comes to the Bible, translation takes great skill, especially when we consider that the Bible was not written in our lifetime. Biblical times, customs, concerns and lifestyles must be taken into consideration if we are going to interpret the Bible with integrity for our generation.

I chose not to respond to the evangelist who sent the e-mail; not out of disrespect or disgust. I just have a feeling that he has already made up his mind and does not want to be confused by the facts.

The Community United Church is an open and affirming congregation and is is a member of United Church of Christ and Church of the Brethren denomination. . It is located at 1011 W 38th St. in Erie. Services are Sunday at 11am. (814) 864-4429. The pastor is Richard A. Moyer and his assistant is Dr. Richard McCarty. Website is

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Do Christian's Become Conservative?

by Mike Lux for The Huffington Post:

When you are in the political world, you have decisions to make every single day about who you will try to help and who you won't. In spite of the earnest quest of good technocrats everywhere, the simple fact is that there are only a few win-win solutions. Who you tax, who you give a tax break to, what programs you cut or add to, who you tighten regulations on, and who you loosen them on, what kind of contractors are eligible for government work, which school districts and non-profit groups get federal money, etc: these political decisions are generally not win-win. Instead, they mean that one group of people win, and one group of people loses. It is the nature of politics, and you can't take the politics out of politics.

The most fundamental difference between progressives and conservatives is that question of which side you are on. Conservatives believe that the rich and powerful got that way because they deserve to be, that society owes its prosperity to the prosperous, and that government's job when they have to make choices is to side with those businesspeople who are doing well, because all good things trickle down from them. Progressives, on the other hand, believe it is the poor and those who are ill-treated who need the most help from their government, and that prosperity comes from all of us -- the worker as well as the employer, the consumer as well as the seller, the struggling entrepreneur trying to make it as well as the wealthy who already have.

Usually, I might spend my time arguing which of those worldviews gives us better policy outcomes, or which is better politics, but in this post I want to focus on something else: which side the God of the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition is on.

Between Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories about Christian social justice (Since Communists and Nazis both used the words "social" and "justice," sometimes even together, the phrase must be bad along with other words they used a lot like the, and, one, thank you, please, today, tonight, and tomorrow), Sarah Palin's "spiritual warfare," and my very fun e-mail debates with a much-beloved but sadly misguided conservative Christian relative, I have been thinking a lot about Christians and political ideology of late. As those of you who read me a lot know, I was raised in a church-oriented home, and I write about religion a fair amount. This isn't because I am conventionally religious: I decided about four decades ago that since there was no way for sure about the nature of God or the soul or all that metaphysical stuff, I wasn't going to spend much time thinking, caring, or worrying about it. If that sends one to hell, at least I'll be there with a lot of my favorite people. But I still have the social and moral teaching I learned from my upbringing embedded in me as a core part of my value system, and I still know my Bible pretty well.

That's why I am always puzzled by how people who claim to be followers of the Jesus I read about in the Bible can be political conservatives.

Now I know there are many people who have not been brought up in the Christian faith, or who were but aren't interested in it anymore. Perhaps like a great many folks, you have been turned off by all the high-profile preachers who claim to speak for Christianity but preach a brand of narrow, intolerant conservatism that you can't relate to. My view is that even if that is the case, it is still important to know something about the Christian New Testament because it is such a historical and cultural touchstone in our country. I also think it's important to have a sense of just how different the Bible is from how conservative Christians represent it. For those of you uninterested in all this, I understand why: you definitely won't want to dig into what follows. But for those of who are, here is my argument about Christianity and progressivism in politics.

Conservative Christians' primary argument regarding Jesus and politics is that all he cared about was spiritual matters and an individual's relationship with God. As a result, they say, all those references from Jesus about helping the poor relate only to private charity, not to society as a whole. Their belief is that Jesus, and the New Testament in general, is focused on one thing and one thing only: how do people get into heaven.

The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.

What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord -- which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger -- and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.

And he was a really serious class warrior, too -- he wasn't just into helping the poor; he didn't seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God's feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.

I have never heard a conservative Christian quote any of these verses -- not once, and I have been in a lot of discussions with Christian conservatives, and heard a lot of their speeches and sermons. The one verse they always quote (and I mean always -- I have never talked to a conservative Christian about economics and not heard them quote this verse) is the one time in which Jesus says that "the poor will always be with us." The reason they love this quote so much is that they interpret that line to mean that in spite of everything else Jesus said about the poor, that since the poor will always be with us, we don't need to worry about trying to help them. Apparently since the poor will always be with us, we can go ahead and screw them. But Jesus making a prediction that there will always be oppressive societies doesn't mean he wanted us to join the oppressors. By clinging desperately to that one verse in the Bible, and ignoring all the others about the poor and the rich, Christian conservatives show themselves to be hypocrites, plain and simple.

The Jesus of the New Testament spent his public career preaching about the nature of God and our relationship to God, but also about how we should deal with each other. He repeatedly blessed mercy, gentleness, peacemaking, community, and taking care of each other. He lifted up the poor and oppressed, and spoke poorly of the wealthy and powerful. If anyone in modern society talked like he did, you can bet your bottom dollar that conservatives would condemn that person as a class warrior, a socialist. Jesus may not have been primarily concerned with politics, but for what politics he did have, it is virtually impossible to argue that he was anything but a progressive thinker.

I want to close on one other note here. I focused here on the Jesus of the Gospels (principally Matthew, Mark and Luke -- the Gospel of John is almost all focused on mystical spiritualism), but Jesus is not exactly the only Bible character concerned with issues of social and economic justice. All of the first five books of the Torah (the Old Testament for Christians) talk a lot about justice for the poor; the Psalms are full of verses about the helping poor; every Old Testament prophet castigates the Jewish people (and yes, their governments) for mistreating the poor. And in the New Testament, there are some dynamite passages promoting progressive thinking aside from all of the Jesus quotations I mentioned. Three of my very favorites:

* In Acts 2: 44-45 says: "The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common: they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each are needed." My question: did Karl Marx quote that line directly, or did he come up with his each-according-to-their-own-needs doctrine on his own?

