First Unitarian Church of Providence Stands on the Side of Love

February 16, 2011 in Featured

Brian Paradis can hardly contain his excitement as we sit down to speak. It is Tuesday, February 8, and the ballots for his church, the First Unitarian of Providence, to endorse marriage equality have just been counted. “It has been a long process,” he said, explaining that the by-laws of the centuries-old church intentionally require numerous opportunities for all members of the congregation to express their views on any given subject up for a vote.
In the end, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the endorsement, and a Valentine’s Day press conference was hastily called to announce this bold move. The ballot count was 254 in favor, seven opposed and two ballots left blank. Those voting in opposition seemed to be objecting to the church making the move to endorse anything, as opposed to any difference with the issue at hand.

This represents a strong statement for a church that had to work, at one point in their history, to regain the trust of the LGBT community.
In 1992, the Rev. Tom Ahlburn preached a sermon calling for the support and affirmation of LGBTs, in response to the murder of a young gay man, and held a pre-service discussion group, as was his custom. There was a lively discussion that day, and participants indicated an eagerness to continue the dialogue.

It was shortly after this that Ahlburn went on sabbatical, leaving his ministry in the hands of Associate Minster Corelyn Senn. It’s at this point that things become complicated. One faction of the congregation wanted to become a Welcoming Congregation – a sort of brand name among UU churches denoting them as gay-friendly. Others thought the tone of the curriculum was divisive. “There were undertones of ‘us and them,’” said long-time church member Robert O. Jones. “It seemed to refer to LGBT people as ‘other’, as being on the fringe.” Other programs were explored, under the leadership of Rev. Senn, with much enthusiasm on the part of the congregation. A series of programs was presented in 1993, and a group of people interested in LGBT issues came together. The group called itself Interweave Providence, after the national organization that addresses LGBT issues. As a result of these programs, Interweave members formed a strong bond to Rev. Senn.

In the next year, however, a rift began to develop between the church leadership and Senn, and an acrimonious and contentious period ensued. A representative from the Unitarian Universalist Association came and conducted a review of the situation. Things escalated as proponents on both sides became more vehement. When, in 1995, Senn agreed to negotiate a resignation, a number of people left the church, including many if not the majority of those affiliated with the Interweave group. It was a sad time for First Unitarian. “It was such an unfortunate situation,” said Jones. “We were losing treasured members of our congregation.”

By then, however, Rev. Ahlburn had returned, and ministered to his congregation. Over the next five years, the church grew and prospered. Sunday attendance increased. But the exodus of all those LGBT people was still in the minds of those who went through it. Upon Ahlburn’s retirement, the church called several interim ministers, including Rochelle Richard, who stood out as both the first woman minister and the first lesbian minister. A few years later, the church voted to become a Welcoming Congregation, and the LGBT community began to return.

In the meantime, a young man named Brian Paradis was looking for a spiritual home. Raised Catholic, he had been married and divorced, and had come out as a gay man. “I wanted a faith home, but I felt like a second-class citizen in the Catholic Church.” Then he met Michael Currier, the man who would become his long-term partner, who asked Paradis to come to church with him. That church was First Unitarian, and today the two are strong, committed members of the First UU family. “This is the type of place I was looking for,” he said. “Everyone is so supportive. I love it here.”

In 2008, when James Ford – the current minister – was called to the church, he approached Paradis and Currier about helping the church to grow in its knowledge and understanding of the LGBT community. They agreed, and through surveying the members, found that there was a need for education about transgender issues. “I’m so proud of our congregation,” said Paradis. “They are always interested in learning new things.” A series of workshops and education programs were planned, and the membership responded with large, inquisitive audiences.

The most recent update – besides their Marriage Equality endorsement – is the formation of their Standing on the Side of Love campaign. A public advocacy campaign that endeavors to stop oppression, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign was inspired by a 2008 shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, targeted because they are welcoming to LGBT people and have a liberal stance on many issues. The Knoxville Community responded with such an outpouring of love that the leadership at the Unitarian Universalist Association was inspired to launch a campaign that would work to challenge exclusion, oppression and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity.

