Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vatican & Islamic Council to oppose UN statement on human rights

Action Alert
from International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Where Does the US Stand on Human Rights?

With over 60 countries now joining in an unprecedented international call for increased attention to human rights atrocities faced by individuals and communities because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, the question is: Why has the United States not joined with allies around the world to condemn these human rights violations?

The joint statement will be delivered to the entire United Nations General Assembly later this week. In addition to calling for greater attention to human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the statement calls upon countries to decriminalize homosexuality. And, just yesterday, we learned that Nicaragua has signed on to the statement- one year after repealing it's sodomy law!

In a new development, IGLHRC has confirmed that the Organization of The Islamic Conference (OIC) is joining with the Vatican to protest the human rights statement.

IGLHRC and the Council for Global Equality once again ask that everyone contact the US State Department asking that the US reject the homophobia promulgated by the OIC and the Vatican, and stand with the 60+ countries calling for a more just world for LGBT people everywhere.

Contact the following:
Letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Brian Hook may be faxed to 1-202-736-4116, or you may go to
http://contact-us.state.gov/, and then click on the "email a question/comment" tab and fill out the on-line form.

Phone calls should be made to them at the following numbers: Assistant Secretary of State Brian Hook: 202-647-9600. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: 202-647-6575 (through the Department of State's Public Information Line).

Same-sex RIghts Will Make a Late Comeback

Short opinion piece by Mark Puleo: http://ny.metro.us/metro/blog/my_view/entry/Samesex_rights__will_make_a_late_comeback/14589.html

NYC Lights Up - December 20th


Saturday Dec 20th: NYC Lights Up!
6:00pm MARCH FROM HERALD SQUARE (34th St./6th Ave.)
TO TIMES SQUARE (Broadway/42nd St)
7:00-8:00pm RALLY IN TIMES SQUARE

This is part of a nation-wide demonstration for Equality.
We are not done fighting!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Marriage Equality Video from SOULFORCE

United Against Hate!
Memorial Vigil in response to the hate crime in Bushwick
against the Sucazhanay Brothers

Sunday December 14th 2008 2PM
Community Park on the corner of Grove and Myrtle Avenue
We will march to the corner where the attack took place
(on the corner of Bushwick and Kossouth place).

L train to Myrtle/ Wyckoff, M train to Knickerbocker Avenue
For more info and endorments contact: Karina Claudio at 917-676-2559 or write karina.claudio@maketheroadny.org

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Surprise!(?) - NJ Civil Union Commission Favors Marriage

Last night at a packed "Town Hall" meeting in South Orange, Garden State Equality detailed the findings of New Jersey Commission on Civil Unions. It began with an excerpt of the 2007 Academy Awards when the documentary 'Freeheld' won an Oscar to sympathetic and cheers supporters.

It continued with several brief clips from the film showing police Lt. Laurel Hester, who ultimately sucoumed to cancer, crediting the organization with the victory to pension benefits to her partner. The group has to its credit been responsible for the enactment of over 200 laws throughout the state. It then introduced a couple who had seen the failure of civil unions first hand.

One of the two was rushed to the hospital for a life threatening condition. When the other arrived at the hospital to check on her partner's condition, she had to educate the doctor on the nature of the civil union law and about her right to receive information. (The arrogance and ignorance of some in the medical professional is truly astounding at times.)

There were then a few words from J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, chairman of the Civil Union Review Commission, who serves as the state's Director of the NJ Division of Civil Rights.

Finally the nephew of Harvey Milk - Stuart Milk offered some encouraging words and some personal stories about his infamous uncle.

All in all it was a great gathering.

It really isn't a surprise that the civil union law is not meeting expectations. In the absence of action on a federal level, the benefits that the law promises just are not pratically significant. However in terms of equality -- the moral case cannot be overlooked. Members of same sex relationships deserve the same recognition as their heterosexual counterparts pure and simple.

The full report is available at the following address:
http://www.nj.gov/oag/dcr/downloads/CURC-Final-Report-.pdf

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Run a CounterAd NOW!

Let HRC & GLADD pay Last Friday the Mormon Church took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times criticizing Post-Prop 8 protests held recently throughout the country. In response to the ad, Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation urged supporters to write letters to the New York Times. Activist Peter Staley (POZ/AIDSMEDS.com) correctly faults that response as inadequate. He calls for HRC/GLADD to put its money where its mouth is and stand up for the community.
see details
http://blogs.poz.com/peter/archives/2008/12/hrc_defend_the.html

hattip: http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/

Monday, December 8, 2008

Alleged Hate Crime in Brooklyn

Statement by Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn
Re: Alleged Hate Crime in Brooklyn

I was outraged to learn this morning that two men were assaulted at Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, and especially horrified to learn that anti-LGBT and anti-Latino slurs were used by one or more of the assailants - raising this event to the level of a hate crime.

My office is in touch with the family of the victims and offers our prayers. We have also been in touch with the NYPD's Hate Crimes Task Force, and thank them for their immediate response and hard work. We are confident that those who committed this crime will be apprehended. Together we are calling on all who might have any information about this crime to come forward immediately to the NYPD.

Those who perpetrated this crime must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This cowardly display of hate against two innocent men only re-enforces the need to continue to inform and educate the public about the destruction that hate can cause.

We all must open our eyes to the hate that exists around us and work together to fight against those that demonize others and allow stereotypes to lead them to acts of unconscionable violence. We are all partners against hate. When we come together, to stand up, every time we witness an act motivated by hate, we will send the message that we will not stand for the destruction that comes along with it.

Members of the City Council, community leaders, clergy, and I will hold a press conference December 8th at 12:30 pm on the steps of City Hall to continue to stand up for the victims and to speak out against this vicious crime and all crimes perpetrated by hate.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Mormon Church Plays Victim

In today's New York Times, the Mormon church published an ad entitled 'No Mob Veto.'

The continuing assault on the civil rights and liberties of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer community is the true outrage!

Hollywood Responds to Prop 8

Worthy Post-Prop 8 Commentary

365gay.com columnist John Covino makes the point that "California is NOT the first place where straight voters have taken away gay people’s rights" and continues with excellent commentary in the aftermath of the Prop 8 loss in the Golden State.

http://www.365gay.com/opinion/corvino-gay-rights-beyond-california/

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tennessee officer accused of transgender beating

McRae pleads not guilty
MEMPHIS (AP) Nov 20, 9:33 AM

A former Memphis police officer pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to civil rights charges in the jailhouse beating of a transgender prostitution suspect that was captured on video.

An indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses Bridges McRae, 28, of using unreasonable force by repeatedly striking Duanna Johnson with his fist and handcuffs in the intake area of the Shelby County Jail in February.

Johnson, a biological male who lived as a woman, was being booked on a prostitution charge when the incident happened. A videotape of the beating was broadcast on Memphis TV stations and online in June, leading to McRae's firing. His former partner, James Swain, 25, was also fired.

McRae pleaded not guilty at a brief hearing on Wednesday before a federal magistrate and was released without bond. No trial date was set.

He is charged with violating Johnson's civil rights while in a position of authority, an offense that carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Johnson, 43, who had a long history of prostitution arrests, was shot to death on a Memphis street by an unknown assailant earlier this month. The killing is still under investigation and no arrests have been made.

McRae declined comment as he left the federal courthouse. His lawyer, Ted Hansom, said McRae was "in a scuffle" with Johnson, who stood 6-foot-5, and was doing what he had to do to defend himself. Johnson was knocked bleeding to the jailhouse floor but was not seriously hurt.

The beating and Johnson's murder have drawn the attention of advocates for gay and transgender rights, including the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that has called on the Memphis Police Department for a "commitment to treating transgender people with respect and fairness."

Hat tip: New York Blade

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Court to Hear Prop 8 Challenge in California

The California Supreme Court announced on November 19, 2008 that it will review the Prop 8 challenge brought by Lambda Legal, NCLR, ACLU and others. This is exciting news!
In an order issued today, the Court agreed to hear the case and set an expedited briefing schedule. The Court also denied an immediate stay.

On November 5, 2008, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of Proposition 8 in the California Supreme Court on behalf of six individuals and Equality California. The City of San Francisco, joined by the City of Los Angeles and Santa Clara County, filed a similar challenge, as did a private attorney in Los Angeles.

In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court held that barring same-sex couples from marriage violates the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and violates the fundamental right to marry. Proposition 8 would completely eliminate the right to marry only for same-sex couples. No other initiative has ever successfully changed the California Constitution to take away a right only from a targeted minority group.

Over the past 100 years, the California Supreme Court has heard nine cases challenging either legislative enactments or initiatives as invalid revisions of the California Constitution. In three of those cases, the Court invalidated those measures.

The LGBTQ Community has turned disappointment over the passage of Prop 8 and other antigay initiatives in Florida, Arizona and Arkansas into resolve.

Hat Tip: Lambda Legal

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Next Steps for LGBT Civil Rights
By CHRISTINE C. QUINN
The Huffington Post

November 18, 2008

Since Election Day, I, like many LGBT Americans and their allies, have felt torn in two. On November 4th I was overjoyed to see Barack Obama become President-elect of the United States, and incredibly proud that the LGBT community played a central role in his victory. I was full of optimism at the prospect of a real ally in the White House, a president who has mentioned and credited the LGBT community in every major political speech he has given since 2004.

