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Wednesday Speed Read: South Carolina, Gay Books, Maura Healey, Carl DeMaio, Barney Frank, Chad Griffin

BY LISA KEEN / Keen News Service

CoursonS.C. BUDGET CUTS GET SECOND LOOK:

A South Carolina senate subcommittee recommended a budget that leaves out the House-passed cuts to public colleges using gay books. The chair of the subcommittee, Senator John Courson, told Associated Press he thinks books “should be up to the presidents of the institution and the board of trustees which the General Assembly elects.” The decision by Courson, a Republican, bucks the Republican-led House plan to cut $70,000 from the budgets of two state universities because they used gay positive books in their curricula. According to an Associated Press report Sunday, the Senate Finance Committee could begin debating the budget this week.

AN ENDORSEMENT RUSH:

HealeyOpenly lesbian Massachusetts attorney general candidate Maura Healey racked up a string of endorsements recently from women’s PACS: EMILY’s List, Women’s Campaign Fund, Feminist Majority, and Barbara Lee. The Women’s Campaign Fund named Healey one of their 40 “Game Changers,” for whom they promise to raise $40,000. Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal called Healey a “trailblazer for women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights.” Emily’s List has endorsed Healey, as well as her former boss Martha Coakley for governor. Healey needs the support: As of April 17, Healey had $363,644 in her campaign coffers compared to her Democratic primary opponent’s $602,400.

CARL DEMAIO ON LGBT INTOLERANCE:

DemaioRealClearPolitics.com quoted openly gay Republican U.S. House candidate Carl DeMaio about how he’s been received by opposite ends of the political spectrum: "I've found more tolerance, acceptance and inclusion from social conservative groups who have to reconcile that I'm a Republican who happens to be gay...versus the intolerance the LGBT leaders see me as a gay man who happens to be a Republican."

FRANK’S BURNING MEMORIES:

A just previewed documentary about the life of former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank includes a story about Frank receiving a letter from one of his former roommates at Harvard in which the roommate told Frank he was gay and had a crush on Frank. According to the Boston Globe, Frank was not openly gay at the time and feared that being so would hurt his political career. He burned the letter and gave the roommate no indication he was gay, too.

GRIFFIN ECHOES ‘ONE CHAPTER’:

GriffinNew York Times reporter Jo Becker has defended criticism of her book about “inside the fight for marriage equality” (Forcing the Spring) by saying it’s about “one chapter” of that decades-long battle. Her chapter is the Proposition 8 litigation organized by Chad Griffin and his American Foundation for Equal Rights, which included lead attorney Ted Olson. Griffin was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk show Tuesday morning and was immediately tackled with a question about all the criticism Becker’s received for focusing her book squarely on Griffin as a sort of “Rosa Parks” for marriage equality. Griffin has issued statements vigorously acknowledging that he is not the lone hero of the marriage equality movement. He did so again on Morning Joe. Interestingly, his questioner was an old comrade from AFER –Nicole Wallace. Wallace served as a spokesperson for AFER when Griffin was in charge and she’s also worked for the Human Rights Campaign, which Griffin leads now. “What was so interesting to me,” said Wallace, talking to Griffin, “was to see how raw nerves were within the movement –that there were activists who were so offended by the attention paid to what I think a lot of people on the outside thought was a very important chapter.”

Watch the Morning Joe segment, AFTER THE JUMP...

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

Continue reading "Wednesday Speed Read: South Carolina, Gay Books, Maura Healey, Carl DeMaio, Barney Frank, Chad Griffin" »


Narrative in New Jo Becker Book on Fight for Marriage Equality Called 'Absurd', 'Distorted', 'Deceptive'

Fts_becker

BY LISA KEEN

To say there’s been a flurry of discussion around the release of a new book Tuesday on the legal case that challenged California’s Proposition 8 would be an understatement. The book, Forcing the Spring, by New York Times writer Jo Becker, has been thoroughly pilloried by many plugged-in LGBT activists and journalists this week, both publicly and privately.

Griffin_olsonWhile a few have attempted to cut Becker some slack for documenting some behind-the-scenes litigation and political strategies, most fault her for an approach that seems hell-bent on making Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and conservative icon attorney Ted Olson into the white horse heroes of an upcoming Hollywood docu-drama about How the Marriage Equality Movement was Won.

Hollywood movies do have a tendency to skew the historical record for audiences that have not been paying attention to the real world events; and, if it does come to the silver screen, Forcing the Spring will carry an impressive credential --that it was based on a book by a “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist” (even though she co-authored the entry that won).

