Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New York Post - 03/27/2009

The NYPD quietly shut down its highly successful Vice Squad operations on Craigslist without any explanation to the officers, The Post has learned.

The move came after five years of targeting sex-for-cash ads on the site, which led to arrests in all five boroughs, sources said.

Craigslist was the Web site of choice for Brooklyn newsman George Weber, who used the online marketplace to solicit rough sex from his alleged killer, self-described Satanist John Katehis, 16.

The Queens teen was arrested Wednesday and charged with brutally stabbing Weber to death after agreeing to choke and masturbate the 47-year-old ABC News Radio personality for $80. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Vice Squad Craigslist program was shut down about 18 months ago, sources told The Post. But NYPD spokesman Paul Browne insisted it happened as long as three years ago because a new commanding officer of the squad thought it was "a waste of resources."

Before the NYPD shut down the Craigslist vice operations, officers would regularly set up similar illicit meetings with prostitutes, usually in hotel rooms, by responding to ads and arresting all parties involved, the sources said.

It was not uncommon for the squads to conduct up to two stings a night when the operation was in full swing.

The shutdown came suddenly and with little explanation, the sources said.

"It sounds like it's a safety issue," a former vice investigator said. "They never said why, they just said, 'No more.' "

Sources said the department still monitors the site for other criminal activities, such as fraud.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster yesterday condemned the illegal use of the site, saying a host of measures had been taken to stamp out illicit activity.

Meanwhile, prostitution stings in general have seen a significant slowdown since the NYPD late last month began requiring all operations to be cleared by Organized Crime Control Bureau head Chief Anthony Izzo, sources said.

Cases are being kicked back by the department for further investigation or information, significantly slowing arrests, the sources said.

The move came after anger boiled over in the gay community over the arrest last October of 53-year-old massage therapist Robert Pinter, who was approached by a younger man and offered money for sex in the adults-only section of an East Village video store.

The man turned out to be a cop and Pinter was charged with loitering for the purpose of soliciting sex.

Pinter and two dozen men, mostly members of gay-rights organizations, protested on Feb. 14 outside Mayor Bloomberg's East 79th Street town house.

They accused undercover Vice Squad cops of entrapment, claiming they flirted with customers in Manhattan shops, offering money for sex.

Commissioner Ray Kelly soon after called the head of the OCCB and others to Police Headquarters following accusations that vice cops were making the dubious arrests.

Additional reporting by Murray Weiss and David Hastie

Monday, March 30, 2009

DROP the ROCK - Take Action Now

From New York Civil Liberties Union

We are now hours away from historic reform of our state’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws...but we need your help in the next 36 hours help make this victory for justice a reality.

Over the weekend, Governor Paterson and leaders in the state senate and assembly finalized an agreement to restore judges’ ability to sentence non-violent, low level drug offenders to rehabilitation instead of jail and provide resources for treatment as part of the state budget. Our elected officials must vote on that budget by Wednesday.

And we know that the vote in the State Senate will be very close.

Give these lawmakers a call urging them to pass the Rockefeller reform legislation:
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith: (518) 455-2701
Senator Craig Johnson (Nassau County): (518) 455-2622
Senator Jeff Klein (North Bronx, Westchester County): 518-455-3595
Senator Bill Stachowski (Buffalo, Erie County): (518) 455-2426
Senator Darrel Aubertine (Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence counties): 518-455-2761

We’re hours away. Let’s bring it home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Albany Reaches Deal to Repeal ’70s-Era Drug Laws
By Jeremy W. Peters
New York Times - March 26, 2009

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson and New York legislative leaders have reached an agreement to dismantle much of what remains of the state’s strict 1970s-era drug laws, once among the toughest in the nation.

The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.

New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.

“To me, that is the restoration of justice.”

The agreement, which requires approval in the Assembly and the Senate, would allow some drug offenders who are currently in prison to apply to have their sentences commuted. It was not clear on Wednesday how many current prisoners would be eligible to apply. Mr. Paterson has pushed to have fewer prisoners than legislative leaders would prefer.

