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Posts for December, 2009

Elane Photography Follow-up

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

Timothy Kincaid

December 19th, 2009

canon.jpgIn February 2008, Elane Photography was brought before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission because it refused to photograph the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock and her partner. Elane Photography, which consists of Elaine Huguenin and her husband, was found by the commission to have discriminated against Willock on the basis of sexual orientation, and was ordered to pay $6,637 for Willock\’s attorney\’s fees and costs.

Elane appealed. But this week a District Court Judge upheld that decision.

My sympathies are with Elaine Huguenin. I’ve read the correspondence between the two, and I’ve heard her interviewed. Huguenin is not a hater or a Culture Warrior. She’s just some woman who didn’t feel comfortable photographing an event that clashed with her belief system.

Where some might see Elaine, her views, and her opinions as an enemy that must be vanquished, I just see some woman being forced by the government to work where and when she doesn’t want to work. And I find that deeply troubling.

Some may see a distinction between Elaine, the person, and Elane, the business. But as one who works in the business world, I know that the distinction is only one of form and not of function. Bankruptcy law, tort, insurance, and practicality are such that those who offer their services for a living, even sole practitioners, need to have a corporate structure. People like Elaine Huguenin are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from their business and any restrictions placed on their company serve only as restrictions on them individually.

Most readers know that I am not wedded to non-discrimination policies to begin with. While I recognize that they were a valuable tool at breaking through institutionalized bigotries, especially racial bigotries, I am sympathetic to the notion that racists, homophobes, xenophobes, and bigots of all stripes have a right to their own beliefs, however abhorrent I may find them to be. And while I insist that any non-discrimination policies must include my community if they include any affected communities, I wonder if social pressure could not at this time play a stronger and more principled role than governmental coercion.

But whether or not you believe that non-discrimination policies should be in place, surely you’ll agree that this was never what we intended?

Americans cherish individuality above almost all else. And gay people know more than anyone that coercion to conform to the expectations of government is by its nature oppressive and prone to abuse. Surely it has never been our desire to force those who don’t like us to perform like puppets on a string?

The court has spoken. The law was broken. Elane Photography is not entitled to refuse to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies.

And that is a tragedy.

I believe it is time for New Mexico to change its law. A decent and reasonable compromise would be to follow the lead of many other states – and, indeed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the exceptions for for employment and limit the non-discrimination requirements to businesses with 15 or more employees.

Let Elane Photography limit its services to only heterosexual weddings, or only Catholic Weddings, or only weddings between persons of the same race. This is no hardship on us. Elaine Huguenin is not solely responsible for our happiness. Even in Albuquerque there are plenty of other choices.

And ultimately what kind of freedom will we have won to live our lives as we see best if it costs the freedom of others to do the same?

Ft. Worth Adds Transgenders to Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2009


Ft. Worth City Council last night expanded the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people by a 6-3 vote. City council also discussed a broader range of issues important to the LGBT community, including offering domestic-partner benefits and expanding the city health insurance plan to cover gender reassignment procedures, including sex changes. Discussions were contentious, both inside the packed hall and outside, where protesters from both sides had gathered. The Dallas Voice reports:

There were no arrests or major physical altercations, but there was plenty of taunting and some heated verbal exchanges. Participants from both sides later accused the other of elbowing and pushing, and one of the counterprotesters admitted to ripping a gay Pride flag.

LDS Church Supports Salt Lake LGBT Protections

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2009

 Yes, you read that right:

Hours after the LDS Church announced its support Tuesday night of proposed Salt Lake City ordinances aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination in housing and employment, the City Council unanimously approved the measures.

“The church supports these ordinances,” spokesman Michael Otterson told the council, “because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

The Mormon church has come under withering criticism over its overwhelming support in passing California’s Proposition 8, which stripped LGBT couples in that state the right to marry. The LDS’s massive efforts have led some to dub Prop 8 “The Mormon Amendment.” In addition to overall criticism, that campaign also proved to be highly divisive within the church itself.

Last year in the wake of that criticism, LDS leaders said that they had no problem with non-marriage related protections for LGBT people. In August 2008, the church issued a statement titled “The Divine Institution of Marriage” in which church leaders claimed to support “rights regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.” That spawned the “Common Ground” initiative, which consisted of a set of LGBT protections based on the LDS statement. But the LDS church turned around and blocked every single proposal in the state legislature which they had earlier said they could support.

LGBT leaders in Salt Lake City hail last night’s vote as a historic step, and the result of several months of quiet, behind-the-scenes meetings with church leaders. But noting that four-fifths of Utah’s LGBT citizens live outside the city, they vow to reintroduce the Common Ground proposals in the state legislature again this year.

