January 31, 2015

How Gays in The South Fight Hard as rock Religious Homophobes {by Scriptures and Personal stories}

Justin Kelly
 Justin Kelly: ‘I thought maybe it could be something that no one noticed.’ Photograph: HRC

changing our minds
Gushee’s latest book
Sage Lovell
Sage Lovell at homecoming, with her cparents. Photograph: Supplied 

Starting in the seventh grade, Justin Kelly would pray every night that the feelings he had for other boys would “go away”.
“I thought maybe it could be something that no one noticed,” he recalls. Growing up in a military family in Greenville, Mississippi, Kelly felt under pressure to deny who he really was. He hid his sexual identity through his years at Mississippi College, a Christian school whose student code of conduct prohibits premarital or extramarital sex and “homosexual activities, or other sexual expression that may conflict with the Christian identity or faith mission” of the school.
In 2011, by then an army sergeant deployed in Iraq, Kelly learned his father had died after a short bout with brain cancer. He then decided that he was only going to live once, and that he had to start being who he was.

Fast-forward four years, and Kelly has come out again. He is part of a 30-second ad – itself part of a larger campaign called All God’s Children – organized by the Human Rights Campaign. Its aim is to build stronger relationships between Mississippians and LGBT people in their communities through TV ads, online stories, direct mail and billboards.
 Kelly has been surprised by the mostly positive responses he has received for his participation in the campaign – including from colleagues at work. “I was afraid I would get fired,” he said. Family members in other parts of the country have sent him emails and texts applauding his courage. And although he doesn’t currently have a partner, he has also changed his mindset about public displays of affection. “Holding hands in public is important, because it exposes people to being gay,” he said. 
All God’s Children is part of a larger HRC program that includes the states of Arkansas and Alabama. It is one of several projects aimed at changing the social and cultural landscape of the south. 
The idea behind these efforts is to “move the cultural needle,” says Zeke Stokes, vice-president of programs at GLAAD, a LGBT media advocacy organization. The group has recently launched Southern Stories, an online campaign featuring LGBT southerners and their families and supporters. Stokes says that even while, legally and legislatively, the LGBT rights landscape has dramatically changed since he was a child 25 years ago in the small town of Bishopville, South Carolina, a cultural gap still exists. Although his birth state, as well as neighboring North Carolina, have become the first deep south states to legalize same-sex marriage, gender and sexual-preference minorities are often not accepted or tolerated in day-to-day life, he says. 
With Southern Stories, Stokes hopes to change hearts and minds about what it means to be LGBT and to have an impact on workplace and housing protection legislation. 
The efforts have not been without pushback. Although Mississippi-based nonprofit organization the American Family Association would not comment, the group issued a press release in November about All God’s Children. Titled Human Rights Campaign Declares War on Christians, it included this comment by AFA president Tim Wildmon: “[We] will not be fooled by this campaign to normalize homosexuality in the southern states ... And we hope others won’t be fooled either.”
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said the campaigns “reflect a misconception about people’s opposition to homosexuality. It’s not about whether they’re good citizens, or good family members, or good neighbors – it’s ... whether the sexual relations they engage in are appropriate or not.” Also, he said, while the efforts may appeal to some people’s emotions, “I don’t think they will succeed with Biblically literate Christians.”
Reverend David Gushee, director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Atlanta’s Mercer University, says, “the national gay rights organizations are aware that the south presents the most challenging environment in which to live – not just the legal environment; it’s the cultural, and especially the religious environment.”
Gushee, who is a Baptist minister, says that “southern Protestants – especially southern evangelicals – remain the most resistant to gay rights and inclusion.” And this population anchors the region: the Southern Baptist Convention alone accounts for one in eight of the nation’s Protestants. For many southerners, he adds, when it comes to accepting LGBT family or neighbors, “laws don’t matter as much as Biblical texts.”
That’s why Gushee hopes to convince fellow evangelicals to reinterpret the Bible with his most recent book, Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church. The title was released just three months ago, but since then the theologian – who has written and lectured on such diverse topics as torture, the Holocaust and climate change – says that “everyone wants to talk to me about this”. Although some speaking engagements have been cancelled as a result, many more have been offered, he adds.