But then I woke on November 5th, to discover that hope and change were not coming to all Americans. Amendment 2 in Florida, Proposition 102 in Arizona and Proposition 8 in California had all passed, denying civil rights to thousands of LGBT families.

And I found myself asking: How could our nation embrace a movement for change, while three of its states voted to reject the rights of an entire group of Americans? Could this be real? And what did this mean for the future of our LGBT community?

I've carried that last question with me for the past two weeks. And on Wednesday and Saturday I got my answer, when I participated in two rallies that responded to this injustice.

Neither event was organized by established, well-funded institutions. They were fueled by modern day grassroots efforts. Thousands came together through word of mouth, text messages from a friend, or internet organizing. They were joined together as a community by a desire for justice and equality.

On Saturday, when I took the stage at a rally outside City Hall, the crowd stretched so far that you couldn't see the end. It took my breath away. The number and dedication of those gathered rivaled any demonstration I've seen in recent history.

I started to look at the faces in the crowd. It almost moved me to tears when I saw the looks in their eyes -- their smiles, their energy and optimism. They were not defeated; they were empowered, fueled by the possibility and the wonder of equality.

Of course people are angry -- I myself am angry. But what is significant today is that our community has taken an anger that might have turned to bitterness, and molded it instead into strength and action. We need to take this strength to our state capitals, and tell them that we are full citizens and deserve to have full and equal rights under the law.

The LGBT community's future is one of immeasurable possibility. It's bright and bold, strong and hopeful, and as limitless as freedom itself. Our community knows that our country is supposed to be the land of the free, where one can engage in the pursuit of happiness. On Saturday we once again demonstrated that we are committed to making it so!

Prop 8 Backlash Hits NYC Mormon Temple
10,000 March in Midtown Amidst Cal Vote Post-Mortems
By: ANDY HUMM
Gay City News
11/12/2008

No speeches. No leaders. But lots of anger.

Mobilized through social networking sites, an estimated 10,000 people turned out Wednesday night at the Mormon Temple near Lincoln Center in New York to protest the passage of the California amendment eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry and the fact that most of the money for the Yes on Prop 8 campaign came from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the Mormons.

Gathering at 6:30 p.m. at West 65th and Columbus, the site of the temple, the crowd soon marched down Broadway behind a huge white banner saying "GOD LOVES GAY MARRIAGE" made by Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag 30 years ago.

Corey Johnson, one of the key organizers with Mike Signorile and Ann Northrop, said the turnout "was a tremendous outpouring of grassroots energy and support." He hoped that energy can be harnessed to win marriage equality in New York.

Signorile said, "It's about a right that was taken away, not just marriage." He wants those energized to demand all of our civil rights and that Mormon-owned companies such as Marriott "stop giving money to the Church."


Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said, "The spirit of ACT UP is in the air."

Ben Shepard, a teacher and activist there with his daughter, Dorothea Imogene, 5, said it reminded him of the demonstration here after the killing of Matthew Shepard in October 1998, though that one turned chaotic after police tried to break it up. This march was peaceful.

"Tax the Mormon Church," the predominately male crowd chanted. "The Church of Latter Day H8te," a sign read.

Timothy Jordan, 18, said, "I just want to get married myself." He was there with friends Ivy Williams, 18, and Jellani Britton, 17, all from Safe Space, a group that serves at-risk youth.
Lavi Soloway, an activist and immigration lawyer there with his baby daughter Lily, is moving to Los Angeles and had hoped to get married. He knows he may have to settle for a domestic partnership there now.

State Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, along with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn among the few politicians spotted, was an early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama. "I believe in transformation," he said, adding that the Legislature in Albany will pass a marriage equality bill despite the obstruction of his colleague, Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Bronx Democrat (see "State Senate Control Iffy," in this issue).

The next stop for activists in New York is City Hall on Saturday, at 1:30 p.m.
This week's actions here are the latest in a nationwide wave of protests that followed the five percentage-point victory that anti-gay forces won in California on November 4 - despite a $35 million No on 8 campaign that matched the Yes effort.

In addition to the protests, however, there has also been an outburst of recrimination and defense over the way the No on 8 side waged its battle.

Those looking for a silver lining in Prop 8's win point out that in 2000, California voters approved a statute banning same-sex marriage by a 22-point margin. Still, the referendum seemed safely on the way to defeat as recently as early October. Mark DiCamillo, director of the respected Field Poll, wrote that the trend in his poll and that of the Public Policy Institute of California showed an increasingly narrow spread as Election Day neared. In August, before TV ads on the issue began, Field had Prop 8 losing 55-38 percent. By late October, the No side was still leading 49-44 percent.

The biggest last minute change in how people polled and how they voted, DiCamillo wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, was among Catholics, who are about 24 of the electorate and whom late polls showed going 44 percent for the measure.

"However," he wrote, "the network polls showed that they accounted for 30 percent of the California electorate and 64 percent of them voted 'yes.' Regular churchgoers showed a similar movement toward the 'yes' side," growing from 74 percent yes in a pre-election poll to 84 percent yes in the exit poll.

Notably, the pre-election poll showed that 58 percent of Catholics understood that voting yes would not take away the full domestic partner rights that gay couples enjoyed before the court ruling "versus 47 percent among non-Catholics." Many Catholics seem to have been swayed by a letter from their bishops read from most pulpits on the Sunday before the vote.

While that may explain whose votes were moved and why, it does not offer a fuller view of the No campaign's failure to be more effective. The gay blogosphere was full of reproaches for a campaign that almost entirely refused to feature gays or lesbians or appeal to emotions the way the Yes side did, but the invariable answer from No on 8 leaders during and after the battle was, "We know what we're doing." They insisted their ads were focus-group and field tested and that they worked with the voters that they needed to win over.

Mark Monford, columnist at the Chronicle, called the response of the No side to the attack ads by the Yes people "utterly limp," writing, "As one of my politically savvy Chronicle colleagues put it, 'No on 8 was a bad campaign. Bad, bad, bad. Inept, amateurish, incompetent, and, above all, guilty of committing the first and worst sin of politics: taking the voters for granted."
The only direct appeal from a lesbian or gay person in a TV ad was from Ellen DeGeneres, who paid for airing it herself.

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog wrote that he or she worked on both No on 8 and the Obama campaign: "One was top-down, the other bottom-up. Ironically, it was the presidential campaign that was a grassroots model, not the state-level proposition campaign. As soon as I started working for the No on 8 campaign, I was amazed at the level of scripting: 'Don't say "civil rights," don't say "constitution," don't say "gay."' I couldn't believe it."

A source within the campaign confirmed for Gay City News that it was indeed a top-down operation and that its leaders got a lot of complaints about that from volunteers. "We did a really shitty job with our ads," the highly placed source said. "We should have had couples or families. Our ads were too abstract. People couldn't connect to them, unlike those of the opposition."
The Yes ads may have been lies - about churches being persecuted for not marrying gays and children being taught about gay marriage in elementary school -but they were effective. Even Barbara Walters on "The View" was repeating the Yes on 8 lies after the election, essentially saying that a Yes vote was understandable.

The right wing was also successful in exploiting Barack Obama's opposition to same-sex marriage in mailers and robo-calls, particularly in the African-American community. The No side responded with their own robo-calls citing Obama's opposition to Prop 8, but calls using his and Joe Biden's clear and early comments opposing Prop 8 went out only during the last weekend.

Some opponents of Prop 8, including sex columnist Dan Savage, aggressively seized on an exit poll that found 70 percent of African Americans voting for it, igniting a furious dialogue over race in the community. The morning after the election, he wrote, "I'm done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there - and they're out there, and I think they're scum - are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color."

Savage failed to note the critical role African Americans played in electing Obama - whose future judicial picks are the only hope for ever overturning all the anti-gay marriage measures in place across America - and he and others also ignored the fact that the largest harvest of Yes votes came from older people, Republicans, and churchgoers in general.

The leaders of the No side acknowledged that they did not make a serious outreach to the African-American community and did not feature blacks in their ads. After the campaign they wrote, "We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African-American voters, rural communities, and others for this loss."

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, was credited with being a fantastic fundraiser, matching the right wing dollar for dollar- at least toward the end - in what became the most expensive state initiative campaign in US history.

Most of the Yes money - in excess of $22 million of it - was raised from Mormons and their temples late last week quickly became the target of street protests, mostly generated through the Internet, across California. There have been so many protests that gay journalist Rex Wockner dubbed them "Stonewall 2.0" as well as "Activism 4.0" because of the manner in which they have been quickly organized.

Three thousand LGBT people and their supporters demonstrated in Salt Lake City. Hundreds marched in Chicago. In Delta Township, Michigan, a militant gay group called Bash Back took responsibility for disrupting a service on Sunday at the Mount Hope Church.

And back in California, three lawsuits have already been filed to overturn Prop 8, making the argument that it constituted a wholesale "revision" of the California Constitution - not merely an amendment - requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legislature before going to the voters (see Arthur S. Leonard's legal analysis on page 6). Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposed the amendment but refused to campaign against it, supports the legal challenges.

