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IEEE adds LGBT support to ethics code

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE, gay news, Washington Blade

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers logo.

NEW YORK—The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Board of Directors on Jan. 8 announced it had approved the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in its ethics code.

Lynn Conway, professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Leandra Vicci of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill spearheaded the effort to spur the IEEE Board of Directors to include trans-specific protections in its Code of Ethics. The proposal was subsequently approved by more than two-thirds of the board members.

“It means that hundreds of thousands of engineers worldwide — including in Russia, Uganda and over 60 other nations where being gay or trans is considered a crime — are now honor bound to treat their colleagues with respect,” wrote Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer in the Huffington Post.

The IEEE is the world’s largest professional body of engineers. It has more than 425,000 members from 160 countries.


LGBT rights advocates recount Moscow arrests

Red Square, Russia, Moscow, Kremlin, gay news, Washington Blade

Police on Feb. 7 arrested Elena Kostynchenko and nine other LGBT rights advocates in Moscow’s Red Square. (Photo by YAB994 via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the 10 LGBT rights advocates who was arrested in the Russian capital just before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics told the Washington Blade on Saturday that police officers beat and threatened to sexually assault them while in custody.

Elena Kostynchenko said during a telephone interview from Moscow that she and the other activists were arrested when they began singing the Russian national anthem in Red Square. The group that included Ulrika Westerlund and another member of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights held rainbow and Russian flags during the protest.

Kostynchenko told the Blade the officers handcuffed some of activists to a cage in which they placed her and the other protesters once they brought them to a nearby police station.

She said authorities beat one of them and choked another. Kostynchenko told the Blade that officers asked her and another female activist to go upstairs and perform oral sex on them – she noted they also made lewd comments about her body.

Kostynchenko further alleges an officer also spit in her face.

“They didn’t care about anything,” she said.

Westerlund told the Blade on Saturday she and her Swedish colleague were released about an hour after their arrest.

“Me and the other Swedish person didn’t have any especially bad treatment, but the Russians did,” she said.

Kostynchenko said the activists’ lawyer was not allowed into the police station. She added officers refused to give her their names when she told them she wanted to file a complaint against them.

“They said just get out of here,” she told the Blade.

All of the Russian LGBT rights activists have been released from custody. Kostynchenko told the Blade a local hospital treated four of them after they left the police station.

“[The police] didn’t care at all about what can happen to them later,” she said.

Authorities arrested Kostynchenko and the nine other advocates in Moscow hours after police in St. Petersburg took Anastasia Smirnova and three other LGBT rights activists into custody after they tried to march across a bridge holding a banner in support of the campaign that supports the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Olympic charter’s non-discrimination clause.

The St. Petersburg activists face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly. They are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 17.

Smirnova told the Blade on Saturday that she and the three other activists faced additional harassment after their release. She said they spent three hours “in conversations with road police and other authorities” before they finally retrieved their car that had been towed.

Smirnova referenced an old Russian saying that roughly translates into English as “to bring the mess out from the house” as she discussed the Feb. 7 arrests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

“It basically conveys the idea that whatever bad is happening, it is a ‘family’ thing and should be dealt with privately,” she told the Blade. “This is what the ill logic behind the wave of harsh detentions on Feb. 7 is.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that are taking place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Smirnova said she feels the Russian government is “preoccupied with making impressions, and will stop at no end to not let any ‘mess’ out from the house.”

“What they strangely fail to understand is that stifling critics – or anyone who has opinions – is revealing the reality in a much more powerful way than any protest demonstration,” she said.

The International Olympic Committee did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the arrests, but IOC Head of Media Relations Emmanuelle Moreau defended them in a statement to BuzzFeed.

“We understand that the protesters were quickly released,” said Moreau. “As in many countries in the world, in Russia, you need permission before staging a protest. We understand this was the reason that they were temporarily detained.”

The Blade’s attempts to seek comment from the Russian government were not successful.