Of course, the south is a large place, and some of the region’s cities have gradually attracted more diverse populations with more tolerant beliefs. Atlanta may be the best example of this. Last fall, Sage Lovell, who grew up in Marietta, a suburb about 20 miles north-west of downtown Atlanta, became the state of Georgia’s first transgender woman to be chosen for homecoming court, an annual celebration including alumni, and usually, a football game. 
Now 17 and a junior, Lovell’s family has supported her as she went from thinking she was gay in 9th grade to identifying with being a woman.
Lovell not only received enough votes from her classmates to represent her school at the court celebration, she also says her peers have been very supportive of her coming out as transgender. At the same time, her parents, Joseph and Maureen, say the family isn’t heavily involved in any church, and so hasn’t experienced any pushback from religious peers. 
Still, her father says, “If we would’ve been in the rural south, we would’ve had less understanding.” Lovell thinks other people’s understanding of LGBT people will increase the more they are exposed to them. That’s why she and her family decided to participate in GLAAD’s campaign. The idea, says Maureen Lovell, is for people to see that “we’re a pretty traditional, run-of-the-mill family.” 
Sitting in the Lovell living room, with its couch, easy chair, two dogs, bookshelves and flatscreen TV, a recent art class homework assignment strewn across a nearby counter and, through the windows, a view of the wooded suburbs of Atlanta beyond, it’s hard to see them in any other way.
Brian Harrison has devoted the last six years to researching what he calls “shared identities.” A visiting fellow at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, he is the co-author of the forthcoming, Listen, We Need to Talk: Facilitating Political Communication Through Strategic Identity Priming. 
Harrison’s research shows that campaigns successful in convincing people of the importance of LGBT rights “have to persuade [those] people they have something in common” with the group whose rights they reject. All people have multiple identities in the social world, the researcher says – the same person can be a father, employee and churchgoer, for example.
“For centuries,” he continues, “LGBT people have been seen as outsiders. But these campaigns say, ‘I’m LGBT, but I also share identities with you. I’m southern, I’m a churchgoer.’ They focus on identities they have in common with others, rather than ones they don’t.” He thinks such efforts plant a seed, leading to gradual social and cultural change, which in turn creates change in the legal and political arenas.
Until that happens, people like Brian K Martin will keep on telling their stories. The 47-year-old telecommunications executive has lived in Atlanta for 17 years. Although he has identified as gay since his early 20s, he “passed” as heterosexual at work for decades, wary of standing out for being black and gay in an executive world where neither was common. He decided to end the charade in his 40s, only for upper management to respond by telling him to wear a tutu to an executive lunch. When he was fired, Martin filed a lawsuit and complaints with the city of Atlanta and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Since then, he has become a manager at another area company.
This is a struggle partly shared by Blossom Brown, now 28. She says she “always knew [she] was different”. In kindergarten, she didn’t tell the teacher her birth name, Kentravis, and instead insisted it was “Brittany”. Still bearing the identity of a boy, she would use crayons to color her nails.

As she grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, she struggled to figure out who she was. In high school, feeling attracted to other boys made her think she was gay. Several years later, still living at home and attending Holmes Community College, she realized she was born to be female. She would leave the house with what she calls “girl clothes” and makeup in her bag and change in the car. At school, others would point at her. Brown, standing at 6ft 3½in, is hard to miss. 
She now is the first transgender female student at Mississippi University for Women (a co-ed institution, despite its name). She has also appeared on TV in one of the All God’s Children spots. Since then, dozens of people have approached her on the street and in local stores. “People say, ‘You made us think different,’” she says.
At the same time, Brown has seen a local Christian pastor call her “trash” on Facebook, after the Columbus Dispatch published a story about her involvement with the campaign. The campaign gave her the opportunity to travel to Washington DC, where HRC is based. “I felt at home,” she says, noting that on the street,“I didn’t have to worry about strange stares, or feeling uncomfortable.” 
As for her future, Brown is studying public health, and would like to help other transgender people. At times, incidents like the Facebook comments make her think, “Eventually, I might have to leave the south. But then I think, ‘You were born here in Mississippi. Why would you run away from your turf?’”

