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    Compiled by Dennis McMillan 

    Lansing, MI – Obama Administration to Recognize Michigan Same-Sex Marriages – 3.28

    The marriages of same-sex couples who wed in Michigan when marriage equality was briefly allowed in the state will be recognized for federal purposes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced.

    “I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government,” Holder said. “These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”

    More than 300 same-sex couples wed in Michigan after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriages. But after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision and requested a stay, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely halted the weddings pending appeal of the lawsuit.

    As they criticized Snyder for withholding the state benefits, Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress called on the Obama administration to deem the marriages valid for the purposes of federal recognition.

    “For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Holder said.

    After a federal court struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples wed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings with stay pending appeal. Governor Gary Herbert announced he wouldn’t recognize the weddings, but Holder announced they would be valid at the federal level.

    The Human Rights Campaign, which had also called for federal recognition of the Michigan same-sex marriages, praised Holder as having “once again demonstrated his steadfast commitment to equality and upholding the core values of the U.S. Constitution by affirming federal recognition of these marriages.”

    “These legally married and loving couples shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the recognition and benefits they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution,” Representative Dan Kildee (D-Mich) said. “It’s my hope that Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette will also drop their appeals in this matter and recognize the inherent rights of these Michiganders to love and marry one another.”

    Holder concluded, “We will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.”

    So take that, snider Snyder!


    NYC, NY – Newsweek’s New Owners Funded Anti-Gay Discrimination – 3.31

    New reporting highlights the links between Newsweek’s new owners, IBT Media, and an evangelical college that threatens to punish students if they’re caught engaging in “homosexual activity.”

    After a one-year print hiatus, Newsweek is back on newsstands and under the new ownership of IBT Media. In-depth reports document the extensive ties between IBT and David J. Jang, the leader of an evangelical Christian sect called “the Community” and founder of the Bay Area Olivet University.

    IBT CEO Etienne Uzac and Chief Content Officer Johnathan Davis have cultivated deep ties with Olivet and the Community: Olivet and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has founded, influenced, or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang’s expenses. Money from other Community-affiliated organizations also helped fund IBT’s early growth.

    Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth. He has said that media companies affiliated with the Community are part of a new Noah’s ark designed to save the world from a biblical flood of information.

    IBT has also donated money to the college.

    Guidebooks from the university’s business and journalism schools state that the university will take “disciplinary action” against students who violate “Christian standards,” including by participating in “homosexual activity.” Olivet places “homosexual activity” on a par with “drunkenness,” drug use, “cheating, plagiarism, forgery, lying,” and sexual harassment.

    Davis himself has drawn fire for having praised a 2013 op-ed by fringe “ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle. Davis called Doyle’s piece “shockingly accurate” and lauded it for “cut[ting] like a hot knife through a buttery block of lies.” In the op-ed, Doyle argued that “a sensitive nature,” “an over-attachment to the opposite-gender parent and peers,” and childhood sexual abuse predisposed people to same-sex attraction. Doyle also touted the discredited work of Mark Regnerus, who produced a bogus study claiming that same-sex parenting leads to negative outcomes for children.

    And the facts show that Newsweek’s corporate parent is complicit in anti-gay discrimination elsewhere. Remind me to cancel my subscription to Newsweek!


    Los Angeles, CA – Biden Talks Global LGBTQ Rights, ENDA at HRC Dinner – 3.23

    Vice President Joe Biden spoke to more than 1,000 LGBTQ people and allies at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles, California. He spoke emphatically and powerfully about America’s commitment to advancing equality across the globe, and criticized countries like Uganda, Russia, and Nigeria for enacting anti-LGBTQ laws.

    “I’ve traveled to most countries in the world,” the vice president said. “And I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere.”

    Noting that being gay is illegal in 80 countries, Biden laid out the challenges faced by LGBTQ people overseas. In places like in Jamaica, he decried the practice of “corrective rape” for lesbians, and was critical of the anti-gay law in Nigeria that makes entering into same-sex marriage or supporting LGBTQ rights punishable with time in prison.

    The vice president also criticized Russia, which has recently been condemned by the United States by military incursion into Ukraine, over its law banning pro-gay propaganda to minors.

