Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24 news

In Racine WI, the social concerns committee at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church has scheduled a gay rights march through Downtown Racine Sunday, June 28th, the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Stonewall riots. The event is scheduled from 11:30 to 1 p.m. beginning on the steps of Olympia Brown, 625 College Ave.

Stops are planned at various Downtown locations where speakers such as, Bruce Joffe, executive director of the LGBT Center of Southeast Wisconsin and Norm Cloutier, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, will touch on the economic, political, family and religious implications of gay rights.

Organizers said it’s intended as a general expression of solidarity among gay and heterosexual residents, rather than a push for specific legislation. The Rev. Tony Larsen, minister at Olympia Brown, said it is the first such march in Racine he can remember. The public is invited to attend the march, which will be held rain or shine. For information, call Olympia Brown at (262) 634-0659.

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Registration is now open for northeast Wisconsin's first-ever gay themed run/walk. The Pride Alive 5, a 5K run and 2-mile walk will take place at Joannes Park in Green Bay Park prior to the opening of the 2009 Pride Alive festival Saturday, July 11. Participants will receive a Pride Alive 5 inaugural run T-shirt and a "goodie bag" filled with bagel bites, bottled water, prizes and other treats. The run also benefits three local charities serving the NE Wisconsin LGBT community: the GLBT Partnership of the Harmony Café, Golden House & Wisconsin League Of Conservation Voters Institute. For more information visit their website at www.newpride.org.

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The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a report Wednesday showing that LGBT students in Illinois face an alarming level of harassment, both physical and verbal, at school.

Inside Illinois Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students surveyed 206 Illinois students about the level of harassment they receive in school, how much they skip school for being harassed, and how their grades are affected by this harassment.

The report showed that 89 percent of Illinois LGBT students experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation in the past year, 43 percent said they had been physically harassed and 21 percent said they had been physically assaulted.

GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said: “While we applaud Illinois for being one of only 11 states to pass a law that explicitly protects students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, Inside Illinois Schools shows just how much work still needs to be done to make sure LGBT students in Illinois are safe in school. GLSEN is hopeful Illinois will continue to address this pervasive problem.”

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Gay couples traveling overseas can now show passports that feature their married names, letting them take advantage of a little-noticed revision to State Department regulations that critics had feared would undermine the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The notice of the change says that it does not mean the State Department is recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages and civil unions, but that it was to comply with an amendment to the Code of Federal Regulations that took effect in February 2008.

The name-change revision took effect May 27 in an addition to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual. It allows same-sex couples to obtain passports under the names recognized by their state through their marriages or civil unions.

The move is separate from steps Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took this week to grant some of the same benefits to the partners of gay diplomats as those available to spouses in heterosexual marriages.

Still, groups opposed to gay marriage criticized the name-change provision, saying it erodes the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of any same-sex partnerships.

Obama said he wants to see the Defense of Marriage Act repealed. But he’s been heavily criticized by gay rights groups for not moving quickly enough on his campaign promises to expand gay rights.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based group that campaigns nationally for gay marriage rights, said the change in passport regulations is a “very small step in the right direction,” but falls “far short of the work that needs to happen to keep the federal government from discriminating against gay couples across the country.”

The separate changes instituted this week by the State Department include the right of domestic partners to hold diplomatic passports, government-paid travel to and from foreign posts, the use of U.S. medical facilities abroad, eligibility for U.S. government emergency evacuations, and training at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.

Clinton announced the measures after Obama’s decision on Wednesday to grant some benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees.

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The White House said Friday it is working to ensure the 2010 census produces a better count of same-sex couples, last week’s second policy announcement aimed at dampening rising anger in the gay community toward President Barack Obama.

