PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia City Council last week passed a bill offering tax incentives to businesses that expand health coverage for LGBT employees, a measure hailed as the first of its kind, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last weekend.
The bill extends rights to “life partners” throughout the city code in a wide range of matters such as medical decision-making, gender neutrality on certain city forms and more. It also requires health insurance offered to city employees to cover the needs of transgender workers including gender reassignment surgery, the article said.
“The spirit of the bill acknowledges people’s humanity, acknowledges their citizenship and their full rights to participate,” Council member James F. Kenney, the prime sponsor, was quoted as saying in the Inquirer. “It’s another step in the road of civil rights equality.”
The bill features two tax credits. One is for businesses that extend health benefits to employees’ life partners and their children, the same as they would to spouses and children. The second is for companies that make health coverage available for transgender care, the Inquirer said.
Pennsylvania state law does not include workplace protections for residents and there is no form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples in the state. The bill passed by a 14-3 vote, with Republican Council members David Oh and Brian J. O’Neill and Democrat Bill Green voting against, according to the Inquirer.
The Equality Forum 2013 kicks off in Philadelphia Thursday at 7 p.m. with the National Religious Colloquy at the University of the Arts (211 South Broad St.).
The forum is part of the group’s goal to advance national and international LGBT civil rights through education. The weekend includes several panel discussions along with dinners and parties in the evening. The panels discuss several subjects including LGBT Youth Advocacy and surrogacy for prospective LGBT parents.
Statue of Sappho in the Main Building of Drexel University (Photo public domain)
PHILADELPHIA — The Drexel University School of Public Health has started what is believed to be only the second program in the country to offer a certificate in LGBT health, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week.
The University of Pittsburgh, in 2007, started the first, the report said. It’s the same program being taught at Drexel, a private research university in downtown Philadelphia. The certificate is available only to online students but should be expanded soon.
Faculty said medical schools typically teach very little on LGBT health issues, the article said.
The numbers are from the CDC’s HIV Surveillance Report, which comes out every three years, CBS said. The latest statistics are from 2011 and find Philadelphia ranked 24th among metro areas in terms of new diagnoses with about 12,000 people living with AIDS in the city. An ActionAIDS official told CBS about 75 percent of the new cases diagnosed were at “stage three” for AIDS.
“It means they have full blown AIDS when they find out they’re sick, which is way too late in terms of the disease progression,” Kevin Burns, executive director of ActionAIDS told CBS.
Early testing is the key to keeping patients healthy, Burns and other health experts said.
Bryce Ginther and Kit Kineef filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Feb. 11, the paper said. Named as defendants are Ginther’s employer, ArcelorMittal, USA, the Steelworkers’ Health and Welfare Benefit Plan and the board of trustees of the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund, the Philadelphia Gay News reported.
The case alleges a violation of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which governs the implementation of many private-sector plans.
Ginther and Kineef have been together seven years and married May 15 in New York. The same day, Ginther requested to add Kineef as a dependent to his plan, which does not limit the definition of “spouse” to an opposite-sex partner. Ginther is an industrial electrician at ArcelorMittal’s Conshohocken steel mill, and is a member of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, the Philadelphia Gay News said.
Kineef doesn’t have insurance, and Ginther began inquiring in early 2012 about adding him to his plan when they got married. Arcelor’s legal council declined the request citing the fact that state law in Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize civil unions and that even if it did, civil unions don’t render such a person eligible for spousal coverage.
The complaint requests that the court declare the defendants violated the plan, find that Kineef is an eligible dependent and enroll him in the plan retroactively to June 1. The filing also requests that the court award attorneys and litigation fees and that the board be liable to Ginther for $110 per day from Oct. 29, when he began requesting documents for an appeal.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Saturday reaffirmed his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Love who you love, be with who you be with and generally it’s no one else’s business,” he said during the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association and Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr., Foundation’s annual gathering of LGBT journalists and bloggers at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. “People should be able to do whatever it is they want to do, be together.”
Nutter described President Obama’s comments in support of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign and in his second inaugural address as “very helpful.”
“You hear more and more electeds and others coming out for marriage equality or knocking down the discriminatory effects,” he said in response to gay New York journalist Andy Humm’s question about Pennsylvania state lawmakers’ reluctance to expand LGBT-specific protections in the commonwealth. “I don’t know what’s in the hearts and minds of all the legislators across Pennsylvania, but I’d like to think there’s a certain inevitability to all of this.”
Nutter again highlighted his support of nuptials for gays and lesbians as he continued to answer Humm’s question.
“It’s not like the heterosexual community has demonstrated that we’ve got it all together ourselves,” he said. “If folks want to be married, let people marry. What difference does it make?”
