Philly QFest 2011: Judas Kiss

It’s that time of year again; the gay and lesbian film festival circuit is in full swing. I’ve been a big fan of the independent gay film genre for years now, but never before have I actually had the opportunity to experience any of the festivals. So this year I decided to make a point of going to Philly QFest’s 17th festival, and I’m really glad I did.

Today I went to the 2nd screening of Judas Kiss. I had wanted to see this film since I first saw the teaser trailers, and it was well worth the wait.

Judas Kiss stars Charlie David as Zachary Wells who was a boy wonder filmmaker in his college days, but now approaching thirty, his best days are long behind him. So, when his agent encourages him to travel to his alma mater to judge a student film festival, he reluctantly goes:  after all, he has nothing else to do. Returning to his old campus, he tosses professionalism aside when he has a one-night stand with Danny (Richard Harmon), the talented student filmmaker who’s much talked about movie proves to be the one to beat at the festival. Sexual shenanigans are the least of Zachary’s problems when he realizes that there has been some sort of time shift and that Danny is really his 20-year-old younger self! He’s looking directly at his past. But Danny’s none the wiser: he considers it just a fling with an old dude as he goes about his tumultuous personal life, juggling relationships with the cocky Shane (Timo Descamps) and with Chris (Sean Paul Lockhart), a fellow student with a crush on him. As Danny plots his way to an award-winning filmmaking future, Zachary works to change his past…and hopefully his future. Director J.T. Tepnapa (2002 short Masturbation: Putting the Fun Into Self-Loving) directs a very talented cast including David (Mulligans, Kiss the Bride, “Dante’s Cove”), Lockhart (Another Gay Sequel, Milk, I Was a Teenage Werebear) and Harmon (“The Killing”).     – Raymond Murray

Although I am a fan of the genre, independent gay films often suffer from notoriously tight budgets. With low production values, they can frequently appear to be little better than student films. That was definitely not the case here. As writer/producer Carlos Pedraza stated in the Q & A, they “wanted to make sure that every dollar raised for this project went into the production”. It definitely shows. The movie is beautifully lit, and the cinematography is interesting and draws you into the story. There were a lot of good people involved in the making of this film, a few of whom donated some of their time to get it made. They had an unbelievably large cast for such a low budget, with 32 speaking roles and a slew of extras. This film was set on a college campus, and they wanted realism.

The story was one we have all heard before; a misfit, failed soul gets a chance at redemption and an opportunity to change his life for the better.  So, I was curious as to what the filmmakers’ take on it would be. They took the familiar story and made it their own. I was drawn into the drama from the first scene. Now, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a sweet, gay love story, but I was immediately taken with David’s Zach and found myself more interested in his character’s development than anything else.

I was also really impressed with the acting of the main cast. I’ve see Charlie David in a few films and can say without a doubt, I felt this was one of his best. Sean Paul Lockhart (better known as Brent Corrigan to adult film audiences) has only been in a few films at this point, but I see a bright future for him. He was actually honored with the rising star award at QFest on opening night. Finally, we have Timo Descamps, the new gay indie breakout star. He’s a Belgian pop star who’s done mostly musical theater and tv roles and lends one of his singles to the film. I was not aware before the Q & A that this was not only his first feature film, but also his first English speaking project. He played the bad boy very well.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed every aspect of this film: the actors, the location, the direction. All of it was top notch. I would definitely rate this as a must see movie for gay cinema fans, and see this film earning a spot on the top ten list for 2011.

For those interested, a sneak peak at the many talents of Timo Descamps:

NOM Pledges $2 Million to Fight Marriage Equality

We knew it was coming, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has pledged “at least” $2 million towards the 2012 election to fight against marriage equality and to try to reverse the bill being passed in New York.

“The Republican party has torn up its contract with the voters who trusted them in order to facilitate Andrew Cuomo’s bid to be president of the U.S. Selling out your principles to get elected is wrong. Selling out your principles to get the other guy elected is just plain dumb” (NOM, 1).

