Archive for the ‘Editorials’ Category

liar-liarThe blogosphere is on fire regarding perceived changes by the administration on repeal of DADT – the military ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Just last month the New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stated that any repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law would have to be undertaken slowly, and suggested that it might not happen at all.

Yesterday, gay blogger JoeMyGod and others noted that the White House’s civil rights webpage was revised from eight GLBT campaign promises to three. And the language of “repealing DADT” is now revised to “changing DADT.”

This is typical Washington. Send someone out — in this case Defense Secretary Gates — to seed a policy change and then implement the change in official documents. When called on the change, say it’s “a clarification.”

When I worked with the Clinton Administration, I learned that he treated his enemies far better than his friends. We have already seen Obama totally backpedal on fixing the tax-funded discriminatory hiring of the federal faith-based initiative. He not only has continued the Bush program including all executive orders, memos and agency directives, he expanded the program.

Now it seems that we are seeing the same two-step on the gay ban.

I guarantee that there will be hell to pay if Obama does “a Clinton” and abuses the gay community and the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian men and women who have served this country proudly — but silently — because they couldn’t be who they are.

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action-alertAction Alert:

The U.S. House votes tomorrow on the Matthew Shepard Act – the federal hate crimes bill. Judy Shepard and millions of others have been waiting for ten years for fully inclusive hate crimes legislation.
Text, CALL, or dial 202-684-2471 and urge your representative to vote YES.

It just takes a minute – do it now!

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stop-hate-crimeThe Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is slowing working its way through Congress. It’s been ten years since hate crimes legislation was first introduced; it’s been a slow, painful process even suffering a veteo at the hand of Bush (the lesser). This year with a majority in Congress and a supportive President, we have a real chance of passing a fully-inclusive hate crimes bill.

If you haven’t contacted your members of Congress asking them to support the bill, please do so. The Human Rights Campaign has put together a tool that makes it easy to send a message to lawmakers in support of the bill.

It’s rare that I republish material from other venues, particularly since I also did yesterday, but there is an excellent op-ed piece in the “On Faith” section of today’s Washington Post.

Hate Crimes are Message Crimes
By Steve Gutow, Michel Kinnamon and Sayyid M. Syeed

The American experience of a pluralistic democracy is unique in the human story and the source of our nation’s strength. The unprecedented freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy make the United States the world’s most dynamic and diverse society. Many of our family members came from disparate parts of the globe to make America their home. Many sought a life free from the shackles of oppression. Many fled intolerance. For too many however, the promise of America has been tarnished by hate and bias. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the case of hate crimes. These horrific and degrading acts are anathema to the principles on which our country was founded. Our national hate crimes laws should be improved so they can to more effectively deter hate crimes and protect vulnerable populations.

As people of faith and as Americans committed to social justice, we know that hate crimes are message crimes. They send the message not only to the victim, but to entire communities that they are neither welcome nor safe. This impact is felt beyond political lines and geographic boundaries.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a crucially important piece of legislation. This bill would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes targeted at people on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability – categories not covered under current law. It would also remove restrictive provisions that allow federal action only if the hate crime victim was engaged in a narrow range of federally protected acts.

Today, the Department of Justice is too often prevented from providing necessary assistance in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. If local authorities are unwilling or unable to provide an effective investigation or prosecute these alarming crimes, it is critical that the federal government be empowered to assist local jurisdictions and independently pursue justice.

In too many cases, victims of a felonious hate crime witness their attacker’s offense reduced to a minor misdemeanor charge, resulting in a mere slap on the wrist with no prison time. And far too often, local law enforcement officials lack the ability to prosecute hate crimes as hate crimes, even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the crime was motivated solely by bias against a group in which the victim is believed to belong. Violent hate crimes create fear among members of a particular group in our society, something that no American deserves.