Why the sudden turnaround after the Common Ground initiative failed to even make it out of committee in the state legislature last year? There are a couple of possibilities. First, Salt Lake City is not a Mormon bastion as the rest of the state is. Many former LDS people who wrote in to BTB this morning believe that this ordinance would have passed without LDS support. After all, this is the same city that has already instituted a domestic partnership registry. So by coming out in support of this ordinance, the reasoning goes, the church is able to turn what would have been seen as a defeat into positive publicity.

Meanwhile, others speculate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried (D-NV) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, both Mormons, may have played a hand. At any rate, the real test will be when the Common Ground initiative is brought back to the state legislature again next year.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the ordinances passed last night would:

  • Forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Salt Lake City.
  • Exempt religious organizations, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and some small landlords. (The exemptions mirror those in state and federal laws.)
  • “Not create any special rights or privileges,” the ordinances state, because “every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity.”
  • Create a complaint and investigation process. The complaint could be resolved through mediation or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Not create a “private right of action” to sue over alleged discrimination.
  • Require annual reports by the city’s Human Rights Commission on the effectiveness of the statutes.

Kalamazoo Claims Victory

Jim Burroway

November 3rd, 2009

One Kalamazoo, which has been facing a bruising election fight to retain that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance against a blistering attack by the religious right, is claiming victory (no link yet):

With only absentee ballots outstanding, 65 percent of Kalamazoo voters have approved Ordinance 1856 by a vote of 6,463 to 3,527, adding protections for gay and transgender people to the city\’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This margin is larger than the number of outstanding absentee ballots that are currently being counted.

Kalamazoo Episcopalians Step Up

Timothy Kincaid

November 3rd, 2009

episcopalToo often I am frustrated by Christendom turning over its name, image, and perceived doctrine over to the most conservative of its sects.

We all know that the faith encompasses a broad range of views ranging from devotion to literal translations of specific texts to general application of spiritual principles, from rigid conservative lifestyles to social religion, from a faith of love for all to a faith of hatred toward others. Yet when it comes to matters of social policy, especially that which involves the rights of gay folks, it seemed that the only Christian perspective presented for a long time was that of rejection, oppression, and condemnation.

But in recent years that appears to be changing. Mainline Christians are beginning to stand up and say that anti-gay activism is not a part of their belief structure and that, indeed, their faith demands that they treat gay people the way they want to be treated.

We have seen that with the United Church of Christ commercials (that were deemed too “controversial” for network television). We have seen it in the large number of diverse churches lending their name to oppose Proposition 8. We have increasingly seen it in local debates and discussions around the nation in which the neighborhood Methodist or Lutheran pastor shows up to balance out the anti-gay pastor who is trying to act as the spokesman for God.

And now we see it in the Episcopalians in Kalamazoo, MI. When the local Catholic Bishop endorsed keeping discrimination legal in the city, they knew they had to do something. So they raised the money and ran a full page color ad in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Sunday.

Check it out on the Towleroad site, here.

I especially like the message that the Kalamazoo Episcopalians sent to their neighbors: that they do not support gays in spite of their faith but because of it.

As Christians we believe that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong. The Episcopal Church has taken a strong stand against discrimination of all kinds including discrimination against our gay and transgender sisters and brothers.

So Christians in Kalamazoo, go vote yes on Ordinance 1856. Not only because its the right thing to do, but because it is the Christian thing to do as well.

The Push Is On For Equality

Jim Burroway

October 28th, 2009

We are just one week away from a very important election in three states. We are hearing that the National Organization for Marriage is making last-minute dumps of huge amounts of cash in Washington and Maine, while Kalamazoo, Michigan is facing a tremendous onslaught of misleading ads against their non-discrimination ordinance, which is also up for a vote. Not only can you contribute, but you can help out with phone banking — right from your own home or wherever you happen to be. The following message from the Courage Campaign is being carried by LGBT bloggers nationwide, including Box Turtle Bulletin. Please do what you can today and in the coming days to ensure that on November 3, there will be no regrets.

Who we are: Approve Referendum 71 is the campaign to preserve domestic partnerships in Washington State. By voting to approve, voters retain the domestic partnership laws that were passed during this year’s legislative session, including using sick leave to care for a partner, adoption rights, insurance rights, and more.

What we need: We need phone bankers to get our supporters out to vote. Washington is an all mail-in ballot state, and we need to ensure our supporters put their ballots in the mail. Also, youth turnout is a critical component of our campaign, and youth turnout historically drops in off-year elections. So we need a lot of help to turn them out.

How you do it: Sign up here to make remote calls for Approve 71. We’ll then contact you for a training, and you can make GOTV calls.

