Mexican Congress To Consider Marriage Equality Reforms In September

Jim Burroway

May 19th, 2016

The Legislative Palace of Sán Lazaro in Mexico City.

The Legislative Palace of Sán Lazaro in Mexico City.

From El Universal, (via my highly unofficial translation, with my comments in square brackets, and your corrections to my translation welcome):

César Camacho Quiroz

César Camacho Quiroz

The PRI’s coordinator in the Chamber of Deputies, César Camacho Quiroz, said the initiative of the Federal Executive on equal marriage, which opens access to this right to gay couples, constitutes a cutting-edge approach and the prority it will have in  San Lázaro [shorthand for the Legislative Palace of Sán Lazaro which houses both chambers of Congress] will be decided in September.

Camacho Quiroz explained that this depends on the Political Coordination Board’s agreeing on legislative priorities for the sessions, and pointed out that in August it is his responsibility as chairman of the collegial body to integrate parliamentary coordinators.

Emilio Gamboa Patrón

Emilio Gamboa Patrón

…The PRI’s coordinator in the Senate, Emilio Gamboa Patrón, said the Executive’s initiative is an advanced project, and a part his group is a clear respect for human rights and freedoms.

“The discussion begins,” said PRI’s Amacho Quiroz, and confirmed that the Chamber of Deputies, as the chamber of origin for this reform, will debate it in a climate of freedom and respect.

Camacho expressed that the project has the support of party members, and stressed that this initiative by the Executive enters with a foundation that touches on liberty and equality in diversity.

… For its part, PAN [the center-right National Action Party] Senate coordinator Fernando Herrera Ávila, said that the Executive initiative includes a right recognized by the Supreme Court Justice of the Nation. However, “we do not know the project itself, and we will analyze it and subsequently establish a position.”

Deputy Marko Cortés, coordinator of the National Action bench in San Lázaro, signaled that federal lawmakers, together with PAN’s CEN [CEN is PAN’s National Executive Committee], will adopt a joint position on “this significant issue.”

Of course, said Deputy Cortés, National Action “is in favor of individual guarantees, freedoms and values,” and his party welcomes the President’s initiative.

Deputy Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo (PRD) [Party of the Democratic Revolution, a center-left/left-wing party which governs Mexico City] expressed that this initiative marks “a cultural change of respect for all freedoms,” and that his party will analyze it to see if, in its opinion, improvements are needed.

The President’s proposal, said the PRD, has its full backing, “on the condition that it does not undermine what we have achieved” in Mexico City, where we have obtained these rights, only to see them contested in court.

Miguel Barbosa Huerta, PRD’s Senate coordinator, signaled that the project marks a paradigm change on the part of the federal government in these matters and are the subject of deep debate.

“It is a moral triumph of leftist governments against conservative opinion, Barbosa said, noting that this opens a great debate “which will lead us to many more things.”

He affirmed, “I hope this reform does not become an object of a political strategy of resistance from social sectors trying to stop it.”

Michoacan in dark green, Morelos in blue.

Michoacan in dark green, Morelos in blue.

On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a package of reforms, including a revision to the Mexican Constitution along with changes to the Federal Civil Code to provide marriage equality for same-sex couples. The reforms also provide for updating birth certificates according for gender identity.  While the Mexican constitution has undergone numerous revisions in its 99-year history, I don’t have a sense of how long the process would take. Since that announcement was made, Michoacan became the ninth state to enact marriage equality and Morelos initiated the process to change its state constitution to allow same-sex marriages.

Acrimony In Da House: Chaos As Republicans Defeat Anti-Discrimination Amendment

Jim Burroway

May 19th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.15.07 PM

When the 2016 Defense Authorization Bill hit the floor of the House today, it carried with it a provision attached by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) which would overturn President Obama’s executive order requiring federal contractors to maintain anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.  Today, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced an amendment from the House floor to strike Russell’s provision from the bill. And that’s when

The Hill describes it succinctly:

The House floor devolved into chaos and shouting on Thursday as a measure to ensure protections for members of the LGBT community narrowly failed to pass after Republican leaders urged their members to change their votes.

Initially, it appeared Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) amendment had passed, as 217 “yes” votes piled up over 206 “no” votes when the clock ran out. The measure needed 213 votes to pass.

But it eventually failed on a 212-213 vote after a number of Republican lawmakers changed their votes from “yes” to “no” after the clock had expired.

GOP leaders held the vote open as they pressured members to change sides. Infuriating Democrats, they let lawmakers switch their votes without walking to the well at the front of the chamber.

The clock for the vote was set at two minutes. According to House procedures, after the clock expires, the lawmaker holding the gavel asks the House if any members want to change their votes. At that point, the electronic voting machines are switched off, and any vote-changing members go to the front of the chamber to switch their votes in person.

But in this case, when GOP leaders saw that Maloney’s amendment had passed when the clock ran out, the Speaker pro tempore never asked the question and the electronic voting machines were kept open as GOP leaders prowled for potential vote-switchers. After an additional five minutes and 37 seconds had passed, the vote was closed soon after the 213th “nay” vote was cast.

When Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) took over the as Speaker from Rep. John Boehner, he promised to return the House to regular order and to be a stickler about House rules and the vote clock. Today he feigned ignorance to reporters when asked whether his leadership team pressured seven Republicans to change their votes. But a senior House Republican leadership aide told CNN that all of the top GOP leaders were working to defeat Maloney’s amendment.

Ryan was not in the House chamber when the vote was taken. Democrats say it was Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who was the most visible actor in the campaign to flip votes.

Maloney emphasized that many Republicans held their ground and refused to switch sides. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) “was at the head of that list,” Maloney said.

“McCarthy went down and talked to him, and [Dent] told [McCarthy] to get lost,” Maloney said. “And McCarthy then went around and twisted everybody else’s arms, and it was disgraceful.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that craven and that ugly in my time in Congress,” Maloney added.

At one point, Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), who had inserted the pro-discrimnation clause in the first place, was heard prowling the Republican side of the aisle shouting, “Need two more votes!”

Maloney added that “easily a dozen” Republicans approached him on the floor “and expressed disgust for what happened today.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was similarly outraged over what he called the “cowardice” of those House members who switched their votes:

Hoyer alleged that the Republicans who changed their vote initially believed that the amendment would fail.

“Several Republican Members initially cast votes in favor of Rep. Maloney’s amendment but shamefully changed their votes after it was clear the amendment would pass, leading the amendment to fail by just a single vote,” Hoyer said in a Thursday afternoon statement. “Not only did they vote against equality and inclusion, but those who switched their votes did not even have the courage to do so openly in the well of the House. They did so quietly from the back benches, contrary to established practice that requires vote-switching to be done in person at the Clerk’s desk, and House Republican leaders held a two-minute vote open for nearly eight minutes.”

…Hoyer later revealed on Twitter the seven Republican members who changed their vote on the amendment: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), Rep. David Young (R-IA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA).

Walden is chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign committee for House Republicans. Valadao, Young and Poliquin have been identified by the NRCC as vulnerable, and before this vote they were already marked by the NRCC for extra “special protection” campaign spending. Democrats are already pouncing on the possibility of making this a campaign issue in those and other competitive districts.

The Daily Agenda for Thursday, May 19

From Wilde Side, September 1, 1976, page 8.

This is one of those places where it’s hard to find any information. The Town and Country Club on Farnum Pike in Smithfield, Rhode Island, appears to have been a swim club with an Olympic-size swimming pool that went bankrupt in 1969. But when this ad was published in a New England gay bar guide in 1976, it was back in operation, perhaps under new ownership. Since no specific address is given for the Town and Country Club, it’s hard to know what happened to it. I don’t know for sure, but it may (or may not) be the same facility that was, until recently, the Effin Last Resort Club — a bar with an Olympic-sized swimming pool — which also went into receivership in 2013, only to open again as simply The Last Resort.


Roger Williams established Providence Plantation (“Plantation” was a synonym for a settlement or colony) in 1636 as a refuge for religious freedom and on the principle of majority rule among the heads of households for “civil things.” He had established his colony after Massachusetts banished him for spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous position.” Those positions included theological and legal disputes with the leaders of Massachusetts colony, and since Massachusetts laws were based on Puritan theology, Williams was found guilty of sedition and heresy simultaneously. His Providence Plantation would be far different, becoming the first outpost to uphold the diverse, new, and dangerous position of the separation of church and state.

The following year, Massachusetts banished the followers of Anne Hutchinson, who preached the doctrine of Antinomianism, which held that if salvation came through faith and divine grace alone, then the strict imposition of a moral law by political authorities was an unbiblical reliance on good works over faith. Hutchinson’s followers settled in present-day Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Other settlements soon followed.

In 1647, representatives from Providence, Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick came together in Portsmouth to establish a government for the Rhode Island Colony, and to draw up a body of laws which would become one of the earliest governmental codes enacted by colonists in the New World. With Rhode Island being a refuge for those “distressed of conscience,” Rhode Island’s new code was modeled more on the statutes of England rather than on Biblical texts as in Massachusetts. But that didn’t mean it was devoid of Biblical citations — Rhode Island Colony may have prized religious freedom, but there was still an assumption that Biblical principles were important in public life. And so Rhode Island Colony’s law addressing sodomy cited, in addition to English law, Paul’s letter to the Romans as part of its justification. That section read:

Touching Whoremongers. First of sodomy, which is forbidden by this present Assembly throughout the whole colony, and by sundry statutes of England 25 Hen. 8, 6: 5 Eliz 17. It is a vile affection, whereby men given up thereto leave the natural use of women and burn in their lusts toward another, and so men with men work that which is unseemly, as that Doctor of the Gentiles [St. Paul] in his letter to the Romans once spake, i. 27. The penalty concluded by that state under whose authority we are is felony of death without remedy. See 5 Eliz 17.(2)

The citations of 25 Henry 8, 6 and 5 Elizabeth 17 refer to, respectively, the 1533 buggery statute enacted under King Henry VIII, and its 1563 reenactment under Queen Elizabeth I. The reference to Paul’s letter to the Romans was unusual. Legislation at that time would have much more typically referenced Leviticus 20:13. But remember, Rhode Island Colony was settled by colonists who rejected salvation by works of the law, and there’s nothing more workier-of-the-law than Leviticus. Hence, the New Testament citation rather than the Old.

