Huffington Post Gay Voices – Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats Up

Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats UpLOVE is LOVE Orange

By DANICA COTO 03/02/13 01:37 PM ET EST109

 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The advance of gay rights across the United States is spreading into Puerto Rico, making the island a relatively gay-friendly outpost in a Caribbean region where sodomy laws and harassment of gays are still common.

The governing Popular Democratic Party is pushing a bill through the legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, a step taken by about half of U.S. states. Another bill would extend a domestic violence law to gay couples.

Soon after taking office in January, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an order extending health insurance coverage to the live-in partners of workers in his executive branch of government, regardless of gender.

And a popular former conservative governor, Pedro Rossello, surprised supporters and foes when he stated last month that he unequivocally supports gay marriage.

“We’re in a period where it’s important to talk about human rights,” said Rossello, who 14 years ago signed a law as governor to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages held abroad.

“This is extraordinary,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a Puerto Rican gay activist. “We’ve reached a point of no return in Puerto Rico … Equality is inevitable.”

“The issues that we’re discussing publicly now would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago,” said Osvaldo Burgos, spokesman for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equality, which represents more than a dozen local human rights organizations.

Gay rights activists also say they are encouraged that the island’s Justice Department is prosecuting its first hate crime case for the killing of a hairstylist who was set on fire.

The momentum has not all been one way, however. The island’s Supreme Court last week narrowly upheld a law that bars same-sex couples from adopting children. Despite a string of legalizations in the U.S. over the past decade, adoptions by same-sex couples remain banned in many U.S. states as well.

And many Puerto Ricans remain uncomfortable with the changes. Church groups in February rallied an estimated 200,000 people against a move to include gay couples under domestic violence laws.

The spokesman for that march, Cesar Vazquez, said the state should not meddle with marriage and the family, and a prominent Puerto Rican pastor, Wanda Rolon, said children should not be taught at a young age that different types of families can exist, a proposal that Garcia’s administration is considering.

“That is very dangerous,” she said. “It’s going to raise some doubts that can bring about confusion.”

“What we need to protect in these times is the strengthening of marriage, the strengthening of families,” Rolon said. “We will be a healthier society.”

Resistance to rights for gays was even stronger in the 1970s, when gay activists protested the island’s sodomy law, only to see legislators increase the penalty to 10 years in prison from three.

Many gays and lesbians lived in fear. A serial killer in the 1980s, nicknamed “The Angel of Bachelors,” was linked to the killings of 27 gay men.

Public opinion remained largely unchanged until the early 2000s, when legislators passed a hate crime law and abolished the sodomy law. Another watershed moment occurred in November 2009, when police found the decapitated and partially burned body of 19-year-old college student Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, known for his work with organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights.

Soon after, popular Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin announced he was gay, saying he couldn’t remain silent amid such hate, and legislators began considering gay rights bills. Last year, Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz apparently became the first professional boxer to come out as openly homosexual while still competing.

“Puerto Rico at last recognized that homophobia was a social evil that had to be fought,” said Serrano, spokesman for the U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “After that, things began to change quickly.”

Many other islands in the Caribbean remain deeply hostile to homosexuality.

Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Grenada still uphold sodomy laws, and many gay people live in fear of exposure and violence. Those fears are not unjustified: Masked gunmen broke into a vacation cottage in St. Lucia in March 2011 and beat three gay U.S. tourists. Two of five suspects were arrested. A year earlier in Jamaica, police found the body of a 26-year-old gay rights activist who had been stabbed to death.

Last year, authorities in Dominica hauled a gay couple off a cruise ship and charged them with indecent exposure. Angry protesters have met gay cruise ships in Jamaica.

Meanwhile, a large gay cruise arrived in Puerto Rico recently and caused not even a ripple in the media.

“(Puerto Rico) has long had a reputation for being one of the friendliest places in the Caribbean,” said LoAnn Halden, spokeswoman of the Florida-based International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

The court ruling on gay marriage already has caused some backlash in favor of further gay rights.

“What they did was barbaric,” said Eduardo Bhatia, president of the island’s Senate and member of the governor’s party, saying that children of gay couples should have equal rights.

Carmen Milagros Velez, a medical sciences professor at the University of Puerto Rico and the mother of the 12-year-old girl at the center of the adoption case, said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision.

“We are a family like any other, with the same challenges, probably even more challenges because we have fewer rights,” she said.