The intense negative reaction from the LGBT community to Becker’s book indicates the prospect that the marriage equality movement’s real history will be lost is very troubling to many LGBT people who have watched and been part of that movement. It did not begin with the Griffin-Olson lawsuit in 2009, but with individual couples as early as the 1970s and with veteran civil rights legal activists beginning in Hawaii in the 1990s.

SullivanConservative gay commentator Andrew Sullivan led the assault on Becker’s book this week. In his April 16 blog entry for his The Dish, Sullivan berates Becker for suggesting Griffin is on par with legendary black civil rights activist Rosa Parks. He dismissed the book as riddled with “jaw-dropping distortion,” such as Becker ‘s claim that the marriage equality movement “for years had largely languished in obscurity.”

Sullivan’s assault was joined quickly by an impressive string of critiques: writer-activist Dan Savage (“a bulls--t ‘history’ of the movement for marriage equality”), former New York Times columnist Frank Rich (“For a journalist to claim that marriage equality revolution began in 2008 is as absurd as saying civil rights struggle began with Obama.”), and White House strategist Jim Messina.

Becker offered a defense against the criticism, explaining to politico.com that she hadn’t tried to write a definitive history of the marriage equality movement or the “gay rights” movement.

“Many people have contributed to the success the movement has experienced. I have the [utmost] respect for all the people who contributed to that success,” wrote Becker. “My book was not meant to be a beginning-to-end-history of the movement. It’s about a particular group of people at an extraordinary moment in time, and I hope that people will be moved by their stories.”

Unfortunately, her intro to the book and the slick public relations material sent out to promote that book proclaim otherwise.

On page 1 of the book, she writes that the marriage equality “revolution... begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin….” Her own summary of the book calls it is “the definitive account of the fight to win the rights of marriage and full citizenship for all….” And the Penguin Press release that accompanies review copies of the book calls it, “A deeply insightful and riveting account of a national civil rights struggle….” It quotes such celebrity legal commentators as Jeff Toobin as saying the book is “a superb, behind-the-scenes account of the legal battle to bring marriage equality to the nation.” The NAACP’s former president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, calls it “the definitive account of one of the great civil rights struggles of our times.”

This is the kind of hype that accompanies many books. It’s how publishers, in a very competitive environment, woo attention and favorable comments from reviewers, television talk shows, and other vehicles in a position to stoke book sales.

But critics of Forcing the Spring take issue with the book beyond the exaggeration of its marketing campaign.

D_blackForcing the Spring just doesn’t get it right,” writes BuzzFeed legal reporter Chris Geidner. He notes that Becker quotes Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as being rebuffed by an audience of potential LGBT major donors to the litigation organized by Griffin’s American Foundation for Equal Rights. Becker also reports that the donor meeting’s organizer, Tim Gill, “denounced Black outright.” Geidner provides a link to a video of the closed-door meeting about which Becker was writing that shows Black’s speech was interrupted with applause five times, and won a standing ovation from at least a few in the audience. And Geidner says Gill’s alleged denouncement of Black was “more of a nuanced defense of ‘gradualism’” strategy for winning marriage equality.

Hollywood movies require conflict and struggle, and it may be that the book –whose inside cover touts it as a “gripping behind-the-scenes narrative with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers”-- fell prey to the need to dramatize some hurdles for her heroes to overcome. A more journalistic approach might have conveyed the mixed reaction of Black’s audience and contrasted that with Black’s personal interpretation of how he was received.

It also would have been helpful for Becker to have talked in some depth with LGBT legal activists who have been working on the marriage equality movement for many years.

A number of LGBT legal activists have pointed out significant factual errors in Becker’s account as reported by the press thus far (none had received a copy of the book in advance) and expressed astonishment at her cavalier pronouncement that the marriage equality movement had been “languishing” in “obscurity” before Griffin and Olson came along.

Becker wrote that LGBT legal activists planned to win marriage equality in 30 states before filing a federal lawsuit.

“Lambda Legal did not have a strategy of getting to 30 states with marriage equality (or any particular number for that matter) before we would consider bringing a federal case,” said Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson.    

KaplanBecker’s portrayal of Roberta Kaplan (right), attorney to Edith Windsor in the Supreme Court case that struck down the key provision of DOMA, as an “outsider” to the establishment legal activists was also widely disputed.

“Robbie was not an outsider,” said GLAD spokeswoman Carisa Cunningham. “She had worked for the ACLU for years, just as she did on Edie’s case. She also worked with Lambda on the New York marriage case, Hernandez.”