By imposing the death penalty for men who “work that which is unseemly” with other men, sodomy joined treason, murder, manslaughter, witchcraft, robbery, arson, and rape as crimes meriting the death penalty. There were no recorded persecutions under this law or any subsequent laws which included the death penalty, although that may be due to a lack of rigorous record keeping rather than a lack of prosecutions. The ultimate penalty was eliminated in 1844 and replaced with one to twelve years’ imprisonment. The minimum penalty was raised to seven years in 1872, and the maximum was raised to twenty years in 1881. The Rhode Island legislature didn’t get around to decriminalizing consensual sex between same-sex couples until 1998.

The two-year ordeal began in 1895 when Oscar Wilde was denounced as a homosexual by the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde, who was involved with the marquess’ son, Alfred Douglass, sued the Marquess for libel but lost the case when evidence supported the marquess’ allegations (Apr 5). Because homosexual behavior among men was still considered a crime in England, that evidence led to Wilde’s arrest. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, but a second jury in 1895 sentenced him to two years of hard labor (May 25). Wilde was imprisoned in Pentonville and then Wandsworth prisons in London. The regime consisted of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed.” Ill with dysentery and weakened from hunger, Wilde collapsed during Chapel, bursting his right ear drum. He spent two months in the infirmary, and his health never fully recovered.

He was later transferred to Reading prison, where he wrote a 50,000 word letter to Douglass. He wasn’t allowed to send the letter, but he was permitted to take it with him when he was released. The letter, since named De Profundis was published in 1962’s Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. It reads, it part:

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

From The Pittsburgh Press, May 19, 1950, page 2.

Imagine seeing a headline like this one while reading the morning paper over coffee. A surprising number of newspapers used a headline very similar to the one the Pittsburgh Press used for this story.

What we now know as the McCarthy Red Scare of the 1950s, which was ostensibly about allegations of communists in the U.S. government, actually had its roots in the Lavender Scare of 1950, about which history books today are mostly silent. But for much of 1950, it was actually Congress’s obsession with the perceived threat of homosexuals in government which consumed most of the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, with Communist-hunting pretty much relegated to the background. (Feb 28Mar 14,Mar 21Mar 23Mar 24Apr 14, Apr 18Apr 26, May 2, and May 15;).

Driving the hysteria over homosexuals in the Senate was a coalition of the Republican caucus, which was then in the minority, and Southern Democrats who were furious over President Truman’s order to integrate the Armed Forces and who worried that he might have a few more integration tricks up his sleeve. As ABC radio commentator Elmer Davis remarked in mid-May, “‘It looks as if the enemies of the State Department, and of the administration generally, have gotten hold of a more profitable issue than communism.”

That profitable issue got a greater boost when the following United Press article appeared in newspapers nationwide:

3750 Perverts Listed on Payroll

Senate Republican Leader Kenneth S. Wherry said today that Washington police estimate there are 3750 sex perverts in the Government here.

In a report to a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Wherry said police authorities testified that 300 to 400 State Department employees are “suspected or allegedly homosexual.”

The Nebraskan also said that Washington police reported they have uncovered “what purported to be a plan of Communists to sabotage and damage” Washington in case of war with Russia; that a Red Fifth Column is using sex degenerates for subversive purposes; and that “there are 1000 bad security risks” in Washington.

The report gave no details on the purported plot to sabotage Washington.

The New York Times had a more in-depth account, which revealed that Police Lieutenant Roy Blick, head of the department’s vice squad, testified that his estimate of 300 to 400 gays employees in the State Department was based on “a quick guess”:

This, he said at one point, was a “quick guess,” in the sense that it was based upon his experience that arrested persons not connected with the State Department would sometimes say: “Why don’t you go get so-and-so and so-and-so? They all belong to the same clique.”

“By doing that,” Lieutenant Blick added, “their names were put on the list and they were catalogued as such, as the suspect of being such.”

But Blick’s arrival at the 3,750 number was, by his own admission, based on pure guesswork. He gave a “quick guess” of five thousand homosexual men in the District of Columbia (out of a population of 800,000). He guessed that three-fourths of them were government jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Wherry (R-NE)

Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Wherry (R-NE)

Sen. Wherry and his Democratic counterpart, Lister Hill (D-AL), were alarmed at what they considered a lax attitude toward homosexuals in government employment, and had conducted closed-door hearings with DC police and federal agency witnesses since March 23. More than a dozen witnesses testified, including those from the State Department, Defense Department, the FBI, and D.C. police. The Navy protested that they were doing their job by removing more than 7,800 “known or alleged homosexuals” since 1947, and the Army boasted that more than 5,000 were discharged during the same period.

