Box Turtle Bulletin

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Posts for November, 2010

Colorado school forces gay marriage supporter to change her shirt

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2010

Falcon High School in Falcon, Colorado, has a student dress code:

The Board recognizes that students have a right to express themselves through dress and personal appearance; however, students shall not wear apparel that is deemed disruptive or potentially disruptive to the classroom environment or to the maintenance of a safe and orderly school.

The school even provides specifics on forbidden clothing. The first five rules relate to revealing items, but the sixth category addresses expression:

6. Any clothing, paraphernalia, grooming, jewelry, hair coloring, accessories, or body adornments that are or contain any advertisement, symbols, words, slogans, patches, or pictures that:

* Refer to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or weapons.

* Are of a sexual nature.

* By virtue of color, arrangement, trademark, or other attribute, denote membership in gangs that advocate drug use, violence, or disruptive behavior.

* Are obscene, profane, vulgar, lewd, or legally libelous.

* Threaten the safety or welfare of any person.

* Promote any activity prohibited by the student code of conduct.

* Create a safety hazard for the student or others.

*Otherwise disrupt the teaching-learning process.

These seem clear. However, when Kate Cohn wore a shirt to school which said “[marriage is so gay]“, the principle made her remove it, insisting it was in violation to the school policy. (KKTV)

“Our district does have a dress code policy, all the students are aware of it,” said District 49 spokesperson Stephanie Meredith. According to Meredith, the school’s principal acted within the parameters of the school dress code, which gives an administrator room to decide when a line has been crossed.

“If it’s obscene, lewd, or anything that might be disruptive to the educational environment,” Meredith said, “Those are things where a judgment call might come into play.”

Cohn’s pro-gay-marriage message is not obscene or lewd. Which must mean that Principal Greg Moles Mike Carara finds this message to “disrupt the teaching-learning process.”

I wonder exactly what teaching and learning Moles Carara doesn’t want disrupted by Cohn’s support for her gay friends and family.

Omaha World-Herald creates criteria to exclude same-sex couples

Timothy Kincaid

August 31st, 2010

One of the favorite tactics for those who want to exclude based on a class is to come up with a justification – a seemingly non-biased criterion – to engage in discrimination while deflecting criticism. This exorcise allows the perpetrator to simultaneously feed their animus while claiming the mantle of decency and reasonableness.

Perhaps the most egregious examples of this were the “literacy tests” used to deny African Americans the right to vote. Blacks in the South weren’t denied the ability to vote due to skin color, you see, just ignorance. All justified and righteous. Except, of course, they weren’t applied fairly and were nothing more than a cover, an excuse, to give a pretense of reasonableness to blatant racism and violation of the 14th Amendment.

And while the civil rights movement ended race-based “literacy tests” in the 60′s, this way of thinking certainly lingers today. And we certainly see a lot of it directed towards gay people and same-sex couples.

One of the more common – and more stupid – arguments against marriage equality is a variation on the theme: “Everyone has the equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex.”

This actually isn’t true (marriages in which one partner is gay are presumed to be fraudulent in a number of legal situations), but that’s beside the point. A rule which is designed to exclude based on specific attributes of the group excluded, is discriminatory on its face. As Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “a tax on yarmulkes is a tax on Jews.”

Now enter Terry Kroeger, the oh-so-clever publisher of the Omaha World-Herald.

Jeff and Heidi Wilke were delighted that their daughter was to be married and wanted their friends and neighbors to share in their joy. So they contacted the paper, only to be informed by Kroeger, the papers publisher, that he wouldn’t print same-sex wedding announcements.

The Wilke’s weren’t too pleased and so they used the power of the internet – and Facebook – to inform the world. I was but one of undoubtedly thousands who dropped Kroeger a little note expressing our disappointment.

So now Kroeger has back-tracked. He’s made an announcement which, at first glace, seems like he’s found social awareness and a conscience and is doing the right thing. In fact, the New York Times ran a headline Omaha Paper to Print Same-Sex Wedding Announcements in which Kroeger plays the martyr.

“What has transpired over recent days has included some reasoned discussions with us about our practices, but mostly it has been a stream of vitriol against The World-Herald,” said the publisher, Terry Kroeger. “This news organization is not guilty of hating gays and lesbians. Should we have seen this issue more clearly? Probably. Have we been too slow in reacting to this matter? Maybe. But hateful? Never.”

And yet the Wilke’s shouldn’t get too excited. Kroeger won’t be printing their announcement. Because the Omaha World-Herald has a new criteria, one designed to exclude most same-sex couples who would request notice in Omaha while pretending to be balanced and fair.

The “Celebrations” page of the Omaha World-Herald has provided a place to buy space to celebrate weddings, engagements, anniversaries and birthdays. It will continue to be just that. Celebrations announcements regarding legal weddings, engagements for legal weddings or anniversaries of a legal marriage will be welcomed, regardless of the genders of the couple. We will not run announcements regarding commitment ceremonies, partnerships and other non-marriage unions, again regardless of gender.

Some will criticize this action because they would prefer that same-sex announcements not appear in their newspaper. Others will say it doesn’t go far enough. Our sense is that this change will provide for a public “celebration” of important milestones in the lives of people who take the significant steps toward legally sanctioned marriage. Iowa and four other states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. We will publish Celebrations announcements of marriages from those jurisdictions.

