News Briefs

PBS Denies Bowing to Administration Pressure

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association this week joined the chorus of LGBT groups condemning the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) for refusing to broadcast an episode of a children’s show, “Postcards from Buster,” featuring a cartoon figure who interacts with two Vermont lesbian mothers.

PBS denies caving in to pressure from the new U.S. secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, whose first act in office was to demand that WGBH, a Boston affiliate, refund its federal grant for the show. “Many parents would not want their children exposed to the lesbian lifestyle,” she said.

Dr. Tri Do, president of GLMA, said that the show’s goal is representing family diversity. “Many thousands of families in this country are headed by same-sex couples. I assume Secretary Spellings would react much differently if viewers complained that they didn’t want to be exposed to, say, Muslim or Hmong families. She would, I hope, condemn such attitudes for the bigotry they represent.”

GLMA is calling on its members to urge their local PBS affiliates to air the “Sugartime!” episode of the show about Vermont. Twenty-four stations have agreed to schedule it, including in Boston and New York.


Bush: Orphans Belong with Straights 

Pres. George W. the New York Times last week that he was not aware of the Florida law banning gays and lesbians from adopting children, even though his brother Jeb is governor of the state and the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal on the constitutionality of the law.

“The ideal in society is to raise children with a man and a woman,” he said. “Private adoption firms can make whatever choice they choose to,” which is not the case in Florida.

Bush also said, “I believe that children can receive love from gay couples, but the ideal is–and studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman,” an assertion contested by experts reached by the Times in a next-day

Dr. Judith Stacey, professor of sociology at New York University, told the paper “there is not a single legitimate scholar out there who argues that growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for child


GLAAD Leader Stepping Down

 Joan Garry, who has been the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation since 1995, plans to step down on June 15. “It feels time to pass the baton,” she said in an open letter. “No organization should be overly tied to one individual.”

GLAAD has a staff of 45 and a budget of $7.3 million. Garry was required under her two-year contract to indicate by the end of January whether she intended to seek renewal of her contract in June.

“I look forward to establishing a new and active leadership role within the LGBT movement,” she wrote.


Jury Awards “Naked Boys” $1.3 Million

A federal jury in Puerto Rico awarded the producers of “Naked Boys Singing” $1.3 after San Juan city officials closed the show down one day before its opening in the government run Tapia Theatre in 2003. Mayor Jorge Santini branded the nude review, which has been running internationally, including a continuing six-years in New York, “immoral” at the time.


NYU Medical Guilty of Anti-Gay Bias

A Manhattan jury ordered New York University Medical Center to pay $2 million to Mark Taylor for firing him as director of external affairs because gay in 1997.

Taylor’s sexual orientation became known in his office when a biography of Leonard Bernstein came out in 1994 describing him as the maestro’s “last love” and as someone who cared for Bernstein in the last year of his life between 1989-1990. One of Taylor’s duties was to write speeches for Saul Farber, the former medical department chair at NYU, who was Bernstein’s doctor.

Taylor said that his colleague, Paul Ferrara, made anti-gay jokes at his expense. When Ferrara became department head in 1997, he fired Taylor. Ferrara, now at Yeshiva University, denied the charges. The jury took 30 minutes to return its verdict against NYU, which also faces punitive damages.


Parliament Member Reveals HIV Status 

Chris Smith, who caused a stir 20 years ago when he became the first member of Britain’s Parliament to come out as gay, is made headlines again this week by disclosing that he has been HIV-positive for the last 17 years. Smith said that Nelson Mandela’s recent acknowledgement about his son’s death to AIDS inspired him to reveal his sero-status.

Smith, 53, the former culture minister in Tony Blair’s cabinet and now a backbencher, said that he had not shared his sero-status with the prime minister prior to his announcement.

Smith says he takes a lot of pills every day, but is healthy enough to have become a “Munro bagger,” a term for someone who has climbed 277 Scottish mountains higher than 3,000-feet. He lives in Islington with his partner of 15 years, Dorien Jabri, an education adviser. Smith is not standing for election this spring after 22 years in office


N.Y. Pols Welcome Bigot

The keynote speaker at next week’s conference of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators is Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Recently, Bernice King led an Atlanta march of thousands who support amending the U.S. Constitution to outlaw gay marriage.

“I know deep down in my sanctified soul that he did not take a bullet for same-sex unions,” Bernice King has said, about her father’s civil rights work.

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), head of the association, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.


Conn. Gays Demand Marriage

Leaders of Love Makes a Family, the Connecticut gay lobby pushing for same-sex marriage rights, spoke out against a bill offering civil unions that enjoys widespread legislative support. Anna Stanback, president of the gay group, told the Hartford Courant that with support for same-sex marriage at 49 percent “we are one of only a few states that can get marriage. It is very important that we not take this second-class citizenship [for civil unions]. It is not a stepping-stone to marriage. It is a dead end.”

Rep. Cameron Staples (D-New Haven) told the newspaper, “We have a real opportunity to pass a civil union bill this year with all the rights of marriage. The position taken by Love Makes a Family puts this at risk. I was disappointed.”


