Tuesday, April 28

Westboro Bapist went to school… and almost got their butts kicked

In all honesty, how much of a protest can it be if there are only fourteen people protesting against homosexuality? It was a case of a flood against a puddle.

Westboro Baptist Church members believe that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and have drawn severe criticism across the nation for picketing at funerals of servicemen and servicewomen.

But when the controversial church protested outside Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas on Thursday afternoon, word of the Phelps family protest spread through the school like wildfire and soon counter protesters outnumbered them by the hundreds. Students held signs reading, “God is love,” “God does not hate” and “No hate in P.V.”

The Phelps klan was at the school because an openly-gay former student, Matt Pope, was elected prom king last year…

In fact, the police estimate that the number of protesters against Phelps’ group numbered almost forty times the number that the Phelps family could muster. Pope, who is attending college in Oklahoma, even drove back to his high school Thursday to be at the protest.

Among the church protesters against homosexuality were two small children, both looked to be under the age of ten. One of the children was holding up a sign saying how President Obama is the devil.

Police were out in force to keep traffic moving smoothly and to keep the two groups separate and at least a dozen police officers stood by during the protest to make sure it remained peaceful.

The Shanwee Mission School District is historic. This school district is famous, or maybe infamous because in 1949 it was the Webb v. School District 90 desegregation case in this district paved the way for Brown v. Topeka Board of Education five years later.

Written by: Sei Sei is a trans-lesbian who lives in Vermont and has a strong passion for LGBTI rights. She has a BA in History and her hobbies include sci-fi, anime, fantasy, action movies, video games, and more.

Monday, April 27

Federal court rejects Troy Davis’ appeal

Killer gets 30-day stay of execution to pursue appeals
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm sure anyone reading my blog remembers this story, I've been following Troy Davis for quite a while. It truly amazes me how they can still be rejecting his appeals...

The federal appeals court in Atlanta on Thursday rejected death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis’ bid for a new trial on claims he did not kill a Savannah police officer in 1989.

In a 2-1 opinion, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Davis could not establish by clear and convincing evidence a jury would not have found him guilty.

Davis’ innocence claims have attracted international attention. They rely largely on the recantations of key prosecution witnesses who testified at trial and on statements by others who say another man told them he was the actual killer.

In October, the 11th Circuit granted Davis a stay three days before he was to be put to death by lethal injection. It marked the third time Davis’ life was spared before his scheduled execution.

On Thursday, the two-judge majority noted that state courts and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles had exhaustively reviewed Davis’ claims and rejected them.

Judges Joel Dubina and Stanley Marcus said they agreed with those conclusions. “Davis has not presented us with a showing of innocence so compelling that we would be obligated to act today,” they wrote.

The judges said they view the recantations with skepticism and, after reviewing Davis’ claims, “remain unpersuaded.”

Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented. “To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proferred evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” she wrote.

The 11th Circuit kept in place its stay of execution for another 30 days so Davis can pursue his final appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court in October declined to consider a previous appeal.

Davis, 40, stands convicted of killing off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The 27-year-old former Army Ranger was shot three times before he could draw his weapon.

Russ Willard, spokesman for state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said the 11th Circuit made the “correct decision.”

Tom Dunn, one of Davis’ lawyers, said he was disappointed, but would fight on. “Troy is innocent and this struggle is far from over.”

Thursday, April 23

Lesbian mom saved from deportation by private bill introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein

Shirley Tan, who had received a temporary reprieve and was scheduled to be deported and separated from her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, and their two children on April 22, was saved at the last minute by a private bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein [pictured], according to a message sent out by the family's rep. Melanie Nathan:

Today Senator Feinstein introduced a very rare private bill on behalf of Shirley Tan; Shirley will not have to leave the USA for now and hopefully never. The essence of its introduction is that Tan does not have to leave the USA on May 10th, in terms of the voluntary order issued by DHS. This enables her to stay in the USA, legally, until the private bill passes (a rare occurrence)- and if it does not come up for a vote then she can stay for the duration of this Congress’s session, which has approximately a year and nine months left. However Shirley's ultimate saviour will be UAFA [Uniting American Families Act] and nothing else!

Wednesday, April 22

Family of boxer fights for pardon of 1913 racist conviction

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To this day, Linda Haywood recalls the shame she once felt for her great-uncle.
Jack Johnson was convicted of transporting a white woman across state lines for "immoral purposes."

Jack Johnson was convicted of transporting a white woman across state lines for "immoral purposes."

