Obama Gives Hope for Gay African Community

South Africa might be progressive and pretty in pink, offering a great gay tourist destination and gay marriage for everyone, but it’s only the rainbow tip in the largely homophobic African subcontinent.

Amnesty International released a report this week titled “Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa”  which detailed facts and human rights abuses against LGBT individuals within the sovereign countries.

Of its various findings, it notes that 38 countries consider homosexuality illegal. Four of them—Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria, and southern Somalia—offer the death penalty for those found guilty of “homosexuality,” and five more—Uganda, South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia, and Nigeria—have all attempted to further criminalize homosexuality within their countries. Open discrimination within these countries has resulted in difficulty obtaining or outright refusal of medical treatment, and such things as “corrective” rape occur to try to “cure” lesbians and queer women into becoming heterosexual. Other sexual violence, like forced anal exams, and targeted killings happen throughout the region, making the situation for LGBT individuals rather dire and extreme.

For all of these reasons, and because of his vocal support of the LGBT community, President Obama is expected to make a statement of some kind against these practices while on his African tour later this week and next. The primary reasons for the trip are to promote democracy and U.S. businesses (competing with China for markets), and to discuss subjects of development with several African leaders. He will be visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania during his unusually long (for a U.S. president) international tour, and be back in the U.S. for Independence Day.

It seems almost a given that the president will make some kind of comment. In foreign affairs, back in 2011 he asked individuals in the State Department “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of” gays, lesbians and transgender people. His second inaugural address indicated a full-fledged support for gay marriage. And just last week he called on Congress to draft a bill outlawing workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The situation is quite sensitive: President Obama seems to be in a position to make a political statement that would affect American relations in the Sub-Saharan region, and he will have to choose the timing and the nature of his comments carefully if he does make them. Africa is a dynamic continent, and we could see a changing landscape, albeit slowly, with strong positive LGBT sentiments from its leaders.

To end on a slightly more positive note, Amnesty’s report also mentions a few uplifting points in its report. Mentioned before, South Africa allows same-sex marriage and joint adoption, and Cape Verde, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Seychelles have all decriminalized homosexuality. Several countries also have a history of homosexual marriages and art, which while current leaders tend to see as incorrect and “un-African,” some are starting to see these things in a more accepting light.

President of Brazil’s Commission for Human Rights and Minorities is Controversial


Marco Feliciano Accused of Homophobia and Racism

Marco Feliciano, an evangelical pastor from the Christian Social Policy, is accused of homophobia, racism, and excluding outsiders from sessions in Brazil’s lower house of parliament that were previously open to the public. Last April, human rights groups called for Feliciano’s resignation due to his bigotry. He is also under investigation for embezzlement charges.

His Election

On March 7, Feliciano was elected as President of the Brazilian House of Representatives’ Human Rights Committee by a vote of eleven out of the Committee’s eighteen members during a session closed to the public. He was the only candidate for the post, and was appointed as a result of “horse trading” for key positions in Congress among the main parties.

 Widespread Opposition to Feliciano

Protests continue against Feliciano, with protests at home in Copacabana and faraway in Paris at the Brazilian Embassy.  Activists have disrupted the Commission for Human Rights and Minorities’ work which is supposed to draw up legislation and consider cases of human rights violations. “A bigoted congressman should not run a commission aimed at ending prejudice,” said the country’s largest online group Avaaz that called, in a petition, for his resignation. That petition garnered 465,000 signatures.

Anonymous, Internet hackers, have documents incriminating Feliciano’s financial backers. Feliciano retorts that his critics are taking his comments out of context and that he is not “homophobic.” An on-line poll by the newspaper The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper found that 80.6% of the 100,320 respondents agreed that Feliciano should leave his position. Many of Brazil’s celebrities such as signer Daniela Mercury, have come out against him.

Some Offensive Remarks

On his Twitter page, he has said that Aids was a “gay cancer.” He has also said that Africans are “cursed since the times of Noah.” (He believes that his comments about Noah do not constitute racism).  According to Feliciano, he is not against their promiscuity.  “I don’t want my daughters to go out on the streets and see men with shaved legs kissing each other.  The Brazilian family must be respected.”


Despite his prejudicial remarks, Feliciano has won support from many in the evangelical christian movement.  His twitter stream includes words of endorsement from numerous pastors, including one, that Feliciano retweeted, who claimed that gay foster parents rape their children.  