Members of NOM feel that passing the marriage equality bill will have dire consequences for the next generation, for parents, for religious people, even for small business owners. I’m not sure I really understand the connection to that one.

They have stated many times over the last couple of weeks that they feel the Republican Party has betrayed them and they have vowed to fight against the reelection of the four Republican senators who were, in my opinion, brave enough to put aside the beliefs of their upbringing and look at the bigger picture. This wasn’t a decision any of them made lightly. They knew what vote their supporters favored and they were aware that they would lose some of that support. My favorite explanation for his change of vote came from Mark Grisanti, a Republican senator from Buffalo, explained his change of vote the best. He stated that while he was uncomfortable with the use of the word marriage as applied to same-sex couples, he couldn’t legally think of any reason they shouldn’t be allowed to wed. The biggest factor in his decision seemed to be the benefits being denied to gay and lesbian couples.

New York has passed the marriage equality bill, Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed it, and it will go into effect July 24. There are several factors we can credit for this bill getting passed: the immensely popular Governor Cuomo, the most aggressive advocacy campaign in U.S. history, Republicans wanting to be on the right side of history and public opinion swinging in our favor.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) speared-headed the most aggressive field campaign in U.S. history, spending $1 million in its efforts. An unprecedented 30 field organizers from across the state produced over 151,608 constituent contacts, including:

–          Delivering more than 75,515 post cards from constituents to state senators

–          Generating more than 47,199 emails from New Yorkers to their state lawmakers

–          Generating more than 25,622 phone calls from constituents to their state senators

–          Running twice weekly phone banks

–          More than 3,272 hand-written letters to targeted state senators

Here’s just one example of why this campaign was so important. Senator Joe Addabbo announced at a press conference that two years ago 73% of his constituents were opposed to marriage equality. This year, 80% of them urged him to support it. That’s what won his vote. Without the HRC reaching out to these supporters, the senator might not have been aware of the change in public opinion.

We all know the draw of celebrities, and the HRC is well aware of the publicity they could generate for the campaign. Over the last six months, the HRC has released 51 video testimonials featuring celebrities, sports figures, media personalities, everyday people, and politicians, all in support of marriage equality. These videos received over 1 million views on YouTube and drew a great public awareness to the issue.

In the end, it was these efforts that won our fight, but as I stated before, the fight’s not over yet.  And if we want to continue coming out ahead, we need all the help we can get. As the HRC is entirely funded by its members, I urge everyone to get involved. Whether you become an HRC member or volunteer your time, it doesn’t matter.  Every little bit helps.

1. “NOM to GOP Senators: ‘We Pledge $2 Million to Reverse Same-Sex Marriage in New York’”. Nation For Marriage.com. June 24, 2011. July 6, 2011. http://www.nationformarriage.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=omL2KeN0LzH&b=5134145&ct=10885939&notoc=1.

The Trevor Project: Saving Lives

Today I want to discuss an organization that’s dear to my heart, the Trevor Project. You’ll notice on the left of this screen, there’s a link to their webpage. I encourage everyone to check them out, donate, volunteer; the littlest bit can make the biggest difference. They are truly an inspiring group and they save so many lives every day.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Trevor Project, it was established by writer James Lecesne, director/producer Peggy Rajski and producer Randy Stone who created the 1994 Academy Award-winning short film, Trevor.

Set in 1981, Trevor is told through a series of diary entries following a gay 13-year-old boy named Trevor, who seeks his parents’ attention and support by frequently faking his own death by suicide. To his delight, Trevor is befriended by hunky school athlete, Pinky Faraday, upon whom he develops a crush. When he confesses how he feels about Pinky to his best friend, Walter Stiltman, not realizing anything is unusual about his feelings, his friend turns on him and word spreads at school that Trevor is gay. Shortly thereafter, a confused Trevor is ostracized by his entire school, and in his ensuing pain goes to such lengths as to give himself electric shock therapy to reverse his apparent homosexuality, runaway from home, and ultimately attempt suicide while lip-syncing to the Diana Ross song, “Endless Love.” When Trevor awakes in the hospital he meets Jack, a young candy-striper with a supportive demeanor. Jack’s friendship and advice, along with an offer to see Diana Ross live in concert, inspires Trevor to live. The film closes with a buoyant Trevor dancing up the sidewalk to his parents’ house while singing Diana Ross’s song, “I’m Coming Out.”