* Jesus' mother Mary says that Jesus will "fill the starving with good things and send the rich away empty" and will "pull the princes from their thrones and raise high the lowly." I guess the big guy came by his politics from his mom.

* Speaking of the big guy's family, in the Book of James, which is purportedly written by Jesus' brother (and scholars think there is a pretty good chance it really was), James really goes heavy into the class warfare stuff. In James 2: 1-13, there is an extended admonishment on respect for the poor and mercy. In 2: 5-8, he says it is the poor whom God chose to be loved, and the rich "who are always against you." In 2: 13, he says that "there will be judgment without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves, but the merciful need have no fear of judgment."

* And in 5: 16, he condemns the rich again starting out: "Now an answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries coming to you... Laborers plowed your fields and you cheated them: listen to the wages you kept back, calling out: realize that the cries of the workers have reached the ears of the Lord."

Judeo-Christian scripture is a rich and complicated work of literature. Written over the course of (at least) several hundred years by dozens of different authors, there are a variety of perspectives and many times outright contradictions in the theology and the politics of the writing (if it's all inspired word for word by God, He seems to have changed his mind a lot). But one thing is extremely certain: the poor seem to be who God is most concerned about. Yes, there are a few quotations (four, if I remember right) trashing gay people, along with quite a few more about the right way to do animal sacrifice and to be careful about eating shellfish and hanging out with women who are menstruating. But mercy, kindness, and concern for the poor and the weak and the outcast seems to matter a lot more, with literally several hundred verses referencing those agenda items. If you are a progressive, that is a pretty good ratio.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We Are All Malawi's Jailed Couple

by Michael Jones for

Imagine being told that you can't love the person of your dreams, and that as punishment for falling in love with that person, you would have to serve fourteen years in prison, under a "hard labor" sentence. Such is the story of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the gay Malawi couple sentenced by a judge this week for committing "unnatural acts" and "gross indecency," simply because they professed their love for each other in public.

In December 2009, the couple held a public ceremony to celebrate their relationship. Upwards of 500 people were there to witness it, with Steven proposing to Tiwonge. Call it a ceremony. Call it just a really sweet overture between two people in love. Or just call it something that millions of people around the globe do each day.

But in Malawi, falling in love with the wrong person is enough to get you thrown in jail, with some of the harshest prison conditions imaginable. But the judge at the heart of this case just doesn't care. He celebrated his decision to throw Steven and Tiwonge in prison for the next fourteen years.

"I do not believe Malawi is ready at this point in time to see its sons getting married to other sons, or cohabitating, or conducting engagement ceremonies,” the magistrate said. “Malawi is not ready to smile at her daughters marrying each other. Let posterity judge this judgment.”

Forget posterity. Let's let the lens of human rights and dignity judge this judgment. And in that regard, Malawi fails big time. Demand that Steven and Tiwonge be set free. No one should have to go to jail for falling in love.

The world community is aghast at this Malawi judge's ruling, with everyone from the head of UNAIDS to the White House to pop icon Madonna expressing dismay at their imprisonment, and what it means for both LGBT rights, HIV prevention, and human rights in the African country.

"The United States strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi. The criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this case mars the human rights record of Malawi," the White House said in their statement. "We urge Malawi and all countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention, or execution."

(Notice the White House didn't add "stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for firing employees...", but perhaps that's a different blog post.)

The truth is, there's something entirely universal about the story of Steven and Tiwonge that should move us all. To hear Tiwonge say it, this couple has become martyrs for lovers everywhere.

"You don’t arrest someone because he loves someone," Tiwonge said in January, shortly after the couple was detained. "I love my husband and laws should not prohibit love."

It's damn hard to take issue with that. All hope is not entirely lost, though the picture does look grim. Steven and Tiwonge's lawyers are appealing the case to Malawi's High Court, which may be more persuaded by the widespread international attention that this case has received.

But the situation for LGBT rights in Malawi is not pretty. As Steven and Tiwonge were carted away to jail this week, demonstrators danced in the street, with one woman gladly screaming, "Malawi should never allow homosexuality at any cost."

We can't let that statement be the end of this dialogue. Send a message to Malawi's government that the decision levied against Steven and Tiwonge is not only wrong, but unjust. As Albert Einstein once said, "By raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes — goodwill among men and peace on earth.”

Einstein left out love. But as the story of Steven and Tiwonge demonstrates, it belongs there right along with goodwill and peace, too.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SURPRISE - Another "Family-Values" Hypocrite Resigns

It's surely only a matter of time till a similar ax falls on the head of one or several of the self-righteous "family-values" extremists operating in Venango County.

from The Huffington Post:

Mark Souder To RESIGN Over Affair With Aide

Mark Souder, a Republican congressman from Indiana, has announced that he will resign his seat over an affair with a female aide.

Souder is a former House staffer who was elected to Congress on a "family values" platform in the Republican takeover of 1994. He won a tough contested primary challenge last week, 48 percent to 33 percent, and his Democratic opponent in the general election, Tom Hayhurst, held Souder to 54% of the vote in 2008.

"I believe that Congress must fight to uphold the traditional values that undergird the strength of our nation," Souder says on his official website. "The family plays a fundamental role in our society... I am committed to preserving traditional marriage, the union of one man and one woman."

UPDATE: Souder released the following statement: "It is with great regret I announce that I am resigning from the U.S. House of Representatives as well as resigning as the Republican nominee for Congress in this fall's election. Diane and my family were more than willing to stand here with me. We are a committed family. But the error is mine and I should bear the responsibility. I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. I am so shamed to have hurt those I love."

Fox News noted:

Souder was absent from Washington most of last week, missing multiple votes and only voting on Thursday. While the rumors had been flying, Souder claimed that he was at home tending to his ill wife.

