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Death Of Gay Tulsa Man Regarded As Suspicious, Tulsa Police Counter Claims

Benny Longoria

Benny Longoria of Tulsa, OK was found dead in his apartment on June 20th, but despite Longoria's body being found naked and the apartment covered in blood, Tulsa police are allegedly refusing to investigate the case as suspicious. Dallas activist C.D. Kirven was contacted about the case as it was suspected to be one of HIV/AIDS-related discrimination.

Tulsa Police Sgt. David Walker claimed that Longoria's death was a combination of ethanol abuse and HIV/AIDS, but Longoria's physician Dr. Frances Haas has not signed a death warrant nor has he confirmed any cause of death. Under these circumstances the Tulsa police are supposed to be investigating the death as suspicious. Additionally, Longoria's body was cremated, allegedly at the request of the police due to his HIV status.

Tulsa police are countering this claim and saying that the original Dallas Voice piece contains false information. They released a statement, saying: 

Mr. Longoria’s death was not suspicious in nature therefore it was not further investigated. The Tulsa Police Department does not investigate deaths in which there are no signs of foul play and the individual’s attending physician will sign the death certificate. The Tulsa Police Department responds to many natural deaths in which the attending physician signs the death certificate and there is no autopsy conducted.

Sgt. Walker and other members of the Department have spoken with the family members of Mr. Longoria several times to provide information reference area funeral homes, the medical examiner’s phone number as well as providing them with the victim’s obituary.

The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner claimed that Longoria's death was of natural causes, and that the request for cremation came through legal forms signed by Longoria's family.

Developing...


Oklahoma Gay Marriage Ban Appealed to Supreme Court

OK

Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, which was overturned last month by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, has now been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This follows on the heels of a similar appeal made by Utah officials on Tuesday concerning their own state's ban on gay marriage. 

The appeal in Oklahoma was filed by lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal counsel representing Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith, who was sued after refusing to grand a marriage license to a gay couple.

The AP reports:

"The 10th Circuit ... negated the exercise of this fundamental right (of voting) by more than 1 million Oklahomans and millions of voters in other states," Wednesday's appeal filing stated. "Invalidating the people's voice on an issue as profound as the definition of marriage presents an important question that warrants this court's review."

ADF senior counsel Byron Babione said, "The people of every state should retain the freedom to preserve marriage if they so choose. Courts shouldn't decide the legal destiny of marriage in any state, let alone in every state."

In a joint statement released last Friday, Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, the couple who challenged the gay marriage ban shortly after it was approved overwhelmingly by voters back in 2004, said the following:

“We are ready to see the highest court in the land affirm that marriage equality is the law of the land. We have confidence in our case and our lawyers, and should the Supreme Court agree to hear our case, we anticipate a victory there, as well.”

Read Smith's petition below:

Oklahoma Smith Petition by Equality Case Files 


10th Circuit Decision Striking Down Oklahoma's Gay Marriage Ban Heads to Supreme Court

Baldwin_bishop

Last month's decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage will now be appealed to the highest court in the land, The Oklahoman reports:

Kerri Kupec, spokeswoman for the Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Oklahoman that the clerk will ask Supreme Court justices to review the July 18 decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that 2-1 decision, the court ruled that Oklahoma’s ban violates 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, the Tulsa County couple who sued the court clerk when she refused to give them a marriage license, issued a joint statement Friday night.

“Although we aren’t surprised by the Alliance Defending Freedom's decision to appeal our victory from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, neither are we disappointed,” the couple said.

“We are ready to see the highest court in the land affirm that marriage equality is the law of the land. We have confidence in our case and our lawyers, and should the Supreme Court agree to hear our case, we anticipate a victory there, as well.”


10th Circuit Upholds Ruling Striking Down Oklahoma Gay Marriage Ban

Oklahoma

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld U.S. District Judge Terence Kern's January ruling striking down Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage, Tulsa World reports:

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law for everyone.

The court stayed its opinion, pending an expected appeal.

A three-judge panel of the Denver-based court ruled 2-1 in the Oklahoma case after the same panel ruled June 25 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution.

The ban was challenged in 2004 in lawsuits by two Tulsa-area lesbian couples, the day after Oklahoma voters approved adding it as an amendment to the state constitution. The ban passed by a 76 percent landslide.

Read the ruling HERE.


Oklahoma Lesbian Student Expelled For Marrying Her Girlfriend

Minard

Southwestern Christian University student Christian Minard has been expelled from the Oklahoma college for marrying her girlfriend, reports Religion News Service.

The university is affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Bethany, Oklahoma, which has consistently opposed homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

ASouthwestern christian university oklahomas part of her admission requirements, 22-year-old Minard, who is one semester from completing her sports management degree, signed a lifestyle covenant that prohibits “homosexual behavior,” harassment, sexual misconduct, pornography, alcohol, tobacco and other “sins.”