    “By the way, as the great Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said, ‘A country that does not respect the rights of its citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors,’ and we’re seeing that today in Ukraine,” Biden emphasized.

    Biden also emphatically called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The measure, which makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, was passed by the Senate last November, but is being held up by obstructionist anti-LGBTQ Republicans in the House.

    “It shocks the conscious [sic] that this very moment in American history, in some states, an employer can fire you just because of who you are, or who you love. It’s close to barbaric,” said Biden. “Imagine, twenty years from now, as America looks back and says how in the hell could that have ever been allowed? The country’s moved on. The American people have moved on, it’s time for the Congress to move on, and pass ENDA. Pass ENDA now! Not tomorrow, now!”

    You GO, VP Joe B!


    Saint Paul, MN – ‘Ex-gay’ Therapy Ban for Minors Fails in Minnesota, Activists Promise Reprise in 2015 – 3.27

    In early 2014, it looked likely that a ban on harmful “reparative therapy” for minors would pass in a Minnesota Legislature that a year before had passed marriage equality; but as the deadline to pass the bill expired last week, the bill has effectively died. Ex-gay groups mounted significant pressure on legislators to stop the bill, sending petitions and emails to lawmakers and hitting the conservative radio circuit. They declared victory this week.

    Gabe Aderhold and fellow University of Minnesota student Alec Fischer have been pushing for the bill. Late last year, the two created a petition with more than 114,000 signatures urging lawmakers to ban “ex-gay” therapy with minors. Aderhold and Fischer were successful in getting the bills introduced this session. California and New Jersey have enacted similar laws, and a half dozen other states are considering similar legislation.

    “The votes were there in the Senate committee, but Tina Liebling, chair of the Health and Human Service Policy Committee in the House would not hear the bill, citing lack of time and not wanting to regulate the industry – leave it up to the licensing boards, etc. – as her reasoning,” Aderhold said.

    One such group is Pro-Family Forum, formed out of the ashes of the Pro-Marriage Amendment Forum. After the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota, the Pro-Family Forum appears to have transitioned to “ex-gay” causes. The group created a petition that generated 176 signatures.

    The PFF also promoted a letter from the American College of Pediatricians, which is not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics. The former is a small splinter group of socially conservative physicians who have misrepresented valid research on LGBTQ people. The latter is a well-respected professional organization relying on sound science to draw conclusions.

    “The next steps are to build a broader base of support and raise greater awareness,” said Aderhold. “We will be back during the 2015 legislative session to try again. The session is longer and we will have more time to ‘whip the votes’ so to speak. The downsides to waiting another year are that more children will be subjected to this terrible ‘therapy,’ and the risk of a GOP house majority coming in and blocking the bill.”

    Ex-gay therapy in this modern age is utterly unthinkable!


    Washington, DC – Justice Department Now Training Police to Work with Transgender People – 3.28

    The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a program to educate local police departments to better understand and act on issues affecting transgender people. The new initiative is aimed at helping police identify hate crimes and build trust with a community that law enforcement officials say is too often reluctant to report crimes.

    “It’s clear that such a training is as necessary as it is overdue,” Associate Attorney General Tony West said. “Because too often, in too many places, we know that transgender victims are discouraged from reporting hate crimes and hate violence due to their past negative interactions with and perceptions of law enforcement.”

    The program will be overseen by the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, which works to prevent and respond to hate crimes. Lesson plans include suggestions for addressing school bullying, and lists of do’s and don’ts, with don’ts including using terms like “transvestite” and asking whether a transgender person has had “sex reassignment” or “sex change” surgery.

    Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that “the [transgender] community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions” prevent them from reporting acts of anti-transgender violence, a situation he described as unacceptable.

    “This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Department of Justice, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote,” Cole said.

    For many years, transgender rights advocates have criticized how the nation’s police departments have addressed hate crimes against transgender people.

    “Cops will deal with trans folks and assume because you’re trans, then in some kind of way you’ve caused this kind of violence on you,” said Tiq Milan, a spokesman for advocacy group GLAAD.

    Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, helped to design the program, but said there is still more work that will need to be done in order to fix the problems between transgender people and America’s police departments.

    “You can’t train your way out of this problem. It’s one piece of the puzzle. It’s one tool that we can use,” she said.

    It’s time cops figure out how to get along with trans people.