You see, only marriage is an “important milestone” and in Omaha marriage is denied to same-sex couples. It isn’t that they are gay, you see, just not legally sanctioned. All justified and righteous. It isn’t Kroeger that is discriminatory, just the voters.

And because Kristin Wilke and Jessica Kitzman are going to wed in Minnesota instead of Iowa, well then his problem is solved. Kroeger can keep the lesbians out of his paper and give a pretense of reasonableness to justify his discrimination.

But sorry Omaha World-Herald. Sorry Terry Kroeger. You may have dodged the bullet today. But history will be no kinder to you that it is to all the others who came before you who have sought to justify their bias by bogus “tests.”

What the “Illinois professor fired for giving Catholic teaching on homosexuality” really said

Timothy Kincaid

July 12th, 2010

Dr. Kenneth Howell was fired by the University of Illinois when a student complained that Howell, who taught a course in Catholic theology, actually preached to his students instead of instructing them and made statements that consisted of hate-speech. Anti-gay activists are crying martyr.

The Catholic News Agency describes Howell’s comments this way:

Howell said he taught the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality. He summed it up by saying, “A homosexual orientation is not morally wrong just as no moral guilt can be assigned to any inclination that a person has. However, based on natural moral law, the Church believes that homosexual acts are contrary to human nature and therefore morally wrong.”

Gosh, that doesn’t seem so bad. That’s just a fact based statement about the teachings of the church, one that I or anyone else might make.

But – not to challenge the integrity of the good folk at the Catholic News Agency, of course – but in his email of instruction to all of his students, Howell also said a good deal more.

If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a ten year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of. The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like “informed consent.” Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that “informed consent” might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don’t think that it would be wrong according to the consent criterion.

Interesting. I don’t think it is official Catholic theology to equate homosexuality with pedophilia or bestiality. But, as a position of logic, that might not be beyond the pale.

But what else did he have to say?

But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.

One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the “woman” while the other acts as the “man.” In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.

I know this doesn’t answer all the questions in many of your minds. All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don’t arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

Oh… so this isn’t just Catholic theory he was teaching. It was his own personal beliefs, not – he says – based on his religion, but universally observably true. Based on what he imagines a sexual relationship between two men to be and on what “a physician” told him (something he calls “extensive research into homosexuality”). And, as his students are “not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter,” they should just accept his own beliefs as their own.

I’ll let you decide whether you think that this was an offense worthy of firing.

CORRECTION:

Kenneth Howell was an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies. He wasn’t fired but his contract was not renewed.

I’ll let you decide whether you think that this was an offense worthy of being denied a renewed contract.

NBC’s Today Show reverses: gay couples can enter marriage contest

Timothy Kincaid

July 8th, 2010

The ‘gotta be hetero‘ rules for Today Show’s “Modern Wedding” have been lifted.

From GLAAD

This afternoon NBC and the Today Show did just that. Following a meeting between GLAAD and NBC executives, NBC announced that after listening to community concerns it will open the contest to same-sex couples and extend the submission deadline until Monday, July 12. Couples now have until then to apply. Finalists will be announced later this year and the wedding takes place live on the Today Show this October.

NBC: no gay couples allowed

Timothy Kincaid

July 6th, 2010

NBC’s Today Show is hosting a wedding competition which it has titled “Modern Love,” but this competition is anything but modern.

The official eligibility requirements are:

Each applicant must: (1) be part of a couple submitting an application; (2) be at least twenty-one (21) years of age as of July 9th, 2010; (3) have become engaged to be married prior to July 9th, 2010; (4) be a permanent, legal resident of the United States and must have a valid United States passport; (5) not be subject to any travel restrictions and must agree to obtain the requisite immunizations (for the honeymoon), if necessary; (6) be of good moral character; (7) have never been convicted of a crime of any nature (other than moving violations of a misdemeanor type that did not involve personal injury, drugs or alcohol), and (8) have nothing in their background that would be an embarrassment to NBC News or TODAY (as determined by TODAY, in its sole discretion); and (9) not be an elected official or currently running for any political office (local, state or federal).

Oh, and it goes without saying, the couple must be heterosexual.

NBC provided the following fascinating justification for this policy to GLAAD:

“For the TODAY show wedding, the couple must be able to be legally married in New York, which is where the wedding will take place.”

Which has about the same validity as saying that Jews need not apply because they’re using a Catholic Church for the ceremony. If your venue is discriminatory, change the venue.

Or if they absolutely must be in New York, allow the couple to cross the border into Connecticut for a courthouse legality before performing the ceremony and celebration in New York, which would then recognize their out of state legal document. That could even be a fascinating bit of drama for NBC to illustrate the extra burden on gay couples in the Big Apple.

As GLAAD notes, NBC is not in the business of handing out marriage licenses. Their only role in the matter is to provide the ceremony, and that they could do for gay couples as easily as straight.

The Today Show is awarding a wedding celebration, not a marriage license. If a same-sex couple won the contest, producers and the winning couple could easily work together to ensure that the couple properly obtained and complied with the requirements of a marriage license in one of the license-conferring jurisdictions. The full wedding celebration would then take place on the Today Show.

