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April 17, 2009


In 2007, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire signed the state's first Domestic Partner bill into law. That bill was a domestic partner registry that provided some of the same rights bestowed on straight marriages to lesbian and gay couples and their families. In 2008, the Governor signed legislation that expanded those domestic partner rights to include 160 of the more than 400 rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples.

A couple of days ago, the Kirkland Reporter announced that on April 15th, the Washington State House of Representatives voted to expand those rights once again.

The new Domestic Partnership Expansion bill was passed in the House by a margin of 62-35 and in the Senate several weeks ago by a margin of 30-18. This new expansion now grants approximately 250 additional rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners.

“We applaud the Washington state legislature for providing these important protections under Washington state law to committed lesbian and gay couples and we thank Senators Ed Murray and Joe McDermott and Representatives Jamie Pedersen, Dave Upthegrove, Jim Moeller and Marko Liias, as well as Equal Rights Washington for their leadership on this civil rights issue,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “This is another important step toward full equality, and it will provide tangible, much needed legal protections for families in Washington.”

Of course, the religious, right-wingnuts trotted out their old favorite scare tactics by saying that the bill would infringe upon religious freedom, cause social upheaval and that children who came from homes that didn't have both a mother and a father were more likely to become "delinquents".

Fortunately, thanks to the active and very public support of child care professionals around the world, most people - and, more importantly, most legislators are beginning to realize that all of those bogus arguments never were true.

The bill now goes to Governor Gregoire who is expected to sign it into law.

Congratulations to all those in Washington state who worked so tirelessly for this victory. I have no doubt that eventually the term "Domestic Partnership" will simply morph into "Marriage."

April 15, 2009


The seemingly surprising victory in Iowa was actually a seven year long, brilliantly strategized campaign.

This morning, I read an interesting, Washington Post account of how the Iowa Supreme Court came to the unanimous decision to legalize gay marriage in the middle of our country's "heartland."

Against all odds and in defiance of many GLBT leaders who objected to pouring time, money and resources into a marriage equality fight in a staunchly conservative, unwinnable state, Camilla Taylor, a Chicago-based lawyer for the gay rights group Lambda Legal since 2002, stood by her beliefs.

Camilla, who is a straight, married mother, calls same-sex marriage "the civil rights cause of my generation." The 38-year-old Cleveland native and Columbia Law School graduate added, "I was brought up to think there's nothing more fulfilling than trying to achieve social change and do something right for society."

For seven years, Camilla traveled regularly from Chicago to Iowa to do research and lay the groundwork for her landmark case. When she immersed herself in Iowa's politics and history, she learned about its progressive past, including how the Hawkeye State was a pioneer in school desegregation, the first to admit a woman to its bar, and among the earliest to allow interracial marriage. The more she learned, the stronger she felt about Iowa being a winnable state. Even it's flag carried an encouraging motto: "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."

According to the Post article,

Camilla and her colleagues crisscrossed Iowa meeting gay and lesbian couples and organizing workshops and panels on issues that concerned them. She usually spoke as part of a panel that might include community members or the parents of a gay or lesbian child. Her colleagues did the same.

Sometimes it was lonely in those early days, Taylor recalled. At one event, just seven people showed up.

By December 2005, three years after she took on the cause, Taylor decided the foundation in Iowa was set and she filed a case for six gay couples. She selected them strategically, finding those who were representative and picking a pair from every region of the state.

Following her carefully planned strategy, she chose local lawyer Dennis Johnson, a former solicitor general who was heading the litigation department at a prominent Des Moines firm to be her co-council.

She had never met Johnson before and she took a big risk in approaching him because she wanted to keep her plans to file a lawsuit a secret until she actually filed it.

"I had never heard of Lambda Legal, or her," Johnson said. "I had never been involved in gay rights at all." But he said his firm was always interested in having its lawyers do pro bono work, so he agreed to look at the case.

After deciding to take on the case as co-council and getting to know Camilla, Johnson was quoted as saying,

"I've never felt so strongly about a case in my entire career." He credits Taylor as the one who really got the case moving. "She came up with the strategy, she researched Iowa law, she was the primary author of all the briefs. . . . I think she wrote briefs as best as I've seen in my career.

Numerous other carefully planned strategies were carried out, including adding the children of the gay couples as plaintiffs and working with local GLBT groups. Up until the filing, the existing local groups were more focused on being resource centers for health care, social networking, etc.. They weren't really geared for political activism.

Shortly after Camilla filed suit on behalf of the six couples, Sharon Malheiro founded the group One Iowa and began coordinating with Taylor and Lambda Legal. "There wasn't a strong local group that would be the go-to group for organizing a campaign for marriage equality," said Malheiro. "If we we're going to do this in Iowa, it had to be Iowans talking to Iowans." One Iowa took over much of the public education effort, leaving Camilla and her team to concentrate on the legal aspects.

