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Idaho LGBT advocates arrested

Idaho Capitol Building, gay news, Washington Blade

Idaho State Capitol Building (Photo public domain)

BOISE, Idaho—40 LGBT rights advocates who prevented lawmakers from entering the Idaho Senate on Feb. 3 were arrested.

The Spokesman-Review reported the protesters stood silently with their hands over their mouths. The newspaper said the advocates also wore black T-shirts with the slogan “add the 4 words Idaho,” referring to the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The protesters received misdemeanor trespassing citations.

“We’ve got to do something,” Hilary Rayhill told the Spokesman-Review after authorities arrested her and her fellow advocates.

The newspaper said state Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise) and state Rep. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise), who introduced a bill that would add LGBT-specific protections to the state’s anti-discrimination law, said lawmakers would not consider their measure this year.


U.S. ambassador to U.N. observes IDAHO

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice delivered a video message Friday on the International Day Against Homophobia.

She says the State Department is working on behalf of LGBT people overseas to ensure “everyone – especially LGBT youth – can live safely and without fear regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

Her full message follows:

Today, as we commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, we rededicate ourselves to a basic but essential truth – that human rights are universal and must be protected for all. Homophobia, sadly, is present in every corner of our world. And, it is a problem we continue to face here in the United States.

At the United Nations, the United States is standing up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and fighting to ensure that their voices are heard and protected. The United States was proud to co-sponsor and adopt an historic resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses and violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

We will continue to work in every possible arena to protect communities and promote societies in which everyone – especially LGBT youth – can live safely and without fear regardless of who they are or whom they love. We call on all nations and all peoples to join us in ensuring that human rights are universally protected everywhere every day.


Thousands attend Puerto Rico LGBT rights march

San Juan, Puerto Rico, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, gay news, Washington Blade

Marchers carry a Pride flag and crosses with “they discriminate” written on them through Old San Juan on May 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Thousands marched through the streets of the Puerto Rican capital on Friday in support of LGBT rights.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez, who sponsored the sweeping anti-LGBT non-discrimination bill the Senate on Thursday passed by a 15-11 vote margin, unfurled an LGBT Pride flag from the balcony of City Hall as marchers passed. She stood with members of Butterflies Trans Association, a trans advocacy group, while wearing a white hand band with the word “equity” on it as she spoke from the steps of the Puerto Rican capitol at the end of the march.

“I say from the bottom of my heart to those who are listening to us — all of Puerto Rico; we are all equal,” Yulín said.

Alicia Burgos, the mother of Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and his father spoke to marchers from the back of a pick-up truck that stopped near Plaza de Colón in Old San Juan.

“We are marching against homophobia,” she said.

The march, which was one of dozens around the world that commemorated the annual International Day Against Homophobia, took place hours after a Puerto Rican Senate committee held a hearing on a bill that would extend second parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court in February narrowly upheld the island’s ban on gay second parent adoptions in response to the case of Dr. Ángeles Acosta Rodríguez who sought to adopt the child her partner of 25 years, Dr. Carmen Milagros Vélez Vega, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Vélez received a standing ovation from the adoption measure’s supporters who attended the hearing after she finished her testimony with her partner and their 12-year-old daughter by her side.

A third bill that three representatives introduced earlier this year would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s anti-domestic violence laws.

Advocates continue to point to the three aforementioned bills as significant movement in support of rights for LGBT Puerto Ricans since Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and Yulín, who issued two LGBT-specific executive orders on Monday, took their respective offices in January. In spite of this progress, they maintain anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain rampant throughout the island.

Yulín and others who spoke during the march referenced Jorge Steven López Mercado; a gay teenager whose decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found dumped along a remote roadside near Cayey in 2009. One march participant even pretended he was dead on the sidewalk in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol as others outlined his body with masking tape and placed evidence markers above rocks with anti-gay slurs written onto them.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, gay news, Washington Blade

A group from the Puerto Rican city of Ponce takes part in a march for LGBT rights in San Juan on May 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“I, as the mother of a gay individual, say I am proud to be here,” one member of the Butterflies Trans Association said as she spoke to the crowd from the steps of the Puerto Rican Capitol. “We are fighting as a movement to tell (lawmakers) that we are in search of a place where [LGBT Puerto Ricans] can be successful, a place where we can take care of our people.”

