New Briefs

NYS Bill Would Ban ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr., a Bronx Democrat, has introduced a bill requiring judges in criminal cases to instruct juries “to disregard appeals to bias and prejudice through courtroom tactics such as ‘panic strategies,’” his memorandum in support of it said. The bill, similar to one that passed the California Assembly, was introduced at the prompting of Tom Smith, former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, after it was reported that a 16-year old arrestee in the attack on Kevin Aviance last week alleged to a TV news station that he acted after the drag singer made an inappropriate advance to him, comments that could be laying the groundwork for a so-called “gay panic” defense.

“We don’t see women shooting men ever time a man comes on to them in a bar and touches them on the arm,” Diaz said. “I don’t buy it. That’s like saying, ‘Road rage made me do it.’”

Paul del Duca, Diaz’s chief of staff and a Stonewall member, said the bill has 12 sponsors, including out gay Democratic Assemblymembers Deborah Glick, of the West Village, and Daniel O’Donnell, of the Upper West Side. Diaz said that he is looking for a Republican sponsor in the Senate, but is not expecting any action on the bill until next year’s session.

“Sounds like a dangerous undertaking,” civil libertarian Bill Dobbs, an out gay man, said. “The ability to present evidence and defend oneself against criminal charges is critical to a free society and efforts to erode that fundamental constitutional right should be turned back. If somebody’s conduct was the product of an impulsive act, that evidence needs to go in.”

Diaz is the son of state Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Pentecostal minister who has repeatedly clashed with the LGBT community.


Episcopal Convention Fudges on More Gay Bishops

The House of Deputies at the national Episcopal Convention in Columbus, Ohio refused to approve a ban on any more out gay bishops in the church, but agreed to compromise language urging dioceses not to name bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church ," the Aglican communion outside the U.S. upset over the elevation of Gene Robinson, a gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. It seems clear that whatever action any locality takes, no new gay bishops will be approved nationally for the forseeable future.

They also elected a new presiding bishop who will take over from the pro-gay Frank Griswold in November. The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, bishop of Nevada, is the first woman to hold the post, another sore point with the more conservative national churches elsewhere. She was asked by CNN if homosexuality is a sin and said, “I don’t believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us. Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender.”

Despite those words, Schori supported the human rights retreat.


Kramer Condemns Failure to Deal with AIDS as ‘Plague’

In remarks prepared for a New York Times forum on “AIDS at 25,” veteran AIDS activist and author Larry Kramer tore into the newspaper’s record covering the plague and called for “Nuremberg Trials for AIDS.” In addition to condemning former Mayor Ed Koch and President Ronald Reagan as criminals in the war on AIDS—he called Koch “a closeted homosexual” and said Reagan was ashamed of his “ballet-dancing son”—Kramer let his hosts have it: “The editor in chief of The New York Times that covered this plague so abominably stingily and destructively [Abe Rosenthal] was virulently homophobic.”

“Telling the truth about this plague has so far proved impossible,” Kramer said. “Seventy million plus infections later HIV/AIDS is still not called a plague.”

Kramer turns 71 on June 25 and is a long-term survivor of AIDS.


Pentagon: Gays Still Sick

 The United States Department of Defense is still publishing manuals that classify homosexuality as a “mental disorder,” 33 years after the American Psychiatric Association removed it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of such disorders. The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara found the reference in something called a Defense Department Instruction. Pro-gay members of Congress wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to get with the final third of the last century, but there has been no response thus far other than to say it is under review, despite the fact that Rummy has out gay people among his civilian staff.

Dr. James Scully, president of the APA, wrote to Dr. William Winkwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, to “respectfully request” that the Pentagon drop the reference to homosexuality as a mental disorder.


Condi Dodges The Question

No, the Greensboro News and Record didn’t ask Condoleezza Rice when she is going to get married, but after addressing the Southern Baptist Convention, she was asked by reporter Nancy McLaughlin her opinion on same-sex marriage, which may or may not be in the single secretary of state’s future. Rice replied, “Well, look, this is not my area of expertise or, frankly, my area of concentration at this point. I do think this is an issue that can be debated and discussed in our country with respect for every human being. And when we get into difficult debates about social policy, we get into difficult debates that touch people’s lives; the only thing that I ask is that Americans do it with a kind of sensitivity that real individuals and real human beings are involved here.”


Marrying in Israel

While a lawsuit works its way through the Israeli courts on whether a same-sex couple married in Canada must be recognized there, the Supreme Court president, Aharon Barak, has weighed in on one impediment to gay marriage. “The lack of civil marriages in Israel is a major violation of human rights,” he told a group of U.S. Conservative Jews, according to the Jerusalem Post, which described his pronouncement as “a bombshell.” Under Israeli law, “citizens must marry under the auspices of their faith and mixed marriages are not allowed.” The newspaper noted that “religious courts in the Jewish sector are controlled by the Orthodox stream.” Past attempts to legislate a secular form of marriage have not gone anywhere in the Knesset.


Canadians: Don’t Reopen Marriage Issue

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada has pledged to fulfill a campaign promise and hold a vote on whether to reopen the issue of same-sex marriage in Parliament this fall. That does not go far enough for the right wing, which wants an up-or-down vote on gay marriage itself, but it goes too far for most Canadians. An Environics Research poll conducted for Canadians for Equal Marriage found that 62 percent of those surveyed saw the issue as “settled,” Canadian Press reported. Twenty-seven percent wanted the matter revisited by their representatives. The poll found that respondents favored the right of gay couples to marry by a margin of 59 to 33 percent, with the highest degree of support at two-thirds in Quebec. “It’s probably best to leave it along,” said one cabinet minister.