While a few points, like a resentencing provision and the amount the state is willing to spend on the plan, were still being negotiated late Wednesday, lawmakers said they were on track to wipe out the central elements of laws that have been criticized for decades as overly punitive and disproportionately harmful to minorities.

The laws, passed in 1973, are commonly known as the Rockefeller drug laws because they were championed by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller in what was considered a bold response to the sharp rise in heroin use and property crimes among young people.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Paterson, Marissa Shorenstein, said reaching the deal, which she stressed was still being forged, was a personal victory for the governor, who has made drug law reform a priority of his administration. When he was a state senator, Mr. Paterson was arrested in 2002 at a demonstration outside Gov. George E. Pataki’s Midtown Manhattan office protesting the drug laws.

The reforms, Ms. Shorenstein said, “reflect the governor’s core principle to focus on treatment rather than punishment to end the cycle of addiction.”

Under the plan, judges would have the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders in all but the most serious drug offenses — known as A-level drug felonies — to treatment. As a condition of being sent to treatment, offenders would have to plead guilty. If they did not successfully complete treatment, their case would go back before a judge, who would again have the option of imposing a prison sentence.

Currently, judges are bound by a sentencing structure that requires minimum sentences of one year for possessing small amounts of cocaine or heroin, for example. Under the agreement reached by the governor and lawmakers, a judge could order treatment for those offenders.

Judges would also have the option of sending some repeat drug offenders to treatment. Repeat offenders accused of more serious drug crimes, however, could only go to treatment if they were found to be drug-dependent in an evaluation.

District attorneys have resisted an overhaul of the state’s drug sentencing laws, arguing that the system in place has led to lower drug crime rates and allowed more drug criminals to enter treatment.

“The prison population is going down and public safety has improved, and I’d hate to do anything that would upset either of those trends,” said Michael C. Green, the district attorney of Monroe County, which includes Rochester. “No one knows for sure, but logic seems to dictate that is certainly one of the possibilities.”

In 2004, the state eliminated the life sentences some drug crimes carried as a maximum punishment and reduced the length of other drug sentences. But advocates said those changes did not go nearly far enough because they left judges bound to mandatory sentencing.

Since then, the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, has routinely passed legislation that repealed mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes. But the bills always failed to get past the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans until January.

Passing drug law revisions would give Senate Democrats a significant legislative victory at a time when Republicans are hammering them, saying they are disorganized and ineffective.

Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat who has led the effort in the Senate to overhaul the drug statutes, said he was confident he had support in the Senate to pass the plan.

“It’s no secret the Senate’s old majority was the primary barrier to reforming our drug laws,” he said. “But this is one of the reasons we fought so hard to take the majority. This is what our supporters have expected us to do.”

The deal comes as the state is facing a $16 billion budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. And finding the money needed to pay for drug addiction programs, which could reach near $80 million, will prove difficult, those involved in the negotiations said.

But in the long run, the changes are expected to save money because sending offenders to treatment is less expensive than spending $45,000 a year to keep them confined.

New York already has one of the most extensive drug-treatment networks in the country. Drug policy experts said that with the proposed changes in the law, the state could have the sentencing policy it needs to fully utilize those treatment programs.

“New York could actually become a national leader,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that urges relaxation of certain drug sentencing laws. “We’re going in a public health direction here. We’re making that turn, and that’s what’s significant.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Barney Frank calls Scalia "homophobe"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Naughty by Nature: Kat Long's The Forbidden Apple
Sleaze, please! Vice and virtue duke it out in the big smutty city.
By Roy Edroso
Village Voice 3/10/09

Nowadays, with porn available from every glowing screen, it's hard to comprehend that the publisher of a literary sex magazine called Eros went to prison for violating obscenity laws as recently as 1972. Don't we associate the early '70s with sexual freedom, Deep Throat, and swingers? Sure, but take a look at Times Square: In that halcyon time, it was a carnival of filth, and now it's a family destination. Maybe succeeding generations will have trouble getting their heads around that, too. Hopefully, there'll be future editions of Kat Long's The Forbidden Apple: A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City to help give them some perspective.