But Blick wound up being the star witness by suggesting that the work in rooting out homosexuals wasn’t completed. Wherry praised Blick as a “one-man watchdog of the city’s morals,” but he was disappointed that the city’s vice squad didn’t maintain a master list of arrested homosexuals to cross-check against federal employment rolls. But Blick wound up providing the crucial testimony that Wherry was looking for: a confirmation that there were “thousands” of homosexuals working in the government, far more than the 91 that the State Department acknowledged getting rid of in February (Feb 28).

Sensing a political advantage, Republicans leaked Blick’s secret testimony to the press in late March — but without Blick’s dubious methods for coming up with his number. By the time Wherry released his report to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, no one bothered to fact-check Blick’s number. His “quick guess” was simply repeated as fact. Later that July, Blick admitted to a reporter that his numbers were dubious and he regretted having been “caught between the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Oh, remember the communists? The thing that they were supposed to have been so worried about when the whole controversy started? Well, Wherry had an answer for that, too. He also passed on to reporters that D.C. police reported that they had uncovered “what purported to be a plan of Communists to sabotage and damage” Washington if war would break out. The plan involved a “Red Fifth Column” using “sex degenerates for subversive purposes,” though he didn’t give any details of the purported plot. He claimed instead to have traced a “nest of homosexuals” to the Soviet embassy.

[Additional source: Randolph W Baxter. “‘Homo-Hunting’ in the Early Cold War: Senator Kenneth Wherry and the Homophobic Side of McCarthyism,” Nebraska History 84 (Fall 2003): 119-132. Available online here (PDF: 2MB/16 pages).]

Scott Lively (left) and Lon Mabon

Scott Lively (left) and Lon Mabon

About three years earlier, Vietnam vet, ex-hippie and born-again Christian by the name of Lon Mabon had formed the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) with support from the Oregon branch of Pat Roberston’s Christian Coalition. By 1991, budding firebrand Scott Lively joined the group, where he had quickly earned his reputation for being a loose canon. In October of that year, the photographer Catherine Stauffer attended a church meeting where the OCA was previewing a videotape it had cobbled together in preparation for a campaign in support of a series of local anti-gay ballot measures across the state. Lively forcefully ejected Stauffer from the meeting by physically throwing her against the wall and dragging her across the floor. She sued Lively and OCA. The jury determined that Lively was guilty of using unreasonable force and awarded Stauffer $20,000.

What the OCA was preparing was a series of local ballot measures that would prohibit “promoting, encouraging or facilitating homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism” — restrictions which would, in addition to equating homosexuality with pedophilia, determine such basic community issues as which books could be accepted into the local library and which groups could access city facilities, including streets and parks. They would also institute a double standard: for example, OCA would be allowed to hold meetings in city buildings, while Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) would not.

Those ballot measures found their first success in Springfield, a more conservative working-class suburb of Eugene, where voters approved a proposed city charter amendment, Ballot Measure 20-80, by a 54-46 margin. City Councilman Ralf Walters, was elated. “What this means is that Springfielders have shown their commitment to traditional family values. They want to maintain Springfield as a terrific place to raise a family, and they don’t want their leaders and public institutions to promote as an alternative lifestyle.”

But Mayor Bill Morrisette, an outspoken opponent of the measure, was more cautious. “I think there’s more to the city of Springfield than this particular question of sexual orientation. It certainly would be a mistake for the OCA to think if they win this that they’ve got a lock on the city.” Planning Commission member Tom Atkinson, who helped lead the opposition, said the vote “does stamp Springfield with Hate City USA. I just don’t believe that it’s true about Springfield. The low turnout really makes me believe the real will of the people of Springfield was not expressed tonight.”

Even though a similar vote in Corvallis failed by a wide margin, OCA’s Scott Lively saw the Springfield vote as a prophetic omen for future ballot measures in the state. “The votes in Springfield — and Corvallis, too, even though it failed there — vindicate our position that traditional family values are shared by a large number of people in this state. The attempt by the opposition to equate the simple ‘no special rights’ message with hatred and bigotry was a lie, and the people of Springfield proved it.”

OCA’s victory in Springfield gave Mabon and Lively all the encouragement they needed to propose a state constitutional amendment with language that was very similar to the Springfield measure. They saw Springfield as their testing ground, but it would also prove to be their high water mark. Following a nasty state-wide campaign led by Mabon, Lively and the OCA, Measure 9 was defeated by voters just nine months later (see Nov 3). Meanwhile, Springfield’s new law was challenged in court, and in 1995 the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a state law passed in 1993 pre-empted local governments on gay rights issues.

[Sources: Jim Burroway. “Lively’s Lies: A Profile of Scott Lively.” Political Research Associates (March 1, 2011). Available online here.

Ann Portal. “Voters approve anti-gay measure.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 20, 1992): 1A. Available online here.

Randi Bjornstad. “OCA issue hinged on ‘special rights’.” Eugene Register-Guard (May 21, 1992): 1A. Available online here.

Paul Neville. “Appeals court deals setback to gay rights foes.” Eugene Register-Guard (April 13, 1995): 1A. Available online here.]

