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Feb 23, 2009
The Oscars took place this weekend, and, amongst a year of incredibly strong films, Milk, a film biopic on Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, won Best Actor for Sean Penn in the role of Harvey Milk, and Best Screenplay for young writer Dustin Lance Black.

In his acceptance speech Black, an openly gay scriptwriter and activist best known for his work on TV show Big Love, made an emotional and powerful speech where he touched on his upbringing in a strict Mormon household, his mother’s constant devotion and love for him, as well as the life changing power Harvey Milk’s story had during his formative years of the early 1990s. 

Black then reached out to the gay and lesbian youth everywhere, encouraging them to have self worth, telling them that they are valued by God and then thanking God for the man that was Harvey Milk, who, in previous interviews, Black has referred to as a “father figure”.

For your reading pleasure, here is Black's speech in full:

Oh my God. This was, um, this was not an easy film to make and first off, I have to thank Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg and all the real-life people who shared their stories with me. And, um, Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and our entire cast; my producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, everyone at Groundswell and Focus for taking on the challenge of telling this life-saving story.

When I was thirteen years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope to… one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe, even, I could even fall in love and one day get married.

I wanna, I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am, even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us thirty years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that, no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you God, for giving us Harvey Milk.

To see Dustin Lance Black's speech, please click here whereby the video will open in a new window for your convenience.

The Harvey Milk biopic seems to have resonated beyond the LGBT community to garner mass appeal as an important chapter in history, and appears particularly important in the wake of Proposition 8, an amendment to the constitution that banned California gay marriage that was also heavily financed by the Mormon Church. In his award acceptance speech, actor Sean Penn also made reference to gay rights, asking for a repeal of Proposition 8.

Dustin Lance Black’s conviction and eloquence, as well as his honest gratitude, were qualities that made this win at the Oscars, at least in this blogger’s humble opinion, a highlight of the 81st Academy Awards and it was a win that excites the possibility of what is yet to come from gay cinema, as it is slowly but surely is accepted into mainstream culture.
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Posted: Feb 23, 2009 6:00am
Feb 4, 2009
A bipartisan call to the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asks that all State department workers, including Foreign Service Officers (FSO), be given full State benefits for their partners and therein bring gay and lesbian couples in-line with their heterosexual counterparts. This came in a letter from the Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin as well as other supporters in congress, who wrote:

"The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.

"As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees.

"Further, the State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel."

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin previously wrote to the incoming Obama Administration expressing her hope that when President Obama took office the discrepancies in the benefit plan would be finally amended.

This follows Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the organization Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and its head Michelle Schohn over the Secretary of State’s plans for advancing the treatment for gay employees. Both sides talked in glowing terms about one another and an overwhelmingly positive outcome all round is expected. Although, as Schohn noted, no timetable for changes was drawn-up.

The main issues tackled in the meeting dealt with Foreign Service Officers, since under current legislation, partners of gay or lesbian employees are not included in travel orders, are not allowed Federal health care provisions and are not covered for travel expenses should a service man or woman’s partner have to relocate overseas.

Other potential changes include:

• The facility for all partners of gay and lesbian service people to have access to language and effectiveness lessons, as well as area studies to help with relocating.

• Aid in securing Visas for same-sex partners so that they can travel when their partner is placed overseas, as well as for those partners born in other countries looking to travel to the United States with their partner.

• Emergency aid for FSO same-sex partners.

• The same or equivalent rights as Eligible Family Members (EFM) in securing work.

The inequality faced by gay employees was last brought into the spotlight during the winter months of 2007 when Michael E Guest, a US Ambassador to Romania and openly gay individual, retired in order to protest Condoleezza Rice’s position on the subject and her refusal to extend those rights or even to acknowledge Guest’s proposals for equal treatment for gay staff. It seems Hillary Clinton is more open to the discussion over FSOs. 

A move toward equal protective measures for gay federal staff and their partners would bring America into line with other nations who have already extended their care program to include domestic or civil partnerships. There are high hopes for the Obama Administration and for Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State after she publicly declared that, should she secure office, she would be an advocate for LGBT rights.  
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Posted: Feb 4, 2009 10:55am
Jan 22, 2009

On Tuesday the 20th of January, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, and in his inaugural address, he committed to sweeping changes, including in the way the U.S. approaches the rights of LGBT people.

President Obama’s stance on gay rights is a result of consistent advocacy throughout his political career. As an Illinois senator, a post he took in 1996 and lasting eight years, Obama supported an anti-discriminatory work bill making it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexuality in Illinois.

He carried this attitude into his campaign for Presidency, whereby he supported the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and was vocal on repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the military, whereby he took the emphasis off of a person’s sexuality and gender identity in favor of testing their &ldquoatriotism …  [and] willingness to serve.”

