US Senate confirms 3 anti-gay men to courts of appeal
Washington, D.C. – Last week, the United States Senate confirmed three nominees to the federal bench with proven and extensive anti-LGBT records: Leonard Steven Grasz to the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, Don Willett to the 5th Circuit, and James Ho to the 5th Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee also progressed with the nomination of anti-LGBT crusader Matthew Kacsmaryk to the US District Court of the Northern District of Texas and is expected to vote soon on the nomination of fellow anti-LGBT crusader Kyle Duncan for the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Lambda Legal, along with dozens of LGBT groups and civil rights organizations, has opposed Grasz’s, Willett’s, Kacsmaryk’s, and Duncan’s nominations. Lambda also expressed grave concerns about the nomination of James Ho to the 5th Circuit and his ability to give a fair hearing to LGBT Americans in light of his history of advocating against their right to equal protection of their relationships and families under the law.
In 2016, the Supreme Court decided approximately 69 cases, while US Courts of Appeals decided approximately 58,000 cases and US District Courts decided about 355,000. As of today, Trump has now placed 12 circuit court judges on the federal bench this year. In contrast, President Obama had only confirmed three circuit judges at this point in his administration.
Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s Director of Strategy, issued the following statement: “Over the last several weeks, voters throughout the country, and perhaps most notably in Virginia and Alabama, have been rejecting the message of hate, fear, and division being peddled by candidates and politicians. It’s time for the Senate to follow suit, and get back in the business of serving all Americans. This means standing up against Donald Trump’s destructive agenda and preserving our courts as a place where all people can receive fair and impartial justice. We were extremely gratified to hear this week that Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley’s nominations would not move forward. Lambda Legal led the charge against Jeff Mateer’s nomination, and joined other civil rights groups denouncing the nomination of Brett Talley. While we are relieved by reports that we have defeated these two specific nominees, we call upon the Senate to take a fresh look at the other nominees that Trump has been putting forward – nominees selected not merely in spite of, but rather because of, their anti-LGBT and anti-civil rights pedigrees. (Seattle Gay News & Lambda Legal at sgn.org)
Chelsea Manning speaks of universal oppression in Penn talk
Philadelphia, PA – On November 29, Chelsea Manning spoke to the University of Pennsylvania community. Several Penn groups, including the political-science department and the LGBT Center, organized “A Conversation with Chelsea Manning,” which drew hundreds of Penn students, staff and faculty to the Annenberg Center. The Trans woman spoke with cultural anthropologist Briella Coleman, author of “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy,” about national security, social media and the intersection of identities and activism. Manning also opened up about her difficult time in prison and the current groundswell of political resistance. Manning was originally sentenced to 35 years in military prison for releasing more than 750,000 sensitive military logs she accessed in her position as an Army intelligence
analyst. Her sentence was commuted to time served by then-President Barack Obama early this year.
Manning and Coleman did not address the current president or the country’s ongoing post-election identity crisis; instead, Manning took the larger “institutions of power” to task. “Just look at the advertisers on CNN,” Manning said. “You see Boeing, Northrop Grumman — all of these companies that are churning out weapons and technology. It’s all about the bottom line and no one, including the mainstream media, has any incentive to give the unvarnished truth.” She also talked more about how technological advancement puts civilians at risk. “I don’t think the people in tech are really thinking about the consequences of the tools they are creating,” Manning added. “The same data collection we use for marketing, we use to kill people.”
On Twitter, Manning uses the hashtag/mantra #WeGotThis, which she said sums up her belief in community and solidarity. She spoke in more detail about her role as an LGBT activist, the perception of her status as a “hacker” and her work as an advocate for civil liberties. “There’s a certain intersectionality because all of our communities are facing off against the same institutions of power. It’s the police state, or corporations or the military, but we’re all pushing back against them. We really need each other and we don’t need a leader to tell us what we need,” she said. “The Trans community has different issues, from people who are undocumented or activists in the tech community, but we all suffer under the same powerful institutions.” One student, who identified himself as a veteran, said, “I think it speaks a lot to who we are as a society that a self-admitted and convicted traitor has a platform to speak. Do you have any regrets?” Manning’s voice boomed across the auditorium: “No, I don’t have any regrets.” (Philadelphia Gay News – Beth Bole at epgn.com)
Researchers say two genes may be linked to homosexuality
London, England – The Montreal Gazette reports that scientists looking into the genetic basis for sexual orientation say they have discovered genes that can be linked to homosexuality. Researchers who looked at the complete genome – a person’s entire DNA code – for more than 1,000 gay men and compared it to genetic data from a similar number of heterosexuals, found the DNA was different for gay and straight men in at least two genes. Participants in the study were rated for sexual orientation based on their self-reported sexual identity and sexual feelings and provided their DNA for analysis. Dr Alan Sanders, lead author of the study, said: “Because sexuality is an essential part of human life – for individuals and society – it is important to understand the development and expression of human sexual orientation.” However, British scientists said the genetic differences could point to other traits among the homosexual respondents. For example, the variations may simply predispose people to be more open or candid about their lives. Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “Even if a gene variant does show some correlation with sexual orientation, this does not mean that the gene is in any way responsible for being gay – it just means it has some association with a trait that is more likely to be found in the relatively few people involved in the study. This could be better social awareness or being brave enough to acknowledge they are in a minority.”
