April 04, 2014

Video and gallery | Miami Beach receives HRC award for perfect score on Municipal Equality Index

Previously: Miami Beach scores 100, plus 12 bonus points, on updated HRC 2013 Municipal Equality Index

2014-04-03 Miami Beach HRC presentation 021Several hundred LGBT community leaders packed Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Thursday evening as Human Rights Campaign (HRC) presented the city with an award for its perfect score on the group's 2013 Municipal Equality Index.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine accepted the award on behalf of the city and his predecessor, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who also was in attendance.

"It's a testament of the leadership of Miami Beach," Levine told the crowd.

Whitney Lovell, HRC's State and Municipal Legislative program manager, presented the award, above right.

Click here to view a gallery from the event. Photos by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald.

2014-04-03 Miami Beach HRC presentation 029

Mississippi governor signs religious practices bill that LGBT activists fear will lead to discrimination

BY EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
ASSOCIATED PRESS

JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill Thursday that supporters say will assure unfettered practice of religion without government interference but that opponents worry could lead to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill, called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, will become law July 1. It also will add "In God We Trust" to the state seal.

An early version of the bill, considered weeks ago, was similar to one Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed after business groups said it could hurt that state's economy. Supporters say the final Mississippi bill bears little resemblance to the failed Arizona measure.

Outside the state Capitol on Thursday, more than 75 gay-rights supporters protested against the bill. Jeff White of Waveland, a founder of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center, said as someone who is gay and Jewish, he worries such a new law could make him more vulnerable to unfair treatment.

"It's the first time in my life that I've actually considered moving out of Mississippi," said White, 32. "It made me physically ill the past few days, realizing what they're trying to do."

Click here to read more.

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigns after furor over gay rights

BY MICHAEL LIEDTKE AND SARAH SKIDMORE SELL
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich is stepping down as CEO and leaving the company following protests over his support of a gay marriage ban in California.

The nonprofit that makes the Firefox browser infuriated many employees and users last week by naming Eich head of the Mountain View, Calif.-based organization.

At issue was Eich's $1,000 donation in 2008 to the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex marriages. The ban was overturned last year when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower-court ruling striking down the ballot measure.

Eich's contribution had drawn negative attention in the past but took on more weight when he was named CEO. Mozilla employees and users criticized the move on Twitter and elsewhere online. Earlier this week, dating website OKCupid replaced its usual homepage for users logging in with Firefox with a note suggesting they not use Mozilla's software to access the site.

Click here to read more.

April 03, 2014

Olympic medalist Tom Daley: I'm gay, not bisexual (with Mail Online video)

daley

From Mail Online:

Contrary to his coming out video last year where he said he still fancied girls, Tom Daley has admitted that he isn't bisexual at all, declaring 'I am a gay man now'.

Daley, the Olympic medalist, appeared on ITV2's Celebrity Juice and said his relationship with boyfriend Dustin Lance Black is 'all good'.

Click here to read more.

Miami Herald journalists speak at SPJ-FIU Media Conference (with South Florida News Service video)

On March 21, I spoke at “Listen, Learn and Connect: SPJ-FIU Media Conference,” an all-day journalism symposium at Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus.

Other Miami Herald journalists at the student conference: Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles and photographers Patrick Farrell and Al Diaz.

My panel's topic: "How to Brand Yourself."

From a South Florida News Service report about the conference:

Being openly gay, [Steve] Rothaus said he faced resistance writing and reporting on LGBT issues in South Florida.  But that beat was his branding.

“It’s ok to be engaged,” he said, addressing that being gay made him more qualified than most to report on LGBT issues and topics. “Being engaged in your community is not a bad thing.”

Rothaus said one can still be a creditable, trusted and respected journalist while simultaneously being plugged into a certain community.

“I know a lot of people, and they know me for being a gay reporter with the Miami Herald,” he said. “That in no way impacts my credibility. My job is to provide a voice to people who have traditionally underrepresented.”

Click here to read the complete article about the conference.

Group intervening in Florida gay marriage lawsuits

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ffpcMIAMI -- The group that pushed Florida's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is intervening in lawsuits filed by gay couples that raise challenges.

Florida Family Policy Council officials said Wednesday they would seek to preserve the constitutional amendment approved by more than 62 percent of voters defining marriage as between one man and one woman. A lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court claims the amendment violates equal protection guarantees.

A coalition of black and Hispanic civil rights groups and pastors is also defending Florida's constitutional ban.

The Florida Family Policy Council is also opposing a second lawsuit filed in Tallahassee federal court in which gay couples seek Florida recognition of gay marriages that are legal in other states.

No trial dates have been set in either case.

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Here's a news release distributed Wednesday by Florida Family Policy Council:

TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Today, Florida Family Policy filed a Motion to Intervene in Brenner v. Scott and the case of Grimsley v. Scott, both lawsuits initiated by homosexual activists seeking to declare Florida's state constitutional and statutory marriage laws unconstitutional.  Liberty Counsel filed the intervention on behalf of Florida Family Action, which actively organized a state-wide grassroots effort to pass the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. This was the largest grassroots effort in the history of Florida and the first constitutional amendment to reach the 60 percent threshold required for passage.