“I think it’s because we’re gays,” said Kostynchenko as she discussed the Moscow arrests. “It’s because we’re like second-class citizens now in Russia, officially by law.”


Post-Olympic concerns over Russia LGBT rights record remain

Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Winter Olympics, Dupont Circle, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade

Several gay rights advocates gathered at Dupont Circle on Feb. 22 to bring attention to the treatment of LGBT people in Russia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record once again overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as they came to an end on Feb. 23.

More than 20 activists gathered in Dupont Circle on Feb. 22 to protest anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia. Nearly three dozen Queer Nation members protested the U.S. Olympic Committee’s final “Road to Sochi Tour” event at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal on the same day the games ended.

Bob Costas criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his government’s gay rights record and a host of other issues during NBC’s primetime coverage of the Olympics on Feb. 21. These include the Kremlin’s support of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who remains in hiding after pro-government snipers last week killed dozens of protesters in Kiev, the country’s capital.

“The Sochi games are Vladimir Putin’s games from their inception to their conclusion and all points in between,” said Costas. “If they are successful on their own as appears to be the case, than at least in some corners it will help to burnish the image of a regime with much of the world takes significant issue. No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities; any more than a biathlon gold medal, hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.”

Anti-gay lawmakers disrupt Moscow gay games

A number of Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent weeks remain concerned authorities will expand their enforcement of the country’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors now that the Olympics have ended.

Elena Kostynchenko is among the 10 LGBT activists who were detained just before the games’ Feb. 7 opening ceremony as they tried to sing the Russian national anthem holding rainbow flags near Moscow’s Red Square. She told the Blade during a brief interview from the Russian capital on Tuesday she is “sure” the Kremlin will further crackdown on LGBT rights now that the games are over.

“I’m sure of it,” said Kostynchenko, adding she feels authorities will also target others who speak out against the Russian government. “They are all going to have to [worry] about something after the Olympics.”

More than 300 people from across Russia and 11 other countries are expected to take part in the Russian Open Games that are scheduled to take place in Moscow through March 2.

Elvina Yuvakaeva of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, which organized the event alongside other Russian LGBT advocacy groups, said four venues that had agreed to host the games suddenly cancelled their agreements. The hotel where the Russian LGBT Network had planned to hold a forum also abruptly cancelled the scheduled event.

St. Petersburg Legislative Assemblyman Vitaly Milonov, who spearheaded his city’s gay propaganda ban that inspired the law Putin signed last June, denounced the Russian Open Games. The lawmaker also urged Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to cancel the event.

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis is among those who attended the opening of the Russian Open Games on Wednesday, but reports indicate a bomb threat disrupted them. Moscow police reportedly refused to investigate the incident and local restaurants refused to serve the participants.

“It is far beyond attempts to disrupt events by homophobic groups, but a targeted and strong decision of the authorities to not let public LGBT events happen through exerting pressure on venue owners,” said Anastasia Smirnova, an LGBT activist whom St. Petersburg police arrested alongside three others on Feb. 7 as they tried to march with a banner in support of a campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Federation of Gay Games has posted a petition to that urges Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, not to attend next month’s 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games if authorities do not allow the Russian Open Games to take place.

“The Russian Open Games do not violate the [gay propaganda] law in any way,” Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games told the Blade on Tuesday. “But there is clearly pressure from political sources to prevent the event from happening.”

Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First told the Blade earlier this month during an interview from Sochi that Russian LGBT advocates also remain concerned lawmakers will once again consider a proposal that would allow authorities to take children away from their gay parents because of their sexual orientation. He met with Smirnova, Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov and Maria Kozlovskaya of “Coming Out” on Feb. 6 before traveling to the Black Sea resort city.

“Everyone’s always anticipated that coming back after the Olympics,” Gaylord told the Blade from Sochi. “We haven’t really heard much about that specifically. We’re still operating under the assumption it’s still something we go to be thinking about.”

