News Briefs for December 23, 2015

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Preliminary Results: Slovenians Reject Same-Sex Marriage Law

(AP) Slovenians rejected same-sex marriage by a large margin in a referendum on Sunday, according to near-complete results, in a victory for the conservatives backed by the Catholic Church in the ex-communist EU nation.

The results released by authorities show 63.5 percent voted against a bill that defines marriage as a union of two adults, while 36.5 percent were in favor.

Slovenia's left-leaning Parliament introduced marriage equality in March, but opponents pushed through a popular vote on the issue. The "Children Are At Stake" group has collected 40,000 signatures to challenge the changes before any gay couples were able to marry.

"This result presents a victory for our children," said Ales Primc, the group's leader.

Ljudmila Novak, from New Slovenia, described the outcome as a "clear defeat" of the leftist government, which backed the changes.

Supporters of same-sex marriage have called for Slovenia to join Western European nations that have allowed more gay rights. Conservatives and the right-wing opposition have campaigned on traditional family values, arguing that marriage equality paves the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Although Slovenia is considered to be among the most liberal of the ex-communist nations, gay rights remain a contentious topic in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation of 2 million.

Voters in the former Yugoslav republic rejected granting more rights to gay couples in a referendum in 2012.

Violeta Tomic, a lawmaker from the United Left party which initially put forward the bill, said referendum results presented a temporary setback only.

"It's not over yet. Sooner or later the law will be accepted," she said.

The Slovenia vote illustrates a cultural split within the European Union in which more established western members are rapidly granting new rights to gays, while eastern newcomers entrench conservative attitudes toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

IGLTA Honors Archbishop Desmond Tutu

(IGLTA) Archbishop Desmond Tutu will receive the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s prestigious Chair Award for 2016.  The award recipient is selected by the head of the IGLTA board of directors and presented to an individual or business that has made the world a more welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers.
 
“As we’re holding our convention on the African continent for the first time, I cannot think of a better award recipient than Archbishop Desmond Tutu,” says IGLTA Board Chair Dan Melesurgo. “He has been a global inspiration since the demise of apartheid, using his high profile to campaign for the oppressed and defend human rights. He is a true leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.”
 
Tutu's rise to international prominence began when he became the first black person to be appointed the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and emerged as one of the most eloquent voices of the South African anti-apartheid movement. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Although he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, he remains a moral compass for the continent, speaking out against the anti-gay policies of other African countries. Tutu has been widely quoted as saying, "I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

The 2016 IGLTA Chair Award will be presented as part of the opening keynote session (14 April) of IGLTA’s 33nd Annual Global Convention at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town in cooperation with the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. For more information, visit iglta.org/convention.

Judge Orders New Jersey 'Gay Conversion' Nonprofit to Close

(AP) A New Jersey nonprofit found to have violated consumer fraud laws for offering therapy it said would turn gays to heterosexuals must shut down, a judge ordered Friday.

The granting of a permanent injunction against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, known as JONAH, was an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed against the group in 2012 by several men, and two of their mothers, claiming it engaged in fraud and made claims it couldn't back up.

In June, a Hudson County jury awarded the plaintiffs about $72,000 in damages.

The ruling signed Friday by state Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso ordered Jersey City-based JONAH to cease all operations within 30 days and barred it from "engaging, whether directly or through referrals, in any therapy, counseling, treatment or activity that has the goal of changing, affecting or influencing sexual orientation, 'same sex attraction' or 'gender wholeness.'"

Bariso's order also awarded attorneys' fees and expenses to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

David Dinielli, an attorney for the men, said the decision sends a message to providers of so-called gay conversion therapy that the practice is fraudulent.

"The practice of conversion therapy, at base, constitutes fraud," he said. "It is premised on the lie that homosexuality is a disease or disorder. This case proved it to be a lie."

An attorney who represented JONAH at the trial did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The group had claimed that it did not make guarantees to clients and that it should be allowed to offer help to people struggling with their sexual orientation.

Idaho's Legal Defense of Gay Marriage Ban Totals $715K

(AP) Idaho's losing legal battle over defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage has cost taxpayers roughly $715,000.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and other top elected officials unanimously approved paying $34,000 out of the state's Constitutional Defense Fund on Friday to cover the remaining attorney fees and court costs.

The state has already paid $628,000 to attorneys representing the four lesbian couples who sued Idaho over the state's same-sex marriage ban, plus another $53,000 paid to a private law firm hired to represent Idaho in the case.

Idaho lost the federal lawsuit and subsequent appeals.

The Constitutional Defense Fund was created in 1995 to defend the state's legal rights against the federal government. Members include Otter, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill.

Transgender Rights Group Sues State over Care Limitation

(AP) A Minnesota gay rights advocacy group and a transgender man are seeking to overturn the state's bar on public health programs covering gender reassignment procedures in a lawsuit filed Thursday, arguing that ban treats transgender men and women as inferior.