Becker was not hired by the movement to write its history. If she and her book promoters had just been a little more careful to pitch the book as a behind-the-scenes picture of the Proposition 8 litigation, the hue and cry might not be so harsh as it is.

The drama achieved by portraying the marriage equality movement pre-Griffin-Olson as “languishing” and “obscurity” extracts a price from Becker’s credentials. For LGBT people, the Baehr v. Miike trial in Honolulu and its subsequent legal victories --and even its political defeats, including passage by the U.S. Congress of the Defense of Marriage Act-- warrant neither of those dismissive assessments. There ensued an intense political war over marriage equality on state ballots around the country beginning in 1998, and, while supporters of same-sex marriage lost those battles, they came back with a steady, methodically planned and executed series of legal challenges that won civil unions in Vermont in the late 1990s and marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2003.

And just a month before Griffin and Olson first joined that battle with the filing of the Proposition 8 lawsuit, Lambda Legal won a unanimous victory in Iowa. The decades of cultural and legal combat opened up the country to a conversation that became both personal and national and moved public opinion. The Proposition 8 case was definitely part of that effort and, near the last paragraph of her book, Becker tempers her assessment of the Griffin-Olson effort as having brought the dream of equality “within reach.”

The Proposition 8 litigation enabled same-sex couples in California to be married, and other political activists and lawsuits have won marriage equality in more than a dozen other states. The legal team of Olson and David Boies is back at work with a case in the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and other legal teams have similarly situated cases in other federal appeals courts. Each is hoping to win marriage equality for all states. Almost certainly, one of them will succeed. But the credit will belong to the many, not the few.

© copyright 2014 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


Arkansas Catholic School Teacher Fired After Marrying Same-Sex Partner

TiTippi McCullough has taught English at Mount St. Mary Academy in Arkansas for the past fifteen years. Unfortunately, her employment was terminated this week after she married her partner of fourteen years, Barb Mariani. As The Arkansas Times reports, earlier this week the couple travelled to New Mexico, where same-sex marriage licenses have been issued as of late, to officially tie the knot. However, only forty-five minutes after their ceremony was complete, McCullough received a phone call from a secretary at Mount St. Mary, "telling her she risked losing her job if she married." The secretary reportedly added, "that the school had learned of the coming marriage through 'the diocese.'" As the couple drove to Arizona (they planned to honeymoon at the Grand Canyon), McCullough spoke with Mt. Saint Mary principal Diane Wolf, who informed her that she no longer had a job at the school:

"She told me she never thought the day would come, that I was a great teacher and that she would give me a glowing recommendation if I resigned," McCullough said. "She said her hands were tied when I signed a legal document."

McCullough said a contract clause allows dismissal for a lifestyle contrary to church teaching. She she asked Wolfe for an explanation of how she'd violated that clause. "She said she wasn't going to get into a theological discussion and there was nothing she could do."

McCullough will get 30 days severance pay and an opportunity to pick up her things and arrange for COBRA continuing health insurance coverage. She said she's not sure what her vocational future holds. She said she'd been encouraged by support from other teachers. She said, too, that she was sure Wolfe knew of her long relationship with Mariani.  They never discussed it explicitly, she said, but "she knew." In their discussion yesterday, "I told her I thought it was unfair, that I was being singled out for being gay." She said Wolfe told her the nun who once headed the school had once escorted out an unmarried pregnant teacher.

HRC President Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native, blasted the school's decision:

"To fire a beloved teacher simply because she is gay is morally reprehensible...At a moment when Pope Francis is urging the Catholic hierarchy to put aside judgment and a decades-long campaign targeting devoted LGBT Catholics, it’s shameful that this school is ignoring that hopeful message in favor of explicit and baseless discrimination."

The HRC has started a petition to show opposition to Mount St. Mary Academy's decision to fire McCullough. You can sign it HERE.

(Photo via Facebook)


NOM's Brian Brown Collaborated with Russian Legislators on Country's Gay Adoption Ban: VIDEO

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 1.57.12 PM

Yelena MizulinaIn a report released yesterday, Right Wing Watch revealed that National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown participated in a joint meeting with Russian legislators back in June to discuss changing the country's international adoption laws to exclude same-sex couples. Brown's trip to Russia, which was not publicly announced by NOM, culminated in a rousing speech given to the Duma's committee on foreign affairs and its committee on family, women and children - whose chair, Yelena Mizulina (right), authored the ban on gay "propaganda" and the anti-gay adoption bill that was signed into law in July. 