Huffington Post Gay Voices – No, You Can’t Go Back to Chick-fil-A

No, You Can’t Go Back to Chick-fil-A
Posted: 01/29/2013 1:26 pm
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Chick-Fil-A Boycott , Shane Windmeyer , Shane Windmeyer Chick-Fil-A , Shane Windmeyer Dan Cathy , Campus Pride Chick-Fil-a , Chick-Fil-a , Chick-Fil-a Anti-Gay , Chick-Fil-a Gay Marriage , Dan Cathy , Gay Voices News

In a HuffPost blog post published yesterday, Jan. 28, Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer issued a cease and desist on behalf of Chick-fil-A.

Following several meetings with Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and an invitation to be his personal guest at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Shane issued the all-clear. This is not the first time he has attempted to allay the LGBT community’s fears about Chick-fil-A. In September 2012 he formally suspended his organization’s boycott of the company, which seemed to some as though the entire LGBT community was doing the same.

After a HuffPost Live segment in which ThinkProgress LGBT’s Zack Ford and I discussed these topics with Shane, I thought it necessary to follow up. One of the important revelations in Shane’s piece is that he’s been allowed access to top-secret internal Chick-fil-A documents and has seen tax forms proving that Chick-fil-A is no longer giving to the “most divisive” anti-gay groups, such as Focus on the Family and Exodus International, both of which have been linked to Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill. That’s hard to comment on, because Cathy only showed the forms to Shane.

Nevertheless, there are enormous questions that arise, and it’s important that we ask them before chomping into a greasy, fatty, homophobic sandwich. Some were voiced during the HuffPost Live segment but were never answered, and others are now being asked around the Web.

Why would Dan Cathy attempt to clear his name and his organization’s reputation by sharing these internal documents with the executive director of Campus Pride rather than with a reporter? There could be several reasons for this. If the story were leaked to the mainstream media and turned out to be true, some of Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay customers could get really angry. Alternatively, perhaps Cathy specifically sought Shane’s stamp of approval so that Shane would become a Chick-fil-A advocate on all those college campuses that are seeking to open new Chick-fil-A franchises. Either way, Chick-fil-A is still contributing to anti-gay groups.

And why would Dan Cathy choose to pursue only Shane Windmeyer and Campus Pride instead of larger, further-reaching LGBT organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force or the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)? Is it that Cathy thought Shane seemed like a nice guy, or is it that winning over Shane could open up lucrative opportunities on college campuses?

Finally, Shane’s piece, though ultimately about his budding friendship with Cathy, has led to claims in the media that Chick-fil-A has ceased funding anti-gay groups. Although Shane blames the media for overlooking the fine print (notice that he wrote that Chick-fil-A had stopped contributing to just the “most divisive” anti-gay groups), he has nevertheless managed to provide cover for a virulently anti-gay company and its virulently anti-gay president.

I hate conspiracy theories, truly I do, but there seems to be something going on that isn’t kosher — and I’m not talking about the soggy pickle in a Chick-fil-A sandwich. I like Shane, and I think Campus Pride does incredibly important work, but I would hate to see Shane’s and his organization’s reputations at all sullied by lifting up those who steadfastly stand in opposition to equality. Dan Cathy very well may have found a friend in the LGBT community (many homophobes have stated, “Some of my best friends are gay!”), but the harm that Chick-fil-A’s contributions to anti-gay groups have done cannot be overlooked simply because the company’s president invited a gay guy to a football game.

Watch Shane Windmeyer, Zack Ford and I discuss this story on HuffPost Live:

HuffingtonPost Gay Voices – Stonewall Is U.S. History

Stonewall Is U.S. History
Posted: 01/23/2013 6:49 pm

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” — President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Speech, January 21, 2013

What was true four years ago is no less true today that a great new day is at hand now with the reelection of President Barack Obama. Four years ago, I felt as if we had come out of a bad dream with real hope for the first time in a very long time for genuine progressive social change.

The president confirmed this once again in his second inaugural address by placing the expansion of civil and human rights as a cornerstone of his political agenda, and by positioning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and history in its rightful place firmly as an integral part of U.S. history.

Some listening to his speech may not have been familiar of the name “Stonewall” — and for that matter “Seneca Falls” and even “Selma” — in any historical sense. Seneca Falls is significant because there, in upstate New York in 1848, a group of committed women and some men came together in convention for the first time to organize for women’s rights and women’s equality, including the right to vote. Participants passed their Declaration of Sentiments based on the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Selma, Alabama is particularly notable as a site of three marches in the struggle for civil rights when in 1965 activists protested the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the denial of voting rights for African American citizens, but were met with violence by state and local police officers.

There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for LGBT equality at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by LGBT people, students, and others of all races located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

At approximately 1:20 on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City police officers conducted a routine raid on the bar on the charge that the owners had been selling alcohol without a license. Feeling they had been harassed far too long, people challenged police officers on this morning lasting with varying intensity over the next five nights by flinging bottles, rocks, bricks, trash cans, and parking meters used at battering rams.

