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Marriage activist Diane Olson dies at 65

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Robin Tyler and Diane Olson in Oct. 2011 at a Gloria Allred-sponsored party in West Hollywood to watch Chaz Bono on “Dancing with the Stars” (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

She was the quiet one, the blond political spouse who stood by the side of her activist/comic wife during LGBT civil rights demonstrations and media events promoting the right for same sex couples to marry. They were the first lesbian plaintiffs to file what became the successful lawsuit that helped bring marriage equality to California. To borrow from the song, Diane Olson was the wind beneath Robin Tyler’s wings.

Olson passed away from brain cancer on Wednesday night, Jan. 16, at the couple’s home in North Hills surrounded by family and friends. Olson was 65.

Diane Olson (Photo courtesy Robin Tyler)

Their lives were not all politics, however. Olson joined Tyler’s early 5-Star International Tour Company for lesbians and for 20 years they travelled around the world, stepping among seals in the Galapagos, posing with King Penguins in Antarctica, swimming with a baby elephant in Thailand, and getting close to wildlife everywhere. Olson’s favorite destination was Botswana, Africa.

Diane Olson and Robin Tyler in a Tyler-produced grassroots No on Prop 8 video (Screen-grabbed photo)

Olson came to the fore during the battle for marriage equality, reminding the media that she was the granddaughter of Gov. Culbert Levy Olson, the first elected Democratic Governor of California, who ran on a platform promoting ‘separation of Church and State.’ He would have been proud to officiate at their wedding.

Olson and Tyler worked within the Freedom to Marry movement but they became frustrated after Tyler retired and her union, AFTRA, would not extend medical benefits to Olson since they were not legally married. Their friend attorney Gloria Allred agreed to take the case, pro bono.

Diane Olson and Robin Tyler get married at the Beverly Hills Courthouse (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

For four years, the couple went to the Beverly Hills Courthouse on Valentine’s Day with other activists to demand a marriage license, which they were denied. Finally, on Feb. 12, 2004, Allred filled a lawsuit on behalf of Tyler and Olson and Rev. Troy Perry and Phillip Ray de Blieck (already legally married in Canada) for the right to marry in California. That lawsuit was later combined with lawsuits from San Francisco, leading to a decision in May 2008 declaring the constitutional right to marry for same sex couples.

Robin Tyler, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, and Diane Olson (Photo courtesy of Robin Tyler)

The court granted special dispensation to Olson and Tyler in Los Angeles and Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in San Francisco to be the first couples to legally marry in California. On June 16, 2008, media from around the world carried what Tyler would later call their “Big Fat Jewish Lesbian Wedding” in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Some opposed the Jewish ceremony, officiated by Rabbi Denise Eger, because it might offend the religious right. But Olson thought it was a sharp reminder of the separation between church and state.

Diane Olson and Robin Tyler in front of the US Supreme Court (Photo by Michael Key) 

In 2012, Olson developed lung cancer that metastasized into brain cancer in 2016. After treatment, they continued to participate in LGBT politics—especially the grassroots battle against Proposition 8 in 2008. They also traveled until the couple’s last yearly visit to Cancun in Oct. 2018.

At the time of her death, Olson and Tyler had been married over 25 years, legally married for 10 ½. Funeral plans are pending.

 

 

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Hong Kong activist dismisses calls for Gay Games boycott

WTA suspended China tournaments after tennis player disappeared

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Hong Kong Marriage Equality Co-founder Gigi Chao (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

HONG KONG — An LGBTQ activist in Hong Kong on Tuesday dismissed calls to boycott the 2023 Gay Games over China’s human rights record.

“In Hong Kong, the team behind Gay Games has really worked tirelessly to bring it to Hong Kong and it will be a very good opportunity to showcase diversity and people working together and the human spirit at its best,” Gigi Chao told the Los Angeles Blade during a telephone interview from Hong Kong. “So, if it all gets rather political and if you twist the sentiments of what they want China to be, it will just really not work.”

Chao is the co-founder of Hong Kong Marriage Equality, a group that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the former British colony. Chao also founded the Faith in Love Foundation, a group that seeks to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues in Hong Kong.  

Chao is a member of the OutRight Action International board of directors. Chao is slated to speak in the group’s annual summit that will take place virtually this week.

“All eyes are peeled on the events of next year: The Beijing Olympics, the relationship between Beijing and the U.S. as relationships either improve or sour over the course of the next 12 months and also trade and the global economic situation … it’s not a rosy picture by all means,” Chao told the Blade. “Everybody is bracing for the worst in terms of how the world recovers from COVID, but LGBTIQ rights continue.”

Chao said Dennis Philipse, a Hong Kong resident who co-chairs Gay Games Hong Kong, and his colleagues “want the Gay Games to be a celebration of the human spirit in terms of sport.”

“In Hong Kong, there’s certainly no shortage of people engaged in sport and enjoying sports,” said Chao.

Gay Games Hong Kong in September announced the postponement of the quadrennial event until 2023 because of the pandemic. The Federation of Gay Games, which oversees the Gay Games, awarded the games to Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, Mexico.