Said Brown:

"We are talking about violations of rights, we are talking about the rights and problems of children in their education. We should not shy away from this and should not forget about it and create an illusion for ourselves. A reconsideration of the definition and understanding of marriage is in fact a real threat to rights. Very soon after a law was passed that legalized same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, we saw that religious organizations were closing down, religious organizations that dealt with adoptions and that did not support adoption by same-sex families. They were closing one after another.

We have actually seen that in some schools, they are talking to children about homosexuality, but in fact they don't have the right to learn about a lot of things until a certain age. [...]

I think that this visit, the invitation to visit Russia, will enable the development of this movement around the world. We will band together, we will defend our children and their normal civil rights. Every child should have the right to have normal parents: a father and a mother.

You can watch a Russian dubbed interview of Brown at the meeting, AFTER THE JUMP...

Meanwhile, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said the news of Brown's invovlement in Russia is proof of NOM's anti-gay animus knowing no boundaries.

"This goes well beyond marriage," said Griffin. "Apparently NOM is expanding its portfolio to include the international persecution of LGBT people. We knew that Brian Brown had it out for gay people in America, but it's now become clear that he's hell-bent on ruining the lives of gays and lesbians worldwide."

Continue reading "NOM's Brian Brown Collaborated with Russian Legislators on Country's Gay Adoption Ban: VIDEO" »


HRC Says Olympic Committee Should Do More For LGBT Rights Than Accept 'Verbal Promises' From Putin

After receiving 'assurances from the highest level' that any LGBT individuals participating in the upcoming 2014 Winder Olympics will be exempt from Russia's newly minted anti-gay laws, the IOC released a statement on Friday in the hopes of putting growing concern at ease.

The Human Rights Campaign, however, isn't letting the IOC off the hook that easily.

Chad GriffinSays HRC President Chad Griffin:

"Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough...The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin. But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal."

Putin, for the record, is still adamant that that homosexuals are "full fledged members of [Russian] society and are not being discriminated against in any way.


NBC Olympics Coverage Facing Controversy Over Russian Anti-Gay Laws

SOchi OlympicsRussia's newly-adopted anti-gay laws are already the subject of worldwide controversy. The laws have already been used to justify police brutality against Russian LGBT activists, as well as the imprisonment of advocates from inside their borders and beyond. LGBT advocates have called for the boycott of many Russian goods as a result. Many others have turned their sights to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which will be taking place in the Russian city of Sochi. 

The International Olympic Committee has already told press that it will "work to ensure" that LGBT athletes from around the globe will be able to compete freely in the games without fear of any legal trouble. Many LGBT athletes have expressed their apprehension anyway. Other athletes and advocates have called for a boycott of the games by the United States and the IOC, including the likes of Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage. 

Sochi-mapAll of this controversy is creating headaches for NBC Universal, who will be broadcasting across the U.S. and beyond. Comcast forked over $4.38 billion to secure that privilege through 2020. As a result, many advocates are turning their sights in NBC's direction, such as HRC President Chad Griffin, who wrote a letter to NBC Universal CEO Stephen Burke saying that the network has a "responsibility to expose" the atrocities committed by Russia towards LGBT people. According to Buzzfeed, HRC hasn't yet taken a formal position on a potential boycott. Rather, Griffin states that...

"NBCUniversal … has a unique opportunity — and a responsibility — to expose this inhumane and unjust law to the millions of American viewers who will tune in to watch the Games."

He also added:

"You no doubt agree that it wouldn’t be right to air the opening ceremonies, which is an hours-long advertisement for the host country, without acknowledging that a whole segment of the Russian population — not to mention foreign athletes and visitors — can be jailed for an immutable aspect of their identity." 

NBC Sochi OlympicsNeither NBC nor Comcast have issued any comments on the Sochi Olympics controversy. As it stands, NBC Universal currently scores a perfect 100 on the HRC's annual "Corporate Equality Index", which grades various companies on their commitment to equality on a scale of 0 to 100. As was noted by Griffin in his letter, that perfect score could potentially be at risk should NBC choose to sweep this issue under the rug.

Should NBC eventually decide to boycott the games, as was noted by Variety, it would not be a first. 

"The mere mention of a boycott evokes memories of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, which the United States boycotted in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. NBC had paid $85 million for the rights but cancelled its live coverage."

Variety also pointed out that there was no boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which took place under the watch of the Hitler regime. Similar controversy also surrounded the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which even resulted in the resignation of Steven Spielberg as a creative consultant. As was noted by Harvey Fierstein in his recent New York Times op-ed, "There is a price for tolerating intolerance." Chad Griffin echoed this sentiment to Variety, saying that “there is a skunk at the garden party that can’t be ignored.”

Read Griffin's full letter to NBC HERE...


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