NBC’s explanation rings hollow. A likelier reason is that NBC is afraid that homophobes would protest and call them liberal media activists. So they’ll just exclude gay people to avoid all of the hassle.

And besides, this is all about the celebration of heterosexual wedded bliss and who wants that marred by The Gays?

(hat tip: Jeremy at Good_As_You who first noted the exclusion)

Court rules that law school need not recognize anti-gay Christian group

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

June 28th, 2010

From the Chronicle

An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won’t let gays join, with one justice saying that the First Amendment does not require a public university to validate or support the group’s “discriminatory practices.”

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with that faith.

I have mixed feelings about this decision, partly because the SCOTUS agreed with the Ninth Circuit that

The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups—all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.

In reading the decision, we must keep in mind that this is not a ruling on CLS’ policies, but on whether Hastings’ policies are constitutional.

On the one hand, I strongly object to the gay students at Hastings having to pay student fees which are in turn funneled to an organization that excludes them from membership. I am troubled by the growing sense of entitlement which many anti-gay religious groups seem to be adopting from which they demand that society not only follow the rules of their sect but be required to fund them as well.

And this decision confirms the right of a school – even a public school – to establish and uphold non-discrimination policies. An opposite ruling might lead to assumptions that schools cannot make any restrictions on anti-gay discrimination.

But, on the other hand, I fear that broad interpretation may lead to an inability for any organization to control its own identity.

Would, for example, the Clara Foltz Feminist Association be subject to a take-over by religious conservatives who can then vote that the club take positions which oppose reproductive rights and assert that a woman is to be subject to her husband? Could the Hastings Jewish Law Students Association become the missionary arm of Jews for Jesus – or of the Scientologists, for that matter? Can the new motto of the Environmental Law Society become “Drill, baby, drill”.

While this may seem unlikely, it is not unheard-of for a student organization to be hijacked for petty school politics, or even as a lark. The court, however, did not think that such concerns were reasonable.

CLS also assails the reasonableness of the all-comers policy in light of the RSO forum’s function by forecasting that the policy will facilitate hostile takeovers; if organizations must open their arms to all, CLS contends, saboteurs will infiltrate groups to subvert their mission and message. This supposition strikes us as more hypothetical than real.

Students tend to self-sort and presumably will not endeavor en masse to join—let alone seek leadership positions in—groups pursuing missions wholly at odds with their personal beliefs. And if a rogue
student intent on sabotaging an organization’s objectives nevertheless attempted a takeover, the members of that group would not likely elect her as an officer.

I have personal experience which contradicts the court’s assumption. And Justice Alito’s dissent does not find the idea to be nonsensical.

But from a practical perspective, the greatest impact of this decision will be limited to those religious campus organizations who eject, reject, or limit gay students. The national Christian Legal Society will have to choose to go off-campus at many law schools (those with non-discrimination policies) or to revise its policies.

But other organizations may be immediately impacted as well, if to a lesser extent. As I recall, my fraternity required that its members believe in God, though that was interpreted broadly, could be “acknowledged symbolically”, and seemed to have no measurable influence on daily life. But it would seem that this “religious belief” requirement could also be a reason for exclusion of this group from meeting on campus or having recognition of any form.

Although in minority, Alito argued that a policy demanding that all organizations ‘accept all comers’ (whether or not selectively enforced) places a great burden on those who meet based on commonly shared religious beliefs, regardless of where they exist on the religious spectrum.

There are religious groups that cannot in good conscience agree in their bylaws that they will admit persons who do not share their faith, and for these groups, the consequence of an accept-all-comers policy is marginalization.

But, other than its immediate impact on this one Christian group and other similar groups, the court’s decision may also tell us a few more things than simply what is allowable school policy. And while I have some concerns about the court’s interpretation of freedom of speech and association, they are countered by concerns about compulsory fees being withheld and distributed to organizations that some students cannot join. So, for me, the most interesting aspects of this case can be found in the way in which justices view gay people.

1. This decision may give us clues as to whether the court is sympathetic to religious exclusion of gay people from society. In this match up of non-discrimination policies v. the religious liberty to exclude gay people, the court chose not to let religious belief trump orientation.

2. The case was closely decided, 5-4. Justice Ginsberg wrote the decision and was joined by Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The dissent was written by Alito and joined by Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas.

Much of Alito’s objection focused on the distinction between whether Hastings’ refusal to offer Registered Student Organization status was based in an “accept all comers” principle or a Non-Discrimination Policy. He asserted that (irrespective of stipulation) at the time of rejection the school did indeed “permi[t] political, social, and cultural student organizations to select officers and members who are dedicated to a particular set of ideals or beliefs” and only decided that this was an “accept all comers” policy after the fact.

Alito noted that many organizations limited members to those who agree with their positions (e.g. the pro-life group, the Democratic Caucus) and at least one had race-based restrictions (La Raza). They were required to change these provisions only after CLS was rejected for membership, illustrating that “that Hastings had no accept-all-comers policy until this litigation was well under way.”

3. The court contrasted this decision from that which allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude members.