When this film was scheduled to air on HBO in 1998, the filmmakers realized that some of their young viewers might be facing the same crisis as Trevor and began searching for the appropriate support line to promote during the airing. However, when they discovered there were none, they dedicated themselves to creating what they considered a much needed resource: an organization that promotes understanding and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth, and aides in crisis and suicide prevention among this group. Thus, the Trevor Project was born, and through seed funding by the Colin Higgins Foundation, the Trevor Lifeline was formed, becoming the first ever 24 hour suicide prevention hotline aimed at LGBTQ youth.

The Trevor Project has also sponsored some other campaigns in an effort to further promote understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth, one of which is the “It Gets Better Project.”

In September 2010, syndicated columnist and author, Dan Savage recorded a YouTube video with his partner, Terry, aimed at inspiring hope among LGBTQ youth facing harassment. In response to an overwhelming number of suicides in recent months due to bullying, they wanted to offer a personal way for supporters to let these young people know that it does, in fact, get better.

Two months later, the “It Gets Better” project had become a worldwide movement with over 10,000 videos having been viewed 35 million times. To date, the project has received submissions from celebrities, politicians, organizations, activists, and media personalities, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Colin Farrell, Matthew Morrison of “Glee,” Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sarah Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the personnel of the Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, the Broadway community, and many more.

The Trevor Project is a vital organization for our nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth. A recent study showed that gay adolescents are 2-6 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The most common cause of this is the amount of anti-gay bullying that goes on in our schools. This has been an ongoing problem, but the number of new cases coming to light is horrifying. In September 2010, ten new cases caught the public eye.

–          Billy Lucas (15); September 9, 2010; Indiana; Billy hanged himself in his barn after alleged bullying and harassment at school. Jade Sansing told reporters that she heard the bullies call him “gay and tell him to go kill himself.”

–          Cody J. Barker (17); September 13, 2010; Wisconsin; Cody was an openly gay teenager who had recently attended a seminar aimed at helping him establish a gay-straight student alliance at his school. He was a passionate advocate especially for those ostracized for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

–          Seth Walsh (13); September 19, 2010; California; Even before Seth came out, he was constantly picked on for his mannerisms and way of dressing. On September 19, his mother found him unconscious. He had tried to hang himself. He hung on for ten days on life support before succumbing to his injuries.

–          Tyler Clementi (18); September 22, 2010; New Jersey; Tyler was outed in a gay sex tape secretly recorded by his roommate and a friend. He jumped off the GW Bridge.

–          Asher Brown (13); September 23, 2010; Texas; Asher was the victim of constant bullying at school. His parents claim he was “bullied to death.” He was picked on for his small size, his religion and because he didn’t wear designer clothes. His schoolmates also accused him of being gay and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he found his father’s gun and shot himself.

–          Harrison Chase Brown (15); September 25, 2010; Colorado; Some of Harrison’s friends told blogger, Perez Hilton that he killed himself because he was bullied. No more information is available about his death.

–          Zach Harrington (19); September 28, 2010; Oklahoma; In one of the most disturbing stories to date, Zach took his own life after attending a city council meeting and hearing city council members making disparaging, anti-gay remarks.

–          Raymond Chase (19); September 29, 2010; Rhode Island; Raymond was an openly gay sophomore at Johnson & Wales University. He hung himself in his dorm room. Details surrounding the reason behind his suicide are unknown.

–          Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010; Massachusetts; Classmate, Megan Ascolese says she witnessed Felix being bullied. He jumped off of an overpass.

–          Caleb Nolt (14); September 30, 2010; Indiana; While circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, classmates have alluded to the fact that he was bullied.