Take, for instance, the murder of 18-year old Scotty Joe Weaver. In 2004, he was robbed, beaten, stabbed, strangled, partially decapitated, and set on fire in a manner described by the local prosecutor as being “suggestive of overkill, which is not something you see in a regular robbery and murder.” The Alabama District Attorney added that there was “no doubt in my mind” the murder was motivated by Weaver’s sexual orientation. However, because of the structure of Alabama’s law, this act could not be tried as hate crime. In 2003, Billy Ray Johnson, a mentally disabled man, was ridiculed, assaulted and left for dead on a desolate country road in Texas. Johnson’s assailants received only misdemeanor charges. In both cases, the federal government was prevented from investigating and prosecuting these horrific crimes. It’s no surprise that virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country and state attorneys general support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

A nation’s laws are a reflection of its social contract with all of its citizens. Effective enforcement of strong laws addressing crimes based on prejudice will send a powerful message. Hate-based violence is an anathema to the principles of freedom and equality, which form the cornerstone of our American democracy. Now we have a historic opportunity to make this legislation law. We need to build a society, government, and justice system that reflect our best values – freedom, pluralism, the rule of law, and justice.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Rev. Dr. Michel Kinnamon is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed is the national director of the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America.

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no-hateToday, I came across a great post by Chris Sanders on the case for hate crimes legislation. Chris is a blogger for Grand Divisions, a blog produced by the Tennessee Equality Project, the state’s largest GLBT organization. Chris is also chair of the organization. I thank him for his brilliant exposé and allowing me to repost his important work.

There is a general consensus in the GLBT community that hate crimes laws should include sexual orientation and gender identity. That doesn’t mean everyone within the community agrees and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone else agrees.

Here are the opportunities before us. First, in Tennessee, HB 0335/SB 0253 was introduced in the General Assembly this year. It would add gender identity as a sentencing enhancement factor; sexual orientation is already covered under Tennessee law. There is no fiscal note on the bill, which gets rid of one opposing argument right off the bat. Second, we have hopes that the Matthew Shepard Act or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be passed at the federal level later this year. The bill would…

  • remove the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
  • give federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
  • provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help State and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
  • require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked)

So what are the objections?

First, some religious right groups have been spreading the myth/lie/falsehood/ruse that hate crimes laws regulate speech. It’s not true. Neither the state nor the federal bill deals with speech. You can still preach against the GLBTs from the pulpit if you choose. As Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) puts the matter eloquently:

Second, we often hear opponents, even within the GLBT community, argue that the hate part doesn’t make any difference. A murder is a murder, after all. Right? Not true. First, of all, many hate crimes don’t result in death. They can range from vandalism to assault to murder. The hate factor does matter because legal proceedings do consider motive and it is basic to criminal law to look at different categories of crime–viz., assault vs. aggravated assault. How many words do we have for a crime when someone is killed? Manslaughter, homicide, first-degree murder, etc. If there is a pattern of crimes that share a common motivation and target something specific about a group of victims, isn’t it in society’s interest to track them and treat them differently? Doesn’t that kind of focus help us solve and prevent those crimes more effectively? What you’re basically saying, if you oppose hate crimes legislation, is that you don’t give a damn if particular kinds of victims are protected and receive justice.

Third, there’s a new argument against hate crimes legislation that I’m starting to see coming from the left. Some are arguing (and get ready to cringe when you read the phrase) that hate crimes laws prop up the “prison industrial complex.” In other words, hate crimes laws would simply put more disadvantaged people in our mismanaged and oppressive prisons. These same critics would argue that hate crimes laws don’t work any way.

After getting past the eye-rolling about the phrase “prison industrial complex,” the response to this line of argument is clear. Society has the right and responsibility to protect itself from violent offenders. The fact that our prisons are mismanaged and oppressive is such a broad argument that it would seem to justify not putting anyone else in them. If someone is convicted of a dangerous crime, he or she needs to be locked up. The argument also ignores the fact that most of the victims themselves are from racial, ethnic, and religious minority communities. Even in the GLBT community, the victims are often African-American. Consider the two transgender women in Memphis who were murdered and the third who was shot in the face last year–all African-American. And according to the Department of Justice, many of these crimes are committed for the “thrill” of it. Class isn’t necessarily the dominant factor in sorting out the perpetrators. In fact, the average perpetrator of anti-gay violence can be your typical college student who may not be particularly disadvantaged at all, according to some studies. In this young adult age group, the motivations are described as self-defense against perceived sexual propositions, an anti-gay ideology, peer influence, and (in agreement with the Department of Justice) thrill seeking.

