News Briefs for October 14, 2015

Pansexual Rises on National Coming Out Day

(SFGN) Social media posts for National Coming Out Day show more people identified as pansexual than lesbian, or transgender, according to a report from Vocativ. After analyzing more than 300,000 tweets and Instagram posts referencing National Coming Out Day, Vocativ says over 3,600 used the word pansexual.

Out of more than 43,000 posts that specifically self-identified, just over 1,400 posts referenced being bi or bisexual. Among other popular hashtags were #questioning and #transisbeautiful.

Puerto Rico Relaxes School Uniform Rules for Gay Students

(AP) Puerto Rico's education secretary says public school students can for the first time choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished.

Rafael Roman said Monday that the new regulation is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian and transgender students. He said teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

Girls in public schools across the U.S. territory traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

Salt Lake City Names Street for Gay Civil Rights Leader

(AP) Salt Lake City could soon have a street named after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk, an idea that reflects the progressive bent of the city that's home to the Mormon Church and capital of a conservative state.

City officials say they have been working with LGBT leaders on the initiative, which would place Harvey Milk Boulevard near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.

If approved, the name would go on 900 South, about a mile and half from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008, after the Mormon Church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California.

But Salt Lake City also has supported an active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

An annual gay pride parade is the second largest in the state - second only to a yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers. When a judge overturned Utah's gay marriage ban in December 2013, Mayor Ralph Becker presided over unions of same-sex couples who flocked to wed in the hours after the ruling.

"We've had so many tremendous victories this year alone, and I think Harvey really set the tone for the LGBT movement - how to be successful and organize us politically," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.

Williams said he first sat down with Becker more than a year ago. The idea could come before the City Council before the end of the year, said Councilman Stan Penfold, the first openly gay council member.

"My hope is that we can send a message as a city that we acknowledge that kind of movement," Penfold said. They are still working on what part of the street will bear Milk's name, he said.

Lines Being Drawn for Indiana's Next Fight Over LGBT Rights

(AP) Months after a divisive religious objections law thrust Indiana into an unwanted national spotlight, gay rights supporters and religious conservatives are preparing for another potentially bitter debate - this time over enshrining LGBT protections into state law.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence and key leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature have gone to lengths to avoid publicly discussing the matter, even as Democrats plan to push legislation and several Indiana cities have considered adopting their own lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protections. At the same time, religious conservatives are using a new tactic: raising concerns that children will be exposed to transgender people and what they say are sexual predators in public restrooms if the protections are approved.

No one with a stake in the issue - including a gay-rights coalition that includes many of Indiana's prominent businesses - says there's much room for compromise. That sets the stage for what "could be a huge mess" when the Legislature convenes in January, said Paul Helmke, a public affairs professor at Indiana University and former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne. It also could have a lasting impact on Pence's re-election bid next year.

Tensions have simmered since the spring, when the Legislature faced backlash for the religious objections law, which social conservatives said was needed to protect the beliefs of merchants, including wedding planners, photographers and bakers who may object to working with gay couples.

The law was changed to address widespread worries that it could sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians. Still, lingering concerns and a hit to the state's image prompted a number of smaller Indiana cities to join Indianapolis and Bloomington, which have had LGBT protections on the books for years, and move forward with similar local ordinances.

Openly Gay US Ambassador to Denmark Weds Partner

(AP) The U.S. ambassador to Denmark has married his partner in the Scandinavian country that became the first nation to allow gay couples to formalize their unions in 1989.

Rufus Gifford, the U.S. envoy since September 2013, is a strong gay rights advocate and often appears with Stephen DeVincent, a 56-year-old veterinarian, at his side. The two were married Saturday at the Copenhagen City Hall. Gifford, a 41-year-old Boston native, wrote on Twitter: "26 yrs ago the site of 1st legal gay unions in the world. Humbled and emotional."

Later in the day, he posted a smiling photo of the two, showing off their rings: "In the land that created fairy tales, we just started our own."

Kansas Ended 2014 with 154 Same-Sex Marriages

(AP) Reports show that 154 same-sex couples wed in Kansas during a volatile period in late 2014, months before the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling that legalized the unions nationwide.

Data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment show those unions made up less than 1 percent of the 17,655 marriages statewide in 2014. The agency, which released the numbers this week, said figures for marriages so far in 2015 weren't yet available.

