A Queerspective: The Year in Review

By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
2010 was a year of victories and setbacks for New England’s LGBT community. A record number of openly gay candidates threw their hats into the ring, with mixed results.

Many in the Massachusetts LGBT community were stunned by the surprise victory of State Senator Scott Brown (R) in his race against Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy.

In the 1980s Brown was featured in a nude pictorial for women’s magazine Cosmo and earned the title of “America’s Sexiest Man” from the publication.

Brown’s anti-gay history is infamous in a state which was the first in the nation to recognize unions between same-sex couples.

Brown noted it was “unusual” when a lesbian lawmaker raised a baby with her domestic partner. Brown went on to vote for an amendment banning gay marriage.

Another incident was Brown’s visit to a high school in his district of Wrentham, where he denounced students who had written unflattering comments about him on Facebook in response to his opposition to gay marriage.

Brown said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. However, he said he would oppose a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Recently, Brown changed his original vote on DADT and voted to finally repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

In Massachusetts also, State Senator Richard Tisei was tapped as the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, running alongside gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker. Tisei, 47, is the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the Middlesex and Essex District, which consists of Lynnfield, Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham and Wakefield.

Baker drew criticism from LGBT organizations for opposing the Transgender Civil Rights bill. Tisei was a co-sponsor of the bill, which would protect transgender people in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. Opponents warn that the bill would invite sex offenders to lurk in public restrooms, endangering the safety of women and children.

“Charlie believes that we should treat everyone fairly under the law and is a friend of the LGBT community and ultimately our campaign will win over a great deal of votes from across the political spectrum,” Tisei told The Rainbow Times. “We don’t agree on everything, but we have had – and continue to have – a healthy discussion about the issue.”

Tisei and Baker were defeated in the November election by Governor Deval Patrick (D) and his running mate, Lt. Governor Tim Murray (D).

Openly Gay Congressman Barney Frank (D) won re-election to a 16th term in Congress after defeating his Republican challenger Sean Bielat.
Meanwhile, Cambridge Mayor David Maher announced he was gay during a Pride brunch in his city in June. “I have never made a secret about who I am or what I am,” he told the Cambridge Chronicle. “I’ve tried very hard to separate my public life from my private life.”
The paper reported that the mayor has been in a committed relationship for more than 30 years.

In Rhode Island, Providence Mayor David Cicilline was elected to serve the state’s First Congressional District, succeeding Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D). Cicilline will be just one of four openly gay members of Congress. Cicilline, 49, trounced his Republican challenger John Loughlin, a State Rep. from Little Compton. Cicilline won 51 percent of the vote to about 45 percent for Loughlin, a conservative who vowed to continue Bush’s tax cuts denied the existence of global warming, and opposed a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence) was elected by his colleagues to serve as House Speaker last February. Fox is now the first openly gay man to hold that position in state history.
Fox, 48, succeeded Rep. William Murphy (D-West Warwick), who had held the position since 2003. Fox was elected to the state legislature in 1992 and became Majority Leader since 2003. An attorney, Fox is a graduate of Providence College, Rhode Island College, and Northeastern Law School.

In Connecticut, openly gay Kevin Lembo was elected as that state’s Comptroller.

Pedro Sagarra became the first openly gay Mayor of Hartford in that city’s history.

Anti-gay activists continued their fight against marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) sponsored a month-long “Summer for Marriage” tour, which kicked off in Augusta, Maine in July and made stops in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
However, the New Jersey-based organization got more than they bargained for when they held a rally in Providence, where they were confronted by over 150 protestors from the LGBT community. The activists and allies, wearing red shirts and waving rainbow flags and banners, marched up the State House’s stairs and stood as the NOM speakers addressed their supporters.

“Get your hate out of our state,” they chanted, along with “Homophobia has got to go.”

The news for same-sex marriage supporters in the Ocean State was encouraging; with a poll commissioned by Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) showing that 59% of respondents supported the rights of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

And in November, former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, running as an Independent, was elected Governor. Chafee, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, vowed to sign a same-sex marriage bill into law if elected.

LGBT activists waged war in the courts and scored some major victories.

Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional with regards to claims brought by seven married same-sex couples and three widowers from Massachusetts. Under the ruling, the plaintiffs are entitled to the same federal spousal benefits and protections as every other married couple.

The ruling stems from the lawsuit Gill et al v. Office of Personnel Management et al, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in March 2009.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed her own lawsuit on behalf of the state against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I am thrilled that my family will now be treated in the same way as those of my married co-workers at the post office,” said Nancy Gill, who was a plaintiff with her spouse, Marcelle Letourneau. “Marcelle and I married out of love and commitment to each other first and foremost, but federal recognition of our marriage means that we’ll have equal access to important protections for our two children and for ourselves.”