“The president and the administration are committed to a fair and accurate count of all Americans,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “We’re in the midst of determining the best way to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are accurately counted.” It is too late to change the language for the 2010 census survey, which does not include a specific box for same-sex marriages, civil unions or gay partnerships. That survey has already gone to Congress, with only boxes for “husband,” “wife” and “unmarried partner,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

So the administration is changing the census’ tabulation software to make needed changes in how the incoming data is analyzed and summarized. Formerly, if two people in one household checked “husband,” the data would be rejected. That will change, LaBolt said.

That means the count of same-sex couples won’t be comprehensive - but it will be better than before, he said. The Census Bureau has previously collected data on same-sex marriages, but not released it when it gives out all the other detailed demographic information from the decennial count, he said. Now it will be released.

On Wednesday, Obama signed a memorandum extending some of the benefits of married couples to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees. They include hospital visitation rights and the ability to take leave to care for a sick partner.

But the move to expand the rights of gays - a reliable Democratic voting bloc - was seen by many activists as too incremental and coming too late in Obama’s presidency. Health insurance and survivor benefits, among other things, were not part of Obama’s action, as they are forbidden by the 1993 Defense of Marriage Act.

Gay activists are angry that the president has not moved on legislation to overturn that law, which allows states to reject another state’s legalized gay marriages and blocks federal Washington from recognizing those state-based unions.

Another sore point is Obama’s inaction so far toward a repeal of the 1996 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

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Patricia and Alexander Harrison have been ordered by a British Columbia supreme court justice to pay approximately 13,000 U.S. dollars for harassing and tormenting a gay couple who lives next door to them.

Rod Boggs and Bill Hart, who have lived in the four unit condo since 2006, said the Harrisons and their 17-year-old son have done everything from report false accusations to the police, attempt to instigate fist fights, hurled slurs, let the air out of the couple’s car tires, threatened to kill their cat and more.

Though Mr. Harrison denied the claims that he and his wife told the couple that “gays weren’t welcome at Brighouse,” he was not believed.

Justice Halfyard did not award greater damages to the men because he said that to some extent they had provoked the Harrisons.

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New York Gov. David Patterson revealed Sunday night he plans to have the State Senate vote on same-sex marriage before it breaks for the summer, according to the New York Times. He made this announcement after receiving pressure from gay rights groups because he and his administration had refused to commit to forcing a vote on the issue.

During the same press conference, Patterson announced plans to call the Senate to a special session on Tuesday, after trying unsuccessfully for two weeks to broker a compromise in a leadership battle that has deadlocked the chamber.

Paterson, who has been a supporter of gay rights in the past and will be serving as one of the Grand Marshals in this year’s New York Pride Parade, received criticism and concern from gay rights groups Sunday after his staff would not say whether same-sex marriage would continue to be a priority.

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Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin introduced the Ending Health Disparities for LGBT Americans Act on Tuesday, the first comprehensive approach to improving all areas of the health care system where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans face inequality and discrimination.

In a statement, Baldwin explained that the federal government lacks even the most basic data regarding the correlation between sexual orientation and gender identity and health care-related mistreatment.

In addition to investing in data collection and research, the bill establishes non-discrimination policies for all federal health programs, provides funding for cultural competence training for health care providers, extends Medicare benefits to same-sex domestic partners, creates a new office of LGBT Health within in the Department of Health and Human Services, and provides funding for community health centers who serve the LGBT community.

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President Barack Obama has invited several activists to the White House next week for the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

The invitation comes a week after Obama extended benefits to same-sex couples who work for the federal government, a move some advocates said was an important step toward full equality for gays and lesbians. At the same time, a growing number of activists are complaining that Obama, who ran for president on a gay-friendly agenda, has fallen short on his promises, delivering symbolism rather than the sweeping reforms they had expected.

Last week, Obama acknowledged that extending benefits was only one step for gays and lesbians, with many more to go. He also said he wants to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, declaring that he will work with Congress to overturn it.

However, the pledge was small comfort to disappointed gays and lesbians who are frustrated by Obama's reluctance to act more forcefully concerning gay marriage and the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

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