Judge: California Police Targeted Gays in Sting Operations

(AP) A judge who said police improperly targeted gay men in sting operations has dismissed charges of lewd conduct and indecent exposure against a man who was arrested in a public bathroom.

Superior Court Judge Dhanidina ruled Friday that Rory Moroney's arrest in 2014 was based on discriminatory enforcement and prosecution, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported.

If convicted, Moroney would have been required to register as a sex offender for life.

Moroney, 50, was arrested after a detective acting as a vice unit decoy said he exposed himself in a bathroom at Recreation Park in the Los Angeles suburb.

Moroney said the detective, who smiled, nodded and made eye contact in the restroom, appeared to be interested in sex.

During the trial, police indicated that they had arrested about 55 men for lewd conduct in the past two years.

Police said they based lewd-conduct operations on complaints, but the judge said there was little evidence of such complaints at the men's restrooms where most stings took place.

"The presence and tactics of the decoy officers actually caused the crimes to occur," Dhanidina ruled.

"The arbitrary enforcement of the law as seen in this case undermines the credibility of our legal system, eroding public confidence in our ability to achieve just results," the judge said in his closing remarks.

"This judge knows discrimination when he sees it," said Bruce Nickerson, one of Moroney's defense lawyers. "His ruling is powerful because it sends a message far beyond this case. It sends a message to police departments throughout the state who do these decoy operations for lewd-conduct cases."


Kasich Calls for Balance on Gay Rights, Religious Beliefs

(AP) Asked about gay rights and marriage equality, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said Friday that more people should take a "chill pill" and try to get along with one another rather than turn to unwieldy legislation.

The Ohio governor appeared at a town hall hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California, where he answered questions on issues that included terrorism and health care as well as discrimination against gays and lesbians.

"Do I think people are born gay? Probably. I've never studied the issue, but I don't see any reason to hurt you or discriminate (against) you or make you feel bad or make you feel like a second-class citizen," Kasich said in a spirited exchange with a gay man in the audience.

"I don't think that's right. Because you know what? Everybody's created in the image of the Lord."

Kasich has walked a fine line on the issue, saying that he does not support same-sex marriage but that he also has attended a gay wedding. He said that he does not believe in discriminating against anybody, but religious views must also be honored.

His answer partially satisfied 62-year-old San Francisco resident Kelly Bryan.

"I simply wanted it to be answered that gay people are born gay and that it is not a lifestyle," he said.


North Carolina Lawmaker Defends Law, Acknowledges Fallout

(AP) A leading North Carolina lawmaker has told business leaders he respects their right to speak out against a law limiting protections for LGBT people - but he's not changing his mind.

The Human Rights Campaign posted a copy of the letter, dated April 19, online Friday. In the letter, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger appears to try to assuage the businesses' fears about the law, but also remarks: "Make no mistake: I supported, and continue to support, the legislation."

Ben Graumann, a spokesman for Equality NC, says the letter was sent to at least some of the 180 businesses whose representatives signed a letter seeking the law's repeal.

A spokeswoman for Berger didn't immediately respond to a voicemail and an email Friday.

North Carolina's legislative session started this week.


Lawsuit Says College Disciplined Professor Over LGBT Dispute

(AP) A Christian college in Massachusetts is being sued over allegations that it disciplined a professor for opposing the school's stance on hiring gay workers.

The state's ACLU chapter filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Gordon College on behalf of professor Lauren Barthold, who wrote an open letter in 2014 saying that the school's policies discriminated against the LGBT community.

The college's president, D. Michael Lindsay, had previously signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a religious exemption to an executive order that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal workforce.

Barthold says she was threatened with termination and removed from leadership positions after opposing Lindsay. The lawsuit accuses Gordon of violating state laws that protect against retaliation.

Gordon, which enrolls 2,000 students, did not immediately comment.


Tennessee Gov Signs Anti-Gay Religious Counseling Bill Into Law

(AP) Tennessee's Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist's religious or personal beliefs.

"As a professional I should have the right to decide if my clients end goals don't match with my beliefs - I should have the right to say somebody else can better serve them," Gov. Bill Haslam said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "Lawyers can do that, doctors can do that. Why would we take this one class of professionals and say you can't do that?"

The American Counseling Association called the legislation an "unprecedented attack" on the counseling profession and said Tennessee was the only state to ever pass such a law. Opponents say the legislation is part of a wave of bills around the nation that legalizes discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Haslam said he consulted several counselors on both side of the issue and that they all told him that "this isn't about taking on or not taking on LGBT clients, because even the ones who said they think the bill is needed said they never actually turned someone down for this reason."

The governor said the decision by the ACA to update its 2014 ethics code took away therapists' ability to make decisions based on their values. Haslam emphasized that the law only applies to counselors in private practice and does not allow them to turn away people who are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. It also requires that the counselors refer patients to other therapists if they decline to treat them.

The ACA has called the legislation discriminatory.


Alabama City Passes Anti-Transgender Bathroom Ordinance

(AP) People in an Alabama city who use public restrooms intended for a gender other than what is listed on their birth certificate will be punished under an ordinance officials passed this week.