Eduardo, who traveled to San Juan from Ponce with a group of 150 people, agreed as he spoke to the Blade near Plaza de Colón.

“We are here because we want equality,” he said. “We want the same equality that everybody else has.”


Alan Simpson speaks out on gay rights

Alan Simpson, gay news, Washington Blade

Former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson says he’s ‘pissed off everyone in America.’ (Washington Blade file photo)

Former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said he is proud to have helped arrange for former President Gerald Ford, during Ford’s retirement years, to become the first U.S. president to become a member of a gay rights organization.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade last week, Simpson talked about how he sees no contradiction in his longstanding role as a conservative Republican and his support for equal rights for LGBT people, including equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“All I know is we have made great strides for gays and lesbians and transvestites,” he said when asked if he thought Congress would soon approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, a bill calling for banning job discrimination against LGBT people.

Saying he isn’t always certain about the proper terminology to use in discussing LGBT issues, Simpson said he is certain about his longstanding commitment to fairness and equality, even if he is at odds with many of his Republican colleagues.

“Let’s just keep making these strides and it will happen,” he said referring to ENDA, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving.

“It will happen because other people know these people and they love them,” he said. “And I’m very pleased. Anyone who is on the side of justice and freedom and caring about fellow human beings is pleased about what’s going on.”

Simpson said his own views on gay rights were shaped by his and his wife of 59 years, Ann Schroll Simpson’s, longstanding belief in fairness and equality for everyone and by gay people they came to know over the years.

“I had a gay cousin who was a war hero in World War II — a wonderful man,” he said.

Simpson said he’s also proud to have been named about 10 years ago by the national gay magazine The Advocate as “one of the ten coolest straight guys in America.”

Simpson spoke to the Blade on Oct. 23 just before delivering opening remarks at a performance at D.C.’s All Souls Unitarian Church of a gay-themed mock trial of deceased former U.S. Sens. Joe McCarthy (R-Wisc.), Styles Bridges (R-N.H.), and Herman Welker (R-Idaho).

The script for the mock trial, which is performed as a play, was written by Wyoming writer, minister and former politician Rodger McDaniel, a friend of Simpson’s, who based the script on his recently published book, “Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.”

In his book, McDaniel reports, based on extensive interviews and historical documents, that Hunt, a Democrat, committed suicide in 1954 after McCarthy and the other two senators conspired to blackmail him by threatening to publicize the arrest of Hunt in Washington one year earlier for allegedly soliciting an undercover vice police officer for gay sex.

McDaniel’s book and the mock trial describe in detail how the three senators, all Republicans, wanted to force Hunt to resign from the Senate, which would have tipped the closely divided body from Democratic to Republican control. A GOP-controlled Senate at the time would have strengthened McCarthy’s campaign to purge large numbers of gays and others he accused of being communist sympathizers from their government jobs.

The alleged scheme unfolded in the midst of the nation’s “red scare” triggered by McCarthy’s allegations that communists and communist sympathizers were working in high level U.S. government jobs and in the U.S. military.

Simpson told the Blade he was appalled over the facts that McDaniel brought to light in his book, prompting him to agree to write the forward for the book.

Simpson’s discussion with Gerald Ford over gay rights took place shortly after Simpson accepted an invitation by gay Republican activist Charles Francis to become chairperson of the Advisory Board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight alliance that Francis and two other gay Republican advocates founded in 2001.

“I picked up the phone,” Simpson said in describing his conversation with Ford. “Charles asked me to call him. I said OK. And I called and I said, ‘Jerry this is Al Simpson.’ And he said, ‘I’m 80,’ or whatever it was. But he said, ‘I’ll do it.’”

According to Simpson, Ford told him among the reasons he would be happy to join the RUC’s Advisory Board was the false rumor he and his family endured in the 1970s that he ignored a gay man who saved his life in an assassination attempt in San Francisco. As Ford left a hotel where he spoke, the gay man, who was standing in a crowd of people watching Ford, saw a women point a pistol at Ford and deflected her arm, causing her to fire at the ground.

