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Stonewall at 50 a time for contemplation, activation

History and Legacy as commodity?

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Marchers in 2018 NYC Pride. (Photo courtesy Heritage of Pride)

Whether it’s the age you reach, a marriage milestone, or the robust lifespan of a small business, the half-century point can be cause for much celebration — but next year’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots calls into question the way in which the LGBTQ community should, and will, observe that galvanizing event’s legacy.

In New York City’s Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn serves as a gathering place for occasions both joyful and somber: the passage of Marriage Equality, the Pulse nightclub massacre. Politicians and activists frequently rally outside its door, while the watering hole itself offers a weekly roster of DJs, drag shows, and go-go boys. Some patrons are keenly aware, others barely knowledgeable, of the fact that the drinks they sip and the freedom of assembly they enjoy are rights advanced by those who turned Christopher Street into a conflict zone, from June 28 to July 1, 1969 — when an oppressed community fought back against the NYPD.

Photo by Kay Tobin, courtesy The NY Public Library Collections.

Stonewall — in its contemporary context — is a contrast between respect for advances made, and the reality of gains yet to be achieved.

“I’d like to say it means a lot to me, but it doesn’t,” said Robin Tyler. The veteran activist (and pioneering lesbian, feminist comedian) was at the second night of the Stonewall Riots, and put out the call for 1979’s first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

“The struggle is far from over,” she said. “We have to take a hard look at what’s happened to us. We do not have equal rights in this country. When Diane [Olson] and I sued for marriage [in 2004], nobody wanted to file a lawsuit. They said, “It’s not time yet.’ So frankly, I want to say all kinds of wonderful things about people coming out, and gender expression… but if we take away the cultural aspect, the rights we have come from grassroots movements.”

Street-level organizing is on the mind of the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC), currently in the permit application process for a June 30 march, set to take place concurrently, on a different route, with Heritage of Pride’s annual parade, which the RPC feels has strayed too far from its activist roots.

“Our idea is for it [the RPC event] to be a march for LGBTQ+ rights, but also global human rights,” said Jay W. Walker, an organizer for Gays Against Guns (GAG), Rise and Resist, and the RPC. With Trump in the White House and “autocrats all over the world, the situation demands that our community take a stand against the global oppression that’s happening to LGBTQ+ people.” Especially since, he noted, “We’re [NYC] hosting WorldPride.”

Ross Levi, Empire State Development’s VP/Executive Director of Tourism, noted they’ve been “making that invitation to the [international] LGBT community for a couple of years now,” at Pride events from Berlin to London, to “let folks know WorldPride is happening for the first time in New York [and America, for that matter]. Niagara Falls has just announced a ‘Pride at the Falls,’ happening July 5 at Niagara Falls State Park, and we’re in discussions with a number of other destinations.”

Noting the significance of “visitors of who are from countries that enact horrific oppression against LGBTQ+ people,” Walker said the RPC march intends to “make sure we’re honoring the struggle, globally, and the importance of intersectionality” as a way to “uplift all marginalized communities: people of color, indigenous people, people who are under the vast panoply of prejudices around the world, and at home. It’s important we use this moment to make it very clear, that this kind of oppression is still rife.”

James Fallarino, media director at Heritage of Pride (HOP), said, “We always get some marching contingents from other countries, but we’re preparing to have many more this year. Stonewall is looked at, at many places around the world, as an ignition point of the global movement. So we have to take steps to prepare for even more people to be in the march. For 2019, he said, “We are expecting about 600 groups to participate in the New York City Pride March.”

And the mood, he said, will match the intensity of these increased numbers. “I think the 50th anniversary of Stonewall was always going to be impacted by the political climate it existed in. And where it ended up, was with Donald Trump in the White House — and everything that comes along with that.”

Responding to criticism about a robust corporate presence (“largest single supporter” T-Mobile is once again “guaranteed placement towards the front of the march”), Fallarino cited the need to raise $12 million necessary to fund HOP’s 20+ events, over a three-week period in June. “Some folks are really uncomfortable with corporate sponsorship,” he said, “and I get that. But the reality is, for events like this, this is how you support them. It’s the only way you can build together the amount of resources that you need to produce this size of an event.” That said, he pointed out that of 470 groups registered to participate this year, 317 (67 percent) were non-profits, and 142 (30 percent) were businesses.

