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Archive for July 2009

PM Kevin Rudd told ABC Radio that Australia’s ban on gay marriage would remain

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told ABC Radio on Wednesday that Australia’s ban on gay marriage would remain, despite moves within his centre-left Labor Party to have it overturned.

He was speaking ahead of the Australian Labor Party’s national conference, which begins in Sydney on Thursday. The gay marriage issue will be discussed at the conference.

Rallies in support of gay marriage are set to be held around the country on Friday.

Rudd, who considers himself a moderate Christian, won the 2007 election on a platform that supported the former conservative government’s legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“We went to the last election being very clear-cut about our position on marriage, under the Marriage Act, being between a man and a woman,” he told public broadcaster ABC.

“We are consistent with the policy we took to the last election,” Rudd said.

“I fully respect the integrity of other same-sex relationships … but in terms of the policy, it’s a matter to which we have been committed for some time,” he added.

“I fully accept it’s a matter of controversy, and there’ll be debate, and there should be. This is an open society where we can debate and discuss these matters.”

A recent poll suggested up to 60 percent of Australians supported gay marriage, and the statistics bureau in May announced it would count same-gender couples who declared themselves married in the national census.

Rudd said his government had moved rapidly to remove the “other discriminations” in national law against same-gender couples in areas such as pensions, tax and employment.

The equal marriage issue is set to heat up further in the coming days, with activists to target the 45th ALP National Conference, which begins Thursday in Sydney.

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July 29, 2009 at 10:41 pm

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UN allows LGBT organization from Brazil to participate in U.N. meetings ranging from health to human rights

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The United Nations granted official status to a gay and lesbian organization from Brazil on Monday, allowing the group to participate in formal meetings of the world body despite opposition from some members.

The action in favor of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals was made by the UN Economic and Social Council. The victory for the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals marks the third consecutive year the U.N. Economic and Social Council has overturned a decision by a 19-country committee blocking gay groups from participating in the global body’s debates.

“If the U.N. cannot be open and diverse, then we are really set for failure,” said Guilherme Patriota, a senior Brazilian diplomat. “There are another 400 NGOs seeking the same status next year. We need to keep working on making the U.N. more open to plurality and diversity.”

The Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals, a national network of 203 organizations, assists the government with HIV/AIDS programs.

Held by more than 3,000 groups at the UN, consultative status allows Non-governmental Organizations to participate in activities such as conferences, and to provide advice in their area of expertise.

Also on Monday, the United Nations decided to bar an Arab human rights group for a year after Algeria argued that it brought in a “known terrorist” to speak on its behalf at a meeting in Geneva.

In a complaint to the NGO Committee, Algeria said the group violated rules last year by putting up as a speaker Swiss-based lawyer Rachid Mesli, against whom Algiers has issued an arrest warrant as a member of an “armed terrorist group”.

Hani said Mesli was a lawyer who fled Algeria after being prosecuted for defending members of the now defunct Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) which fought the state in the 1990s.

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July 28, 2009 at 8:23 pm

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HBO scored highest among 15 networks for its representation of gay characters

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In its third annual Network Responsibility Index, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that HBO scored highest among 15 networks for its representation of gay characters.

“Overall, we saw positive signs in the inclusion of LGBT characters on television,” said Rashad Robinson, senior director of media programs at GLAAD. “ABC continues to do well, HBO is stepping up in diversity, and we hope that CBS and NBC will be able to better reflect the American scenes on their shows.”

Among the five broadcast and 10 of the highest-rated cable networks, once again none earned the top “excellent” ranking, with five, including NBC and CBS, getting a “failing” grade.

Four networks were rated “good,” led by HBO with 42 percent representation of LGBT characters, a 16 percent increase from last year. Virtually all non-sports original HBO series included LGBT content, with shows such as “True Blood” and “The No. 1 Lades Detective Agency” lauded for featuring “complex and authentic LGBT characters from diverse backgrounds.”

Cable’s Showtime ranked second, with 26 percent of its programming hours featuring gay characters or themes. Series included “The L Word,” “Weeds” and “The United States of Tara,” a new comedy about a family whose teenage son is gay.

ABC got the highest ranking of the five broadcast networks, with 24 percent. It was the second year in a row that ABC led the broadcasters.