The book's ground—despite the subtitle, less about sex than the struggles of the sex and smut trades against suppression—is well-trod; even a casual student of urban vice will recognize many incidents and ideas. Specific totems of these struggles are part of our common nostalgia. Even folks who've never seen Minsky's Burlesque, peep shows, or gay bathhouses know what they are, and something of the crackdowns that swept them away.

So a lot of The Forbidden Apple is familiar, which occasionally provokes impatience. Yet by the end, I wished it were longer. There is something in it that suggests an epic history: While the story is self-evidently cyclical—the libertines rise and fall as repeatedly and randomly as a pubescent's erection—you can also see growth and erosion on both sides. Though their motivations and antipathy seem eternal, the forces of license and repression ever adapt and mutate; the more things stay the same, the more they change.

Long begins in rowdy post–Civil War New York. Vice is rampant and inspires reform, which comes in some variety: There's the two-fisted postal inspector Anthony Comstock, the scolding preacher Charles Parkhurst, and the proto-sociologist Jacob Riis. Though we don't see it at first, these characters set a kind of template for reformers to come: the vice cop, the clergyman, and the social scientist.

Their first wave of repression upon the city's moral offenses—prostitution, smutty shows, bars that tolerate gay and mixed-race couplings—is achieved mainly by denunciatory campaigns and political arm-twisting that produce laws and commissions. But the methods are crude and the results incomplete: One police captain, whose complaisance with disorderly houses has been bought by graft, is removed from temptation by a promotion to Chief of Police; purveyors of proscribed businesses grow cannier and turn "Raines Law" hotels—which sprang up to serve thirsty locals after an 1896 ordinance forbid Sunday liquor service anywhere but in hotels—into barely disguised brothels.

But the repressionists adapt, too. An elite Committee of Fourteen works with the city's Brewers' Association (which, Long informs us, "also wanted to clean up its public image") to make licensing more restrictive, which kills the Raines Law hotels as well as "dance halls, burlesque theaters and tenement barrooms." By 1912, the city's morals seem safe.

But not, and never, for long. Then comes the moving picture, which attracts the reformers' attention as an incubator of vice. Exhibitors craftily respond with proto-sexploitation films—in which "the fear of movies' bad influence on children," says Long, "morphed into a genre of movies about the bad influences on children in a treacherous city," such as the titillating but morally instructive The Inside of the White Slave Traffic.

Reform forces—the vice cops represented by the Comstock-led New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, social science represented by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the clergy involved with both—agitate for and receive raids and theater closings. Thus another crisis is averted.

Then social movements transform again the way the fight is fought. A new breed of reformers, such as birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, muddy the reformist waters: With her frank sex talk, Sanger is an obvious offender, but also a social science progressive with a modish message of uplift and emancipation. Anti-sex advocates start to speak the language of the new enlighteners; a pre–World War I campaign against venereal disease, while still flogging the old biblical theme of fallen womanhood, also promotes "new standards in safeguarding public health." Prostitutes are tested for syphilis; Bible-beaters work hand-in-hand with sex scholars; the term "social disease" is born. Later, some progressives will side with the pornographers in defense of freedom of expression, but some always remain on the other side to make the enlightened, humanistic case for social control, represented variously by public health commissions, urban planners, and Andrea Dworkin.

Long covers the great upheavals that have pushed the advantage in the sex wars one way or the other: the explosions of licentiousness after each World War; the feminist, gay, and sexual revolutions; venereal epidemics, including the rise of AIDS; the long drive to purify Times Square; and so on. She also includes some interesting sketches of entrepreneurs who helped push things along: Gladys Bentley, the gay blueswoman in Harlem in the '30s, whose lyrics "reveled in lesbian double entendre"; pioneer female porn-film director Doris Wishman; and Marty Hodas, who turned the peep show from a children's pastime to a triple-X empire, each night carting home thousands of dollars in quarters.