CLS may exclude any person for any reason if it forgoes the benefits of official recognition. The expressive-association precedents on which CLS relies [as opposed to limited public forum], in contrast, involved regulations that compelled a group to include unwanted members, with no choice to opt out. See, e.g., Dale, 530 U. S., at 648 (regulation “forc[ed] [the Boy Scouts] to accept members it [did] not desire”

Application of the less-restrictive limited-public-forum analysis better accounts for the fact that Hastings, through its RSO program, is dangling the carrot of subsidy, not wielding the stick of prohibition.

This would suggest that cities who wish to limit their public subsidies to only those organizations that do not discriminate are free to do so. Indeed, this seems to directly contradict the decision of the jury in Philadelphia.

In his rebuttal, Alito found this case to be exactly similar to Dale in that the policy forces organizations to accept members with whom it does not wish to associate. He dismissed the funding possibilities as inconsequential and only a small part of the case.

4. The court confirmed its position that attempts to differentiate between behavior and identity (in religious terms, “love the sinner, hate the sin”) as distinctions without difference:

To bring the RSO program within CLS’s view of the Constitution’s limits, CLS proposes that Hastings permit exclusion because of belief but forbid discrimination due to status. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 18. But that proposal would impose on Hastings a daunting labor. How should the Law School go about determining whether a student organization cloaked prohibited status exclusion in belief-based garb? If a hypothetical Male-Superiority Club barred a female student from running for its presidency, for example, how could the Law School tell whether the group rejected her bid because of her sex or because, by seeking to lead the club, she manifested a lack of belief in its fundamental philosophy?

This case itself is instructive in this regard. CLS contends that it does not exclude individuals because of sexual orientation, but rather “on the basis of a conjunction of conduct and the belief that the conduct is not wrong.” Brief for Petitioner 35–36 (emphasis deleted). Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context. See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 575 (2003) (“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination.” (emphasis added)); id., at 583 (O’Connor, J., concurring in judgment) (“While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, [the] law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class.”); cf. Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U. S. 263, 270 (1993) (“A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews.”).

Here, interestingly, Alito dismisses the majority’s logic as “because it is easier to enforce.” He does seem to accept distinction between identity and behavior, but not in a way which argues that gay people are only “folks who engage in certain behavior.” Rather, he seems to agree that gay people, as such, exist but that they, like Muslims, Atheists, and those Christians who believe significantly different doctrines than those of CLS, should be able to be excluded by a club which is based on certain shared religious beliefs.

In fact, while Alito questioned (in a footnote) what might possibly be meant by religious status (as opposed to religious belief) in terms of immutable characteristics, he seems to have no question about what sexual orientation status may mean. Nor does the dissent suggest that orientation is mutable or inconsequential.

While it may be premature and reaching to draw such a conclusion, it appears that the court seems to be in agreement that sexual orientation is a matter of people and not a matter of behavior.

5. The dissent was not homophobic. Indeed, Alito seemed far less interested in why CLS was excluding members than he was in their right to do so without being marginalized based on their viewpoint. His was a freedom of expression argument rather than an upholding of morals and standards argument.

As Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia did not write separate dissents, we cannot know their motivations. However, this is in tone far from that of Scalia in Lawrence v. Texas, and to me hints as a certain mellowing that may be occurring on the conservative end of the bench. Or, at least, I hope that is what it suggests.

6. And finally, the justices illustrate that legal findings need not be boring or dry. Stevens, in his concurring opinion, gets points for the best quote:

“In the dissent’s view, by refusing to grant CLS an exemption from the Nondiscrimination Policy, Hastings violated CLS’s rights, for by proscribing unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion, the policy discriminates unlawfully on the basis of religion.”

WV Couple Denied Apartment

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2010

Rayetta Darby and Erika Johnson, a lesbian couple in the Huntington, WV area, were denied an apartment by their prospective landlord because they are gay. The reporters investigating this story discover that West Virginia and 29 other states don’t have any laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and neither does the federal Fair Housing Act.

“It’s terrible. It’s terrible we even need such a law,” said Bill Dotson, executive director of Huntington Housing Authority. You can only prevent people from renting if they have a bad payment history or if they they’re bad neighbors or don’t take care of their property,” Dotson said. “If a landlord refuses to rent to them for any reason other than those, it’s heavily frowned upon.” But, the fact that there’s no law preventing such behavior in West Virginia is deeply disturbing to Darby.

Wal-Mart bans gay couple for NOT shoplifting

Timothy Kincaid

November 7th, 2009

walmartNot every confrontation that a gay person experiences in their life is based on their orientation. But sometimes it is very difficult to see any other possible explanation.

Take the experience that Joe Paolucci, Thomas Hitchcock, and their special need twins had recently with Wal-Mart.

Employees at the Niles, MI Wal-Mart store accused Paolucci of shoplifting some Bic lighters. Although he produced the receipt, they refused to back down, insisting that the two men go to a “detention room”. The employees, using vulgarities and hostility, frightened their special needs kids. (South Bend Tribune)

Paolucci said that while he and Hitchcock were attempting to calm down the boys, the employees ordered them to enter a “detention room” for questioning. Fearful of what might happen behind closed doors, he and Hitchcock refused to enter and asked to speak to a manager.

“Some guy came up and said, ‘I’m the manager,’ then turned around and left,” Hitchcock said.