Oxford City Council President Steven Waits was quoted by news media outlets as saying the ordinance was a response to a new policy announced by Target Corp. last week allowing transgender employees and shoppers to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. There is a Target store in the Oxford Exchange shopping center.

Target representatives did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday. Target officials said on the company's corporate blog April 19 that its stance on inclusion and equality was reiterated to employees amid heated national debate over laws that LGBT advocates say effectively legalize discrimination against transgender people.

The Oxford ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for a person to use a restroom that doesn't correspond with their gender at birth. Violators of the ordinance could face a $500 fine or up to six months in jail.

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign blasted the ordinance, saying it raises a number of privacy concerns and questions about how it will be enforced.

Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge said the law will be enforced like any other city ordinance, such as noise violations or public indecency.

"If somebody sees something that makes them uncomfortable, they would call the police," he was quoted by as saying. "If the person is still there when the officer arrives, the officer has to witness the crime. Then we take down the person's information, and the person who reported it has to sign out a warrant."


Anti-LGBT Missouri 'Religious Objections' Proposal Suffers Setback

(AP)  A Missouri religious objections proposal failed on Wednesday to get the approval of a key legislative committee in a setback for conservatives who hoped to add protections for those who cite their faith in denying services such as flowers or cakes for same-sex weddings.

Members of a House committee voted 6-6, with a tie vote not enough to advance the measure. The committee's Republican chairman Rep. Elijah Haahr said it still has a chance to succeed if one of the lawmakers who voted against it in committee changes sides and asks for another vote. After that, it would need approval from a second committee before it could head to the House floor for debate. The legislation previously passed the Senate following a 37-hour filibuster by Democrats.

At issue was a proposed constitutional amendment to bar government penalties against businesses that cite religion while denying goods and services of "expressional or artistic creation" for same-sex weddings. If passed by the Legislature, it would head to a referendum of voters this year.

Supporters argued it's needed to shield businesses from being forced to provide services that violate their religious beliefs following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year legalizing marriage of same-sex couples in all states.

The Missouri Baptist Convention and Missouri Alliance for Freedom, which advocates for individual liberties, backed the proposal.

But it drew opposition from some of the state's top corporate names, including agricultural giant Monsanto, brewer Anheuser-Busch and prescription drug benefits manager Express Scripts.

Critics cited economic fallout in states with laws perceived by some as discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, although Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder argues his proposal is narrower than measures passed in other states.

Lawmakers face a May 13 deadline to pass legislation.



Colombia's High Court Clears Way for Gay Marriage

(AP) Colombia's highest court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in the conservative Roman Catholic nation.

Gay couples in Colombia were already allowed to form civil unions. But Thursday's ruling by the Constitutional Court for the first time allows them to wed the same as heterosexual couples.

The decision was widely expected after a 6-3 decision earlier this month rejected a justice's opinion that would have prevented public notaries from registering same-sex unions as marriages.

With Thursday's decision, Colombia joins only a handful of nations in Latin America allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

As part of the proceedings President Juan Manuel Santos' government argued in favor of marriage rights for gay couples.


Katy Perry to Headline Glitzy amfAR Event During Cannes

(AP) Katy Perry will be lighting up the French Rivera like fireworks next month: The singer will perform at amfAR's annual "Cinema Against AIDS" event, the glitzy A-list fundraiser held annually during the Cannes Film Festival.

The fundraiser, which takes place just outside of Cannes in Antibes, France, will again feature Sharon Stone, amfAR's global campaign chair; the actress had to bow out last year. Other stars set to attend include Kevin Spacey and Heidi Klum.

The May 19th event raises money to for AIDS research. More than $30 million was raised last year, according to amfAR.


New Killings in Bangladesh Leave LGBT Community Full of Fear

(AP) The killing of two gay rights activists in the Bangladeshi capital has driven the country's already secretive and small gay community underground, wondering if they can trust a government that considers their status to be criminal, rights groups said.

Police detectives say they are working with evidence including a mobile phone, documents and witness testimony to solve the case, in which a gang of young men fatally stabbed a theater actor and the editor of Bangladesh's only LGBT rights magazine, who also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But with these being the latest killings in an ongoing wave of violence targeting atheist writers and outspoken moderates, members of Bangladesh's minority groups and civil society worry they're not safe, while rights group question the government's repeated claims that the situation is under control.

That fear is especially strong among members of Bangladesh's largely closeted gay community.

"They have gone into hiding. They are feeling particularly vulnerable," said Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch. "Being gay is hard enough in conservative societies."

After the government advised those at risk to simply lay low and avoid offending others, she said, "LGBT people are hardly likely to have faith in a government that pretty much denies the LGBT community exists."

Already, five people have been killed this year, after nine were slain in 2015. But while authorities have arrested suspects in some of those cases - mostly low-level operatives following orders in allegedly carrying out the attacks - none has yet been prosecuted, and authorities have yet to identify the masterminds. Police say they are waiting until investigations are complete before taking any suspects to court.