Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Combined Gay News Headlines (T7T-1)

Florida's gay legislators settle in
At the first meeting of a new state House education subcommittee this month, a dramatic moment in Florida history passed virtually unnoticed.

Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, saw that as a good sign.

When lawmakers were asked to introduce themselves and provide a little background, some mentioned careers as educators. Others talked of steering their kids through public schools.

When it was Saunders' turn, he spoke about having lobbied for anti-bullying legislation, approved in 2008. He added, ``My partner is also a high school drama teacher, so that helps in my perspective as well.''

Saunders, 29, is one of two openly gay Florida House members elected this year, the first in state history.

In a legislature where milestones passed in recent years include the election of the first Haitian-American lawmaker, and a Cuban-American House speaker, Saunders and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, also see themselves as pioneers.

``You've got to be sitting at the table,'' Richardson, 55, said of the importance of their election. ``This is not my quote, but someone has said, `if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.'''

With a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population estimated at more than 600,000 people, second in size only to California, Florida had been the nation's largest state without any openly gay legislators, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Victory Fund, a political advocacy organization.

With the election of Richardson and Saunders, only 14 states now have no openly gay legislators, said Dennis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesman. More than 100 gay lawmakers hold office, he said. ``It is a very big step for Florida.''

Richardson and Saunders also take office at what could prove a pivotal time for LGBT Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider two cases on same-sex marriage.

A far-reaching ruling could cast aside bans on same-sex marriage nationwide, such as that carved by voters into the Florida Constitution in 2008. A split decision might clear the way for federal benefits to go to same-sex couples married in states that allow such unions, but could permit other states to bar gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

``I don't think many people could predict how the landscape for many LGBT issues has changed over the past five years,'' Dison said.

Richardson, an accountant, was elected in August, winning a Democratic primary over three rivals and facing no Republican opposition.

Saunders defeated a primary opponent and then went on to win over Marco Pena in November, defeating a Republican endorsed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in an Orlando-area district that includes most of the University of Central Florida.

Neither man said their sexual preference was cited directly by their opponents in the campaigns. Each, though, did run with the backing of gay advocacy organizations.

When he was sworn-in during the legislature's November organizational session, Saunders was accompanied by his partner, Donald.

Saunders said the only real dark episode in his campaign occurred when a stealthy telephone poll was conducted in his district. It asked voters, ``Would you support Joe Saunders if you knew he was a notorious homosexual activist?'' Saunders recalled.

Saunders had been a field director for Equality Florida, a LGBT civil rights organization, which has promoted marriage equality, partnership benefits and anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

``I've done work on civil rights for a long time,'' Saunders said. ``But in the campaign, my focus was mostly on jobs, education and fairness and opportunity.''

Saunders said that having been to Tallahassee as a lobbyist, he knows the value of having effective representation.

``I think it's going to rock things a little,'' Saunders said of having openly gay lawmakers at the Capitol. ``I don't know what that means from a policy perspective. But at a minimum, I think it's challenging people's assumptions.''

John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council, spearheaded the voter initiative that put Florida's same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution. He said the personal lives of Saunders and Richardson are not his concern.

``But the danger would be if they try to promote the homosexual agenda in Florida,'' Stemberger said.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a former chairman of the Christian Coalition of Florida, who also worked on the constitutional ban, said he respects that voters sent the two men to the Capitol.

``Elections are a reflection of our state and people will bring very different perspectives,'' Baxley said. ``Diversity means you've got to put up with some right-wingers like me, too.''

Saunders and Richardson, though, said they see themselves primarily as state legislators pursuing wide-ranging policy agendas.

The fact that they're gay is part of the experience they bring to the Capitol. But it's not the central issue they plan to build their political careers around, both lawmakers said.

``I think this says something about the world we live in - this 2012 moment,'' Saunders said. ``My commitment is to ensuring that no one is discriminated against in any way and that artificial barriers to success aren't created or institutionalized.

``What's really great about that message is that during the campaign, it resonated in communities that weren't gay.''

Richardson, who worked for the U.S. Defense Department as a forensic auditor and continued that work in the private sector, examining government contracts, has been appointed to two House appropriations subcommittees and the Finance and Taxation Subcommittee.

For the legislature's minority party, Richardson is likely to emerge as a point-man in budget and spending issues. ``That's what I want to do, is work on the numbers, then talk about it,'' Richardson said.

Richardson said he realizes he plays a historic role. But he also wants to be best known for what he brings to the legislature and the voters in his Miami Beach district.

``Just by being here and working with my colleagues, I'll make my statement in that way,'' Richardson said. ``I don't want special treatment or different treatment, I just want equal treatment.''