In most bullying cases that are unrelated to sexual orientation, the children being harassed can seek out counselors, teachers or parents. Unfortunately, when it comes to gay youth, the majority of them isn’t out to anybody yet, and therefore, has no one to whom they can turn. This is why it’s important to not only provide a lifeline for adolescents on the edge, but also to foster understanding throughout the community and their peers, so they can comprehend the consequences of their actions. In response to the September 2010 suicides, Texas Congressman Joel Burns made an impassioned “It Gets Better” video during a city council meeting, where he opened up about his own difficulties growing up as a gay teen and alleged to having had suicidal thoughts of his own.

 

As stated on their website, The Trevor Project offers several different services, the most well-known being the Trevor Lifeline – an around the clock crisis and suicide prevention hotline. The Trevor Lifeline is a free and confidential service with counselors that offers hope and someone to talk to. Each year, tens of thousands of calls are fielded from young people all around the country. The Trevor Lifeline is accredited as an exemplary crisis intervention program by the American Association for Suicidology (AAS). So, please, if you or anyone you know is in need of help, before you do anything else, call 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.

Dear Trevor is an online, non time-sensitive question and answer resource for young people with questions surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.

TrevorChat is a free and confidential messaging service that provides live help through its website. This service is only intended for people not at risk for suicide. TrevorChat is available on Fridays between 1pm Pacific (4pm Eastern) to 9pm Pacific (12am Eastern).

These three services have saved so many lives and I cannot express my appreciation enough for the Trevor Project and all they do. The sad truth is that every five hours an LGBT teen takes his or her life and for every one that succeeds, there are twenty more who try.

I encourage everyone to get involved with this great organization. Whether it’s donating time or money, our future generation deserves our protection. Every little bit helps.

A word from the 2011 Trevor Hero Award winner:

Obama’s Strive for Change

Whew, New York’s had a busy week. Haven’t had a chance to catch up? Here’s what you missed…

First, in an amazing upset, the GOP-led New York Senate passed the marriage equality bill on June 24, 2011, more than doubling the population among which same-sex couples can legally marry. (New York has a population of 19,378,102 accordingly to the 2010 US Census, while Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and DC have a reported combined population of 15,671,450.)  For a while it seemed like this vote wouldn’t even take place.  If a revision granting religious protections to clergy refusing to perform these unions hadn’t taken place, it’s likely that the bill would have been tabled until next year, much like the delay Maryland’s legislature is currently dealing with.

Supporters believe that the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York will pave the way for others to follow suit.  Over fifty percent of Americans are now showing to be in favor of same-sex marriage, so one can only hope that progress will continue all the way to the White House. Presently, Obama hasn’t come out in support of same-sex marriage. In several instances he has been reported as saying that he believes marriage to be between a man and a woman.  However, now that public opinion seems to be changing, he’s been more hesitant to state his beliefs openly and some wonder if he’s going to come out in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in his campaign. Whether or not that happens, he’s done more for LGBT rights than any of his predecessors.

President Obama delivered the above speech on June 29 at the White House for an LGBT event  in which he addressed his term and all that has been accomplished. For those who haven’t followed all the news, here are a few of the victories that have occurred.

With the help of Judy Shepard, he signed the Matthew Shepard act into law. This piece of legislature is named after a boy who, in 1998, was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die because he was gay. Originally, Matthew’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, tried to use the gay panic defense, which was shot down by the judge saying it was either a temporary insanity or diminished capacity defense, neither of which are allowed in Wyoming. After the trial, though they recanted their testimony saying it was just a robbery gone awry (their girlfriends denied that claim), Judge Donnel told the court and the accused that he remained convinced that Matthew’s sexual orientation played a roll in his murder. In his sole reference to Matthew being gay, the judge said the grisly crime was “part because of his lifestyle, part for a $20 robbery.” The new law expands the existing federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Before this bill was signed, of the 45 states that had hate crimes laws, only 32 included sexual orientation and 11 included gender identity.