Idaho Anti-Gay Amendment in Doubt

While many states have passed state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, the effort in Idaho has hit a snag. The Senate State Affairs Committee passed such an amendment 5-4 this week, but it requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature before going before voters. Lawmakers have expressed concern that the amendment may adversely affect common-law marriages.

One Democrat opposing the amendment is Sen. Edgar Malepeai, a high school teacher from Pocatello. “If I vote for this thing, how can I sit there in front of my class and talk about freedom of worship and freedom of speech and all of that?” he told the Idaho State Journal. He said he will take “a lot of heat” for his opposition, “but I’d rather live with this decision than go with what is politically correct.”


Wal-Mart Defines Gay Inclusion

Wal-Mart has moved to include legal same-sex partners under its definition of “immediate family,” but only for purposes of its conflict-of-interest policy. The company does not provide domestic partner benefits or protections for transgendered employees, but it forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2003.

“We hope that with equal responsibility come equal benefits,” Daryl Herrschaft, a deputy director athe Human Rights Campaign told the Advocate


New Mexico Goes Both Ways

Bills to ban same-sex marriage and to provide the same benefits for gay couples under a domestic partnership scheme are being introduced into the New Mexico legislature. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson supports both bills.

The domestic partnership bill covers both same-sex and sex discordant couples.


Oregon Amendment Challenged

Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBT lobby group, has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the just-passed amendment to the state constitution limiting marriage to a man and a woman, saying it revised fundamental legal principles.


Gay Prof. Resigns from N.Y. Medical College

Dr. Joshua Lipsman, Westchester County health commissioner and a former executive director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, has resigned his faculty position at New York Medical College in Valhalla because the school refuses to reconsider its withdrawal of recognition for the campus LGBT student group. The school, run by the Roman Catholic archdiocese, denied the group official status after it changed its name from “Student Help” organization to NYMC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Medicine

Westchester County Executive Andy Spano, Lipsman’s boss, supports his commissioner’s decision and has ordered an investigation into whether the school is in violation of the county law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Lipsman told the White Plains Journal News that if the investigation did show illegal discrimination, the county would end its working relationship with NYMC as it would with any “racist or bigoted institution.”


Alabama Bill Bans Gays in Library Books

State Rep. Gerald Allen, a staunch ally of Pres. George W. Bush, has followed through on his threat to introduce legislation that would bar the use of state funds for books or other materials “advocating gay and lesbian activities.” He also wants to take existing gay-themed materials out of the libraries, “dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them.”


QueerFist to Protest HRC Dinner in NY

The “radical activist collective” QueerFist, which was founded to protest the Republican National Convention this past summer, is now taking on the Human Rights Campaign, in town at the Waldorf for its Tri-State Federal Club Fund-raiser on Friday, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. on Lexington Ave. between 48th and 49th Streets.

HRC took some heat for some statements made by one of its leaders after the 2004 election for saying they might trade support for Bush’s scheme privatizing Social Security in exchange for gay partner rights, a position since withdrawn. QueerFist, which is offering a free vegan dinner outside the $350 a plate dinner, said in a release, “While many members of the queer community are concerned with finding basic health care services, the Human Rights Campaign is more concerned that members of the gay middle class have the ‘right’ to exchange state-sanctioned vows.”

Meanwhile, it looks like Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage which is legal in his state, will breeze in and out of town unmolested. No group has stepped forward to protest his appearance at a construction conference at the Hilton on Friday morning.


Conservatives Censure Pro-Gay Rabbi

Her religious superiors censured Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, who works for the gay Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York, for failing to seek a waiver to work at the synagogue. Cohen apologized and was let off without being expelled from the congregation, part of the conservative branch of Judaism.

Cohen had said that conservative leaders were after her because she performs same-sex wedding ceremonies, but Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, told the NY Times that several of their rabbis had conducted such marriages without being disciplined. The movement says rabbis should not perform them, but that it is not a “binding standard,” the newspaper said.


Free Dating for People with HIV

For Valentine’s Day, POZ magazine is launching POZ Personals, a free online dating service for people living with HIV. POZ founder Sean Strub, himself HIV-positive, said, “Too many people with HIV have suffered rejection in dating situations when disclosing they are positive. There’s a huge industry for online personals, but POZ felt it was important to offer a free site that addresses our community’s diversity, needs, and desires.”

The February/March issue of the magazine includes tips for online dating and advice from positive couples on turning a date into a long-term relationship.


Phil Friedman, Political Consultant, Dead at 51

Phil Friedman, who worked on the Democratic campaigns of Mayor Ed Koch, Gov. Hugh Carey, and West Virginia’s Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment last Thursday, the NY Times reported. While the police did not give the cause of death, a suicide note was found.

Friedman was most identified with former New York City Council President Andrew Stein. When Stein decided not to run for mayor in 1993 against David Dinkins, Friedman’s career took a downturn. He once worked with the famous political consultant David Garth, later founding his own company Campaign Strategies that ran campaigns for West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton.

An out gay man, Friedman was a frequent guest on NY-1, offering political commentary.