OutFront Minnesota challenged the state's more than 10-year-old law on behalf of Evan Thomas, a 63-year-old who began identifying as a man in 2013 but was denied surgery to remove breasts earlier this year. Thomas is on Medical Assistance, one of the state's subsidized health care programs for low-income residents. He was granted a legal name and gender change in July.

The organization argues the ban on public funds going toward gender reassignment surgeries and therapies unfairly singles out residents with gender dysphoria, a condition in which people feel the opposite of their biological sex. OutFront said it's unjust that a woman suffering a different condition would have a breast removal surgery or hysterectomy covered through the state, while a person born as a woman suffering gender dysphoria would be denied the same treatment.

"When a law makes state financial assistance available for medically necessary surgery in some instances, but denies state assistance for that same or substantially equivalent surgery when the purpose is to treat gender dysphoria, such a law is perceived as a state-sanctioned badge of inferiority, and further fuels the stigma affecting the transgender community," the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court said.

The complaint sued Minnesota's new commissioner at the Department of Human Services, which oversees the state's public health care programs. The department said in a statement that it's reviewing the lawsuit.

'70s Trans Model Tracey 'Africa' Norman Shares Moving Story

(EDGE) A popular model in the 1970s who was the face of Clairol's Born Beautiful hair color, had an exclusive contract with Avon, did photo shoots for Essence and was a model for Balenciaga's Paris showroom, told New York magazine this week she is transgender -- a secret not many knew about during her time working as a model.

Tracey "Africa" Norman said she already faced discrimination as an African-American woman and knew if people were aware of her gender identity it would have ended her career or led to death.

In the article, titled "The First Black Trans Model Was on a Clairol Box," Norman, now 63, said word eventually got out about her being a trans woman and her work-life suffered.

"I was a model, so males and females were attracted to me, and when they find out that I'm not what they perceive me to be, it freaks them out," she told New York magazine. "That's what I've experienced in my life, what I was getting from straight women and straight men."

Norman later competed in New York City's drag ball community and joined the House of Africa. In 2001, she was inducted into the ballroom hall of fame.

"Orange is the New Black" star and trans activist Lavern Cox told the publication she discovered Norman's story about five years ago while reading a blog dedicated to the heroes of trans history.

"I was just enthralled, first of all, that there was this black model in the '70s who got a hair contract, who had cosmetic deals," Cox said. "That's just a really big deal, for any black model, and then for her to be trans is beyond amazing."

Norman said she's no longer fearful living as an out trans woman and wants to share her story with the world.

"I was reminded that I made history and I deserve to have it printed," she told New York magazine. "And I'm still here."

Lambda Legal Suggests Improvements for New York Nondiscrimination Rule

(Lambda) Lambda Legal submitted comments and suggested changes to New York State’s Division of Human Rights regarding a proposed gender identity nondiscrimination rule, under New York’s Human Rights Law.

“The Division’s Proposed Rule explicitly barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and gender dysphoria is a welcome and long-overdue step to combat the high rates of discrimination, harassment and stigma faced by transgender and gender-nonconforming people in New York,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. “However, the Proposed Rule can be further improved to clearly spell out that all transgender and gender-variant people in New York are protected from discrimination in all aspects of life.”

The rule, announced by Governor Cuomo in October, is designed to clarify that New York State’s Human Rights Law’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, transgender status or sex stereotypes.

In its comments, Lambda Legal:

-          advocated for a clearer and more inclusive definition of sex and gender identity in the language of the final rule;

-          recommended that the Division further clarify the definition of disability to ensure protection from discrimination on the basis of gender dysphoria, whether actual or perceived;

-          pressed the Division to make clear that access to single-sex facilities is to be determined on the basis of an individual’s gender identity; and

-          strongly urged the Division to reject any request for a religious exemption or limitation to be included in the final rule.

“The adoption of any religious exemption or limitation would severely undermine the purpose and effectiveness of the Human Rights Law,” the comments said.

Judge Rules against Catholic School in Gay-Hiring Retraction

(AP) An all-girls Catholic prep school in Massachusetts violated state anti-discrimination law by rescinding a job offer to a man in a same-sex marriage, a judge ruled.

Matthew Barrett was offered a job as Fontbonne Academy's food services director in 2013, but the offer was withdrawn days later after he listed his husband as his emergency contact.

Barrett sued, alleging that the Milton school discriminated against him based on sexual orientation and gender. Norfolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins agreed, rejecting Fontbonne's claim that hiring Barrett would infringe on its constitutional rights because it views his marriage to a man as incompatible with its religious mission.

The judge said Barrett's duties as a food services director did not include presenting the teachings of the Catholic Church.

"As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message. It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage," Wilkins wrote in a ruling issued Wednesday.

The judge also found that a religious exemption to the state anti-discrimination law applies only if a religious organization limits admission to people of a certain religion. Fontbonne is open to students and employees of all faiths, with the exception of its administration and theology faculty.

It was not immediately clear if Fontbonne plans to appeal the ruling. Fontbonne's attorney, John Bagley, did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment. A message was also left at the school.