"[Gay people] should never give up," he told CNN. "They should be on it until they get it done." Attorney General Jerry Brown said before the amendment passed that it would not apply to same-sex couples already married in California, an assessment the governor shares. James Esseks, veteran litigation director of the LGBT Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed that the amendment was not retroactive, but the plain language of it says, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The validity of existing same-sex marriages is sure to be contested and legal opinions vary, even among gay legal scholars.

If Prop 8 is upheld by the California courts, it can be overturned by a contravening amendment, which could be brought forward by the Legislature and governor, bypassing the laborious signature collection process. There have been calls to start down this path immediately, but most proponents of same-sex marriage are cautioning about going back to the voters too soon.
Meanwhile, the right wing, flush from its West Coast victory, knows what it is going to do next. With the legislatures of New York and New Jersey judged the most likely to move affirmatively on marriage equality, Christian right leaders have announced plans to head east pronto. They also pledge to make a cottage industry out of their win last week in Arkansas, where gays, along with any other unmarried couples, are now barred from adopting or even serving as foster parents. Pity the children, indeed.

Photo credit - Jefferson Siegel - Gay City News
©GayCityNews 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prop 8 Protest in New York Announced

Following up on the protests in California and beyond, next Wednesday there will be a protest at the Mormon Temple in Manhatttan:
Tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters are in the streets in California and Salt Lake City and around the country protesting the votes banning same-sex marriage in California.Join them! Make your voices heard right here in New York City.We will tell the Mormon Church how we feel about its relentless campaign to condemn and control our lives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was, by far, the biggest financer of California's heinous and hatefulProposition 8. The Mormon Church begged their members to donate money to Prop 8,pouring 20 million dollars into the campaign. And their attacks on us didn't start there and aren'tabout to end. They're plotting right now to bring their money and influence to bear against the LGBT community everywhere in this country, including trying to prevent marriage equality in New York.Join us in speaking out against Mormon hate! Stop them taking away your rights! Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Time: 6:30pm - 8:00pm
Location: New York Manhattan Mormon Temple
Street: 125 Columbus Ave at 65th StreetCity/Town: New York, NY

Hat Tip: The Gist - Michelangelo Signorile
http://www.signorile.com/2008/11/prop-8-protest-in-new-york-announced.html

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Gay Goodfellas
Inside the Gill Action Fund, the most effective pro-gay political weapon you never heard of.
By Kerry Eleveld
June 19, 2008
The Advocate

Patrick Guerriero and Bill Smith of the Gill Action Fund have a problem. Guerriero, former leader of the Log Cabin Republicans and onetime candidate for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and Smith, a political consultant and former employee of Karl Rove, want LGBT people to understand their strategy for winning equal rights -- a targeted approach to developing what they call “fair-minded majorities” in state legislatures across the country. During the 2006 election, the first cycle in which the organization set its sights on state legislative races, control of 13 state chambers switched hands. Ten were Democratic takeovers -- chambers that are now more likely to make gay-friendly decisions.

Smith and Guerriero want to get that story out, yes, but they don’t want Gill Action to be a centerpiece of the article, nor do they want any of its internal or external machinations to be revealed. No focusing on Gill Action’s founder, Tim Gill, a self-made millionaire who by all accounts is exceedingly modest and usually ducks the press at all costs. No naming any of the state legislators the organization helped to elect in 2006, lest those candidates find themselves in the cross hairs of the Christian right in the next election. They won’t disclose the states they worked in during the last election cycle, and in terms of 2008, they’re willing to discuss only two states in which they will be active: Florida, where Gill Action will be playing defense against a constitutional marriage amendment; and Massachusetts, where they will be helping to reelect Democratic and Republican legislators who had voted to protect the state’s same-sex marriage law. And although I can talk to one of their donors, I can’t name that person in print. Any breach of confidentiality there might scare off future donors or, perhaps worse, let the opposition know where Gill will strike next.

Essentially, Guerriero and Smith want to turn their face to the sunlight ever so briefly, then retreat to the shadowy world of politics to work in virtual anonymity -- developing a hit list of the community’s worst enemies, identifying our best friends, and doing whatever has to be done to get the next hate-crimes bill passed or constitutional amendment killed at the state level.

As a journalist, I felt like they were tying both hands behind my back and smashing my recorder. It would be nearly impossible to verify just how much of an impact they were really having. These were the good guys, I reminded myself, forced to use the same brass-knuckle tactics pioneered by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove. And who better to take the weapons Rove and Gingrich deployed against LGBT people -- and train them back on conservatives -- than a couple guys who came up through the GOP ranks?

Gill Action, in my estimation, bears some resemblance to GOPAC, the political action committee Gingrich wielded to obtain the GOP’s landslide victories in 1994, when -- along with taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in four decades -- Republicans stormed state legislatures to seize power in 18 chambers. In the 2006 election, by its own account, Gill Action’s nationwide donor base directed some $2.8 million to 68 candidates across 11 states. And 56 of those candidates won -- presumably knocking out 56 other candidates who weren’t so friendly with the gays.

Gill Action isn’t the financial juggernaut that GOPAC was, nor does it have the sweeping ideological agenda of Gingrich’s Contract With America. But Gill’s emphasis on growing power from the bottom up -- planting one school board member or city council person at a time until Congress is eventually overrun by politicians who support LGBT rights -- is strikingly similar to the way GOPAC helped create a Congress full of pols who had been vetted by the Christian right before rising up through the GOP ranks. It was Gingrich’s revolution that laid a foundation for the Rovian politics of fear that has locked gays out of relationship recognition at the state level nearly across the country.

In the course of my conversation with Guerriero and Smith, I hesitatingly offer up the Newt analogy, thinking that few self-respecting LGBT activists -- of Republican persuasion or not -- would welcome the comparison. Instead, Smith and Guerriero flash a glance at each other. Far from drawing a distinction, Smith offers, “We’re not afraid to learn from anyone across the political spectrum who’s doing really smart work, be it EMILY’s List or GOPAC.” Sure, you could call these guys activists, but what Smith just gave me is neither gay nor straight. It’s the response of a political operative.

THE PIPELINE

Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado congresswoman and child of the Gingrich revolution, cut her teeth in elective office as a school board member in 1991 focusing on abstinence-only education. She graduated to the Colorado state house and senate before winning her U.S. congressional bid in 2002. Two years later she authored and introduced the first Federal Marriage Amendment.
Representative Musgrave has since survived two takedown attempts by Tim Gill and several other progressive millionaires who threw millions in negative advertising at her races in 2004 and 2006. (One ad famously depicted an actress dressed like Musgrave stealing a watch from a corpse in an open casket -- a direct jab at her vote to tax funeral homes in the state.) The attacks have taken their toll, and Colorado politicians have taken note: Musgrave’s margin of victory in the last election shrank to just over two percentage points in the highly conservative fourth district, where voters should wholeheartedly embrace her ideology.

But Guerriero says that’s not good enough. “What if Marilyn Musgrave p were taken out of office when she was running for school board or the state legislature of Colorado?” he posits. The answer of course is that someone else, who might not have been so virulently antigay, would be representing Colorado in Congress right now.

Tim Gill’s first political wake-up call came when Colorado voters passed a 1992 measure that banned any antidiscrimination protection for gays, prompting him to found the Gill Foundation in 1994 and begin investing in organizations dedicated to securing LGBT equal rights. But it was the Musgraves of the world and the overreaching Christian right that prodded Gill to apply his business acumen to the realm of campaigns and elections. Candidates of the far right had gotten too personal, and no matter how large your war chest, it was next to impossible to slay the beasts once they were already wreaking havoc in Washington.

Guerriero explains that until Tim Gill founded Gill Action in 2005, the queer equality movement was largely focused on charitable giving to 501(c)(3) organizations and what he calls “emergency (c)(4) spending” around ballot initiatives such as the spate of marriage amendments that swept the country in 2004. Named after their tax code designations, (c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations are both designated as nonprofits, but (c)(3)s, such as Lambda Legal and the United Way, are prohibited from any type of political giving. In contrast, (c)(4)s, like Gill Action and the Christian Coalition, can contribute to campaigns, candidates, and other political action committees.

In other words, gays and lesbians were giving plenty of money to nonprofit organizations. But they were pushing cash directly at electoral politics only when the movement was already down in a defensive crouch, fighting antigay amendments and the like.

“Meanwhile,” says Guerriero, “our opponents were fielding school board candidates, knocking out pro-gay candidates at the state level, building an infrastructure of grassroots people who called every time an antigay bill was promoted and [creating] an effective lobbying universe so that each statehouse you walked into, they had three or four people running around funded by the Family Research Council and their local alliances for marriage.”

Gill Action was intended to address the LGBT movement’s most troubling deficits: its inability to provide direct candidate support, put lobbyists on the ground, and attract backing even from politicians who were genuinely pro-gay but too intimidated to act on it.

“It’s easier for U.S. senators and representatives to vote for our rights when they come from states that have passed pro-LGBT legislation and see that the sky hasn’t fallen,” explains Guerriero, adding that a whole crop of politicians now coming up have already taken courageous stands on marriage bills and safe-schools acts in their state legislatures. “There has been a debate in our community about engaging in federal versus state politics,” he continues. “We don’t view it as a conflict. For too long, though, our community expected some federal epiphany, and it’s now crystal clear that we won’t achieve full equality without significant work in the states.”

