News Briefs

New Bush Education Chief Has Priorities Straight

Margaret Spellings, who took over as Pres. George W. Bush’s secretary of education on Monday, attacked PBS Tuesday for a children’s cartoon called “Postcards from Buster,” a bunny rabbit touring Vermont who encounters two lesbian couples in an episode called “Sugartime!”

Spellings objected to government grant money being used for the cartoon, telling PBS, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode.” She asked them to consider giving the government a refund and that her department’s seal be removed from the production.

A representative of PBS said they would not feed the offending episode to its 349 stations, but not because of Spellings’ protest. Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations, told the Associated Press, “We wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time.”

WGBH-Boston, which produces “Postcards,” will make “Sugartime!” available to other PBS stations and plans to show it on March 23.


Maggie Gallagher Pulls an Armstrong Williams

Yet another right-wing columnist has been exposed for being in the pay of the Bush administration to promote their programs. Self-styled marriage expert Maggie Gallagher was paid $21,500 by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2002 to push its $300 million initiative to strengthen heterosexual marriage, the Washington Post reported. That year, the syndicated columnist went to bat for the program repeatedly in her writings for National Review and other publications. She told the newspaper it never occurred to her to disclose the grant. She later apologized in her column for her failure to disclose the conflict.

Gallagher, a leading crusader for the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex nuptials, received an additional $20,000 from the Justice Department to write a report called “Can Government Strengthen Marriage?” through the private National Fatherhood Initiative.

Gallagher came cheap. Armstrong Williams, another conservative columnist, had his column dropped by Tribune Media Services after it was disclosed he took a $241,00 payoff from the Education Department to defend the No Child Left Behind program. Gallagher’s publishers did not indicate that she would be fired for her indiscretion.


Philip Johnson Dies at 98

Obituaries for Philip Johnson, the celebrated architect who died at 98 on Tuesday, dealt frankly with his struggles around coming out. Newsday said that he had a nervous breakdown while a student at Harvard over being gay. And as late as 1977, he asked a New Yorker magazine writer doing a profile on him to omit any reference to his sexuality, fearing it might cost him the commission for the AT&T building on Madison Avenue with the “Chippendale” top, which he referred to as “the job of my life.”

The New York Times wrote of his 1930s “deeply mistaken detour into right-wing politics, suspending his career to work on behalf of Huey Long and later Father Charles Coughlin, and expressing more than passing admiration for Adolf Hitler.” The Times noted that Johnson later designed a synagogue for no fee to atone for his actions.

The Times also quoted him as saying, “We still have a monumental architecture. To me, the drive for monumentality is as inbred as the desire for food and sex, regardless of how we denigrate it.”

One of Johnson’s unbuilt designs is the Cathedral of Hope for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregation in Dallas that was once affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church. Johnson said he hoped it would be “the most exciting sanctuary in Christendom… the thing by which I will be memorialized.” The fundraising to build the cathedral continues.

Johnson is survived by David Whitney, his partner for 45 years.


Glass Nearly Half Full in U.S.

With the signing this week of the Illinois bill protecting gay and transgendered people from discrimination, “47 percent of the U.S. population—138 million people”—are covered by laws banning bias on the basis of sexual orientation. That puts the gay community’s progress on combating discrimination statistically about where Sen. John Kerry finished up the presidential race in November.

Twenty-seven percent live in areas where gender identity or expression is a protected category.

“While we have a long way to go until all of us are protected from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” said Sean Cahill of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force Policy Institute that conducted the analysis, “the progress is undeniable and unstoppable.”

Fifteen states and 200 municipalities ban sexual orientation discrimination. Five states and 70 localities bar discrimination against people of transgender experience.


Update on Canadian Marriage Bill

Things are heating up north of the border this winter as the Canadian Parliament comes closer to its historic vote on opening marriage to same-sex couples. Prime Minister Paul Martin got in trouble this week for saying that defeat of the bill would merit calling a new election. He later said new elections would only be needed if the “notwithstanding clause” were invoked by any of the provinces to circumvent the Charter of Rights, under which courts in most of the nation’s provinces have already legalized same-sex marriage. But not even the Conservative Party is threatening that.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper got in a bit of a pickle, too, this week by launching an ad blitz against the legislation without consulting his caucus.