(d. 1999) In 1954, Peter Wildeblood was a diplomatic correspondent for London’s Daily Mail in 1953, when he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for homosexual offenses. In essence, he was convicted of refusing to be ashamed. Wildeblood has one of four men caught up in the so-called “Montagu Case,” named for Lord Montagu (Oct 20), whose beach house was raided by police on a tip that a homosexual orgy was taking place. Montagu had offered Wildeblood the use of the beach house, and Wildeblood in turn invited two friends from the RAF, his lover Edward McNally and John Reynolds. Montagu’s cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, had also joined the group.

Wildeblood later said that the whole affair had been “extremely dull,” while Montague elaborated, “We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that’s all. But McNally and Reynolds turned Queen’s Evidence and claimed that “abandoned behavior” had occurred. Wideblood was charged with “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons,” among other charges, and was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment.

After his release, Wildeblood considered his battle only half over. Just as he proclaimed his homosexuality during his trial, he published his audacious memoir Against the Law, which revealed his experiences during his arrest and trial, and the appalling conditions of his imprisonment. He also described being on the receiving end of popular scorn when news of his arrest hit the papers:

That night, a woman spat at me. She was a respectable looking, middle-aged, tweedy person wearing a sensible felt hat. She was standing on the pavement as the car went by. I saw her suck in her cheeks, and the next moment a big blob of spit was running down the windscreen.

This shocked me very much. The woman did not look eccentric or evil; in fact she looked very much like the country gentlewomen with whom my mother used to take coffee when she has finished her shopping on Saturday mornings. She looked thoroughly ordinary, to me. But what did I look like to her? Evidently, I was a monster.

The following year, Wildeblood came out with another book, A Way of Life, which included twelve essays describing various gay people he had come in contact with. This helped to put a human face on the hitherto faceless “homosexuals.” Wildeblood’s two books also helped to inform the Wolfenden Report, which in 1957 recommended the decriminalization of homosexual acts in Britain. But those recommendations wouldn’t be acted upon for another ten years (Jul 28).

Wildeblood went on to become a television producer and writer, first for Granada Television, and then CBC Toronto. He became a Canadian citizen in the 1980s, and died in Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.

Lorraine_Hansberry(d. 1965). The American playwright and writer is notable for being the first African-American woman to have her play performed on Broadway. A Raisin In the Sun described a black family’s experience of moving to an all-white Chicago neighborhood in an attempt to “better” themselves. Hansberry drew from her own family’s experience in a “hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood'” and her father’s lawsuit challenging racial restrictions in property covenants. A Raisin In the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands, was nominated for four Tony Awards, and she became the youngest American and the first black playwright to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. In 1961 it was made into an acclaimed film featuring much of the original Broadway cast and with Hansberry writing the screenplay.

Hansberry had been involved with the civil rights movement since 1951, when she joined the staff of the African-American newspaper Freedom. She was also keenly interested in women’s issues, and wrote of the various global conflicts from the point of view of the female participants. In 1953, she married Robert Nemiroff, a white Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist; they spent the night before the wedding protesting the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executions. The couple quietly separated in 1957 and divorced amicably in 1964, but they remained close and continued to work together throughout.

These facts about her short life are fairly well known. What isn’t widely known is her much quieter contribution to a gay rights discussion in the pages of The Ladder, the official magazine of the Daughters of Bilitis. In May, 1957, the same year Hansberry and Nemiroff separated, The Ladder published a letter from “L.H.N., New York, N.Y.” — her abbreviation for Lorraine Hansberry Nemiroff. “I’m glad as heck that you exist,” she wrote. “You are obviously serious people and I feel that women, without wishing to foster any strict separatist notions, homo or hetero, indeed have a need for their own publications and organizations. Our problems, our experiences as women are profoundly unique as compared to the other half of the human race. Women, like other oppressed groups of one kind or another, have particularly had to pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment that the second class status imposed on us for centuries created and sustained.”

The letter reads as one who was coming to an exciting realization about herself and her discovery of a world of others like her. And her background as a woman and an African-American, she had some very pertinent thoughts about the assimilation debate taking place in the pages of The Ladder (i.e. that women should dress as ladies as a path to acceptability.) “As one raised in a cultural experience (I am a Negro) where those within were and are forever lecturing to their fellows about how to appear acceptable to the dominant group, I know something about the shallowness of such a view as an end to itself. The most splendid argument is simple and to the point, Ralph Bunche, with all his clean fingernails, degrees, and, of course, undeniable service to the human race, could still be insulted, denied a hotel room or meal in many parts of our country.”

Despite her circumspection in how she signed her letter, and despite her remaining closeted, her background allowed her to draw parallels between her experience as a woman, an African-American, and a lesbian. “What ought to be clear is that one is oppressed or discriminated against because one is different, not ‘wrong,’ or ‘bad’ somehow.” She recalled her former “personal discomfort at the sight of an ill-dressed or illiterate Negro,” but now “Social awareness has taught me where to lay the blame. Someday, I expect, the ‘discrete’ Lesbian will not turn her head on the streets the sight of the ‘butch’ strolling hand in hand with her friends in their trousers and definitive haircuts. But for the moment, it still disturbs.”