In his sermon on January 23, The Rev. Ford said, “Here, today, we stand at a moment in history, a moment that trembles with import. Kairos. The right time. The time of fulfillment. We are being asked as a community of faith to take a stand. It isn’t easy. It means some among us will be hurt. But, if our faith means anything, if we are to be more than a club for liberally minded folk, then we must make a hard choice.

Although if we genuinely open our hearts, is it really that hard? Here’s the real question. Do we stand with those who might be offended or with those whose civil rights are being denied?

What does your faith call you to? Silence or justice? The time is at hand. Let us stand on the side of love. Amen.”

The rest is history.


Wanda Sykes

February 16, 2011 in Featured

Wanda Sykes is funny. In fact, she ranks among Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Funniest People in America. From politics, gay marriage, karma, healthcare, racial profiling, and living with a toddler, to the pressure of being a woman and the perks of getting older, her smart-witted style of stand-up comedy has sent her career in many different directions. On March 17, it will bring her to Rhode Island, where she will appear for one night only at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

Sykes recently wrapped the first season of her own late night talk show on Fox — The Wanda Sykes Show aired on Saturday nights. Her second HBO stand up special, I’ma Be Me, has received considerable acclaim. Sykes also plays “Barb” in the CBS comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine. She’s had HBO and Comedy Central shows, and has been in a couple of feature films (Evan Almighty, Monster-In-Law), and won an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special” for her work on The Chris Rock Show. Most recently, she’s been playing Miss Hannigan in Annie in Pennsylvania.

Wanda Sykes is also gay. This is something she announced fairly recently, coming out at a Prop 8 demonstration in 2008. “It just came out,” she told Options in a recent phone call. “I wasn’t really planning to do it, but the spirit moved me.” She’s pretty sure people already knew, and she doesn’t feel it has caused any change in her fan base, saying, “The majority of my audiences are straight.” Still, she seems to feel it has changed her performance; she spoke of feeling more freedom. “I think I’ve opened up,” she said.

Sykes was born in Portsmouth, Virginia and raised in Maryland. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Hampton University, and began work, she told Options, at the NSA until she hit on comedy.

When I asked her on the phone about her knowledge of Rhode Island, there was quite an extended silence on her end. I’m not sure she could even have told me where Rhode Island is. (To be honest, though, I didn’t really know where it was either, until I moved here.) She did know about Rhode Island being small. (Big deal; so did I.)

She was asked about the reaction she gets from the African-American community, particularly since she’s come out. (Note to our African-American readers: this question was asked by a marriage equality activist, herself black, who says she has had very few people of color sign up to volunteer. You can call this activist at 941-2727.)

Sykes feels that, although the African-American community is a little less open about their gayness than the larger community, it may also be that black activists may be more interested in working within their own community, on their own issues. Options did make sure she was informed about Rhode Island’s upcoming vote for marriage equality, to which we received an enthusiastic “Cool!”

For more information about her Providence show, visit www.ppacri.org.


Letter to the Editor

February 16, 2011 in Letters

Dear Editor,

I received my February issue of Options yesterday in the mail – actually, it was my husband’s copy — and I was shocked and profoundly touched when I opened to the first page and found my late husband’s obituary.  I wanted to write and thank you.

In our 16 years together our love and relationship became very public at times. Being more introverted then Dirk, I was always a bit embarrassed by the attention.  But, we moved forward with the media showing up in our lives, thinking that, on the greater scale, it might help the GLBTQ  community in any small way. Dirk wrote to the editor of Options many times and was always surprised to see his statements appear.

He was a great supporter of the paper and worked for them for a short time in the early 90′s.  Thank you for acknowledging such a wonderful man.

In memory of Dirk I so hope that Rhode Island passes the Gay Marriage act this year.  We married in 2004, and it was a wonderful event that will never be forgotten.

As my family moves forward, our children and I, we will always feel the hole left by the passing of my husband.  He was an incredible presence and he will be missed.

I also want to thank my wonderful family and friends who have helped us in so many ways.

Just one correction in the obituary, Dirk died on January 1, 2011, not the second.