However, documents filed in a federal court case suggest the statewide same-sex marriage total for 2015 will be much higher. Sedgwick County has issued at least 160 marriage licenses to same-sex couples this year, while Douglas County issued about 60 such licenses.

Tom Witt, of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas, said roadblocks to marriage in 2014 were "substantial."

Confusion reigned after the U.S. Supreme Court in October turned away appeals from five states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. One was in the same federal appeals court circuit as Kansas, where voters approved a gay marriage ban in 2005.

One gay marriage was performed in October in Johnson County, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt quickly filed a petition to overturn it and a stay was issued to block additional same-sex unions. The stay was lifted in mid-November, and some Kansas counties began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"Trying to draw a picture of the rush to the altar based on six weeks when most counties weren't granting marriage licenses isn't really going to tell you anything," Witt said.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging Kansas' ban was pending in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Since then, a federal judge has ruled the state's ban is unconstitutional, but he gave the parties extra time to make written filings on whether Kansas has made good on its assurances that it will comply.

North Dakota Fraternity Cleared of Hate Crime Accusation

(AP) A month-long police investigation has concluded that a gay man who reported being the victim of a hate crime at a University of North Dakota fraternity invented the story and actually instigated the fight.

Police recommended charging Haakon Gisvold, 18, who is not a UND student, with providing false information to police, but prosecutors declined.

"While probable cause may exist to conclude that such an offense took place, at this time there is not a substantial likelihood of conviction; as such, pursuing a criminal charge is not deemed to be in the interest of justice," Grand Forks County State's Attorney David Jones told WDAZ-TV (http://bit.ly/1Op1JtO ).

Gisvold did not immediately respond Friday to Associated Press requests for comment made by phone and social media.

Gisvold told police in early September that he was the victim of homophobic taunting and an assault at the Lambda Chi Alpha house. He said he was called anti-gay slurs, choked and stripped of his clothes while attending a party. The fraternity chapter was placed on limited operations while the UND and Grand Forks police departments investigated.

Authorities said their month-long investigation, including interviewing 150 witnesses, concluded there was no evidence of a hate crime, and that Gisvold instigated a fight.

"Throughout the investigation we looked at many different angles and many different things, and we uncovered some of those details," university Police Sgt. Dan Weigel said.

The university said in a statement that it would review the investigation results, "determine any next steps," and "continue to strive for a safe and welcoming environment for all within our campus community."

Fraternity member Eric Hanson said the outcome of the investigation was "a relief for everyone."

"Throughout this whole time it's been a real stressful situation," he said. "I mean, everybody was getting phone calls from their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, their parents asking, 'What did you guys do?'"

Group Makes Plans for 50th Anniversary of Gay Rights Meeting

(AP) A Kansas City group is making plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a national gathering of LGBT activists that is credited with helping to kick off the gay-rights movement.

In February of 1966, the activists gathered at a downtown Kansas City hotel. The meeting led to "The Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom," which opened an LGBT community center and began a publication that was distributed nationally.

The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America at the University of Missouri-Kansas City says a community committee is working with city officials to determine the best way to commemorate the anniversary. Possibilities include educational activities and a historic marker at the meeting site.

GLAMA co-founder Stuart Hinds said the group is "eager to advance awareness of the modern struggle for equality."

Bill Would Allow Fla. Churches to Say No to Gay Marriages

(AP) A proposed law in Florida would allow churches to refuse to hold gay marriages, a right the bill sponsor admits they already have.

The House Civil Justice Committee approved the bill Wednesday on a 9-4 vote.

Republican Rep. Scott Plakon said his bill would simply give churches another layer of protection. He acknowledged that he knows of no cases in which a church was forced to marry a gay couple.

But Plakon said no one knows what could happen in the future.

Dozens of pastors attended the meeting, most in support of the bill. Others, however, spoke against it, saying that they are already protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Says Georgia's Gay Marriage Ban Can't Be Enforced

(AP) A federal judge in Georgia has ruled that the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage cannot be enforced.

The ruling is effectively a formality. State probate courts have been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Georgia's constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and says the state will recognize only the union of a man and a woman as marriage and that same-sex marriages performed in others states are not legally recognized.

In April 2014, gay-rights group Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit challenging that ban on behalf of three couples and a widow.

U.S. District Judge William Duffey on Wednesday signed an order ruling in their favor and saying the Supreme Court ruling means the same-sex marriage ban can't be enforced.

