Hello LGBT Humanists and Allies! Jason here with the third installment of the LGBT Humanist News (20 August, 2012). In this edition, in addition to including the news, I would like to bring up some ideas and LGBT Humanist Council business. But first, a quick shout out to Eric Nguyen. I am proud to call Eric my friend and am personally grateful for his commitment to the rights of LGBT and Secular Americans. As most of you know Eric has served as Grassroots Coordinator for the AHA and he has gone on to bigger and better things (grad school). Eric did a fantastic job, and I personally thank him for the work that he did for the LGBT Humanist Council. This is also a big and hearty welcome to Eric’s successor Sadie Leigh Rothman. Thank you Eric for your service, and Sadie, welcome aboard!
Our third edition is chock-full of news, but before that I would like to reintroduce a few programs that will be getting some greater attention. For those of you who had me come to your group or came and saw me speak about the LGBT Humanist Council, I scaled back my participation temporarily in order to complete my education. I am proud to say that I am now the proud holder of two degrees in Religious Studies and Political Science from the University of California Irvine. In the process I became a bit of a philosopher, Freethought historian, and developed a deeper understanding of the true issues at the heart of LGBT equality and what is really at stake in the struggle for full social and civil equality for LGBT people (including those perceived to be LGBT). Here are some near-future changes that you will be seeing.
Number one is the LGBT Humanist Council’s website (www.lgbthumanists.org). I am putting together a bunch of good stuff for the site to develop it further. I am in the middle of some rather exhaustive research on websites, philosophy, social organizing, and LGBT issues (history, current events, etc). The new web content will include a list of action alerts and what I would like to call “Ikea” projects. “Ikea” projects are easily to assemble programming and a few umlauts thrown in for the hell of it. Speaking of projects, here are several that I would like to reacquaint you guys with.
The first of these was originally called 51/51. It was intending to have a Humanist presence in at least one Pride event per state and the District of Columbia by December 2012. There has been a dramatic rise in participation, but we probably won’t meet that goal this year. However, we have had a stronger showing of non-theist groups in LGBT pride events than ever before. The LGBT Humanist Council will soon be reaching out to your local groups to discuss your involvement this year. For those of you who have not yet found the opportunity for such involvement, the LGBT Humanist Council will be available to help your group towards this goal. In response, we would like you to submit up to 500 words describing your experience, and your best photographs of the day of the event. The LGBT Humanist Council will be putting together an archive, and we will use this to help generate additional interest as well as promote your local group for next year.
The second project was one that I first promoted in 2010. I call it “Our Stories.” This project was put on the back burner for a time. As the identity-activism of our (LGBT) coming out experience and its advocacy is being utilized and embraced by the Humanist community, the LGBT Humanist Council is a prime position to examine the non-theist and LGBT coming out experience and to discover its nuances and common ground. I will be sending out something about this within the next few weeks. The third project is another that was also brought up in 2010 that took a backseat. The working title was “Queerciñera.” Quinciñeras are Latina “sweet fifteen” parties in which the community comes together to help usher a young woman into adulthood. As LGBT youth are ejected from their homes too early in too great of numbers in comparisons to their heterosexual counterparts, I see that local Humanist groups are in a prime position to work with local LGBT communities to help out with this. I will be sending more information out about this soon and am putting together a plan for a trial run of this.
Fourthly, in the last year a Baltimore-based satellite of the LGBT Humanist Council has emerged. It would be terrific to see this as the beginning of one of many. In San Diego (my town) there was a local LGBT Humanist group that has not been active in a considerable amount of time. I was a board member on it years ago and I am going to be relaunching it as a second LGBT Humanist Council local group. As a start, if you enjoy these bulletins, get together with some other local LGBT-friendly Humanist folk and discuss these news items. The first step is to get together, and this starts with you. I will be sending out information soon on this as well. Finally (for projects), as coordinator, one direction that I would like to see is more grassroots action. I am going to implement a monthly conference call so you can call in and share what is happening in your local area and offer your ideas on what the LGBT Humanist Council can do to better serve our community.