Thank you

Thomas Joseph Belt


Providence Gay Men’s Chorus Chorus to Sing at LOVE Event

February 1, 2011 in Featured

On February 12, the PGMC will be at The Garden Room of the Providence Biltmore Hotel from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. to add their song stylings to a cocktail party-style fundraiser benefitting The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (GMDVP).

“Guests will enjoy small groups performing, cabaret style,” said Sirico, “and one or two songs featuring the whole group.” Also on hand will be complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.

The timing couldn’t be better for those who left the December shows wanting more. And the group is honored to share the bill with the GMDVP, a non-profit organization that

provides crisis intervention, support and resources for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Tickets are $35 and are available by contacting Adrian Budhu at abudhu@gmdvp.org.

Follies A Success!

From Ave Maria, with its haunting melody and age-old appeal, to the rollicking Tomorrow is My Shopping Day and The Christmas Queen — complete with a resplendent Nick Everage playing the queen — this year’s holiday performance was a howling success. 2010 also marked the first time that women shared the stage at a PGMC show, as novice drag kings Lisé Schwartz and Kim Stowell joined them in a cameo appearance. (See photo! – Ed.)

“The diversity of our audience always amazes me,” said PGMC General Manager Ray Sirico. “The majority of our audience does not appear to be the LGBT community, and every year I hear more and more from people, who have no connection to the group, that this has become part of their Holiday tradition. Also, this year we raised funds for several other non-profit organizations, including ACOS and The Servicemen’s Legal Defense Network.”


One Family Opens its Doors to Help Children in Need

February 1, 2011 in Featured

By Lisa A. Eramo

When I recently walked into Anne and Carol Reed’s home in Cumberland, Rhode Island, I was greeted with warm smiles and heartfelt stories about several of the 15 children they’ve fostered over the last two decades.

Whether they’re advocating for a child’s education, encouraging a child to laugh for the first time in his or her young life, or simply providing a safe environment in which a child can live, the Reeds say becoming foster parents was one of the best decisions they’ve ever made.

“I grew up thinking that if you can help someone who’s not as lucky, you need to do that,” said Carol, 57, who works by day as an electronic technician. “These kids just need a chance to prove how fabulous they are. You can make such a huge impact on someone’s life in just a little amount of time,” she added enthusiastically during our Sunday morning conversation, gathered around the couple’s cozy kitchen table.

There are more than 2,000 children in need of homes in Rhode Island, says Tracie Jones, recruiter at Casey Family Services, a fully licensed and accredited nonprofit child welfare agency founded in 1976 that offers permanency planning for children and youth in foster care through the northeast and in Baltimore, Maryland.

“This is a nationwide issue—it’s not just affecting Rhode Island,” says Jones, who works in the agency’s Providence office. Jones says she hopes more LGBT couples consider fostering children in need. “It’s a community that I know would be a great resource for our kids,” she adds.

The Reeds’ journey toward becoming foster parents began in 1989 when they decided to help the younger sister of a childhood acquaintance who needed tutoring and a safe place to live.

“There weren’t any gay rights at this point, so there was no way for lesbians to formally become foster parents. It had to be in a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ type of environment,” said Anne, 49, proudly handing me a framed photo of the child they fostered for 18 months.

Since then, and as adoption laws evolved, the Reeds have fostered children of all ages and for various periods of time. They still keep in touch with many of them, and their photos adorn the Reeds’ home, including one room in particular that features wall-length shelves of memorable snapshots. Another room includes floor-to-ceiling shelves of board games and other toys they’ve accumulated through the years.

Anne is also quick to proudly point out photos on the refrigerator and show me an expansive planner detailing important information about the family’s busy life, including appointments and meals. This especially came in handy when the couple fostered four siblings for approximately 18 months, all of whom were under the age of four years old, she recalled.

Today, Anne and Carol foster Susan (whose name is changed to maintain her confidentiality), a 16-year-old girl who has lived with them for the past 18 months. Casey Family Services coordinated Susan’s placement with the Reeds.

Donning a festive snowman hat, Susan joined the conversation to tell me about a recent 10-day hiking and white water rafting trip she took to Maine after Casey Family Services nominated her as one of seven children who had the skills and confidence to brave the outdoors.

