Friday, February 22, 2008

Boy in Bushwick Goes on Vacation

With the snow falling fast and relatively furious outside here in Bushwick, this blogger will take a long overdue vacation from tomorrow through March 1 in a much warmer climate. The next posting will be on Monday, March 3.

New York Activists Plan Protest Outside HRC Dinner

New York activists are among those across the country who have either picketed the Human Rights Campaign or plan to protest the lobbying organization at dinners across the country. As I reported in EDGE New York yesterday, a coalition of organizations plan to gather outside HRC's annual New York gala tomorrow night in Midtown to express their displeasure over the group's decision to back a transgender-exclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act last fall. Stay tuned!

As the fallout over the Human Rights Campaign’s decision to back a transgender-exclusive federal non-discrimination bill before Congress last fall continues to unfold, a number of activists plan to picket the lobbying organization’s annual New York gala in Midtown on Feb. 23.

Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, told EDGE New York he expects hundreds of people to take part. He blasted U.S. Rep. Barney Frank [D-Mass.] for introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act without gender identity and expression and HRC President Joe Solmonese for supporting it despite repeated assurances to the contrary. Roskoff added he and others plan to ask members of New York’s Congressional delegation to withdraw their support of the current version of the bill.

"HRC has taken away the fight and drive for equality by compromising our goals and selling the community short," he said.

Melissa Sklarz, director of the New York Trans Rights Organization, is among those supporting the protest. She said she hopes donors and others who attend the dinner will better understand the damage she feels the HRC’s decision to back a trans-exclusive ENDA has done to its reputation and standing.

"I know they raise lots and lots of money and I know they have a huge, huge staff," Sklarz said. "2007 was a terrible, terrible year for transgender trust in HRC."

Stonewall Democratic Club of New York President Matthew Carlin said he made a personal decision not to attend. He added he has urged his members to do the same.

"HRC was really on the wrong side of the ENDA decision," Carlin said.

Activists have protested HRC dinners in Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina, in recent weeks. And the New York Post reported earlier this week honorees Idina Menzel and Vanessa Williams have been urged to cancel their appearances at the gala, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg, openly lesbian City Council Speaker and probable 2009 mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane, Carson Kressley and other local politicos and celebrities have previously attended.

Quinn did not return a request for comment, but has expressed support for a trans-inclusive bill. Duane, who has echoed these sentiments, will not attend the dinner because he will be in Albany.

HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas downplayed any impact the protest may have.

"While a small number of critics continue to hold protests surrounding ENDA, the Human Rights Campaign is working with allies in Congress to educate members and pave the way for a fully inclusive bill that protects the entire GLBT community," he said.

Thomas further pointed out the HRC sends regular action alerts to its members that urge them to lobby their members of Congress to support a trans-inclusive bill. He also said HRC has recruited more than 50 major businesses to sign a letter in support of ENDA with gender identity and expression, and Thomas further added the organization has secured a commitment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] to bring a trans-inclusive bill up for a vote as soon as it has enough support to pass.

"There are a lot of things that the general GLBT community... are not aware of that we’re doing everyday to make this happen," he said.

Roskoff remains unconvinced.

"It is time for our community to stop throwing money down the drain," Roskoff said. "HRC is nothing more than a cash cow that must no longer be fed."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fidel Castro Announces Resignation

This blogger was almost certainly among millions of people in this country and around the world who attentively listened to reports yesterday that analyzed the potential impact Cuban President Fidel Castro's resignation would have on the Communist island. Few seem to question the dire economical situation of the Cuban people and the geo-political struggle between the United States and the Castro regime since shortly after he took power in 1959. The question of how his resignation will impact LGBT Cubans is part of the broader questions that remain.

