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News Briefs-January 2010

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MEXICO CITY MOVES TO LEGALIZE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Lawmakers in Mexico City gave their gay and lesbian residents an early Christmas gift by moving to legalizing same-sex marriages. The bill passed the capital’s assembly, an equivalent to a city council, with a vote of 39–20 on December 21. The move makes Mexico City Latin America’s first to legalize marriage equality.

A civil unions law went into effect in Mexico City in March 2007, allowing gay couples in Mexico’s capital to have their relationships legally recognized.

The bill calls for rewording the definition of marriage in the city’s civil code to “the free uniting of two people.” The code currently defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.”

The change would also permit same-sex couples to adopt children, apply jointly for bank loans together, expand inheritance and insurance rights, and be included in the insurance policies of their spouse, rights denied under civil unions allowed in the city.

“For centuries unjust laws banned marriage between blacks and whites or Indians and Europeans,” city lawmaker Victor Romo told the Associated Press. “Today all barriers have disappeared.”

As OutSmart went to press, Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution Party, was expected to sign the measure into law. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, a member of the country’s conservative Nation Action Party, has vowed to challenge the inclusive law in the courts.

Attorney John Nechman, partner with Katine & Nechman, LLP, says he believes Mexico City’s passage of marriage equality will resonate throughout Mexico and could set off a powerful domino effect throughout the Americas and beyond.

“This isn’t just any city—it’s the second largest city in the world and Latin America’s epicenter for progressive ideas,” Nechman told OutSmart following the vote. “Many members of my family are chilangos [a nickname for residents of Mexico City], and at my sister’s wedding there, a few years ago, she spoke about how nice it would be if my life partner Ricardo and I could marry, too.

“Now, we can—though we still intend to fight until we can do so in Houston!”
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PAROLE DENIED AGAIN TO HATE CRIMES KILLER

Jon Buice has been denied parole, continuing his 45-year prison sentence for the stabbing death of 27-year-old banker Paul Broussard outside Heaven, a Montrose nightclub in 1991. This recent denial marks the fifth time Buice has been refused parole. One of a group of teens dubbed the Woodlands 10 involved in the assault, Buice has served 17 years of his sentence in the Texas Department of Corrections.
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TALK SHOW HOST NAMES CRISTAN WILLIAMS ONE OF ‘JENNY’S HEROES’

Talk show host Jenny Jones has selected Houstonian Cristan Williams to receive a “Jenny’s Heroes” grant. Williams, director of Transgender Foundation of America, requested $5,000 to expand the TG Center library with transgender biographies, medical journals, and other nonfiction books. Williams received a surprise phone call from Jenny Jones on December 7 with the news of her grant.
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COMMUNITY CENTER ‘REBOUNDING AND REBUILDING’ IN 2010

After remaining largely dormant for more than a year, Houston’s GLBT Community Center, located on the second floor of 3400 Montrose Boulevard, is getting a makeover, including new paint and carpeting.

“The past two years brought challenges for some of our board members which in turn adversely affected our organization,” said center board member Tim Brookover in a release. “Amid those crises, Hurricane Ike hit, causing more damage inside our building than many people realized. The community center is now rebounding and rebuilding.”

Brookover stated the center’s board of directors has rededicated itself to establishing programs and forming collaborations with other organizations. “We are at our best when we partner with other groups,” he said.

New partners include Unhinged Productions theater company and Qfest film festival. The center is also partnering with Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History in attempts to salvage the historical artifacts inside Mary’s, Naturally, the legendary Montrose bar that closed in October.

In 2010, the center intends to work “on a number of exciting programs and activities to serve our community,” Brookover said, including a new reading series by LGBT
authors and playwrights as well as the return of Queer Bingo and An Art Affair silent auction benefit. houstonglbtcommunity
center.org.
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GAY JOURNALISTS Association ACCEPTING SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association has announced a call for entries for its annual Kay Longcope and Leroy F. Aarons scholarships.
“During a tough economy, it is more important than ever to support our industry’s future leaders,” said David Steinberg, NLGJA president. “These scholarships are offered to help journalism students of today become the industry leaders of tomorrow while using their skills and talents to cover LGBT issues in a fair, balanced manner.”
Applications are available online and will be accepted until January 31. nlgja.org.
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UNITY COMMITTEE ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR RUDD TRANSGENDER SCHOLARSHIPS

Organizers for the Houston Transgender Unity Committee have announced the group will award two scholarships for $1,000 each at the annual Houston Transgender Unity Banquet, scheduled May 1 at Sheraton Brookhollow.
The Peggy Rudd Transgender Scholarship Fund was established in 2005 by educator and author Dr. Peggy Rudd and her spouse, Melanie Rudd. Transgender individuals who are attending or will attend accredited institutions of higher learning are eligible to apply for the scholarships. The application is available at htuc.org; deadline is March 1.
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POLL: U.S ‘HEADED DOWN WRONG TRACK,’ BUT GAY MARRIAGE NOT A CONCERN

Fifty-one percent of people surveyed in a poll conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin believe the United States is “on the wrong track,” but a majority doesn’t believe same-sex marriage is a major concern.

