Friday, January 16, 2009

Big gay news 01/14/2009

During questioning at her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was asked by Wisconsin senator, Russ Feingold about regulations that deny the same-sex partners of LGBT personnel the same rights as heterosexual spouses.

Clinton indicated that she would review existing policies, but noted that many foreign countries have already changed the policies to provide equal treatment for gay and lesbian staff of foreign affairs agencies.

The LGBT Employee Affinity Group of the State Department said that it plans to present the incoming Secretary of State with a letter signed by over 2,000 current and former employees of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies requesting fairness for LBGT employees.

U.S. Foreign service personnel – as well as civil service and contract employees – are required to serve a large portion of their careers at U.S. Embassies and missions overseas. However, the partners of gay personnel receive no assistance while accompanying employees on these mandatory assignments.

Among many other obstacles, gay partners lack access to affordable health insurance coverage and resources for moving abroad, such as assistance in obtaining a visa, access to employment opportunities, emergency evacuation, and embassy medical units, all of which are afforded to married, heterosexual couples.

Former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, who resigned in protest in 2007, was the highest profile foreign service officer to leave the state department due to its failure to redress inequalities in the treatment between heterosexual spouses and same-sex partners.

Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary of State is not in doubt, and she could be on the job as soon as president-elect Barack Obama’s first full day in office.

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Speaking of Obama, The Washington Post is reporting that Obama intends to nominate John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management. Berry served in the Clinton administration as Assistant of the Interior. He would be the first openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management, and one of the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointees in history.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, praised the selection. The director of OPM is the president’s principal advisor in matters of personnel administration. The agency is responsible for planning for the needs of the federal workforce and for helping federal agencies improve human resources management.

This appointment, and inviting prominent gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, to open his inaugural festivities Sunday, has gay rights advocates a little happier with Obama this week. Some believe the decision is the latest in a series of moves that Obama has done to calm the storm after inviting evangelical pastor Rick Warren to the swearing-in ceremony next week.

Additional moves include having Nancy Sutley, a lesbian who has been named to head the white house council on environmental quality accompany Obama on a train ride to the White House from Philadelphia on Sunday. Also, incoming White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs, recently indicated that Obama plans to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was an early Obama supporter who advises him on gay issues. Robinson said he was invited more than two weeks ago and that he was not asked in reaction to the furor over Warren. Warren is the founder and senior pastor of the evangelical megachurch Saddleback Church, the fourth largest church in the United States. He has compared gay marriage to incest, pedophilia and polygamy.

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Speaking of the Reverend Gene Robinson, St. Edmund's Episcopal Church in Elm Grove, Wisconsin has announced its decision to leave the Episcopal Church U.S.A., because of what they deem to be unbiblical teachings and practices, including the ordination of the Reverend. The church will instead join with the Herndon, Virginia-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which falls under the purview of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

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In other state-wide news, we’re excited to report that the Milwaukee public school system will expand the services provided by its gay-friendly high school and in turn, will become the nation's first school system to create a gay-friendly middle school.

At a December school board subcommittee meeting, Milwaukee’s Board of Education unanimously approved the Alliance School's proposal to serve sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Alliance School lead teacher Tina Owen said the public charter school will begin accepting new applicants eligible for middle school in the 2009-2010 school year immediately.

Milwaukee's response to gay-friendly schools has been much different from other cities'. As reported by Queery last month, community leaders in Chicago expressed concerns about creating a gay-friendly high school and stalled plans to bring such a proposal before the city's school board.

Marty Lexmond, the director of school innovation for Milwaukee Public Schools, said the need for a gay-friendly middle school is even greater today because adolescents are publicly identifying their sexuality as early as middle school.

Though alliance is certainly a safe place for gay youth, Owen makes clear that she did not help create the school or its new middle school to benefit gay students only. She indicated that Alliance has never been exclusively gay; rather, so many LGBTQ students are the ones being bullied in traditional school settings.

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This week, Maine became the fourth New England state to introduce plans for gay marriage.

State Senator Dennis S. Damon said the legislation would amend existing laws defining partners of a marriage to be “the legally recognized union of two people.”

He said the bill would eliminate discrimination in marriage licenses and would affirm that no religion would be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage.

The legislation also would recognize same-sex marriages from other states where they are legal.

Damon was joined at the new conference by leaders of gay and lesbian advocates and defenders and other LGBT rights organizations.

Gay and lesbian advocates and defenders is the Boston-based group that won equal marriage rights in Massachusetts and Connecticut. They said last fall that they intended to fight for gay marriage rights in the other four New England states and predicted success by 2012. Same-sex marriage bills already have been announced in Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The chances of success in Maine are unclear at this stage. Following Damon’s announcement, the conservative Maine Marriage Alliance said it would press for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

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And, while we’re on the topic of marriage – the latest news in the Prop. 8 battle occurred just a few hours ago, when the California Council of Churches and other religious leaders and faith organizations representing millions of members filed an amicus curiae brief with the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8. The brief argues that Proposition 8 poses a severe threat to the guarantee of equal protection for all and was not enacted through the constitutionally required process for such a dramatic change to the California constitution.

Executive director of the organization, Rich Schlosser, explained the reasons for the brief in a press conference earlier today.

This is an exciting new approach to challenge the constitutional amendment. We’ll continue to follow the Prop. 8 saga as things unfold.

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