During the trip, she rowed a canoe, cooked a spaghetti dinner about which other campers raved, and even climbed a mountain on her birthday. “I loved it!” she said, beaming. When asked whether there’s anything other LGBT couples should know about foster parenting, her response was short and sweet: “Get kids! They will make you happier!”

Anyone with a willingness to commit to a child in need should consider becoming a foster parent, says Jones. There are no major prerequisites; however, the individual(s) must be at least 25 years old, have a reliable source of income, be in good health, and have sufficient living space to care for a child.

The process of becoming a foster parent typically takes several months, says Jones. At Casey Family Services, prospective foster parents must undergo background checks and a home study as well as complete a 21-hour training to obtain state licensure. After becoming licensed, foster parents must earn training hours annually to address skills development, diversity awareness, educational development, mental and physical health, maintaining relationships with birth families, and more.

The best part about working with Casey Family Services is the endless support the agency provides, said Carol. The agency provides connections with other foster and adoptive families, ongoing training, accessible clinical services, and a monthly room and board stipend as well as reimbursement for clothing and other special needs. “If you go with an agency like Casey, you won’t regret having done it. You really won’t,” she said.

For more information about foster parenting, contact Casey Family Services at 888.799.KIDS or visit www.caseyfamilyservices.org/. You can also attend one of their open houses on Thursday, March 10 or Thursday, April 14 from 5-7 p.m. at 1268 Eddy Street in Providence.

Lisa Eramo is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Cranston. Visit her Web site at http://lisaeramo.wordpress.com/.


Youth Pride

February 1, 2011 in Departments, Youth Pride, Inc.

YPI Welcomes a New OUTspoken Program Coordinator

David Martins has joined Youth Pride, Inc. (YPI) as the new OUTspoken Coordinator.  He brings an interesting and relevant background to the position.  His primary role will be to train select YPI youth to join YPI staff in various community settings to talk about homophobia, transphobia, bullying, anti-gay violence and other issues that are important to LGBTQQ youth. YPI offers OUTspoken trainings throughout the state and OUTspoken youth participate at local, regional and national conferences.  Dave is currently recruiting new youth to join current OUTspoken participants.

Dave is a native Rhode Islander, born and raised in Tiverton. After graduation from Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, MA, he entered Seminary at Our Lady of Providence. He completed his undergraduate work at Providence College, and did graduate work at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Before joining the staff at Youth Pride Rhode Island, David worked in the food service industry, at L’attitude in Cranston, and then most recently, at Downcity, in Providence.  He has also been very active in many fundraising, and awareness efforts in the LGBTQ community.

Dave is known within the local LGBTQ community as “Father Dave”, as he is also a Priest in the North American Old Catholic Church (NAOCC). This manifestation of the Catholic faith is a worldwide Church dedicated to reaching out to those who have been marginalized by the Roman Church. So, in addition to his work at YPI, David is also the Pastor of Saint Therese Old Catholic Church, as well as Vicar for Vocations and Worship in the NAOCC.

For more information about OUTspoken contact Dave at (401) 421-5626 or dave@youthprideri.org.

Statewide GSA Coalition

YPI will hold a statewide Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) Coalition meeting on Saturday, February 12 from noon to 2:00 at YPI.  The Coalition functions as a statewide GSA, providing technical support, educational activities and networking opportunities.  GSA Coalition meetings are open to any youth currently enrolled in high school or college, regardless of their membership in a school GSA.

The Coalition will offer young people tools to make the GSA an ongoing success, and organizing skills for planning GSA events and participating in events and actions outside their communities.  Current Coalition members represent seven high schools and two colleges.  The Coalition is seeking new members.

For more information contact Elana at 421-5626 or elana@youthprideri.org.


RI Pride

February 1, 2011 in Departments, RI Pride

Save The Date – PrideFest  & Parade 2011

Mark your calendars, the RI PrideFest weekend will be taking place starting Friday, June 17, the PrideFest and Parade on Saturday, June 18.

