Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No Child Is Left Behind (Unless They "Tell")

Fla. town backs ex-principal in gay student case

PONCE DE LEON, Fla. — When a high school senior told her principal that students were taunting her for being a lesbian, he told her homosexuality is wrong, outed her to her parents and ordered her to stay away from children.

He suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at Ponce de Leon High School, according to court records. And he asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students.

The American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued the district on behalf of a girl who protested against Principal David Davis, and a federal judge reprimanded Davis for conducting a "witch hunt" against gays. Davis was demoted, and school employees must now go through sensitivity training.

And despite all that, many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.

"We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong," said Steve Griffin, Holmes County's school superintendent, who keeps a Bible on his desk and framed Scriptures on his office walls.

Holmes County, on the Georgia line, has about 20,000 residents. There is some agriculture, but most people are employed either by prisons or schools; some commute to the Gulf Coast to work in tourism. Ponce de Leon, with fewer than 500 residents, has a cafe, a post office and an antique store.

Many in the community support Davis and feel outsiders are forcing their beliefs on them. Griffin, who kicked Davis out of the principal's office but allowed him to continue teaching at the school, said high schoolers here aren't exposed to the same things as kids in Atlanta or Chicago.

"I don't think we are that different from a lot of districts, at least in the Panhandle, that have beliefs that maybe are different from societal changes," Griffin said.

Gay rights activists said that's no excuse for what Davis did.

The problems began last fall when Davis, who did not return phone messages from The Associated Press, admonished the senior, who is identified only as "Jane Doe" in court records and whose friends say she doesn't want to talk about the experience.

The friends donned gay pride T-shirts and rainbow-colored clothing when they found out how Davis had treated her, and he questioned many of them about their sexuality and association with gay students. Some were suspended.

"Davis embarked on what can only be characterized as a 'witch hunt' to identify students who were homosexual and their supporters, further adding fuel to the fire," U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak recounted in his ruling. "He went so far as to lift the shirts of female students to insure the letters 'GP' or the words 'Gay Pride' were not written on their bodies."

Heather Gillman, an 11th-grader who took part in the protests, complained to her mother, Ardena, a 40-year-old corrections officer and mother of three. Ardena Gillman called the ACLU, even though she knew people would be angry.

"I just felt like I had to stand up for the kids. Heather wanted to do this, and I had to back her," she said.

Ardena hoped to protect the students' freedom of speech — whether it was the freedom to wear Confederate flag T-shirts to show Southern pride or the freedom to wear rainbow T-shirts to support gay rights.

Courts have repeatedly ruled that similar student protests are constitutional as long as they are not disruptive.

"I think a shirt that says 'I support gays' is very different from a shirt that says 'Gays are going to hell,'" said Benjamin Stevenson, an ACLU attorney. "One can be very disruptive for a child's self-esteem; the other supports other people and their ideas."

Ardena Gillman also knew some of the students would need to learn to be tolerant.

"What happens when these kids get out in the real world after they leave Ponce de Leon and they have a black, homosexual supervisor at their job?" she said.

The ACLU sued in January, and Smoak ruled this summer that Davis violated Heather Gillman's rights.

"I emphasize that Davis's personal and religious views about homosexuality are not issues in this case. Indeed, Davis's opinions and views are consistent with the beliefs of many in Holmes County, in Florida, and in the country," Smoak wrote in an opinion released last month. "Where Davis went wrong was when he endeavored to silence the opinions of his dissenters."

As Ardena Gillman suspected, the lawsuit created hard feelings in town.

A Wal-Mart worker yelled at her, accusing her of trying to "bankrupt" the school district, which was ordered to pay $325,000 in ACLU attorney fees. One of her friends has refused to talk to her because the lawsuit conflicted with the woman's religious beliefs.

Others flatly hail Davis as a hero.

"David Davis is a fine man and good principal, and we are a gentle, peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community," said Bill Griffin, 73 and a lifelong Ponce de Leon resident who is no relation to the district superintendent. "We aren't out to tar and feather anyone."

The lawsuit could reflect a division between the high school students who have grown up in an era of gay tolerance and the community's elders, said Gary Scott, a school board member.

"But I think that's less of an issue here than in Miami or Minnesota," he said.

The judge's scathing rebuke left Scott questioning how his community's beliefs could be so different from the judge's opinion.

"I guess I didn't realize we were this bad," Scott said.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gay US bishop fights exclusion from meeting

LONDON — The first openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop was barred from a once-a-decade Anglican meeting so he wouldn't become a focus of the global event.

Anglicans on all sides of the issue agree: The strategy has backfired.

New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson has been embraced by sympathetic Anglicans in England and Scotland who view his exclusion as an affront to their Christian beliefs.