Hong Kong was a British colony until China regained control of it in 1997.

Upwards of 2 million people took part in pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong in 2019.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which, according to human rights activists, makes it easier for authorities to punish anyone who challenges the Chinese government, took effect in 2020. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is closely aligned with the Chinese government, supports the statute.

The Women’s Tennis Association last week announced the suspension of tournaments in Hong Kong and throughout China in response to the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, after she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The Biden administration on Monday announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics that are slated to take place in Beijing in February.

“The Federation of Gay Games continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong regarding COVID-19, the National Security Law and all other aspects that affect the safety and security of our event,” Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, told the Blade in a statement after the Women’s Tennis Association announced it had suspended all of its tournaments in China. “We are committed to hosting Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2023.”

Chao acknowledged Gay Games organizers are “facing a lot of opposition from all directions.” Chao also noted Hong Kong’s government is “not actually positively promoting it.”

“If we can get really high-profile athletes to participate, I think that’s going to be a huge call for everybody to participate,” said Chao.

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Iowa

Iowa State Appeal Board settles lawsuits by anti-LGBTQ religious groups

The Christian groups claimed the university had violated their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion

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The University of Iowa during Homecoming (Photo Credit: The University of Iowa)

DES MOINES – The Iowa State Appeal Board, made up of Iowa state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, Auditor Rob Sand and Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen, approved disbursing nearly $2 million in state funds to settle two Federal lawsuits brought against the University of Iowa in 2017 after a religious group denied an openly gay student a leadership role. 

According to the Associated Press in a U.S. News article Monday, lawyers for the student group Business Leaders in Christ were awarded $1.37 million in fees and costs for litigating their case. A second student group, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, won their federal court case and will be paid $20,000 in damages and about $513,000 in attorney fees.

The groups claimed the university had violated their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The monetary amounts were negotiated between the university and the plaintiffs in both cases and approved by a federal judge. Monday’s approval by the State Appeal Board authorizes the state to make the payments the AP reported.

In March of this past Spring, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Business Leaders in Christ after the University of Iowa had ordered group was dismantled in 2017 after claiming the student group violated its Human Rights Policy.

As reported by The Daily Iowan, Marcus Miller, a UI sophomore at the time, filed a discrimination complaint against the Business Leaders in Christ after the group  revoked a leadership position from Miller upon finding out his sexual orientation.

A new law that requires state universities and community colleges to adopt policies that prohibit them from denying benefits to a student organization based on the viewpoint of the group was implemented in 2019.

“In addition, a public institution of higher education shall not deny any benefit or privilege to a student organization based on the student organization’s requirement that the leaders of the student organization agree to and support the student organization’s beliefs, as those beliefs are interpreted and applied by the organization, and to further the student organization’s mission,” the law reads.

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New York

New state charges against man who threatened LGBTQ+ New Yorkers

Fehring is being charged with criminal mischief and grand larceny as a hate crime in the Sayville, Long Island case

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Los Angeles Blade file photo by @strekoza.nyc

RIVERHEAD, Ny. – The man arrested by FBI agents on Monday charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for mailing letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations, and businesses, was arrested Tuesday on state charges.

Tri-state news outlet News 12 New York reported that Robert Fehring, 74, a resident of Bayport, New York on Long Island, surrendered to Suffolk County police detectives accused of stealing almost two dozen pride flags back in July from Long Railroad Avenue in Sayville.

Eileen Tyznar has organized the LGBTQ parade for the past three years in Sayville. She saysshe lived in fear and would constantly get threatening letters. She is now relieved Fehring was arrested she told News12.

The stolen pride flags inside his home were discovered while executing the Federal search warrant, Suffolk police said.

On November 18, 2021, members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport, New York, and recovered photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird. 

Fehring is being charged with criminal mischief and grand larceny as a hate crime in the Sayville case.

Robert Fehring, (right) with his attorney Glenn Obedin Tuesday
(Screenshot via News 12 New York)

In the Federal criminal complaint Fehring is accused of sending, according to the complaint, include one this year threatening to shoot a high-powered rifle at a Long Island Pride event in June; another warning a local Chamber of Commerce member that ambulances would be needed if the group allowed an L.G.B.T.Q. event to proceed; and a third describing a Brooklyn barbershop as a “perfect target for a bombing.”

Since at least 2013, Fehring had been sending individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community letters in which he threatened violence, including threatening the use of firearms and explosives. 

In the criminal complaint and affidavit for arrest, federal prosecutors allege that one letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

If convicted, Fehring, whom media outlets in New York identified as a retired high school teacher, band director and track coach, faces up to five years in prison.

Court records show that he sued the Suffolk County police unsuccessfully after being taken into custody in 2010 after an off-duty officer saw him hide a shotgun under a raincoat and bring it into a Long Island office building, the New York Times reported.

Gay City News editor  Matt Tracy reported that Fehring appeared in court on December 6 before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke and was released on $100,000 bond. He is restricted to home detention with location monitoring, according to prosecutors. He is not allowed to have any firearms or “destructive devices,” is barred from contacting any of his alleged victims, and cannot go to the places he is said to have targeted.

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