Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Judge waives waiting period so same-sex couple can wed

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Jess Garrity, left, and Pamela VanHaitsma

From our reporter Alex Zimmerman who has been stationed at the City-County building today

Orphans court judge Lawrence O'Toole granted a waiver today for a same sex couple seeking to avoid the typical three-day waiting period required before a marriage license is issued.

The couple,Jess Garrity and Pamela VanHaitsma, were the first in line at the city-county building this morning at 7:30 a.m. applying for a marriage license.

The couple said they were seeking the waiver to avoid the possibility that an injunction or stay of Judge John Jones decision would keep them from being able to get married.

"Hopefully no appeal happens," says Garrity, "but if it does, hopefully we're considered married."

"I'm overwhelmed. Very excited. It's unbelievable," Garrity said immediately following the decision.

Their attorney, Sam Hens-Greco, said he's arguing that the state's historical denial of marriage rights, paired with their four and a half year relationship, constitutes an "extraordinary circumstance."

Typically, waivers are granted in cases involving severe illness or military deployment.

"They want to get married immediately ... To establish the benefits they're entitled to today," Hens-Greco said.

This is the first waiver granted in Allegheny County, says Sarah Lang, supervisor in the marriage license bureau.

According to the couple, O'Toole asked in jest if "they were sure they wanted to get married," then wishes them congratulations.

The couple plans to have magisterial district judge Hugh McGough officiate a civil ceremony, though they had a non-civil ceremony May 17.

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PennDOT denies name change for woman legally married in New York

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Despite a federal judge’s order allowing same-sex marriage yesterday, Maggie DeMont didn’t come Downtown seeking a marriage license Wednesday morning: She was already married.

What she wanted was to pay PennDOT $12.50 to legally change her last name to Conroy — the name of the wife she married last September in New York. She previously visited PennDOT shortly after the wedding, but was turned away. This morning she went to PennDOT’s Downtown office, this time armed with a court order signed by U.S. District Court Judge John Jones.

It didn’t make a difference.

“I called PennDOT yesterday and was told that by this morning they would have the correct information and would have to comply,” DeMont says. “But even though I showed them the court order, they wouldn’t change my name. A supervisor said he received an email that said PennDOT was looking into the matter. They were very nice, but said even though they were aware that the law was reversed they weren’t willing to act on it.”

“I’ve been waiting eight months to this and despite a court order I’m still in limbo.”

Jones' ruling Tuesday not only allowed for same-sex marriages to be legally carried out in the state, but he also ruled that "already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

DeMont already has a new Social Security card with her married name on it, because her marriage has been recognized by the federal government since last summer. She says she rushed to PennDOT this morning to try and complete the name change in case Gov. Tom Corbett appealed the ruling, or asked for it to be stayed.

DeMont went to PennDOT this morning with her friend Amy Loveridge, who performed the ceremony last year. Loveridge says PennDOT’s actions were an "obvious violation," and she is working to get DeMont help with the issue.

“They had to know that this was coming,” Loveridge says. “You would have thought they would have had their legal department burning the midnight oil to make sure things would go smoothly this morning.”

A PennDOT spokesman told City Paper he had no comment but was tracking down information regarding DeMont’s situation, and on how the agency planned to handle future name change requests. We'll update that information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said the agency "is now accepting all marriage licenses regardless of gender." His phone call to City Paper came roughly 20 minutes after Tom Corbett said he will not appeal Tuesday's ruling. Kirkpatrick says individuals will need to take their marriage licenses with them to the licensing bureaus.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Trans activist/author Janet Mock to speak at CMU

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 4:11 PM


Trans activist and bestselling author Janet Mock is scheduled to speak at Carnegie Mellon University April 8 to discuss her new book, a memoir that explores everything from having gender reassignment surgery in Thailand to being a sex-worker in her teens.

The book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, "is my story of growing up as a trans girl. It celebrates self-actualization and self-love!" according to Mock's website.

Mock has risen to prominence over the last few years (the Washington Post described her as "the current It Girl for the 'T,'" in LGBT) — starting with her first public disclosure in 2011 that she is a trans woman. Her story has since been featured in a number of national news outlets.

The event is being coordinated by the Garden of Peace Project, a community organization that (among other things) works with particularly vulnerable populations, especially within the LGBT community.

“We were looking at the book tour stops, and we noticed there wasn't one in Pittsburgh,” says Michael David Battle, Garden of Peace project founder and director, who says it wasn't hard to convince Mock's publicists to add a stop to the tour.