The country's culture minister, Abel Prieto, recently expressed his support for legal recognition of same-sex couples while Castro's niece, Centro Nacional de Educacion Sexual (CENESEX) director Mariela Castro Espin, has expressed support for LGBT rights, including government-funded sex-reassignment surgeries and hormones, for transgender Cubans, over the last three years. These are important steps to correct serious human rights abuses the Castro regime had committed against gay men, people with AIDS and others, but the question remains as to whether a change in the Cuban government will produce tangible reforms that are more than arguably long overdue. Time will tell.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gay Teen Shot, Killed in California School

The blogosphere and LGBT media outlets across the country have reported the utterly tragic and senseless murder of 15-year-old Lawrence King last Tuesday inside an Oxnard, Calif., junior high school allegedly because he was gay. The movement for LGBT rights have understandably expressed their shock and sadness at his death and have also used his murder to reaffirm their support for federal hate crimes legislation.

Larry's death is certainly a tragedy that reminds all of us anti-LGBT violence remains a clear and present problem in classrooms, on the streets and in homes around the country (and the world.) And we all have a responsibility to stand up and speak out against this violence and the culture of homophobia and intolerance that continues to foster it. Rest in peace Larry!

Activists Celebrate Federal Funding of D.C.'s Anti-AIDS Needle Exchange

This development, as I reported in, comes as Democratic candidates campaign against the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs designed to reduce rates of HIV and AIDS in communities the epidemic has hit hard. Washington is one such city. And activists will certainly continue to use Congress' decision to allow the District to fund these programs to pressure Capitol Hill to lift the ban on federal funding of these initiatives.

As activists and public health officials continue to push Congress to lift the ban on federally funded syringe-exchange programs, a number of LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations gathered on Capitol Hill to commemorate congressional funding of these initiatives in the District of Columbia.

Congress voted last year to allow only the district, which it supports and over which it has special oversight, to fund these programs as part of its efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Washington, D.C. has one of the country's highest rates of new infections. Channing Wickham, executive director of the Washington AIDS Partnership, contends syringe-exchange programs are an effective way to curb the epidemic.

"With the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country, the Washington AIDS Partnership is pleased that the District of Columbia will at last be able to spend local tax dollars on this life-saving HIV prevention strategy," Wickham said. "After many years of effort by a broad coalition of advocates, it is encouraging to see that common sense and the unquestioned efficacy of syringe exchange to slow the rate of new HIV infections have prevailed."

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese agreed. "With HIV and AIDS threatening public health, the end of the ban on the district using its funds to operate syringe-exchange programs in Washington is long overdue," Solmonese said.

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services enacted the ban in 1988 with the stipulation that allowed the department's chief to determine if syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS without increasing rates of intravenous drug use.

Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala issued a statement supporting these initiatives in 1998 while Surgeon General David Satcher concluded in 2000 that syringe-exchange programs are effective as part of a comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy.

Numerous scientific studies, including a 2004 report published by the World Health Organization, further indicate syringe-exchange programs reduce HIV/AIDS rates without increased drug use. More than 200 programs now exist at locations across the country, including Positive Health Project in New York, the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland in Ohio, Access Works in Minneapolis, Prevention Point Philadelphia and Clean Needles Now in Los Angeles.

Activists contend Congress needs to allocate federal funds nationwide to further reduce HIV/AIDS rates.

"We call on Congress to follow its own lead and tremendous success in ending the D.C. ban by ending the federal ban as well," said Ronald Johnson, deputy executive director of AIDS Action.

Solmonese praised U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C., and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill who back federal funding of these programs. He again reiterated his call to lift the ban.

"We salute congressional leaders for leading the effort to repeal this harmful policy and urge Congress to end the federal ban," Solmonese said.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Text of N'Touch Injunction Order

Bay Windows published Suffolk Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel's ruling that imposed a 45-day injunction against former In Newsweekly associate publisher Bill Berggren and two former sales associates in relation to N'Touch.

HX Media CEO Matthew Bank filed suit against Berggren, Matthew White and Beau de Mello late last month after Berggren allegedly deleted In Newsweekly's advertising database before his Jan. 2 termination. The suit further alleges Berggren, White and de Mello solicited the troubled weekly's advertisers to advertise in N'Touch while the three were still employed by HX Media in Boston.

