Yesterday, I got this flyer in my e-mail inbox from Backstreet's mailing list:
I didn't pay a lick of attention to the hot shirtless man pictured. I did think to myself, "It's been too long since I've paid a visit to Backstreet. I should go on Fridays for the cheap beer."
If I was more of a film buff, however, I would have noted that the hot shirtless man was none other than Fantastic Four's Chris Evans. Radar Online noticed and had this to say about Backstreet's use of Evans' image:
It may be his brother who is gay, but it's Fantastic Four's Chris Evans who is getting the most attention on the gay bar scene. In a flyer obtained by RadarOnline.com, a photo of the shirtless actor is front and center in the promotion for Memphis bar Backstreet.
With a jacket slung over his shoulder and a simmering glare, we can see the appeal!
A rep for the actor has yet to comment.
Hmmm.....I wonder if his brother is that hot....
Homicides against LGBT people nationwide rose 28 percent last year and, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released earlier this month, anti-gay killings are at their highest rate in 10 years.
A blog posting on Change.org cites a few high-profile LGBT murders, including the murder of local transgender woman Duanna Johnson in Memphis last fall. Johnson was found dead near Hollywood Street in North Memphis. Though no ones knows the motive or even the killer responsible, many have theorized that her gender identity could have come into play as it did earlier in the year when she was beaten by a Memphis Police officer.
Why the increase in anti-gay murders? Sharon Stapel, director of the New York City anti-violence project, told the Associated Press (AP) that it could have something to do with backlash over gay rights fights — same-sex marriage debates, non-discrimination legislation, and the fight to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"The more visibility there is, the more likely we're going to see backlash, and that's exactly what we see here," Stapel told the AP.
Does that mean gay rights advocates should back off? Absolutely not. Though it's tragic that homophobia is causing an uptick in gay killings, the sooner equal rights are established, the more likely that homophobia will wane. It may not happen the day after gay marriage is legalized, but after a generation of kids grows up in a society that treats LGBT folks as equals, homophobia will go the way of racism and sexism. That's not to say that racism and sexism no longer exist, but both ways of thinking are far less acceptable in mainstream society than homophobia.
South Main becomes Castro Street tonight during the monthly Art Trolley Tour. LGBT-supportive businesses in the arts district will be proudly displaying rainbow flags, thanks to the Center City Commission. In honor of Gay Pride Month, the commission passed out small flags to gay-friendly businesses. The trolley tour runs from 6 to 9 p.m. along South Main.
Here's a little Gay Pride trivia: Pride is celebrated in June in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, a series of violent demonstrations by gays and lesbians in response to a police raid at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Stonewall is considered to be the first large uprising by the gay and lesbian community against government-sponsored homophobia.
In other news, Representative Steve Cohen was one of 120 sponsors of a fully-inclusive federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act filed in Congress Wednesday night. The bill would provide federal workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees. Gender identity and expression were struck from an earlier version of this bill in 2007.
Year after year, the Mid-South Pride celebration never disappoints. Sure, it's not NYC Pride with thousands of long-lashed drag queens, bare-cheecked leader daddies, and rainbow mohawk-sporting grannies (check out NYC Pride's webpage for picture proof the amazing 'hawk). But Memphis' annual Pride parade and festival is something the city should be, well, proud of.
Why? Because small as though our LGBT community may be, there's a cohesiveness that comes out on Gay Pride Day. All the catty quarrels and pointless disagreements are put aside for a day to show the city of Memphis "we here, we're queer, get used to it." Memphis Police block off streets to traffic and local LGBT groups show off their flashy floats and wave rainbow flag after rainbow flag in the annual Saturday parade.
After the parade, hundreds of people file into the almost-too-small Peabody Park for cold beer, karaoke, funnel cakes, and freebies (by the way, Whole Foods had the best giveaways this year — Rawolution energy bars and reusable totes!). In a much-needed nod to racial unity, Mid-South Pride joined the African-American gay pride group, Memphis Black Pride, for a picnic in Overton Park on Sunday.
I've never seen an anti-gay protester at a Mid-South Pride celebration. That's not to say that Memphis doesn't have it's share of homophobes, but for some reason, they tend leave the community alone on Pride Day. And so the Mid-South Pride celebration is rarely wrought with controversy or tension.
I'd bet larger Pride celebrations across the country suffer from more protests and inner-LGBT community strife than our little Mid-South Pride celebration does. The lack of negativity on Pride Day in Memphis makes the local LGBT community appear strong and unified, both necessary qualities for a community attempting to gain civil rights in these changing times.