Nutter, who served on the Philadelphia City Council for more than a decade until his 2007 election, further stressed his administration recognizes the “economic vitality that the LGBT community brings” to the city.
Transgender blogger Becky Juro asked the mayor about Nizah Morris, a trans woman who died in Dec. 2002.
A Philadelphia police officer offered Morris a ride to her apartment after she collapsed outside a Center City bar because she had become intoxicated. The officer said Morris left her cruiser a few blocks away – a passing motorist later found her unconscious in the street
The city medical examiner determined Morris’ death was a homicide, but the Philadelphia Police Department rejected its finding.
“We haven’t maybe had the greatest level of cooperation from a bunch of folks, but it is a case that we are certainly paying attention to,” Nutter said. “We want to bring whoever needs to be brought to justice to justice.”
Nutter also described former Philadelphia City Councilman John C. Anderson, after whom a new Center City complex that will contain apartments for LGBT seniors is named, as a mentor. The mayor also responded to a question about the Boy Scouts of America’s Cradle of Liberty Council’s lawsuit against the city over its efforts to evict it from its city-owned building after it refused to change its policy to allow gay scouts and troop leaders.
A federal court jury in 2010 ruled against the city, but the case remains before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
“I want to get a resolution that ultimately entails us not supporting any discrimination in a city-owned building or a building on land we own,” he said. “I’m hopeful that there will be a resolution that gets to that stage where we’re not subsidizing that kind of activity in the relatively near future.”
Nutter also said he has no intentions of running for governor or Congress once his term expires in 2016.
“I have approximately three years on my term here as mayor of my hometown,” he said. “I’m going to serve out my term. I have no idea what I’m going to do next. And I’m not thinking about it right now.”
A scene from David France’s harrowing documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague.’ The film has its Oscar rendezvous Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood where its up for Best Documentary. (Photo courtesy Sundance Selects)
It sounds so straightforward — the New York Public Library had a collection of videotapes AIDS activists made decades ago with vintage camcorders back when they were heavy behemoths you had to rest on your shoulder with full-size VHS or Beta tapes inside. Filmmaker/journalist David France combed painstakingly through the clips to compose his powerful 2012 documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”
But how this was achieved — what format was the footage stored in? What condition was it in? Could anyone go in and check these out with a library card? How did France pull this off?
In some ways, it’s the least interesting part of the film’s story, which is told via a sobering chronology of video footage shot by angry protesters — the kind the Religious Right calls “militant homosexual activists.”
For “Plauge,” France took footage — some of which was housed at the New York Public Library — shot by 31 videographers and paces it chronologically to the story of the formation of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a group that formed in March 1987 in a spirit of extreme frustration during a speech activist (and “Normal Heart” playwright) Larry Kramer gave at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York.
France, during a lengthy phone interview last weekend before he was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday, gladly shares the logistics behind “Plague’s” formation.
A veteran investigative journalist, author and GLAAD Media Award winner (for a GQ piece on gays in Iraq) who’s had his work published in everything from the New Yorker to Ladies’ Home Journal, France says he was a graduate student during the time AIDS hit in the early 1980s and having written about it extensively over the years, he knew activists had brought cameras to their protests. And yes, the process of crafting “Plague” was a lot more involved than simply checking tapes out of the library.
“The tapes from the library are actually just a small portion of the footage you see in the film,” France, who’s gay, says. “That’s really the first door I went through, this archive of AIDS activism video that’s housed in the Manuscript Division of the New York Library, where you go if you want to read Lincoln’s letters. It’s an exclusive corner of the library that’s not accessible to the general public and everybody’s going around wearing white gloves and handling antiquities. In one corner, they have a television and a VCR and you watch the AIDS footage recorded in those early days. It’s just raw footage, not really ever intended for public view. Some of it you’ll be watching and all of a sudden it will go to a gay porn video, which just happened to be on the same tape they recorded on.”
France says the library kept all the tapes — recorded in every home video format on the market in those years as one might imagine — but had transferred them all to the Betacam SP format, a higher resolution tape on larger cassettes that for years was the broadcast standard and is still in use today. France convinced the library to let him take select footage to a nearby production lab and have it digitized. He ended up with about 100 hours and says the process became difficult as the project moved along.
“They’re really not accustomed to working on a film production schedule, so trying to get them to hurry got more and more difficult as we went along,” he says.
And that was just the starting point — in the library footage, France saw other people holding video cameras. He started tracking them down one by one and eventually found a group of people, many long-time AIDS survivors themselves, who had videotape footage they had never revisited. Again, formats remained a challenge.