Obama also changed the way hospitals treated same-sex partners of patients. In many cases if someone wasn’t an immediate family member, they weren’t allowed to visit with the patient. While this affected a lot of people that were cared for by friends or other service providers, gays and lesbians were uniquely affected in that they were often denied visitation with a partner they had been with for decades. This was the case with Janice Langbehn. In 2007, her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond was stricken with a fatal brain aneurysm. Although, Ms. Langbehn was her power of attorney and they had four children together, the hospital refused to let her visit. Ms. Pond died while Langbehn was still trying to argue her way in. In April 2010, President Obama called her to say that he had been moved by her case and was working to change the policy. He also apologized to her for how they’d been treated; something the hospital still refuses to do. Now under the new law every hospital that accepts Medicare or Medicaid has to grant visitation to same-sex partners.

In October 2009, Obama announced that he would lift the HIV travel ban. This ban barred HIV-positive non-citizens from entering the US for more than two decades. HIV-positive non-citizens were also banned from becoming citizens except in a very small number of exceptions. This marked a huge step forward, since this policy had been almost universally criticized from both inside and outside of the US since its instatement.

In July 2010, the Obama administration announced the first national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS: a strategy to boost awareness about the disease and redirect $25 million in funds towards states for patients on waiting lists for HIV/AIDS drugs. This plan is designed to redirect HHS (Health and Human Services) funds from dozens of different programs throughout the organization to the most at risk and affected groups: gay and bisexual men and African-Americans.

And then of course, in December 2010, in one of the most well-known and bold maneuvers of the Obama administration, the president announced that he would repeal DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). Sodomy has been grounds for discharge from the military since the Revolutionary War. As the US prepared to enter WWII, they added a psychiatric screening to the enlistment process, which automatically eliminated the LGBT community as homosexuality remained on the books as a mental disorder until 1973. In 1982, the Department of Defense issued a policy that stated that homosexuality was incompatible with military service because their presence “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability” according to Title 10 of the United States Code. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was a compromise to the ban that was passed in 1993 during the Clinton administration, in which they could serve as long as they didn’t admit to their homosexuality. Over 14,500 soldiers were discharged under this policy. Needless to say, DADT was flawed: soldiers were still harassed for their perceived sexual orientation and now had no way to report this to their superiors without outing themselves. This was the case with Navy Sailor, Joseph Rocha who suffered abuse for two years by his fellow servicemen. He endured constant hazing while he served with military dog handlers based in Bahrain before finally seeking discharge by coming out to his commanding officer. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Washington Post article from 2009 quotes Rocha as saying, “I told no one about what I was living through. I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality.” Polls conducted in the months prior to the repeal of DADT showed that approximately 77% of Americans were in favor of the repeal. However, within the military only 28% were in favor with 37% against and another 37% unsure. Since 2007, 28 retired officers tried to get DADT repealed, stating that there was evidence of over 65,000 gays serving in the military. Unfortunately, this repeal comes too late to save some officers who were harassed and even murdered due to their sexual orientation. For example, US Navy Radioman Third Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr., who was brutally beaten to death in 1992 for being gay. Or Army Infantry Soldier Barry Winchell, who was also the victim of a brutal beating in 1999. Even though Obama made the original announcement at the end of last year, we’re still waiting for it to go into effect. Studies had to be done to make sure that the repeal wouldn’t affect military readiness, which is especially important during wartime. After that, there’s a mandatory 60 day waiting period. However, Obama stated in his speech that he expects to sign the official repeal in a matter of weeks, not months, as originally suggested.

Obama’s administration is working on the repeal of DOMA (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act) as well, but until that day comes to pass, they will no longer defend it in court. This is a huge victory for the LGBT community. The Defense of Marriage Act is one of the most discriminatory laws in recent US history. It federally defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This means that states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and that bi-national couples can’t sponsor their spouses for green cards. In another bold move, last week the Department of Justice released a brief in Karen Golinski’s federal court challenge, supporting her lawsuit seeking access to equal health benefits for her wife and arguing strongly that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in terms unparalleled in previous administration statements. In the brief, the DOJ admits to the US Government’s “significant and regrettable” part in discrimination in America of gays and lesbians. Unlike in other cases where DOJ has stopped defending DOMA in accordance with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision that Section 3 of DOMA – the federal definition of marriage – is unconstitutional, DOJ lawyers last week made an expansive case in a 31-page filing that DOMA itself is unconstitutional.