When the gay community appears strong and determined, the straight community is more likely to listen and sign on with their support. Memphis seems to have that part down pat. Now if we could only drag Wyatt Bunker down to next year's parade, maybe he'd see the light.
None of the anti-gay legislation on the table during the 106th Tennessee General Assembly was adopted before the body adjourned Thursday night, but several of the bills remain on hold until next session. A few pro-LGBT bills were also stalled. Here's a rundown:
* The "Don't Say Gay" Bill - Knoxville representative Stacey Campfield's bill that would have banned public school teachers from discussing homosexuality was sent to the state board of education for study. That board must report back to the General Assembly by March 2010.
* Adoption Bill - The bill banning unmarried, cohabiting couples from adopting children didn't make it through this session.
* Voter ID Bills - Bills that would require new photo identification to vote (and would likely have disenfranchised transgender voters) did not pass either. One such bill was passed in the Senate but voted down in the House.
* Hate Crimes Bill - Senators Beverly Marrero and Representative Jeanne Richardson's bill that would add gender identity or expression to the Hate Crimes Penalty Enhancement Act of 2000 was rolled until January 2010 to gather more support.
* Birth Certificate - A bill, also sponsored by Marrero and Richardson, that would repeal Tennessee's ban on gender changes on birth certificates didn't make it to passage this session, but advocates aim to continue pushing in 2010.
"Until January 2010, we get a reprieve from attacks on our adoption rights, voter I.D. bills that disenfranchise the transgender community, and the absurd Don’t Say Gay bill," said Tennessee Equality Project president Chris Sanders on the group's Facebook page. "Unfortunately the hate crimes and birth certificate bills didn’t pass this year. But we can expect all these bills—negative and positive—to be back in January."
On Saturday, former U.S. Army Sgt. Danny Ingram will lead the annual Mid-South Pride parade along Cooper Avenue. He was one of the first soldiers discharged under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Ingram's presence is fitting as this year's Pride theme, "Our Rights Are Civil Rights," addresses the need to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as well the need for equal marriage rights, LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation, and domestic partnership benefits from employers.
The Pride Parade kicks off at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church and ends at Peabody Park, where the gay pride festival will be ongoing. Check the Mid-South Pride website for a full schedule.
The Flyer ran a short story this week on Ingram's involvement with American Veterans for Equal Rights and the fight to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Here's the entire interview:
Weren’t you one of the first discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"?
My discharge was already underway when all of the talk started up about ending the ban of gays in the military. So they put everything on hold. I think it was in the fall of 1993 that they finally decided they were going to do implement "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." So my discharge started back up again. I was discharged in April 1994.
Does that mean your commanding officer knew you were gay before the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was in place?
My commanding officer asked if I was gay and I replied. But since that was before "Don’t Ask, Don’t tell" was implemented, they began my discharge process.
Now you're involved with American Veterans for Equal Rights. What kind of work do they do?
We provide support for our troops that are overseas, and we’re working to make sure that everybody gets their benefits. That’s particularly difficult considering that [gay people] can’t always talk truthfully and honestly about what’s going on in their lives.
One of the things we’re most concerned about is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For gay soldiers who have the added stress of having to maintain a double life, they're likely to suffer from "double PTSD." In order to get help for that, they have to be truthful with a counselor. Because they can’t be honest about who they are, then they probably won’t even seek that help. That’s very unfortunate.
Let’s say someone comes back from serving overseas in Iraq, and they’re still active duty. They’re having problems, as so many people do. But they can’t really get help because they can’t be truthful about who they are. They can’t bring their spouse into the effort because they can’t let anyone know they have a spouse. It's much less likely that they’ll get the help they need with PTSD.
How do you help gay people get their military benefits?
With someone going to the Veterans Administration to try and get their benefits, it’s very hard to go through all the paperwork. A lot of people will go to groups called veteran service organizations, like the American Legion and the VFW, to get help with that. Gay people are less likely to do that because they fear they won’t be welcomed or get the help they need in those groups.
We are a veteran service organization, a 501-C19 and we hope to be able to fill that gap, to make sure that every soldier gets the benefits they’re supposed to get when they arrive home.
Do think President Barack Obama will eventually change the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy?
Changing the policy isn’t really up to Obama. He can provide leadership, but Congress has to make the change. There is a bill in Congress called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and it would lift the ban. I think it will pass.
Hasn't Obama come under fire from the LGBT community lately for not stopping the military’s discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
Obama has not stopped the discharges and I don’t personally understand that. But there is a case in California that went to the federal court there, and that court ruled that the ban is unconstitutional. Normally, at that point, the Justice Department would step in and appeal that decision so it would go to a higher court. Obama’s Justice Department chose not to appeal, therefore allowing that court decision to stand. So they’re making progress in more quiet ways.
