News briefs for this week.
Boater Advisory: Manatee Migration Begins November 15
(Broward County EPCRD) November 15 marks the beginning of manatee season. As air and water temperature drop, manatees begin moving south toward warm water refuges, and seasonal speed limits go into effect. Broward County's Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division (EPCRD) cautions boaters to be on the lookout for greater numbers of manatees moving into the County's waterways.
Boaters should be aware that many seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect on November 15 in Broward and throughout the state. For information about manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes and speed zones, visit MyFWC.com/Manatee, and select "Data and Maps."
During last year's manatee season (November 15 - March 31), staff from EPCRD counted over 1,200 manatees in the County's waterways, which may represent 20 percent of the entire State population of manatees. When the weather is cold, the majority of manatees can be found in the warm-water refuges of the Lauderdale Power Plant cooling lakes and Port Everglades Power Plant cooling canal. Afterward, when the temperatures warm, they move into the surrounding canals and Intracoastal Waterway to forage, thus increasing the chance of manatee/boater interaction.
Manatee can be difficult to see as they often swim and rest just below the water's surface. To avoid striking manatees, vessel operators should obey all posted speed limits, wear polarized sunglasses to help them spot the creatures in the water, and watch for the large, tell-tale circular slicks on the surface of the water (manatee "footprints") that indicate the presence of manatees.
SeaWorld Trainer Turned Whistle Blower Honored by PETA
(PETA) Openly gay former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove has been awarded PETA’s Courage of Conviction Award. Hargrove was a senior whale trainer for SeaWorld and supervisor of Whale Training for Marineland in France. He has since come to speak out against the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity, and to support legislation to that end
Hargrove appeared in the CNN documentary Blackfish, and is the author of Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond 'Blackfish.' He’s also appeared on the Daily Show to discuss SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas raised in captivity.
West Palm Company Raising Funds to Launch Shepard Story as Musical Drama
Opera Fusion, based in West Palm Beach, has launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com to raise $150,000 to fund the production of “Not In My Town.”
The story of the events surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was beaten and left tied to a fence, will be presented as a musical drama written for the stage by Michael W. Ross of Fort Lauderdale and premiered by South Florida startup company Opera Fusion Inc.
The performance is planned to debut in June 2016 for Pride month.
The crowd-funding campaign began Oct. 28, the sixth anniversary of the date President Obama signed an expanded hate crimes bill, which makes it a federal crime to assault anyone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill is named for Shepard, who was attacked in 1998, and for James Byrd, an African-American man dragged to death in Texas that same year.
The title of the musical drama, “Not In My Town,” is a major confrontation scene and “the crux of the show,” its composer and librettist Ross said. “But it's not necessarily about homosexuality. There are parallels to other civil rights movements — bullying and prejudice of all types can happen anywhere. My subjects involve themes of social injustice and are very personal to me.”
As part of its campaign to mount “Not In My Town,” Opera Fusion will use the hashtag #IAmMatthew on social media.
Officials: Neb. Birth Forms to List Same-Sex Spouses
(AP) The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has quietly changed state policy and plans to list the names of both same-sex spouses on their children's birth certificates, although it has not revealed how that change will look.
The change was disclosed in court documents filed last week by state attorneys in a lawsuit filed on behalf of several same-sex couples last year challenging Nebraska's gay marriage abn. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in June, but the couples and the American Civil Liberties Union are pushing a Nebraska judge to officially strike down the state ban.
HHS spokeswoman Leah Bucco-White on Thursday confirmed that the agency has begun the process to list both a child's biological parent and the parent's same-sex spouse on the child's birth certificate. Until the process is complete, the state's current birth certificate form - which does not include a place for same-sex spouses - will be used, Bucco-White said.
ACLU Nebraska legal director Amy Miller said she was concerned about how same-sex spouses would be listed on state birth certificates. She said her office has received calls from family attorneys in the last two weeks who were told birth certificates issued to same-sex parents will list the non-biological parent as "friend."
State officials initially fought changing birth certificate forms, arguing that complaints about birth certificates came from couples who weren't part of the original lawsuit. That objection was dismissed last month by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon, who ruled that the original allegations that the ban denied various marriage rights and responsibilities "can be construed as encompassing the birth-certificate issue."
Bataillon ordered the state and ACLU to submit arguments about whether the state should be forced - though a court injunction - to include the names of both same-sex spouses on Nebraska birth certificates.
LGBT Activists Upset Over New Mormon Church Baptism Rule
(AP) Gay and lesbian Mormons and their supporters are reeling over a rule change by church officials that says members in same-sex marriages can be kicked out, and bars their children from being baptized unless they disavow same-sex relationships.
The changes in the church handbook were sent out Thursday to local church leaders around the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement Friday the revisions reiterate church opposition to gay marriage.
The changes triggered anger for a growing faction of LGBT-supportive Mormons who had been buoyed in recent years by church leaders' calls for more compassion and understanding for LGBT members.
Wendy Montgomery, a Mormon mother of a gay teenage son, says the mixed messages feel like emotional whiplash and have her family considering leaving the faith.
CAP Report Shows LGBT Homeless Youth's Barriers to Obtaining IDs
(EDGE) Research suggests that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, youth experience homelessness at a much higher rate than their non-LGBT peers. Like for most homeless youth, this leads to significant challenges accessing food, shelter, health care, education, and employment, and these challenges may be heightened for youth who identify as LGBT. In addition, homeless youth often struggle to obtain state-issued photo identification, which further limits their access to programs and services that may aid them in securing safe and stable housing.