Legally Married Gays Entitled to Federal Benefits

Down With Doma

Yesterday, June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States (Scotus) ruled that The Defense of Marriage Act, that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered “the swing vote,” read the majority opinion in language similar to his opinion on historic past “gay rights”  cases of Romer v. Evans in 1996 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

In a 5-to-4 decision, he was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions.

Reasoning Behind Supreme Court’s Decision

Kennedy, a Moderate-Democrat, wrote:  “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.” Or more simply put, by seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute violates the Constitution.

President Barack Obama released a statement saying that” DOMA was discrimination enshrined in law.  It treated loving, committed, gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.  The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”

Benefits Under DOMA

Under DOMA, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits, along with family medical leave protections and other federal provisions totaling 1,000 benefits did not apply to gay and lesbian couples legally married in states that recognize such unions. Without DOMA, 100,000 gay and lesbian couples who are legally married will be able to take advantage of tax breaks, pension rights and other benefits that are available to other married couples.

However, the decision leaves in place another provision in the law that says no state is required to recognize gay marriages performed in any other state. As argumentative as Antonin Scalia may seem, he has a point when he says that the majority decision today will lead to challenges when somebody who’s married, as he puts it, in Albany, then moves to Alabama and wants the rights they had in New York State which has same-sex marriage.  Will they sue the federal court in other states to receive benefits?

37 States Without Legalized Marriage:  What’s Covered with Benefits

With thousands of couples living in states that do not recognize gay marriage they do not know yet whether they will be allowed to file their federal income taxes jointly.  They also don’t know whether they are entitled to a range of marital tax exemptions such as Edie Windsor’s case  (Windsor v. U.S.) that  prompted the ruling.

Benefits NOT Covered in Non-Legalized Gay Marriage States

To determine a couple’s marital status, federal agencies generally defer to the states.  Some agencies are guided by the laws in the state in which a couple now live while others look to those in the state in which the couple were married.

It’s so complex as the Internal Revenue Service as well as the Social Securities Administration defines marriage based on where a couple lives and not on where they married. The Department of Defense and immigration law consider where the couple were married, regardless of where they live. If you live in a state with a ban on marriage, but have been joined in a civil union in that state, you will not receive federal benefits.  A foreigner in a same-sex marriage with a U.S. citizen is entitled to federal benefits and your spouse is allowed to apply for a permanent visa “green card.” If you live in a state with a ban, but visit and get married in a state where it is legal, you will receive some federal benefits which will vary by agency.

Still Penalized If Live in States Without Gay Marriage

It will take a l-ooo-n-g time before hundreds of federal agency provisions affecting benefits for gay couples are reinterpreted or revised across the U.S.  The DOMA ruling, along with the banning of Proposition 8 in California, were welcome baby steps toward equality for gay and lesbian couples.  But until the Supreme Court makes a sweeping decision to legalize marriage as a constitutional right in every state, gays and lesbians living in states without legalized same-sex marriage will not receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples and will continue to feel that their unions are inferior.

Gay Marriage Held Across from Westboro Baptist Church

Three months after the “Equality House” was set up across the street from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, the pro-LGBT organization managed to pay back Westboro just a little in the most fabulous way that it could: by holding a gay marriage right on its front lawn.

On Saturday, June 22nd, Kimberly Kidwell and Katie Short were married in a wedding ceremony at the “Equality House,” the rainbow-painted house bought by Aaron Jackson and used for his charity “Project Peace”. A couple of five-and-a-half years they wanted to show support for Jackson’s charity and the house’s mission.

The house, painted as a counter protest against Westboro and to remember LGBT youth who have committed suicide, has been celebrated for its courage and visibility. In contrast to public opinion on how Westboro runs their protests, this one is peaceful, respectful, and full of love. It collects donations to channel money into anti-bullying campaigns and LGBT community outreach programs. And it couldn’t be in a better spot.

The house was bought with courage and painted with just as much. Mike McKessor had to be contracted from Kansas City because no one in Kansas was willing to paint the house. A veteran, he took personal offense to how Westboro has protested at military funerals and painted the house to show his support for the cause and his disdain for the neighbors.

Kidwell and Short drove down from Arkansas, and along with 100 guests celebrated a union of love along with a large political statement, against Westboro, states with constitutional gay-marriage bans, and the federal government.