The LGBT Humanist Council is currently a project of the AHA and we have extraordinary growth potential, but we need your help. There are essential things that are easily done that are crucial for building the LGBT Humanist Council. First, “like” us on Facebook (LGBT Humanist Council). We currently have 2,745 “likes,” let’s see 3,500 by the end of next week. Secondly, share these bulletins to build a good issue-vocabulary among our community. Third, as a non-profit we thrive on your generosity. We have a coordinator (myself) that works in a volunteer capacity and the grassroots coordinator (Eric, now Sadie) who as LGBT Humanist Council manager adds this cap to the many that they are wearing. If you like what we are doing please go to www.americanhumanist.org and make your tax-deductible contribution and earmark it for the LGBT Council.
Lastly, do yourself a favor. Get yourself and several of your best friends and closest (Evangelical) enemies a copy of David Niose’s new book Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans. Our AHA President Niose details the rise and resistance of the Religious Right. In Nonbeliever Nation David mentions the LGBT Humanist Council, and how in terms of crafting social policy, LGBT is the one issue where the Religious Right has utterly failed in America. David is truly a credit to our movement, and his new book is a testament to where we should be, where we can go.
In international news, a staunchly anti-gay legislative bill is ironically being supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Liberian President) Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Liberia is considering a pending bill that would make both homosexuality and the marriage of same-sex couples second-degree felonies. Though already illegal, the punishment for those who “[seduce], encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities,” would have their potential prison sentence increased from one to five years. Sirleaf stands by the bill for the “[preservation]” of Liberia’s “traditional values.”1
UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said, “The proposals going through the legislature could make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse.” Gay rights activists (including Mr. Gay Pride South Africa, Coenie Kukkuk) have already started an online petition to call for the removal of Johnson-Shirleaf’s Nobel Peace Prize should she sign these changes into law.2
Moving easterly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considering women-only zones in order to accommodate the increasing number of women in the workforce in accordance with the strictness of the sharia.3. The first of these will be a 5,000-person community, in the industrial workforce area of Hofuf. This is said to be in response to the fact that 60 percent of college graduates are women, 78 percent of them are unemployed, and only 15 percent of the total workforce are not men.4 Beyond the quasi-improvement of the rights of women in the highly restrictive Arabian monarchy, the Kingdom recently objected to the proposed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number’s (iCANN) “.gay” domain name in that it would “‘promote homosexuality’ and be ‘offensive to many cultures.’”5 This ‘.gay’ objection was in addition to such other domains as: “.bar, .baby, .tattoo, .islam, .africamagic, .wine, and .virgin.
In European LGBT news, in response to French President François Hollande’s equal marriage support, the Catholic Church in France reintroduced the idea of a 1638 Louis XIII decree of a national day of prayer (not used since WWII).6 Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois called for parishioners to pray for newly elected officials to “put their sense of common good over the pressure to meet special demands” (according to France 24).7 The largely secular nation of France supports equal marriage by 65 percent and the adoption rights of same-sex couples by 53 percent.
And in Russia, Madonna is being sued for $10 million in a Saint Petersburg court by anti-gay groups, as they claim that by wearing black lingerie with the words “No Fear,” the singer had “insulted their religious feelings.”8 Calling it a “religious atrocity,” Madonna wore the slogan in opposition to an anti-homosexual propaganda municipal code. One of the plaintiffs (Alexei Kolotkov) said that the possibility of Madonna’s concert converting a child to homosexuality, would have a significantly deleterious effect in decreasing the Russian population.
Recently the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reiterated their policy of excluding LGBT people (youth and adult) from participating in the BSA. In response, spokespersons for both President Obama and Mitt Romney have come out in opposition to the ban. White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said that the President sees the BSA as a “valuable organization” that has helped “build character in American boys.” Inouye added that the President “also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on basis of sexual orientation.”9
In contrast to rampant accusations of “flip-flopping,” The former decade-long BSA Board Member, Romney’s spokesperson Andrea Saul, said that Romney’s position from twenty years ago, that “all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation,” has not changed.10> While Romney had served on the BSA board, currently Obama (like many past U.S. Presidents) is serving as honorary BSA President, during his tenure in office. And though a semblance of endorsement of the stigmatization of gay and lesbian youth may present itself in the BSA’s policies, there was a seemingly unrelated case out of Michigan.