So are hate crimes laws effective? Standing alone, they will not prevent hate crimes. Education is necessary, too. If there are not aggressive prosecutions, then they won’t work. We have not had aggressive prosecutions in Tennessee with respect to anti-gay hate crimes. In fact, we have not had aggressive investigations of hate crimes in Tennessee. That’s precisely why the Matthew Shepard Act would make a difference. It would provide resources for investigating hate crimes and it would allow the federal government to step in if local authorities chose not to pursue acts of hate.

In rural Tennessee, it is often difficult for elected district attorneys and elected sheriffs to puruse a matter as a hate crime. That’s not to say they don’t do their jobs in taking on acts of vandalism, murder, etc. But it is up to the D.A. to go after the sentencing enhancement. It almost never happens. And there are no extra resources for county sheriffs and city police departments to conduct adequate investigations of the hate angle. So to argue that hate crimes laws don’t work is speculative at best since they really haven’t had a chance to be tested.

Based on other kinds of hate crimes, like cross burnings, that are less common today, I think we can make an educated guess that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes, would have a positive effect. In other eras, the practice was fairly common. Twenty occurred between October 2005 and April 2007, according to the FBI. Because race is covered by federal hate crimes laws, here’s what the FBI says it can offer in invesigating these acts of hate:

What do we bring to the table? Two things primarily.

First, our full suite of investigative and intelligence capabilities. For example:

  • We can use our intelligence to provide a broader understanding of any involved organized hate groups; we may also have or be able to develop informants or other sources of information in these groups or in the area.
  • We can run undercover or surveillance operations and send in our evidence response teams to help secure and map crime scenes.
  • Where needed, we can lend our laboratory and computer forensic expertise.
  • Using our network of national and even international offices, we can help run down leads that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
  • We can send in teams of specialists to help victims of the crimes.
  • We can issue wanted flyers for suspects on the lam.

Second, the full force of federal civil rights statutes when warranted. In some cases, for example, states may not even have hate crime laws on the books.

If the GLBT community is the target of hate violence, doesn’t it seem reasonable to extend these resources to our community as well?

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shepardWhen he was discovered tied to a picket fence, he looked like a scarecrow. His face was completely red, except for two vertical lines streaming from his eyes. The lines had been where tears washed away blood from his young face. He remained in a coma and never regained consciousness, and passed away five days later from severe head trauma. His name was Mathew Shepard.

Matt was a 21 year-old University of Wyoming student. He was attacked – really tortured – over the night of October 6-7, 1998 by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. During the trial, witnesses stated that Shepard was targeted solely because he was gay. Henderson pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping, a plea that spared him the death penalty. McKinney was also convicted of felony murder and kidnapping. Yet, he was spared the death penalty at the request of Matt’s parents.

hendersenWhile in jail during his trail, Henderson bragged to his cellmates that he “killed a fag,” a point that wasn’t lost on Judge Barton Voigt during sentencing. Henderson’s attorney tried – quite unsuccessfully – to argue “gay panic.” This is a not-uncommon defense used by perpetrators of violence against gays, lesbians, or transgender people. The argument goes that the victim made a sexual pass and the perpetrator was so overwhelmed by revulsion and disgust that they were driven to temporary insanity and had to strike out – thus, the “panic” defense. In Henderson’s trial the judge wouldn’t allow his attorney to use this lame excuse. It’s also worth noting that Matthew stood five foot, two inches and weighed 105 pounds. Not exactly a hulk against the likes of McKinney and Henderson.

During the investigation and trial it was discovered that around midnight on Oct. 7, Shepard met McKinney and Henderson in a bar. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride home. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area and left for dead because he was gay.

god-hates-fagsSome events are just bigger than themselves, and so it is with the Shepard murder. A floodlight has been brought to the prevalence of crimes against gay and lesbian people – crimes solely motivated by hatred of gay people as members of the group. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, including pre-school children, picketed Matt’s funeral with their signs, “God Hates Fags, and “Matt’s Burning in Hell.” For the first time, the U.S. began a long journey in understanding the importance of including sexual orientation – and later – gender identify in federal protection.