The wedding was held to raise awareness for the Supreme Court Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision that is forthcoming. Since Kansas is one of the states where gay marriage is outlawed by constitutional amendment, the wedding doesn’t have any legal standing, but it has all the force of annoyance and abhorrence as the well-known (and well-disliked) had to all but watch as it was held fifty feet from their front doors. Westboro is unable to protest on private property, so all the church group could do was post their famous anti-LGBT signs and say nothing.

Many across the country are waiting (some more impatient than others) to find out the DOMA ruling and, if overturned, how widespread the ruling will cause effects. The narrowest positive possibility is the overturning of just California’s law, with the widest having effects over the entire country and overturning constitutional amendments in several states like Kansas.

The wedding at “Equality House” was truly fitting for the occasion, and reminds the LGBT population and all of its allies that although the fight is about rights and equal standing, it comes first and foremost, from love that we all can understand.

LGBT Homeless in San Francisco just the Beginning

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this weekend the results of its twice-yearly report on its homeless population. Among other results, over a quarter of respondents—29%—self-reported being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This year was the first in which the survey included sexual orientation, and has been very eye-opening for a city well-known for its gay pride.

San Francisco isn’t the only city in the U.S. who has experienced this high number of LGBT individuals living on the streets. Across on the opposite coast New York City has been dealing specifically with homeless LGBT youth. Studies estimate that between 20 and 40% of homeless youth in NYC are LGBT, with the most increased demographic being transgender individuals. While homeless, a report by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that LGBT youth face additional stressors of mental health issues, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, victimization for their perceived sexual orientation, and are overlooked (homeless youth in general) by federal assistance programs. Often rejected by families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, these kids have a rough go of it in the Big Apple.

This story repeats across the country. St. Paul, Seattle, Chicago, Hollywood: all have had assessment studies performed to find their homeless LGBT rates, amounting to a nation-wide problem of over-represented individuals who are homeless and LBGT.

The Task Force also notes that the increase in homeless transgendered individuals poses an additional challenge for homeless shelters all over the country. Although more transgendered issues are coming to light in the public consciousness and progressive steps are being taken all over the country, this is slow-going and slower still for those who are homeless.

As serious as the issue, it has not gone unnoticed in communities who are working to change the situations for the better. New York City has programs like The Ali Forney Center  and New Alternatives  who work toward improving the lives of the homeless on the streets by working to get more shelters, as well as rehabilitating homeless youth and giving them a chance to break a permanent homeless status. Similar programs in San Francisco, like Larkin Street Youth Services, are working to help rebuild the lives of those that need a hand up.

Across the country, LGBT communities have created homeless shelters and resources to address this trend, but as the newest statistics show, there hasn’t been a resource shift enough to be completely effective. For San Francisco, this will mean realigning existing funding into different avenues and possibly create more opportunities for the homeless population, and specifically those identifying as LGBT, to get assistance and overcome their homeless state.

Equality Won – Gay Marriage Victories

America took a great stride toward fulfilling its inherent commitment to equality. On June 26th, the United States Supreme Court issued two very important gay rights rulings that nullified the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8. The court found DOMA unconstitutional on equal protection grounds and determined those petitioning the court to sustain Prop 8 did not have “standing” to do so and let the 9th Circuit decision stand.

DOMA being declared unconstitutional, brings to an end a very long fight that finally brings fairness and equity to those same sex couples legally married in that they now are accorded all the federal benefits of marriage that are available to heterosexual couples. The dismissal of Prop 8 by the Supreme Court restores the right to marry in CA, bringing the number of marriage equality states to 12.

While we can bask in the glow of victory momentarily, we must take up the battle tomorrow, as we still have 38 states that do not recognize LGBTQ Americans as equals, and legally discriminate against them due to the constitutional bans on same sex marriage, and are denied access to many rights and privileges straight Americans are entitled to. Our transgender brothers and sisters are also still persecuted and many states deny gay couples adoption rights, hospital visitation rights, and other rights and privileges that straight couples take for granted.  There is much work yet to be done before ALL Americans are equal.

I am confident that the freedom to marry will come to all states in the union. The Supreme Court found DOMA unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, and the court also cited Loving v. Georgia, which essentially means state constitutional bans on same sex marriage would not pass Supreme Court muster either. It is only a matter of time before marriage equality and full and equal access to all the rights and privileges accorded to straight married couples by the federal government are enjoyed by all Americans.