Among ABC series, the report cited newlyweds Kevin and Scotty on “Brothers & Sisters,” the engagement of Andrew to Dr. Alex Cominis on “Desperate Housewives” and bisexual Dr. Callie Torres on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The CW logged 20 percent, and the Fox network 11 percent, the report said.

Fox significantly increased its LGBT representation, from 4 percent to 11 percent, and improved its grade from “failing” to “adequate,” mostly because of bisexual characters on “House” and “Bones.” The network’s comedy-drama series “Glee,” which premiered in May, “shows excellent promise” with its gay characters, the study said. But GLAAD also noted that Fox’s tally includes some “problematic LGBT content,” including what it qualifies as a “homophobic critique” on “So You Think You Can Dance” by judge Nigel Lythgow and an “offensive” gay-themed episode of “Family Guy.”

TNT posted the biggest overall rise, from a single hour (1 percent) of content last year to 19 percent, improving its “failing” grade to “adequate,” mostly because of a regular character on “Raising the Bar.”

NBC showed a small increase in LGBT representation (from 6 percent to 8 percent) but still earned a “failing” grade. In addition to a regular character on midseason drama “Southland,” which is returning this fall, the network is adding a lesbian storyline to flagship drama “Heroes” next season.

CBS saw the greatest decline among the broadcast networks, dropping to last place among them with 5 percent LGBT depiction, with the bulk of it, 72 percent, on unscripted series such as “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor.”

“Television shows that weave our stories into the fabric of the series present richer, more diverse representations,” Rashad Robinson said.

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July 27, 2009 at 8:04 pm

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Best-selling gay black author dies at age 54

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E. Lynn Harris, whose best-selling novels explored the lives of black men in gay relationships, has died Thursday night after being stricken at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

An improbable and inspirational success story, Harris worked for a decade as an IBM executive before taking up writing, selling the novel “Invisible Life” from his car as he visited salons and beauty parlors around Atlanta. He had unprecedented success for an openly gay black author and his strength as a romance writer led some to call him the “male Terry McMillan.”

In 15 years, Harris became the genre’s most successful author, penning 11 titles, ten of them New York Times bestsellers. More than four million of his books are in print.

Harris endeared such characters to readers who were otherwise unfamiliar with them, using themes and backdrops familiar to urban professionals, conditioned by their upbringings, their church leaders or their friends to condemn and criticize homosexuality in the African-American community. A proud Razorback cheerleader at the University of Arkansas who struggled with his own sexuality before becoming a pioneer of gay black fiction, Harris died Thursday on a business trip to Los Angeles, California.

Harris’ storytelling fell into several categories, including gay and lesbian fiction, African American fiction and urban fiction. But he found success in showing readers a new side of African American life: the secret world of professional, bisexual black men living as heterosexuals.

His readers, many of them young black, professional women of dating age, were fascinated and shocked to learn that the men in their lives could be attracted to other men. Harris’ vivid storytelling — at least somewhat grounded in his reality and of others whom he knew — pulled back the curtain for some and held up the mirror for others.

“He was a pioneering voice within the black LGBT community, but also resonated with mainstream communities, regardless of race and sexual orientation,” said Herndon Davis, a gay advocate and a diversity media consultant in Los Angeles. “Harris painted with eloquent prose and revealing accuracy the lives of African American men and the many complicated struggles they faced reconciling their sexuality and spirituality while rising above societal taboos within the black community.”

In books like “Invisible Life,” “A Love of My Own,” and his New York Times best-selling memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” Harris virtually invented a new genre: books that depicted black gay men living double lives.

Though Harris wrote primarily about black gay men, some of his biggest fans were black women. His books became staples in black beauty salons, bookstores and book clubs.

“It was hard to go on a subway in places in New York or D.C. and not see some black woman reading an E. Lynn Harris novel,” Boykin said.

Tilia Parks read “Invisible Life” as a 16-year-old and was moved by the struggle of someone so close to her own age.

“I loved the truthfulness of it,” said Parks, now 26, of Atlanta. “I’d never heard that point of view, of a guy finding himself and his sexuality at such a young age.”

Parks had looked forward to the next plot twist for the book’s main character, Raymond Tyler, who reappeared in subsequent titles has not been in Harris’ more recent works. With Harris’ death, Parks is saddened that his story may be gone.

“Loyal readers were looking for that,” Parks said. “I’m so sad. I was waiting for him to come back around and start talking about Raymond.”