In fact, the only place in which Obama drew criticism from the LGBT community was on his personal view that “marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman”, and therefore should remain defined as such. He did, however, fully support civil partnerships for LGBT couples and was outspoken against Proposition 8, the Californian amendment banning same-sex marriage. He also opposed the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

Perhaps most reflective of President Obama’s views are the man’s own words in a speech made June 1, 2007, where he highlighted the gay rights struggle in stark clarity. He said:

"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

This is a sentiment Obama echoed in his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, when he said:

“I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.”

And was again addressed during his acceptance speech for the Presidency, when he said:

“It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled--Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

So now that President Obama has been sworn in, what exactly has he committed to do for the LGBT community? As the Civil Rights section of the Whitehouse website details, Obama promises to:

* Expand the Hate Crimes Statutes so that it encompasses those crimes committed because of a victim’s race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or physical disability. Obama also pledged to follow through on his commitment to establish the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexuality.

* Fully support civil unions which would give 1,100 plus federal legal rights to same-sex couples, and he would want to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as fully oppose a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage, in spite of his own personal beliefs. President Obama, in this same vein, would also pursue ensuring adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples, feeling that the sexuality of parents is not a determining factor on the stability of a child’s home life or in their overall development.

* Launch a serious campaign on AIDS prevention with a particular focus on helping women and preventing them from contracting the disease, reacting against shocking statistics that show that the percentage of women with AIDS in America has increased at an alarming rate over the past twenty years. Obama will also launch age appropriate sex education with an emphasis on preventing future infections and also eliminating the homophobia and stigma that often goes hand in hand with HIV infection.

For further information on all of President Obama’s plans for his presidency, the Whitehouse website now has a full guide.


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Posted: Jan 22, 2009 12:00am
Dec 18, 2008

A French-backed U.N. Assembly took place this month, calling for global decriminalization of homosexuality and extending existing U.N. protections to mean that no one should be prosecuted for their sexuality or gender identification. The declaration will be formally put through the U.N. on Thursday, Dec. 18.

What is the Declaration Aiming to Accomplish?

The documentation, whilst not being a binding agreement in terms of international policy, will urge states through a 13-point structure to abandon laws that would prosecute a person based on sexuality or gender identity and also prevent them from being imprisoned, tortured, detained and put to death.

However, not all nations have signed the treaty, including many religiously conservative countries, but 57 states have backed the declaration, including all EU states, and French spokespeople are confident that of those yet to sign, at least a portion will do so.

The Vatican's Opposition to the Plan

In response, the Vatican issued a staunch criticism of the proposal, claiming that the initiative could be used to stigmatize those countries who refused to sign, and saying that the document was being used to push the same-sex marriage agenda.

As a consequence of this, on Dec. 6 there were large scale protests in St. Peter’s Square made by the two main Italian gay and lesbian advocacy groups Arcigay and Arcilesbica who, by candlelight and with nooses around their necks, claimed that the Vatican was using its indirect influence to allow prejudice against LGBT people to continue.

The Vatican Clarifies its Criticism on the LGBT U.N. Declaration

The Vatican spokesperson Frederico Lombardi responded by saying that the Catholic Church condemned all kinds of violence and discrimination “regarding homosexuals.... No-one obviously wants to defend the death penalty for homosexuals.”

The Vatican cites that it is the chief campaigner against the death penalty as a form of punishment, and would, under no circumstances, advocate violence or cruelty. It did however stipulate that it was reacting to the European initiative to take to the U.N. a declaration that was vague enough so as to allow, as Archbishop Migliore put it, “implacable discrimination” against heterosexual matrimony.

Hopeful LGBT Rights Groups Applaud the U.N. Initiative

Whilst there will be no vote in the U.N. as to the LGBT protection declaration at this time, gay-rights groups have stated that having this even debated in the General Assembly is a significant step, whilst an Organisation of the Islamic Council representative was apprehensive towards the declaration, as it was a possible &ldquorecursor to a resolution”, something which will no doubt garner worldwide attention during the 2009 session and in subsequent years.

Putting the Proposal into a Global Context

The Vatican’s position has further emphasized the current semantic battle as to whether the fight for gay rights is in fact a human rights issue. Furthermore, an alliance between the Vatican and Islamic leaders has been seen as a possible re-invocation of the “Holy Alliance” that was used in the past to defeat such documents as a proposal on abortion. This has been a worry to many supporters of the declaration.

Yet, in spite of this, many gay rights groups have said this is a small, quiet victory, in that the Vatican has publicly reiterated its opposition to corporal or capital punishment for homosexuals, and are further encouraged by the fact that states beyond the West have joined, such as Uruguay and Ecuador. They see this declaration as an important step in ensuring that all U.N. states return basic rights to all homosexual and transgender people that may be living in fear due to the current oppressive laws in their country.

If you would like to show your support for gay rights, please take a few minutes out of your day to sign this petition. Thank you.


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Posted: Dec 18, 2008 12:00am


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Steve Williams
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Wakefield, United Kingdom
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