The “Gay Gene" Replicated Again 20 yrs Latter

HONOLULU —Mention this topic in almost any setting, and you're sure to spark a debate. Are you born gay, or is it simply an alternative lifestyle?

More than 20 years ago geneticist and National Institutes of Health researcher Dean Hamer made a splash and created controversy when he released a study that pinpointed two chromosomes where a gay gene or genes could be located. But it was one chromosome in particular, Xq28, that held the most promise.
"And that indicated there was something in there, some gene or genes that was somehow tipping the balance for people being gay as opposed to heterosexual," Hamer said in an interview with KITV4.  
Hamer’s 1993 study examined about 40 pairs of brothers who were both gay and found many of them shared genetic material in the Xq28 chromosome. Although the study was peer-reviewed, the sample size left some critics wondering whether it was valid.
“It was a very mixed reaction and a very explosive reaction,” said Hamer, who is now retired and lives on Oahu’s North Shore. “It really caused a lot of news at that time.”
Last year, a follow-up study by researcher Alan Sanders and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development duplicated Hamer's results tenfold, linking the same Xq28 chromosome to male sexual orientation, and a likely hiding spot for a gay gene. Instead of 40 pairs of brothers, Sanders examined 409 pairs.
“It was a big, very international type of study and they found exactly the same results: same exact linkage, same numbers, same spot (and) probably the same genes,” said Hamer. “We were really delighted because it puts to rest any controversy about whether or not this original result was right and there really is a gene there at Xq28.”
John Rosario and Justin Pigott, two men who have been in a romantic relationship for the past eight years, say Hamer’s 1993 study and the follow-up research last year doesn’t come as much of a surprise.  
"I can't speak for other people, but I always knew from a young age (I was gay)," said Pigott.
"It's something that you're born with,” added Rosario. “It's not a choice that you make in life or anything that necessarily happens to you. I believe I was born this way as many of my friends were."
However, some like Garrett Hashimoto of the Hawaii Christian Coalition aren't so convinced a gay gene or genes will ever be found.
"I'm sure we're going to be hearing more of these stories and until something definite comes up, I won't believe it,” said Hashimoto. “And if I may, I believe like other people that same-sex is not natural."
Those who are familiar with Hamer’s research say it's time to move past wondering whether a gay gene exists and into the next stages of the research.
"Most of the scholarly research for a generation now has indicated that sexual preference is a genetic issue, it's not a personal choice issue,” said John Hart, chair and professor of Hawaii Pacific University’s Department of Communication. “Now what we're doing is chasing down exactly what is that genetic cause."
After starting the race to find a gay gene more than 20 years ago, Hamer is eager to see it finished during his lifetime.                                                                    
"I'm so curious what the gene will be, not so much for what makes people gay, but what makes people heterosexual,” said Hamer. “You know guys liking girls, and girls liking guys seems just natural, but it has to have a mechanism somehow and it’s a really potent mechanism.” 
picture and more on this subject: http://hubpages.com/hub/Is-Homosexuality-Genetic


In a Province in China a Gay Cop was told to Resign or Quit his Dating Activities