All the way through his election, Souder tried to knock down the affair story, calling it revenge politics at play. But the backroom chatter in Indiana and among the GOP on Capitol Hill became too much to survive. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was informed as late as Monday night that Souder would give up his post.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Discrimination Casts Shadow Over Progress

Letter-to-the-Editor in The Derrick (Oil City / Franklin, PA) - May 17, 2010:


As the directors of “Out in the Silence,” a documentary about the struggle for visibility, justice and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in rural and small town America, we were greatly encouraged by our experiences in Venango County over the four years of making the film.

But as we travel to screening events across Pennsylvania, using it as a tool for community education and dialogue, we are troubled by reports that the problems at Franklin High School that are portrayed in the film continue or have gotten worse.

We are told by people who have first-hand experience that GLBT students at Franklin High continue to be bullied, harassed and violated with little or no intervention by school authorities. Moreover, we are told, teachers and counselors who show any interest in helping these students have actually been threatened by the school administration with retaliation and loss of employment.

This type of discrimination toward any minority group is unacceptable. It’s also a violation of the Pennsylvania Code of Conduct for Educators.

What can you do to help? If you have concerns about or know of any teacher or administrator at Franklin or any school who has engaged in negligent or discriminatory activity, it is possible to file an Educator Misconduct Complaint through the Professional Standards and Practices Commission. All complaints are handled in strict confidentiality.

For more information visit or call the Chief Counsel, Pennsylvania Department of Education, 717-783-0201.

As we prepare for the media attention that will accompany the film’s June screenings in the 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival as well as national PBS broadcast this spring, we plan to talk about all of the good things that are happening in Venango County, but the situation at Franklin High casts a dark shadow that we simply cannot, will not, ignore.

If one believes in the concept that all people are created equal and deserving of equal rights and respect under the law, then those beliefs must include GLBT people. And if not now, when?

Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer
Washington, D.C.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Real and Damaging Consequences

This article brings to mind the vicious anti-gay industry (Diane Gramley's American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania and Jane Richey's WAWN "Christian" radio station) that thrives in Venango County and continues to intimidate the local political and civic establishment, who claim to be supportive of the rights of all people in the area, including LGBT people, but who never dare to say so publicly for fear of offending the radical bigoted right wing.

A Heaven-Sent Rent Boy

By FRANK RICH for the New York Times:

OF all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style. Just listen to the roaring audience at the new hit Broadway revival of the perennial “La Cage aux Folles,” where a family-values politician gets his comeuppance in drag. Or check out the real-life closet case of George Rekers, who has been fodder for late-night television comics all month.

Rekers is in a class by himself even in the era of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. A Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a bent for “curing” homosexuality, the married, 61-year-old Rekers was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The couple was returning from a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. New Times, which published its exposé in early May, got an explanation from Rekers: “I had surgery, and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.”

Alas, a photo showed Rekers, rather than his companion, handling the baggage cart. The paper also reported that Rekers had recruited the young man from, a Web site whose graphic sexual content requires visitors to vouch for their age. — really, who could make this stuff up?

Much like the former Senator Craig, Rekers claims it was all an innocent mix-up. His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”

This is a family newspaper, so you must supply your own jokes here.

But once we stop laughing, we must remember that culture wars are called wars for a reason. For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties — both at the micro level, on the lives of ordinary people, and at the national level, where, as we’re seeing right now, a Supreme Court nominee’s entire record can be reduced to a poisonous and distorted debate over her stand on the single culture-war issue of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Rekers is no bit player in these wars. Though he’s not a household name, he should be. He’s the Zelig of homophobia, having played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades. His public career dates back to his authorship of a theoretically scholarly 1982 tome titled “Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality.” (I say theoretically because many of the footnotes cite his own previous writings.) And what did Rekers think that families should know? By Chapter 2, he is citing the cautionary tale of how one teacher’s “secret homosexual lifestyle most likely led to his murder.”

Rekers soon went on to become a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major, if not the major, activist organization of the religious right as well as a power broker in the Republican Party. When the Miami scandal broke, the council’s current president, Tony Perkins, quickly tried to distance himself, claiming that he had to review “historical records” to verify who Rekers was and that his organization had “no contact” with him or “knowledge of his activities” for over a decade.

That historical record is hardly as obscure as Perkins maintained. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC found that only weeks before Rekers’s excellent European adventure, his name appeared on the masthead of an official-looking letter sent to some 14,000 school superintendents nationwide informing them that homosexuality is a choice that can be stamped out by therapy. The letter was from the “American College of Pediatricians” — a misnomer for what is actually a political organization peddling homophobic junk-science. Rekers was also on the board of another notorious peddler of gay “cures” — the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, or Narth — until he resigned last week. Such groups have done nothing to stop homosexuality but plenty to help promote punitive “treatment” and suicidal depression among untold numbers of gay youths.

No less destructive has been Rekers’s role in maintaining the draconian Florida law prohibiting adoptions by gay couples and individuals, a relic of the Anita Bryant era. When the law was challenged in court two years ago, the state Attorney General Bill McCollum personally intervened to enlist Rekers as an expert witness to uphold it. Rekers charged $120,000 for his services — a taxpayers’ expenditure now becoming an issue in the Florida gubernatorial race, where McCollum is a Republican candidate to succeed Charlie Crist. A Miami judge ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional, and even now McCollum is appealing that decision.

Rekers was also an expert witness in a similar court case in Arkansas in 2004. That anti-gay-adoption law was also ruled unconstitutional. (His bill there was $200,000, but he settled for $60,000.) In 1998 Rekers was hired as an expert witness by the Boy Scouts to uphold its gay ban in a case before the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission. And then there’s Rekers’s cameo in the current Proposition 8 trial in California: one of his homophobic screeds can be found in the bibliography for the “expert report” by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the star witness for the anti-same-sex-marriage forces.

Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.

The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs. American attitudes about homosexuality continue to change very fast. In the past month, as square a cultural venue as Archie comic books has announced the addition of a gay character, the country singer Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian, and Laura Bush has told Larry King that she endorses the “same” rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage “will come.” All of this news has been greeted by most Americans with shrugs, as it should be.

