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Mississippi city passes LGBT ordinance

Oxford, Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Kathy Jean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OXFORD, Miss.–A third Mississippi city has passed a resolution in support of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its diversity statement.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen on March 4 unanimously approved the resolution.

“Tolerance and acceptance creates the strongest bonds between neighbors,” said Alderman Jay Hughes in a Human Rights Campaign press release. “I am proud to be on the right side of history in reaffirming Oxford’s long-standing commitment to that most fundamental principle.”

Hattiesburg last month added LGBT-specific language to its diversity statement. The Starkville Board of Alderman in January approved the state’s first pro-LGBT municipal resolution.

05
Mar
2014

Is Shepard Smith finally coming out?

Shepard Smith, Fox News, gay news, Washington Blade

Shepard Smith (Photo public domain)

Closeted Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is listed as a “special guest” scheduled to attend an annual fundraiser for the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association next week.

I outed Smith in 2005 after he hit on me in a New York piano bar. He has never publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation.

Smith’s attendance could be good news: Maybe he’s finally going to come out. Not sure why NLGJA would have him there if that weren’t the case. There are plenty of out journalists these days to celebrate that we don’t need closet cases as our “special guests.”

11
Mar
2014

Importance of openly gay elected officials

Jim Graham, Washington, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade, gay elected

Gay D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Like so many others, I have gone through many stages as a gay man. Knowing who I am, and being comfortable with all that, has taken time. I have gone from denying my sexuality and marrying a woman (who I loved then and still do to this day), to divorce. What followed were awkward personal times working in the U.S. Senate where there was then zero tolerance for being gay.

But when I became the volunteer President of Whitman-Walker Clinic on April 1, 1981, I came out of the closet with a roar — for a time everyone (whether they liked it or not) had to be told by me that I was gay. Those were my “Billboard Years.” More change followed after 16 years as head of the Clinic. I became more “right sized.” Being gay was a key part but only one part of my make-up. When I ran for D.C. Council in 1998, I ran on that basis and got elected, and re-elected ever since.

With all that in mind, I was struck by a recent suggestion by a Blade columnist that it wouldn’t matter if the D.C. Council went from its current two gay members to none at all.

It’s amazing that a gay columnist for a gay newspaper would suggest that not having gay elected leaders is of no significance! Harvey Milk must be turning over in his grave.

I have never campaigned just as a “gay man.” Had I done so, I would never have won. When I was first elected in 1998, Ward One was 71 percent minority population — 46 percent black and 25 percent Latino. I ran against an incumbent, African-American male, well known for his leadership in D.C. and in the national Civil Rights Movement.  In 1998, one out of every four Ward 1 residents were living in poverty. My record at Whitman-Walker demonstrated a commitment to all people as well as poor people –especially those living with HIV and AIDS, from the earliest days of the pandemic.

Why do people vote a particular way? The reasons are limitless, and surely sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, are all part of it. “Identity politics” is hardly dead. It matters — sometimes positive, sometimes negative — that a candidate is gay. It can make a big difference.

My sexual orientation informs what I do and say. But being gay is only part of who I am. I work every day to integrate all aspects of my life.

Yet to suggest as the columnist did “that LGBT residents are fully integrated into the fabric of local life” — and that “sexual orientation of elected officials is inconsequential” is just plain wrong. LGBT candidates bring a unique experience to government.

For example, I was just honored by the DC Center for my work on a recently passed bill establishing an LGBTQ homeless services program with 10 beds for these kids only.

Would that have passed without the energetic support of a gay Council member? Maybe, maybe not. But the DC Center surely thought it made a positive difference.

And why else does the Victory Fund endorse openly gay and lesbian candidates?  It’s not because — as the columnist suggested — “that the gay community is fully integrated into our different communities.” It’s because that having one of our own at the table counts.

But that is just the start. I, along with hundreds of other out LGBT elected officials, cannot win without earning the trust of our communities to stand with them and fight for everyone.

14
Mar
2014

Will gay community recognize itself in the mirror?

diversity, gay community, gay news, Washington Blade

The LGBT community is recognized from both inside and out as being as diverse as the rest of society.

Who’s that gay person in the mirror?

It’s not who you might think — and that is likely to mean a whole lot for the community’s future view from within, as well as seen from the outside.

The so-called headline news in recent reports on the economic demography of lesbian and gay Americans is that we’re not all upper-income or financially secure. In other words, we really are like most everyone else.

The “myth of gay affluence” — as it’s being called — is partly a creation at our own hands. Alongside marketing agencies and consumer evaluators, the gay community was all too eager and pleased to have its self-worth portrayed in the context of economic power. In the days preceding the advent of rapid advancement and expansion in the geographic breadth of LGBT civil equality and breakthroughs on the right to marry, a marginalized market segment could take comfort in the fact that our measure mattered to someone.

Our business profile trumped our political clout.

The notion that the gay community differs significantly in economic condition from the general population, however, is also likely overstated. In fact, education, economic background, locale, coupled status and occupational choices, among other divergent factors, tend to be of more importance. In other words, gays living in poverty are generally not poor because they are gay.

Even the recent report by the LGBT-focused Williams Institute think tank at the UCLA law school trumpeting top-line assertions of a higher poverty level among gays and lesbians than heterosexual counterparts actually said as much.

Buried in the detail was an acknowledgment that the conclusions came with the caveat of statistical uncertainty and are reflective of a complex subset of circumstances. Some of the primary observations indicated relatively marginal comparative variation and were admittedly subject to the vagaries of a dearth of relevant or broad-based data. In other words, while a differential may well exist, it may not be substantial nor either attributable or unique to sexual orientation.