In 2008, 62.5 percent of Floridians voted to pass Amendment 2, amending their state constitution to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Having lost in the marketplace of ideas and having failed to convince the public to adopt their radical version of "marriage," homosexual activists, led by a Jacksonville Law firm and the ACLU, have now filed suit, asking the Northern District of Florida, a Federal Court, to throw out the votes of 8 million Floridians and to judicially impose homosexual marriage upon all Floridians.

Liberty Counsel seeks to intervene to protect both marriage and the voting rights of all Floridians on behalf of Florida Family Action, a cultural action organization that was instrumental in helping pass Amendment 2, along with its thousands of members across the state, devoted to preserving and protecting the institution of marriage.

John Stemberger, President of Florida Family Action issued the following statement:

"The constitution is not silly putty.  It has objective words and limitations to its scope.  The left in this country has no regard for the rule of law and facilitated by activist judges seek to pull new legal rabbits out their hat by twisting words and making things up from thin air which the constitution never articulated and which the framers never envisioned.  There are some things in life and in America worth fighting for even if it comes at great cost.  The institution of marriage and the Constitution are two such things. Without these our civilization begins to become reckless and government tramples on basic human liberty."

A copy of the motion filed in PDF can be downloaded here:

Since 2004, Florida Family Action has been one of Florida's leading advocacy groups seeking to defend attacks on life, marriage, family and liberty.  The attorneys representing us are with Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989.

April 02, 2014

Miami-Dade police: Sex offender tried to burn trailer because he despises lesbian couple

BY CHARLES RABIN AND MARIA PEREZ
CRABIN@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Braulio Valenzuela-Villanueva is a registered sex offender who lives in the River Park Trailer Court. In the trailer next door live two women and eight children.

Early Saturday morning, the combustible living arrangement exploded and ended with the arrest of Valenzuela-Villanueva. He is charged with attempted second-degree murder, arson and a hate crime.

Miami-Dade police say a video camera caught Valenzuela-Villanueva setting fire to a mattress that was leaning against the women’s trailer.

Though no one was injured, the family had to be rousted from bed by neighbors who were awakened by the smoke. Police said Valenzuela-Villanueva and his neighbors had an “ongoing feud.”

“Although he did not admit setting the fire, he stated that he despised the two adult victims for the simple fact that they were lesbians,” according to the arrest affidavit. “According to the defendant, every time he saw them kissing he felt a deep repugnance and in his opinion, they did not deserve children.”

Click here to read more.

Miami Beach scores 100, plus 12 bonus points, on updated HRC 2013 Municipal Equality Index

 
BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Just in time for gay pride week, the nation's largest LGBT-rights group has awarded Miami Beach a perfect score on its 2013 Municipal Equality Index — five months after Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign omitted the city from the annual ranking.

After self-submitting its own survey answers, Miami Beach scored 100 points on HRC’s list of 291 major American cities. In addition, the city picked up 12 bonus points for such things as paying federal taxes on health insurance for employees’ domestic partners and having openly gay elected or appointed leaders, said Thomas Barker, chairman of Miami Beach’s GLBT Business Enhancement Committee.

“We didn’t want to take our 100 percent and be satisfied. We wanted to be sure the rest of the country and the rest of the world knew that Miami Beach has gone above and beyond to ensure equality for LGBT residents and visitors,” Barker said.

Miami Beach was initially left off the index because the city didn’t fit the judging criteria, according to Cathryn Oakley, HRC legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy and the author of the report.

“We here at HRC have a way to select all the cities to be rated,” Oakley said. Ranked were the 50 state capitals, 150 largest U.S. cities, the three largest cities in each state, cities that were home to a state’s largest university and cities with the highest percentage of same-sex couples, based on 2010 Census data.

Florida cities that made the initial cut: Cape Coral (awarded 10 points), Fort Lauderdale (77), Hialeah (58), Hollywood (54), Jacksonville (25), Miami (67), Miami Shores (56), Oakland Park (85), Orlando (79), Pembroke Pines (43), Port St. Lucie (0), St. Petersburg (66) Tallahassee (84), Tampa (89) and Wilton Manors (82).

Miami Beach LGBT leaders flipped out when they discovered their city — considered among the world’s most popular gay destinations — was not on the HRC list.

“It was amazing that they left off Miami Beach,” said Barker, adding that the Business Enhancement Committee immediately contacted HRC to find out why.

HRC told Miami Beach it could self-submit answers if it wanted to be ranked.

“We had to do all the research ourselves and provide it to HRC in order to be scored,” Barker said. “We discovered as we were pulling together the information that not only should Miami Beach score 100 percent but it should also score another 12 bonus points.”

HRC’s official rankings only include the first 100 points. Twenty five other cities across the United States also had perfect 100 scores, Oakley said.

Barker points out, however, that when the bonus points are included, Miami Beach ranks No. 2 nationally, behind Philadelphia.

“It’s exciting to see all the hard work pay off,” he said. “We've done a lot of work with the Miami Beach Commission and the administration to pass legislation to help make this score a possibility.”