Who we are:
The No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign is working to protect Maine’s recently-passed law legalizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. Our opponents have put the issue on the ballot for Nov 3, 2009. Because of Maine’s early voting election laws, people are already voting at the polls, so we need help immediately to turn out our side at the polls.

What we need: We need you to devote a few hours to Call for Equality. Call for Equality is a virtual phonebank set up so that you can call Maine voters wherever you are. Much of Maine is rural, where canvassing isn’t effective, so we need to reach these voters- along with other supporters- by phone. All you need is a phone and internet connection. No experience required! We’ll provide the training, and all you need is a a few hours to help get a win in Maine.

How you do it: Click here to sign up for a training and your shift. There are lots of times available for your convenience.

Goal ThermometerKalamazoo, MI:
Who We Are: The Yes on Ordinance 1856 / One Kalamazoo campaign is working in Michigan to support the City Commission of Kalamazoo’s twice approved ordinance for housing, employment, and public accommodation protections for gay and transgender residents. Opponents forced a public referendum on the ordinance so dedicated local volunteers, led by former Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jon Hoadley, are working to ensure voters say YES to fairness and equality and keep Ordinance 1856.

Why The Urgency: In the final weeks, the opposition has gone all out with aggressive disinformation and misleading red herrings to try to defeat the ordinance. This includes signs that say “No to Discrimination” (even though voting No actually supports continued discrimination of GLBT residents), transphobic door hangers and fliers, and now radio ads that falsely suggest that criminal behavior will become legal when this simply isn’t true. The Yes on Ordinance 1856 supporters are better organized but many voters who want to vote for gay and transgender people are getting confused by the opposition.

How To Help:
1) Help the One Kalamazoo campaign raise a final $10,000 specifically dedicated to fight back against the lies on the local TV and radio airwaves and fully fund the campaign’s final field and GOTV efforts.

Give here:

2) If you live nearby and can physically volunteer in Kalamazoo sign up here. If you know anyone that lives in Kalamazoo, use the One Kalamazoo campaign’s online canvass tool to remind those voters that they need to vote on November 3rd and vote YES on Ordinance 1856 to support equality for gay and transgender people.

Contact voters:

Lots of Interest in What the Bible Says in Kalamazoo

Timothy Kincaid

September 29th, 2009

bibleforum LOC-1.jpg

On November 3, Kalamazoo residents will vote on whether to ban discrimination against LGBT residents. On June 8, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation for employment, housing and access to public accommodations. Anti-gay activists collected enough signatures to force a vote of the populace.

Republican activists Lorence and Nancy Wenke decided that residents needed to know just what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. Lorence Wenke is a former Republican Michigan House member who is running for the state Senate in 2010.

So the Wenkes sponsored a forum with ministers discussing scripture. But you probably have made some false assumptions about Wenke’s motivation. (

“The more that you talk about this issue and the more you get to know families struggling with this issue, the more you know the Bible doesn\’t condemn them,” Wenke said.

So Wenke’s forum was not limited to anti-gay messages. Rather, he presented three ministers who find scripture to condemn homosexuality and three that do not.

“It\’s only .002 percent of the entire Bible, an incredibly small slice,” Laney said. “Sexual orientation is not a choice; it\’s not a disorder. It\’s part of God\’s diverse creation.”

The Rev. Dr. Douglas Vernon, senior pastor of Kalamazoo\’s First United Methodist Church, agreed, saying the Bible may be taken “very seriously” but not always literally.

“We believe there is no one right way to interpret Scripture,” Vernon said.

The Rev. John Byl, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church, and the Rev. Dr. Paul Naumann, of St. Michael Lutheran Church, disagreed, saying the literal words are relevant and timeless.

But the most interesting thing about the forum is that it drew a lot of interest. Close to 800 people showed up.

The large turnout surprised Lorence Wenke, who said he was expecting about 300 people.

Wenke figures he’ll lose some conservative votes because of his sponsorship. But at least he’ll know that he was a good citizen, a good neighbor, and a valued ally.

Ohio House Passes Non-Discrimination Bill

Jim Burroway

September 15th, 2009

Five years after Ohio voters passed one of the most draconian anti-marriage constitutional amendments in the nation, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the Equal Housing and Employment Act by a vote of 56-38. Four Republicans voted for the measure, and no Democrats voted against (one did not vote however). This fully inclusive bill marks the first time a pro-LGBT bill has passed either house of the General Assembly.  The Senate is firmly in Republican hands, making the bill’s prognosis uncertain.