Barrett's attorney, Ben Klein of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the judge has found that Fontbonne is liable to pay damages to Barrett for lost wages and compensatory damages for discrimination. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

HIV Diagnoses Are Down 20%, But Progress is Uneven

Annual HIV diagnoses in the United States fell by 19 percent from 2005 to 2014, driven by dramatic and continuing declines over the decade among several populations including heterosexuals, people who inject drugs, and African Americans -- with the steepest declines among black women. However, the same level of success was not seen among all gay and bisexual men.
 
For gay and bisexual men, trends over the decade have varied by race and ethnicity. Among white gay and bisexual men, diagnoses dropped steadily, decreasing 18 percent. Diagnoses among Latino gay and bisexual men continued to rise and were up 24 percent. Diagnoses among black gay and bisexual men also increased (22 percent) between 2005 and 2014, but that increase has leveled off since 2010.
 
A similar trend was seen among young black gay and bisexual men ages 13-24, who experienced a steep 87 percent increase in diagnoses between 2005 and 2014. Between 2010 and 2014, however, the trend has leveled off (with a 2 percent decline).
 
"Although we are encouraged by the recent slowing of the epidemic among black gay and bisexual men -- especially young men -- they continue to face a disproportionately high HIV burden and we must address it," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "Much more must be done to reduce new infections and to reverse the increases among Latino men. There is hope that the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and other efforts are beginning to pay off, but we can't rest until we see equal gains for all races and risk groups."
 
The new national analyses examined trends in diagnoses over two time periods, 2005-2014 and 2010-2014, to provide both a decade-long perspective as well as a more recent view of trends.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/nhpc.

National LGBTQ Task Force Calls for Decriminalization of Sex Work

(TaskForce)
The National LGBTQ Task Force is renewing its call to end the criminalization of sex work in the U.S. as it joins advocates across the country in taking part in actions in observance of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Today, to mark the day of action, the organization has published a Sex Worker Policy Recommendations guide for local and state advocates and lawmakers.

“Transgender women of color face devastating amounts of violence, and the criminalization of sex work leaves them even more vulnerable. This year alone, at least 12 transgender women and gender non-conforming people who engaged in sex work were murdered in the U.S. -- together, these women comprised 29 percent of U.S. sex worker homicide victims. We can and must do more to end this epidemic of violence. Today, as we join advocates calling for an end to violence against sex workers, we have published a guide that provides policy recommendations including the decriminalization of sex work,” said Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Last year, the National LGBTQ Task Force launched #StopTransMurders, a public education campaign to raise the voices of transgender activists and allies working to end anti-transgender violence. Additionally, the organization has been working with the President’s Administration, including the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), to advance basic rights and protections for transgender people. 

Most recently, the National LGBTQ Task Force met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to push for an accurate and timely reporting on hate crimes, and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to raise awareness of many issues affecting transgender people such as violence, employment, education, and discrimination.

Man Sentenced to 11 Years in Fla. Prison for Gay Hungarian Sex-Slave Ring

(EDGE) One of the accused ringleaders of a gay Hungarian sex-slave ring was sentenced to 11 years in a Florida prison Tuesday for human trafficking, the Miami Herald reports.

Andras Janos Vass, 26, who hails from Hungary, was convicted of human trafficking and racketeering in April, and faced a maximum sentence of 155 years. He and two other men were accused of luring three Hungarian men, aged between 20 and 22, to work for their company, Never Sleep Inc. They promised the victims that they could make between $3,500 to $5,000 a month for legal escort work.

The men lured from Hungary said they spent more than a year confined to bedrooms in New York and Miami and were constantly forced to have sex with customers.

The two other men allegedly heading the sex ring Gabor Acs and Viktor Berki, are currently awaiting trial. 

Authorities said the ringleaders met the victims in Hungary via a website called GayRomeo.com. Another victim was reportedly "living with gypsies" as a male prostitute when Acs met him through Facebook, the Miami Herald reports.

When the victims were flown to NYC in 2012, Homeland Security Investigations agent Melissa Pavlikowski said they "believed they would only be in New York for a few months to make tens of thousands of dollars before returning to their homeland and their families."

Vass' attorney Adam Goodman said his client was an active participant in the sex ring before he was victimized by the other two men, and forced to marry one of them.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Richard Hersch handed down a fairly light sentence against Vass, just over 140 months in state prison. 

"I know very well that I am culpable," Vass told the court, through an interpreter. "After I do my time, I would like to start a new clean life and I'm asking for God's help and I pray every day for forgiveness."

Impulse Group South Florida Needs Volunteers

(Impulse) Impulse Group of South Florida, a group dedicated to the advancement of safe sex awareness and practice among young, sexually active gay men between the ages of 18-35, is recruiting volunteers willing to work on events, advocacy, outreach, operations and marketing. Visit www.impulsegrp.org/get-involved/ or contact recruitment coordinator Lando Sanchez This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.


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