Leader of the boys in Blued
MA BAOLI had served in the police force of the coastal city of Qinhuangdao for 16 years when, in 2012, his superiors delivered an ultimatum. During his spare time Mr Ma (pictured), who is now 37, had secretly been running a website for gay men, Danlan.org, which had begun to attract the attention of the local press. Outed, he was told he could either shut his site or hand over his badge. “They considered it a sensitive issue…that a policeman was gay,” Mr Ma says. “So I thought, I’ll just quit.”
Later that year Mr Ma set up a company, Blue City. It launched a male gay-dating app called Blued that helps locate potential partners using global-positioning technology. The app now has a staff of 60 and around 15m users, making it one of the most popular of its kind in the world. In November Blue City got $30m in funding from DCM Ventures, an American venture-capital firm. Mr Ma plans to expand his app’s user base to 20m-25m by the end of this year and to launch a sister one for lesbians, Pinkd. 
It was very different in the 1990s when, as a young man, Mr Ma risked being sent to a labour camp for “hooliganism”, the crime then attached to homosexual behaviour, by scrawling “I’m gay” on public-lavatory walls in the hope of meeting partners. Homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1997. Now the government is far more tolerant. In 2012 Li Keqiang, who was then a deputy prime-minister (he is now prime minister), met Mr Ma and praised his efforts to help to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. In late January a court in the southern city of Shenzhen became the first in the country to hear a case involving alleged discrimination against a gay man (who says he was fired for being homosexual). A verdict is expected in a few weeks.
As Blued’s user-base grows, Mr Ma plans to add features such as an e-commerce function. He also wants to break into new markets. In February Blue City is due to launch an English-language version of Blued. It will be aimed at gay men worldwide.

January 30, 2015

Russian Ambassador called to the Carpet to Explain Russian bombers over the Channel


The Foreign Office summoned Moscow’s ambassador to London this afternoon to complain about a flight by two Russian bombers over the Channel, which Britain says posed a potential danger to civilian flights.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled to intercept a pair of Tupolev 95 “Bear” planes on Wednesday, as they flew along the south coast. A spokeswoman said: “The Russian planes were escorted by the RAF until they were out of the UK area of interest. At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into UK sovereign airspace.”
A FCO spokeswoman said: “While the Russian planes did not enter sovereign UK airspace and were escorted by RAF Typhoons throughout the time they were in the UK area of interest, the Russian planes caused disruption to civil aviation. That is why we summoned the Russian ambassador to account for the incident.”
There have been several Russian military flights close to UK airspace in recent months, causing British fighter jets to be scrambled.
It is unusual but not unknown for such flights to come along the south coast, over the channel, but a British official said: “This time they caused more disruption and concern than before when we have had to send Typhoons up to take a look. So that’s why we called in the ambassador in.” The Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, came to the FCO at 4pm.
Flights by Russian planes close to British and other Nato members’ air space have become more frequent as tensions have increased between Moscow and the west, particularly over the war in Ukraine. Last month, the Swedish government complained that a Russian military aircraft had been flying near its airspace with its transponders turned off to avoid being spotted by civilian radar, and nearly collided with a passenger jet.
British officials said they could not confirm whether transponders were turned off on the planes flying close to the English coast on Wednesday. “Disrupting civil aviation is one thing. Having a strategic bomber close to your airspace is another,” a Nato official said. “If they have their transponders turned on, then civilian aviation can see where they are and what they are. If they are off, that’s when we have to get up there to find out.”
“We have had to fly four times more intercepts in 2014 than in 2013. That’s 400 times. Either they don’t follow a flight plan or they file it and we get up there and it’s a different kind of aircraft flying. It doesn’t help when they turn off the transponders. All Nato planes on all missions have their transponders turned on.”
Observers said a possible explanation of the timing ofWednesday’s flypast was the start this week of a public inquiry in London into the 2006 killing of a former Russian intelligence officer, Alexander Litvinenko, by radioactive poisoning.
The UK has charged two former KGB agents with the murder. A lawyer for Litvinenko’s widow has claimed in court that the assassination was ordered by Vladimir Putin.
“This may be timed with the Litvinenko court case as a signal of displaeaure,” Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network, and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said. “But it fits with a wider posture of a more assertive Russian demonstration of a growing capability to defend and assert its interests as it sees fit.”