Free HIV Testing to be available at RI Pride Center with ACOS

For the past year, Rhode Island Pride in joint partnership with AIDS Care Ocean State has been providing free HIV testing at the RI Pride Center. This testing takes place on the second Wednesday of the month at the RI Pride Center, 180 Allens Avenue, Providence from 5:00-7:00pm on February 9th and March 9th. The testing will be limted to HIV screening however individuals will be able to set up appointments for Hepatitis A and B Vaccines and Hepatitis C Testing with the team from ACOS.  On hand at the RI Pride Center will also be safe sex kits and information on STD’s.

Save The Date – Triple Crown Pageant 2011

Rhode Island Pride is pleased to announce the date for the Triple Crown Pageant will be Sunday, March 20th at The Hi-Hat Lounge at 3 Davol Square in Providence. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $20 at the door for general admission. Table reservations will be available and announced the first week of February on PrideRI.com and our E-News. We have also started our search for the new titleholders of Mr. Gay, Miss Gay and Ms. Lesbian Rhode Island 2011. After the successful reigns of our current titleholders, a new group will be chosen to wear the crown – will it be you? Those interested in participating must first fill out the TCP Application which will be available online at PrideRI.com.

What is your resolution for 2011?

The new year is often associated with resolutions or personal goals to better ourselves, our families and our quality of life. It is also a time to which we reflect on the past accomplishments as we plan on doing more in the days ahead.  For RI Pride, in 2010, we faced many obstacles and challenges. With your help, we successfully continued to fulfill our mission to provide programs and events that support the LGBTQ community in Rhode Island and Southern New England. PrideFest, in its new location along the Providence River was a huge success with the largest attendance ever. Gallery Q showcased the amazing talents and activism of the artists within our community. The Spotlight Awards brought together many of the original participants of the first pride in 1976. These are just some of the accomplishments of a very busy Pride year. Now we welcome 2011, the 35th Anniversary Year of RI Pride and once again we ask for your financial support. We are working hard for our 35th Pride year in 2011, but we can’t do it without you.   Please click visit our website at PrideRI.com and click on DONATIONS and give today.  Every dollar you donate helps. Checks can be mailed to PO Box 1082, Providence, RI 02901. Make it your resolve to financially support and make Pride 2011 the best ever!


Dirk James Belt

February 1, 2011 in Departments

A longtime community activist involved in human services who was twice a candidate for public office died Saturday, January 2. Dirk James Belt, more familiarly known as Derek Belt, died unexpectedly at age 51 in his Attleboro home.

A graduate of Bishop Feehan High School, and longtime community activist involved in human services, Belt devoted his career to helping others, particularly children and the elderly. He lived in Attleboro most of his life and ran for elected office twice, placing second in a three-way race for state representative from the area in the mid-1990s and narrowly losing a bid for the Ward 3 city council seat in 1993. He was the first openly gay candidate to run for city office.

Belt was a co-founder of Triboro Triangles, a local organization of about 50 gay men and lesbians formed in the early 1990s. He was also a co-coordinator for former Democratic state Sen. Cheryl Jacques’ Attleboro campaign in the early 1990s. He served on the city’s human rights council, appointed by Mayor Judith Robbins in the 1990s. He also spoke at World AIDS day sponsored during that time by Attleboro High School students.

He served as a chairman for the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days for Greater Attleboro in 1995 and five years ago founded the Attleboro chapter of the 4-H organization. Most recently, he was employed as a special needs tutor for Horace Mann Educational Associates in Franklin. He also served as an elder advocate by volunteering as a board member of the Attleboro Council on Aging and at various nursing and rehabilitation facilities in the greater Attleboro area.

Belt and Thomas Simonin were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage licence in Attleboro in 2004, but had participated in a commitment ceremony at Murray Church, where he was a longtime congregant, in 1997.

He leaves his spouse Thomas Joseph Belt and two children, Stephanie Lopez Belt and Christopher Lopez Belt. In addition, he is survived by two sisters: Mary Ellen Lavoie and Jacqueline Jarvis, both of Attleboro, and a brother: Jacob J. Belt of Seekonk.

Memorial donations in Mr. Belt’s name may be made to Murray Unitarian Universalist Church, 505 North Main Street, Attleboro, MA 02703.


Unsung Hero: Brian Mills

February 1, 2011 in Featured

I met with Brian Mills at the Pride Office. A fitting place considering so much of his life is tied to Rhode Island Pride. What strikes me most is the passion with which he talks about his work. I got the sense that although he works very hard, he doesn’t consider the things he does to be “work.”