Tina McElroy Ansa, author of “Taking After Mudear,” met Harris at the beginning of his literary career when he was selling his first book “Invisible Life.” She said they were both so poor they only had enough money to buy each other’s book.

Ansa said she took Harris’ “Invisible Life” home and was stunned by the time she reached page 20. She came across a scene where Harris depicted two black men playing in the snow with one another.

She immediately dropped the book, called Harris and told him she had never read such a scene before.

“I had never seen homosexual love in African-American men portrayed that way,” she says. “It was playful, loving, and it wasn’t hidden.”

Years later, when Harris became successful, he thanked Ansa for her early encouragement.

“He gave me a string of pearls,” Ansa said.

In 2000, Harris told the magazine Entertainment Weekly how important “Invisible Life” was for him.

”When I wrote “Invisible Life,” it had to be the first book out of me – it helped me to deal with my own sexuality,” Harris said. “‘For me, my 20s and early 30s were spent just hiding and running, because there was no one to tell me that my life had value and the way I felt was okay.”

Harris was as generous with his fans as he was with his friends, some said.

They describe an author who held dinner parties for aspiring writers at his home, loved meeting and hugging fans at book readings, and never seemed to let his fame change him.

“You could get trampled at an E. Lynn Harris reading,” Ansa said. “People loved him.”

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July 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm

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“Back to Black” singer showed her pink ballet shoes in an effort to show that she could not have possibly punched a fan who asked to take her picture

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The 25-year-old “Back to Black” singer is on trial accused of hitting dancer Sherene Flash in the eye after the fan asked to take her picture following a September charity ball in London’s Berkeley Square.

District Judge Timothy Workman found the 25-year-old singer not guilty of punching dancer Sherene Flash in the eye after the fan asked to take her picture following a charity ball in September.

Prosecutors claimed it was a deliberate assault. But Winehouse said she had felt intimidated by the drunken Flash and claimed she was too short to have hit the dancer in the face.

“I’m probably 5 feet 2 inches to 3 inches tall,” she said before rearranging her 8-inch black beehive hair and adding: “But my hair does make a difference.”

Winehouse left the witness box to show Workman her shoes, which she said were similar to those she wore on the night of the alleged assault.

“Miss Flash came over and put her arm around me. She lent down. She’s taller than me. I had flat shoes on,” she said. “I had shoes on like this. In fact these are the very shoes I had on that night. Look, they don’t even have a heel.”

Describing herself as an undemanding, low-maintenance celebrity, Winehouse said on the stand, “I’m not a Jennifer Lopez, paint the room white before I get there, and I want five bunches of lilies.”

By the same measure, said Winehouse, Flash “was pretty much leaning on me. She’s a big girl. She was being overly presumptuous. I’m not Mickey Mouse. I’m a human being.”

The judge said that after hearing the evidence, he could not be sure the blow had been deliberate.

“The charge is dismissed and the defendant discharged,” he said.

Winehouse, dressed in a knee-length black skirt, gray jacket and white shirt, shrugged as the verdict was announced. She remained in the dock until her lawyer spoke to her, apparently clarifying the verdict.

“I’m relieved. I’m going home,” she said as she left court through a jostling pack of photographers and television cameras.

In a statement read by a spokesman, the singer said she was “very happy to move on with her life and put the episode behind her.”

During the two-day trial at London’s City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, prosecutors accused Winehouse of punching Flash after a ball in London’s Berkeley Square.

Prosecutor Lyall Thompson said the incident was “a deliberate assault by Miss Winehouse.”

But Winehouse said she had felt intimidated when Flash “lunged at me and put her arm around me,” and had only meant to push the other woman’s arm away.

“I was scared,” Winehouse said Thursday. “I thought ‘People are mad these days, people are just rude and mad, or people can’t handle their drink.’ ”

Winehouse’s lawyer, Patrick Gibbs, said “the main injury here was probably to Miss Flash’s pride.”

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July 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm

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Pride House for gay athletes and their companions at the 2010 Winter Olympics

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For the first time in Olympic history, gay and lesbian athletes will have a place to call their own.

Pride House, which promises to be an inclusive hangout and social space for gay and lesbian athletes, will be located in the Pan Pacific Hotel in Whistler Village, site of the skiing and sliding events, about a two-hour drive from Vancouver. It is the idea of Dean Nelson, chief executive of the promotional company GayWhistler, which organizes the annual Winter Pride festival.