“Imitation Game” Now Plays the Game Card {and England castrated Turing}


As if this year's best picture Oscar race weren't already heavily politicized — what with the furor over the Academy's failure to nominate Selma director Ava DuVernay, followed by American Sniper's sudden emergence as the favorite of flag-waving Red State America — a new issue has just been injected into the contest. The Weinstein Co. originally promoted The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, as a period thriller that paid tribute to Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. But on Jan. 19, appearing on CBS This MorningHarvey Weinsteinintroduced a new tactic, arguing that though Turing received a royal pardon in 2013 for his 1952 conviction for gross indecency because of his homosexuality, he deserves to be honored by the British government. He added the government also should pardon the thousands of British citizens convicted under laws forbidding homosexuality, which wasn't decriminalized in the U.K. until 1967. Weinstein, who was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004, said he “was willing to give up my own CBE” to make that happen.
Two days later at a screening for BAFTA members in London, actor Stephen Fry joined the campaign to use The Imitation Game to promote honors for Turing and win pardons for others, saying, "There is a general feeling that perhaps if he should be pardoned, then perhaps so should all those men whose names were ruined in their lifetime." And the following day, the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies on behalf of LGBT issues, added its voice. HRC, which had already announced that it would honor The Imitation Game at a Jan. 31 gala dinner in New York, took out full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times signed by HRC president Chad Griffin. The ads noted that 49,000 gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same laws that forced Turing to submit to chemical castration or face jail, and the ads exhorted readers to "Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000." The message to the Academy was clear: If you support gay rights, then vote for The Imitation Game for best picture.
Attaching a movie to a worthy cause has, of course, become de rigueur among modern-day Oscar campaigns. Two years ago, The Weinstein Co. sent the Silver Linings Playbook team to Congress to lobby on behalf of mental health legislation. Such gestures are well intentioned, calculated to use a movie to raise awareness about a social issue, but they're also designed to translate the urge to do something about that issue into Oscar support.
In the case of The Imitation Game, though, asking the Academy to endorse Weinstein's gay agenda may be easier said than done.
Sure, the Academy itself has to be considered gay-friendly — for the second year in a row, an openly gay performer, Neil Patrick Harris, will host the big show Feb. 22. And last year, Matthew McConaughey caught a lot of flack when he failed to acknowledge AIDS activists in his best actor Oscar acceptance.
However, while the Academy has given Oscars to straight actors playing gay (Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Sean Penn in Milk) and transgender (Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club), it has yet to award best picture to a movie built around a gay protagonist. (It famously opted for Crash over the 2005 gay romance Brokeback Mountain.) And so giving a nod to The Imitation Game would be a first.
This story will appear in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Raul Castro says No Ties without Giving Up Guantanamo


Cuban President Raúl Castro seemed to throw some pretty big hurdles in front of efforts to establish normal diplomatic relations with the United States.
In a speech at a summit of Latin American countries, President Raúl Castro said a rapprochement with its northern neighbor would not make sense without three conditions: 1. The lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. 2. The return of the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay. 3. Compensation for "human and economic damage" the Cuban people have suffered.
Back in December the U.S. and Cuba announced they had intentions of normalizing diplomatic ties. President Obama loosened some U.S. restrictions on travel and business and Cuba agreed to release dozens of political prisoners.
Last week, the two countries held historic diplomatic talks in Havana. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reported, both delegations came out of it saying the talks were constructive and respectful and were going well.
NBC News reports that Castro's speech on Wednesday at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica broadens the list of Cuban demands.
The U.S. has said Guantánamo is not part of this negotiation and only Congress has the power to fully lift the embargo on Cuba.
So what does this mean? One analyst the Associated Press spoke to seems to think that this is Castro simply setting expectations on the island.
"John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last year, said the tone of Cuba's recent remarks didn't mean it would be harder than expected to reach a deal on short-term goals, such as reopening full embassies in Havana and Washington.
"In fact, he said, the comments by Mr. Castro and high-ranking diplomats may indicate the pressure Cuba's government is feeling to strike a deal as Cubans' hopes for better living conditions rise in the wake of Obama's outreach.
"'There is this huge expectation of change and this expectation has been set off by the president's announcement,' Mr. Caulfield said."
Update at 10:02 a.m. ET. A Bit Of Guantánamo History: 
The shorter version is that the U.S. took possession of the sliver of land after it helped Cuba gain independence from Spain during the Spanish-American War at the end of the 1800s.
Through controversial politicking, the U.S. was given a perpetual lease to Guantánamo in 1903.
Through the estrangement, and much to chagrin of the Castro regime, the U.S. has kept a base in Cuba. It cuts a check every year and every year, the Cuban regime refuses to cash it.

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