The Washington Post Article is an excellent, 3-page piece and I strongly urge anyone who is already involved in or who wants to become involved in the struggle for any or all of the remaining GLBT rights and protections yet to be granted, to read the full article.

Nothing ever happens just because we want it to. We have to work hard and we have to work smart to MAKE IT HAPPEN. And this is a great example of how to go about it.

April 14, 2009


This morning, I received the following email from Amazon. It was in response to my signing the letter at change.org protesting their new and discriminatory reclassification policy.


This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles - in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Thanks for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

In my posting yesterday, I said that I hoped this whole thing was an unintentional glitch in their system or, if not, that it was orchestrated by a small, right-wing faction within Amazon without the knowledge of the company's top leadership.

Today, I think it's a little of both. I doubt that the top echelon of Amazon would be stupid enough to even consider jeopardizing the worldwide reputation and good will they've built-up over the years with the GLBT community just to placate a few religious zealots in this country. I think they were caught off-guard and offered that email explanation because they didn't want to admit that something like this could happen in their company.

I do, however, still believe that it very well could have been a small group of religious zealots who were in a position to pull this off and just couldn't resist. As we all know by now, these people aren't playing with a full deck and could easily have deluded themselves into thinking they were smart enough.

My skepticism with Amazon's official explanation seems to be shared by others as well. In a NY Times article, Daniel Mendelsohn, an author whose memoir “The Elusive Embrace” lost its sales ranking over the weekend, said:

“There are mistakes and there are mistakes. At some point in this process, which I don’t understand because I’m not a computer genius, the words gay and lesbian were clearly flagged, as well as some kind of porno tag. I say, do I want my book in anyone’s mind to be equivalent to a porno? And the answer is no.”

In the same article, playwright, author and long-time gay activist, Larry Kramer was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think for one second that this was a glitch. We have to now keep a more diligent eye on Amazon and how they handle the world’s cultural heritage.”

I agree with Larry, from now on, we have to keep a very watchful eye on Amazon and other companies that offer GLBT books and/or merchandise as a part of their overall inventories.

April 12, 2009


A disturbing new report seems to indicate that Amazon.com is becoming a bit homophobic in their online rankings.

According to a Box Turtle Bulletin report, Amazon is engaged in an inventory-wide program to reclassify a large number of GLBT titles as "Adult" books. Why is this so important to GLBT authors and our community in general? Well, a posting yesterday at the LA Times blog section Jacket Copy, which covers book news and information, put it this way:

"American Psycho" is Bret Easton Ellis' story of a sadistic murderer. "Unfriendly Fire" is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it's "Unfriendly Fire" that does not have a sales rank -- which means it would not show up in Amazon's bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the "Twilight" series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon's search results.

Amazon's policy of removing "adult" content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon's customer service explained:

"In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature."

Probst's novel was set in the old West with gay characters and was written for young adults. He was rightfully concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted.

The obviously flawed and astoundingly arbitrary logic used to determine that a violent and gruesome story about a sadistic killer is somehow NOT considered an "adult content" tome while a thoughtful, reasoned exploration of a national military policy (DADT) IS sounds strangely like the same twisted logic that the radical, right-wing religious zealots have been using against our community for years.

When I first read about this story at Queers United over the weekend, it wasn't clear whether or not this was an intentional effort on the part of Amazon Books or simply a glitch in a new classification system that they were trying to institute. Since I have been ordering from Amazon for years and they've always proven to be GLBT friendly, I really wanted this whole thing to be an innocent administrative mistake. Now, however, after reading BTB's story, the LA Times blog post and a second posting today by QU as well as Amazon's own response to Mark Probst, I'm beginning to think that this is an intentional effort to, once again, undermine the credibility and stature of GLBT publications.

I'm hoping that if this is intentional, that it's being perpetrated by a small, right-wing faction within the megalithic corporate structure of Amazon. In either case, we can't really let this slide. Immediate, responsive action is the only way this is going to be stopped and corrected.

In their posting today, Queers United provided the following link to change.org. Once you go there, the only thing you have to do is fill-in your name, address and email to have your letter sent to Amazon Customer Service and Jeff Bezos (CEO, Amazon.com). The letter is prewritten for you but does have a space for you to add your own, personal comment.

If you don't want your name to be visible to the general community, there is a box at the bottom of the form that gives you the option to not have your petition letter seen by other community members. The box will already be checked to allow visibility so make sure you UNCLICK the box to hide your letter.