It’s Not Okay To Fire People Just For Being Gay

Jim Burroway

March 24th, 2009

So say the voters in Gainesville, Florida. The proposed city charter amendment which would have legalized firing gay people or denying them housing has gone down in flames. A defeat of 42% to 58% for Amendment 1 is pretty resounding and satisfying.

Gainseville, Florida to Legalize Discrimination?

Jim Burroway

February 24th, 2009

We’ve followed dozens of measures around the country to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. But never before not since Colorado’s Amendment 2 (which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996) have we seen a ballot measure which would actually legalize discrimination:

…a city charter amendment has been drafted by a Michigan group that would take away Gainesville’s local power to establish our own equal opportunity laws.

There has been a false fear-based campaign to cloak the true impact of this amendment that would damage people’s lives and diminish our community.

This amendment, if passed, would prohibit Gainesville from providing antidiscrimination protections not included in specific statutes of Florida law. This charter amendment would make it perfectly legal to fire someone or deny housing just because of sexual orientation or gender identity, since these protections are not in county, state or federal law. It would also be impossible for Gainesville to add protections for political affiliation or economic status.

The proposed charter amendment is in reaction to the passage of the 2008 Gender Identity Ordinance, which added a prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Update: Okay, I wrote this way too late last night. There have been plenty of instances where voters have decided to discriminate where discrimination had been outlawed previously. Our commenters are counting the ways. Go ahead and add your example to the list.

[Hat tip: Dan Savage]

Calling Mormon’s Bluff

Jim Burroway

February 3rd, 2009

Last week, a Utah Senate committee killed a bill allowing individuals who rely on a breadwinner to sue for wrongful death. The vote to kill the measure was on a strict LDS-membership vote. Equality Utah isn’t taking that set back lying down.

Over the weekend EQ UT began a billboard, radio and newspaper ad campaign reminding Utah legislators of the LDS statement that there is “common ground” on some rights for same-sex couples short of marriage. The newspaper ads appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret New. Equality Utah’s Common Ground initiative seized on the LDS statement and proposed five specific bills for the Utah legislature’s consideration:

  1. Domestic partnership benefits for state employees
  2. Fair housing and employment provisions
  3. Right to sue for wrongful deaths — the bill that was defeated last week
  4. Domestic partner registry with attached rights of inheritance, insurance, and fair housing
  5. a popular vote to modify Amendment 3, which bans same sex marriage and civil unions. Voters would be asked to modify the amendment to allow civil unions.

Kalamazoo City Council Rescinds Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, Vows To Try Again In February

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2009

We were very excited last month to learn that the Kalamazoo, Michigan, city commission voted unanimously to expand their anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation. But right away, the American Family Association of Michigan responded by announcing an effort to repeal the entire ordinance.

Well, last night after the AFA Michigan submitted petitions with 1,600 signatures, the commission voted 7-0 to rescind the law rather than have it go before the voters. Commissioner Stephanie Minor said, “We knew it would be rescinded on the basis that we were going to come back, reconvene, look at the ordinance and strengthen it, clarify it, and bring it back before the commission to bring it back.” The commission hopes to have a retooled ordinance back for a vote in February. Stay tuned.

AFA Michigan Fights Kalamazoo Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Jim Burroway

January 5th, 2009

Last month, we were happy to note that the city council of Kalamazoo, Michigan, voted to adopt an expanded anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it a municipal civil infraction to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender citizens. Now we learn that the anti-gay minions of the American Family Association of Michigan are working to overturn the ordinance:

City Clerk Scott Borling said former city commissioner and current Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema officially turned over 189 pages of petitions that circulators said contained about 1,600 signatures to overturn the ordinance. …Under the charter, if sufficient signatures are certified next week, the ordinance is immediately suspended and the Kalamazoo City Commission must either repeal the entire ordinance or put it on the ballot for city voters to decide.

Congratulations Kalamazoo

Timothy Kincaid

December 2nd, 2008

From the Kalamazoo Gazette:

The Kalamazoo City Commission voted 7-0 Monday night to adopt an expanded anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it a municipal civil infraction to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender citizens.

The ordinance makes it illegal to use sexual orientation to discriminate in housing, public accommodations and employment and carries a fine of $500.

Obama Transition Team’s Inclusive Non-Discrimination Policy

Jim Burroway

November 6th, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama’s transition office is hiring, and they’ve posted their job application form on the web. This is your chance to work for the White House. And guess what? In the new administration, you’ll be protected from discrimination regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity:

The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.

This statement goes above and beyond the legal requirements. Currently employers are free to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Gender Identity is not included in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s policy on non-discrimination. The Bush administration’s appointments page does not contain a non-discrimination policy.

Things are already looking up.

[Hat tip: Connecticut Employment Law Blog]

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