"I could see from the expression on my mother's face that it pained her to tell me about him," she recalled, "but it wasn't just her. The shame was there for all the members of my family."

Haywood's great-uncle, Jack Johnson, shocked the nation in 1908 by becoming the first African-American world heavyweight champion. Yet the boxer was arrested not long afterward for taking a white woman across state lines for "immoral" purposes.

That case fell apart and the woman later became his wife, but then investigators charged him with a similar offense involving a woman he had dated years earlier. An all-white jury's decision to convict him in that case has come to be widely viewed as a symbol of racial injustice.

Now Haywood is working with Sen. John McCain and others to try to clear her great-uncle's name. McCain wants the Senate to pass a resolution urging President Obama to grant Johnson a presidential pardon.

It would represent a final vindication for Haywood, a 53-year-old seamstress in Chicago who now views her great-uncle with pride.

Her parents didn't tell her until she was 12 that she was related to Johnson, even though she saw his photo at school during lessons on black history.

"I remember seeing his picture on the wall of my sixth-grade classroom in Chicago in 1966," Haywood said in a voice tinged with sadness. "It was up there next to pictures of Sojourner Truth and George Washington Carver as part of a black history week my teacher put together. I didn't have the first clue who the man was. My parents didn't want me to know."

Her parents, she said, were trying to protect her from a legacy of racial injustice at a time when the country had yet to emerge from the long shadow of segregation.

Haywood was stunned when she learned her great-uncle's story.

Less than five years after winning the heavyweight title, Johnson was convicted for violating the Mann Act, which outlawed the transportation of women across state lines for "immoral" purposes.

Johnson was black and the woman was white -- enough to get even a champion imprisoned in early 20th century America. Justice Department lawyers decried it as a "crime against nature" for him to have a sexual relationship with a white woman.

Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, later to become the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, set Johnson's bail at $30,000 -- the equivalent of more than $660,000 today. When a bail bondsman showed up, Landis jailed him, too, according to an account that filmmaker Ken Burns relays in his documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson."

An all-white jury convicted Johnson in less than two hours.

"Mr. Johnson was perhaps persecuted as an individual, but ... it was his misfortune to be the foremost example of the evil in permitting the intermarriage of whites and blacks," one of the prosecutors later said.

Johnson's real crime, in the eyes of many, was committed three years earlier, when he successfully defended his boxing title against Jim Jeffries, a white boxer who came to be called the "Great White Hope" because many white fans saw him as the best chance to wrest back a boxing title from the African-American champ.

Jeffries, a former heavyweight champion, had come out of retirement intending to reclaim a title that many Americans believed Johnson had no right to in the first place.

Johnson beat Jeffries on July 4, 1910, before a stunned, almost entirely white crowd in Reno, Nevada.

Race riots followed.

More than 20 people were killed and hundreds were injured. Most victims were black.

So when they "couldn't beat him in the ring, the white power establishment decided to beat him in the courts," Burns said in his documentary.

Johnson fled to Europe in 1913 while free on appeal. But after years of fights overseas -- including the eventual loss of his title in Havana, Cuba, in 1915 -- Johnson came home. He turned himself over to U.S. authorities at the Mexican border in 1920 and served ten months in prison.

He died in a car wreck in 1946.

"Back then, if you were black and you were told that you did something wrong, you really had no recourse," said Haywood.

"You just accepted what was done because black people were basically powerless and voiceless. Jack may have been a rich boxer, but he couldn't fight the system."

Today, in a very different America, Haywood's family is seeking justice.

They've teamed up with Burns, McCain and Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, to urge the nation's first African-American president to grant Johnson a rare posthumous pardon.

McCain and King introduced resolutions calling for a presidential pardon in 2005 and last year. The House passed it, but the Senate did not.

The White House declined to comment when asked Obama's views on a possible pardon for Johnson.

McCain, who says he made a mistake by once voting against a federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., sees the pardon as a way to right an old wrong.

"The Jack Johnson case is an ignominious stain on our nation's history," he said on the Senate floor this month, while introducing a new version of the resolution.

"Rectifying this injustice is long overdue. [The resolution recognizes] the unjustness of what transpired, and sheds light on the achievements of an athlete who was forced into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice. Johnson ... deserved much better than a racially motivated conviction."

King, himself a former boxer, said in a written statement that Johnson was a trailblazer who became "a victim of the times."

For Haywood, the proposed pardon is also personal. It's about wiping the slate clean for future generations of her family.