Asked which organization Gill Action most resembles, Guerriero and Smith stumble a bit trying to find a good comparison. It’s not a membership-based organization like the Human Rights Campaign, because even though it has a donor network, those donors don’t give money to Gill Action. Instead, they send their money directly to candidates that Gill Action has handpicked as pro-gay, in races that have been deemed strategically important. The donor base, said by insiders to be several hundred people strong and growing, is the sacred lifeblood of the organization.

Gill Action is also more than a political action committee. Beyond simply pumping money into LGBT equality organizations, Gill provides political counsel in everything from lobbying to field operations. Guerriero chimes in, “It’s kind of a campaign team that isn’t going to exist forever.” In one state where it was working to help pass a civil rights bill, for instance, Gill Action facilitated “patch-through” calling to legislators, where people would be polled to find out if they cared about LGBT equal rights and, if so, would be transferred straight through to their legislator’s office. That bill passed, according to Smith and Guerriero, though they decline to name the state in which it did. “Sophisticated operations made sure legislators heard not just from constituents, but the right constituents,” says Smith. “That’s not an operation that the movement has typically invested a lot of money in, but it’s the type of thing that is critical to professionalize our political work.”

Guerriero then ticks off some of Gill Action’s unique attributes. The focus is intentionally bipartisan, and so is its leadership team. Beyond Guerriero, the executive director, and Smith, the national political director, the organization’s chief operating officer is Robin Brand, previously senior vice president of politics and strategy of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and a former Democratic National Committee political director for the Northeast region. Tobacco lobbyist and corporate attorney Ted Trimpa, who has been tagged as “Colorado’s answer to Karl Rove,” serves as Tim Gill’s political adviser. It has a single benefactor in Tim Gill, who funds the entire operation, so the team doesn’t look for publicity because they don’t need it (publicity usually being a function of fund-raising). In fact, exposure mostly stands to hinder their progress, since too much information about what races they are focusing on is like handing intel to the Christian right. The mission is simple -- to pass legislation that advances and enhances the quality of life for LGBT people across the country.

One of the most critical parts of passing pro-gay legislation or defeating discriminatory initiatives is supporting politicians who have stood strong on LGBT issues. After Vermont’s legislators passed the first civil unions law in 2000, 17 incumbents famously lost their seats in the “Take Back Vermont” war waged by angry conservatives. Since then, ground zero for protecting the community’s political allies has been Massachusetts, where ever since the 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, opponents have mounted successive campaigns to pass a ballot measure to constitutionally limit marriage to heterosexual couples. The initiative has now been defeated twice with the help of 195 legislators who rejected putting the amendment on the ballot.
Remarkably, in the two elections following the votes, not a single one of those legislators has lost reelection. “There’ve been 195 elections for legislators that voted for marriage equality -- and we’ve won all 195 of those elections,” says Marc Solomon, campaign director for Mass-Equality. “We’ve never lost an election of a pro-equality incumbent.” In fact, they’ve picked up some pro-equality seats along the way: Six were won in 2004, and in 2006, when Gill Action worked with MassEquality, another five pro-gay legislators were elected.

But the fight to save seats in Massachusetts isn’t over yet. In a January 2007 joint session of the state senate and house, legislators met the 50-vote threshold needed to move the anti–gay marriage initiative forward -- one of two legislative votes required in Massachusetts to put a measure on the ballot. Solomon recalls how quickly Gill Action responded at the time: “Right after that loss in the legislature, Patrick Guerriero and the folks at Gill Action called and said, ‘We want to support your work to keep this amendment off the ballot. We’re going to be with you every step of the way.’ ” Beyond pumping about $200,000 into MassEquality in 2007, Gill Action challenged the organization to come up with a strategy that involved extensive polling, personally targeted lobbying efforts, and a sophisticated media plan.

Guerriero, a former GOP legislator in the Bay State himself, also offered some critical guidance. “I looked at the road map to win and I could not conceive of a way to win without bipartisan support,” he says. “The movement didn’t have a great track record in getting there, so that was the very first thing to focus on.”

Guerriero encouraged MassEquality and the state’s Log Cabin chapter not to assume that Republicans who had green-lighted the initiative initially couldn’t be won over eventually. He also advised both outfits to thoroughly research key legislators and make sure they were having direct conversations with them. “Gill Action helped us professionalize our lobbying efforts, and they supported us in hiring both Democratic and Republican lobbyists -- very bipartisan work,” says Solomon.

MassEquality ended up targeting 15 legislators to switch their vote. “We hired all these field staff so that they could go into these districts and find out what really made these guys tick,” says Solomon. “Who were their friends? Who were their allies? Who did they listen to? In that super-microtargeted kind of way.” One state senator was a sailing enthusiast, so they found people at his yacht club who would speak to him from a gay rights perspective. Another was a Broadway buff, so they enlisted Wicked author Gregory Maguire -- a Massachusetts resident who had married his male partner in 2004 -- to talk to him. “The only way we could find out that information was to have people on the ground, getting to know these legislators,” explains Solomon.

By the time the next vote was taken on June 14, 2007, LGBT activists had managed to change the minds of nine legislators who had voted just five months earlier to place the amendment on the ballot. The measure went down to an unexpected defeat. The far right was stunned by their sudden reversal of fortune.

“This didn’t happen over years,” Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, told The Boston Globe. “This was over the last few days. We were absolutely outgunned with financial resources.” Mineau vowed to knock out four of the nine legislators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- who he said had run for office on promises to support the constitutional ban.

Guerriero knew the Massachusetts saga had turned a corner when Mineau and his conservative allies chose to focus their energy on seeking retribution rather than making another attempt to place the ban on the ballot.

“It doesn’t mean our job is done there -- we need to make sure folks get reelected,” says Guerriero, “but for the first time I heard the other side say, ‘We’ve lost, and the best we can do is punish a handful of people.'”

CHAMBER MANAGEMENT

Playing defense is an important exercise in building courage among gay allies -- politicians need to know that a vote for LGBT rights, however noble, isn’t a career-ender. But offense -- switching out pols who vote against LGBT equality for ones who back the community -- can literally reverse the fortunes of a state. It’s also the domain over which Gill Action is most protective, because any information leak could tip off conservatives.

Smith and Guerriero won’t confirm where they directed Gill Action’s donor base in the 2006 cycle. But by way of example, three states that have shown night-and-day progress since Democrats took control of the legislature that year are Iowa, Oregon, and New Hampshire. Prior to 2006, New Hampshire and Iowa were debating bans on same-sex relationship recognition, and Oregon’s domestic-partnership bill had been blocked by Republicans in the statehouse. That all changed when Democrats regained control of both chambers in New Hampshire and Iowa and flipped the house in Oregon. Since then, Oregon has enacted its domestic-partnership bill along with an equal rights bill that had been stalled for 34 years; New Hampshire has passed a civil unions measure and signed it into law; and Iowa has enacted both an LGBT civil rights law and legislation to protect LGBT students from being bullied.

Though Gill Action claimed victory in only 56 of the 5,000-plus legislative races in 2006, experts say wins in the right races can make a big difference in terms of party control. “If they’re the right candidates, if you pick the right 60 to 75 seats, you start to move chambers, and chamber control is what matters,” says Tim Storey, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Storey says another 5,000-plus state seats -- or nearly 80% of the legislative seats nationwide -- are up for grabs in 2008, and 30% to 40% of those will actually be competitive, though it’s too early in the cycle to get specific.

Presently, Democrats control both chambers in 23 state legislatures, Republicans control 14, and 12 are divided.

(Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan.) The 10 chambers Democrats picked up in 2006 helped to stem the steady erosion they had suffered at the state level over the past 20 years. (Storey says Democrats had held more state seats than the GOP for nearly 50 years before Republicans finally capitalized on Gingrich’s 1994 landslide of wins and tipped the balance in 2002 by picking up a net of 177 seats that year.)

Even though conventional wisdom says Democrats should be sailing with the wind at their backs again in 2008, Storey warns of a headwind. “The problem for them is that all of the low-hanging fruit is gone -- all the seats they would take without a ton of effort in a positive environment, they did that two years ago,” he observes. “Now their challenge is to win seats where they really have to work and to hold the seats they won in 2006.”

The upside for Democrats is the unprecedented voter registration sparked by the epic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle see the turnout factor as a wild card in the general election. “Democrats of course are enthused and buoyed by this, and Republicans are concerned and somewhat terrified of being swamped by this huge influx of Democratic voters who will just vote Democratic right down the ticket,” says Storey.

Another thing both parties have their eye on is the redistricting process in 2011 -- a potent political tool that allows whichever party is in power to redraw the lines of voting districts more advantageously. Although one more round of state elections will follow the 2008 vote, Storey notes, “Democrats are really in a strong position going into this round of elections to set the table for the redistricting of 2011.” Granted, it’s not a done deal. If history is any indicator, whichever party controls the White House in 2010 is also likely to lose ground at the state level. Storey notes that in 2002, George W. Bush became the only president whose party did not lose legislative seats in a midterm election since 1938, though Clinton came one seat away from bucking the historic trend in 1998.

While no one at Gill is giving out the 2008 game plan, Storey names some states that are at the tipping point: Democratic gains could be made in the Montana and Nevada senates; and to varying degrees, Democrats also might grab control of the house chambers in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Montana, Ohio, and Texas. Meanwhile, Republicans will be looking to pick up seats in the house chambers of Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The GOP also has a chance of flipping the Oklahoma senate as well as the Iowa house and senate.

