Saturday, May 22, 2010

Harvey Milk Day

 "My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you."
"And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone." - Harvey Milk, 1978
Today, cities across the USA are observing Harvey Milk Day.
By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
Robin Galbraith never thought she'd be a gay-rights activist.
Then the 46-year-old military ship designer moved home to Mobile, Ala., from Houston four years ago and encountered a gay community where many are afraid to live openly.
Taking inspiration from slain gay-rights leader Harvey Milk— the San Francisco supervisor whose struggle inspired the 2008 movie Milk— Galbraith is helping gays and lesbians be more visible in the mostly conservative city. She speaks to local colleges and created a website to make it easier for people to connect.

On Saturday, she'll celebrate with California as the state marks the first official Harvey Milk Day on what would have been his 80th birthday. Galbraith will host a viewing of the movie, then a forum on issues vital to gays and lesbians in the South, such as electing openly gay politicians.
California is the only state with an official Harvey Milk Day, but 26 cities in 20 states scattered nationwide will hold rallies and events to honor the first openly gay man to be elected to public office and icon of the gay-rights movement.

"He knew you had to make change," Galbraith says. "Our community has to understand you have a voice, and if you don't use it, nothing will change."

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He fought to end discrimination against gays and lesbians and built coalitions of gay-rights groups, labor unions and small-business owners. He was 48 when he was killed a year later by a former supervisor, Dan White.

Equality under law
The Milk events come as gay-rights advocates are pressuring Congress to pass a bill that ends job discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and to repeal the military ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.

Twenty-one states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 12 ban discrimination based on gender identity, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Advocates are lobbying Congress to include a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" — the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military — in a spending bill a House committee took up Wednesday and a Senate committee plans to take up next week.

Gay-rights activists stepped up their protests this week, rallying at the U.S. Capitol and in front of legislators' district offices and chaining themselves to the White House gates to call attention to their causes.
Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, one of the groups leading the rallies, says that despite gains since Milk served, gays and lesbians still lack full equality. "Thirty-two years later, sadly, we still wait," she says.
Opponents are just as passionate. Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis at the conservative American Family Association, says the lack of movement so far shows "these issues are radioactive enough" that Congress doesn't want to go there.

Gay-rights activists, he says, are trying to steamroll unpopular legislation through Congress and using Harvey Milk Day to "force acceptance of homosexual behavior."

"They know they are running out of time," he says.

Both efforts face hurdles as legislators dealing with tough re-election campaigns hesitate to back the bills, says Paul Yandura, a political consultant who works on gay-rights issues.
If Democrats lose seats in the midterm elections, he says, the bills have even less chance of passing.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, says she wants to pass both bills and is meeting with lawmakers about the timing. He would not say whether either has the votes needed to pass.

Education as first step 
Advocates say Harvey Milk Day allows them to celebrate Milk's legacy as they fight for full equality.
Raymond and Byron Moya, who are married with twin 3-year-old daughters and a newborn son, plan to spend the day going door-to-door in East Los Angeles with their family, talking to residents about same-sex marriage and gay rights.

The couple is among hundreds canvassing neighborhoods in nine cities with Equality California, the group that led the two-year effort for Harvey Milk Day.

"We want to educate people about who we are as a family," says Raymond Moya, 38. The couple has been together seven years and married in 2008 during the five months that California allowed same-sex marriage.
Galbraith dreams of the day when gays and lesbians in her community will feel free to live so openly. "We should not be hiding," she says.

Milk's nephew, Stuart, who is gay, says it is inspiring that communities such as Mobile are celebrating the day.
"It is difficult in places like Mobile," he says. "These people are standing on Harvey's shoulders and creating new shoulders for others to stand on."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Homophobia - Afraid to be Gay

Monday, May 17th was International Day Against Homophobia 

(tipped by JMG)

We tend to be complacent about this issue here in Canada.  But legal rights under the protection of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't always translate into equal treatment under the prejudices of our Church, government and neighbours.

 Homophobia in sports is well known to be pervasive and hate crimes, even in countries where gay protection laws are the most liberal, are on the rise. 

Is this to be expected from bigots whose backs are against the wall?

Or are these homophobes being encouraged by the incendiary proclamations of their religious leaders and self professed family values protectors?

This program from ITV in Britain sheds some lights on the subject.  Hopefully it reaches beyond the "choir".

(From Britain's ITV)

Former Wales rugby union captain Gareth Thomas uses hidden-camera footage to investigate attitudes to homosexuality, and explores why, despite all the legislation, homophobic attacks are on the rise.
Recently 'out' rugby star Thomas and ITV's TONIGHT team have uncovered stark prejudice on the streets of Britain while filming undercover. In Afraid to be Gay: TONIGHT, the programme shows Mancunian couple Nick and Nathaniel as they walk through Wigan and Leigh holding hands.