“I feel I am learning how to think all over again,” she gushed in her second letter the following August. And she spent the next four pages diving deeply into the problems confronted by “heterosexually married lesbians,” of whom she added, “I am one of those.” And here, we get a sense some of her internal struggles in dealing with her own marriage with Nemiroff:

Speaking personally as well as abstractly here, may I ask when did the problem of saying to oneself, or to one’s husband, or anyone else that one finds “other women interesting” get to be any kind of a problem at all? Isn’t the problem of the married lesbian woman that of an individual who finds that, despite her conscious will ofttimes, she is inclined to have her most intense emotional and physical reactions directed toward other women, quite beyond any comparative thing she might have ever felt for her husband – whatever her sincere affection for him? And isn’t that the problem?

…I am suggesting here that perhaps it is pat and even unfair to suggest that all that remains for the married lesbian, already nursing her frustrations and confusions, 1s somehow to get rid of her ‘self-pity’ and ‘self-excuses’ and make a ‘happy marriage without in anyway denying her nature’. I am afraid that homosexuality, whatever its origins, is far more real than that, far more profound in the demands it makes; otherwise it could hardly deserve to be called a problem at all. I don’t think people start out in this world to be ‘bad’ – they start out to be happy. Frankly, I haven’t the least idea in the world what a ‘solution’ to the question might be at this particular moment in history.

Her diaries were recently made available, and they reveal her conflicts, then adjustment to her self-realization as a lesbian. But when she died at a tragically young death at the age of 34, of pancreatic cancer, she remained closeted, not surprising given the times. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” Those words are truer today the more we’ve come to know of her.

After she died, her ex-husband adopted her unfinished autobiography for the play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, which became the longest-running off-Broadway play from 1968 to 1969. The autobiography itself was then published under the same title in 1970.

[Sources: “L.H.N., New York, N.Y.” Letter to the editor. The Ladder 1, no. 8 (May 1957): pp 26-28.

“L.N., New York, N.Y.” Letter to the editor. The Ladder 1, no. 11 (August 1957): pp 26-30.]

Growing up gay in Oklahoma wasn’t easy, but the experience quickly made Mike realize that people like him were, at best, second-class citizens. While attending the University of Oklahoma, his friend, Joe Clem, was also gay and rather cautiously open about it, even among his frat brothers. During one bout of drinking, those so-called “brothers” became enraged with Clem being a “faggot,” beat the crap out of him, and drove him out to a deserted road outside Norman and dumped him there. Clem eventually made his was back to Norman, but he didn’t dare call the police.

Mike McConnell, with Jack Baker, ca 1970. Photo by Kay Lahusen (Jan 5).

McConnell met Jack Baker (Mar 10) at a barn party in 1966 outside of Norman. McConnell was completing his Masters degree in Library Science, and Baker was working as a field engineer in Oklahoma City. Both were 24, and they hit it off right away. Six months later, Baker proposed to McConnell, and McConnell accepted, on one condition: that they would find a way to marry legally.

In 1969, Baker moved to Minneapolis to study law at the University of Minnesota. Six months later, McConnell was offered a job at the University’s library. Three weeks after McConnell moved to Minneapolis, the pair went to the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis to apply for a marriage license (May 18). Their application was denied. Not only that, but after the news about what they had done had hit the papers, the university’s Board of Regents voted to withdraw its job offer to McConnell.

Those events launched two separate lawsuits: Baker v. Nelson challenged Hennepin County’s denial of their marriage license, and McConnell v. Anderson challenged the University’s withdrawal of McConnell’s job offer. Baker v. Nelson worked its way up the Minnesota state courts, with courts ruling against Baker and McConnell every step of the way. The case eventually made it to the Minnesota Supreme Court in October 1981, which also ruled against them. The U.S. Supreme Court then dismissed an appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” and Baker v. Nelson was treated as though it were an established precedent for the next several decades.

McConnell’s lawsuit against the University went little better. He got an early victory when the Federal District Judge issued an injunction against the University. He called the couple’s attempt at getting married “rather bizarre,” but found that even a “homosexual is after all a human being and a citizen… He is as much entitled to the protection and benefits of the laws… as others.” But McConnell never did get his job at the University. The judge stayed his injunction pending appeal, the Eight Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to consider the case.

While the cases were winding their way thought the courts, McConnell and Baker continued to pursue legal recognition of their relationship through other means. McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971, which allowed them at least some of the benefits of marriage (inheritance, medical decision-making, even reduced tuition for Baker). A month later, they managed to obtain a marriage license from a clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and were married by a Methodist minister (Sep 3). That license was never officially revoked, although questions remained about its legal force. The IRS, for example, refused to recognize their marital status.

McConnell later found work in the Hennepin County Library system, and continued working there for the next thirty-seven years before retiring in 2010 as a Coordinating Librarian. In 2012, University of Minnesota president Erik Kaler formally apologized to McConnell for his treatment forty-two years earlier. When marriage equality finally arrived in Minnesota in 2013, it was natural to ask whether Baker and McConnell would formally tie the knot. Maybe even as the honorary first same-sex couple to marry. No need for that, they answered. As far as they were concerned, they had been legally married since 1971. They are still living together as a married couple in the suburbs of south Minneapolis, quietly and well out of the spotlight.