“He said, ‘That’s the biggest damn lie,’” Simpson quoted Ford as saying in referring to the rumors that he never thanked the man who deflected the gun. “So Jerry said just for that reason, sign me up. And he went right on the letterhead, and boy that helped,” Simpson said.

Francis said Simpson has continued his outspoken support for LGBT rights since becoming involved in the RNC. He noted that in 2003, Simpson signed on to an amicus brief that RUC filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the case that led to the overturning of state sodomy laws known as Lawrence v. Texas.

Asked whether he has received flak from some fellow Republicans and others over his support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, Simpson said, “Everything I’ve done has had flak. I’m 82 now and I’ve effectively pissed off everyone in America. So yeah, but I just say we’re all God’s children. We’re all human beings.”

Simpson’s longstanding reputation for speaking bluntly emerged when he told the Blade how he reacted to attacks from the Rev. Fred Phelps, the anti-gay minister who heads Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. For more than 10 years, Phelps has led protests of gay events, including funerals of gay people, while carrying signs saying “God hates fags.”

“I remember writing a letter to Rev. Phelps,” Simpson told the Blade. “And I said, ‘Dear Rev. Phelps: For all your good work for God and Christianity I want you to know that some dizzy son-of-a-bitch is writing me letters, homophobic letters, and signing your name,’” Simpson said, grinning. “’And I know that you wouldn’t want this to continue so I’m hoping you will help me track this person down and find out who it is — yours in God.’”

Added Simpson, “That must have really pissed him off. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything more delightful for him.”

Simpson continued: “So I have been called out by the goofys and the nuts. And they’re not all religious. So don’t blame it on religion. Don’t use that. That’s not fair. There are plenty of non-religious people that are homophobes.”

As a graduate of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Simpson said he, like nearly all Laramie and Wyoming residents, was outraged over the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, then a gay student enrolled at the university.

“The two crazy sons of bitches that killed him are crazy sons of bitches,” he said. “They weren’t part of the university. They weren’t part of the community. They were a couple of sadistic bastards.”

Simpson praised “The Laramie Project,” a play about the Shepard murder and the response to it by Laramie residents.

“I see it’s playing at Ford’s Theater right now,” he said. “It’s a great portrayal.”

But he added, “There’s only one weakness in it. It didn’t show the power of the president of the university and how restive he was to the horror of the crime. It didn’t show the force of how he said this is appalling, it’s grotesque, and it didn’t involve the university students.”


Trans woman banned from Idaho supermarket

Lewiston, Idaho, gay news, Washington Blade

Lewiston, Idaho (Photo by Chuck Battles via Creative Commons)

LEWISTON, Idaho – A transgender woman faces trespassing charges after customers at a local grocery store complained she used the women’s restroom.

Reuters reported on April 12 that the manager of a Rosauers supermarket asked the Lewiston Police Department to charge Ally Robledo with misdemeanor trespass. Lewiston Police Capt. Roger Lanier told the newswire a security guard had “been dealing with a problem over a couple of days with the person going into the women’s restroom and urinating while standing up.”

Idaho CBS affiliate KBOI said Robledo received the no trespass order on April 8 shortly after she left the supermarket.

“I’m a female trapped in a man’s body,” she told Reuters. “It’s natural for me to go to the ladies’ room.”

Idaho’s non-discrimination laws do not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.


Progress in Boise, Minneapolis

Boise, Idaho, gay news, Washington Blade

Boise, Idaho (Public domain photo by Jon Sullivan)

BOISE, Idaho — The Boise, Idaho City Council voted unanimously to pass a sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination law, covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

According to Boise television station KBOI-2, many members of the business community spoke up in favor of the new ordinance saying it could attract new companies to the city.

Further east, Minneapolis swore in lesbian Janeé Harteau as the city’s 52nd chief of police, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I will always stand up and do what is right, even if I stand alone,” Harteau said in a speech, while flanked by her partner Sgt. Holly Keegel and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter Lauren.