There’s nothing like the love of a mother. Matt’s mother quickly became an activist pushing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes legislation. Our hats go off to Judy Shepard. She has taken her pain and launched the Mathew Shepard Foundation which supports diversity and tolerance in youth organizations.

Listen to her message regarding pending federal legislation.

As Matt’s mother so eloquently states, after ten years we need to update our federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes committed against gay, lesbian, and transgender folks.

Federal hate crimes legislation, renamed the Matthew Shepard Act finally passed both houses of Congress in 2007. Unfortunately – yet predictably – President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation the same year. Then again, this is the very president who twice vetoed SCHIP, the federal legislation that would have expanded healthcare for about 4 million poor kids.

President Obama signed SCHIP into law on Feb. 4, 2009, just 15 days into his new administration. He has indicated that he is committed to the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act.

Contact your members of Congress

On April 22, 2009, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of federal hate crimes legislation. The bill, H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, would give federal officials authority to prosecute hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories. This is the beginning of a long process. To win passage, your support is crucial.

The Religious Right is adamant in their opposition to this legislation. They argue that the legislation is about “special rights.” Judy Shepard knows better, and so do all people of goodwill.

Let your federal legislators know that ten years is more than enough time to wait to do the right thing. Let them know that over the past ten years, tens of thousands more individuals have been victims of hate crimes. The Human Rights Campaign has put together a tool that makes it easy to send a message to lawmakers in support of the bill’s passage.

Let them know that love conquers hate.

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rudyThe wire services and blogospherer are alive this afternoon with news that Rudy Giuliani has come out strongly against NY Gov. David Paterson’s proposed gay marriage bill. And Rudy warns gay marriage will be a deciding issue in the 2010 elections.

Now you got to hand it to him, Rudy knows a thing or two about the dignity of marriage, and marrying the one he loves – hell, he’s already done it three times. Remember that while New York City’s mayor, wife number two refused to move out of the mayoral mansion forcing Rudy to sleep on a friend’s couch. Now that was dignified!

The siren song of those who oppose gay marriage – those outside of the gay community and some very strange personalities within the movement – is that it will destroy marriage and hurt children. Well, I have a new flash. Fifty percentage of marriages, one out of every two, end up in divorce. Rudy does know a lot about divorce, he’s racked up two.

The added tragedy is that the majority of those marriages have children. Further, children born outside a marriage is now commonplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 40% of all children are born outside of marriage, up from 5% in 1960. Seventy percent of black kids are born to single black women.

My advice to gay marriage opponents is simple. If you really want to protect marriage, if you are concerned about the stability of the institution, if you are truly committed to raising children in strong, stable, and healthy families then enter marriage more carefully, work your butts off to make them flourish, and don’t be afraid to get help when you need it.

No one – no one — is served by failed marriages. But face up to the real issues because they aren’t gay marriage.

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This is a recent, albeit short, interchange between MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan and Human Rights Campaign leader, Joe Solmonese.

In other blogs, Solmonese’s performance has been criticized as lackluster. But in all fairness, let’s remember that Buchanan is an MSN commentator and as such, is given more face time. For Hardball (and most of cable TV), it’s all about rating and Buchanan is certainly chum for the sharks. While Matthews directed more questions to Buchanan, Joe was strong on what he stated.

Personally, I wish Joe stressed that if the rights of blacks or women were up to the electorate, we would still be waiting for integration or gender equity. In my own state of Virginia, interracial marriage was illegal until 1967. Our court system serves as the third prong of government to protect the rights of the minority from the majority.

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nacchioOn April 14th, Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest Communications, began his prison sentence, after a judge sentenced him to serve six years for insider trading in 2007. After a two-year period of post conviction jockeying of appeals and delays, Nacchio began his sentence at a minimum-security prison in Minersville, Pa. In addition to serving prison time, Nacchio has been ordered to pay $71 million in fines and forfeitures.

Mind you, seven-eights of a gram of marijuana earns a ten-year, maximum-security sentence. We’re are talking Oz-like hard time.

Nacchio was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading. Prosecutors said he sold $52 million worth of stock in 2001 based on nonpublic information that Qwest faced trouble meetings its sales targets. He was acquitted on 23 other counts of insider trading.