LGBT Russians ‘will not be forgotten’

Gaylord told the Blade the Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom he and his Human Rights First colleagues have met remain “worried” their U.S. and European counterparts will forget about their plight because the Olympics are over. Ulrika Westerlund of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, who was detained alongside Kostynchenko and other activists in Moscow on Feb. 7, said she has “also heard this concern from many of our Russian contacts.”

The Human Rights Campaign last December announced a $100,000 donation to the Russia Freedom Fund. HRC also raised money for the Russian LGBT Sports Federation during an opening ceremony viewing party it hosted in Northwest Washington.

“Our plan is to proceed in conjunction with the activists on the ground in Russia with whom we’ve been working,” HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz told the Blade on Monday.

COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, has organized a number of events over the last year to highlight the Kremlin’s gay rights record. These include a protest against Putin that took place outside his meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam last April.

The organization was also critical of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2014 Winter Olympics to Russia in spite of the Kremlin’s controversial human rights record.

“We have been able to generate a lot of support in the solidarity actions we have organized in the run up to Sochi,” COC Nederland Executive Director Koen van Dijk told the Blade on Wednesday. “We are confident that the plight of our brothers and sisters in Russia will not be forgotten.”


LGBT issues not discussed during Obama meeting with Francis

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis met with President Obama at the Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

President Obama on Thursday did not raise LGBT-specific issues with Pope Francis during their meeting in the Vatican.

“I would say that the largest bulk of the time was discussing two central concerns of his,” Obama told reporters after the meeting. “One is the issues of the poor, the marginalized, those without opportunity and growing inequality.”

Obama said he and the pontiff discussed immigration reform and the possibility of a papal trip to the U.S. The president stressed there was also “some specific focus” during their 50 minute meeting on the Middle East – and specifically Syria, Lebanon and the fledgling peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“The theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and to care for someone even if they don’t look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy – that that’s critical,” said Obama. “It’s the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars.”

Obama said he did not discuss the Affordable Care Act – and specifically exemptions for religious institutions during his meeting with Francis. The president noted to reporters he “briefly” discussed the issue with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s chief diplomat.

A Vatican press release described Obama’s meeting with Francis as “cordial.” The Holy See noted “views were exchanged on some current international themes.”

“It was hoped that, in some areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” said the press release.

The Vatican noted Obama and Francis discussed “questions of particular relevance for the church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

“Finally, the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world was stated,” added the press release.

LGBT rights advocates earlier this week pressed Obama to discuss the Vatican’s opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians, a Ugandan law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts and other issues.

“At a time when members of the LGBT community are being arrested, attacked, and ‘outed’ in situations that make them vulnerable to violence, there is a real urgency for U.S. leadership,” said Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino and Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, in a letter they wrote to Obama before he traveled to Europe earlier this week. “There is particular value for Pope Francis to raise this issue publicly in Uganda because his words will reverberate throughout Africa and worldwide at this time, and we hope he would raise these issues consistently.”

Obama on Wednesday referenced gay rights during a speech to European and NATO allies in Brussels against the backdrop of the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

“Instead of targeting our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we can use our laws to protect their rights,” said the president.

Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Washington Blade on Friday she feels there is “probably a nice compatibility between” Obama and Francis on immigration and income inequality-related issues. She added she feels Secretary of State John Kerry and his Vatican counterpart likely discussed differences over the Affordable Care Act, LGBT rights and other topics.

“I certainly hope that the Obama administration continued to be clear about its position that LGBTQ justice issues are part of their human rights initiatives and that they’re really committed to global equality,” said Duddy-Burke.

Esteban Paulón, Argentina, LGBT Federation of Argentina, gay news, Washington Blade

Esteban Paulón (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón expressed disappointment that Obama did not specifically discuss LGBT-specific issues with the pope who was the archbishop of Buenos Aires before he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last year.

“Even though we did not have high expectations, we believed that within the context of the meeting President Obama would have brought to the table his administration’s concern that it has expressed, and that we have shared, about the climate of hostilities towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in many parts of the world,” Paulón told the Blade on Friday. “In many of those countries this persecution happens with the support, or at the very least with the complicity and silence, of the Catholic hierarchy.”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Benedict. The church’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.