In reality, even before these historic events at the Stonewall Inn, a little-known action preceded Stonewall by nearly three years. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in what is known as the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, transgender people, sex workers, and others joined in fighting police harassment and oppression. Police, conducting one of their numerous raids, entered Compton’s and began physically harassing the clientele. People fought back by hurling coffee at the officers and heaving cups, dishes, and trays around the cafeteria. Police retreated outside as customers smashed windows. Over the course of the next night, people gathered to picket the cafeteria, which refused to allow transgender people back inside.

Out of the ashes of Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, people, primarily young, formed a number of groups to advance human rights for LGBT people. Unfortunately, U.S. schools do not generally include and educators do not teach the complex and important history and contributions of LGBT people.

In my position as a professor in a large Midwestern university, I teach an LGBT Studies course. A few years ago, during the first week of class as I outlined the course syllabus, in passing I used the term “Stonewall,” at which point a young man raised his hand and asked me, “What is a ‘Stonewall?'”

I explained the importance of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations, and the student thanked me. He then stated that he was a first-year college student, and although he is gay, he had never heard about Stonewall or anything else associated with LGBT history while attending high school. As he said this, I thought to myself that though we have made progress over the years, conditions remain very difficult for LGBT and questioning youth today caused in part by the fact that they are not taught their history, part of U.S.-American history, throughout their schooling.

In my own high school years during the 1960s, LGBT topics rarely surfaced, and then only in a negative context. Once my health education teacher talked about the technique of electro-shock treatment for “homosexuals” to alter their sexual desires. In senior English class, the teacher stated that “even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it.” These references (within the overarching Heterosexual Studies curriculum at my high school) and the utter lack of any discussions at all about the lives of transgender people, forced me to hide deeper into myself, thereby further damaging my self-esteem and identity.

I consider, therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBT history, literature, and culture in the schools as a form of assault upon all students, regardless of their sexual and gender identities, and as a failure of our educational system to provide students with a multidimensional view of history and culture. When President Obama invoked the name of Stonewall before millions watching and listening throughout the planet, chills radiated down my spine, and I felt the excitement that comes with the prospect of righting a wrong.

California got it right in April 2011 when the state legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, SB48, the first in the nation requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other teaching materials in social studies courses that include the contributions of LGBT people. The law is due to be implemented during the 2013-2014 school year.

I am certain not everyone feels as excited and hopeful as I do by President Obama’s momentous speech and by the forward-thinking actions transpiring in California. While surfing the cable news channels following the inaugural address, I chanced upon an interview by Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News network of Patrick Buchanan. During the interview, Van Susteren asked Buchanan about his thoughts on the president’s speech. Though predictable, Buchanan’s response was none-the-less exasperating when he answered: “Look, they usually talk about what? When I was a kid, Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. What was he talking about? Stonewall! That’s a barroom brawl in Greenwich Village in 1969, when the cops are hassling gays in their bar and the gays fought back and threw them all out! Does that belong in a presidential inaugural?”

Well, I would answer Buchanan and others who question the suitability of referencing LGBT-inspired events during major addresses by asserting that contrary to their apparent beliefs, some of us have a vision that one day in the not-to-distant future, LGBT people, indeed, people of all currently marginalized groups will achieve full rights and step out of the socially constructed and enforced stigma that often shrouds our lives, maybe even seeing one of us as president, openly and proudly leading our nation.

President Barack Obama during his address envisioned a journey, one which we all may travel to arrive at a better place, a journey where all women will earn equal pay for equal work, where barriers to voting will finally fall, where people from other lands hopeful to find their place among us will find welcome, where our young people will be protected from harm. He continued: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

This is part of the larger vision many of us involved in civil and human rights have and continually fight for on a daily basis.

Huffington Post Gay Voices – Richard Blanco, Inaugural Poet, Pays Homage To American Experience

Richard Blanco, Inaugural Poet, Pays Homage To American Experience

01/21/13 02:31 PM ET EST

WASHINGTON — Poet Richard Blanco has delivered an inaugural poem paying homage to the American experience.

Blanco, at age 44 the youngest ever inaugural poet, recited a poem that painted vivid scenes about America and included reflections on his experience growing up as Cuban exile in New York City and Miami.

His poem, “One Today,” reflected on common American experiences, reciting: “My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, each one yawning to life.”

Blanco was born in Spain but moved to the United States with his parents. He was an engineer before he took up poetry. Blanco is the first Hispanic and the first openly gay person to serve in the role of inaugural poet.

He has published three books of poetry while maintaining his career as an engineer.