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News Briefs-April 2010

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Wanda Sykes, Caucus on runoff candidates, A&M GLBT endowment, HRC scholarships, AIDS fund for at-risk women/girls, CDC study: HIV rate is 44 times higher in gay & bisexual men, Austin attack not hate crime, DADT hearings, crossdressing Galveston candidate

by Nancy Ford

WANDA SYKES HELPS HAITIAN RELIEF EFFORT

Out lesbian and Emmy Award-winning actress, comedian, and writer Wanda Sykes has joined Soles4Souls, an international shoe charity helping with ongoing relief efforts to the victims of the devastated country of Haiti.

“As little as five dollars will provide two people with a pair of shoes,” Sykes said. “Let’s all come together and do what we can for the people of Haiti.”

The charity has pledged 1.3 million shoes, of which 120,000 pairs have already been sent, to be distributed to Haitians during a sustained giving plan in coordination with other agencies. To donate, log on to 50kshoes.com.

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CAUCUS ENDORSES CANDIDATES IN PRIMARY RUNOFF

The Houston GLBT Caucus has announced its slate of endorsements of candidates running for office in the April 3 primary runoff election. Endorsed candidates are: Tanner Garth for Judge, 234th District Court; Lee Arellano for Judge, 270th District Court; Bruce Kessler for Judge, 308th Family District Court; Deborah Wright for Judge, 311th Family District Court; and Denise Graves for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2.

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TEXAS A&M ESTABLISHES GLBT ENDOWMENT

In honor of the 25th anniversary of equal recognition of its LGBT students on its campus this month, the GLBT Endowment has been established at Texas A&M University.

“This opens up new funding for the events and programming of the GLBT Resource Center,” said Carol Binzer, director of the Offices of the Dean of Student Life at A&M.

Held by the Texas A&M Foundation, the endowment is a permanent funding source that supports LGBT programming, events, resources, and scholarships. The first endowment of its kind at Texas A&M, it provides an opportunity for people who want to support the LGBT community on and around the campus. It also helps develop and maintain connections between LGBT Aggies, former students, and allies.

Lowell Kane, program coordinator for the university’s GLBT Resource Center, said this endowment is a mechanism to ensure that the unique needs of LGBT Aggies will always be met. “I hope that this endowment serves as a catalyst for positive change at Texas A&M,” he said.

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HRC LAUNCHES ‘GENERATION EQUALITY’ SCHOLARSHIPS

The Human Rights Campaign has announced the launch of the second year of the “Generation Equality Scholarships” for LGBT and allied students who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the fight for queer equality. The three $2,000 scholarships are part of HRC Foundation’s Youth and Campus Outreach Program, which aims to provide tools, facilitate connections, and empower young people to fight for LGBT equality on campus and beyond.

“We’re excited to once again be able to provide exceptional students with the funding that they need and deserve. All too often, LGBT students face obstacles in the pursuit of education, whether it be from a lack of family support or negative experiences in the classroom or on campus,” said Candace Gingrich-Jones, associate director of the outreach program.

“The more than 1,000 applications we received last year for the Generation Equality Scholarships not only illustrated the social and economic barriers queer young people today face, but also just how committed they are to making LGBT equality a reality within their schools, communities, and country.”

Ideal candidates self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or an ally; have applied to or are enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education; have demonstrated a commitment or contribution to the LGBT community; are in good academic standing; and have demonstrated need for financial assistance.

The application deadline is April 16.

In addition to HRC’s scholarships, the group’s Youth and Campus Outreach Program provides a comprehensive online database of more than 220 other scholarships available to LGBT and allied students. For more information, log on to hrc.org.

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EQUALITY FORUM LAUNCHES WEBSITE TO ILLUSTRATE MARRIAGE INEQUALITY

Equality Forum launched a “Project 1138” website aiming to increase awareness of the 1,138 federal marital benefits and protections denied to same-sex couples as the result of marriage inequality.

In January 1997, Senator Bill Frist, the Republican Majority Leader, asked the General Accounting Office to identify how many federal benefits were contingent on being married. The GAO reported that the number of federal benefits was 1,138.

Equality Forum is currently soliciting personal stories from individuals on its Project 1138 blog at project1138.com.