The poll found 42 percent of respondents believe the economy, including unemployment and recent federal bailout packages, is the most important issue facing the country today. Health care ranked second among respondents’ concerns at 17 percent.

Similarly, 95 percent of respondents rated jobs and unemployment as an issue of high importance, more than any other of the 15 issues included in the survey. Gay marriage ranked as the issue of least importance to voters, with just 37 percent characterizing it as a high concern.

The survey of 2,100 individuals from around the country conducted October 13–22 was released November 16 in conjunction with a daylong conference on money and politics sponsored by the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated they believe the country is heading in the right direction.
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District of Columbia CITY COUNCIL APPROVES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Washington, D.C., city council voted on December 15 to pass legislation that extends marriage equality to same-sex couples in the District.

“Gay and lesbian people in our nation’s capitol are today one step closer to the important legal protections that marriage affords and that all loving and committed couples deserve,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Today’s vote affirms the commitment of so many gay and lesbian couples in the District and reflects the growing support for protecting people equally under the law.”

The bill was sent to District Mayor Adrian Fenty, followed by the U.S. Congress. By law, Congress has 30 days to review and overturn laws created by the District’s city council. Fenty has promised to sign the bill.
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NEW YORK EXTENDS WORKPLACE PROTECTION TO TRANSGENDER STATE EMPLOYEES

On December 17, New York Governor David A. Paterson issued an executive order extending antidiscrimination policies to gender identity for state employees.

“Governor Paterson has taken significant action to advance equality for all New York state employees,” said Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign president. “The ability to provide for our families is non-negotiable. We applaud Governor Paterson for his commitment to the LGBT community and look forward to working with fair-minded New York legislators to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act which will protect private employees.”

New York joins eight other states prohibiting discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Twelve states and the District of Columbia prohibit full employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The state of Texas does not offer these protections.

An executive order prohibiting discrimination in state employment is the furthest extent to which any governor is able to exercise his or her executive power; extending protections to private employees must be accomplished by the state legislature. In 2008, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced into both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Federal legislation would provide employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all 50 states.
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VATICAN OPPOSES PROPOSED UGANDAN LAW CRIMINALIZING HOMOSEXUALITY

The Vatican has condemned legislation currently being considered in Uganda that would make homosexuality illegal and, in some cases, would carry a death sentence.
In a statement delivered to the United Nations in early December, the Vatican’s statement said, in part, “The Holy See continues to oppose all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons, such as the use of the death penalty, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.”

Responding to the announcement, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said: “We commend the Vatican for stepping forward to condemn the harsh criminal penalties imposed on gay people by some governments. The Vatican’s acceptance of its responsibility to help safeguard the lives and human dignity of gay people is an important step in gaining universal protection for an often-oppressed population.

“We urge the Vatican to recognize the fundamental human rights of all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and to do so consistently and forcefully.”
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BILL GRANTING DOMESTIC PARTNER BENEFITS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES CLEARS COMMITTEE

On December 16, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a measure that would provide domestic partner benefits to federal employees by a bipartisan 8–1 vote. Committee chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Me., cosponsored the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 bill.

The measure would provide the same employment benefits to federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships that are now provided to married federal employees and their spouses, such as health care, retirement and disability plans, family leave, worker’s compensation, and group life insurance. The same obligations would also apply, such as conflict of interest provisions, anti-nepotism rules, and disclosure requirements.

“This legislation is on the right side of history and is really about equal pay and benefits for equal work,” said the bill’s cosponsor, Joe Lieberman, who has introduced the bill in the past three Congresses. “Federal employees should not have to choose between their commitment to public service and their commitment to their families. Will this measure add to the total cost of providing federal employee benefits? Yes, but only by a tiny fraction—less than five-hundredths of a percent—of the total pay and benefits for federal employees. And we will offset the cost with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget so the bill will be fiscally responsible.”

Domestic partner benefits are becoming commonplace among Fortune 500 companies. According to the Office of Personnel Management, nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including top federal contractors, extend employment benefits to domestic partners. Almost 10,000 private sector companies provide benefits to domestic partners, including half of all Fortune 500 companies. As many as 22 states and 154 jurisdictions and 300 colleges and universities also provide these benefits.

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