Gil McVean, Professor of Statistical Genetics at the University of Oxford, also added: “Sexuality is likely influenced by many different factors, including environment, experience and, likely, some aspects of innate biological variation. I can see no major implications of this work or how it could be useful in the future. “The genetic effects are far too weak to be of any predictive or diagnostic value. All biology – including the origins of sexuality – is interesting at some level, but I see no direct applications of such research.” The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports. (Montreal Gazette at http://montrealgazette.com/health/scientists-find-the-gene-that-makes-men-gay-or-very-open-about-sex-its-hard-to-tell/wcm/5b834fd6-13c0-464d-b868-c74676c45cb4)
Franken falls victim to #MeToo stampede toward purity
New York, NY – New Yorker columnist Masha Gessen parses the resignation of Minnesota Senator Al Franken with a cautionary commentary (substantially abridged here) about our society’s penchant to police sex. “On what he called the worst day of his political life, Senator Al Franken articulated two points that are central to understanding what has become known as the #MeToo moment. In an eleven-minute speech, in which Franken announced his intention to resign from the Senate, he made this much clear: the force that is ending his political career is greater than the truth, and this force operates on only roughly half of this country’s population—those who voted for Hillary Clinton and who consume what we still refer to as mainstream media. . . Franken did not apologize. In fact, he made it clear that he disagreed with his accusers. “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” he said. “Others I remember very differently.”
“Earlier, Franken had in fact apologized to his accusers, and he didn’t take his apologies back now, but he made it plain that they had been issued in the hopes of facilitating a conversation and an investigation that would clear him. . . But, by Thursday morning, thirty-two Democratic senators had called on Franken to resign. The force of the #MeToo moment leaves no room for due process, or, indeed, for Franken’s own constituents to consider their choice. Still, the force works selectively. . . Trump and Roy Moore are immune because the blunt irresistible force works only on the other half of the country. That half is cleaning its ranks in the face of—and in clear reaction to—genuine moral depravity on the other side. The Trump era is one of deep and open immorality in politics. . . These are men who proclaim their allegiance to the Christian faith while acting in openly hateful, duplicitous, and plainly murderous ways. . .
The urge to do so by policing sex is not surprising. As Susan Sontag pointed out more than half a century ago, Christianity has “concentrated on sexual behavior as the root of virtue” and, consequently, “everything pertaining to sex has been a ‘special case’ in our culture.” The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply, Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial accusations to Franken’s resignation, is based on the premise that Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be policing non-criminal behavior related to sex. . . If only Franken’s heartbreakingly articulate expression of his loss were capable of focusing our attention on this root, and on the dangers of the drive to police sex. (The New Yorker – Masha Gessen at https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/al-franken-resignation-and-the-selective-force-of-metoo)
Supreme Court lets stand Texas court anti-gay ruling
Washington, D.C. – Reuters reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Houston’s appeal of a lower court ruling that threw into doubt the city’s spousal benefits to gay married municipal employees, allowing a case that tests the reach of the landmark 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide to proceed. On December 4 the justices left intact a June ruling by the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court that revived a lawsuit backed by a conservative group aimed at blocking Houston from offering such benefits. The high court’s action set no nationwide precedent but may give a boost to conservative legal efforts to limit the effects of its decision in the case Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to gay couples under the U.S. Constitution. The case will now proceed in a Texas state court, which could decide to stop the benefits offered by the fourth most populous U.S. city. Such a ruling again could be appealed to the nation’s top court.
The Houston case began in 2013 when Jack Pidgeon, a local Christian pastor, and Larry Hicks, an accountant, sued the city after Annise Parker, a Democrat who was its first openly gay mayor, gave municipal spousal benefits such as health insurance and life insurance to same-sex married couples. Pidgeon and Hicks argued that the benefits violated the Texas constitution and state and local laws against same-sex marriage. A state trial court initially sided with them, but after the 2015 Obergefell decision, an appeals court reversed that ruling.
Lawyers for Pidgeon and Hicks told the state Supreme Court that the Obergefell ruling should be interpreted narrowly and did not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples any more than the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion required states to subsidize abortions. In June, the Texas Supreme Court threw out the ruling favoring Houston, agreeing that the Obergefell decision “did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons,” and remanded the case back to the trial court to allow the men to make their arguments again. (Reuters – Andrew Chung at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-gaymarriage/top-court-leaves-in-place-texas-ruling-questioning-gay-spousal-benefits-idUSKBN1DY1U7)
Australian parliament legalizes same-sex marriage
Sydney, Australia – Australia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage on December 7. The vote came after more than twenty previous failed attempts at legislating marriage equality since 2004. Almost all members of the governing Liberal-National Coalition joined the opposition Labor and Green parties and independent members to approve the bill. The government presented the measure as a “free vote,” meaning its members were not under party discipline to vote for the bill, but could vote their conscience.