As with any controversial subject, there are two sides to the argument of marriage equality. The conservatives that are against equality mostly oppose it on religious grounds, which I will further discuss at a later date. Putting that aside, this debate is now more about legalities than religion. The fact of the matter is that same-sex couples are denied 1138 benefits that married couples currently take for granted, including pension, healthcare, adoption, and hospitalization, among so many others. A 1997 study completed by the GAO (United States General Accounting Office) originally found 1049 denied benefits. When they repeated the study in 2004, they found the number had increased to the current figure. Stopping the defense of DOMA is a big step, but the real coup will come when it’s finally repealed.

As Obama stated in his speech, these things take time. Progress is being made, and while we might be impatient for true equality, we have to take a look at how far we’ve come. More and more Americans are coming out in support of us and some of these supporters are coming from surprising places, like Mark Grisanti, a Republican Senator from Buffalo. His explanation of his vote in favor of the marriage bill was one of the most moving speeches of the evening and helped tip the bill into passage. In his speech, Grisanti noted that he was Catholic, but that he was also a lawyer and studied the legal ramifications of this bill. For him, this meant that he had a problem with the word marriage because of his upbringing, but also had a problem with the rights denied to same-sex couples and that he could find no legal reasons why they shouldn’t be allowed to marry. He said that he had never researched a subject so much as he did this one. He felt that the religious amendment to the bill provided adequate protection to clergy and benevolent organizations and if the bill didn’t pass, they wouldn’t be there next time. His most reiterated quote from the speech is, “A man can be wiser today than yesterday, but there’ll be no respect for that man if he has failed in his duty to do the work.”

Until the journey to marriage equality is complete, we’ll celebrate the victories we have along the way. New York certainly adopted that philosophy as evidenced by the turnout they had at NYC Pride last weekend. Way to go, New York! Happy Pride, you deserve it. May the rest of the country look to you for direction.

If you wish to see what else President Obama and his administration can accomplish, please consider getting involved here.

For other interest in aiding our fight for equality or to have your voice heard, please visit one of the following organizations:

National Interest: Human Rights Campaign

Local Interest: Equality Maryland or Equality Virginia

US Senators Release “It Gets Better” Video!!!

With so many disappointments in our fight for equality, it’s always a nice change to be able to talk about something positive.

The Boston Red Sox have officially become the third professional sports team to release an “It Gets Better” video following The San Francisco Giants and the Seattle Mariners.

There are currently countless petitions on change.org aimed at getting other teams to record their own videos for the campaign. One such petition is for one of my personal favorites, the New England Patriots. It can be signed here.

Another surprise I had today was seeing the “It Gets Better” video released by 13 US Senators recently.

After watching it, I’m kind of conflicted. On one hand, it’s a great campaign and I think it’s wonderful that these politicians, people who are in charge of making decisions about our equality, have come out with such an inspirational message. On the other hand, you have these Senators telling our youth not to be ashamed of whom they are while voting against bills that give us equal rights. It seems a little hypocritical to me. I applaud their intention, but if we, as a community, are expected to believe this message, it’s going to take more of an effort on their part than just a five minute video clip. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. It’s time for our government to step it up a notch.

The Obama administration has done more for the LGBT community than any of its predecessors, but there is still a long way to go. One day, everyone will be treated equally, regardless of age, sex, race, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity and we’ll finally see the freedom that this country was founded on. We the people…means everyone.

A Victory for Seattle

Today’s post is going to be short, but I wanted to talk about a small victory. Although the fundraiser that I was talking about yesterday for the Seattle Space Needle failed to raise the complete $50,000, it did manage to bring in an impressive $40, 031.47 in a short period of time.