But it’s New York, whose senate chamber has been under Republican rule since 1974, that’s a perfect target for Gill Action. The margin to achieve a flip in control there -- one seat -- is both small and achievable, and an important LGBT measure hangs in the balance.
New York is currently in a two-way race with New Jersey to become the first state to legislatively legalize same-sex marriage without having been instructed to do so by court order.

(California’s legislature has twice passed marriage equality bills, but both were vetoed by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.) With a Democrat-controlled assembly that has already once passed the bill and a Democratic governor, David Paterson, who has been on record in favor of marriage equality since 1994, the state senate remains the final hurdle to sealing the deal.

New York’s state assembly passed the marriage bill for the first time on June 19, 2007, with 81 Democrats and four Republicans voting to legalize same-sex marriage. “If any one of them loses their seat, it makes no difference what else happens, the political perception will be that they lost because of that vote, which makes us the third rail of New York politics,” says assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who carried the bill. “I’m on a mission to make sure those 85 people who voted yes come back in January.” To that end O’Donnell says that he’s talking to anyone who will listen across the country to raise money, including Gill. “I’ve had discussions with Gill Action about the need to bring the assembly members back, and I’m hoping that before the election they’ll see fit to shake it loose.”

It’s no secret that Gill Action has had discussions with the Empire State Pride Agenda and with Democratic senate minority leader Malcolm Smith, who heads up the state’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Tim Gill has already cut a $50,000 check to the DSCC, Gill Action funneled another $50,000 to the Pride Agenda, and New York State legislators in both the senate and the assembly are almost certain to be on Gill Action’s hot picks list for donors.

Democratic control of the senate wouldn’t necessarily be a magic bullet for passing a marriage bill, but most LGBT activists wager that it would hasten the process. And though New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg -- a former Democrat turned Republican who has now gone independent -- wrote a personal check for $500,000 to the state’s Senate Republican Campaign Committee early this year, Dems have been steadily chipping away at the GOP seat advantage in the senate chamber for the last few election cycles.

It’s an uphill battle either way. According to the Pride Agenda’s legislative scorecard, 19 of the 62 legislators publicly support the marriage bill. Another two are leaning toward support, and 10 more form the “movable middle” -- not saying one way or the other. Even if all 12 of those fence-sitters voted yes -- an unlikely scenario -- the bill would still be one vote shy of the 32 needed to pass. From an LGBT standpoint, replacing some of the 31 who have indicated they’re against marriage makes the most sense, says O’Donnell. “We need to replace some of the older state senators with younger, more progressive people who are more in touch with their constituencies.”

Democratic strategists are bullish on their chances this year. Doug Forand of Red Horse Strategies, the polling firm for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, says New York State has been leaning Democratic for years, and the shift is growing. “It’s most pronounced in the suburbs surrounding New York City, where what was once bedrock Republican is now shifting very strongly and very quickly to Democratic alignment,” he says.

Forand says Democrats are eyeing at least six GOP senate seats where they presently feel they have a good shot this fall in Long Island, Queens, Monroe County, Nassau County, and an open seat upstate.

These races are exactly the type of game-changers where LGBT political activists from across the country could have directed their money in the past; but prior to Gill Action, such races were nearly impossible to track.

A Gill donor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity says he has given money politically for years, but mostly at the federal level. “I studied politics and I read a lot about politics, but in terms of knowing what the specific data are and how well candidates are doing and whether it’s a good investment of my time and energy, that I don’t follow as closely,” he says. “I felt that I was doing some good, but in federal races, your limited dollars have a smaller impact.”

After he attended the first conference where Gill Action rolled out its path to equality to about 300 potential donors in the spring of 2006, the lightbulb went off. “I was thinking, Thank God, this is the first time I’ve had a sense that maybe the political dollars that I’m giving are going to make a strategic difference,” he says. That cycle, he invested nearly $50,000 at state-level races across 11 states, mostly maxing out on Gill picks in $200, $500, and $1,000 increments. “You can make a difference with $500 in some state races, and even if you gave the max to a Senate or a House candidate at the federal level, you don’t even move the needle,” he says, adding that his investment in national races has declined significantly. He estimates that federal donations used to make up about three quarters of his political giving, whereas now he directs closer to 10% at federal races.

YOU DON’T SAY

Asked about spending mounds of his own money to help Democrats take control of the Colorado legislature in 2004, Rutt Bridges, who along with Tim Gill and two other millionaires poured about $1.5 million into state races that year, answered, “I think Democrats were just sick of showing up for a gunfight with a knife.”

In 2006, when I first reported on a group of LGBT millionaires, including Gill, lavishing literally millions of dollars on that year’s state races, the article drew mixed responses in the reader comments online. They ranged from the ebullient “Thank you, billionaires!” to the skeptical “So, let us review: reclusive millionaires who wish to pour millions into electoral campaigns in order to influence elections in pursuit of their personal ideologies. And this is a good thing. Hmmmm.”
What wasn’t as clear then as it is now was the raw potential of Gill Action’s donor base. Wealthy people of any political persuasion can gift unseemly sums to political action committees and “527” groups, most of which goes toward funding political ads and buying airtime; but because of spending caps in state election laws, the direct candidate support they can provide is profoundly limited. The great innovation of the donor network for the LGBT movement is that, to an extent, it has democratized the state investment strategy -- sharing highly specialized intelligence on which races can move “the gay agenda” with people who have some expendable income to give, even if it isn’t millions.

Not surprisingly, Gill Action won’t disclose any information about its donor base, its heft, or the review process for joining the network, other than the fact that there is one. But Bill Smith assures me that if, for instance, I tried to join the network in order to access the list of races they’re targeting, my status as a journalist would surely bounce me.

During my last conversation with Smith, he said he hoped the organization hadn’t been too difficult to work with. No doubt they had as many qualms about doing this story from a strategist’s point of view as I did from a journalistic standpoint. Much of what they relayed had to be taken on good faith, and many things that could be confirmed couldn’t actually be printed in the article. What kind of journalist would agree to this? Ultimately, I made the same bargain that Gill Action did: Some information was better than none.

Having followed these guys for two years, what I still can’t say is whether Gill Action can prime Congress to be pro-gay in the same way that Gingrich’s GOPAC delivered more than a decade of GOP dominance.

That’s the bet a growing army of Gill donors is making. Of course, exactly how big that army is, they won’t say.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Convictions Overturned in Attack on Man in Village
An appeals court overturned the convictions of two women accused in the beating and stabbing of a man who they said made unwanted sexual advances to them in Greenwich Village two years ago.
By JOHN ELIGON
Published: June 20, 2008
New York Times

An appeals court on Thursday overturned the convictions of two women accused in the beating and stabbing of a man who they said made unwanted sexual advances to them in Greenwich Village two years ago.

One of the women, Terrain Dandridge, whom a jury found guilty of second-degree gang assault, had her conviction reversed and indictment dismissed; as a result she can no longer be tried on those charges. A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled that there was not enough evidence to support a guilty verdict for Ms. Dandridge. She had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The second woman, Renata Hill, who was found guilty of second-degree gang assault and third-degree assault, had her gang assault conviction vacated, but she can be retried on the charge. The court ruled that the judge’s instructions to the jury on the charge were erroneous and that therefore her conviction could not be upheld.

She was sentenced to eight years in prison, but if the Manhattan district attorney decides against further prosecution, she is likely to be released because the maximum penalty for the third-degree assault is a year and she has already been in prison longer than that.

Alexis Agathocleous, the lawyer who handled Ms. Hill’s appeal, said he was pleased and was hoping “that the district attorney’s office will also do the right thing and dismiss the remaining charge.”

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, declined to comment. The lawyers for Ms. Dandridge did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

In August 2006, Ms. Dandridge, Ms. Hill and five other women attacked Dwayne Buckle after he made unwanted sexual advances, they said. The women said during their trial last year that they told him they were lesbians and not interested, but that he would not take no for an answer. They said they acted in self-defense.

Mr. Buckle, a film director, testified that while handing out DVDs of his latest film he politely greeted one of the women he thought was attractive and that they started insulting him. Words were exchanged, he said, and the confrontation escalated into violence, with one of the women stabbing him.

Ms. Dandridge, Ms. Hill and two others, Patreese Johnson and Venice Brown, were found guilty of various assault charges, though Ms. Johnson was acquitted of the most serious charge, attempted murder. Appeals for Ms. Johnson and Ms. Brown are still under way.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sites of Bell verdict protest near transit hot spots
BY KEITH HERBERT
newsday.com
5/4/2008

People protesting the acquittal of detectives in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell will gather Wednesday near six transit choke points around New York City before leading a march and "pray-in" organizers anticipate will lead to some arrests, the Rev. Al Sharpton said yesterday.

Speaking at the "House of Justice," headquarters for his National Action Network on 145th Street in Harlem, Sharpton said the civil disobedience will continue weekly, and produce a "citywide shutdown" to press for a civil rights prosecution.

"If you're not going to lock up the guilty in this town, then I guess you're going to have to lock up the innocent," he said.