Paolucci said he and Hitchcock then asked store personnel to call police. Within minutes, deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department’s Niles Township Patrol arrived, pleasing Paolucci who said he thought a few questions and a review of the store’s videotapes and computer records would quickly resolve the matter.

He said he was shocked when he was immediately handcuffed, without a question being asked, and placed in the back seat of a squad car. Hitchcock wasn’t handcuffed but also was placed in the back seat of a second squad car.

The twins, despite the protests of Paolucci and Hitchcock, were turned over to the store’s security personnel, who took them into the “detention room” or what police referred to as a security room.

A review of the security tapes proved that Paolucci and Hitchcock had done no wrong. So the store management profusely apologized and expressed their remose, right? No. They did not.

The two said they expected an apology and were surprised once again when personnel from the store walked up to the squad cars with the twins and read from a statement that Paolucci and Hitchcock had been banned by the store chain for life. Rather than shoplifting, the reason they were given was “being uncooperative.”

By the time they were read the statement, Paolucci and Hitchcock said, the twins had told them that the security staff had allegedly threatened them in the security room and had made disparaging remarks about Paolucci and Hitchcock’s lifestyle. Paolucci and Hitchcock said they asked police to take statements from the boys but the officers refused, telling the couple they’d have to contact Child Protective Services.

Wal-Mart even refused to replace frozen items that had now thawed due to their unprovoked misuse of their customers. Nor did the situation end at the harassment of the couple at the store.

Paolucci said the boys have suffered a type of post-traumatic stress disorder since the experience. Both wet their beds, although one has stopped, and both have had nightmares about one security employee in particular, he said.

“They’re terrified, horrified. We’ve had to change their medication twice,” he said.

And what does Wal-Mart corporate have to say?

Paolucci and Hitchcock e-mailed The Tribune a copy of a letter from a law firm representing Wal-Mart seeking 10 times the retail price of the items the store still claims were shoplifted by Paolucci. The letter states the matter will be dropped if Paolucci submits the $158.40 payment.

Now this is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been perceived as hostile to gay Americans. In 2007, HRC advised against giving our business to Wal-Mart, and just in April of this year, the CEO signed his name to a petition to ban gay couples from adopting.

Wal-Mart doesn’t care about my opinion. And there’s little I can do to impact their decision to treat gay customers with hostility.

But perhaps there are those, even in Niles, MI, who will decide that this situation is just one too many. That they cannot give their custom to bad neighbors. That it may be worth an extra nickle and a further drive to frequent the stores that do not abuse customers solely because they “disapprove of their lifestyle” and who admit it and apologize when they are wrong.

All I can do is spread the word.

Because She Needed It

Timothy Kincaid

November 7th, 2009

When Peter Vidala told a co-worker that “her lifestyle is deviant”, it was because she needed to be told. She needed to hear that Vidala was intolerant of her.

“I see, like all real Christians, homosexuals as people who, like me, are sinners and need to be told the truth in a loving way,” he said. “In this situation, I took issue with the behavior. I think it’s lunacy to call that type of behavior marriage in any kind of form. I had to express that I’m intolerant of that behavior. It’s a love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin kind of deal.”

Just like the wife who argues back and need a good punch in the face, or the infant who won’t stop crying and needs to be shaken, this lesbian needed to know that he hated her sin.

Brookstone, the employer, decided that Vidala’s weeks-old employment needed to come to an end. And, naturally, Fox News and other conservative voices are shocked! that he was “unjustly fired”.

Naturally,Vidala trotted on over to the lovely folks at MASSresistence, the same folks who brought us the distortions about the Wirthlins and Parkers, to make a video. So we can expect to see this story (or some unrecognizable version of it) to start popping up in anti-gay advertising around the country. Here’s Peter’s tale:

YouTube Preview Image

He sees “that type of behavior” (her engagement) as immoral. He believes that controversial issues (her engagement) have no place in the workplace, particularly in Boston. And he is entitled to never have to be exposed in the workplace to ideas that contadict his opinions. To exist as a lesbian – and not keep it a secret – is to harass Vidala. And he was only expressing his offense when they retaliated against him. Unfairly.

In other words, his opinions should override your life. He is not only authorized but obligated to condemn your “behavior” while you should be disallowed from sharing your life on the same terms as your heterosexual coworkers within his hearing. And your mere statement of a fact, your engagement, is nothing but an “opinion” to which he should be allowed to counter.

Vidala clearly feels entitled. He clearly believes that his Christianity (to which he constantly refers) gives him rights and priveleges that should be denied to you. And his “Christian beliefs” outweigh anyone else’s beliefs, rights, or space. But, remember, it’s for your own good. You need to be told.

The anti-gay activist will champion Vidala, just as they do anyone who is “martyred to the homosexual agenda.” He will be Example A of what will happen if your state allows gay citizens to have the same rights as heterosexual citizens: religious freedom will suffer!!

But they will not be telling the truth; Vidala did not suffer for his beliefs.

Peter Vidala was not fired because he disapproved of homosexuality; rather, he was fired because couldn’t care less about the best interests of his employer. He selfishly decided that he didn’t have to be civil at work, he simply had to tell his superior that her life was deviant and immoral. It’s his Christian duty.

And, besides, why should he be punished? She needed it, you know.