But the rear-guard remnants of the Rekers crowd are not going down without a fight, and their focus on Elena Kagan has been most revealing. There are many grounds to debate Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, wherever you are on the political spectrum. There are many questions about her views and record that remain unanswered. But from the get-go the preponderance of the debate on the right has been about her handling of military recruitment as dean at Harvard Law School. Here her history is unambiguous.

Despite her critics’ cries, Kagan never banned military recruitment of law students and never denigrated the military in word or deed. She followed Harvard’s existing (and unexceptional) antidiscrimination policy while a court battle played out over a Congressional act denying federal funds to universities barring military recruiters. She was so cautious — too cautious, I’d argue — that she did not join the majority of her own faculty in urging Harvard to sue the government over the funding law, limiting her action instead to the signing of an amicus brief.

She did declare that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “a moral injustice of the first order.” Given that a Washington Post-ABC News poll in February showed that 75 percent of Americans want that policy rescinded — as do the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense — this is hardly a view out of the American mainstream. Yet if you went to the Web site of the organization Rekers co-founded, the Family Research Council, and clicked on “Tony Perkins’ Washington Update” last week, you’d have found a head shot of Kagan with the legend “Deep Ties With the Gay Agenda.” What those “deep ties” are is never stated. Indeed, Kagan said only last year that “there is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”

The Family Research Council’s line has been embraced by the non-fringe right, including some Republicans in the Senate. In mid-April, a full month before Kagan’s nomination was even announced, The Wall Street Journal preemptively hyped this plan of attack with a conspicuously placed news article headlined “Kagan Foes Cite Gay-Rights Stand.” The only foes cited were religious right organizations.

The real game became clear when that same week a former Bush aide and Republican Senate staffer published unsubstantiated rumors about Kagan’s private life in a blog at (It was taken down after White House denials.) Those rumors have chased all unmarried Supreme Court justices or would-be justices loathed by the right, whether Republicans like David Souter and Harriet Miers or the previous Obama choice, Sonia Sotomayor.

By late last week, double-entendre wisecracks about Kagan’s softball prowess were all the rage on Fox News and MSNBC. These dying gasps of our culture wars, like Rekers’s farcical pratfall, might be funnier if millions of gay Americans and their families were not still denied their full civil rights.

Sunday, May 16, 2010



This Tuesday is the Pennsylvania primary election and polls are open from 7 AM to 8 PM. Your vote is extremely important and we need you to take at most 15 minutes (and quite possibly less) to determine who will be making the laws that affect all of us.

Would you like to know where candidates stand on issues affecting the LGBT community? Please check out the Erie Gay News VOTER GUIDE.

What you do on Tuesday has the potential to affect you for years to come!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is This The World You Want?

Baby Blues - A local push for GLBT families to adopt kids.

By Tara Murtha for Philadelphia Weekly:

It’s illegal for gays and lesbians to adopt in most of the world, including some states in the U.S. It’s banned outright in Florida, and in Utah and Virginia, adoption is prohibited by anyone other than married couples.

The laws are complicated. But here, it’s getting a little easier.

Gloria Hochman, of the Center City-based National Adoption Center (NAC), says more gays and lesbians would adopt if they weren’t intimidated by the information maze.

“We believe the gay and lesbian community has been underserved, and that there are many people out there who, if they knew more or could feel more comfortable about it, would be interested in adopting children,” Hochman says.

Last year, with a grant from the Wachovia Foundation, NAC launched the initial stages of a program designed to increase and facilitate adoptions by local gays and lesbians.

“The National Adoption Center has always been welcoming to the LGBT community, but we’ve never had the ability, because we’ve never had the funds, to do a major outreach, to work with families who might be interested in adopting and work with agencies to help make them more responsive to gay and lesbian families,” she says.

So far, NAC has printed and distributed GLBT-specific pamphlets and has canvassed local adoption agencies to train them on how to be gay-inclusive on their applications and advertising. In January, it launched Connections, an online social-network tool that helps match potential adopters with the most appropriate agencies.

Pennsylvania residents have it relatively easier than their counterparts in most other states. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Pa. is one of nine states that approved second-parent adoption through court ruling, which grants a second parent legal guardianship of a child without diminishing the rights of the primary parent. Second-parent adoption ensures that gay and lesbian couples—and their children—are protected when it comes to major issues like access to health insurance, hospital visits as well as everyday parenting rights like signing school forms.

It is one of the most significant legal achievements for gay and lesbian parents. But it was hard-earned.

Pennsylvania residents Jeff and Joey Grego, a couple from Erie, adopted a little boy in 1991, and a year later, a little girl. Still, both men wanted to be legally identified as their children’s parents. The couple brought the issue to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where they won same-sex couples the right to two-parent adoption in 2002.

In some states, like Alabama and Rhode Island, a few counties have granted second-parent adoptions, though the right is not guaranteed by the state.

After legality, the second obstacle to gay and lesbian adoptions is illustrated by the Gregos’ early efforts to adopt: Jeff and Joey sent 362 letters of interest to adoption agencies before they finally received a positive response from Adoptions from the Heart, an agency in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood. Just because state law says it is legal for agencies to allow gays and lesbians to adopt, doesn’t mean they have to. There are many religion- affiliated agencies that will not work with gays and lesbians.

In an area adoption experts say is “flooded” with agencies, help finding the right one up front is key. “If you’re a gay family, I would not send you to Catholic Social Services, for example,” Hochman says. “We steer people to agencies where they’re going to be welcomed and treated well.”

All of these recent stateside advances for GLBT families who want to adopt is coming just in time, as international adoptions—which experts say have long been a favorite route for gays and lesbians—are grinding to a halt.

“It used to be easier, but that’s no longer the case … gradually more and more countries started to restrict both adoptions by gay and lesbian couples and even singles who weren’t gay,” says Vicki Peterson of Wide Horizons, an agency that specializes in international adoptions. “At this point, there is no country that I am aware of that will knowingly place with a gay or lesbian couple or person.”