He added, ``"I'm not going to be a `gay legislator.' I'm here to do a lot of work for my district and Floridians.''
Gay right advocate, Bill McBride, dies
Bill McBride, the Florida Democrat who came out of nowhere to defeat Janet Reno for the party's 2002 gubernatorial nomination but then lost to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, has died at the age of 67, his wife said Sunday.

McBride suffered a heart attack Saturday while visiting with family in Mount Airy, N.C., said Alex Sink, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, losing to now-Gov. Rick Scott.

McBride had suffered from heart problems for many years but, Sink said, ``this was very sudden and unexpected.''

A Tampa attorney, McBride captured his party's gubernatorial nomination against the better-known Reno, who was U.S. attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

McBride had been managing partner at the prestigious Holland & Knight law firm before unsuccessfully trying to deny Bush a second term.

Bush tweeted his condolences, ``Thoughts and prayers are with Alex and Bill's entire family.''

Florida Democrats remembered McBride as a party advocate and public servant. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called McBride ``larger than life.''

``He was one of the great business, legal and political leaders of Florida, and he is a friend that many of us will miss,'' Nelson said.

Sink said McBride's legacy as an advocate for civil rights outshines his brief political career.

``He was always a promoter of equality,'' Sink said, adding that her husband championed survivors of the Rosewood racial massacre, pro bono legal work and gay rights.

``He was always promoting more minorities in the law,'' she said.

McBride left his legal career to run for office to challenge Bush's education policy, Sink said. He won the early endorsement of the state teachers union, followed by that of the state AFL-CIO.

``He just believed our state was going in the wrong direction under Jeb Bush,'' she said. ``He ran a campaign based on supporting public education, supporting teachers and investing more money in education _ and he was right.''

Former state Sen. Tom Rossin, who was McBride's 2002 running mate, said the contest against Reno was ``a very close race'' but he was able to prevail because people thought so highly of him.

``He was a real Floridian, felt very strongly about the state and its future and its ability to deal with the challenges we have,'' Rossin said.

After the fall election loss, McBride joined a small Tampa law firm as a partner. Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride specializes in corporate, tax and real estate law.

Sink, a former state chief financial officer, said she often sought advice from McBride during her campaign against Scott, a Republican; she narrowly lost. The couple, who married in 1987 and have a son and a daughter, made their home in Thonotosassa, outside Tampa.

``Bill McBride was a great lawyer, a devoted public servant, a veteran and a talented leader,'' Scott said in a statement, adding, ``Florida is no doubt a better place because people like Bill McBride commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of others.''

McBride, who charmed supporters with his folksy drawl, grew up in Leesburg, in central Florida. He entered the University of Florida on a football scholarship but gave it up because of a knee injury. He temporarily dropped out of law school to volunteer with the Marines in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star.

Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez, a Tampa Democrat who supported McBride's campaign, said McBride was a natural campaigner who managed to work well with Democrats and Republicans. He contributed to a wide range of causes in the Tampa community, Henriquez said.

``He was one of those guys who'd put his arms around you and give you a bear hug and make you feel good,'' he added.
Mexican bishop pushes for gay rights
The white-haired bishop stepped before some 7,000 faithful gathered in a baseball stadium in this violence-plagued northern border state. He led the gathering through the rituals of his Mass, reciting prayers echoed back by the massive crowd. And then his voice rose.

Politicians are tied to organized crime, Bishop Raul Vera bellowed while inaugurating the church's Year of Faith. Lawmakers' attempts to curb money laundering are intentionally weak. New labor reforms are a way to enslave Mexican workers.

How, Vera asked, can Mexicans follow leaders ``who are the ones who have let organized crime grow, who have let criminals do what they do unpunished, because there's no justice in this country!''

In a nation where some clergy have been cowed into silence by drug cartels and official power, Vera is clearly unafraid to speak. That makes him an important voice of dissent in a country where the Roman Catholic Church often works hand-in-hand with the powerful, and where cynicism about politics is widespread and corrosive.

Vera's realm is a wide swath of Coahuila, a state bordering Texas that's become a hideout for the brutal Zetas drug cartel. It's where the current governor's nephew was killed in October and the former governor, the victim's father, resigned last year as leader of the political party that just returned to power with newly inaugurated President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Marked by his unvarnished speech, the Saltillo bishop's voice carries beyond his diocese here, especially when he weighs in on hot issues such as drug violence, vulnerable immigrants and gay rights.