Rhode Island Pride would be a very different place without Brian Mills, even if his name is not the first one you associate with the organization. Brian came to Pride 14 years ago when he began dating its now President and Co-Chair, Rodney Davis. At the time, he was still closeted, which made things challenging since Rodney was really out in the community. “He never challenged me on it. He just let me see what things were like and eventually I came out.”

Rodney taught him what it was like to run events and be in front of the community. That community also taught him some things about himself. “Physical contact used to be a strange thing for me before Pride. I didn’t understand the kissing and the hugging and it held me back,” Mills said. “It was probably from being closeted.” Being involved with Pride helped him to re-examine and redefine his comfort level with this. “Now,” he says enthusiastically, “I am the biggest hugger!”

Brian says his experience at Pride has changed everything he does, and this includes his day job as the director of communications, media and performing arts at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (The MET). The MET is a state-run high school with 690 students from across Rhode Island. The focus is on an independent learning plan allowing each student to choose a subject he or she feels passionate about. The resources and energy he found at Pride help him find those same things at the school, and his open-door policy allows the kids to have a safe place to learn and talk.

He says he is asked something every day about Pride or what it means to be a gay man. He sees it as his responsibility to help people learn. At the Met, more than one staff member has told him that they couldn’t do what he does, being so active in an LGBT organization. He wonders why that is and says, “You need to look at yourself, because this place, these people will accept you.”

Brian now runs the Triple Crown Pageant and the Pride Parade. No small feats! Both these events are very large productions, but he is characteristically laid-back about it all. “Jackie is the face of the pageant, but I’m backstage making sure the paperwork is in order, doing the tech stuff, pushing the contestants out there, complimenting them and giving them a hug.”

In light of all the strides the LGBT community has made over the years, I asked Brian why he thought Pride was still needed. “Although the issues have changed, the people haven’t,” says Brian. “You still have that teenager who needs a safe place, a place to see people like him, or the married guy who realizes there is something different. There are parents who need to understand who their child is and who the people are in their lives. And there are the leaders who need to know who we are; that we’re business owners, parents and educators. Pride is where they can all come together, and I think it will always be there.”

Brian also explained to me how he has seen Pride change over the years. “When I first got involved it was a lot smaller and things just got pulled together. Today we really have to be a well-oiled machine.” The individual commitment has also changed because the organization needs the volunteers to take on more significant projects and know that they are making a difference.

We discussed the misinterpretation that Pride celebrates the frivolous side of being gay. He says there is a misconception that “you’re out there in your underwear.” While that may be part of it, there are also families, service organizations and a wide variety of others enjoying the events. “Whether you are on a bar float, pushing your child in a carriage or representing your church group, there’s a place for you,” he says.

“What you enjoy and what I enjoy may be very different, and that’s true in any community. I celebrate the fact that we provide an environment where everyone can be out on a June day in Providence celebrating who they are. I am an educator; I hope to be a husband someday. My parents know who I am. I am a whole person who happens to enjoy who I am.”

He looks at those who misunderstand the meaning of Pride as opportunities to educate. “I don’t criticize them, it just means I still have more to teach.” He invites them to come out and see what it’s all about and if you don’t understand, ask him and maybe he can help you.

There are so many aspects to his work at Pride, but when I asked him what his favorite experience has been, I was quite surprised. “My favorite is always the moment right after the parade and before clean-up starts. You realize you’ve completed the task, again, and survived. And you get to appreciate all of the people who have sacrificed to get Pride off the ground.” “Yes, I am behind the scenes,” he adds, “and sometimes it’s known as Rodney’s show — and he is where he is because he puts in the effort — but there is also a group of people who are here every month and at every event putting in the time, effort and work. I want to salute them.”

When I came up with the idea for the “Unsung Heroes” articles, Brian Mills was exactly the type of person I imagined. He does what he does, not for the glory, but because he believes in the cause. And he seems to bring that to everything he does. So, the next time you are out and about and you see him, say thank you! Because he is a true unsung hero.