Next week, in partnership with the Sapphire Fund and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, NAC is hosting an information panel at the William Way Community Center in Center City. Hochman, adoptive parents and an adopted child will be there to talk about GLBT adoption and to explain local laws and the process for potential parents.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Letter To Anti-Gay Homophobes

For the Valley News (White River Junction, VT)

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

Santorum: He's Back and He's Still Viciously Homophobic

Controversial Former Senator, Onetime Target of Anger From Left, Courts Conservatives and Considers 2012 Presidential Run

by Brian Montopoli for CBS News Politics:

Rick Santorum wants back in the game.

Four years ago, the two-term Pennsylvania senator lost his reelection bid by a whopping 18 points, the worst loss for a sitting senator since before Ronald Reagan became president.

With that loss, Santorum -- a staunch social conservative who had become a target of the left for his role in divisive debates over issues such as homosexuality and evolution -- faded from the national scene.

This year, however, Santorum has been not-so-quietly laying the groundwork for a return to an even bigger stage: The 2012 Republican presidential nomination fight.

Santorum, a Fox News contributor, raised more than $700,000 through his Political Action Committee in the second half of 2009, with most of that money going to direct mail solicitations designed to build a conservative base of support and national profile. He has already traveled to key early primary states, and in a January letter to supporters stated flatly that he is "actively considering the 2012 race."

The author of "It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good," Santorum might seem an odd candidate for the current moment. He's remembered far more for his commitment to social issues than the concerns about the country's fiscal problems animating the Tea Party movement.

But somewhat under-the-radar, Santorum has kept his profile up among conservatives via op-eds and a Friday guest-hosting gig on Bill Bennett's radio show. He now "sees an opening for someone who can unite the various primary factions -- economic libertarians, party establishment types and cultural conservatives," according to CBS News Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder.

Santorum will likely seek to position himself as "a true-blue, reliable social conservative who proved his conservatism in the Senate," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report. "He can argue he won in Pennsylvania, which is not normally predisposed to support conservatives, so that proves his abilities."

There are those for whom Santorum is -- literally -- a dirty word. Back in 2003, the senator gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he referenced polygamy, incest and "man on dog" sex in a conversation about homosexuality, setting off a firestorm of anger on the left. Journalist, sex advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage held a contest to get readers to come up with a new meaning for "santorum" -- the winning, easy-to-Google entry associates the conservative senator's name with a certain kind of sexual intercourse.

In an interview, Santorum said he was hurt by the reaction to his comments and insisted he had been mischaracterized. His interviewer, he said, had engaged in a "hatchet job" that clouded the fact that he was simply making a legal argument that "if the court created a right that sexual activity was all based on consent, then consent can be consent to do anything." Santorum said his focus was not on gay sexual activity specifically, and went on to stress his work to fight AIDS worldwide.

(In an e-mailed statement, Associated Press Media Relations Manager Jack Stokes said, "Our story was accurate then, and it has withstood the passage of time." You can see a transcript of the interview here.)

That isn't to say Santorum, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, has exactly changed course. But he does seem to want to avoid controversy. Asked about his position on homosexuality, Santorum said, "I have no problem from a public policy point of view with homosexuality."

Asked about his personal feelings on the subject, Santorum said, carefully, "I have personal feelings on a lot of things." He added that people have a right to do what they want in the privacy of their own home. "There are things that people do that I think are good, there are things that are bad, that really doesn't matter much," he stated.

Savage said in an e-mail that Santorum's comments from the 2003 AP interview were rightly interpreted "as specifically and viciously homophobic."

"In the Senate, Rick Santorum called banning gay marriage 'the ultimate homeland security issue,' essentially arguing that the existence of gay couples and gay families represented a threat to the safety and security of the nation," said Savage.

Savage criticized Santorum for now stressing his work on global AIDS, which he called a largely-straight epidemic that anti-gay politicians use to mask their anti-gay sentiments.

"I don't expect a lot from Rick Santorum, but I'm saddened to see that he lacks the courage of his own bigoted convictions," he said.

Santorum comes across as sincere in his beliefs in person. Asked at a conservative conference earlier this month why he backed Arlen Specter over the more conservative Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary, he said he made a hard decision grounded in his opposition to abortion.

Specter, Santorum said, had agreed he would support then-President George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees no matter what, and Santorum wanted to make sure the court was as conservative as possible. (Specter denies this assertion.)

"You questioned my judgment, and you have every right to do so," Santorum said. "But please don't question my intention to do what's right for those little babies."

Still, the decision to back Specter -- who is now a Democrat -- won't help Santorum in his quest to emerge as a viable alternative to the two expected entrants to the GOP primary field, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, along with whoever else takes the plunge.

Santorum now calls himself a "tea party person" who regrets that he and his colleagues voted for the 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation without making sure it was paid for.

And while he hits all the notes one might expect from a conservative GOP presidential aspirant -- he strongly opposes the health care bill and says President Obama has damaged the economy and taken steps to "weaken our national security position" -- Santorum is not incapable of surprising those who expect an unblinking commitment to orthodox conservatism. Asked how he's changed since he lost his reelection bid, Santorum said he had become more open to "a lot more of the alternative energy types of things."

"I'm now of the opinion that anything that produces energy within the United States, given the global conflict that we're in, is something I'm for," he said. While he still believes in drilling for oil and fossil fuels, Santorum said, he's "open to other stuff," including creating incentives for bio-fuel production.

At the same time, Santorum has resisted leftward drift when it comes to the controversial social issues that once made him such a prominent target. Asked about his position on evolution, Santorum requested a definition of the term more than once; he then suggested that the question actually concerned "Darwinism."

"Look, I believe that we were created by God," Santorum said. "That we have a soul. Now, if you can square that with evolution, fine. I don't know. I'm not an expert in evolution. What I can say is that I believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, that we have a soul, and that we are not just a mistake. A mutation. I think we are something that God put on this earth, and have a divine spark, as Abraham Lincoln said."