As for paying tribute to Stonewall, Fallarino noted HOP is planning a rally on Friday, June 28, to “commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.” Set to take place in front of the Stonewall Inn, “It’s about bringing together community leaders, speakers, Stonewall veterans, and more, for this important anniversary.” HOP will also be expanding the 2018 debut of its Human Rights Conference (a compulsory event for World Pride hosts) from one day, to two.

Speaking on behalf of the RPC, Ann Northrop (co-host of TV’s weekly LGBT news hour, “Gay USA”) wondered why HOP, in the year of Stonewall 50, insists on having a corporate presence. In 2017, she noted, Los Angeles Pride “turned its entire parade into a resistance march, and put aside all the corporate float stuff for a year.”

L to R: Jay W. Walker and Mark Leydorf with Gays Against Guns, marching with the Resistance Contingent, at 2018’s Heritage of Pride march.  (Photo by Gili Getz)

But just because they’re locking horns now doesn’t mean they’ll be entirely at odds, come June. Walker said that GAG has “mixed feelings. Right now, there are definitely members who will participate in the Reclaim Pride march, but there might be a significant number who also, or instead, will participate in Heritage of Pride… a lot of that will depend on what information comes from Heritage of Pride.”

L to R: Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Dec. 5 Town Hall co-facilitators Colin Ashley and Ann Northrop, with American Sign Language interpreter, Elizabeth. (Photo by Scott Siffler)

At a Dec. 5 RPC Town Hall, information came fast and furious — often with flourishes of wit, finger-snapping, and productive brainstorming, all signifying something formidable is afoot. Northrop oversaw the straw poll, in which six proposals were approved: March from the Village, up Sixth Ave., to Central Park; have a gathering in Central Park; no floats allowed (despite a lone voice who made the case for their presence, as a source of creative expression and artistic merit); have as few barricades as possible, so people can join the march at any point; demand a significantly reduced police presence; and make the march accessible — for the disabled, the economically challenged, and the homeless. It might be cold comfort, then, to know HOP will be making corrective measures.

Fallarino confirmed that some of 2018’s most contested elements are to be scrapped, or revamped. There will be no wristbands or size limitations for participating groups, for example — and this year’s lopsided face time for corporate sponsors vs. others, during the over nine-hour event’s comparatively scant period of TV coverage, “is definitely a thing we need to work on.”

As for the looming milestone, Northrop said, “I think the Stonewall Riots, in 1969, were fundamentally important. Andy Humm [her “Gay USA” co-host, and an RPC member] is fond of describing them as a particular turning point, where they provoked immediate organizing in the community, politically, in ways that hadn’t happened before… It’s an important moment to acknowledge, and use as a point of reference for considering where we’ve been, and where we are, and where we’re going.”

“It is an honor to be the lawyer for the rebels,” said Norman Siegel, at Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Dec. 5 Town Hall. (Photo by Scott Stiffler)

And we, she added, “have a long way to go… We’ve accomplished a lot, through many twists and turns. But I think we are at a place where we are, at best, halfway… We can look around on any given day and see instances of violence and stigma and hatred — here in our own town, or country. There is no Nirvana. There is no place where full liberation has been established.”

Northrop thinks it’s “a mistake to hold a Stonewall 50 Pride Parade that does not acknowledge that, and commit to the work ahead of us. What we [RPC) are trying to create is something that has meaning, and purpose, and values, that gives people a chance to celebrate — but make prominent, the fight we’re still in.”

“What we have become since Stonewall,” Tyler said, “is a commodity… I’ve had a great life, but I’m still sitting here, saying, ‘Why aren’t people angry? Why are we fighting each other?’ ” It’s time, she insists, “to rejuvenate our anger. We should not be satisfied, at all, at what is happening. How can we be? We’re not equal citizens in this country.”

For more information on the events and activities of groups mentioned in this article, visit nycpride.org, reclaimpridenyc.org, gaysagainstguns.net, riseandresist.org, and gayusatv.org. Access the I Love New York WorldPride Travel Guide at iloveny.com/travel-tools/guides.

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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Screenshot via CBSN Denver

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency rejecting LGBTQ families

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – In a ruling released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, determining the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, condemned the decision in a statement immediately after it was handed down.

“Today, the well-being of our country’s most vulnerable children has been sacrificed to preserve tax-payer funded discrimination for a powerful group of religious institutions,” Duddy-Burke said. “The Supreme Court just decreased the number of homes available to our youth in foster care, making what was already a crisis worse. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than straight couples to adopt or be foster parents and are more likely to have trans-racial families. This ruling means tens of thousands of children may never have a family to love and support them.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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