"My mother used to say Jack was defiant," she remembered. "No disrespect, momma, but he was being his own man. And I'm so proud of him. To think -- of all the families in the world, God gave him to us."

Haywood has made sure her four children know the story of the country's first black heavyweight champion.

"They love him," she said. "Especially my oldest son. He was a bit of a pugilist in high school. He got into his fair share of scraps. I think we know where he got that trait."

Haywood says she'll go to Washington if Obama issues a pardon. With a bit of laughter, she promises to give a gracious, eloquent speech thanking him.

With or without a pardon, she emphasizes, the stigma and the shame are gone.

Saturday, April 4

Well, 3 down, 40-something to go!!!

Three states so far have done the right thing, have insured that all their
citizens are equal in the eyes of the law when it comes to the right to marry. Let's hope it's like dominoes, once they start falling, they speed up and continue to fall until they've all been knocked over...

Gay marriages expected to begin in Iowa April 24

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gay marriage, seemingly the province of the nation's two coasts, is just weeks away from becoming a reality in the heartland and apparently it will be years before social conservatives have a chance to stop it.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday unanimously upheld a lower-court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to a union between a man and woman. Now gays and lesbians may exchange vows as soon as April 24 following the landmark decision.

The county attorney who defended the law said he would not seek a rehearing. The only recourse for opponents appeared to be a constitutional amendment, which couldn't get on the ballot until 2012 at the earliest.

"I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways," said a dejected Bryan English, spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center, a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, same-sex marriage opponents may try to enact residency requirements for marriage so that gays and lesbians from across the country could not travel to Iowa to wed.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, urged the Legislature to do so, saying he feared without residency requirements Iowa would "become the gay marriage mecca."

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut currently permit same-sex marriage. For six months last year, California's high court allowed gay marriage before voters banned it in November.

For gays and lesbians, meanwhile, the day was one of jubilation. The Vermont House of Representatives also passed a measure Friday that would allow same-sex couples to wed, on a 94-52 roll call vote, just short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas.

Gay marriage supporters hoped to convince a few Vermont legislators to switch when it comes to the override vote, which could be taken as soon as Tuesday.

In Iowa, hundreds cheered, waved rainbow flags and shed tears of joy at rallies in seven cities Friday evening. "Corn-fed and Ready to Wed!" read one man's sign at a gathering at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

In downtown Des Moines, about 300 people gathered beneath rainbow flags to celebrate including Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie.

"We finally have equality in Iowa," said Harold Delaria, of Des Moines, who attended the rally and has two gay children. "It's kind of the last wall of legalized discrimination and it's coming tumbling down."

The Rev. Diane McLanahan of Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines acknowledged that many people of faith won't agree with the ruling. With that in mind, she said the court has reached a decision that "pretty much insists that this will not be a debate about religious rights but a matter of equality and fairness."

In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld an August 2007 decision by a judge who found that a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of equal protection.

Iowa lawmakers have "excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification," the justices wrote.

To issue any other decision, the seven justices said, "would be an abdication of our constitutional duty."

At a news conference announcing the decision, plaintiff Kate Varnum, 34, introduced her partner, Trish Varnum, as "my fiance."

"I never thought I'd be able to say that," she said, fighting back tears.

Jason Morgan, 38, said he and his partner, Chuck Swaggerty, adopted two sons, confronted the death of Swaggerty's mother and endured a four-year legal battle as plaintiffs.

"If being together though all of that isn't love and commitment or isn't family or marriage, then I don't know what is," Morgan said. "We are very happy with the decision today and very proud to live in Iowa."

Iowa has a history of being in the forefront on social issues. It was among the first states to legalize interracial marriage and to allow married women to own property. It was also the first state to admit a woman to the bar to practice law and was a leader in school desegregation.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat, said state lawmakers were unlikely to consider gay marriage legislation in this legislative session, which is expected to end within weeks.

Gronstal also said he's "not inclined" to propose a constitutional amendment during next year's session. Without a vote by the Legislature this year or next, the soonest gay marriage could be repealed would be 2014.

Amendments to Iowa's constitution must be passed by the House and Senate in two consecutive general assemblies, which each last two years, and then approved by a simple majority of voters during a general election.

Iowa's Democratic governor, Chet Culver, said he would review the decision before announcing his views.


Associated Press writers Nigel Duara in Urbandale and Marco Santana, Melanie S. Welte, Michael Crumb and Mike Glover in Des Moines contributed to this report.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.