TSA poised to change airport security for gay couples

César Zapata, Hunter Carter, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, César Zapata and Hunter Carter said American Airlines personnel at the Medellín, Colombia, airport separated them on Jan. 18 as they checked into their flight to Miami. (Photo courtesy of César Zapata)

The Washington Blade has learned the Transportation Security Administration is poised to allow same-sex couples to undergo pre-flight security screenings together in response to two recent incidents with American Airlines personnel at a Colombian airport.

Hunter Carter, a prominent same-sex marriage advocate in Latin America who said American Airlines personnel at the airport in the Colombian city of Medellín separated him and his husband, César Zapata, as they tried to check into their Miami-bound flight on Jan. 18, received an e-mail from Alec Bramlett, senior litigation attorney for the airline, on Wednesday afternoon.

“TSA has communicated to our Corporate Security folks that they are working on a technical change to its directive, and that pending that change, we can immediately begin screening same-sex spouses together,” wrote Bramlett in the e-mail the Blade obtained from Carter. “We are working on communicating this change in procedures to our stations ASAP.”

The TSA does not conduct airport security screenings outside the U.S.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA, with whom the Blade spoke on Wednesday could not immediately comment on the policy change. Witeck Communications President Bob Witeck, who frequently works with American Airlines, confirmed the content of Bramlett’s e-mail to Carter.

“It used to be that discrimination against same-sex couples who are LGBT people wasn’t newsworthy, but that has changed,” Carter told the Blade on Wednesday. “Today a major corporation and a government agency swiftly changed a legacy policy that was discriminatory and humiliating. Now when César and I fly we know we will not be flying as second-class passengers but on equal terms with all other married couples as is our legal right.”

Carter and Zapata are the second same-sex couple in less than two months to allege American Airlines personnel at the Medellín airport separated them as they tried to check into their U.S.-bound flight.

Ana Elisa Leiderman said an American Airlines ticket agent separated her from her wife, Verónica Botero, and their two small children as they tried to check into their Miami-bound flight on Dec. 13. A third gay couple — Tomás Georgi and Mark Cline — told the Blade late on Wednesday they experienced a similar experience on Dec. 1 as they tried to check into their American Airlines flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to New York.

“I was told to get back to the end of the line when I protested,” said Georgi. “As a native of Argentina, I was fully able to discern the distain and anti-gay sentiment with which I was treated.”

Georgi told the Blade another gate agent whom he asked to allow him to board his flight with his partner “dismissed” him “callously.”

“Not until I insisted again and drew the attention of the 100 or so fellow passengers was I permitted to join my partner who was waiting for me on the jet way after being physically separated from me and searched,” said Georgi. “The staff, which had originally prohibited me from joining my partner, hurled snide remarks at me as I walked past them to join him.”

An American Airlines spokesperson told the Blade on Jan. 10 the company regrets “the circumstances” that Leiderman “faced with her spouse and family” while traveling from Colombia to the U.S. The spokesperson added airport personnel in Medellín “followed existing security screening rules mandated by the” TSA.

Georgi provided the Blade an e-mail he received from Stefania Meyer of American Airlines on Dec. 16 that noted, among other things, the company has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for nine consecutive years. The letter also said the men would each receive a $96 refund for seat upgrades they purchased for their flight from Argentina.

“Our customers should always experience polite and efficient service from our employees, regardless of the circumstances,” wrote Meyer. “Your comments regarding the lack of professionalism on the part of our gate staff is of significant concern to us. Please accept our apologies for the poor agent demeanor and other problems you and Mr. Cline encountered that day.”

The letter made no mention of TSA security screening policy. Georgi said American Airlines Director of Customer Relations Tim Rhodes “dismissed my complaints as the fault of TSA and took no responsibility” for the alleged incident during a telephone call he said he received from him on Jan. 6.