The Forbidden Apple is expansive and yet particular enough that it set me to seeing signs of the city's sexual past in the present. For example, when I noticed that the American Social Health Association was celebrating February as National Condom Month, I was reminded that the organization had been founded by John D. Rockefeller as the American Social Hygiene Association to unite social hygienists and anti-white-slavery crusaders. I saw a Board of Health sticker on the door of a closed health-club steamroom and thought of the bathhouse raids of the 1980s. I looked upon Times Square and thought of the days when tourists went there to see "pansy shows" of "painted men"—not in the last century, but in the century before that.

For the moment, it seems as if the prudes and the prurients of New York are in a state of truce: Our streets are largely scoured, our computers and TVs blue with smut. But as our recession deepens, we may be in for yet another great upheaval. How will that affect the balance of power?

The answer is yet unknown, but The Forbidden Apple suggests that when it comes, it will be very like something New York has seen before.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Army fired 11 soldiers in Jan. as openly gay
By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Army fired 11 soldiers in January for violating the military's policy that gay service members must keep their sexuality hidden, according to a Virginia congressman.

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran said he has requested monthly updates from the Pentagon on the impact of the policy until it is repealed. In a statement released on Thursday, Moran said the discharged soldiers included an intelligence collector, a military police officer, four infantry personnel, a health care specialist, a motor-transport operator and a water-treatment specialist.

"How many more good soldiers are we willing to lose due to a bad policy that makes us less safe and secure?" asked Moran, a member of the House panel that oversees military spending.

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was instituted after President Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on gay service members in 1993. It refers to the military practice of not asking recruits their sexual orientation. In turn, service members are banned from saying they are gay or bisexual, engaging in homosexual activity or trying to marry a member of the same sex.

The military discharged nearly 10,000 service members under the policy in a 10-year period, from 1997 to 2007. The number fired each year dropped sharply after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when forces were stretched thin. Whereas more than 1,200 were dismissed in 2000 and 2001 for violating the policy, about half as many — 627 — were fired in 2007.
The Pentagon has not released its 2008 figures.

The White House has said President Barack Obama has begun consulting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen on how to lift the ban. But the administration won't say how soon that might happen or whether a group of experts will be commissioned to study the issue in-depth, as some Democrats have suggested.

Likewise, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill support repealing the ban but have not promised to press the issue immediately.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

End the Rockefeller Drug Laws
New York Times Editorial - 03/10/2009

After 35 years of filling the state’s prisons with drug offenders who needed treatment and disproportionately punishing poor and minority offenders, New York is on the verge of dismantling its infamous Rockefeller drug laws. To get there, Gov. David Paterson and some prosecutors will have to drop their objections to a reasonable provision on second-time offenders.

The Assembly voted last week to restore judicial discretion and end mandatory sentencing for many nonviolent low-level drug crimes. The bill, which has been introduced in the State Senate as well, would limit the longstanding and widely discredited system under which prosecutors decide who goes to jail and for how long.

Once the measure becomes law, courts would be able to sentence many addicts to treatment instead of cramming them into prisons where addiction generally goes untreated.

Republican senators who represent prison districts have long obstructed reforms like these. The latest attempt seems likely to succeed now that Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature — if Assembly lawmakers can broker a deal with the governor and some prosecutors in the state.

The prime sticking point is likely to involve a provision of the Assembly bill that deals with second-time offenders — who make up the largest group of people jailed under the laws. The Assembly bill would do away with mandatory sentences for low-level, second-time offenders who have not committed violent crimes.

Mr. Paterson and his allies in law enforcement believe that would send the wrong message to the communities where drug crimes are committed and to the police officers who have worked hard to make these cases. They also fear that without mandatory sentences, some offenders might ignore treatment sanctions. But sentencing statistics show that judges can be very harsh in such cases.

The Assembly bill provides for judicial discretion for a well-defined group of second-timers while preserving lengthy, mandatory sentences for second-timers with either histories of violence or records of having committed sex crimes or sold drugs to children. The provision protects the public safety by making sure that dangerous offenders go to jail. It allows judges to deal differently with the low-level second-timers who deserve treatment.