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine will be “special guest” Thursday night at a celebratory HRC presentation to be held at Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Levine, elected mayor last November, declines to take credit for the Beach’s perfect score.

“The credit goes to the shoulders of the people who went before me. The previous government,” Levine said. His predecessor, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, established the Business Enhancement Committee during her first term in office.

The celebration becomes an unofficial kickoff party for Miami Beach Gay Pride week, which culminates with a parade along Ocean Drive on April 13.

Miami Beach’s work is not over, though. HRC’s 2014 third-annual rankings will be released in November and once again the city will likely have to self-submit to be included, Oakley said.

This year, the grading criteria will change and Miami Beach will need to update a critical policy in order to again score 100, without the bonus points: “Trans-inclusive healthcare benefits will be mandatory next year,” Oakley said.

Barker expects Miami Beach will soon provide full healthcare benefits for transgender employees.

“We want to make sure that if there are any employees who want to transition that they have the coverage to make it happen,” he said. “We’ll be the first city in the state, if not the country, to have this.”

Oakley is confident the Beach will make it happen in time for the 2014 rankings: “If I learned anything from dealing with Miami Beach in this project, they are not willing to be anything less than No. 1.”

IF YOU GO

Miami Beach’s GLBT Business Enhancement Committee will celebrate the city’s perfect score on the HRC Municipal Equality Index with a public party 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Miami Beach Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr. Cocktails and wine provided by Brown Forman Beverages, a company that received a 100 score in HRC's Corporate Equality Index. RSVP to gpineres@creativasgroup.com.

Boy Scouts removes gay troop leader in Seattle

BY PHUONG LE
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE -- The Boys Scouts of America has removed an openly gay troop leader in Seattle, saying he made an issue out of his sexual orientation.

The organization told Geoff McGrath in a letter Monday that it "has no choice" but to revoke his registration after he said he was gay while being profiled by NBC News.

"Your statement is in direct violation of the BSA's leadership qualification," said the letter from the Boy Scouts' Office of General Counsel in Irving, Texas. It noted that there would not be a review of the decision unless McGrath didn't make the statements at issue.

"I'm stunned," McGrath, 49, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Our hope is that they'll rethink their decision."

Click here to read more.

April 01, 2014

Gay Key West men sue for right to marry in Florida after Monroe clerk’s office denies couple a license

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

A gay couple in Key West sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin on Tuesday after her office refused to issue the men a marriage license.

“We want the right,” said Aaron Huntsman, 43, who has been partnered for more than a decade with William Lee Jones, 42.

Huntsman and Jones, both bartenders at 801 Bourbon Bar on Duval Street, want to wed on June 10. “It’s going to be our 11-year anniversary being together and the 10-year anniversary of our commitment ceremony on the Las Vegas strip.”

Ron Saunders, general counsel for the clerk’s office told the Florida Keys Reporter that Heavilin’s staff had no choice but to deny the men a license. "Until it changes or is found unconstitutional, it is the law. No clerk in the state can do anything until a judge rules otherwise or the law changes."

The men’s 17-page lawsuit mirrors a case filed in January by six same-sex couples and Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT-rights group. They sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin after his office declined to issue the men and women marriage licenses. That case, assigned to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel, is pending.

“Obviously both suits are seeking to declare the law unconstitutional. From that perspective the cases are the same,” said the men’s lawyer, Bernadette Restivo of the Key Largo law firm Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Fariñas. “We don’t represent a big interest group. We represent Aaron and Lee. Our focus is Aaron and Lee. In the end, we’ll all accomplish the same thing.”

Restivo said her firm is perfect to represent Huntsman and Jones. “We’re three heterosexual law partners who have looked at this issue. this is about constitutional law. This is about human rights and treating people as equals.”

The case has been assigned to Monroe County Chief Judge David Audlin, Restivo said.

Audlin made headlines in 2008 when he ruled Florida’s 1977 gay adoption ban unconstitutional. The state chose not to contest his ruling, making Wayne LaRue Smith and Dan Skahen the first openly gay adoptive parents in Florida. Two years later, the state stopped enforcing the adoption ban altogether.

In addition to the local lawsuits, eight same-sex Florida couples legally married elsewhere in the United States last month sued the state in federal court to recognize their unions. Miami-Dade LGBT-rights group SAVE, the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida are also part of the federal suit filed in Tallahassee.

Florida has never granted same-sex couples the right to marry. In 2008, nearly 62 percent of voters amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, along with recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and domestic partnerships. Conservative activists have said they would fight any move to overturn the gay-marriage ban.

Huntsman and Jones are longtime Keys residents who met years ago at a gay pride celebration. Huntsman, at the time, was the reigning Mr. Pride.

He and Jones are “just two normal guys” wanting to get hitched. And Key West is the appropriate city for Florida’s gay-marriage ban to fall, Huntsman said.

“I really feel Monroe County — Key West — if it's going to be done anywhere, it’s going to be done here. We have a history. It's a little more open,” he said. “Miami’s beautiful, Miami’s Miami. But people come down here and expect something like this to happen in Key West. We’re going to change it here.”