In late 2007, Mexico City's Human Rights Commission denounced death threats against Vera and a burglary of the diocese's human rights offices. The following year, after Coahuila became the first Mexican state to allow civil unions for gay couples, a move the bishop endorsed, Vera was invited to speak at a U.S.-based conference for a Catholic gay and lesbian organization. In 2010, he was awarded a human rights prize in Norway.

Anonymous critics have hung banners outside the cathedral asking for what they called a real Catholic bishop. And last year, the 67-year-old was summoned to the Vatican to explain a church outreach program to gay youth.

Natalia Niño, president of Familias Mundi in Saltillo, told the Catholic News Agency last year that Vera had placed too much focus on supporting the gay community.

``A pastoral commitment to homosexual persons is necessary and welcomed, but not at the expense of the family and a solid pastoral plan for marriage and family, which is unfortunately being neglected in the diocese,'' she said.

Vera, who has had government bodyguards before, said he was foregoing similar security despite the criticism and threats. Such measures were rare and frowned upon in Saltillo, he said.

``I'm not the only one exposed, there are lots of people exposed who work with immigrants, with the missing,'' Vera said. ``How do I cover myself? Them?''

Mexico's Bishops Conference did not respond to repeated requests for an interview about Vera. The church's hierarchy in Mexico did issue a statement in 2010 congratulating Vera on his human rights prize, and last year, the church condemned anonymous threats against him.

Vera's office often lends more weight to his words, especially when he speaks up about human rights, said Emiliano Ruiz Parra, a Mexican journalist and author of a new book that portrays Vera and other ``black sheep'' of the church in Mexico.

``Among the defenders of human rights he is the one who hedges the least, he says things the way they are,'' Parra said before Pena Nieto's Dec. 1 inauguration. ``He's not afraid, for example, to take on the president, the one who's leaving or the president-elect.''

Vera's homily on an October Sunday in Monclova included a lengthy diatribe about an alleged vote-buying scheme involving grocery store gift cards critics say were distributed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. Citing press reports, the bishop told the crowd organized crime paid for the scheme and helped Peña Nieto's victory. He also labeled as ``collaborators'' anyone who took a gift card in exchange for their vote.

``What we're seeing now is nothing other than the reaccommodation of the criminal groups with the new government teams,'' Vera said later as he raced back to Saltillo for another Mass. ``The criminal groups always have their agreements with those who are in the state governments, in the federal government.''

An industrial hub on the high desert about an hour west of Monterrey, Saltillo had long been known as a quiet haven in Mexico, distinguished by its auto manufacturing and a modern museum exhaustively detailing the surrounding terrain.

In recent years, however, the area has fallen victim to the drug violence plaguing other parts of Mexico. In 2011, 729 murders hit the state, compared to 449 the year before and 107 in 2006, according to preliminary figures released by the government this summer. Four bodies were found hanging from a Saltillo overpass earlier this month.

Until the nephew of Gov. Ruben Moreira was killed in early October, the political class had showed little concern for violence, Vera said.

``Fear of the conditions that Mexico is going through with the insecurity, with so much violence, makes us silent, and Don Raul is a strong voice who says what the rest of us are too scared to say,'' said Maria Luz Lopez Morales, a Vera friend and self-professed atheist who runs literacy programs for women in rural areas outside Monclova.

Vera arrived in Saltillo in 2000, after serving as the co-bishop in a deeply divided diocese in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where Zapatista rebels were battling government troops. He came with a reputation as a social crusader.

``Ever since I arrived here, as I came from Chiapas and I wasn't a person who was going to support the government, since this moment they decided that my image needed to be restrained,'' Vera said. He pointed to critical coverage from a local television network where a host once displayed Vera's picture surrounded by flames of eternal damnation. Vera said he believed the host was paid to do the government's bidding.

In February 2006, Vera celebrated Mass at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine where 65 miners had perished and spent days with their families hammering the mine's owners, government officials and union leaders for dangerous working conditions.

Five months later, he traveled to Castanos, a small town near Monclova, where soldiers had been arrested in connection to the sexual assaults of more than a dozen prostitutes. He and his longtime collaborator Jackie Campbell started their own investigation, leading the diocese's human rights office to successfully push to try some of the soldiers in civilian courts, where several were sentenced.

Mysterious cars followed Vera and Campbell during that time. Campbell's home phone line was cut and Vera was threatened. Campbell eventually moved to Argentina for three years to escape the harassment and to pursue graduate studies.

Vera has also demanded investigations into the thousands of migrants who have gone missing while passing through the state and clamored for a DNA database to identify bodies. In an email, the Rev. Pedro Pantoja, who oversees the diocese's migrant programs, said he's enjoyed total support from Vera and called his commitment to social causes ``prophetic.''