This is consistent with drug treatment research, which shows that addicts — many of whom sell to feed their habits — often pass through the system without receiving treatment. That means they often end up back on the streets. The provision also is consistent with the main thrust of the reform effort, which is to restore judicial discretion in drug cases. The Assembly provision deserves to carry the day.


NYCLU Urges ACTION to End Rockefeller Drug Laws

The New York Civil Liberties Union (the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union) sent out the following action alert.

Dear Friend of Reform:

We wrote to you back in January with the news that we believed 2009 would finally be the year for true reform of our state’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.

And check this out: Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a historic overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws by a vote of 96-46. Now is your chance to show your support of the bill! It goes a long way towards reaching many of the goals communities and advocates have been pushing for for almost four decades.

But the fight isn’t over.

The same progressive bill has now been introduced in the New York State Senate where it faces a much tougher road to passage. Many senators have been intimidated by the scare tactics and misrepresentations of prosecutors who don’t want to give up their power over New Yorkers’ lives.

So it’s up to all of us to remind our representatives that power-hungry prosecutors do not run this state. And it’s up to all of us to say to Governor Paterson: We need your leadership more than ever right now.

Click here to send a free fax to the governor and to your state senators urging them to support S. 2855, the best way to move New York in a new direction.

For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have forced judges to hand down extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target major dealers, most New Yorkers trapped by the laws are low-level, nonviolent people suffering from substance abuse problems, homelessness, mental illness or unemployment. They are overwhelmingly black and Latino.

Enough is enough. This year is the best chance we’ve seen since the Rockefeller laws were passed in 1973 to actually get real reform of these harsh and wasteful laws. But the state senate will not act if you do not lead the way.

Send your free fax right now. Then forward this email to your neighbors. And your family. And your friends. And your neighbors’ family and friends. We need a huge outpouring of support for this bill to overpower the prosecutors’ fear-mongering.

This is our chance. Let’s go make it happen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

message from United ENDA Coalition

Dear Colleagues for a United ENDA:

Greetings from the Nation’s Capitol. Since our last update, many of us had an amazing opportunity to get together and talk about an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) at the Creating Change conference held last month in Denver, Colorado. We see such incredible momentum for positive change around the country and in Washington. It was wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues and to talk about our ability to make a difference. So much work is being done across the country to build towards passage of an inclusive ENDA, and that is exactly what is needed. Please take the lead in congressional districts in your state.

Positive Signals from Congressman Frank on Inclusive ENDA
In a recent interview with the Washington Blade, Congressman Barney Frank (D- Mass. 4), acknowledged the fantastic work being done to advance the work of an inclusive ENDA at the grassroots level, noting “the various coalitions” and the fact that “transgender groups are doing what wasn’t done previously, which is lobbying member by member.”

For the full article visit : http://www.washblade.com/2009/1-23/news/national/13969.cfm

The January 12, 2009 edition of The New Yorker featured a profile called “Barney’s Great Adventure,” which said “Frank is uncharacteristically hopeful about the future, including gay rights. Then it quoted Congressman Frank saying: ‘We’re going to do three things in Congress… First, a hate crimes bill-that shouldn’t be too hard. Next we move on to employment discrimination. We almost got that through before, but now we can win even if we add transgender protections, which we are going to do. And finally, after the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come.”

Your efforts make a huge difference on Capitol Hill. Keep up the good work!

White House Supports Fully Inclusive ENDA
What a change on Inauguration Day! When President Obama took office, the LGBT civil rights agenda that had been at change.gov was quickly uploaded to whitehouse.gov.
Right there, for the world to see, is this priority:
Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to …pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The new President is not just on board with a plan to protect the entire LGBT community in the workplace, his Administration is leading the way. Let’s put this bill on President Obama’s desk to be signed, shall we?

Grassroots Call to Action
As we move toward the introduction of ENDA in this 111th Congress, we need to build momentum from the grassroots, as well as keep the lobbying effort strong in Washington. On every front, we must convey to Congress and the White House our community’s strong commitment to passage of a bill that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity. Please use the tools available at unitedenda.org to call and set up meetings with your U.S. representative and senators today, and take a diverse team from your district with you. We need every one of us, as organizations and as individuals, to ramp up efforts in every congressional district. Do not wait to be asked, please contact your senators and representatives today!