Officer Responsible For Anti-Gay Harassment To Retire Early

Jim Burroway

October 22nd, 2009
Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint

Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint

The Navy announced yesterday that the chief petty officer responsible for sexually provocative hazings of junior sailors in Bahrain will be forced to retire in January, two years earlier than planned. He will also receive a letter of censure from the Secretary of the Navy, which the Virginia Pilot describes as “the harshest administrative action that can be taken against a sailor.”

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, opted to cancel Toussaint’s final years of service. Roughead “found that the incidents were not in keeping with Navy values and standards and violated the Navy’s longstanding prohibition against hazing,” according to Smith. “Our sailors are to be treated with dignity and respect in a healthy and positive working environment.”

One victim, former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha, said he was subjected to repeated slurs about his sexuality after he refused to have sex with female prostitutes.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Hogan submitted detailed notes about Toussaint’s abuse during more than two years under his command. Hogan told the Navy lawyer who originally handled the case that Toussaint routinely made inappropriate comments about and inquiries into sailors’ sex lives, and threatened to revoke sailors’ dog-handling credentials if they crossed him.

Hogan also described Toussaint’s directing the filming of training videos that required some sailors to act out lesbian love scenes, others to simulate gay male sex and one to have rubber balls thrown at his crotch, all in a guise of running the dogs – trained to sniff out explosives – through various “real life” scenarios.

Former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha

Former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha

With this move, Toussaint avoids a court martial. Joseph Rocha reacts:

“A lot of us are disappointed in that Toussaint won’t see his day at a military court martial,” Rocha said. “But overall, I commend the CNO and the Secretary of the Navy for a wanting to look further into this, to see how widespread the corruption was.”

An unnamed commanding officer originally decided to handle the situation by issuing Toussaint a nonpunitive letter of reprimand. Rocha, who is gay went on to officer training, but left the Navy with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over the harassment. Later, he met a reporter with Youth Radio and told his story. Youth Radio broadcast a powerful series of investigative reports into the incidents, many of which were picked up on National Public Radio.

New Investigations Into Navy Abuse

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2009
Former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha

Former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha

Youth Radio, which first reported the story of the abuse of Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha (who was expelled from the Navy) at the hands of Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint (who was promoted), has a follow-up on the results of their report.

Since Youth Radio began reporting the story, Rear Admiral David Mercer has ordered a review of the outcomes of the investigation at the Bahrain Kennel. He’s in charge of naval installations in Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.

A Navy spokesman issued this statement:

“The incidents that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Support Activity Bahrain do not reflect who we are as a navy. They are considered an anomaly based on sailors who were inproperly led.”

And yesterday, we learned yet another higher level review of the investigation has been ordered, this time by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Navy’s highest ranking officer and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The deadline for that report is October sixth.

Congressman Calls for Explanation of Navy Abuse

Timothy Kincaid

September 22nd, 2009
Former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha

Former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha

Earlier this month we told you of Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha who was abused and harassed by his officers because he didn’t visit prostitutes and thus must be gay.

At one point, the documents show, Rocha was hog-tied, fed dog food and tossed into a dog kennel full of feces. Commanders also openly questioned his sexuality and forced him to simulate oral sex on other men.

When Rocha finally did come out, he was tossed out of the military as being unfit and his tormentor was promoted.

While this sort of behavior might fit right in with the attitudes of some of the upper brass in the Pentagon, those who answer to the American people are a bit more inclined to find it abhorrent. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pennsylvania, a former Navy rear admiral and the highest ranking officer ever to serve in Congress, wrote to Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus to inquire about the circumstances.

And it turns out that once the spotlight is shining on particularly egregious behavior, the Navy isn’t quite as proud of its bullies and bigots. (SunNews)

“The incidents that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Support Activity Bahrain do not reflect who we are as a Navy,” said Cmdr. Cappy Surette, a Navy spokesman. “The Navy is now looking into the handling of this situation more carefully.”

And indeed care should be taken. Sestak is being specific.

Sestak also is requesting information regarding Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, who was responsible for the unit and was later promoted to senior chief.

“It would astound me if he was promoted if these allegations are true,” Sestak said in an interview. “What kind of a command climate is that?”

Rocha’s circumstances are certainly not unique. But his is but one more story that is reaching the American public and illustrating that gay people are not the problem with the military and its culture.

I suspect that Sestak will get the cooperation he has requested. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Americans Say Gays Face Most Discrimination

Jim Burroway

September 11th, 2009

The Pew Research Center released a report (PDF: 381KB/24 pages) which discusses Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims, but reveals that Muslims aren’t the ones that Americans see as most discriminated against. According to the report:

Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The report focuses almost entirely on Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. But the interesting thing is how Americans view discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Is There A Lot of Discrimination Against… Yes No
Muslims 58% 29%
Jews 35% 54%
Evang. Christians 27% 56%
Atheists 26% 59%
Mormons 24% 56%
Gays and Lesbians 64% 30%
Hispanics 52% 41%
Blacks 49% 46%
Women 37% 59%

The poll was conducted in several groups in August 2009. The first five responses of religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, Atheists and Mormons) were from a sample size of 2,010 with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. The last four responses were from sample sizes of from 999 to 1,011, giving a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Yes and No responses do not add to 100% due to participants either saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Military Response to Hazing and Abuse: Promote the Perpetrator and Kick Out the Victim

Timothy Kincaid

September 3rd, 2009

One of the most egregious injustices of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell is that it invites bullies and bigots to wreak havoc on the lives of gay servicemen without allowing any recourse.