Robinson plans several appearances on the outskirts of the Lambeth Conference to be what he called a "constant and friendly" reminder of gays in the church.

"I'm just not willing to let the bishops meet and pretend that we don't exist," Robinson said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press before preaching at St. Mary's Church Putney. "They've taken vows to serve all the people in dioceses, not just certain ones."

The Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, did not include Robinson and a few other bishops in the conference as he tried to prevent a split in the world Anglican Communion.

The 77 million-member fellowship — the third-largest in the world behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians — has been on the brink of schism since Robinson was consecrated in 2003. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S.

Robinson and Episcopal leaders had tried for years to negotiate a role for the New Hampshire bishop at Lambeth, but were unsuccessful. He resolved to come to England anyway.

"I'm not storming the pulpit to wrestle the microphone from the archbishop," Robinson said. "My agenda is this: What does the church's treatment of gay and lesbian people say about God? You've got all these people talking about gays and lesbians being an abomination before God. Does that make you want to run out and go to an Anglican church and sing God's praises?"

Robinson preached Sunday at the 16th-century parish on the Thames River, despite a request from Williams that he not do so. A protester briefly interrupted the sermon, waving a motorcycle helmet and yelling "Repent!" and "Heretic!" before he was escorted out.

An emotional Robinson resumed preaching, asking parishioners to "pray for that man" and urging them repeatedly not to fear change in the church.

On Monday night, Robinson will join Sir Ian McKellan at a London literary festival for the British premiere of "For the Bible Tells Me So," a documentary about gay Christians that features Robinson.

Next Sunday, after the Lambeth Conference holds its opening worship in Canterbury Cathedral, Robinson will join Anglican gays and lesbians in a separate service nearby. He will then sit in the public exhibition hall near the assembly sessions to be available for conversation.

A group of Episcopal bishops have organized two private receptions where Anglicans from other parts of the world can meet him. When the conference ends Aug. 3, he heads to Scotland where he has been invited to preach at Anglican parishes.

Robinson was a target of death threats at his consecration and wore a bulletproof vest throughout the ceremony. He said the threats resumed a few months ago when he published a book about his religious views. He has arranged personal security in England, but said he could not disclose details. Donors are covering the cost for the extra protection, he said. His partner of two decades, Mark Andrew, is traveling with him but declined to be interviewed.

Bishop Martyn Minns, a former Episcopal priest who now leads a breakaway network of U.S. conservatives, said in a recent interview that although organizers of the Lambeth Conference intended to move the topic off Robinson, their plan was bound to fail.

"He will end up getting all the attention," Minns said.

Minns was also barred from Lambeth. He was consecrated by the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria, which created the U.S. parish network despite an Anglican tradition of respecting the boundaries of other provinces.

For many theological conservatives, Robinson's consecration was the final straw in a long-running debate over how Anglicans should interpret Scripture. Last month in Jerusalem, traditionalists created a worldwide network of conservatives to separate from liberal Anglicans without fully breaking away from the communion. More than 200 conservative bishops are boycotting Lambeth because Episcopal leaders who consecrated Robinson will be there.

Robinson said he felt "pretty devastated" when he learned he would not be allowed to participate in the conference, a key meeting that affirms membership in the communion.

He said he was also worried that he would flub his appearances in England this month.

"I so want to be a good steward of this opportunity. I want to do God proud," he said. "I have this wonderful opportunity to bring hope to people who find the church a hopeless place."


On the Net:

Lambeth Conference:

New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson:

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Right to Choose

Gay Groups Reach Out to Straight Allies
By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer
Sat., Oct 13, 2007

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The setting was intimate, the hors d'oeuvres simple and the hostess barefoot, but the house party Gabby Seagrave and LaDonna Silva held for a dozen friends and co-workers was hardly a spontaneous affair.

Over wine and cheese last week, guests signed a form signaling their support for same-sex marriage.

In the couple's family room, they took a quiz on marriage laws and watched a television commercial that could have been for diamond rings, but asked, "What if you couldn't marry the person you loved?"

Such house parties and ad campaigns are just two ways in which gay rights activists are courting sympathetic heterosexuals. They hope these "straight allies" can help persuade a majority of Americans to back their causes.

Bridget Goin, one of the non-gay party invitees to Silva and Seagrave's party, was moved enough by night's end to pledge $20 a month to the gay rights group that helped the domestic partners plan the gathering.

Goin also offered to host a similar reception at her house. "If I have the privilege, maybe I'm the one who has the power to do something about it," said Goin, who is in her second marriage. Though the campaign's messages are often aimed at heterosexuals who have a personal connection with someone who is gay, the initiatives have a purely practical side.