"My feeling is the bottom line is I think it's important for society to understand that we are not just animals," he added. "…if we are just animals, and we're no different than any other animal out there, then the world is a very different place. And our expectations of others are very different. And I don't think it's true. And I don't think it's healthy."

Santorum's best hope in a 2012 run for the White House may be to position himself as some combination of Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio -- someone (like Huckabee) socially conservative enough to win over Iowa caucus-goers and (like Rubio) fiscally conservative enough to excite the Tea Partiers fed up with the traditional GOP.

If he ultimately does enter the race, according to Rothenberg, he won't be able to get by on name recognition. Whether he can make a splash will depend in large part on whether he can find his niche once the primary field takes shape.

"My guess is most people around the country don't really remember Rick Santorum," Rothenberg said. "He starts pretty far back in the pack, and he'd have to really commit to it."

Santorum clearly has the desire to do just that. Asked why he might run, he said Republicans need a standard bearer who has "stood and they've fought" for what makes America great.

"They didn't always win," he said. "But they've fought for those things."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A New Season Of Hate In America

Anger is perhaps America’s oldest collective national emotion. Without it there might not be a United States at all. But there have been times when the force that perennially divides us is not anger, as much as its more violent and more disturbing cousin — hate.

In this essay, Need to Know co-host Jon Meacham takes a look back at moments in American history when hate has exploded in violence and across the national consciousness, and to recent expressions of it against members of Congress.

VIDEO: A New Season Of Hate In America

IDAHO -- International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

The GREAT GLOBAL KISS-IN Stretches Across The World

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), held on May 17 every year, is a rallying event offering an opportunity for people to get together and reach out to one another. This year, IDAHO will be marked by Kiss-in events organised in several cities around the world in a global celebration of love ! Features of these events, and messages from people around the world, will be edited into a global video for MAY 17th.

See this section for all details of events and how to participate !

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fishermen's Net -- From Gay Bashing to Immigrant Bashing

It seems that anti-gay baiting and bashing are not enough for Fishermen's Net, Venango County's self-proclaimed Christian network.

The group's web site, managed by Jane Richey, the esteemed manager of local "Christian" radio station WAWN, is now trying to mobilize support for Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe's Arizona-modeled legislation aimed at providing "Pennsylvania law enforcement with full authority to apprehend illegal aliens" and several other sweeping reform measures.

We kid you not!

Here's a link to the Fishermen's Net web site to see the ugliness for yourself:

And a recent article about the legislation from The Interfaith Alliance of PA:

Interfaith Advocates Call for Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Legislation

HARRISBURG- With renewed fervor in the immigration debate after the passage of extreme legislation in Arizona, The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania today called on state and federal legislators to be part of the solution on immigration and to reject rhetoric and legislation that divides people based on race and ethnicity.

“This is a matter of human dignity,” said Rabbi Carl Choper, the chair of The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania. “We cannot promote laws in this state that demand that certain people be looked upon with suspicion simply because of their race or national origin.”

The organization’s statement came on the heels of a press conference held today by state Representative Daryl Metcalfe and four other state representatives to announce their intention to introduce legislation that mimics Arizona’s new law.

The law in Arizona has drawn criticism from around the country and the announcement of a federal civil rights challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Rabbi Choper noted that there already is too much tension in Pennsylvania around immigration issues, as evidenced by the brutal murder of a man of Mexican origin by teen-agers in Shenandoah only two years ago. “This law will not help,” he said.

“The Arizona law will inevitably lead to racial profiling,” Choper said. “And that’s a betrayal of both American values and the values of people of faith. Why would we want to import a flawed law into Pennsylvania?”

Choper noted that The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania stands with marginalized communities in their civil rights struggles. “We stand for inclusivity in American society. That was the point of the Commonwealth Interfaith Service which we held only last night,” he said, referring to the Second Annual Commonwealth Interfaith Service which The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania convened on Monday, May 3 at Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg. The service included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Bahais, Unitarians and others of many ethnic and national origins.

“We believe in an America where everyone gets a fair shake,” Choper said. “We stand with those who face discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.”

The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania is a statewide, grassroots network of people of faith and good will that advocates for social justice and religious liberty and that protests when religion is manipulated for political purposes or to oppress others.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Anti-gay Family Research Council co-founder in gay tryst

Are Venango County's right-wing leaders listening?

Diane? Jane?

Your turn! Come on out!

from Religious Right Watch:

Yet another religious leader who fought gay rights apparently doesn’t practice what he preaches.

George Alan Rekers, known in conservative circles as a staunch anti-gay activist who champions “curing” homosexuals, solicited a 20-year-old male hooker online from a website called, according to a published report. The Baptist minister then reportedly took his escort for a 10-day romp through Europe last month, according to a published report.

The allegation drew parallels to former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, evangelical pastor Ted Haggard and other leaders who opposed rights but were either pursuing men or having trysts with them.

“He’s a spectacular hypocrite who’s done great harm to our community,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out of Rekers. “He spent his entire career demeaning and demonizing our lives.”

Careful discussion and simple truth-telling about the abominable, twisted reality of the closeted life is lacking in popular discourse. Works like Sedgwick's ground-breaking The Epistomology of the Closet are very seldom read by--and few are even intended for--people outside of academic circles.

Twisted as it is, the closet is exactly where the Religious Right wants to keep incarcerated the humanity of someone who happens to be gay. It's a place--this closet--of self-destruction the consequences of which can have residual effects even on the gay person who escapes it. It is a panopticon of one-way mirrors instead of bars: the captive trapped at the center, policing himself or herself in the reflections, with the guardian watchers all around, each a warden, but each in his or her own cell behind the glass--the entire structure like the combs of a hive, a communally supported, fantasy-based worldview of pseudo-Freudian (and repeatedly discredited) notions of "curing" gay people and "praying away the gay," buttressed by scapegoating and quasi-conspiracy narratives of national (whatever the nation) or cultural (be it East, West, African, Islamic, Christian, or anything else) decline or threat because of homosexuality as they define it, and tiled and painted with the notion of gender confusion (a notion laced with misogyny) and the offensive and ignorant conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia.