What's drawn perhaps the most controversy has been Vera's stand on gay rights, which even called Rome's attention. In 2001, the Rev. Robert Coogan, an American priest in Saltillo ordained by Vera, suggested starting an outreach program to gay youth, after a teenager came to him when his parents threw him out of the house. Vera lent his support to the program, called Comunidad San Elredo, and later escaped reprimand when called to the Vatican to explain it.

``It flows out of his conviction: The church is for everyone,'' Coogan said.

Parishioner Julia Castillo, of Saltillo, said Vera wasn't just making headlines with his bold stands. He was also inspiring Mexicans at a time when many are feeling besieged.

``He talks about all of the injustice there is right now, of all the danger there is, that we have to stick together to fight against the corruption, above all in the government and the police,'' Castillo said. ``We like the way he is.''
Richard Adams, gay rights advocate, dies
Richard Adams, who used both the altar and the courtroom to help begin the push for gay marriage four decades before it reached the center of the national consciousness, has died, his attorney said Sunday.

After a brief illness, Adams died Dec. 17 at age 65 in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told The Associated Press.

Adams and Sullivan met at a Los Angeles gay bar called ``The Closet'' in 1971, but their life and relationship would soon be on display for a worldwide audience.

They were granted a marriage license in 1975, but for years fought in vain to see it recognized by governments and a population for whom the idea of two married men was still strange and foreign. They were subjected to anti-gay slurs even from government agencies.

``They felt that in the end, the most important thing was their love for each other, and in that respect they won,'' Soloway said. ``No government or no law was ever able to keep them apart.''

The couple's public life began when they heard about a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, named Clela Rorex, a pioneer in her own right who took the unprecedented step of giving marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the district attorney's office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.

Rorex's office became what The New York Times soon after called ``a mini-Nevada for homosexual couples.''

Among the first six couples to take advantage were Adams and Sullivan, who traveled to Colorado, had a ceremony at the First Unitarian Church of Denver and were granted a license from Rorex, before the state's attorney general ordered her to stop giving them to gay couples. Rorex remained in contact with Adams throughout his life.

Adams and Sullivan's primary motivation in marrying was to get permanent U.S. residency status for Sullivan, an Australian, and they promptly put in an application with what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

They received a one-sentence denial from the INS that was stunning in its bluntness.

``You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots,'' the letter said, using a derogatory term for gays.

The INS issued a follow-up response that removed the offending language but gave no ground in its thinking.

Adams' attempt to have that decision overturned was the first federal lawsuit seeking gay marriage recognition, according to the Advocate magazine and the Los Angeles Times, the first media outlets to report his death.

He took the INS to court in 1979, and later filed a separate lawsuit on the constitutionality of denying gays the right to marry.

His position appeared strong. Gay couples always thought they would have to sue for the right to marry in the first place, but Adams was defending a marriage he had been officially granted.

Despite reaching the highest federal appeals courts, he was met only with rejections.

The couple did become a hot topic, especially as Sullivan's deportation became likely in the mid-1980s, and they appeared on the ``Today'' show and ``The Phil Donahue Show,'' giving some of the first national attention to gay marriage when it was considered an oddity even by future supporters.

Adams' application for Australian residency was also denied, so the couple spent a year in Europe before returning to the United States and leading a low-profile life in Los Angeles.

But they recently re-emerged as their issue finally gained traction in courts and voting booths.

They are the subject of an upcoming documentary, ``Limited Partnership.'' And just two days before Adams' death they were working with Soloway on a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, one of two gay-marriage laws the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review in its upcoming term.

``After 40 years of fighting he missed the outcome at the Supreme Court,'' Soloway said, ``but he felt optimistic.''

And he got to see what he deemed a major victory for his particular cause, gay couples and immigration, in October when the Obama Administration issued written policy guidelines saying same-sex couples in long-term partnerships ``rise to the level of a `family relationship''' when it comes to deportation.

``You can draw a straight line from Tony and Richard's efforts in the 1970s to that piece of paper in 2012,'' Soloway said.
Clergy group pushing for marriage equality in Illinois
A group of clergy members is pushing to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

More than 200 pastors and rabbis released an open letter calling for legislators to approve legislation allowing gay marriage. They say it's a matter of equality, conscience and justice. The group plans to send the letter to lawmakers.

State Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans say they'll call for a vote on the gay marriage bill when lawmakers gather in January. The legislation would offer same-sex couples marriage rights now only available to heterosexual couples.

The Chicago Democrats say public opinion favoring equal rights for same-sex partners is moving rapidly. Four states voted in favor of the issue or opposed a ban on it last month.

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