What problems does the policy create for the military?
To me, the biggest issue is how many American soldiers have to die on the battlefield because the medic that could have saved their lives was kicked out under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The way the military works now is very much teamwork. Teamwork is critical to the success of the mission. If you remove a member of the team, you jeopardize the success of the mission. Particularly with translators and the medical corps. A lot of people have been kicked out of those areas.
Do other countries have similar bans for their military units?
Everybody else now has gotten rid of their bans — the British, the Australians, the Canadians, the Israelis. A lot of the British military said they would walk off if the ban was lifted, and then one day, they flipped the switch, the ban was gone, and nothing happened. I don’t believe the American service members are any less professional than our British service members.
What reason does the U.S. military give for maintaining the policy?
The military says they have this policy because they believe it would damage morale and unit cohesion if troops knew there was a gay person in their unit. Yet if they really believed the presence of a gay person would damage unit cohesion, you’d think they’d immediately get rid of gay people when they find out while serving overseas. But they don’t do that. They wait until the person comes home from Iraq with the rest of the unit to kick them out. That goes to show that the military itself doesn't believe that gay people are bad for unit cohesion. They know they’re an important part of the team. There’s no valid excuse anymore. It’s past time that it needs to repealed.
What will you be doing at Mid-South Pride?
I’ll be leading the parade as the color guard. Then, after the parade, I’m going to play Taps. We lost a member of our own organization in Baghdad last year, Major Alan G. Rogers. He was buried at Arlington. We know he was gay because we knew him. We will honor him by playing Taps at Pride celebrations around the country.
Is there a local Tennessee chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights?
I would like to start one while I'm in Memphis. We need five people to start one. I will be at the festival signing people up. We don’t encourage active military to join, but rather veterans.
For more information on American Veterans for Equal Rights, check out their website.
Imagine if you could turn the world gay — your boss, your friends, that hot guy (or gal) down the street. That's the premise of this Tom Gustafson musical film inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In the film, Timothy (played by Tanner Cohen) is cast as Puck in a school play. While studying the script, he discovers a secret recipe to create the play's magical pansy hidden within the text. The pansy gives Timothy the power to turn his town gay, starting with his rugby jock crush (can you blame him?).
See what ensues in this Outflix screening of Were the World Mine at Studio on the Square on Wednesday, June 17th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $9 and they're available at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (892 S. Cooper).
This story highlights some of the LGBT discrimination research by University of Memphis professor Sharon Horne. It ran in this week's Memphis Flyer, but if you didn't catch it there, here it is:
While training to become a pharmacy technician, Memphian Ellyahnna Hall was denied several positions. In one of the interviews, Hall was told that she wouldn't be hired because she was a transgender woman.
"They told me they wouldn't know how the other employees would feel about working with a transgender person, so they couldn't hire me," said Hall, a slender African-American male-to-female trans woman.
Though the new county ordinance designed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) county workers wouldn't have helped Hall, her story is an example of the job discrimination LGBT people face throughout Memphis and Shelby County.
At a County Commission meeting earlier this month, University of Memphis professor Sharon Horne presented findings from her 2006 study that showed 25 percent of LGBT Tennessee residents had reported discrimination in housing, services, or employment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Our Tennessee discrimination numbers are right in line with the national percentages of discrimination," Horne said.
That counters a claim made by Shelby County commissioner James Harvey during the recent discrimination ordinance debate. Harvey claimed that a study by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law, found no LGBT discrimination complaints in Tennessee.
"Tennessee is not listed in this report, so we don't have any issues here," Harvey said.
The report Harvey cited only looked at the 21 states that already have laws in place protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Tennessee has no such law and therefore was excluded from the study.
"To be fair to Commissioner Harvey, he didn't have our data until the County Commission meeting," Horne said. "But there'd be no reason for statistics to show up in Shelby County before this ordinance passed. If you went to a lawyer with a complaint, they'd tell you there was no recourse for you."
According to Horne's studies, which are based on online survey results, 39 percent of gay men and 23 percent of lesbians in Tennessee have reported workplace discrimination.
"In general, there's greater discrimination against gay men," Horne said. "Some straight men have a harder time accepting gay men than they do [gay] women. It's definitely stigmatized for men to be perceived as more feminine."
According to data from the 2000 census, gay men also tend to earn 10 to 32 percent less than straight men.
"The median income for [same-sex] couples is 15 percent less than that of married men, which goes against the stereotype that gay men tend to be rich," Horne said.