Marriage Equality Arrives In Michoacan

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016


provincia_2016518_368310988It looks like Mexico is far more interested in tearing down walls rather than building them. The Congress of the Mexican state of Michoacan today voted 27-0 to legalize same-sex marriage. All seven members of the right-leaning PAN (National Action Party) abstained from the vote. Michoacan becomes the ninth state, in addition to the Federal District, to provide marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Michoacan is located on the Pacific Coast between Guerrero to the south and Jalisco to the north, both of which have also legalized marriage equality. It’s capital, Morelia, was declared a U.N. World Heritage Site for its preservation of colonial-era buildings.

5a0d41da-e942-4d82-96cf-fee4b5dac3daMeanwhile, the state of Morelos (shown in blue on the map) has taken its first step toward marriage equality when it approved a state constitutional reform package to provide marriage equality. The vote 20-6, with the PAN lined up in opposition followed a particularly noisy debate. The reforms now go to the state’s 33 Ayuntamientos (regional governments) for ratification.

Morelos is located just south of Mexico City, with Cuerenavaca as its capital. It has always been a popular getaway for Mexico City residents, and is slowly becoming something of a bedroom community for the congested capital. It boasts a long list of impressive museums, botanical gardens, a famous hacienda that once belonged to Hernán Cortés, impressive Tlahuican ruins (complete with a preserved Aztec-influenced handball court) and a dizzying array of magnificent churches. I can’t say I’ve traveled all that extensively in Mexico, but I can say that of all the places I visited, Cuernevaca is by far my favorite. I’m thinking it would make a pretty awesome wedding venue and honeymoon destination.

Seychelles Repeals Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Law

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016

hero-image-1_0500px-Location_Seychelles_AU_Africa.svgThere’s some rare good news coming out of Africa:

Section 151 of the country’s Penal Code states that a man who has sex with a man “against the order of nature” can be jailed for up to fourteen years.  The law is a hang-over from British colonial rule, and convictions are already very rare – but the Seychelles had pushed to scrap the law entirely.

Seychelles President James Michel highlighted the need to abolish the law based on its United Nations human rights obligations, when it agreed to undergo a Universal Periodic Review with an eye toward decriminalizing same-sex relationships. Seychelles popularity as a European vacation destination undoubtedly added an economic incentive to the decision.

Changing Mexico’s Constitution for Marriage Equality: What’s At Stake

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto

Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced four initiatives aimed at bringing marriage equality across the entire nation and promoting LGBT rights around the world. One of those measures would also allow changes to birth certificates to accurately reflect trans people’s gender identity. The first initiative, which bears close watching as it is the one most likely to engender a dangerous backlash, would amend Mexico’s constitution.

According to yesterday’s announcement:

An initiative to reform Article 4 of the Constitution was signed to clearly incorporate the judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation which recognized as a human right that people can marry without discrimination.

That is, that marriages are made without discrimination based on ethnic or national origin, disability, social status, health conditions, religion, gender or sexual preference. Thus, equal marriage would be explicit in the Constitution.

Article 4 is, a rather wide-ranging set of clauses whch can be summed up as a kind of an equal rights article. This is the full text of Article 4, in a translation provided by UNAM (The National Autonomous University of Mexico, the country’s most prestigious universities) (PDF):

Article 4

Men and women are equal under the law. The law shall protect family organization and development.

Every person has a right to decide in a free, mature and informed way, the number and spacing of their children.

Every person has a right to receive medical treatment when deemed as necessary. The law shall not only define the guiding criterial regulating access to health services but also establish concurrent activities to be carried out by the federation and the states in organizing public health services under article 73, paragraph XVI of this constitution.

Every person has a right to live in an adequate environment for her development and welfare.

Every family has a right to a dignified and decent household. The law shall establish all regulations and incentives deemed to be necessary to achieve such a goal.

Children’s needs to nourishment, health, education, recreation and integral development shall be fulfilled.

Ascendants, tutors and guardians shall be obligated to enforce the aforementioned rights. The States shall provide whatever deemed as necessary to uphold both children’s dignity and the enforcement of children’s rights.

The State shall help out private individuals in enforcing children’s rights.

Anti-gay groups in Mexico have claimed that the sentence about “protect family organization and development” precluded allowing same-sex marriage, but so far the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, Mexico’s highest court, hasn’t seen it that way. One can also imagine that several other clauses dealing with “a dignified and decent household” and children’s “integral development” could be spun by anti-gay groups as well. So in that sense, Peña Nieto’s proposal to clarify Article 4 would certainly do the trick.

But it seems like it could be a daunting task. Not because it’s so rarely done — Mexico’s constitution has undergone numerous substantial changes in its 99-year history, the most recent in 2011 when the right to food was inserted into Articles 4 and 27. (By the way, while the process of changing the Constitution is referred to as an amendment, Mexico’s Constitution is actually changed by the process. It does not carry a series of amendments like the U.S. Constitution.) The process for amending the Constitution is found in Article 135:

This Constitution can be amended or reformed by two thirds out of the attending members of Congress at the respective session. Such amendments and reforms shall be valid when ratified by the majority out of the State Legislatures. Either the Congress or the Permanent Commission during congressional recesses shall compute the State Legislatures votes and declare the approval of the respective amendments and reforms.