As the Jews were dehumanized as a flood of rats in the Nazi film Der ewige Jude ("The Eternal Jew") and depicted in the myth of the blood libel as seeking Christian children to sacrifice--so "the gays," like some sort of monolithic bloc, are supposedly intent on "recruiting" children, and tales of pedophiles' crimes are held up as evidence. Such unreason is a bit like seeing the fire department as the cause of fires because they always seem to be at the scene of them. Pedophilia is pedophilia; it is not homosexuality; but, it is a justly criminalized act of exploitation. The vast majority of human beings--straight or gay or bisexual--simply are not sexually attracted to children, and have impulses to protect them, not use physical, social, or psychological power against them.

The gay person must flee this panopticon if he or she truly aims for a life of integrity and intellectual honesty; and any wardens who would wish to help must also walk away from the insidious structure.

Is it little wonder that the self-loathing of a closeted anti-gay crusader might eventually bring him or her to cravenly self-destructive escapades--ones, ironically, atypical for gay men who are out and thus usually far more emotionally healthy? No, it is not. And yet the hypocricy of a closeted anti-gay crusader when publicly exposed ends up only fueling the fantasy that the Religious Right and many social conservative narratives require: that a single so-called "gay lifestyle" exists, and that it is exploitive, amoral, and destructive; when in fact it is more the evidence of The Closet's consequences that are being witnessed--and they are as briefly compelling as any car crash, but similarly harmful and tragic, too, and ultimately upsetting to any right-minded spectator.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Gay Life in Pittsburgh

Hmmmm .... does this article also capture the essence of GLBTQ life in Venango County?

by Elaine Labalme for POPCity:

Being gay in Pittsburgh is not like being gay in San Francisco, where I observed the scene for over twenty years. Nor is it like being gay in New York or Miami or most coastal cities. The openness found in larger metropolitan areas, combined with a strength-in-numbers ethos, makes this lifestyle almost seamless. Pittsburgh's gay community is smaller and you could say it's been coming out for years, aided by the friendliness and familial nature of the citizenry.

"The entire city seems gay-friendly to me," says Rick Armstrong, communications manager for the Warhol Museum. ""Everything from the traditionally gay areas – Shadyside, the Mexican War Streets – to other neighborhoods. I attribute that comfort to the generally friendly nature of the city. Events and openings here feel very gay-friendly and I'd like to see more of the community out there."

Echoing that sentiment is Leslie Fleisher, marketing director for The Cotton Factory and a Pittsburgher for the second time. "Gay culture in Pittsburgh is not defined as a separate entity, rather it's very well integrated, even in some of the city's top events like Hot House and Attack Theatre's Dirty Ball." But it wasn't always that obvious to Fleisher. "My experience at Pitt was within an academic microcosm of queer culture and I experienced little beyond that. When I moved to Seattle after college, I was blown away by how openly queer the city was. Coming back to Pittsburgh six years later, I was a different person with a broader awareness of what Pittsburgh offered as a whole. You're not necessarily queer-identified here – sexuality is so incidental and I find that refreshing."

A keen observer of gay communities across the U.S. is Jason Salzenstein, Style and Travel Editor for Edge, a leading online gay network. "Most mid-sized cities in the U.S. are no different than anywhere else," he notes. "You see the same old stereotypes and biases, they just show up more frequently." Based in Boston, Salzenstein finds that his city's ethnic tribes can be supportive of the gay lifestyle – or not. "Boston can be quasi-progressive and Kennedy-esque, in public at least," he says. "But the machismo in the culture can make it less accepting."

Pittsburgh's LGBT community moves easily within the city with respect to career, cultural and recreational opportunities. Even so, there are times when the gay community prefers to walk among its own. Gary Van Horn, Jr., president of the Delta Foundation and a Pittsburgh native, has been involved in the city's Pride events for over thirty years.

"The picnics in North Park over Memorial Day and Labor Day have been going on for a long time," he says. "From this, we've grown to Pride weekend in mid-June, a series of events along Liberty Avenue that raise funds for Pittsburgh Pride." While it attracted nearly 20,000 last year, that's less than similar events in Columbus and Cleveland. No matter, says Van Horn, since the area is making strides. "The county passed a non-discrimination ordinance last July. The city has had an ordinance since 1989 and now we have it on the county level as well."

Year-round gay-oriented groups include the Renaissance City Choir, which has both a men's and women's choir under the direction of Andres Cladera and is a cultural touchstone in Pittsburgh.

"The nice thing about the Choir is it's a place where you can meet other people and be yourself," says Carol Untch, who drives in from Mars for both the music and the sense of community. Fellow singer Sandy Vansuch finds most corners of Pittsburgh welcoming. "I grew up in Youngstown," she notes, " and both are blue-collar steel towns. Those folks are more forgiving and tolerant than people give them credit for. Our choir is out there to show that while we may be gay, we're just like you – and we make beautiful music!"

Far brassier and sassier is OUTrageous Bingo, a monthly fundraiser hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) of Pittsburgh that draws over five hundred people to Temple Rodef Shalom in Shadyside and screams diversity thanks to its drag queen "halftime show" and high-payout games. Expect everyone from Hill District church ladies to leather-clad gents for a party that's loud and proud.

"It's a great halftime show!" one woman squeals. "I mean, let's face it, who doesn't love drag queens and bingo?"

GLCC Vice Chair Kat Carrick is in the house and rightly proud of the many initiatives the organization is supporting at its new downtown location, including a comprehensive health center. "The disparity in health services between the straight and gay communities is amazing," she explains. "If you're not out with your health provider, you may not get what you need." Services run the gamut from free HIV testing and breast screening to yoga classes and a spa night and they're open to anyone. "It's a wellness thing," says Carrick.