    Anti-Displacement Coalition Tackles Affordable Housing Problems

    Discussions were held at the Anti-Displacement Coalition policy briefing. The ADC is a coalition of all renters’ advocacy organizations in the City. The big problem is that speculators are targeting rent-controlled units with long-term (low rent) renters, many of whom are disabled and/or seniors. These units tend to be the cheapest to buy.

    Owners have the option to invoke the Ellis Act and evict tenants to increase the sale value of the property, or the speculator can do that after the purchase to increase the value of the property and resell it (on the average at a 116% profit).

    Another option is to threaten the tenant with an Ellis Act eviction and do a Buy Out. One hundred of these happened in one month (February 2014), mostly in the Mission and Tenderloin. This is the primary form of displacement today.

    Most of this speculative profit is from turning former rent controlled units into TIC’s (Tenancies In Common) using Fractional TIC mortgages. Some units are used for AirBnB or corporate suites. These add to the loss of rent-controlled apartments.

    Creating a TIC in rent-controlled housing removes one group of people (usually low-income), and replaces them with another group of people with more income. It does not create new housing, and it eliminates the rent-controlled housing stock, often permanently.

    Proposed new laws and regulations include the Harvey Milk anti-speculation tax. Signature gathering begins in April for the November ballot. At stake are the legalizing of illegal units, increasing relocation payouts, better defining Fractional TIC’s in the planning code, and the requirement of permits that include “Building Code compliance” before conversion from rentals to TIC’s. Poor tenants could offer their units to a nonprofit like the S.F. Land Trust for purchase when the building goes on the market and register “buy outs” with the rent board. If there were disabled and/or senior tenants, then no condo conversion could be allowed in the future, and no rent increase would be allowed if re-rented.

    If such regulations pass, the City could buy small rental buildings, regulate conversion of rentals to TIC’s, and allow the right to add one additional roommate (regardless of the lease/rental agreement), which would dramatically increase the housing supply in the tens of thousands.

    What has been accomplished so far is that there is a 10-year suspension of the condo conversion lottery. Limitations exist for mergers of multiple rentals into single units, and there are to be no demolitions of rent-controlled buildings to build market rate rentals. Much is left to do, however. The next citywide rally will take place on April 26 from noon to 3pm at City Hall.

    Story by Dennis McMillan

    Bill to Improve Safety and Prevent Bullying in California Schools Clears Committee with Bipartisan Support

    A bill – authored by Senator Ricardo Lara and co-sponsored by Equality California and GSA Network – that would improve the handling of bullying and discrimination incidents in public schools, has passed the Senate Education Committee by a bipartisan vote of 7-0-2.

    The bill, SB 840, addresses shortfalls in existing school safety and nondiscrimination law enforcement and implementation in California schools. The legislation was prompted by the findings of the School Safety and Nondiscrimination Laws Audit released in 2013, reporting that school bullying prevention efforts are falling short.

    “While California has been at the forefront in adopting legislation to protect our youth from bullying and harassment, including Seth’s Law in 2011, last year’s audit showed that compliance with the law is falling short,” said John O’Connor, EQCA executive director. “The bipartisan support that this bill received reaffirms the notion that every student should feel safe at school and have the opportunity to succeed.”

    “No student should fear going to school because of bullying,” said Senator Lara. “We have a responsibility to provide school officials with the tools they need to appropriately protect and support our students and ensure academic success.”

    Bullying and harassment in schools is occurring at alarming rates in California. While students are bullied for a variety of reasons, data has shown nearly 200,000 students in California schools are harassed because of sexual orientation. These statistics translate to multiple negative consequences for students, including higher risk for poor academic performance, depression, suicide and substance abuse. The cumulative cost to school districts is an estimated minimum of $39.9 million each year due to school absences when students feel unsafe to attend school for fear of being bullied.

    In 2012, EQCA and GSA Network joined then Assemblymembers Lara and Betsy Butler to request an audit by the State Auditor that reviewed current state laws on the issue and recommended improvements to increase prevention. Released in 2013, the report found that while a majority of districts and schools have implemented some nondiscrimination policies, many lacked adequate enforcement measures. Additionally, the audit revealed that California law was not fully aligned with federal Department of Education nondiscrimination policy.

    Story by Dennis McMillan