In 2010, the openly-gay University of Michigan student body president, Chris Armstrong, faced a series of alleged defamation and other harassment by former (then) Michigan assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell. Via a blog (Chris Armstrong Watch),11 Shirvell called Armstrong “Satan’s representative,” a “nazi,”12 and claimed that Armstrong was heading up a “radical homosexual agenda.” Armstrong fought back against the bullying, and Shrivell lost his job for the former Deputy Attorney General’s behavior.13 Because of the alleged harassment (including stalking), the University of Michigan subsequently barred Shirvell from the campus.
Shirvell’s antagonism of Armstrong soon became litigious with the ultimatum of “apology or anti-defamation suit.” This soon became a litigious affair resulting in the filing of an anti-defamation of character lawsuit. Shirvell has defended his 2010 derisive-blog remarks as “true or protected,” claiming that as the University of Michigan’s student body president, Armstrong was a public figure.14 Though a dismissal of charges was offered in exchange for an apology, with Shrivell’s refusal, jury selection began.15 On Thursday of last week (16th August), a U.S. District Court awarded $4.5 million to Armstrong.16 For anti-bullying (including LGBT) resources, check out www.stopbullying.gov.
The City of Washington D.C. made news for what its Office of Human Rights director Gustavo Velazquez called the creation of “the first government-sponsored campaign in the nation to focus solely on transgendered and gender non-conforming people.”17 Velazquez said that the goal of this program was to increase understanding and reporting of discrimination in the D.C. area. This program was the result of an intra-organizational effort involving the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Transgender Health Empowerment, and D.C. Mayor’s office of LGBT Affairs.
Secondly, in a nation with “Only about 10% of colleges and universities [having] trans-inclusive nondiscrimination statements,” The Advocate released its list of the top ten trans-friendly colleges and universities.18 The Advocate’s criteria included trans-supportive and inclusive policies, bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing options. These policies also included the right for trans individuals to use their preferred name and gender on school documents, and for student health coverage for hormone therapy and surgeries. The schools include Ithaca College, New York University, Princeton University, UCLA, University of California Riverside, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Oregon, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Vermont.
Equal Marriage News
Connecticut joined California, Massachusetts, and New York in the list of states where Federal judges have found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)’s one-man-one-woman definition of spouse unconstitutional. On July 31st, George W. Bush appointed U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant held that the federal definition of marriage in section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, “[failing] to pass constitutional muster even under the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny” (Pederson v. Office of Personnel Management). Bryant found that DOMA’s third section violated Fifth Amendment equal protection principles, as there was “no conceivable rational basis [existing] for the provision.”19
Though a U.S. District Court ruling previously upheld DOMA in Hawaii, Hawaii soon followed. A lesbian couple was granted state-marital equality as U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Molloway issued a preliminary injunction against the interference of that couple’s “right to get married,” as they were “suffering irreparable harm by being continuously denied their right to marry.”20 Sadly, this decision only applied to that one couple. The Clinton appointed Molloway serves with the distinction of being the first Asian-American woman appointed to the Federal bench.21
Though not as complete as full civil marriage, this week the Indianapolis City-County Council initially approved a proposal to extend city health-insurance benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of city employees (20/8).22 Across the Atlantic, members of the German Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) have called for the same tax breaks for gay and lesbian couples in civil unions that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.23 Though allowed civil partnership registration, 13 members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU are calling for an spousal-tax-equalization that has not been previously extended. The MP’s were quoted as saying “We want to recognize that life partners with a registered partnership have set up a framework for a long-term relationship based on mutual trust and affection.” CDU MP Kristina Schröder has said that gay couples represent “conservative values” because of their “long-term commitment.”24
And finally, in line with a vote on a pending marriage equality law already signed by Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire, Washington based REI (clothing company) CEO and President Sally Jewell has said that marriage, “should be available to any two people who want to express their love.”25 In a blog post to REI’s 11,000 employees, Jewell cited “enjoying” her own 34-year marriage to her husband as her reason for supporting marriage equality.