The beacon of freedom and justice shines a bit brighter throughout America after these court rulings. America certainly is a more perfect union because of the court’s historic decisions. The Supreme Court took a monumental step toward protecting the freedoms of gay and lesbian Americans. However, we have a long way to go and we will not relent or become complacent in our efforts to continue to work toward achieving America’s promise of liberty and justice for all for ALL Americans.

Supreme Court Delivers Gay Marriage Victory

BREAKING NEWS:  Supreme Court Delivers First Gay Marriage Victory

Profound Victory for basic human rights as the Supreme Court issues rulings on Gay Marriage.

In 5-4 ruling, U.S. Supreme Court justices overturn Defense of Marriage Act, saying it is unconstitutional. DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas issue Dissents. Chief Roberts and Scalia believe there is no jurisdiction. Opinion is by Justice Kennedy, joined by the four liberal Justices — Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Kennedy states, “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

In plain terms, same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law such benefits include income taxes, social security benefits and over a thousand other federal laws and programs. The Court explained that by denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples..

In Proposition 8 ruling, court dismisses based on standing. Gay Marriage Ban in California is struck down. From Chief Roberts “”The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question whether the States . . . may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage.” The Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

In plain English because the State of California would not defend the law, proponents of the ban filed the suit challenging the ninth circuit courts decision.  The supreme court has ruled that the suit had no standing as the proponents have no legal rights to bring the case.

At 10am the Supreme Court and it’s nine justices convened to issue rulings on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits the definition of marriage to being specifically a male/female relationship for the purpose of federal benefits, and a California state law banning gay marriage AKA proposition 8.

Both cases, which were argued in March, could shape the debate profoundly on weather gay men and women have the right to marry their same-sex partners. The cases come before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) at a time when opinion polls show growing support for gay marriage.  While only 12 (13 with California) states recognize gay marriage, there are still over 30 states that prohibit it with many more with laws that try to provide some rights to gay couples while not officially calling it “marriage”.

The DOMA case before the court was brought by Edith Windsor of New York who was married to a woman, Thea Spyer, legally at the state level in New York, but was unable to get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses die due to the 1996 DOMA law.  When Spyer died in 2009, Edit Windsor was forced to pay federal estate taxes in the amount of $363,000.  Windsor case files suit against the federal government seeking a refund of the same amount.

While the Obama administration once defended the law, Attorney General Eric Holder said the law was unconstitutional in 2011. The administration asked the Supreme Court to strike the law down. making Obama the first sitting president to support gay marriage.

The California case, Proposition 8,  was a state ballot measure that was approved by voters in 2008 just months after the California’s supreme court ruled in favor of gay marriages. A federal judge struck the proposition 8 law down two years later in 2010 as a violation of the US Constitutions guarantee of equal protection.

Kids in Grade School May Know They’re Gay

Child rainbow
Pew Research Center’s Landmark Survey Shows Coming Out Sooner

The just-released Pew Survey reveals that kids as young as ten sense they are GLBT.  For greater anonymity, the survey was done online to attract a wider range of participants who were asked when they first knew they were gay and when they first told a close friend or relative. (Of course, closeted gays are reluctant to participate in a survey, thus eliminating a greater population).

Gender-Different Responses

On the average, male respondents said they suspected by the age of ten, knew at age 15, and told a friend or relative at age 18.  Female respondents, however, sensed it at age 13, knew at 18, and told someone at 21.

Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., Cornell University professor, and author of Mom, Dad, I’m Gay: How Families Negotiate Coming Out,” attributes this age gap to the social cues boys and girls receive:   It takes longer for a lesbian to realize she has a “crush” on a friend because she is taught that it is socially acceptable to hold hands, exchange friendship bracelets, and have intimate conversations. Boys, on the other hand, are instructed not to have physical contact with other boys.  So, the lack of physical contact helps them realize their attraction to other boys goes against society’s expectations of them.

Children claim to know because of an earlier biochemical benchmark: the adrenal gland’s release of hormones or “adrenarche.” According to Savin-Williams, this typically occurs around third grade, before puberty.

Whom Do The GLBT Kids Tell?

Six out of ten GLBT Americans had told one or both of their parents.  The others had told friends or other relatives.  Surprisingly enough, 13 percent had still not told any one.  A few respondents didn’t know they were gay until they were in their 60’s.

Savin-Williams found that a gay teen will usually tell a mother first.  Most parents, the survey found, particularly mothers, already suspected.  The father was usually told later, either by the child or the mother, by request.  Grandparents or extended family members were often the last to be told. Gay teens usually tell a female friend first.