“It is really important to have a safe space for out athletes, coaches, fans and allies to come and hang out, share their stories, trade pins and have fun,” Dean Nelson said.

Nelson says Canadians often forget the hardships faced by gay people in other parts of the world where homosexuality remains illegal. “This could be the first time they could go to a space in a secure environment and be themselves,” he said.

He stresses it is not going to be like a gay bar. “It’s a gay-positive space where people can hang out,” Nelson said. “It’s an intimate space.”

Pride House will help break down gender discrimination barriers that have long existed in the Olympics, according to Kevin Wamsley, an Olympic historian. “The IOC has been skirting around the issue of sexuality since it began,” said Wamsley, a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

Wamsley said the Olympics, built around the traditional societal model of strong men and feminine women, has not been a friendly place for homosexuals in the past.

“It has been an uncomfortable issue for the IOC since the 1920s. That’s because sport is one of those forms of culture that has produced a gender binary for western and eastern civilizations. When you start to blur the lines of sexuality, people in the past have gotten the hair on their neck up.”

Nelson said he and several others started working on Pride House about three years ago as an extension of efforts GayWhistler and others made to hold the North American Gay Games.

“There is a huge contingent of athletes out there, some of them are Olympic calibre. The Olympics is generally a pretty homophobic structure where being out is not really encouraged,” he said. “We’re hoping we can be a catalyst and change that perception, that you can be your authentic self.”

Still, the current field of out-of-the-closet homosexual athletes is relatively sparse. It’s easier to name former Olympic athletes such as Mark Tewksbury, the Canadian swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and went on to be named Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year all before announcing in 1998 that he was gay.

Nelson says some Olympic sponsors have expressed an interest in supporting the initiative, which he describes as another way of showcasing the inclusiveness that is being touted as part of the 2010 Games.

“We’re reaching out and bringing the queer element to the Games,” Nelson said. “The final frontier of homophobia is in the sports field. It’s there but nobody talks about it.”

Of the 10,708 athletes who marched into Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium last summer, Outsports website was aware of only 10 who are publicly gay, on par with the 2004 Games. There was also a bisexual American softball player.

Outsports says the reasons athletes stay in the closet are varied, but revolve primarily around fear of the consequences of being out.

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July 21, 2009 at 2:56 pm

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Former President Bill Clinton now favors the freedom to marry

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Former President Bill Clinton has come out in support of gay marriage. The former president was speaking at the liberal Campus Progress National Conference when he was asked if he personally supported gay marriage. Said Bill: “Yeah.” “I personally support people doing what they want to do,” Clinton said. “I think it’s wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that.”

This spring, same-gender marriage was legalized in Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire. In his most recent remarks on the subject, Clinton said, “I think all these states that do it should do it.” The former president, however, added that he does not believe that same-gender marriage is “a federal question.”

The former president He joins a list of other high profile political leaders including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Christopher Dodd , former NY Senate leader Joe Bruno, Republican operatives Roger Stone and Steve Schmidt, and former Vice President Dick Cheney who have all within the past few weeks endorsed the freedom to marry.

“Bill Clinton joins other important public figures in stepping solidly into the twenty-first century in support of same-sex marriage equality,” said the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s executive director Rea Carey. “We certainly hope other elected officials, including President Obama, join him in clearly stating their support for equality in this country. Same-sex couples should not have to experience second-class citizenship.”

Clinton opposed gay marriage during his presidency, and in 1996, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited federal recognition of marriage to one man and one woman. During his tenure, Mr. Clinton also accepted a compromise establishing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning gay personnel from openly serving in the military.

Both of those policies have come under fire during the past few months as gay rights activists have become frustrated with the Obama administration. President Obama promised during the campaign to repeal both DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but his administration has taken little action on either front. While Mr. Obama granted some rights to same-sex couples in the federal government, they did not include health care, and many complained the move was far from sufficient.

In May of this year, Clinton told a crowd at Toronto’s Convention Centre that his position on gay marriage was “evolving.”

Apparently, Clinton’s thinking has now further evolved. Asked if he would commit his support for gay marriage, Clinton responded, “I’m basically in support.”

“President Clinton’s support for the freedom to marry has evolved over time, and shows the power we each have when we talk about why marriage matters to the people we know and help them rise to fairness,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of “Freedom to marry”.

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July 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm

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