It remains unclear as to whether Bank will seek an additional injunction but in another development, an ad in this week's In Newsweekly announced the paper will become the New England Blade on Feb. 28.

Something to which we all can look forward.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Judge Issues Injunction Against Boston Gay Newspaper

A Boston judge issued an injunction against a new Boston LGBT newspaper on Friday
after the parent company of troubled weekly In Newsweekly filed suit against its former associate publisher for allegedly stealing his former employer's advertising database for his new publication.

Bill Berggren, publisher of N'Touch New England, allegedly solicited ads for the publication while still working at In Newsweekly. The suit further contends he lured away the weekly's sales staff to work for N'Touch. HX Media fired Berggren on Jan. 2 after CEO Matthew Bank reportedly discovered his plans to launch the newspaper.

Berggren declined to comment on the injunction but a source told Boy in Bushwick it remains in effect for 45 days and prevents N'Touch from using the same advertisers In Newsweekly uses. The source further speculated it is possible the court could issue a second injunction after the first court order expires.

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Media Sensationalizes Murder of Alleged Transgender Prostitute

The news of Sanesha Stewart's murder allegedly at the hands of her pimp who did not know she was transgender is certainly a tragedy, but the subsequent coverage surrounding her untimely death is nothing less than outrageous.

Stewart, 25, was reportedly stabbed to death by Steve McMillan inside her Bronx apartment on Feb. 9. 1010 WINS announced the murder on its Web site yesterday with the headline "Tranny Hooker Murdered By Shocked John" while the Daily News proclaimed "Fooled John Stabbed Bronx Tranny." The tabloid changed its headline after the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation contacted its editors to challenge the sensationalized coverage. 1010 WINS followed suit but many questions remain.

Media outlets obviously need to remain competitive in order to maintain their product. This competitiveness comes with a great deal of responsibility. Sensationalizing the death of anyone is simply outrageous. Stewart had many friends and family -- as the Daily News itself reported today -- who loved her and care for her during her life. And she is certainly entitled to that basic respect and dignity in death without salacious headlines from editors interested in selling a few extra newspapers or producers who want to gain a handful of new listeners.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Romney Concedes Defeat

A collective applause most likely erupted from the movement for LGBT rights earlier today after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suspended his presidential campaign. Log Cabin Republican President Patrick Sammon was quick to acknowledge the social conservative's repeated flip-flops on abortion, marriage for same-sex couples and other issues throughout his failed White House bid.

"Governor Romney ran an aggressive campaign, spending tens of millions of dollars to hide his record and to distort the record of his opponents," he said in a statement. In the end, voters did not find this version of Mitt Romney to be credible. Too many voters learned about his record, and that record didn't match his new found conservative rhetoric."

Sammon further concluded today is a great day for the GOP.

"Nominating a candidate like Mitt Romney would have been a recipe for disaster in November and would have endured a White House victory by the Democrats," he said.

The Democrats arguably have an advantage going into November but Romney's failed campaign is undoubtedly a welcome development. Good riddance Mitt!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Super Duper Tuesday in Bushwick

As a native Granite Stater, I often take for granted my vote actually counted for something. I voted in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in both 2000 (for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)) and 2004 (for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.) And moving to New York State, I thought it would not matter as much -- but I was wrong at least this year.

I proudly voted for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) yesterday here in Bushwick and while my arguably over-romanticized description may have held true in other primary cycles, Super Tuesday marked the first time in decades voters in New York and other states could have arguably influenced the process by which their respective parties choose their nominee for president. No small task as various pundits and others have pointed out time and time again today.