Filmed by a crew, onlookers appear on camera to voice their disapproval, but generally with a degree of good humour and tolerance. Then Assistant Producer Harriet Gill carries a concealed camera in her handbag. Taunts of "Batty boy" and "Queer" begin to fly. Everyone is alert to the possibility of violence.

The programme shows exclusive film from Thomas' coming-out party, interviews with Will Young, Dr Christian Jessen from Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies and publicist Max Clifford, who advises premiership footballers to delay coming out until they retire.

Current Affairs Producer Neil Barnes says the whole team were taken by surprise at the ingrained levels of homophobia uncovered while making the programme. "Britain might have some of the most liberal laws on homosexuality in Europe, but hate crime is still growing in Britain.We're proud to bring this to light in a compelling way."
Thomas also meets a teenager on the verge of suicide because of the taunts he receives about his sexuality, while an exclusive Tonight poll reveals what the nation really thinks about homosexuality in 2010.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gay marriage refusal case tests rights

In 2005, around the time Parliament declared same-sex marriage legal, Orville Nichols, a civil marriage commissioner in Regina, was approached by a man who asked him to perform a wedding ceremony. He had been overseeing civil ceremonies for more than 20 years, so there was nothing unusual about the request.

But the man who approached Mr. Nichols, since identified in court documents as M.J., then added it would be a same-sex ceremony. Mr. Nichols refused, explaining his Christian beliefs forbade him from taking part in the marriage of two men.

M.J. found a willing commissioner to marry him and his partner, but still decided to bring Mr. Nichols before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Mr. Nichols was fined $2,500 in 2008 for violating M.J.'s rights. Mr. Nichols then brought his case to the Court of Queen's Bench, which rejected his appeal last year.

"I have nothing against gay people," he said from his home in Regina. "I have a nephew and niece who are gay. I don't hate them. I just don't want to take part in a same-sex service."

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Regina will consider whether marriage commissioners are within their Charter rights to refuse to conduct ceremonies that offend their religious beliefs.

While some other provinces have allowed for exemptions since same-sex marriage became legal, this will be the first time that a court will evaluate if that refusal meets the standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so it could have ramifications for the rest of the country.

Saskatchewan's Attorney-General, Don Morgan, through a reference to the provincial Court of Appeal, has taken the unusual step of hiring two outside lawyers to argue both for and against the constitutionality of exemptions.

Mr. Morgan said if the court allows the exemptions, his government will introduce legislation; if the court decides that any exemption is unconstitutional, the matter will end there.

The court will also hear from interested parties,

intervenors, on both sides of the issue.

"Accommodations have to be made to respect both parties' rights but now and again we've seen circumstances where some rights conflict with other rights and sometimes rather directly," said Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, who will argue for the exemptions. "The Supreme Court [ruled in another case 2001] that there is no hierarchy of rights. What we hope to do in this case is find a way to respect both parties' rights. That's what the Charter demands."

Abby Deshman, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said her group decided to intervene against the exemptions. She called it a difficult decision given how many shades of grey there are in this case.

"We have come down in favour of reasonable accommodation of conscientious objection or religious views in other cases in the past," she said. "Except the crucial difference here is that this will help decide the nature of government and the right of all citizens to equally access non-religious services.

"I think there are higher obligations on government, which is to treat all citizens equally when providing services."

However, she said her group does not agree that civil servants must give up all religious rights. "We think that reasonable accommodation should be made when possible. But we just think in this case this accommodation takes too heavy a toll on equality.

"It's put into stark contrast when you switch out the grounds of discrimination. So if we go back to the 1950s and there were people who publicly declared that mixed marriages were contrary to religious doctrine. If we had a government that said, Yes, if this is your belief, you have the right to refuse to provide this service to mixed marriage couples when they come in ... I think most people would find it objectionable."

Ruth Ross, executive director and general legal counsel for the Ontario-based Christian Legal Fellowship, rejects the comparison to mixed marriages or racially based motivations.

"It's not the same thing because there is no inner malice here," said Ms. Ross. "This has nothing to do with malice or discrimination. It is about asking the marriage commissioner to participate and cooperate with something that is immoral and wrong. And the court is being asked to show tolerance toward religion as they would show tolerance in other situations."

Robert Reynolds, a Saskatoon lawyer hired by the government to argue against the exemptions, said when a marriage commissioner refuses to marry a gay couple, he is saying, "My religious right is paramount to your right to equality."

When a marriage commissioner refuses to work on a holy day, that is not discrimination because it applies to anyone who would ask to be married, he said.

"These people aren't by virtue of their religious belief visiting their conduct on someone because they're gay," he said. "On the other hand, when he says his calendar is free but won't marry a gay couple, that's visiting his religious belief onto somebody else and then it becomes discrimination."

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