The University of Memphis study did not include any data on discrimination against transgender people, but the Williams Institute found that about 60 percent are unemployed because they cannot find jobs.
Though the county resolution protecting gay and transgender workers doesn't extend to private businesses, Jonathan Cole with the Tennessee Equality Project believes it's a start. Next, the gay rights group will be working on getting the same protections for Memphis workers.
"The city has a draft of an ordinance before them, and now we'll go forward with that," Cole said. "This whole debate has really sensitized the community to the need for workplace protections for LGBT citizens."
My follow-up story on evidence of LGBT discrimination in Tennessee (using stats provided by University of Memphis professor Sharon Horne) will appear in the Memphis Flyer that hits stands tomorrow, but Horne provided me some additional numbers that didn't make it into the story.
According to Horne's study on "Gay Men in Dual-Career Couples":
25 percent of gay Tennessee residents reported being told offensive jokes about lesbians, gay men, or bisexual people by their co-workers or supervisors.
21.4 percent of gay Tennessee residents reported homophobic remarks made by co-workers and supervisors.
32.1 percent of gay Tennessee residents reported that in their workplace gay employees fear job loss because of sexual orientation.
Tell that to Constance Houston, the citizen who claimed "There is no discrimination here in Memphis. None, whatsoever" during the public comment period at last week's county commission meeting.
Students at both Memphis City Schools (MCS) and Shelby County Schools (SCS) will now have access to online information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit filed against two Middle and East Tennessee school districts.
The lawsuit, filed just over two weeks ago, addressed the use of computer filtering software provided by Education Networks of America at both Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools. The software, which blocked access to the websites of national LGBT groups, is used by about 80 percent of the school systems in Tennessee, including MCS and SCS.
As of Thursday, June 4th, schools using the Education Networks of American software will now have access to the websites of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, the Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and Dignity USA (an LGBT Catholic organization). The software continues to block gay chat rooms and adult-themed websites.
The issue was first brought to the ACLU's attention by Andrew Emitt, a high school student from Knoxville. He'd been attempting to research LGBT scholarships on school computers, but was blocked access to certain websites. The ACLU filed suit on May 19th in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee.
The filtering software is required in public schools according to state law, but it is intended to block students from obscene or harmful information.
Just as yesterday's Shelby County Commission hearing on a GLBT workplace protection ordinance was set to begin, gay rights activists got word of a tragedy.
Last Wednesday, Terron Taylor of Whitehaven shot Kelvin Denton, a transgender woman, in the nose and throat after he learned that Denton was a biological male. As of press time, Denton is in critical condition at The Med.
The shooting occured at the Peppertree Apartments in Whitehaven. Taylor was arrested Friday and is being held on a $500,000 bond.
Two transgender woman — Duanna Johnson and Ebony Whitaker — were murdered last year, and another — Tiffany Berry — was shot in 2006.
In a nine-to-four vote Monday afternoon, the Shelby County Commission passed a substitute non-discrimination resolution that removed the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression."
The new resolution, proposed by Commissioner Sidney Chism, instead offers protection from discrimination against any Shelby County government employee on the basis of non-merit factors.
"I don't want the county government to discriminate against anyone, but I don't want to give special privileges to any one group," said Chism.
According to county attorney Brian Kuhn, the new resolution will still offer protection to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. But if challenged, those investigating complaints would have to refer to Monday's Shelby County Commission records for proof that the ordinance does apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the ordinance was changed to a resolution, it does not need to go through the three readings required by an ordinance.
Before the meeting began, every seat in the commission's chambers was filled and some ordinance supporters were turned away at the door. A few were allowed in later as seats became available. Nearly 50 people spoke both in favor and against workplace protections for the GLBT community.
One man in opposition to the original ordinance compared homosexuality to pedophila and beastiality, igniting jeers from much of the audience. A number of religious leaders came out in support of non-discrimination protections for gay county government workers.
Among them was Rabbi Micah Greenstein: "This is not a gay issue anymore than racism is a black problem. Gays should not be held accountable for the discrimination against them. It's the rest of us that should held accountable for bigotry."
Those voting in favor of the resolution included commissioners Steve Mulroy, Henri Brooks, Sidney Chism, Deidre Malone, J.W. Gibson, Matt Kuhn, Joe Ford, Mike Ritz, and James Harvey. Against the resolution were Wyatt Bunker, Mike Carpenter, Joyce Avery, and George Flinn.
After the meeting, Will Batts, executive director of the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center said he was pleased with the passage of the resolution as a first step.
Said Batts: "I'm satisfied based on the discussion that happened beforehand, even though the resolution doesn't explicitly state 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity.'"