We learned last week of how Air Force Lt. Col Victor Fehrenbach’s 18 year career was destroyed by the false accusation of a mentally damaged citizen. Now we learn that Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha was put through hell only to be thrown out like the trash and his tormentor rewarded as a result of investigations. (Stars and Stripes)

According to documents released by Youth Radio this week, Navy investigators found dozens of hazing incidents over a two-year span at the Military Working Dog unit in Naval Support Activity-Bahrain. At one point, the documents show, Rocha was hog-tied, fed dog food and tossed into a dog kennel full of feces. Commanders also openly questioned his sexuality and forced him to simulate oral sex on other men.

Following the investigation, Rocha sought treatment for PTSD and later admitted he is gay, the news outlet reported. Shortly thereafter, he was discharged under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits homosexual troops from serving openly in the ranks.

However, the commander in charge of the unit at the time of the hazing did not lose his job, and was recently promoted to senior chief, documents show.

This is unconscionable. And if the Commander in Chief has any sense of outrage that a voting block which supported him in huge numbers and whom he courted is so mistreated, this will not be swept under the rug.

President Obama may not be able singlehandedly reverse DADT. But he certainly can see to it that rewards for bigots and bullies are revoked and that punishment is meted out. And failure to act only feeds fuel to the growing suspicion that his promises were hollow and his concern about our community is insincere.

I hope he proves such suspicions false.

None of the alleged abusers was punished, according to the report.

Charges Dropped Against Salt Lake City Kissers

Timothy Kincaid

July 29th, 2009

Prosecutors will not pursue charges against Derek Jones and Matt Aune, the gay couple cited for trespassing in a public plaza after being confronted by Mormon Church security guards for giving a kiss on the cheek.

Apparently, the Mormon Church decided that it was not the Christian thing to do to try and use the legal system to punish this couple for a chaste kiss. Oh, wait. That isn’t why. The Mormon Church was all for civil punishment.

It turns out that the prosecutor found that the church had not adequately noted the terms under which people could cross the plaza nor adequately let the public know that this plaza was not really public property. That can happen when you blur the line between church and state. (Salt Lake Tribune)

In addition, Gill said, “there is a reasonable basis to believe the alleged trespassers did not think the LDS staff who confronted them could legally eject them from the property. Under this scenario, the alleged violators wanted law enforcement to be called because they believed they had a right to be there.

“There were no signs clearly indicating the ‘at will’ capacity to eject — for any reason — persons who entered this private property. Under this statute when the property is ‘open to the public’ Utah law provides that even if there is a violation of the statute, there is still the affirmative defense for the defendant that such conduct did not ‘substantially interfere’ with the owner’s use of the property.”

Wouldn’t it all have been better if the Church had simply told Jones and Aune, “We’re sorry we slammed you to the ground, put you in handcuffs, and had you arrested for a kiss on the cheek. Please try to remember that this is our private property and to respect our rules and we will try to remember that you are our neighbors made in God’s image and we must treat you with decency and respect”?

Artist Protests Own Exhibit

Timothy Kincaid

July 14th, 2009

When John Paul Blanchette learned that Barnes and Noble in Framingham, MA, would display his artwork he was no doubt elated. It would, after all, be his first solo exhibition.

Then he heard that one of his paintings was “too offensive” and would not be shown.

“It’s so ridiculous that when I met with (the manager) it took a minute before I was like, ‘Oh, she’s actually serious,”‘ Blanchette said. “There are romance book covers in there that are more offensive.”

You see, the picture in question was of two blue women in their underwear. And they weren’t going to be having no lesbians at the Barnes and Noble.

So Blanchette and a few friends protested his own exhibition.

We’ve not heard Barnes and Noble’s side (I’m waiting for a response), but it doesn’t sound like they are denying it.

Margaret Moore, community relations manager at the store, would not say why she declined to display the 11th painting; however, she did say “it is up to the store’s discretion to decide what we show.”

Yup, and it’s up to my discretion where I buy books.

El Paso Police Chief Disavows Prior Statements, Pledges To Enforce Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2009

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen has issued a statement “to correct and clarify prior statements” concerning the eviction of five men from an El Paso restaurant after two of them kissed. The new statement calls prior statements an “incorrect recitation of the law” and recognizes the police department’s responsibility to enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. That 2003 ordinance bans discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

This statement is in response to public outcry over actions by police officers who were called to Chico’s Tacos restaurant after a security guard threatened to remove five male customers because two of them kissed. The guard told the group to leave, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. The men called police over their pending removal, but instead of enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination law, a responding officer threatened the cite the kissing couple for violating a nonexistent law against “homosexual conduct” — one that presumably would go so far as to ban something as radically “faggotty” as a kiss. Later, an EPPD spokesperson compounded the problem over the non-existent law by saying that the five men at Chico’s Tacos could have been charged with criminal trespass instead.