"There are a lot more straight people than LGBT people," said Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Huckaby said a straight person has a better chance of convincing someone who may be on the fence on an issue like same-sex marriage than a gay advocate to whom the target of the appeal cannot as easily relate.
"It's important that those of us who work for equality realize the decision makers are the neighbors next door who will be voting in the next election, who will be talking in their faith communities about their stances on homosexuality," he said.

Among other efforts to recruit straight allies:

- PFLAG recently launched a new Web site, endorsed by the advice columnist who writes "Dear Abby," to enlist straight supporters in speaking out against anti-gay jokes and slurs.
- Two Texas groups arranged for straight allies to lead overnight vigils in 30 U.S. cities to draw attention to the discrimination faced by gay men, lesbians and transgender people.
- Next week, hundreds of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at high schools across the country have scheduled "Ally Weeks" to encourage teachers and students to help make their campuses more welcoming for gay classmates and colleagues.
- A gay rights media watchdog group recently rolled out a series of "Be an Ally & a Friend" public service announcements airing on "Access Hollywood" and featuring straight television actors such as Eric Mabius from "Ugly Betty."

Gay rights is not the first social movement to seek supporters among allies who were once considered adversaries, said David Meyers, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine.
White liberals found a place, though sometimes uneasily, championing civil rights for black Americans during the 1960s. Feminists lobbying for an Equal Rights Amendment eventually welcomed men to their ranks during the 1970s.

There is a risk to the strategy activists may be asked to put some goals on the back burner while working with outsiders, Meyers said. An example of that is playing out right now in Congress, where Democratic lawmakers are trying to enact a law that would protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination, but exclude transgender people.

"It's the way you win some stuff," Meyers said. "In every successful movement in the past, there was always important stuff they didn't win."

Sparking conversations is the goal of house parties like the one hosted by Silva, a graduate student, and Seagrave, a police sergeant, as part of the "Let California Ring" campaign.
Equality California, the state's largest gay rights lobbying group, has come up with a list of talking points for supporters who are unsure how to broach the topic of gay marriage.

"It doesn't matter if it's through the courts, the ballot or the Legislature, it's the public understanding of the issue that is the key to being successful in any attempt to have equality," Executive Director Geoffrey Kors said.
On the Net:
Watch the ad:
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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hate is "an attack on all of us".

Clergy call for passage of Matthew Shepard Act

More than 1,300 sign letter directed at Senate

by Christopher Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 1,300 faith leaders have signed onto a letter urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Matthew Shepard Act (S.B. 1105), a bill which would update the current hate crimes law. Additionally, a new full-page print ad appeared in a recent edition of Roll Call that highlights the broad support of black clergy and civil rights leaders voicing support for hate crimes legislation. The new ad is sponsored by a coalition that includes the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Black Justice Coalition.

The letter was released by HRC, along with a coalition of organizations that include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Interfaith Alliance, and the Religious Action Center. The 1,385 faith leaders signing the letter represent a broad spectrum of religious voices urging passage of a hate crimes bill that is expected for a Senate vote in the near future.

The letter states, “We would not support a bill that did not contain ample protections for free speech, including preaching and statements of religious belief. This law does not criminalize or impede upon religious expression in any way.” Read the complete letter at

In addition to the letter, the ad features a theologically diverse group of black clergy representing tens of thousands of Americans speaking out in support of proposed hate crimes legislation.

The ad states, “As leaders in the black clergy community, we want to voice our strong support for the Matthew Shepard Act. Our faith tells us that an act of hate upon one member of our community — whether because of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability — is an attack on all of us.”

The Matthew Shepard Act would update the current hate crimes statute, enacted in 1964, to include more Americans and provide increased protections for those groups already covered under existing law. Nothing in the legislation prohibits the lawful expression of one’s deeply held religious beliefs. Neither the current hate crimes law nor the expanded measures criminalize thoughts or speech; they only criminalize violent acts.

During the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the bill, committee members explicitly noted that point. To further ensure that there was no ambiguity, an additional amendment offered by Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) was adopted at markup. The amendment unequivocally stated that conduct protected under the First Amendment’s free expression and free exercise clauses was not subject to prosecution.

On May 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592), by a strong margin of 237 to 180 — with more than 20 Republicans voting in support.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Catholic adoption agency closes rather than accept gay couples

27th July 2007 16:05 writer

A Roman Catholic adoption charity is to turn away children in care because it refuses to accept the government's gay rights laws.

Catholic Care will end its 100-year-old adoption service, which places 20 children with new families every year, because it does not want to help same-sex couples adopt.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, passed earlier this year, protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods and services.

Now all adoption agencies have to accept same-sex couples as possible parents.