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EQUALITY ORGANIZATION CLASSIFIES AFTAH AS ‘HATE GROUP’

The Southern Poverty Law Center has officially classified the antigay organization Americans For Truth About Homosexuality as a hate group. The listing appeared in the most recent issue of the Law Center’s quarterly publication, Intelligence Report. The center tracks neo-fascist and other hate groups in the United States; when such groups violate the rights of others, SPLC often files suit against them.

The Illinois Family Institute was founded and formerly headed by antigay activist Peter LaBarbera.

“I think there are Christians who struggle with the sin of homosexuality—but proud homosexual Christians? That’s an oxymoron to me in the same way as I would say proud adulterous Christians,” LaBarbera was quoted as saying on OneNewsNow.com on June 29, 2009. “I see the tactic of the Emergent Church and the Christian left is to start talking more and more about ‘gay Christians,’ and what they end up doing is demonizing the so-called ‘religious right’ and saying that the religious right is all wrong in the way it has talked about homosexuality.”

“Getting LaBarbera’s website labeled a ‘hate group’ is important because it helps assist the political marginalization of a man who has dedicated his career to denying others legal equality,” said Bob Schwartz of the Gay Liberation Network. “Through demonstrating against LaBarbera and his organizations over the years, GLN and others have made LaBarbera gain the reputation of being a bigot, and thus radioactive in many ‘respectable’ circles. This most recent victory, getting the Southern Poverty Law Center stamp of disapproval for LaBarbera’s website, makes it less possible for him to garner support for future antigay legislation and initiatives.”

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NATIONAL AIDS FUND GRANTS HELP AT-RISK WOMEN AND GIRLS

Recognizing the critical need to continue bringing evidence-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs to communities where women and girls are at highest risk for infection, the National AIDS Fund, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, has announced new grants for Generations: Strengthening Women and Families Affected by HIV/AIDS. The initiative, announced March 9, seeks to prevent HIV transmission among women and girls.

“We are proud to announce the latest round of Generations grants on 2010 National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day,” said NAF president and chief executive officer Kandy Ferree. “NAF has long known that the most effective responses to the HIV epidemic take place at the community level.”

More than a quarter of new HIV cases in the United States were among women and girls ages 13 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Women of color have been especially affected ? by the disease: HIV infection is the leading cause of death for black women aged 25–34 years, and the fourth leading cause of death for Hispanic women aged 35–44 years.

The grants support six community-based organizations developing evidence-based interventions or adapting existing prevention models for specific populations of women and girls at high-risk for infection. Texas was not among the states included.

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CDC STUDY: HIV RATE IS 44 TIMES HIGHER IN GAY & BISEXUAL MEN

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a huge contrast in rates of HIV and syphilis among gay and bisexual men when compared to the rest of the U.S. population.

According to the study, the rate of HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men is more than 44 times that of other men, and more than 40 times that of women. Syphilis infection rates among gay and bisexual men are high as well: 46 times that of other men and more than 71 times that of women. This data was presented in March at CDC’s 2010 National STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

This is the first time CDC has actually assigned a “rate of infection” to gay and bisexual men, so this is big news in the HIV/STD field, according to Eric Roland, senior director of marketing and communications for Legacy Community Health Services.

“Because the Census does not [track] sexual orientation, there is no way to know how many gay and bisexual men there are in the U.S., so there is no way for CDC to determine a rate of HIV per 100,000 gay and bisexual men,” Roland said. “Based on their research, CDC used an estimate to calculate the rate [that] gay and bisexual men comprise four percent of the male population in the U.S.”

Legacy Community Health Services receives funds from CDC, the City of Houston, and the Texas Department of State Health Services for HIV and STD prevention programs, many of which are targeted to gay and bisexual men.

Research shows that a range of complex factors contribute to the high rates of HIV and syphilis in this population. These factors include complacency about HIV risk, particularly among young gay and bisexual men; difficulty with consistently maintaining safe behaviors with every sexual encounter over the course of a lifetime; and lack of awareness of syphilis symptoms and how it can be transmitte

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AUSTIN ATTACK NOT CLASSIFIED AS HATE CRIME

Matthew Morgan and Emmanuel Winston were attacked early Saturday after leaving Oilcan Harry’s, a gay nightclub at 211 W. 4th Street in Austin.

The men, members of Austin’s gay softball league, had been celebrating their annual season kickoff; both were wearing “Shady Ladies” jerseys. They were attacked by four men who also used anti-gay slurs in the underground parking garage at City Hall, Winston said.