More Detail On Inclusive ENDA Activities At The Creating Change Conference
For those who want to know what you missed at the Creating Change conference there was a day-long institute called “It’s Time to Pass an Inclusive ENDA;” a workshop “ENDA for All,” and a United ENDA coalition organizing meeting for those able to make it. Both returning and new activists committed to passage of an inclusive ENDA had a chance to get the latest news from Washington, brush up on new skills, reestablish ties with other coalition allies, and recommit to this important work.

If we are reaching you for the first time with this update because your organization joined the United ENDA Coalition in Denver, we welcome you.

Let Us Know About Your Key Efforts
If you have information that you believe should be included in this monthly update, please send it our way. And please let us know if contacts for your organization change, so we are sending updates and alerts to those who need them.

In deep appreciation for all that are doing to ensure that an inclusive ENDA becomes law, we remain,

Yours in solidarity,
United ENDA Steering Committee Co-Chairs

Mara Keisling
Executive Director
National Center for Transgender Equality
1325 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
202-903-0112 office

Julie Anne Childs
Assistant to the Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
1325 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
Main Line: 202-393-5177
Direct Line: 202-639-6302
Blackberry: 202-744-9172
Fax: 202-393-2241


New York Post - 03/09/2009

Following accusations that vice cops were making dubious arrests of gay men at pornography shops, the NYPD has decided that similar investigations will now have to be approved by the department's higher-ups, sources told ThePost.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the head of the department's OrganizedCrime Control Bureau, which oversees the vice squad, and others to PoliceHeadquarters after protests outside Mayor Bloomberg's home over the arrests.

Protesters said undercover vice-squad cops were flirting with customers inManhattan shops and offering to have sex for money - which the activistssaid amounted to entrapment. The department had said it was not targeting gay men but was ratherconducting a nuisance-abatement operation in response to neighborcomplaints.

As a result of the talks, it was decided that all such operations would haveto be cleared by OCCB head Chief Anthony Izzo, the sources said.

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Yorkers to Gather in Solidarity Demonstration Against the Acquital of Jacobo Pineiro Rial’s Murder of Gay Couple in Vigo, Spain - This Saturday.

(pictured: Accused Murderer Jacobo Piniero Rial)

In an act of solidarity New Yorkers will gather in front of the Spanish Embassy, 150 East, 58 Street, on Saturday March 7, 2009 from 1:00 – 2:30 PM.

In response to the outrage due to “Spain’s Matthew Sheppard’s” case, New Yorkers will gather on Saturday, March 7, 2009, from 1:00 – 2:30 PM, in front of the Spanish Embassy, 150 East, 58 Street, in an act of solidarity against the acquittal of Jacobo Pineiro Rial, murderer of Isaac Ali Dani Peréz Triviño and Julio Anderson Luciano of Vigo, Spain.

The New York City demonstration coincides with the simultaneous ‘protestas’ in Barcelona, Madrid and Vigo on the same day.

On the morning of January 13th, 2006, Isaac Ali Dani Peréz Triviño and Julio Anderson Luciano were both stabbed to death by Mr. Pineiro.. “The bodies showed a total of 57 stab wounds, according to forensics…After killing them, Piñeiro took a shower and cleaned himself up. He filled a suitcase with some of their belongings to make it look like a robbery and then spilled clothing all over the place. He poured alcohol over everything, including his victims' bodies, turned on the gas spigot on the stove, and set everything on fire.”, mentions Andres Duque of Blabbeando, the fist site to report the horrific murder and outcome in the US.

Three years after the brutal murder, Julio Pineiro Rial almost walked out a free man. He was acquitted by a jury of both murders on the basis of ‘self-defense’. His sentencing still remains to take place for setting fire to the apartment where Isaac and Julio were murdered. Insiders estimate that his sentence will be around 15 to 20 years.

