Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Traditional Family Values' in the Oil Region

Man charged in Titusville death

Police say suspect buried girlfriend in snow

by Kristi Cummins for The Derrick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.. .. ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.. .. ..

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

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

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

“He was very detached,” Nicols added.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

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

from the ACLU:

Stop Anti-Gay Bullying: Seth's Story

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

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

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

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

TELL CONGRESS TO Protect LGBT Students From Harassment and Discrimination

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

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

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

by Cheryl Allison for The Main Line Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hate Under Cloak of Religion

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

by Tim Rutten for the Los Angeles Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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