Reaction of Parents

Sons and daughter received the same reaction from parents.  The average reaction is characterized as “slightly negative.” It can range from celebration to violence and eviction. “Most don’t throw the kid out of the house,” says Savin-Williams.  “I think we haven’t given parents who are really decent and reasonable enough credit.”

Mothers are typically more emotional in their reaction.  They worry about what this discovery means for their child’s future, as they worry about their child’s safety and how society will treat their child.



Top-Ranking Openly Gay Person in Defense Dept. Now Holds Two Jobs

Eric Fanning is Air Force’s Under Secretary and Civilian Head

On April 18, 2013, Eric Fanning was confirmed as the 24th Under Secretary of the Air Force . On June 21, 2013, he began to serve in the additional role of Acting Secretary of the Air Force owing to the retirement of his boss, Michael Donley.  Because President Obama has not nominated a replacement for Donley, Fanning will hold both jobs until a replacement is found.

What Job Entails

Fanning is responsible for the organizing, training, equipping, and providing for the welfare of its more than 333,000 men and women on active duty:178,000 members of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, 182,000 civilians, and their families.  He also oversees the Air Force’s more than $100 billion annual budget.

Former Jobs

Before becoming Under Secretary of the Air Force, Fanning served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy since 2009 and Deputy Director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism . He worked for broadcast media, communication firms and think tanks also.

Fanning graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990.  He worked for the House Armed Services Committee, then for the Defense Department and the Clinton White House.  He is a former Victory Fund Board member (2004-2007) and a donor to various LGBT causes.

Fanning, an Ohio native, found working in the 1990’s as a civilian employee difficult.  “I left the Pentagon before the reelection of President Clinton and then didn’t come back until Obama was in office.  I didn’t know what I was going to do if we didn’t get the repeal through because some people couldn’t work because they were openly gay or lesbian.”

Fanning’s LGBT Platform

Fanning wants to include sexual orientation in the military’s formal nondiscrimination policy, a step further than the Pentagon’s policy. He supports allowing out transgender people to serve in the military.  Currently, military regulations prohibit transgender service.

Says Fanning:  “Speaking personally, I always think it’s important to have non-discrimination policies codified to include everyone.  The military, because it has a chain of command, has a different attitude about t his and a different way to try to go about protecting airmen, soldiers, Marines – but Eric Fanning?  Yes, I personally like to see these things in writing and codified.”

Eric Fanning also wants to see the Defense of Marriage Act struck down as it prevents same-sex military couples who serve in uniform from receiving full access to legal benefits.  

Marco Rubio Will Revoke Immigration Bill Support if Gay Couple Amendment Added

“I’m Done,” Rubio Threatens

Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that he will withdraw his support of the Senate Immigration Bill if the immigration bill now under consideration includes a gay couple amendment.  This amendment would allow gay Americans to petition for same-sex spouses living abroad to secure a green card. As one of the “Gang of Eight,” Rubio is the most prominent Republican senator to develop the bipartisan Immigration reform bill.

Leahy’s Amendment

Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced, on June 11, 2013, the amendment that would enable married, bi-national same-sex couples to apply for a visa through the marriage-based green card application process. – same ruling now in place for citizens to sponsor foreign same-sex spouses for permanent residency in the U.S.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy withdrew the bill, originally introduced during the committee’s markup of the bill. Said Leahy,” I withheld my anti-discrimination amendment during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup although seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community is the right thing to do. As the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on.”

Republican Fears

Republicans, like Rubio, have said repeatedly that Leahy’s proposal would cause key groups( a coalition of political, business and religious groups) to withdraw their support and kill the bill.  Rubio believes that with the gay amendment, the bill has no chance of passing.  “It’s already a difficult enough issue, as it is, “ Rubio told conservative radio host Andrea Tantaros on June 13, 2013.  “I’m off it, and I’ve said that repeatedly, if this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights), it kills the bill. I  don’t think that’s going to happen and it shouldn’t happen.”

Touted as a top GOP presidential prospect in 2016, Rubio is not popular with LGBT activists. Not only is he not in favor of the Gay Couple Amendment to the Immigration Bill, but also opposed to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country. At the opening of the annual Faith and Freedom Forum on June 13, 2013, Rubio said that he is not for any special protections based on orientation.  In more than thirty states, it is legal to fire gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons from their workplace because of their sexual orientation.