The Supreme Court of Justice of Galicia [Fiscalía del Tribunal Superior de Xustiza de Galicia (TSXG)] “confirmed that the evidence to be presented to the Supreme Court in reference to the verdict issued by the jury on the double murder of Calle Oporto of Vigo, will be addressed promptly due to the urgency and importance of the case.” – Faro de Vigo.

The demonstration in New York City on Saturday, March 7, 2009 in front of the Spanish Embassy is to show support in solidarity with those that are appalled by the outcome of the case. The demonstration sends a clear message to the WORLD that nowadays we need to listen, react and respond to this outrage. Our message to all Spaniards is that the we, New Yorkers, care and offer our support; that we embrace the pain of Marta Pérez Triviñio, mother of Isaac, and all their relatives and friends, as well as those of Julio Anderson; that in moments of injustice we cannot simply stand mute.

hat tip: Latino Commission on AIDS

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Suit Seeks to Force Government to Extend Benefits to Same-Sex Couples
By Abby Goodnough and Katie Zezima
New York Times - 3/3/09

BOSTON — The legal advocacy group that successfully argued for sex-same marriage in Massachusetts intends to file suit here on Tuesday seeking some federal benefits for spouses in such marriages.

The target is the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. That law denies federal benefits, like Social Security survivors’ payments, to spouses in such marriages.

Because same-sex marriage is allowed in only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the number of spouses who are denied such benefits is fairly small. But Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the group planning to file the federal suit, believes the number will grow as more states consider granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

At least eight other states, including New York, are considering same-sex marriage bills.

“In our view, it’s a straightforward equal-protection issue,” said Mary L. Bonauto, civil rights project director for the group, referring to the constitutional mandate that laws be applied equally to everyone.

The suit, to be filed in Federal District Court in Boston, does not challenge a separate provision of the act that says states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Information about the suit is posted on the advocacy group's web site.

While the Government Accountability Office has identified more than 1,100 federal statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in rights and benefits, the suit focuses narrowly on equal protection as applied to Social Security, federal income tax, federal employees and retirees, and the issuance of passports.

“We picked programs every American can relate to,” Ms. Bonauto said.

The plaintiffs in the suit include eight couples and three widowers, all of whom were married in Massachusetts after the state began allowing same-sex marriages in 2004. All have applied for federal benefits, Ms. Bonauto said, but have been denied because the federal government does not recognize their marriages.

Some of the plaintiffs are federal employees who cannot share their health benefits with spouses; others cannot file taxes jointly or are receiving less generous Social Security retirement benefits.
The widowers include Dean Hara, the spouse of former Representative Gerry E. Studds. After Mr. Studds died in 2006, Mr. Hara, 51, was denied his Congressional pension and other benefits normally extended to surviving spouses of federal employees.

Another married couple, Melba Abreu and Beatrice Hernandez, estimate they would have saved about $20,000 in federal income tax over the past few years if they had been able to file jointly.
“In our case, the core of our American dream has always been for Melba and I to provide for one another,” said Ms. Hernandez, 47, of Boston. “This presents a real threat to that, when we take a good hard look at our future years.”

Another plaintiff, Herbert Burtis, 78, lost his spouse last year and would be entitled to about $700 a month in Social Security survivor benefits if his marriage had been heterosexual.

“Nobody else has to go through that begging to be considered equal to other married people,” said Mr. Burtis, who married in 2004 but was with his partner for more than 60 years.

Although federal courts have heard other challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, Ms. Bonauto said, this is the first in which plaintiffs who were married in their state of residence applied for federal benefits and were denied them.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a group that has lobbied against same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, said he did not think one part of the federal act could be singled out and struck down.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law scholar and dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, said that the case seemed strong but that victory was not certain.
“I think that under established equal protection law, they have strong claims,” Mr. Chemerinsky said. “But it does raise issues that courts haven’t dealt with before, so that makes it more difficult to predict what the courts will do.”

Mr. Burtis, who was among hundreds of gay, married residents of Massachusetts whom Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders reached out to, said he did not expect to receive federal benefits in his lifetime.