Bob Ransford, the Conservatives’ election chair in British Columbia where same-sex marriage is already allowed, told CanWest News Service, “We’re going to be defined as a party that only cares about the social agenda, and we don’t understand that there are other issues that are resonating with Canadians and therefore we aren’t capable of governing.” In addition, a Sikh leader, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, said that Harper’s pitch to the Sikh community on this issue “doesn’t show much respect for their intelligence.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian military isn’t waiting for passage of the bill to welcome gay couples. Col. Stan Johnstone, a chaplain, told Canada AM that gays and lesbian soldiers who want to marry on military bases may do so. “We have a very socially accepting armed forces,” he said.


Spain to Vatican: Butt Out

Jose Bono, the Spanish defense minister, defended his nation’s Socialist government from recent attacks by the Roman Catholic pope over moving toward the legalization of same-sex marriage and easing restrictions on divorce and abortion.

“Faith is not something a government can impose,” Bono said. “It is not something that is up to the state, but rather to the people.” In the same radio interview, he said that the church’s campaign against condoms and homosexuality was not in the spirit of Jesus, who Bono said, “would be more worried about the 25,000 children who die each day of hunger or in wars.”

The Spanish bishops reversed themselves this week after opening the door to condom use last week as part of an effort to stem the spread of HIV. The pope reiterated his opposition to condom use in a statement this week to the new ambassador to the Vatican from the Netherlands.


More Out at City’s Major Law Firms

A study by the New York County Lawyer’s Association found that more than two percent of the attorneys at the 23 largest law firms identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, the New York Law Journal reported.

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton had the most with 4.9 percent identifying as part of a sexual minority, with Millbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCoy second at 4.3 percent. The average for the big firms was 2.3 percent.

Sullivan & Cromwell had the most gay partners at 6.7 percent. Six firms had no out gay partners.

Norman Reiner, president of the association, told the newspaper they found “an astonishing amount of progress in the big firms in the last ten or 15 years” that he said “bodes well for tolerance and inclusiveness in society.”

All of the firms surveyed provide domestic partner benefits.


Anti-Gay Activist Unwelcome at Renaissance Weekend

Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment, was a speaker to the mostly liberal crowd gathered for the annual Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, South Carolina at New Year’s. The Financial Times reported that after he finished his talk, “the first to take the microphone was a respected professor, a member of the board of governors of one of the nation’s top five universities and someone who is gay. ‘I just wanted to say one thing in response,’ the professor said. ‘Fuck you.’”

Daniels told the newspaper that he is not worried about Pres. George W. Bush’s recent retreat on the amendment. “I trust and know that his views on this run deep. I don’t feel abandoned.”


150 Youth Protest Nebraska Anti-Gay Amendment

As Pres. George W. Bush was being inaugurated for a second term, 150 students from the six Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Straight Alliances in Lincoln, Nebraska marched on the state capitol to protest laws banning same-sex marriage and otherwise violating LGBT rights, the Daily Nebraskan reported. “We have an administration that doesn’t believe in equal rights for everyone,” John Heineman, a teacher and co-sponsor of Lincoln High School’s group said of Bush.

Jacy Kern, a sophomore from Lincoln Southeast, said that while she is not a member of a gay-straight alliance, “I have a lot of gay and bisexual friends. I feel for them and I just don’t see a problem with it.”

Meanwhile, in Longview, Washington, Bill Zepada, a gay student at R.A. Long High School, was suspended for the day for sporting a t-shirt saying “Too Gay to Function,” even though it was “make your own T-shirt day” in conjunction with homecoming.


Janet Cyril, Advocate for LGBT Youth, Dead at 59

Janet Cyril, whose concern for her lesbian daughter Malkia, drew her into the movement to protect lesbian and gay youth, has died of sickle cell disease. She is a former board member of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth, once worked with the Black Panthers and was a lifelong community activist.

There will be a celebration of her life on Saturday, January 29 from 3 to 7 p.m. in Brooklyn at Little Sun People Too, 265 Marcus Garvey Boulevard, between Lexington and Quincy). Take the A train to Utica Avenue, then the #15 bus down Lewis Ave. to Lexington. The B52 bus goes to Marcus Garvey.


Alvin Ailey Dancer Dies

Warren Spears, who danced with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and choreographed modern dance, died of multiple myeloma at age 50 in Copenhagen where he lived, The New York Times reported. A native of Detroit, he trained at Julliard in New York and was discovered by Mr. Ailey, dancing with the troupe from 1974 to ’77 before turning to choreography, especially for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

One of his pieces paid tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, a heroic African American group of military pilots in World War II who were segregated on the basis of their race.

Spears moved to Denmark in the early 1980s, founded the New Danish Dance Theater, and was knighted in 2003. He is survived by his husband, Karsten Mach, two stepsons, his parents and a brother.