As broad nationwide shifts in attitude accelerate causing more gay people in less accommodating areas to find the courage to openly identify as gay, the diversity of our community becomes more evident. This both better reveals the range of who we are while simultaneously reflecting the multiplicity of our economic conditions. In other words, we become visible as more like the rest of America.

That is not to suggest that there are no real generational, situational or policy factors that impact the economics of those who are gay. However, the bewildering notion that any class distinctions are exclusively or even mostly due to discrimination based on sexual orientation is, at best, an oversimplification and, at worst, essentially false. In other words, replacing one myth with another is ridiculous.

Yet LGBT leftists would have us believe otherwise. The clarion call by some activists to sound the alarm of victimization is a transparent attempt to prevent any further weakening in the already diminishing prevalence of cultural thought-uniformity within the ranks. They suggest the solution to this purported intrinsic inequality is adoption of, and adherence to, a particular political perspective and ballot box agenda as obligatory simply because of being lesbian or gay.

Suddenly it starts to feel like being gay is akin to being trapped inside a 1960s episode of old-fashioned television’s “The Patty Duke Show” — where those gays, well, you know, “they laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike.”

The irony, of course, is that as the LGBT community is recognized from both inside and out as being as diverse as the rest of society, the closet door flings open to reveal that we, in fact, are. Attempts at enforcing a freedom-less communal hegemony in order to demand a collectivized political viewpoint within a community increasingly assimilated as the achievement of equality are ultimately doomed.

In other words, we aren’t all the same.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

26
Mar
2014

Waco adds protections for LGBT city employees

Waco, gay news, Washington Blade

Waco, Texas (Photo by Billy Hathorn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

WACO, Texas — Without fanfare or controversy, the city of Waco has quietly agreed to bar discrimination against LGBT city employees, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

City Manager Dale Fisseler said Monday he has made an administrative decision to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s internal personnel policy on nondiscrimination, the paper said.

The policy already bars discrimination based on the federally recognized categories of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status and disability.

“All I’m doing is updating our internal policy . . . just to clarify that we don’t discriminate based on sexual preference and identity,” Fisseler was quoted as having said.

A handful of local pro-LGBT activists, led by Paul Derrick and Carmen Saenz, had been seeking the change since 2013.

The city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee last summer recommended the policy revision. Then-City Manager Larry Groth turned it down, saying in a February letter that the city has never had a grievance or complaint about LGBT discrimination.

“I believe the policies clearly convey the message to our employees that discrimination and/or harassment is not allowed to any class even without a list,” he wrote to the advisory committee.

Fisseler was city manager in Fort Worth in 2009 when the city council there passed a much more sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance that gave LGBT residents protections not only in municipal employment but private-sector employment, housing and public accommodations, the paper said.

Saenz, who worked with Derrick on the Waco policy, said she ultimately would like to see a broad nondiscrimination ordinance in Waco, but she thought it necessary to take smaller steps.

Saenz, a psychology professional who identifies as lesbian, said she hasn’t experienced discrimination in Waco, but in the last year she has heard from city employees who feel pressure at work to keep their same-sex relationships a secret, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

04
Jun
2014

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.

15
Jan
2014

Social media survey: Dems, women face most online harassment

A new poll shows that Democrats, and women, report being harassed more on social media than GOP ers or men.

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05
Jun
2014

Gay juror removed from AIDS drug trial

gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco court ruled last week that a case against an AIDS drug company will get a new trial after it was determined that the company improperly excluded a gay man from the jury, Bloomberg reports.

In 2011, an Oakland jury ordered Abbott Laboratories to pay GlaxoSmithKline $3.5 million for breaching a drug agreement, though Abbott was cleared of charges that it sought to stifle competition over HIV drugs when it quadrupled the price of the drug Norvir in 2003, the article said.

The judge overseeing the trial permitted the exclusion during jury selection when Abbott exercised its right to keep certain individuals off the jury. When questioned, the man said he had a male partner and had lost friends to AIDS, Bloomberg reports.

“Permitting a strike based on sexual orientation could send the false message that gays and lesbians could not be trusted to reason fairly on issues of great import to the community or the nation,” a three-judge appellate panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote last week.

30
Jan
2014

Washington businesses told to extend benefits

Washington, benefits, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington voters approved same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, and the law took effect that year. (Photo by François de Dijon; courtesy Creative Commons)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state officials penned a joint letter last week to insurers and companies in the state saying that health benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses if they are provided to heterosexual spouses, the Associated Press reports.

The joint letter, written by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz, said they are concerned about “legally married Washington residents who are negatively affected” when same-sex spouses aren’t provided with equal health coverage, the article, which ran in the Seattle Times, said.

“This practice violates Washington State law,” the letter reads.

“Most health insurers doing business in our state understand they cannot discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation,” Kreidler said in a written statement. “But we’re taking this extra step today to ensure they understand their responsibility to do due diligence when selling insurance policies in Washington.”

Kreidler said later in a conference call that the letter was sent to 48 insurance companies. Ferguson said that other outreach was being used to notify the state’s business community, the AP report says.

Officials said they released the letter to provide clarity on state laws following a recent investigation by Ferguson’s office of O’Reilly Automotive Inc., that resulted in the company’s agreement to extend health benefits to same-sex spouses as of April 1.

“The purpose of this letter is to do everything we can to make sure businesses are aware of changes in state law,” Ferguson was quoted as having said by the AP.

Washington voters approved same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, and the law took effect that year. Protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were codified by the Legislature in 2006.

11
Jun
2014

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.

05
Feb
2014