Trouble in Italy

The center-left government of Romano Prodi was elected by a razor-thin margin earlier this year and is not acting quickly to fulfill its promises to expand LGBT rights. When Equality Minister Barbara Pollastrini participated in the Turin LGBT Pride March and proclaimed her support for rights for same-sex couples, Prodi’s flack immediately issued a statement that she was just speaking for herself, reported. Prodi had promised some form of recognition for gay relationships, but is having trouble holding his coalition together.

The party of former Prime Minister Berlusconi, Forza Italia, condemned Pollastrini’s support for gay couples as “an attack on Italian society, aimed at cancelling the Christian vision.”


Justice in London

The killers of gay bartender Jody Dobrowski, 24, on London’s Clapham Common last year have been sentenced to 28 years to life, the UK Times reported. Thomas Pickford, 25, and Scott Walker, 33, were said to show no emotion at their sentencing, according to the newspaper. “It was Jody’s misfortune to cross your path,” Judge Brian Barker told the murderers. “You subjected him to mindless abuse and showed him no mercy. In those few seconds, you took from him the most precious of possessions—his life and future.” This case was the first time that targeting on the basis of sexual orientation was used to determine a minimum sentence.

Sheri Dobrowski, the victim’s mother, said after the sentencing, “It was a political act. It was an act of terrorism. Homophobia is endemic. This is unacceptable.” Her son was struck 33 times in the attack. A witness to the beating testified that one of the assailants said, “He’s poofter. We do not like poofters here” and that they were “kicking and jumping as if trying to kill an animal.” The Dobrowski family issued a statement calling Jody, who was 6’4”, “an intelligent, funny, hardworking, and beautiful man whose big dancing feet left behind such gentle footprints on this earth.”


Governor Arnold: Honored and Condemned

California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be the featured speaker at the Log Cabin Republican dinner on June 29 in Hollywood, despite the fact that he vetoed the only bill ever passed by a Legislature opening marriage to same-sex couples this year. “The governor has signed scores of [gay] supportive legislation,” the gay Republican group’s president, Patrick Guerriero, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meanwhile, the Pride committee in San Francisco has named the governor the winner of their “Pink Brick” award for his veto. He was picked for the villain-of-the-year prize by a vote of more than 3,000 participants in the LGBT march last week. The Chronicle reported that pride committees in San Diego, Long Beach, and other cities refused to publish Schwarzenegger’s letter honoring Pride events.


New York Strips to Fight AIDS

The 16th edition of Broadway Bares, called “New York Strip,” raised $659,500—a record—for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS on June 18. Among those performing at the benefit were “200 of the sexiest chorus boys and girls from Broadway’s biggest shows baring (almost) all,” a release said, plus such stars as Sandra Bernhard, Mario Cantone, Cyndi Lauper, Fran Drescher, and the leads in “The Jersey Boys.”


Annual AIDS Vigil Set for Friday

For the 21st time, the AIDS Candlelight Vigil will proceed from Sheridan Square down Christopher Street on the Friday before LGBT Pride Day. The June 23 event kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in memory of all who have died of AIDS.


Ronald Johnson to AIDS Action

Ronald S. Johnson, after eight year’s at New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis as associate executive director, is moving to Washington to be the deputy director of the AIDS Action Council. Johnson, himself living with AIDS, will “provide strategic direction and oversight” for the public policy and government affairs department, said executive director Rebecca Haag.

Johnson has also served as AIDS Policy Coordinator for Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and as executive director of the Minority Task Force on AIDS in New York.


Moving to Canada?

Canadian immigration attorney Michael Battista, who lobbied successfully for the right of Canadians to bring foreign same-sex partners home, will be a guest of this reporter and Ann Northrop on our Gay USA cable show on Thursday, July 6 at 11 p.m. on Time Warner 34, simulcast at, channel 34. Battista will explain the ins and outs of gay people immigrating into Canada. The show is also podcast and available on the Dish Network now. For information, contact


Hope in Virginia

Virginians will vote on the most restrictive anti-gay constitutional amendments in the nation this November, but the Chamber of Commerce, in Greater Falls Church at least, is not having it. In a resolution, the group said, “It would render all business partnerships that could be construed or challenged as being organized after such a fashion [between unmarried persons] de facto void and punishable by law, disqualifiable from government contract bidding and subject to lawsuits by anyone dealing with such a business partnership,” reported. Virginia already bans same-sex marriage. Democratic Governor Tim Kaine supports that statutory ban, but opposes this constitutional amendment as overreaching.


Amendment Updates from Colorado, Georgia

Coloradans may vote on as many as four referenda on gay relationships this year—one banning same-sex marriage, another banning domestic partnerships, a third banning both, and a fourth from Coloradans for Fairness and Equality permitting domestic partnerships. This past week, the state’s Supreme Court rebuffed the gay group’s attempt to strike the initiative that bans both marriage and legal status for relationships “similar to that of marriage.” CFE had argued the initiative was vague and illegally dealt with more than one issue, an argument that has prevailed in a lower court in Georgia.

The Supreme Court there will review that decision this coming Tuesday. If it is upheld, the governor and Legislature are prepared to put forth new amendments for this fall’s ballot. Lambda Legal, which successfully challenged the Georgia amendment, hopes the high court will either overturn the amendment in its entirety or limit the ban to same-sex marriage only and strike that portion preventing civil unions, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.