“We had all this stuff in so many different formats from private collections,” he says. “We were constantly scouring Craigslist and eBay for decks that would play these old tapes. We ended up with about 800 hours and that really became the building blocks of the film.”
And yes, France says it did take some persuasion to get these individuals to hand over their footage.
France says, “A lot of these people had moved on but I think now have started to see the real value in this footage. I think they gradually started to realize, that yes, enough time has passed and now is the time to really use it and this is the project.”
France said his project is timely and important because many of the other landmark AIDS pieces, from Kramer’s play to Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” were written before the era of anti-retroviral therapy when HIV morphed into a more manageable condition.
He says the film is important for anyone interested in the AIDS fight to see.
“There were even people in ACT UP who didn’t know the outcomes of many of these things,” he says. “If you think you know the story of AIDS, this film will surprise you and that goes for just about everybody.”
WASHINGTON BLADE: Will this be your first time at the Academy Awards?
DAVID FRANCE: Yes. I’ve never gotten any closer before than my television screen.
BLADE: Have you watched very often over the years?
FRANCE: Oh yeah. My boyfriend and I always have an Oscar party. With ballots and everything. I’ve never won.
BLADE: What’s your favorite Oscar memory?
FRANCE: Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech when he won for “Philadelphia.” That’s really seared in my memory.
BLADE: What did you think of Michael Moore’s controversial speech when he won the category you’re up for? Ballsy or inappropriate for the occasion?
FRANCE: I think if you’ve got an audience of a billion people and you’ve got something to say, you need to say it. That’s not to say I’m intending any surprises should I have that opportunity.
BLADE: Have you seen the competition?
FRANCE: Of course. They’re all brilliant films.
BLADE: If you win, where will you put Oscar?
FRANCE? I’m not sure. I keep the other awards we’ve won in the production office so everyone on the crew can enjoy them and hopefully see their own contribution but if we get this little gold thing, I’m not sure. I have no idea.
BLADE: Do you feel AIDS, as horrible as it was and is, put gay issues on the national radar and that ended up being a silver lining to the cloud or is that an absurd oversimplification?
FRANCE? No, it’s absolutely true. Before that, gay people were entirely disenfranchised and we were not seen as being contributing members to the culture at all. We had no role whatsoever in civic life … From those ashes (of AIDS), now we have a president who acknowledges us as human beings and Stonewall is mentioned in the same breath as Seneca Falls.
BLADE: How did you feel when Dustin Lance Black won for “Milk”?
FRANCE: I felt it was incredible. He gave a great speech and I thought it was a very, very good movie.
BLADE: Did you plan all along to submit it for a nomination? What’s the process like?
FRANCE: There are all kinds of rules about it playing in New York and L.A. and being reviewed by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and that’s just the first threshold. I was lucky I had a distributor who saw the potential for the film early on and made sure we did everything we needed to do for both the Oscars and the Independent Spirit Awards. … Anytime you make a film, sure, you fantasize about getting an Oscar nomination and it’s really just because you want more people to see it. An Oscar bump is a tremendous thing.
Betty Gloria Miller died Dec. 3 of sepsis, a toxic bacterial infection that led to kidney failure, according to her partner of 25 years, Nancy Creighton. She was 78. She had lived in Philadelphia for about eight years but spent most of her adult life in Washington.
Born in Chicago, she was the third child, and the only daughter of Ralph Reese Miller, Sr. and Gladys Hedrick Miller. Both parents were deaf and her two older brothers, Ben and Ralph, were hearing. Betty was hard of hearing much of her life; she lost her hearing completely in her 50s as a result of a high fever.
Betty was known as a pioneer in two fields. She was nicknamed the “Mother of De’VIA” (Deaf View Image Art), a genre that intentionally expresses the deaf experience through art. She was also a pioneer in counseling deaf alcoholics and substance abusers, and author of “Deaf & Sober: Journeys through Recovery,” published by the National Association of the Deaf.
She taught art at Gallaudet College (now University) in Washington for 17 years, and was the first deaf woman who graduated from Gallaudet (1957) to earn a doctoral degree (in Art Education, Pennsylvania State University, 1976). She co-founded Spectrum, Focus on Deaf Artists in Austin, Texas in the late 1970s.
Long active in civic endeavors, she worked for and supported Deafpride Inc. in Washington. She was a member of the first board of directors for Deaf Women United and designed its first logo. Later, she was president of D.C. Association of the Deaf.
She is survived by Creighton and many friends. She also leaves behind a large body of artwork — paintings, drawings, mixed media artwork and neon sculptures — in private collections throughout the world.
An open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting will be held this month with a memorial service planned for later in the year.