The vote in parliament followed an August plebiscite in which more than 60% of Australia’s voters approved marriage equality. The only “no” votes in parliament were three government members and one independent. The speaker then declared the vote carried, since fewer than five members opposed it.
Joyous members hugged each other, and activists in the public gallery began singing “I am, you are, we are Australian.” “What a day for love, for equality, for respect,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “Australia has done it.” Australia’s governor-general – the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, who is Australia’s formal head of state – is expected to approve the bill in the coming days, marking its official passage into law. (Seattle Gay News – Mike Andrew at sgn.org)
Operation Jockstrap helps Israeli ice hockey school
Montreal, Quebec – The Montreal Gazette reports on the efforts of David Lisbona a Montreal investment advisor to send 350 protective cups to the Israeli ice hockey team. Lisbona’s instructions to his mother Glenda were precise: she was to hit up every Dollarama outlet she could find in her end of Montreal and clean them out of jockstraps — an essential piece of hockey equipment that typically retails for $15 to $20, but was on offer at the discount chain for a mere three bucks a cup.
Lisbona, the younger, had a higher purpose in mind before setting his mother loose. The 48-year-old has long been involved in a charity that ships hockey bags full of hockey gear to Metula, an Israeli town on the Lebanon border that is home to the country’s only Olympic-sized skating rink — plus the Canada Israel Hockey School. The school brings together Jews, Christians, Druze and Muslim Arab kids in the hope that, through hockey, they build cross-cultural understanding in a region with long simmering tensions. It is also a program that, in November, had informed its Canadian benefactors that what the players needed most wasn’t more skates, or gloves, or pants or helmets or goalie pads — but cups (aka jockstraps).
“It was so obvious to me after they told us,” David Lisbona says. “We hadn’t been sending them cups, and they don’t have a culture of tackle football — and they don’t really use them for soccer — so they simply aren’t available in Israel.” . .I had no clue just how much was going on out there in terms of jockstraps,” Lisbona says. The entire haul, at last count, numbered 350. Operation jockstrap is scheduled to depart Canada on Dec. 17, when the 350 cups are booked aboard a non-stop flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv. “Those kids are going to be well-protected,” Lisbona says, chuckling. “We now have a jock for every child.” (Montreal Gazette – Jon O’Connor at http://montrealgazette.com/news/canada/operation-jockstrap-canadians-donate-350-protective-cups-to-israeli-hockey-players-in-need/wcm/45be8d63-d34e-48a2-a8d7-c66df8111d84)
Suicide of adult actress may be linked to cyberbullying
Camarillo, CA – The International Business Times reports that adult actress and ex-girlfriend of Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen, Brett Rossi, on Wednesday defended fellow porn actress August Ames after she died December 5 in Camarillo, California, after reportedly hanging herself. Ames faced a Twitter backlash December 3, with many calling her homophobic, after she advised an adult actress against performing with an actor who had featured in adult gay movies. Suggesting that the backlash may have contributed to Ames taking her own life, Rossi tweeted, “A life wasted simply because HER opinion didn’t mesh with YOURS.” Ames, real name Mercedes Grabowski, was an established adult actress, appearing in over 290 porn films. She won the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards twice, in 2015 and 2017.
Reactions to the tweet were swift, with one user even directly asking Ames whether she was a homophobic person. She defended herself against the charge, saying she was not, adding that many girls don’t shoot porn scenes with male performers who had done gay porn because of safety issues. She also said that she didn’t want to put “my body at risk.” She followed with another tweet, saying she was attracted toward women herself and hence she couldn’t be a homophobic person. Ames also tweeted Monday, replying a user who told her to apologize, “I don’t have anything to apologize for! Apologizing for taking extra steps to ensure that my body stays safe? F— you guys attacking me when none of my intentions were malicious. I f—— love the gay community! What the f— ever! I CHOOSE who I have inside my body. No hate. ”
However, there were some who did support her in this. Others also weighed in on Ames’ death on Twitter, pointing to the maliciousness of cyberbullying. “Not an OD,” wrote Ben Domenech, publisher for The Federalist. “She spent three days getting attacked on Twitter as a homophobe and then hung herself. That’s on you, cyberbullies.” “So August Ames hung herself after being cyberbullied for not sleeping with a gay porn star,” another user wrote. “The hatred of people when hiding behind the internet has no bounds. Like she can’t decide what to put inside her own vagina without comments. LOG OFF AND GET A PUNCHING BAG OR SOMETHING.” Meanwhile, according to a Facebook post which was deleted, Ames’ brother James Grabowski said, “Bullying is not a joke.” He then added, “It took my sister’s life and I can’t get her back. This pain I feel cause people couldn’t keep their opinions to themselves is unbearable, although I have nothing but hate for each and everyone of you people who drove her to this I still do not wish this pain on you.” (IBT – Ayushman Basu at http://www.ibtimes.com/august-ames-died-because-online-bullies-adult-actress-brett-rossi-says-2625096?utm_source=internal&utm_campaign=most_read&utm_medium=most_read5)
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