Chief Allen’s statement now recognizes the police department’s responsibility to ensure “the opportunity of each person to obtain goods and services in all process of public accommodation without fear of discrimination.” The new statement “recognizes the negative impact that discrimination can have on a community”and requires that all police personnel “be courteous and respectful in their official dealings with the public.” Chief Allen requires EPPD personnel to “maintain a level of competence” in enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and warns that failure to do so “will result in appropriate discipline.”

Click here to read the El Paso Police Department Statement

El Paso Restaurant Guards Release Statement Calling Kissing “Lewd Behavior”

Jim Burroway

July 11th, 2009
About 100 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos restaurant in El Paso, Texas (Ruben R. Ramirez/El Paso Times)

Two of about 100 people protesting outside the Chico’s Tacos restaurant in El Paso, Texas. (Ruben R. Ramirez/El Paso Times)

It looks like a kiss is still a very radical act. The security firm hired by Chico’s Tacos has responded to the uproar over the five men who were kicked out of the El Paso, Texas restaurant after two of them kissed. It turns out that kissing is now lewd behavior:

The security company’s general manager, Robert Gamboa, released a statement Friday that said the guard encountered eight men, not five. The statement said the men were disruptive and caused a disturbance when the guard approached them.

“While at their seats, two members of the group did proceed to engage in kissing and other lewd conduct,” the statement said. “It wasn’t until another member of the group started to dance around in the aisle like a ballerina, that our officer approached them and asked them to settle down or they would be asked to leave.”

Carlos Diaz de Leon, one of the five men kicked out is described at being appalled at the statement. He insisted that there were only five men in the group and that no one was dancing. “That security company is ridiculous,” he said. He led a protest by about a hundred people in front of the restaurant Friday.

El Paso has an anti-discrimination ordinance which prohibits, among other things, restaurants from refusing to serve anyone based on sexual orientation. But that didn’t stop private security guards hired by the restaurant from ordering the men to leave after two of them kissed, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. Both parties called police, but instead of enforcing El Paso’s anti-discrimination law, officers threatened to cite the men with violating a statute prohibiting “homosexual conduct,” saying that kissing was forbidden in public. An EPPD spokesman later compounded the problem by saying that the couple could have been charged with criminal trespass.

The ACLU is calling for an official inquiry into the reported anti-gay discrimination, as well as the response by the El Paso Police Department.

Throw the Book (of Mormon) at Them

Timothy Kincaid

July 10th, 2009
Get fit in Salt Lake... unless you're gay.

Get fit in Salt Lake... unless you"re gay

It seems that the police in Texas are inspiring the Salt Lake Police Force. The story involves a couple walking along what used to be a public street.

In 1999 the City sold a block of Main Street to the Church. Because all public policy statements and documents emphasized the need for pedestrian traffic on this downtown grid, the City retained an easement for public passage and access. The Church placed restrictions on speech and behavior on the plaza.

Courts struck down these restrictions, so in 2003, the City of Salt Lake transferred the Main Street Plaza easement to the Mormon Church so as to facilitate their desire to eliminate criticism from that public thoroughfare. Now those that use this public thoroughfare are on private property. And gay people had better remember it. (Salt Lake Tribune)

Aune said the incident started when he and Jones were walking back to his Salt Lake City home from a Twilight Concert Series show at the Gallivan Center. The couple live just blocks away from the plaza in the Marmalade district of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The pair crossed the plaza holding hands, Aune said. About 20 feet from the edge of the plaza, Aune said he stopped, put his arm around Jones and kissed him on the cheek.

This kiss resulted in being thrown to the ground by security guards, hand-cuffed, and being issued trespassing citations when the police arrived. Oh, and they are banned from all church property for six months – including that which had previously been public streets owned by the taxpayers.

Now the Mormon Church will tell you that it doesn’t hate gay people. It loves them, but disapproves of their sin just as they would the sin of an adulterer or fornicator.

I don’t find that argument convincing.

Update on “Chico’s Five”

Timothy Kincaid

July 10th, 2009

The story of the five gay men kicked out of Chico’s Tacos in El Paso because they were gay has picked up momentum.

National news outlets, civil-rights lawyers from El Paso to Austin, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen and City Council representatives all chimed in on the Chico’s five.

Also additional information has been presented.

The phrase the security guards used was, “Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos.” Jotos is a pejorative term perhaps best translated as “faggot”.

Mirroring the situation in Ft. Worth, the police tried to defend their discriminatory actions – only making the situation worse.

But El Paso Police Detective Carlos Carrillo defended the officers actions, telling the paper that every business has “the right to refuse service to whoever they don’t want there.”

Well as it turns out, no the restaurant cannot refuse service due to sexual orientation discrimination. (El Paso Times)

Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case determined that places of public accommodation cannot refuse to serve someone based purely on discrimination and must establish a reasonable basis for turning someone away.

Gay men and women have an additional protection in El Paso, where in 2003 the City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits restaurants and other businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, she said.

Local civil rights groups are upset and some gay people are protesting.

Word of the altercation between the gay men and the security guard spread quickly through El Paso. A text-message and e-mail campaign on Thursday urged people in the gay community and others to participate in a peaceful protest at 5 p.m. today in front of the Chico’s on Montwood. Thursday night, about 35 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos. Several held signs that read, “Equal rights,” and “I want to kiss in public” and “It was only a kiss.”

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