So, in thanks for the fundraising efforts of the community, the Space Needle decided to raise the flag anyway and today, it was hoisted by change.org’s Joe Mirabella and the starter of the petition, Josh Castle. There are pictures of the event. They are property of the Gay Rights fanpage on Facebook. Please click on either image to be redirected to their page. Please “like” them! We can always use more supporters.

Josh Castle and change.org's Joe Mirabella

Josh Castle Raising the Pride Flag

I’ll be signing off now, so I’ll keep this short and simple. Have a great Pride, Seattle! You deserve it.

Will the Seattle Space Needle Raise the Gay Pride Flag Again This Year?

Josh Castle’s petition on change.org asking the Seattle Space Needle to raise the pride flag this year has gotten a lot of reactions, good and bad. In addition to a lot of homophobic comments, most of the rest of the negative ones stemmed from the fact that readers felt that since the Space Needle was a private company, they shouldn’t be badgered into doing this.

When I read the petition, that wasn’t the opinion I formed. I didn’t feel that Josh was trying to pressure the company into raising the flag. My feeling was that all he wanted to do was gather a group of supporters to show the Space Needle how many people would appreciate the gesture. Well, he definitely accomplished that. At last count, about 8700 people had signed the petition.

For a while, it seemed that the Space Needle wouldn’t succumb to the public’s wishes. However, a short while ago they released a statement in which they issued a challenge to the supporters. They would fly the rainbow flag during Pride weekend this year if the community could raise $50,000 for four different charities. The charities selected were the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) Scholarship Program, Lambda Legal, the It Gets Better Campaign (Trevor Project) and Mary’s Place (a homeless shelter for women and children). The money would be divided equally between these four organizations and the Space Needle would make an additional $5000 inaugural donation.

Well, it’s getting down to the wire. This is Pride Weekend and the parade is tomorrow. As of now, the community has raised $39,835.27. So, please make any donation you can, no matter how small. To donate directly through facebook, just click here.

I also want to mention the ripple effect that this deal has made within the LGBT friendly business community of Seattle. In particular, there’s a small business called Healeo who gave out 120 gay flags to local businesses. However, he received a hate filled letter from a man he believed was from Kansas. At first, he thought about removing the flags. He’s a small business owner and therefore, very vulnerable to attack and has stated himself that he loses sleep worrying about things like this. However, he changed his mind in view of the positive responses he got.

Instead, he decided to post the letter on his Facebook page and he was astounded at the outpouring of support he received, everyone telling him that they were proud he was standing up for equality. His feelings were that we’re too progressive a society to take a step back now.

I, for one, applaud him. It’s easy to give in to attacks like these, especially when you’re a small business. You don’t always have the financial security and clout to be able to ignore such threat. So, to take that risk anyway exhibits a lot of courage and I wish their were more business owners like him.

Click here to view his full interview about the incident I mentioned above.

 

New York Senate Votes Yes on Marriage Equality

Today is a historic day. Just three hours ago, the New York Senate voted in favor of the marriage equality bill 33-29. This makes New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. There has been a lot of controversy on this bill, with the biggest issue being the religious protections it provides. Republicans were worried that religious leaders would be penalized for their beliefs if they refused to perform same-sex ceremonies and for a while it looked like the bill wouldn’t even come to a vote this session.

Well, it looks like the amendments to the religious protections’ section appeased the senate’s concerns because the bill passed with thunderous applause. Meanwhile, I was one of 48,000 people who tuned in to the live stream. Twenty-nine Democrats and four Republicans voted yes on the bill, while all but one of the no votes were from Republicans. While, the Republicans who voted against marriage equality definitely weren’t pleased with the outcome, the loudest outcry came from the lone “no” Democrat, Ruben Diaz Sr, who took the stand and told the senate president he should be ashamed of himself for supporting the bill. He also called the “yes” Republicans turncoats.

With a bill of this importance, one had to realized that there would be a long drawn out discussion once the results were announced. Indeed, it seemed like not one senator would be able to stick to his allotted two minute explanation of his vote. Listening to the senate president try to guide these men’s points to conclusion, I was starting to be reminded of the Oscar’s acceptance speeches. I was waiting for the music to queue up.