“What I cannot get over is the reaction of the head of customer service,” Georgi told the Blade. “He explained to me that it is difficult to read peoples’ intentions. However, I speak Spanish fluently, I was born in [Buenos Aires,] I could read the intentions of the American Airlines staff very clearly, especially when I was told to go to the back of the line.”


Gay Alabama widower: State saw relationship as ‘nothing’

David Fancher, Paul Hard, SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

David Fancher (on left) and Paul Hard at their wedding. (Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center)

Charles David Fancher proposed to Paul Hard three months after the Montgomery, Ala., men’s first date on July 4, 2004.

Hard, 55, accepted Fancher’s proposal six years later – and they exchanged vows on a Massachusetts beach on May 20, 2011. Fancher, 53, died less than three months later when his car crashed into a UPS truck that had overturned on an Alabama interstate.

Hard filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but he would not be able to receive the majority of any settlement money because the state does not recognize him as a surviving spouse.

“At every turn and every juncture, particularly following his death, I was treated as though this relationship was nothing,” Hard told the Washington Blade on Thursday after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s gay nuptials ban that prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Alabama voters in 2006 by an 81-19 vote margin approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Out state Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), who married her long-time partner in Massachusetts in 2013, last November introduced a bill that sought to repeal the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Hard said hospital personnel initially refused to allow him to see his husband, even though he had he brought the couple’s marriage license and other legal documents with him. An attendant roughly half an hour later told Hard that Fancher had died.

The director of the funeral home that buried Fancher said on his death certificate that he was “never married” and did not have a surviving spouse. Hard said the funeral home director refused to change the information on the document.

“I was seen to have been fully enough his husband to pay the bills and wrap-up his estate, but the state of Alabama refuses to acknowledges his relationship,” Hard told the Blade.

He added “no one deserves to through what I had to go through” after Fancher’s death.

“No one should have to suffer indignity at the hands of the state at the worst extremity of human existence when you lose someone,” said Hard. “No one would ever suggest to a widow and their church or their community organization that they should not pursue their rights as a widow. And I’m no different than anybody like that.”

Hard, who grew up as a Southern Baptist as his late husband did, told the Blade his family is overall supportive of his decision to seek recognition of his marriage in Alabama.

“Some of them don’t support gay marriage, but they have looked at me and simply said David has the right to leave to whomever he chose his estate,” he said.

Sam Wolfe, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said as he and Hard spoke to the Blade it was time to file the lawsuit in the wake of last June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and other recent rulings.

“Alabamians can’t wait forever and there is a bit of a wave going on in the country both on the topic of marriage and other issues relating to equality and basic dignity for LGBT people,” said Wolfe. “There are real families here like Paul and his family that are affected negatively, that are harmed by this law. We have the legal arguments at our disposal and we’re taking it to federal court to knock down this law.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed its lawsuit one day after a federal judge ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Missouri on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of eight same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriages. The Forum for Equality Louisiana on the same day filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four gay and lesbian couples who legally exchanged vows outside the Pelican State.

A judge last month ruled Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court less than two weeks earlier blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling late last year that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this week announced she will no longer defend her state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

Same-sex couples in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states have filed marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling. A measure that would ban same-sex marriage in the Hoosier State will not go before voters this year after the Indiana Senate adjourned on Thursday without considering any amendments on the proposal.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Feb. 10 announcement that the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel applies to Alabama and the 31 other states that have yet to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban gay nuptials.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange are among those named as defendants in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit.

Bentley’s spokesperson, Jennifer Ardis, told the Associated Press on Thursday the governor believes in the “traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.” Ardis said Bentley would defend the state’s gay nuptials ban in court.

Wolfe told the Blade there have been “a lot” of positive reactions to the lawsuit. He said local officials have also said they plan to fight it “to the bitter end.”


Marriage lawsuits filed in three more states

Sandra Newson, Denise Hueso, Miami, Florida, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

Sandra Newson and Denise Hueso of Miami are among the eight same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their out-of-state marriages in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU of Florida)

Same-sex couples in three additional states this week have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights.