Minard and Kadyn Parks were married on March 17. On July 9, a letter from the university’s vice president Brad Davis, arrived at Minard’s parents’ home, telling her she was being expelled.

The letter read in part:

“I was informed that you recently married someone of the same sex and saw a few pictures from Facebook. Of course, this is opposing to our view as an International Pentecostal Holiness denominational university as well as the Lifestyle Covenant that all students must agree and sign.”

Speaking to The Washington Post, Minard said “other students violate parts of the covenant all the time, but they don’t get expelled.”

Although university provost Connie Sjoberg declined to comment, she cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which prohibits colleges from disclosing information about students, even to parents.

(image facebook)


Film Review: 'Broken Heart Land' Weaves Unexpected And Tragic Tapestry Of Grief

BHL4

Broken Heart Land, an expectation-eschewing documentary from directors Jeremy and Randy Stulberg, begins with an all-too-familiar tragedy in the rural American landscape: the suicide of a gay teenager. From there it weaves a far different story than one might anticipate, opting for a complex exploration of a family struck by death and a town in the throws of an identity crisis. 

The setting, Norman, Oklahoma--home to the University of Oklahoma--is seen by many citizens as a bastion of liberal goodwill in one of the nation’s most conservative geographic regions. In reality, though, the town is largely inhabited by Christian conservatives and other folks who fall uneasily within a murky spectrum of political thought. 

BHL2Two such people, Van and Nancy Harrington, are the parents of Zack, a reserved guy who came out in high school, seemingly without significant fanfare and with ardent support from his family. We learn very little about Zack, save for his participation in the high school color guard; his sudden suicide leaves him even more of an enigma. Only when his grieving parents receive the coroners report do they, and the audience, find out that Zack was HIV-positive and had been treating himself with drugs bought on the street. It is a surprising turn of events within the film. One friend, overcome with emotion and unsure whether or not to speak on the matter, recounts the way that Zack finally told her, after over a year of hinting, about his status. The wound of his death is clearly still fresh for everyone involved, and this particular revelation throws them for a loop. The trailer, which we reported on previously, framed Zack’s HIV-status as the central mystery within the narrative, but its reveal comes early, both in the run time and in the mourning process. The film actually seems far more concerned with picking up the pieces and understanding just how great an impact Zack’s death had, particularly on his mother and rather surprisingly on small town politics.

BHL1Just before Zack’s death, he may or may not have attended the Norman town council meeting where an LGBT History Month proposal was discussed and voted on. The mystery of his attendance reflects the unknowable qualities of his personality, but it is no matter in comparison with the bigoted and disturbing diatribe unleashed by many of the town’s most influential conservatives, including Chad Williams, an assistant pastor of a local mega-church and an eventual candidate for town council. 

The dueling campaigns of Williams and an openly lesbian opponent form the backbone of much of the documentary, framed by the broken and embittered family at the center of the tragedy. Both Van and Nancy Harrington are self-proclaimed Republicans and supporters of the LGBT rights movement, an almost oxymoronic combination these days, and their understanding of politics is shaken throughout the film by national trends (see: the Tea Party) and the closer-to-home town council race. Nancy joins a Norman group called Moms Of Many (MOM), formed in the wake of Zack’s death. She learns about the representation of the LGBT community in politics, campaigns for Williams’ competitor, and, in a particularly tense scene, confronts the pastor after all of her LGBT-related questions are ignored at a debate amongst the candidates. Van is largely seen sitting on a couch at home, watching Fox News, and smoking a cigarette; the grief is palpable and nearly unbearable. 

Still, both he and Nancy traverse an arc, from disbelief and upset about Zack’s status (his keeping it from them more so than the fact that he was positive) to a state of sad but empowered motivation to create change. We eventually see them dedicate a bench in Norman to their son and march in an AIDS Walk in his memory. 

BHL3Ultimately the “broken heart land” of the film’s title seems twofold. It is a comment on the nature of grief and tragedy, rendered so vividly in the lives of the Harringtons, and it is an observation about the shifting, highly oppositional politics of a nation, and particularly the midwest. The Harringtons are a family awakened to their own faults, their political aspirations, and their beliefs. The same, unfortunately, cannot necessarily be said for Williams and others in the more conservative contingent. They stand behind a “we love everyone enough to tell them that they are wrong” facade, never owning up to what the filmmakers and the Harringtons come to believe: something, many things, must be wrong in a society where someone, Zack, would take his own life. LGBT inequality, non-comprehensive sex education, and perhaps even organized religion come under fire. While there is no conclusive reason behind Zack's suicide, beautifully-read passages of his tormented poetry and journals accompany nostalgic video footage throughout the film, giving prophetic voice to a young man no longer able to speak his mind.

Broken Heart Land is a powerful, unexpectedly political, and deeply sad documentary. At its center lies a teenager who could have lived a long, fulfilling life, given the support he deserved all along.

You can stream Broken Heart Land online at worldchannel.org, or catch it airing The World Channel through this weekend.


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