There were a couple of speeches that stuck with me, though. The two that moved me the most were openly gay Democrat Tom Duane of Manhattan and  Republican Mark Grisanti of Buffalo.

Duane gave a very emotional speech relating the story of his life and family. He talked about coming out to his Catholic parents and his fight for gay rights. He mentioned that his nieces and nephews already thought of him and his partner as married. He also said that he and his partner, Louis, were a family, but that marriage would strengthen that family even more.

Grisanti”s speech really made me think and even reconsider a few points. I’m the first to admit that sometimes my brain is so far in the left corner, it kind of blinds me to everything else, but I could really see Saland’s point of view. He talked about being raised Catholic and how his conservative upbringing taught him that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. However, he also mentioned that he believes in equal rights, so while he doesn’t like the word “marriage” for same-sex couples, he also doesn’t want to deny them the 1138 extra benefits that heterosexual marriages have. He voted against the bill in 2009, but this time he did a lot of research on the matter and weighed the pros and cons. He was undecided for a while. He met with a lot of people on both sides of the issue. A lot of his concerns also stemmed from the debate on the religious protections issue. Once edits were made to the bill, he felt that religious leaders were sufficiently immune to discrimination suits if they declined to perform same-sex ceremonies based on their beliefs. And when push came to shove, he decided that the need for equal rights outweighed the risk of sharing the word “marriage.”

If anyone wants to watch Grisanti’s speech, here it is:

Republican senator Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsi’s vote in favor of the bill marked the victory. He was the 32nd senator to vote yes, which secured the majority. Just four days ago, Governor Cuomo was one vote shy of the needed 32. He campaigned hard for those last votes. That, in addition to the push we made for all New Yorkers to call their senators, got the final needed votes. See? We can make a difference. This is definitely a significant step in the right direction for equality. New York was the largest state to vote in favor of same-sex marriage. It officially doubles the number of same-sex couples who can get married now. I know we have a long way to go, but for a second, lets enjoy this victory. We’ll start working on the other states tomorrow…like California.

Hey, is anyone out there involved with the NOH8 Campaign? If anyone isn’t aware, they’re a great organization that’s campaigning against prop 8 in California. If you’ve ever seen those gorgeous portraits where the models have duct tape over their mouths and NOH8 on their faces, that’s them. If anyone’s in the London, UK area, they’re doing an open photo shoot at the Soho Hotel on July 3. You should check it out. All proceeds go to the campaign. They’re also going to be at the W Montreal in Montreal on July 30 and in Philadelphia, PA on August 5. There aren’t any details on the locale for Philly yet, however, since I’m in Maryland, I might be there. Let me know if anyone else will be. Also, does anyone know of any upcoming rallies or events, either involving the NOH8 campaign or another organization against Prop 8, that are coming up in California?

I’ll be signing off for now, but in the meantime, to check out more information on the NOH8 campaign, please visit:

http://www.noh8campaign.com/

Welcome!

Welcome!

This blog is about human rights, pure and simple. It’s called Out of Left Field, so most of the views expressed here will be a little more on the liberal side. (For my international subscribers, the title refers to Left Wing, the more liberal side of politics.) Most of the blogs will be about current gay rights issues. However, there will also be articles and posts on other equality issues as well.

Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, male, female, it doesn’t matter. We’re all human and we all share the same planet. I’ve been very passionate about equality issues for a long time. While I’ve been thrilled with some of the steps forward we’ve made, I also know we have a long way to go. One thing I’ve come to understand, though, is that I can’t keep complaining about these issues if I’m not willing to do something about it. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. I wanted a space where we could discuss current issues and get the word out there. I will also be  showcasing various charities, nonprofits, fundraisers, events, etc, so if anyone comes across any worthy causes, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

I want this to be an open forum where we can, not only discuss current stories, but also provide information and come up with ways of getting involved. This is about making a difference, one person at a time.