The meeting places will be 125th Street and Third Avenue; Park Avenue and 34th Street; 60th Street and Third Avenue; One Police Plaza; Varick and Houston streets; and in Brooklyn at House of the Lord Pentecostal Church, 415 Atlantic Ave. Protesters will meet at 3 p.m., Sharpton said.

"Where we're going, those that know won't say, and those who'll say don't know," Sharpton said."All they'll know is why we're going," he added. "And we're going because the world must see that we're in a climate where the justice system in this state will lock up folks who'll be nonviolent and pray, but will not lock up police.

"Several of the locations are near transportation pressure points, including the Triborough Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel on the East Side and the Holland Tunnel on the West Side - reminiscent of locations targeted by Sharpton and supporters in protests during the so-called "Days of Rage" nearly two decades ago, and again in 1999 after the police killing of Amadou Diallo.

On April 25, Queens State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman cleared three detectives - Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper - in the shooting of Bell and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside a Jamaica, Queens, strip club on Nov. 25, 2006.

Prosecutors failed, the judge said, to undercut the officers' claims that they fired a 50-shot barrage in self-defense against Bell, who was unarmed. Within hours, the Department of Justice said the Eastern District U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn and the FBI would be conducting an "independent review into the facts and circumstances" in the Bell case to see whether a federal civil rights prosecution was warranted.

In April 1999, Sharpton led protests of the killing of Diallo, 23, an unarmed West African immigrant hit 19 times in a fusillade of 41 bullets by four officers in the Bronx.

Then, about 7,000 protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan and held a rally at One Police Plaza to speak against police brutality. The protests were peaceful, though Sharpton and others - including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), actress Susan Sarandon and activist Jesse Jackson - were arrested.

"The vigils and demonstrations related to the Bell case to date have not been violent," said Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne. "We have no reason expect otherwise now. The police department, as it is on any day, is prepared for any contingency."Police could not confirm yesterday if organizers had applied for permits for the planned protests.

Staff writers Christina Hernandez and Andrew Strickler contributed to this story.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Village Voice Story

What Sean Bell's Legacy Needs To Be
A permanent, independent prosecutor to handle police crimes
by Tom Robbins
April 29th, 2008 12:00 AM

Michael Stewart would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year, and you can only wonder what marvelous things he might be doing were he still around. He was 25 years old in 1983, a handsome, free-spirited African-American artist and model with lanky limbs and a tangle of dark curls who lived with his parents, a retired teacher and a Transit Authority maintenance worker, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

According to police, Stewart was spraying graffiti inside the subway station at 14th Street and First Avenue at 2:30 a.m. on September 15 that year when they objected. This should not have merited a death sentence. But for reasons never explained, Stewart wound up bloodied and battered, his wrists bound to his ankles, the way only hogs are supposed to be tied. There were 11 cops present for his arrest, so it was also unclear why such severe restraint was necessary. There were discrepancies as well as to whether Stewart was even breathing when the cops drove him to Bellevue Hospital; the arresting officer insisted he was fine, but a report later found that this was most certainly a lie, since a nurse who was the first to see him said he had already turned blue from lack of air.

Stewart lapsed into a coma and was dead 13 days later. Six white transit officers were brought to trial. All six were acquitted by an all-white jury.

That was long ago, a different victim in a different borough in a different time. But it still has everything to do with the not-guilty verdict in Queens that outraged so many people last week around the city.

To get to the issues surrounding the death by police bullets of Sean Bell on the morning of his wedding day, you first have to joust with all the ghosts that have preceded him: that of Stewart, of Arthur Miller, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Stansbury, Khiel Coppin, and a score of others.

The fact that those who mistakenly die at the hands of the police are most often black and Hispanic remains the most obscene tax levied on this city's communities of color. It is an old injustice, but one for which the powers-that-be still lack any credible answers.

In this latest episode, a dubious mission—using heavily armed police to detect prostitution at a raucous strip club—became a fatal disaster.

Yet the judge's ruling would have us somehow accept that no one is at fault: that 50 unreturned bullets can be fired at three unarmed men, and no criminal penalties are warranted; that this case of unnecessary force somehow rests on the credibility of victims who still carry their own bullet wounds; that the police officers were somehow more rightfully fearful for their lives than Bell and his friends were for their own.

"Is this 1955 Alabama?" asked William Bell, the slain victim's father, after the verdict.

"Somebody has to answer that for me."

It's not, but no one could be blamed for wondering.

Not that there weren't important differences between this one and prior incidents: For one thing, two of the cops who fired shots were black; one of them even lives in Bushwick. Wasn't that one of the old rallying cries? That cops should be recruited from the communities they are charged with protecting, not imported from white suburbs?

For another, unlike the Diallo case, in which the acquittals were won in Albany, the police lawyers did not succeed in hijacking this one to an out-of-town court. It was tried just a couple of miles from where Bell died, close enough for neighbors and friends to keep an eye on things and register their discontent.

But the questions that arise in the wake of this acquittal are the same that were asked in angry frustration after the Diallo case, the Stewart case, and all the others where perpetrators were found to have committed no wrong. And we will never escape the cycle of suspicion and recrimination until some new and believable system of law enforcement for these cases is created and applied.

On Sunday afternoon, Norman Siegel, the city's civil-liberties conscience, and Eric Adams, a former detective turned politician, came to One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan to offer a reasonable solution to the justice system's endlessly inept response to these recurring tragedies.
"The verdict by Justice Arthur Cooperman in the Sean Bell case confirms that it is difficult, almost impossible, to prosecute on-duty police officers in misconduct cases," said Siegel, "especially those involving homicide allegations. The verdict underscores the need for systemic change."

The remedy should be clear, he said: "We need to create a statewide, permanent special prosecutor for police corruption and brutality."

The current method of relying on locally elected prosecutors "ignores the built-in conflict of interest that is the result of routine working relationships between the district attorneys' offices and the police," he said. Moreover, D.A.'s "often lack the necessary expertise and experience in handling cases of this magnitude."

An independent prosecutor would be free of those conflicts and able to establish "a proven record of accomplishment," said Siegel, "one that engendered confidence to the community and the law-enforcement world, and which would be able to publicly explain why, in certain instances, the correct legal result was no indictment or no conviction."

Adams, now a state senator from Brooklyn, said that as a detective he saw the relationship up close. Cops rely on the D.A., and the D.A. relies on the cops: "It makes it extremely difficult for him then to then turn around and prosecute his partner in fighting for criminal justice," he said.
It's not a new idea, but the last time it was raised, it was quickly squelched by both the police unions and the city's district attorneys, who loathe the notion of sharing cases, budgets, and headlines with another investigative office.

But you only needed to watch Queens D.A. Richard Brown's tortured demeanor on Friday after the verdict to know that a special prosecutor dedicated to handling police problems would be doing him and all the other D.A.'s a favor by taking these thankless cases off their hands.
Brown's office was torn apart in an internal dispute over whether to even bring charges in the Bell case. He ultimately erred on the side of trying to win justice. But he'll never escape the suspicion that his office simply took a dive.

Why did his prosecutors read the defendants' grand-jury testimony into the record, critics immediately asked, a move that ensured that the cops wouldn't have to take the stand, thus avoiding potentially damaging cross-examination? Why didn't prosecutors ask the judge to consider the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide—a crime that does not require that wrongful intent on the cops' part be proven?

Eugene O'Donnell, an ex-cop and prosecutor who now ponders the bigger picture as professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that despite his doubts about the independent-prosecutor plan, it may be time to try something new. "Maybe you do need an outside person," he says. "I don't think it is out of order to look at another model. I think at the end of the day, the cops will still be vindicated. But an independent prosecutor and an independent staff that is really skilled at their work? That could build the confidence level of the community."

The ticket to change, say Siegel and Adams, is the new governor. As a state senator answerable only to his Harlem district, David Paterson felt strongly enough about these issues to be arrested as part of the wave of civil-disobedience protests launched after Diallo's killing. Have his passions cooled now that he's the state's chief executive?

"He could do it by executive order," says Siegel. "Nelson Rockefeller did it. So could Paterson."

Monday, April 7, 2008

1st Thursdays
discussion support action

this month featuring a discussion
Safety, Harrassment, Brutality
& LGBT Community

May 1st, 2008
8 PM
LGBT Community Services Center
208 West 13th Street - New York City

FREE Snacks & Refreshments Provided

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pier 40 Update







For the past year, FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community) has fought for a community center to serve primarily Queer youth of color to be included in plans to develop the Piers.



On March 27th 2008, Hudson River Park Trust announced that the Related Companies' proposed mega-entertainment complex for Pier 40, known by many, as 'Vegas-on-the-Hudson' was no longer being considered. Related Companies wanted a 49-year lease but HRPT can legally offer only a 30-year lease.

Rather than accept the remaining proposal that was submitted during the RFP process, the Trust instead, made a formal decision to give the Camp Group, Urban Dove, and Pier 40 Partnership 90 days to come up with a viable joint proposal.

Camp Group is a private corporation owned by Benerofe Properties. It's proposal contrasted with 'Vegas on the Hudson' in that it emphasized athletics, education, and maintaining the community’s long-term pier parking. It would augment sports facilities, while adding space for high school and college academic programs. The pier’s existing sports fields would be kept where they are now in the central courtyard rather than moved to the roof as has been suggested by others. Urban Dove, a local nonprofit group helping students through athletics and other programs, supports the Camp Out proposal.