The charity is one of seven Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor threatened to close because of the laws. They receive a total of £10 million a year from local councils.

The government briefly considered an opt out for Roman Catholic adoption agencies.

After meeting with MPs and the Cabinet in January, former Prime Minister Tony Blair bowed to strong criticism from his own party over the exemption.

Ben Summerskill, who as head of gay equality organisation Stonewall spearheaded oppoosition to an exemption for Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies, told

"Our clear view is that if you run a public service then you have to abide by the health and safety legislation, and equality legislation too.

"That applies to adoption agencies just as it does to anyone else - no one is above the law

"It is not entirely clear that this is the only reason that Catholic adoption agencies are considering closing.

"Because of the way that social services are now contracted out, a number of smaller agencies have been closing in recent years.

"It would be utterly reprehensible if the Catholic Church were to use closures that were going to take place anyway as an excuse for alarmist claims about important new legislation that supports equality."

Catholic Care decided to stop finding families for children after a vote by its trustees, led by the Bishop of Leeds.

In a statement, the charity said it had reconsidered its work in light of the new Government legislation, according to the Daily Mail.

The charity finds couples and individuals – both Catholic and non-Catholic – willing to adopt, pairs them with children and helps them through the adoption process.

Over the last 20 years, 13 of the 720 adopted children placed by Catholic charities have been with same-sex single people. The Vatican believes gay adoptions are "gravely immoral."

A permanent family is considered the best way to ensure a better life for the 60, 000 children living in care homes and with foster parents.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Delivered from their darkness"

Jewish leaders and community groups criticised Pope Benedict XVI strongly yesterday after the head of the Roman Catholic Church formally removed restrictions on celebrating an old form of the Latin Mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to "be delivered from their darkness" and converted to Catholicism.

In a highly controversial concession to traditionalist Catholics, Pope Benedict said he had decided to allow parish priests to celebrate the Latin Tridentine Mass if a "stable group of faithful" request it.

But he stressed that he was in no way undoing the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council which allowed the Mass to be said in vernacular languages for the first time.

"What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful," Benedict wrote.

But the older rite's prayers calling on God to "lift the veil from the eyes" of the Jews and end "the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ" have sparked outrage.

Yesterday the Anti-Defamation League, the American-based Jewish advocacy group, called the papal decision a "body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations".

"We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted," said Abraham Foxman, the group's national director, in Rome.

"It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the church that rejects change and reconciliation."

Some bishops in France as well as liberal clergy and Catholics elsewhere have expressed concerns that allowing freer use of the Tridentine liturgy would imply a negation of Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that modernised the Roman Catholic Church.

They also feared it could create divisions in parishes, since two different liturgies would be celebrated.

The liberal French Catholic magazine Temoignage Chretien published an editorial in Latin explaining that it was not concerned about the language in which the Mass was celebrated but by "the view of the outside world held by most supporters of the traditional rite ... of a church that sees itself as the sole holder of the truth. Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, this stand is untenable".

Benedict has told bishops that such fears are "unfounded" as the Mass celebrated in the vernacular remained the "normal" form while the older version was an "extraordinary" one that would probably be sought by only relatively few Catholics.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said the new rules did not "impose any return to the past, nor any weakening of the authority of the council, nor the authority and responsibility of bishops".

Benedict was acting in a bid to reach out to the followers of a French ultra-traditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over the introduction of the new Mass and other Vatican II reforms. He was excommunicated in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent. The bishops were excommunicated as well.

The group has expressed rejoicing and thanked Benedict for the move.

In one small village in western France, a church was recently occupied by Catholic traditionalists demanding a Mass in Latin.

A new priest, replacing a conservative who led the parish for 40 years, had been ordered by the local bishop to end the unauthorised but previously tolerated older rites.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Kill him! Kill him!"

Peter Foster, Delhi
June 20, 2007

A SENIOR minister in the Pakistani Government has urged Muslim countries to break diplomatic relations with London and claimed a suicide bomb attack would be a justified response to author Salman Rushdie's knighthood.

The Pakistan Parliament called on the British Government to reverse the decision to award the knighthood or face further protests from Muslim nations.

"If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Muhammad, his act is justified," the Minister for Religious Affairs, Ijaz ul-Haq, told Pakistan's national assembly.

"If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Muhammad, his act is justified," the Minister for Religious Affairs, Ijaz ul-Haq, told Pakistan's national assembly.

"This is an occasion for the (world's) 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision," Mr ul-Haq said. "If Muslims do not unite, the situation will get worse and Salman Rushdie may get a seat in the British Parliament."

His comments provoked an angry response around the world. Effigies of the Queen and Rushdie were burned in the eastern Pakistan city of Multan as students chanted: "Kill him! Kill him!"