“But at least I can be part of what I think would be a historic moment to help someone in a future generation get equality under the law,” he said.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Iraq's queer underground railroad
A secret network of safe houses and escape routes is saving gay Iraqis from execution by Islamist death squads
by Peter Tatchell
Wednesday 25 February 2009 21.30 GMT

In the bad old days of slavery in the United States, there was the "Underground Railroad" – a clandestine network of secret routes and safe houses – which spirited thousands of southern slaves to freedom in the north.

Today, 200 years later in Iraq, a modern version of the underground railroad is saving the lives of gay people who are fleeing Islamist death squads. It is providing safe houses in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and is smuggling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to neighbouring countries, where it helps them apply for United Nations humanitarian protection.

This secret network, coordinated by Iraqi LGBT exiles in London, is saving dozens of lives.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, homophobia and the terrorisation of LGBT people has got much worse. The western invasion of Iraq in 2003 ended the tyrannical Baathist dictatorship. But it also destroyed a secular state, created chaos and lawlessness and allowed the flourishing of religious fundamentalism. The result has been an Islamist-inspired homophobic terror campaign against LGBT Iraqis.

You can watch two short videos, which show the terror of queer life in "democratic" Iraq here and here.

This campaign of terror is sanctioned by Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2005, he issued a fatwa urging the killing of LGBT people in the "worst, most severe way" possible.

This is the same Sistani who was praised by President Bush as a "leading moderate". The British government concurred. We hosted him in Britain for medical treatment. He was anti-Saddam, so the west backed him, even after he issued his murderous religious edicts.

Although the general security situation has improved in Iraq, for LGBT people it has deteriorated sharply. Systematic assassinations of queers are being orchestrated by police and security agents in the interior ministry, many of whom are former members of the Iranian-backed Badr Corps militia.

Queers are being shot dead in their homes, streets and workplaces. Even suspected gay children are being murdered. They killers claim to be doing these assassinations at the behest of the "democratic" Iraqi government, in order to eradicate what they see as immoral, un-Islamic behaviour.

This programme of targeted murders has one aim, according to the death squads: the total eradication of all queers from Iraq. It is, in effect, a form of sexual cleansing. The killers boast that most "sodomites" have already been eliminated.

The interior ministry is, of course, a key ministry in the UK-backed and US-backed government of Iraq. Some democracy! In fact, there is no democracy or human rights at all for Iraqi queers. If the government in Baghdad is not actively encouraging the mass killing of LGBT people, it is definitely allowing rogue police and Islamists to do so.

To protect against this terror and save lives, the Iraqi LGBT organisation has created its underground queer railroad, complete with safe houses and escape routes.

"Since establishing the safe houses project in 2006 we have provided refuge for dozens of gay people who were being hunted by death squads," reports Ali Hili, coordinator of Iraqi LGBT.
"We have also assisted people to escape from Iraq to neighbouring countries, where we have established resettlement projects. Our efforts have got gay refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and we've already moved some of them a third safer country, in Europe or North America. These lucky ones are now beginning to rebuild their lives," Mr Hili said.

K is a 33-year-old architect who escaped to Amman in Jordan. He now helps run the Iraqi LGBT support group there, aiding other LGBT refugees from Iraq. So far, seven out of 23 Iraqi LGBT refugees who have been smuggled to Jordan have had their applications for asylum approved by the UNHCR and been able to secure asylum in countries such as the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany.

This heroic work is not without its risks and sacrifices. Many of the underground activists have been assassinated, in a series of grisly homophobic and transphobic murders.

Two lesbians who ran the safe house in the city of Najaf were butchered, together with a young boy they had rescued from the sex industry. Last summer, the coordinator of a Baghdad safe house, Bashar, was gunned to death in his local barber's shop by an Islamist hit squad.

Previously, five gay activists who organised another Baghdad safe house were massacred.

The lack of funds is a perpetual problem. Three of the five safe houses in Baghdad had to close last year because of a lack of donations to keep them running. Two have since been reopened but it is a constant struggle to fund them. Money is needed to pay rent, electricity and food bills for the 10-12 LGBT refugees who are crammed into each house. Many more LGBT Iraqis still need a place to hide.