The Pier 40 Partnership has been seeking to present its own separate more community-friendly option known as Pier 40 Park -- if HPRT would reopen the RFP process.

If the groups cannot draft a suitable proposal, the HRPT could still go to Albany and inquire about a 49-year lease on Pier 40, which would bring Related back into play.

Queer Justice League will be actively working with the main players involved in Pier 40 development to help ensure a community center primarily serving Queer youth of color we be included in the final plan. Anyone interested in assisting in this effort should contact Joey Nelson via email at changebuilders@msn.com or phone - 973-412-7743 / 973-464-0112 cell.
Snubbed by NYC Pols, HRC Answers Its Critics
By: PAUL SCHINDLER
02/24/2008
Gay City News

Protesters from the Radical Homosexual Agenda were a lively part of Saturday night's picket line outside the HRC dinner.

Faced with a boisterous picket line that drew a crowd of more than 50 and with the absence of every lesbian, gay, and bisexual elected official from New York City -- and nearly every other prominent city Democrat -- Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, used his keynote address at the group's annual Midtown Manhattan dinner to answer critics who fault it for going along with a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that does not include protections for transgendered Americans.

The non-inclusive version of ENDA passed the House of Representatives last November 7 by a vote of 235-184. The measure awaits action in the Senate, but President George W. Bush has sent strong signals he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

"I understand and I hear every day that some members of our community are feeling forgotten or left behind. It is easy to understand why," Solmonese told a crowd approaching 1,000 in the ballroom of the Hilton on February 23. But he also said, "We have to overlook our differences and we have got to see instead of our individual wants and immediate desires... a vision for the America that we all want to live in."

As originally introduced after the 2006 elections, ENDA included protections based on gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation, but in late September out gay Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of the bill's key sponsors, announced that it would not clear the House with the transgender protections. Even as more than 300 LGBT groups nationwide demanded that the measure be pulled or defeated if there was no gender identity language, HRC at first said it neither supported nor opposed the revised bill and then on the eve of the floor vote urged House members to vote for it.

In his toughest volley against some in the LGBT community who argue that HRC has lost its right to lead the battle on ENDA, Solmonese suggested it is others who have left the field.

"I have to ask myself: When did we all become so impatient? When did we say to ourselves, okay that civil rights thing, I'll give it a year, maybe two, then I'm done," he said. "Let me be very clear: No, we are not done. We are in the grueling, blinding middle of this fight and the middle of this fight is the hardest part."

Having stated HRC's commitment to delivering hate crimes and job protections -- as well as marriage rights -- for all members of the LGBT community, Solmonese said, "Some of us may want to stand back or check out, but there is no standing back. There is no checking out. Because sometimes -- and I know this is frustrating -- the fight for our rights feels like hell, but as Winston Churchill so aptly put it, 'When you are going through hell the most important thing is to keep going.'"

As guests arrived at the Hilton, a colorful gathering of protesters, many carrying large pink placards in the shape of a hand giving HRC the finger, and backed by a spirited drum corps, stood on Sixth Avenue denouncing the group's posture on ENDA.

"Time and time and time again, HRC ignores the community and ignores the wishes of local community groups," said Allen Roskoff, a key organizer of the boycott and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. Roskoff explained that his club is demanding more that just the restoration of gender identity language in the federal nondiscrimination bill.

"Jim Owles is asking members of Congress not to support ENDA in any form," he said. "We should revert to the effort originated by Bella Abzug and Ed Koch to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression."

Abzug and Koch, as Manhattan representatives in Congress in the early 1970s, introduced the 1964 Act amendment as a way to give gays and lesbians nondiscrimination protection in housing, credit, and public accommodations, in addition to employment. Years later, HRC and Frank originated the more limited ENDA approach to getting anti-bias legislation through Congress.

Roskoff pointed out that Bill Bradley, in his 2000 challenge to Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested amending the Civil Rights Act, rather than adopting ENDA, "but was shot down by Barney Frank and HRC."

Not all the protesters on hand agreed with Roskoff on the idea of broadening the ENDA effort to include protections for more than just employment. Asked about the possibility of amending the 1964 bill, Dan Tietz, a former president of the Brooklyn Independent Democrats, an LGBT political club, said, "We would love that, but not today. If you can't get a trans-inclusive bill passed, there would probably be only five supporters in the House for amending the Civil Rights Act."

Roskoff said he's chatted preliminarily with several House members about his idea and that his club will be sending a formal letter to all New York Democratic representatives this week to urge a rethinking on ENDA.

Jim Owles and Lambda protesters were joined by members of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City.Some protesters focused on more than simply the strategic issues involved in enacting nondiscrimination legislation. The Radical Homosexual Agenda, which provided the drum corps as well as many of the bodies for the picket line, distributed flyers criticizing the corporate policies of several major HRC corporate sponsors. The flier argued, "HRC isn't just derailing the needs of the majority of the queer community. They're also narrowing our vision of what queer relationships can be."

The crowd repeatedly returned to the chant, "What do we want? Liberation. Fuck that assimilation."

One elected official who joined the protest was Queens City Councilman Hiram Monterrate, there at the invitation of the Jim Owles Club. Roskoff lauded the many other elected officials who, he said, "took a big step" in boycotting a dinner they typically attend.

In fact, of numerous elected officials who in past years attended but were not there this time, only Micah Kellner, an openly bisexual East Side Democratic assemblyman, attributed his absence to the boycott. Others insisted, on the record, that they had scheduling conflicts, though Kellner's statement to Gay City News and off-the-record comments by staff members of several elected officials, pointed to a conscious effort to avoid the HRC event. Kellner was among those that dinner officials from the stage announced as being on hand, but this reporter did not see him, and when reached by telephone the assemblyman said, "I was not there. I boycotted like everyone else. And I was really quite annoyed that they put my name on their press release. I phoned them late yesterday to make clear I was not coming."

Christine Quinn, the out lesbian speaker of the City Council who addressed the HRC dinner in past years, attributed her absence to "scheduling conflicts." In an email statement to Gay City News, a spokesperson for Quinn added, "However, the Speaker has also made clear that she was very disappointed that the action taken by Congress with the Employment and Non-Discrimination Act did not include gender identity. Moreover, the Speaker is stunned that the Human Rights Campaign is penalizing those Congressmembers who support a pro-LGBT agenda, and who voted against the Act because it didn't include transgenders. The Speaker applauds her colleagues from New York -- Congressmembers Clarke, Nadler, Towns, Velazquez, and Weiner -- for their stand."

None of the three Democrats mentioned as likely 2009 mayoral candidates -- Quinn, Congressman Anthony Weiner, or city Comptroller William Thompson -- attended the dinner.

Quinn's lesbian colleague on the Council, Lower East Side Democrat Rosie Mendez was also absent, as were out gay and lesbian Democratic legislators Senator Tom Duane of Chelsea, and Assemblymembers Deborah Glick of the Village and Matt Titone of Staten Island.

As late as February 22, HRC had gay Upper West Side Democrat Daniel O'Donnell, who steered the marriage equality bill to passage in the Assembly last summer, slated on their program to present the group's community service award to Marriage Equality New York, but that same day O'Donnell's office told Gay City News that he too had a scheduling conflict.

At a dinner which has been addressed in past years by Senator Schumer, among many, there were no more than two members of Congress on hand. Upstate Democrat John Hall was there, and HRC announced that Brooklyn's Yvette D. Clarke was also in attendance. Clarke was among the seven Democrats who voted against ENDA in protest of the lack of trans protections, and Gay City News has not yet been able to confirm that she was in fact at the Hilton Saturday night.

Several Democratic officials from Long Island, upstate, New Jersey, and Connecticut did attend the dinner, and the job of presenting Marriage Equality's award fell to Jason Bartlett, a freshman Democratic state representative in Connecticut who came out publicly just four days before the dinner.

A press release from Marriage Equality New York (MENY) about its award noted that "HRC's stance on ENDA is clearly not in-line with our inclusive mission and disappoints those who believe we cannot leave anyone behind" and that the group "has ALWAYS been trans-inclusive and has always stood on the right side of this civil rights fight."

In accepting the award, the group's deputy executive director, Ron Zacchi, said, "MENY feels for our transgender brothers and sisters protesting outside, as we have often been the people protesting outside because incremental changes were accepted on our road to marriage equality... HRC has chosen to honor our organization and our mission statement emphasizes inclusion, as inclusion can only strengthen our movement."

©GayCityNews 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sex Trafficking between the US & Asia

Ngoc Nguyen, who will be presenting at the next Queer Justice Meeting on the topic of Human Trafficking between the U.S. and Asia, offered the following information for those interested in the issue.