The Center for American Progress has released a report examining the challenges that LGBT homeless youth face in obtaining state-issued identification and systematically reviews the patchwork of state and municipal laws that either erect or remove barriers to ID access.
“Only 22 percent of states offer free or reduced-cost IDs to the homeless, and nearly half require parental consent before issuing IDs to those underage,” said Laura E. Durso, Director of CAP's LGBT Research and Communications Project. “Transgender individuals often have to provide proof of surgery or an amended birth certificate to receive an ID. All this only raises the bar even higher for LGBT homeless youth to obtain the required ID to secure the employment, care, or shelter they so desperately need."
The report, makes concrete recommendations for states to improve the ability of LGBT homeless youth to receive the identification documents they need, including:
- Establishing clear procedures for homeless applicants, implementing free or reduced-cost ID cards, lowering or eliminating parental consent requirements, accepting a broad range of identity documents, and updating policies on gender markers
- Improving ID card access for youth in foster care, the juvenile justice system, and the criminal justice system
- Having states tap into pre-existing networks of resources already serving LGBT homeless youth to reach this underserved population
- Establishing municipal ID card programs
Mississippi Supreme Court Narrowly Grants Same-Sex Divorce
(AP) The Mississippi Supreme Court voted to allow a lesbian couple to seek a divorce, even as two justices questioned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and suggested that landmark ruling has no constitutional basis.
The decision Thursday came after DeSoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy Jr. ruled in 2013 that the Mississippi Constitution and state law prevented him from granting a divorce to Lauren Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon because the state didn't recognize same-sex marriage.
Czekala-Chatham appealed, and it was initially opposed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat. However, Hood asked the court to allow the divorce after the June 26 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Friday, same-sex couples will be in federal court seeking to overturn Mississippi's last-in-the-nation ban on adoption by gay couples.
In the Mississippi court's divorce ruling, five of nine justices said in a two-page order that because Hood had reversed his position, "we find no contested issues remain" and sent the case back to DeSoto County for further action.
Justices Leslie King and James Kitchens agreed with the outcome, but dissented, calling for the court to issue a full opinion. King and Kitchens called for Mississippi to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage and grant the divorce in February.
Czekala-Chatham and Melancon were married in San Francisco in 2008 and bought a house in Mississippi before separating in 2010. Czekala-Chatham said she hopes to soon be divorced from her wife, who now lives in Arkansas.
"I'm happy this battle has been won. But the war on discrimination is still ongoing," the 53-year-old Hernando resident told The Associated Press on Thursday.
She said searching for a job as a credit analyst has been difficult because potential employers see her involvement in the case.
Indiana Chamber Backs Statewide Gay Rights Protections
(AP) Less than a year after big business helped pressure Indiana Republicans to scale back their contentious new religious objections law, the state's powerful business lobby has decided that step wasn't enough.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the voice of the state's business establishment, on Thursday called for Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled Legislature to extend the state's civil rights protections to bar discrimination against people based on their LGBT status.
"We believe this expansion is a necessary action for the General Assembly to take," said group President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. "After the negative perception of our state generated by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the spring, we need to get this right."
For months, gay rights supporters and religious conservatives who clashed over the religious objections law have anticipated a bitter debate when the Legislature convenes in January - this time over enshrining protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Pence and key leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature have gone to lengths to avoid discussing the matter publicly, even as they are having private conversations with prominent business leaders who support LGBT rights.
The issue drives a wedge between two stalwart pillars of the Republican Party's base: the business establishment and social conservatives. Thus far, GOP leaders have struggled to bridge the gap. In a recent interview with WRTV-TV in Indianapolis, Pence indicated that he wonders whether the concerns of religious conservatives can be reconciled with those of gay rights supporters who want LGBT protections in the law.
The Pence administration declined to comment on the chamber's announcement and has consistently refused to say where the governor stands on the issue.
In a statement, spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Pence "has been meeting with leaders on all sides of the issue and will continue to give the matter thoughtful consideration."
Michigan Women Central to US Gay Marriage Case Adopt Kids
(AP) Two Detroit-area nurses jointly adopted five children on Thursday, closing a case that started when they challenged Michigan's restrictions on adoption and helped pave the way for the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage.
"What a long road," Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald acknowledged before granting the adoptions during a brief ceremony in Pontiac.
Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are raising the children, who range from 18 months to 6 years, at their Hazel Park home.
Rowse had adopted the boys, Nolan and Jacob, and DeBoer was the adoptive mother of the girls, Ryanne and Rylee. That all changed Thursday, when the women jointly adopted all four kids and added Kennedy, a toddler who had been their foster daughter.
Asked afterward what she was feeling, DeBoer said: "Just a lot of joy. It's finally over, and we're finally a legal, protected family."
They sued the state in 2012, initially challenging Michigan's restrictions on joint adoption and later the ban on gay marriage at the suggestion of the judge in the case.
Federal Judge Bernard Friedman overturned the state's gay marriage ban in 2014. At the beginning of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Michigan couple's case, among others, and in June the high court said same-sex couples have a right to marry. Rowse and DeBoer married nearly two months later.
"We've made changes throughout the United States and we're very proud of that, but I think our proudest moment is this one right here," DeBoer said Thursday.
The happy family posed for photos with McDonald, scarfed down some celebratory cake and exchanged hugs with loved ones who attended the hearing.
As for their future, DeBoer said she and Rowse were looking forward to "going back to life, getting off the radar.
"We're ready just to be a family and raise our kids."