The campaign is far from over, however, as candidates continue to cross the country in search of votes. American voters -- at least those in the more than 30 states who have already voted or caucused -- can arguably take a sigh of relief the campaigns have moved onto someone else's backyard. But the games will obviously continue as one of the most important campaigns in history moves forward. Enjoy!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Teachable Moment for All

With all of the excitement (or dismay) over the New York Giants' Super Bowl upset last night in Glendale and at least one subsequent street celebration on top of two garbage trucks in Union Square, this writer felt it a bit appropriate to take a step back from the early February sports festivities to perhaps more bread and butter issues discussed on this forum.

A long-time friend forwarded me a posting from an acquaintance's Myspace profile talking about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and how LGBT people remain second class citizens in this country without basic protections. She further pointed out how women of color cannot lose their jobs because of their race or how a Wal-Mart greeter cannot be terminated solely because of his or her age or how a Christian employee cannot be fired because of their faith. This acquaintance concluded 'almost 30 years after the Civil Rights movement, it's time for employment discrimination against gays and lesbians to end.'

This person is a straight white woman whose heart is certainly in the right place but her messaging around LGBT rights raises some potentially problematic points of contention that activists and others have repeatedly raised over the years. Comparing one struggle to another is almost never helpful despite the best of intentions. And the messenger who delivers these comparisons can either help or hurt the broader cause of equality. While at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, I would always caution against these comparisons as a '20-something gay white man from New Hampshire' who did not live during the Civil Rights struggle. The late Coretta Scott King could certainly (and effectively) make this comparison based on the work she and her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did throughout their lives. I, and others who did not share this experience, arguably cannot.

Straight allies certainly serve a vitally important role within the movement for LGBT rights and its efforts on behalf of LGBT Americans. But they, like everyone, have a responsibility to educate themselves about the issues and the impact their statements and messages have on their own advocacy and those around them they claim to support. To fail on this important responsibility simply breeds more ignorance that helps no one.

Friday, February 1, 2008

City Pension Funds Seek Ban On LGBT Discrimination In Workplace

A number of observers are often quick to point out New York City leads the country in implementing or (at the very least) progressive policies within the five boroughs and within the companies and corporations with which it works. City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., is one of the local elected officials to which many point in extending these progressive policies. And one such measure came earlier this week with his announcement his office would pressure two dozen Fortune 1000 companies to adopt non-discrimination policies that would inclue sexual orientation and gender identity. This announcement is not new as reported in EDGE New York this week. But it arguably sends a powerful message: New York expects government and business alike to protect its LGBT citizens.

Speaking at a press conference at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan yesterday, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., announced he and the city’s pension funds had called upon two dozen Fortune 1000 companies to adopt non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Thompson, a likely 2009 mayoral candidate, said corporate America has a responsibility to protect all of its employees.

"A company can’t reach its full potential if it fails to protect all of its workers," he said. "Corporations that value all of its employees must protect all of its workers."

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, herself a trustee on the New York City Employees Retirement System, echoed Thompson.

"There is no question equal treatment in the workplace is a right," she said. "Large companies in this country should set a standard - they must set a standard."

Transgender activist Melissa Sklarz agreed.

"He [Thompson] knows what I know: LGBT discrimination is bad for business," she said.

The city’s five pension funds, which Thompson oversees, have more than $110 billion in holdings. Eric Indemnity, the Brink’s Company, AK Steel and Synovus Financial Corporations are among the half a dozen companies that have already agreed to adopt the changes in this latest in a series of proposals sent to companies in which the funds have holdings.

These resolutions contain twice as many proposals as the previous proxy season. They include transgender-specific protections for the second time.

Fifty companies have amended their policies to include sexual orientation and/or gender identity but Thompson specifically singled out Exxon Mobil for its repeated failure to respond to these requests.

NYCERS has petitioned the company eight times. And despite increased shareholder support each year, Exxon Mobil has ignored the requests.

"While it is heartening that a number of shareholders agree that Exxon Mobil must take steps to provide equal protections for all employees, it is extremely troubling and downright unacceptable that Exxon Mobil has strongly resisted the call," Thompson said.

He added he and his office will continue to pressure Exxon Mobil to adopt their proposal.

"We’re not going to go away," Thompson said.