"I've found an incredible documentary called "Born Intro Brothels." It's set in India where a photographer provided 8 children with cameras and taught them how to use them. These children are affected by the red-light industry and the pictures tell a story of their lives.I've complied youtube links of the movie for your convenience. The whole documentary is roughly around 80 mins long (each part is 10mins). Enjoy" - Ngoc Nguyen


Not too long ago Ngoc moved to the New York City area and recently attended his first QJL meeting last month.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Please mark your calendars...
First Thursday in March

Thursday-March 6th
QUEER JUSTICE LEAGUE General Meeting

8 pm
LGBT Community Services Center
208 W. 13th Street, NYC

Topics of discussion:
My So-Called Community -
the attractiveness of New York City for LGBTers or not
Sex trafficking between the US and Asia

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Apparent hate crime in California

A 15-year-old was murdered in Oxnard, CA, apparently after he was harassed for acting gay and/or effeminate and then fought back:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-oxnard14feb14,0,7204301.story
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/2/14/114259/280/987/456673

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Conflict of Interest for Judgeship Nominee


IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering a vote on the nomination of Gus Puryear to a Federal Judgeship for the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee.

Puryear currently serves as General Counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest for-profit private prison company and would hold a judgeship in the same district where CCA's corporate office is located, where numerous lawsuits against CCA are filed.

He has little trial experience in federal court; during his time at CCA he has worked to hide damaging information about the company and has belittled prisoner litigation. The top lawyer for the nation's largest private prison company is particularly ill suited to serve as a federal judge.

Who is Gus Puryear? Mr. Puryear's background includes the following: He received his J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1993; served as a law clerk to Judge Barksdale for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1993-1994; worked as an associate attorney for the Farris, Warfield & Kanaday law firm from 1994-1997 (now Stites & Harbison); served as counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 1997-1998; worked as the legislative director for Senator Bill Frist from 1998-2000; and was hired by CCA as general counsel in 2001. He also serves on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, and is on the board of Nashville Bank & Trust.

Why is his nomination a bad thing? He's CCA's general counsel and would hold a judgeship in the same district where CCA's corporate office is located, where numerous lawsuits against CCA are filed. He has little trial experience in federal court; during his time at CCA he has worked to hide damaging information about the company and has belittled prisoner litigation. The top lawyer for the nation's largest private prison company is particularly ill suited to serve as a federal judge.

What are the specific concerns about his nomination?
Conflict of Interest
1. Mr. Puryear would have a conflict of interest in regard to all litigation involving CCA, his former employer. This is the strongest argument against his appointment. Puryear's 2006 compensation from CCA included a salary of $237,308 plus $602,957 in "other long term compensation," according to forbes.com. Since Nov. 2006 he has sold shares of CCA stock valued at over $3 million (in January 2008, Puryear reported that he sold 31,100 shares of CCA stock for about $400,000 in profit). In short, CCA has made Puryear a multi-millionaire. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 455, "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Under this statute, Mr. Puryear presumably would have to disqualify himself from any case involving CCA as a party. This is significant because according to a federal docket search, over 400 cases naming CCA or CCA employees have been filed in federal court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Having to assign such cases to other judges would be a burden on the federal court system, and would not be an effective use of judicial resources.

Lack of Trial / Litigation Experience
2. Although Mr. Puryear served as a judicial clerk, his time spent in active litigation as a trial lawyer has been scanty. He spent only three years working for a Nashville law firm. One of the attorneys at that firm stated that Puryear was hired right out of law school as a "young lawyer," and mainly assisted other attorneys. According to federal court records, Puryear has been listed as counsel in 130 cases in U.S. District Court in Tennessee over his legal career, which certainly sounds impressive. However, an examination of each of those cases reveals the following:
85 cases were dismissed by the court without service on the defendants; Puryear did nothing.
39 cases were handled by another law firm or attorney; Puryear was not directly involved.
1 case was answered by Puryear personally; he sent a letter saying the defendant had died.
5 cases included Puryear's personal involvement; all were in 1994-1998, and only one went to trial.
Thus, according to federal court records, Puryear has been actively involved in just five federal cases and in only one trial (a bench trial, not a jury trial) in Tennessee, most recently 10 years ago.
Further, he has authored only one published law journal article, in 1992. Apparently Mr. Puryear's qualifications for a federal judgeship are not based on his extensive experience as a trial attorney, nor on his litigation experience or acadmic credentials. What, then, are his qualifications?

Partisan Political Appointment
3. This is strictly a partisan political appointment. Puryear is a dedicated Republican supporter, having previously worked under Republican Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson. He was an advisor to Vice President Cheney during the 2000 debates. He has given at least $13,450 to federal and state Republican campaign committees since 2001; specific donations include $3,000 to Sen. Bob Corker from 2005-2006, $1,000 for Mitt Romney in 2007, $2,000 to President Bush for the primary in 2003, $1,000 to Lamar Alexander's Senate campaign in 2005, and $1,000 to Sen. Kit Bond in 2003. The Nashville Post referred to Mr. Puryear as a "Republican heavyweight."
This is par for the course since most federal appointments, including District Court judges and U.S. Attorneys, are political in nature. Still, federal judges, who are supposed to be impartial, should not be as partisan as reflected by Puryear's record, irrespective of party. Political payback should not be the basis for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Has Not Acted in the Public Interest
4. As CCA's general counsel, Mr. Puryear has actively worked to hide damaging information about the company from the public, including from governmental agencies that contract with the company. Such actions are antithetical to the ethical qualities that should be displayed by a federal judge. There are two examples that can be cited. Following a hostage-taking at CCA's Bay County, Florida jail in 2004, which resulted in a prisoner and a nurse hostage being shot by a SWAT team member, CCA refused to release an after-action report related to the incident. Puryear arranged to have a private law firm conduct the report to protect CCA from liability, and stated the report would never become a public record. Also, Puryear put the company's quality assurance division under CCA's legal department so that any quality assurance audits would not be subject to public record laws. Of course he was "just doing his job" as CCA's lawyer. But is this kind of behavior worthy of a federal judicial candidate?

Questionable Objectivity
5. Mr. Puryear has indicated he has distain for lawsuits filed by prisoners. In a 2004 article printed in Corporate Legal Times, Puryear stated, "Litigation is an outlet for inmates . It's something they can do in their spare time. Most of these folks have had extensive contact with the legal system and are in facilities where they have access to legal materials. Many have turned themselves into jail-house lawyers." Puryear cited cases such as a prisoner suing CCA to have her silicone breast implants replaced with saline implants, a prisoner suing to have an onion served with every meal, and a prisoner filing a lawsuit claiming he had seizures after using an expired tube of denture adhesive sold in the prison commissary.

Of course most lawmakers don't like litigious prisoners, either; e.g., witness the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). But as a federal judge Mr. Puryear would be hearing numerous prisoner suits; in 2006 alone, 220 prisoner lawsuits were filed in federal court in the Middle District of Tennessee.
Also, as CCA's general counsel, Puryear should know better than to disparage lawsuits as an "outlet" for prisoners to do in their spare time, given the many jury awards and settlements in suits filed against CCA over the years, which include a $3 million South Carolina jury award for the abuse of juveniles at a CCA facility (2000), a $1.6 million settlement for a suit involving abuse at CCA's Youngstown, Ohio facility (1999); a 2002 $5 million settlement to a female prisoner who was raped by Transcor guards (Transcor is a CCA subsidiary); an undisclosed settlement to the family of Estelle Richardson, who died at CCA's Metro jail in Nashville (2007); and a $235,000 jury award for medical neglect involving a TN prisoner (2002). In fact, from Jan. 1, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2003, CCA settled over 190 suits for a combined total of $7.39 million (these cases involved both prisoner and employee litigation). Given Puryear's background with CCA in which he has exclusively defended against prisoner lawsuits, his objectivity as a federal judge hearing similar cases is questionable.

Something Else to Consider
6. In July 2004, while Mr. Puryear served as CCA's top lawyer, a female prisoner at the company's Metro Detention Facility in Nashville, Tennessee was beaten to death. Estelle Richardson, 34, was in a solitary confinement cell when she was found unresponsive; an autopsy revealed a skull fracture, four broken ribs and liver damage. The medical examiner, who ruled her death a homicide, stated her injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma and could not have been self-inflicted. In Sept. 2005, four CCA guards were indicted on murder charges in connection with Richardson's death. The charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors, partly because they could not determine the exact time the injuries were inflicted. CCA quietly settled a civil lawsuit filed by Richardson's family in February 2006. The question remains: Who murdered Estelle Richardson? Mr. Puryear, who had inside knowledge about Richardson's death through internal CCA records and the suit filed by her family, was only interested in protecting CCA's interests. What about the public's interest in knowing who beat Estelle Richardson to death? What about bringing her killers to justice, whether they were CCA guards or other prisoners? That, apparently, was not one of Mr. Puryear's concerns. Estelle Richardson's death at a CCA-run jail remains unsolved.

What steps can be taken to oppose Puryear's nomination?
Although Mr. Puryear's nomination hearing was held on Feb. 12, 2008, the Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on his nomination. The Committee members still need to hear from concerned citizens who oppose Puryear's nomination. Contact them now to voice your concerns! Phone calls and faxes to the individual Committee members and the Committee staff are best:

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary224 Dirksen Senate Office BuildingWashington, DC 20510

Democratic Phone: (202) 224-7703
Democratic Fax: (202) 224-9516
Republican Phone: (202) 224-5225
Republican Fax: (202) 224-9102

Senator Patrick Leahy, Committee Chair
United States Senate
433 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4244
Fax: (202) 224-3479


A list of all the Senate Judiciary Committee members is available at this link; all the members need to be made aware of opposition to Puryear's judicial nomination: http://judiciary.senate.gov/members.cfm