Lambda Legal on Thursday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona on behalf of seven same-sex couples and two surviving spouses who are challenging the Grand Canyon State’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The same group on March 10 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of three gay couples seeking the ability to tie the knot in the Hoosier State.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida on Thursday also filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. SAVE, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, is a plaintiff in the case.

Sandra Newsom of Miami, who married her partner of nearly 17 years, Denise Hueso, in Massachusetts in 2009, is among those who spoke at a Miami Beach press conference.

“When we moved back to Florida we knew we would be sacrificing some of the rights that we’d enjoyed when we lived in Massachusetts,” said Newsom. “Most families don’t have to choose between being in the place they call home and having equal treatment under the law, and they shouldn’t have to. If Florida would recognize our marriage, we wouldn’t have to either.”

Nelda Majors and Karen Bailey of Scottsdale, Ariz., who have been together for more than 55 years, are the lead plaintiffs in the Arizona case.

“We’re a committed, loving family, have raised two amazing girls together, have seen each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health,” said Majors. “After five decades together, we want to celebrate and affirm our deep love for each other as other couples do, before our friends and family, through marriage.”

18 states and D.C. have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver next month is scheduled to hold oral arguments in two cases challenging the constitutionality of state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage in Oklahoma and Utah. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in May is slated to hear a case that challenges Virginia’s gay nuptials ban.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in the coming months is expected to hear oral arguments in a challenge to Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban. A federal appeals court in New Orleans will likely hear a similar case that challenges Texas’ gay nuptials prohibition after U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia last month ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clauses.

A federal judge on Feb. 27 ordered Kentucky to begin recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center last month filed a lawsuit against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban on behalf of a gay widower who lost his spouse less than three months after they exchanged vows in Massachusetts in 2011. Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Oregon and other states have also filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights after the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police offices and other public safety personnel – even in states that have yet to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians. Holder a few weeks later said state attorneys general do not have to defend same-sex marriage bans.

“I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation,” he said during a Feb. 26 speech during the winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in D.C. “We must endeavor – in all of our efforts – to uphold and advance the values that once led our forebears to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last month introduced a bill that would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where gays and lesbians cannot tie the knot.


EXCLUSIVE: Former manager of Russian gay nightclub to seek asylum in U.S.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Thursday he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov and three of his friends arrived in D.C. on Dec. 14 after flying from Moscow to New York the day before.

He told the Blade he has obtained a pro bono lawyer through Immigration Equality and the D.C. Center who agreed to take his case. Gyngazov has also worked with Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, an organization that monitors the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, since he arrived in the nation’s capital.

Gyngazov said he will formally seek asylum once his visa expires in June.

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

Gyngazov was managing the Central Station nightclub in Moscow on Nov. 16 when two men whom security personnel refused to allow inside the establishment opened fire. None of the estimated 500 people who were inside the club during the incident were injured, but the assailants destroyed its surveillance camera and left bullet holes in the building’s facade.

An estimated 500 people evacuated Central Station on Nov. 23 after a group of assailants launched poisonous gas into the club. The Moscow Times reported roughly 100 people on Dec. 14 “dismantled” the roof of the building in which Central Station is located and either damaged or stole some of the club’s equipment that had been stored in the attic.

Gyngazov told the Blade during an interview from Moscow after the Nov. 16 incident the owners of the building placed a large neon sign above the club’s entrance the month before that reads “gay club here.” It also contains an arrow that points toward the door.

“I’m afraid because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what will happen to me,” he said on Thursday. “I’m not going to hide all my life.”

Gyngazov, 32, grew up in the Siberian city of Tomsk. He moved to Moscow in 2006.

Gyngazov is not out to his two younger siblings or his grandparents, even though he said he realized he was gay when he was a child. His parents are deceased.

He said life for LGBT Russians was “easier than now” in the 1990s under then-President Boris Yeltsin, in part, because his government was struggling to rebuild the country’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gyngazov told the Blade “he never thought” the Russian Duma would pass a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors and that President Vladimir Putin would sign it into law.