“They took nothing and uttered the slurs,” Winston told the Austin American-Statesman. “I was really shocked there could be a hate crime in Austin. I kept thinking, it’s 2010.”

As this issue of OutSmart went to press, Austin police had not classified the incident as a hate crime.

“It is upsetting when anyone in our community is assaulted. It threatens the feeling of safety of our entire community,” said openly gay city council member Randi Shade. “We in the LGBT community are fortunate to live in Austin, a community known for being gay-friendly, and I am confident that APD will do everything in its power to investigate this crime and ensure that justice is served.”

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‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’ HEARINGS SPARK RENEWED ACTIVISM

In March, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee began a Defense Department budget hearing on a bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The hearing has prompted the Human Rights Campaign to launch a national action alert on May 11, 2010, to recruit service members, their families, and allies to lobby in support for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The “Lobby Day” action, in partnership with Servicemembers United, aims to build a national network of gay and straight veterans willing to give voice to repeal, focusing on key states where congressional support for repeal is critical.

“We know that nothing elevates this issue more than the personal stories of veterans and their families who have been so burdened by this law,” said HRC president, Joe Solmonese. “Too many members of Congress have been removed from the direct impact of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We hope this national call to lobby will activate former service members and their families to speak candidly and bluntly about the damage caused by this law.”

Active and veteran servicemembers are urged to participate via an emailed survey to find and build service member participation for the May 11 Lobby Day. HRC is asking members and supporters to pass it along to anyone they know with military connections. To sign up, log on hrc.org/RepealDADT.

On March 14, as the Senate hearings progressed, Lt. Dan Choi, an openly gay servicemember released under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” was arrested after chaining himself to White House gates in protest of the policy.

“You’ve been told that the White House has a plan,” Choi told attendees at an anti-DADT rally prior to his arrest. “But we learned this week that the president is still not fully committed. …Following this rally, I will be leading [the protest] to the White House to say ‘enough talk.’ …I am still standing, I am still fighting, I am still speaking out, and I am still gay.”

Choi is the founder of Knights Out, a West Point alumni organization supporting LGBT soldiers. In April, Lt. Choi travels to Texas to serve as keynote speaker for Texas A&M’s It’s Time, Texas conference.

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CROSSDRESSING CANDIDATE, LETTERS CONTROVERSY REFLECT ISLAND ATTITUDES

Galveston resident James E. Dallas, known to friends as “Gwen,” has announced his candidacy for Galveston City Council, District 2. An attorney, Dallas represents indigent criminal defendants in County Court. He also works several “odd jobs to pay bills,” Dallas said in a release announcing his candidacy.

“I am most proud of my work as a lawyer defending the rights of poor people, many of whom I do not charge because I know they cannot afford to pay,” the statement continued. “But I am not ashamed of the fact that I know how to push a mop.”

Dallas, who identifies as “an out-and-proud transgendered crossdresser,” proposes amending the City’s civil rights ordinance to explicitly prohibit discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered folks.

“After spending years on the sidelines, I believe we’d be better off with more drag queens and fewer drama queens at City Hall,” Dallas said in a release announcing his candidacy. “All Galvestonians need freedom to be themselves and opportunity to better themselves—not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

Dallas said his focus, if elected to the City Council, “will be to turn the focus away from developing unspoiled parts of the West End and back toward responsible, sustainable redevelopment of our beautiful community behind the Seawall,” and improving the quality of life for City residents. He also proposes offering direct incentives to homeowners to improve their property; more openness and transparency in city government; and a review of City Hall payroll and benefits to find potential cost savings for city taxpayers.

Brenda Lee, chair of the natural resources subcommittee on the Galveston Comprehensive Plan, is also running for Galveston’s District 2 council seat, the seat currently held by Dr. Linda Colbert.

Dallas’ candidacy comes on the heels of a conversation about tolerance sparked by a letter to the editor published in the March 14 edition of the Galveston Daily News titled “Keep the gay lifestyle out of Galveston.” In it, Galvestonian Josh Davis wrote, in part: “Galveston should be a family environment where children can play and not have to be subjected to this kind of trash.”

Galveston Daily News editor Heber Taylor responded with an editorial titled “Is tolerance such a bad thing?”

“The letter is a reminder that some people object not only to those differences—but also to the community’s tolerance of them,” Taylor wrote.

A majority of subsequent letters printed by the newspaper supported tolerance for all of the island’s citizens, regardless of sexuality.

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