Alabama Judge: Feds Should Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

(AP) An Alabama probate judge is asking the state's Supreme Court for a way out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Elmore County Probate Judge John Enslen filed a petition Monday that says the federal government, not state offices, should issue same-sex marriage licenses. Enslen says the federal government is responsible for upholding and enforcing other laws created at the federal level.

The petition asks the court to order judges statewide not to issue same-sex marriage licenses or recognize licenses that Enslen says have been issued in contradiction to the Alabama Constitution.

Enslen also asks that the state declare it will recognize only same-sex marriage licenses if they have been issued by the federal government or by states that have their own gay marriage laws.

Calif. Gov. Signs Bill Protecting Trans Employees

(NCLR) California Governor Jerry Brown signed bill that protects transgender people who work for companies doing business with state agencies.

Senate Bill 703 builds on existing California law and prohibits state agencies from entering into a contract in the amount of $100,000 or more with any company that fails to offer equal benefits to all employees regardless of their gender identity.


Authored by Senator Mark Leno and co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality California, and Transgender Law Center, the law will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

"In signing SB 703, Governor Brown has made California the first state in the nation to refuse to contract with businesses and other entities that discriminate against their transgender employees in benefits,” said NCLR Government Policy Director Geoff Kors.

“This legislation will not only help transgender employees but will also help California businesses since California already prohibits health insurance carriers from denying transgender individuals benefits offered non-transgender individuals and will thus level the playing field with entities from out of state that bid for contracts with California. Once again, California's governor and legislature are leading the nation in ending discrimination and ensuring that taxpayer funds don't go to those who discriminate."

“California law already stipulates that employers cannot deny transgender people health care and other benefits, but a loophole in state law has allowed companies that contract with the state to refuse equal health coverage,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco.

“This bill closes that loophole. Denying equal benefits to employees at the same company based on gender identity is harmful and wrong. It also can jeopardize employee health and strain publicly-funded programs that fill in the gaps when employers don’t provide the same benefits to everyone.”

Bryant Men's Basketball Assistant Coach Comes Out in Essay

(AP) Division I men's basketball has its first openly gay coach.

Bryant University assistant coach Chris Burns came out publicly in a personal essay posted Wednesday on Outsports.com (http://bit.ly/1jcvTD0 ).

Burns says that the Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage was so powerful that it made his decision to come out a "no-brainer."

Burns also says attending the Nike LGBT Sports Summit last year and meeting other members of the LGBT community helped him realize the importance of telling his story.

The Merrimack, New Hampshire, native says he's been coming out to people in the basketball world over the past few months, and their reactions have been positive and empathetic.

Burns played for Bryant from 2003-2007 and is entering his third season as an assistant coach with the team.

National Black Justice Coalition Launches #100toWatch

(NBJC) In recognition of National Coming OUT Day 2015 Oct 11, the National Black Justice Coalition has launched 100toWatch.org. The #100toWatch is part of NBJC's Emerging Leaders Initiative, designed to provide a national platform for young, rising stars, ages 18-30, in the Black LGBTQ/SGL movement for justice.

"These young, Black, LGBTQ/SGL self-identified leaders are doing the vital work necessary to bring visibility and awareness to the unique challenges of living at the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC Executive Director and CEO.

Among the top 100 is Monique Dorsainvil. She is the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

“Working at the White House, I serve as a bridge between the government and the communities I represent. Black LGBT leaders are reminders to both the LGBT rights and racial justice movements of the need to embrace intersectionality and push both communities toward a more inclusive social justice lens.  These leaders challenge landmark justice movements to evaluate the ways in which racism, sexism, and homophobia have played out historically while breaking down the idea that identity can be neatly packaged by checking a single box.”

To learn more about the NBJC’s rising stars, visit 100toWatch.org

Palm Beach County Expands Civil Rights Protections

(PBCHRC) Palm Beach County Commissioners voted unanimously to extend their civil rights protections by redefining “places of public accommodation” in the county’s Equal Opportunity to Housing and Public Accommodation law.

Specifically, the amendment expands discrimination protections to include retail stores and other places of business county-wide, as opposed to only restaurants and hotels as before. The amendment was brought to the county by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

"The ordinance traced its roots back to civil rights laws written in the 1960s, when it was legal to have 'Whites Only' hotels, restaurants, and bars, and the county commissioners only addressed inequities that had occurred in very few places of commerce," explains Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "As we know, discriminatory acts are not limited to those few places."


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