Family Research Council Shooting
In yet another shooting in a recent string of high profile fire-arm assaults, at around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday,26 a 28-year-old Virginia man entered the D.C. headquarters of the Family Research Council (FRC), who then (according to the FBI) told the security guard that he didn’t like his politics, grabbed a gun from his backpack and shot the security guard in the arm. The man, Floyd Corkins of Herndon, VA, has been apprehended on charges of assault with intent to kill and transporting ammunition across state lines.27 The guard was taken to the hospital in stable condition.
But who is the suspect Floyd Lee Corkins II, the man with the grudge and the fifteen Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in the backpack that held the 9mm Sig Sauer pistol? Corkins, a man whose parents said of him, “has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.” According to CBS, Corkins was said to have “been volunteering at a community center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.”28 DC Center for the LGBT Community Executive Director David Mariner confirmed that Corkins had been volunteering there for the past six months. “He always struck me as a kind, gentle, and unassuming young man. I’m very surprised that he could be involved in something like this,” said Mariner of Corkins. 29
The FRC has been outspoken in their support of Chick-Fil-A recently, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 “because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people–not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage.” According to their website, the FRC is a conservative nonprofit that seeks to advance “faith, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion.” FRC President Tony Perkins blamed “organizations like” the SPLC for being “reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.” Perkins said that by groups like the SPLC in this act of “domestic terrorism,” “Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man…”30 The SPLC called Perkins’ suggestions that they had contributed to the attack “outrageous.”
Corkins allegedly took umbrage with the FRC’s political views. The FRC is no stranger to anti-gay sentiments. Of the Ugandan “Anti-Homosexuality Act,” in 2010 Perkins said that the bill would “uphold moral conduct that protects others.”31 The FRC spent at least $25,000 lobbying the U.S. congress about these issues.
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released a statement from a coalition of 25 gay rights groups: “The motivation and circumstances behind today’s tragedy are still unknown, but regardless of what emerges as the reason for this shooting, we utterly reject and condemn such violence. We wish for a swift and complete recovery of the victim of this terrible incident.” Corkins faces up to 40 years imprisonment for both charges.
First Openly Gay General
Saying, “It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this Administration to serve the American people,” President Obama has nominated for Air Force Undersecretary an openly gay man (Eric Fanning) currently serving as Deputy Undersecretary. Fanning announced that he was “honored” by the President’s announcement.32 The news of Fanning’s nomination is one of many post-DADT victories for the LGBT community.
On August 10th, Army Reserve Officer Tammy Smith broke ground as she became America’s first openly-gay serving general. In keeping with tradition, in an act of pinning a star on her spouse’s uniform, Tracey Hepner became the wife of the new Brigadier General. General Smith told NPR’s Lynn Neary that Friday’s ceremony was “tremendous. It was absolutely just tremendous. First, I had friends and family from all over who came to witness the promotion. Everybody has been just so excited about the new responsibilities that I’m going to have as a general officer. I was very pleased that Tracey’s family was also able to make it in, and it was – General Stultz’s remarks, he made me cry. It was just a fantastic promotion ceremony, one that I will always remember.” On having her wife Tracey present for the ceremony General Smith said, “I felt full, authentic and complete performing that ceremony with my family.”33
I hope that you have enjoyed this latest edition. For the next one, I am going to bring up Uganda, Science and Sexual Orientation, Ending the Blood Donation Ban, and the news that happens between now and then that matters to us. I especially would like to concentrate on the prohibitions against gay men donating blood that the United States has and the United Kingdom has abandoned. At the moment, there has been some discussion on rectifying this outdated policy in the U.S., yet in spite of improved diagnostic techniques and receding prejudice, if you are man who has had sex with another man (MSM) even once since 1977, you are legally prohibited from donating blood in the U.S. I will be exploring the precipitating factors that enabled this ban, the problem with the ban, and what we can do to catch up to London (much like slavery, our British counterparts stopped this practice before us). So this and much more next week.