Feeling fine is Matthew Krause, a typical Pittsburgh boomeranger who moved to D.C., S.F. and L.A. before returning to his hometown to settle down. He's come to OUTrageous bingo with a couple of female co-workers. "I was hesitant to come back here because the gay community is really small," he confides, "but Pittsburgh is one gigantic family. What I like most is that I don't feel threatened to be me and it's easy to make friends. There are no pretensions here and there's no better city to come back to."

Across the room is Ed Stockhausen, a postal worker and lifelong Pittsburgher who has been out with his partner for 27 years, not all of them easy. "We've noticed the newer generation is so much more comfortable. Gay and straight kids hang out together. They'll go to any bars, not just gay bars. The city is progressing but we're still always five years behind New York and S.F. Pittsburgh's quaint."

For Matt Murphey, a GLCC board member and accountant for American Bridge, returning to Pittsburgh after a stint in D.C. has been bittersweet. "I like that there's a hometown feel and the gay community is small and cohesive. But there's only so many things to do. The bar scene is major, with the G2H2 happy hour for men and Lez Liquor Hour for women. But Pittsburgh is still old school. You can't hold hands – it's not comfortable. It's not called the Quaker State for nothing! But if you're in the community and are active, you're more comfortable."

Further proof of the appeal of mid-sized cities to the LGBT community is the decision of the Gay Games to hold its 2014 event in Cleveland. Yet, there's work to be done. "Cities, no matter how integrated and accepting, still need to actively reach out to the gay community," argues Salzenstein of Edge. "They need to acknowledge the community and open their doors." To that end, cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore have gay sections on their visitors bureau web sites and Visit Pittsburgh publishes NaviGAYtour, a guide for LGBT visitors to the city.

While Andy Warhol may have taken his gay lifestyle to New York City in the 1950s, one prominent Pittsburgher believes our city is stuck in the 1950s in its view of all things gay. "I find it very frustrating that people here aren't more involved in the real issues facing the gay community," says Tom Sokolowski, director of the Warhol Museum and one of the creators of the AIDS ribbon that promotes awareness of AIDS patients and their caregivers.

"Over the years we've had wonderful gay artists and teachers in Pittsburgh and rather than being embraced, they were criticized. We need people to be more articulate about the serious issues facing gay people and to realize that gay people are more than sequins and sex."

Sokolowski would gladly trade the party circuit for citizen engagement on issues that matter. "At the Museum, we have stood strong with the gay community on political issues such as same-sex benefits," he continues. "When (County Executive) Dan Onorato announced his support, he did it at the Warhol." If there is complacency in Pittsburgh's gay community, Sokolowski is eager to challenge it. "Perhaps it's been too easy here for gay people. The city is friendly and their lifestyle isn't challenged. But there's more to being gay than shaking your booty on Liberty Avenue."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

OUT IN THE SILENCE: "A Moving, Entertaining Commentary On America's Culture War"

In this review of OUT IN THE SILENCE, a documentary film about the struggle for LGBT visibility and rights in Venango County, the essence of Diane Gramley, Venango County's resident right-wing extremist, is perfectly captured in just a few sentences.

by Kilian Melloy for EDGEBoston/Miami:

In OUT IN THE SILENCE, filmmakers--and spouses--Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer return to Joe’s home town of Oil City, Pennsylvania, after a wedding announcement in the local newspaper infuriates the town’s residents--but also inspires Kathy Springer, a single mother whose gay son has suffered anti-gay harassment at school, to write the couple a letter.

The boy is CJ Bills, an openly gay 16-year-old who was regarded as an athlete and accepted as one of the town’s own, until the moment he stood up on behalf of a classmate who was being bullied because he was perceived to be gay. In defending the bully’s victim, CJ outed himself--and from that day forward, his life at school became an unending series of torments. When CJ finally sought help from the school’s administration, he found himself blamed for the harassment he suffered. Worse, he was placed under arrest.

Joe and Dean, intrigued by CJ’s story, visit Oil City on a number of occasions over the next several years, documenting CJ’s story as he and his mother take the school to court. But the focus quickly widens to include Oil City as a whole: a local anti-gay activist, Diane Gramley, heads up the town chapter of the American Family Association, a group that--despite its name--makes a mission out of attacking gay and lesbian people and their families. Even as CJ’s case heads to court and his mother stands up for him in town hall meetings, Gramley is busy sending out "action alerts" and marching in the streets to denounce gays and warn that "They’re Coming to Your Town!"--the title of an AFA video that, without any sense of irony, seems to miss the point that Kathy and CJ are attempting to make: "they" aren’t coming to town... "they" are already here, and always have been.

As a study in the way in which a community is strained by the artificial emphasis placed on natural human differences, OUT IN THE SILENCE is a moving, enlightening commentary on America’s culture war. (The film’s most priceless moment may be when one of Gramley’s followers whispers to her that Joe, and gays in general, are "brainwashed.") As a look at the life of a tough, brave--but hurt--kid, the film is a touching personal document: Joe hands CJ a camera and invites him to film himself just being himself, and the resulting footage has more in common with MTV’s "Jackass" than with the Folsom Street Fair (which Gramley, at one point, seems to be referencing as she warns about the perils of gays descending on Oil City with their "agenda").

Gramley is a fascinating counterpoint to Kathy and CJ. She uses the language of compassion, but her actions speak much more loudly--one of her "action alerts" urges local businesses and residents to boycott the efforts of a lesbian couple working to revitalize downtown. Gramley’s view seems to be that unless gays are routed out and their rights stripped away, straights will be forced to conform to some sort of gay "lifestyle," and indeed the film includes footage of a local pastor echoing that general sentiment as he preaches against a hate crimes protection law, telling a crowd of followers that religious people will lose their freedom of worship is gays gain such protections.

But middle ground does exist; Joe discovers it when he forges a friendship with a local evangelical pastor and his wife. Neither "converts" the other, but both have their eyes opened to the discovery that they have more to talk about--and agree on--than they would have imagined.