So, two-thirds of Congress and half of the Sates need to approve. When one looks at the partisan composition of Congress, at least that part looks doable:

Pena Nieto’s party and allies control about half the seats in both houses, and the measure could also pick up support from the leftist opposition Democratic Revolution Party.

As for the states, eight of the 31 states, and the Federal District, already have marriage equality. (The Federal District, which was the first jurisdiction to approve marriage equality in 2009, doesn’t get a say when amending the Constitution.)  Seven of those eight states completed the process under their own initiative. Only one was forced to do so by the Supreme Court. Peña Nieto’s ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) holds 19 of 31 governorships and 20 state legislatures, which means that at least from the standpoint of party control, that also looks doable.

But the entire process still bears watching. I don’t know how fast all of this can happen, but Peña Nieto’s term ends in 2018, when Mexico will elect a new President and Congress. And it’s not clear to me how much input Peña Nieto will have in the actual wording of Article 4, although I suspect it could be substantial. That will bear watching. And I don’t know to what extent this move could open the doors to anti-marriage mischief.  We can be assured the Catholic Church in Mexico will play a big role. And there’s no doubt that several American anti-gay groups will see an opening to expand their influence south of the border. Mexico’s politics have always been complicated, its legal system more so, and transparency has never been its strong suit. Fun times ahead…

House Republicans Refuse to Remove Anti-LGBT Provisions From Defense Bill

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016

The House Rules Committee yesterday refused to take up a bipartisan proposal bipartisan amendment introduced by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) which would remove anti-LGBT language from the 2017 Defense Authorization Bill. If that language remains in the bill, it would overturn President Barack Obama’s executive order requiring that federal contractors maintain anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity. The committee voted down the amendment 9-3 on strict party lines.

The original amendment overturning Obama’s executive order was inserted into the Defense Authorization Bill by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) when the House Armed Services Committee was marking up the legislation.

Rep. Steve Russel (R-OK)

Rep. Steve Russel (R-OK)

The amendment, introduced by freshman Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), would require the federal government when contracting with religious organizations to afford them exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities Act. Since neither of those laws prohibit anti-LGBT bias, the amendment would enable religious organizations doing business with the U.S. government to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Because the measure would have the force of law, it would overrule the executive order signed by President Obama in 2014 prohibiting contractors doing more than $10,000 a year in business with the U.S. government from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination against employees. The president included no religious exemption in his order, although he left in place a Bush-era exemption allowing religious organizations contracting with the U.S. government to favor co-religionists in hiring practices.

The amendment provides an exemption for “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution or religious society” contracting with the U.S. government. All of those terms are undefined in the amendment, but the lack of definition for “religious corporation” could allow courts to construe the term broadly to any federal contractor — not just religious organizations — in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

The White House has said that it strongly objects to the anti-LGBT provision. It has previously threatened to veto the bill over objections to several other provisions in the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill does not contain the anti-LGBT provision. The next opportunity to remove it from the house committee would be during conference committee after both houses approve their respective versions of the bill.

African, Asian, Caribbean LGBT Groups Banned From U.N. AIDS Conference

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2016

More than fifty Muslim countries, led by Egypt, banded together to ban several LGBT groups from attending a high level U.N.’s 2016 High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS set for June 8 through 10. NGOs from across Africa, as well as Guyana, Jamaica, Peru, Estonia and Ukraine were among eleven groups that were banned:

On behalf of 51 members of the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Egypt requested that the UN bar 11 groups from attending the conference, news agencies reported. Egypt reportedly provided no reason for excluding the groups in its letter.

The NGOs include Eurasian Coalition on Male Health, an Estonia-based group that fights for LGBTI equality in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and Global Action for Trans Equality, which has its headquarters in the United States. Aside from the Estonian and US gay activist groups, Egypt reportedly objected to the participation of Ishtar Men Who Have Sex With Men group from Kenya and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network from Thailand.

Ambassadors from the E.U., U.S., and Canada were quick to denounce the ban:

The United States has already protested the decision, with the US ambassador Samantha Power noting that the disallowed groups “appear to have been chosen for their involvement in LGBTI, transgender or youth advocacy.” …

“We are deeply concerned that at every negotiation on a new General Assembly gathering, the matter of NGO (non-governmental organization) participation is questioned and scrutinized,” Ms Power wrote.

“The movement to block the participation of NGOs on spurious or hidden grounds is becoming epidemic and severely damages the credibility of the U.N.”

“Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic,” she added.

The 2016 High-Level Meeting was called to share lessons learned in responding to HIV with the stated goal of of ending AIDS by 2030:

The lessons learned in responding to HIV will play an instrumental role in the success in achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals, notably Sustainable Development Goal 3, good health and well-being, and the goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduced inequalities, global partnerships and just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

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