News Briefs

February 1, 2011 in Departments, News Briefs

News Briefs

Marriage Equality: This is the year!

The folks at Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) have reason to be excited. After over a decade of hard work, it appears that the law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has a good chance of passing this year.

The bill was introduced on January 6, two days into the new session, making it one of the first issues to be dealt with by the General Assembly. As of press time, MERI spokespeople felt that the hearings would be held very soon, giving pro-equality Rhode Islanders a chance to have their voices heard before the committee.

“If we don’t pass this legislation this year,” said MERI Executive Director Kathy Kushnir, “It will be back to the drawing board for us. We simply cannot miss this opportunity.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact MERI at 941-2727 or email egarrett@MarriageEqualityRI.org. This is your chance to be a part of history!

DADT Repeal passes

After passing with strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law mandating the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members, was signed into law on December 22 by President Obama. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who co-sponsored the bill, issued this statement: “Requiring gay and lesbian service members to hide who they are went against the principles of integrity and responsibility on which our military stands.  President Obama’s action … marks an historic win for equality and civil liberties, and also for our proud military….”

The issue continues to be an issue in some quarters however. A recent scandal involved Owen Honors, Captain of the Norfolk-based USS Enterprise, who allegedly produced a video that included two female Navy sailors standing in a shower stall aboard the aircraft carrier, pretending to wash each other. In other skits, sailors parade in drag, use anti-gay slurs, and simulate masturbation and a rectal exam. Another scene implies that an officer is having sex in his stateroom with a donkey.

Despite the President signing repeal into law, service members still cannot come out until the law is certified and a 60-day implementation window passes. A U.S. District Court Judge ruled in October 2010 that DADT was unconstitutional and issued a worldwide injunction barring the military from investigating or discharging service members under DADT. On November 1, 2010, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay pending appeal, meaning DADT was still in effect until either: a) there is resolution in the courts or b) 60 days after certification. More recently, the Pentagon announced that all proposed DADT discharges, regardless of grade and rank, would be reviewed at the highest civilian levels. These are all important changes, but they do not end DADT. At this time, DADT remains the law and it is still considered unsafe to come out.

If you have questions about how the latest legal or political developments may impact you, about going back into the military, or about DADT in general, contact the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network legal hotline (202-328-3244 x100 or legal@sldn.org)

Lesbian Teacher honored by Carcieri, Commissioner Gist

Scituate High School science teacher Shannon Donovan was named 2011 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year. In a surprise ceremony held at the school, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist said, “Shannon Donovan has been a strong advocate for hands-on learning, and she doesn’t confine her teaching to the classroom. With her students, she devised a forest-management plan for the grounds of Scituate High School and a water-sampling project that improved the water and soil quality in the town of Scituate. Her work is an inspiration to her students, her colleagues, and her fellow teachers across Rhode Island.”

To Options, Donovan said, “I openly thanked [my partner] Celia in my acceptance speech, so anyone that didn’t know for sure before about my [being gay] certainly knows now…. I feel it is important for me to be out and open in hopes of creating more acceptance in our school and in the world in general.”

Donovan was awarded a $10,000 scholarship to enter a doctoral program at Johnson & Wales University, to which she responded, “It’s important that the students see that even I’m not done learning. I want to encourage them to be lifelong learners.”

PFLAG Scholarships Available

PFLAG National is proud to announce the launch of its 2011 scholarship season.  To apply, simply visit www.pflag.org and click on the Education and Programs tab. LGBT students and student allies are encouraged to apply online, print supporting documentation and review the biographies of our 2010 scholarship recipients. The scholarships are for students entering two-year or four-year colleges for the first time in the fall of 2011, and who can document activism in lesbian and gay causes.

PFLAG National is dedicated to creating a world in which our young people may grow up and be educated free from the fear of violence, bullying and other forms of discrimination, regardless of their real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation or that of their families and friends.  Last year they received over 1,000 scholarship applicants.  Students are urged to apply early. All completed applications and supporting documents must be postmarked by Friday, March 11, 2011. For additional information, contact Mekina Morgan, Safe Schools and Diversity Outreach Coordinator at 202-467-8180, ext. 212 or mmorgan@pflag.org