While Nacchio used private and protected information to protect his earnings, thousands of Qwest employees and other investors saw their portfolios fall to miniscule levels.

Nacchio is but the latest in a long perp walk of CEOs making astronomical sums by using insider information to make certain that they make even more. Further, what does this say about Nacchio’s contempt for his employees – many of whom had the bulk of their retirement invested in Qwest stock?

Beyond these obvious legal challenges, the question that amazes me is “how much is enough?” What do you think?

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editorialIn today’s Washington Blade, I published an editorial critical of the appointment of the Human Rights Campaign’s Rev. Henry Knox to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The council is not only a continuation but and expansion of the previous administration’s federal faith-based initiative protections. The program ignores hiring protections and is assault on the essential separation of church and state. The article is as follows:

Re: “Gay man joins Obama’s faith-based council”

In this article, the Blade’s Chris Johnson announced the appointment of HRC’s Rev. Henry Knox to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. This is not good news for our community.

I believe that I have a relevant perspective. From 2003 to 2006, I was the knowledge manager and nonprofit subject matter expert for President Bush’s federal faith-based initiative as an employee of the federal contractor tasked with managing the program’s technical resource center. We were the lead organization providing management assistance to all organizations that received grants through the program.

During this three-year period, I witnessed tax-funded technical assistance provided by government employees — including the White House through its legal council — to grantees on how they could legally discriminate in hiring based on their particular religious predilections. I heard grantees forcefully announce that they would never hire known gay and lesbian people and have that bigotry supported by leadership at the highest levels of government. My strenuous objections to the federal project officer were ignored.

In addition to the hiring issue, the program is a clear violation of the vital separation of church and state, certainly not an afterthought by the framers of the Constitution. Instead of respecting the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, it was mocked as an irrelevant and unnecessary nuisance that could be finessed with a “wink and a nod.”

I am absolutely amazed that President Obama has not only chosen to continue the program but expand it given these very concerns about the program made by candidate Obama. I am disturbed that the president has agreed to allow federally funded religious organizations to continue discriminatory hiring on “a case by case basis.” This baits the question, “Is there ever a ‘good case’ for discrimination?”

I am amazed that President Obama has appointed 26-year-old Rev. Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister, as the program’s new director. Rev. Dubois was candidate Obama’s point person for religious outreach. Newsweek columnist Sally Quinn says that DuBois was “the person who first floated Rick Warren’s name as a possible inaugural speaker.” During the campaign, he put together the program that featured Donnie McClurkin, an “ex-gay” gospel singer who has said that “homosexuality is a curse.” This is the person that now leads this massive federal program. Sorry, but this isn’t change I can believe in!

I am perplexed that Rev. Knox would accept an appointment to the advisory council given a membership that includes such anti-gays as Frank Page, past president of the socially conservative Southern Baptist Convention, which has close ties to Exodus International — an organization that attempts to “free” gays from “homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” I am very concerned that Rev. Knox cannot help but be, and remain, a marginalized voice without any ability to impact the direction of this office. While Rev. Knox is clearly a talented and committed community member, unfortunately I see his presence as empty tokenism.

Arlington, Va.

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taxes_250x2512It doesn’t matter how long a same-sex couple has been together, come Tax Day — April 15th — they are considered single by the federal government.

Even though my partner and I have been together for 21 years, for tax purposes we are two, single and unrelated individuals. As single people, we must pretend that our finances and our futures are not intertwined and forgo access to the many economic safety nets our tax dollars help fund, such as Social Security survivor benefits, estate tax deferral when inheriting property, and the ability to file taxes jointly.

Every year, lesbian and gay people are forced to pay taxes on their partner’s health care benefits as if it were additional income. Opposite sex couples are exempt from this unfair taxation.

Even in Massachusetts and Connecticut and soon-to-be Iowa and Vermont, where same-sex marriages are recognized by the state, they are not recognized by the federal government, and all of the above injustices apply.

Gay and lesbian couples people need equal rights for equal taxes paid. There are many paths to this equality, including repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and passing an inclusive Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I urge everyone to contact their members of Congress and eliminate this discrimination today.

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