“He’s making a dictatorship, like the Soviet Union two,” said Gyngazov.

Gyngazov said he recently read an article in a Russian newspaper in which government officials said the suicide bombers who killed 34 people in two separate bombings in Volgograd late last month targeted the city because the West has sought to export homosexuality to Russia. Authorities said two men tortured and killed Vladislav Tornovoi near Volgograd last May after he came out to them.

The Duma last month approved a sweeping amnesty bill that prompted the release of two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot who had been serving two-year prison sentences for staging a protest against Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. Authorities in December also released a group of 30 Greenpeace members who had been in custody since they tried to board an oil rig in the Barents Sea in September and Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was serving a 10-year prison sentence after his conviction on fraud charges in 2005.

Gyngazov told the Blade he thinks Putin granted amnesty to members of Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace members and Khodorkovsky because he wanted to temper criticism of his country’s human rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. He said he remains fearful of what will happen to LGBT Russians once the games end.

“I’m afraid for my friends who stay there,” said Gyngazov. “When I talk to them, I can’t help them.”


Pennsylvania couple seeks marriage rights

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rdsmith4; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA—A married lesbian couple from suburban Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2005.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania shortly after their wedding when Barker accepted a position at Bryn Mawr College. Barker gave birth to the couple’s son in 2009.

“We took on the commitment of marriage in 2005 and have supported each other through life’s ups and down,” said Palladino. “We think it is wrong for Pennsylvania to void our marriage and treat us as though we are unmarried when we are very much a loving family.”

Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, initiated the lawsuit that was filed on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is among those who are co-counsel in the case.

“On behalf of Cara and Isabelle and other legally married same-sex families, we will take this injustice as far as is needed to affirm the nation’s 226-year-old history of recognizing marriages from sister states,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.

The American Civil Liberties Union last July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow. State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) have introduced same-sex marriage bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature.


Uganda president: Nobody should ‘impose their views on us’

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has responded to President Obama’s criticism of him over his decision to sign a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” said Museveni in a Feb. 18 statement the Washington Blade obtained on Friday, referring to Obama’s comments on the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill he issued earlier this week. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality. It is better to limit the damage rather than exacerbate it.”

Museveni said he sought “scientific opinions” on whether people were “born homosexual” before he announced on Feb. 14 he would sign the controversial measure his country’s lawmakers approved late last year. The Ugandan president specifically cited Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy – with whom he met last month – for sending him information from U.S. scientists who said “there could be some indications that homosexuality could be congenital.”

Museveni said scientists from the Ugandan Ministry of Health and two other agencies came to a “unanimous conclusion” that “homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioral and not genetic.”

“I have now received their signed document, which says there is no single gene that has been traced to cause homosexuality,” said the Ugandan president. “What I want them to clarify is whether a combination of genes can cause anybody to be homosexual. Then my task will be finished and I will sign the bill.”

Museveni’s Feb. 18 statement came a day before reports emerged he had signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. The Ugandan government did not return the Blade’s request for comment, and the RFK Center and other organizations were unable to confirm the reports.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni in the East African country on Jan. 23, told the Blade on Thursday. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled Sexual Minorities Uganda’s lawsuit can move forward.

Lively and other anti-gay advocates held a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington on Friday where they unveiled a new coalition designed to combat the global LGBT rights movement.

“We unequivocally condemn any violence against anyone, including homosexuals,” said Lively in response to the Blade’s question about the SMUG lawsuit and whether he feels the new coalition will further exacerbate anti-LGBT violence in Uganda, Russia and other countries with controversial gay rights records. “We believe that existing laws in every country are sufficient to protect people from that kind of violence. Anyone who engages in violence against people like that should be prosecuted and punished.”

Two LGBT rights advocates heckled Lively and others who spoke at the press conference for several minutes before security personnel escorted them from the room in which it was taking place.