Gill is a 22-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service who cannot cover Letourneau on her family health and vision insurance plans, forcing the couple to pay extra to insure Letourneau. Marcelle is also ineligible to receive the federal health benefit given to surviving spouses or to access Nancy’s pension should Nancy predecease her.

In November, GLAD filed a second lawsuit against DOMA, which addressed married couples in Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This suit concerned DOMA’s denial of marriages in connection with federal employees and retirees benefit programs, Social Security benefits, survivor benefits under federal pension laws, work leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and state retiree health insurance benefits that are controlled by federal tax law.

“DOMA must fall. In 1996, when Congress passed DOMA, the stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families with this law, and sadly, it has succeeded.  Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people,” said Mary Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for GLAD.

Bonauto explained this lawsuit was necessary to remind people of the unconstitutionality of the law.

“We have to keep the pressure on and get DOMA off the books before it does even more harm,” Bonauto said, noting it was the “only federal law in our nation’s history that puts government in the marriage business.”

Transgender activists didn’t fare as well. The Transgender Civil Rights bill did not get enough votes to pass in the state legislature. According to the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, the bill will be introduced during the next legislative session.

In November, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition launched “I AM: Trans People Speak,” a multi-media campaign designed to challenge stereotypes of trans individuals. The web site TransPeopleSpeak.org contained videos, photos, and essays from state residents who shared their experiences of living life as trans people, as well as the contributions they have made to their communities.

A string of gay teen suicides made headlines. Raymond Chase, a 19-year-old sophomore at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, died by hanging himself in his dorm room. The deaths of Chase and Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student whose roommate filmed him having sex with another man and then streamed the video on the Internet, drew attention to the epidemic of bullying in our nation’s schools.

An Anti-Bullying Bill was passed by the Massachusetts legislature last spring. The bill was designed to stop and prevent bullying in state schools.

On September 24, LGBT students at the University of Rhode Island staged a sit-in at the GLBT Center to protest anti-gay harassment at the school.

Brian Stack, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and a volunteer at the center, reported incidences of students throwing used condoms into students’ rooms, drawing offensive images on people’s doors and an epidemic of people yelling ‘faggots’ as they drove by the GLBT Center.
An October 5 vigil was held in Boston to draw attention to the epidemic of gay teen suicides. The event was organized by Join the Impact MA.

In Western Massachusetts, the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst marked its 25th Anniversary with a week-long celebration in September. There were numerous panel discussions and special guests including longtime LGBT activist Cleve Jones, author Pat Griffin, author Robin Ochs, and Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD.

In Northampton, Dave Sullivan was elected District Attorney for the Northwestern district. Sullivan defeated opponent Michael Cahillane, who had signed a petition in 2005 to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The document was sponsored by Vote on Marriage.org and received 143,000 signatures. All the signers’ names were published on the website  KnowThyNeighbor.org after being tipped off by a local councilman, who obtained the information because the names appeared

Year in Review Continued
on a petition following the Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Reed (overturned at the June 14 Constitutional Convention). The June 24 majority decision read that the names of signatories of petitions and referendums are public knowledge. KnowThyNeighbor.org and the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus both offered their support during the case.

Cahillane later said he regretted signing the petition, adding he supported same-sex marriage. Sullivan is a strong supporter of LGBT rights and backs the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, which Cahillane was unsure about supporting.

Tough financial times motivated drastic measures to be taken by social service agencies.

The Boards of Directors of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC) and Cambridge Cares About AIDS (CCA) voted in June to merge their organizations into a single agency. On July 1, the two agencies began operating as one organization which continued to operate under the AIDS Action name and 501(c)3 charter.

Last July, Boston’s Fenway Community Health united with The Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center. The Sidney Borum, Jr. Health Center is now operating as part of Fenway Health and will continue its mission of serving disenfranchised young people, including those who are LGBT; homeless or living on the streets; struggling with substance use or abuse; sex workers; or living with HIV/AIDS.

There were also changes at MassEquality, the leading state organization for LGBT rights. MassEquality named Kara Suffredini, Esq. as its new Executive Director on August 18. Suffredini was, most recently, the Director of Public Policy and Community Engagement for the Family Equality Council (FEC).

Suffredini replaced former Executive Director Scott Gortikov, who resigned from the organization in July after serving in the position for 15 months.

[Published on December 29, 2010]

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