Along with Carnegie Mellon University, the Big Idea Bookstore and Project Silk, Battle says he's excited to bring someone to Pittsburgh who "does a really good job of talking about the intersectionality of race and gender and sexual orientation.”

“I think she’s going to bring out people of different classes, and different races and different sexual orientations,” Battle says.

Mock will offer a reading and moderated discussion of her book at CMU's Porter Hall on April 8 at 7:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New report shows Pa. LGB seniors face housing discrimination

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 5:08 PM

Lesbian, gay and bisexual seniors are more likely to face discrimination when seeking housing than their heterosexual peers, according to a report released today by the Equal Rights Center.

The report focused on 10 states — including Pennsylvania — and found that LGB seniors were often presented with higher rental prices, more burdensome application requirements, less availability and fewer amenities.

The study worked like this: Testers (who were all at least 50 years old) posed as seniors in their 60s or 70s and made phone calls seeking housing at age-restricted and mostly independent living facilities. Each facility was contacted by a LGB tester and heterosexual tester who said they lived as independent renters with their spouse, but were looking to move to a senior living community. The testers then reported what the facilities told them about fees, prices and unit availability, among other factors.

The report did not look at transgender seniors, but acknowledged that discrimination against that group is "also a widespread and serious problem."

The study conducted 200 total tests across 10 states, which varied in terms of legal protections offered to LGBT people. Overall, 48 percent of the LGB testers experienced "at least one type of adverse, differential treatment"; 12.5 percent experienced more than one form of adverse treatment.

"The rates are very disturbing,” says Don Kahl, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Equal Rights Center. "Not only does that violate civil-rights laws in many instances, [but] you can see how wrong it is on a moral basis as well."

According to the report, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers some indirect protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But each state governs whether LGBT people are counted as a protected class with respect to discrimination in private facilities.

In Pennsylvania, which doesn't offer statewide protection from discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation, 40 percent of LGB testers experienced some form of adverse treatment. Ten percent experienced more than one form of adverse treatment.

In two of the 20 tests conducted in Pennsylvania, the LGB tester was offered fewer units. In three tests, the LGB tester was informed of deposits or fees — of up to $4,500 — not required from the heterosexual tester.

And while those numbers aren't among the highest of the 10 states included the report, over 75 percent of the Pennsylvania tests occurred in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Erie — all of which have local laws that are supposed to protect LGB seniors from housing discrimination. That makes "these high rates of [adverse] treatment even more egregious," according to the report.

Kahl acknowledges that because there were only 20 tests in each state, it's difficult to draw "definitive conclusions" about the effect of state law on housing discrimination, but he says it is generally true that states without such laws tended have higher rates of adverse treatment.

That holds true in states like Arizona and Georgia, which have no state housing protections for LGBT individuals and whose rates of adverse treatment of 80 and 70 percent respectively — the highest rates in the study. But it's not an air-tight argument.

In New Jersey, which does prohibit housing discrimination, 40 percent of testers experienced adverse treatment, tied with Pennsylvania.

It appears that senior housing accommodations will become an increasingly important issue in the wider LGBT rights movement. While estimates vary, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there are 3 million LGBT seniors today, a number which is expected to double by 2030.

To curb future discrimination, the report recommends enacting non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, enforcing existing laws and education campaigns designed to inform seniors about what their rights are. It also stresses the need to fill the "data void" on discrimination on LGB seniors and calls on housing providers to adopt anti-discrimination policies.

"They’ve been subjected to growing up in a time when the LGBT community had virtually no protection," Kahl says. "Now that things are changing in a very very positive way, more of those individuals are coming out and living in the open ... There is definitely a need for housing options in this community."

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Pitt receives grant to study disproportionate HIV rates among black gay men

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 4:58 PM

The public health community has long known that black gay men are more likely to be infected with HIV than their white peers. And the conventional wisdom over the past 30 years has been largely the same: Black men just engage in riskier behavior.

But that conventional wisdom is wrong and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health announced today they were awarded a $3.2 million grant to find a better answer.

The question underlying the study is simple: “Where could all this virus be coming from, if black gay men are in fact more conservative in terms of sex and less likely to shoot drugs?” says Ron Stall, director of the Center for LGBT Health Research at Pitt and principal investigator on the project. "If you can’t answer that basic question you can’t do HIV prevention among black gay men.”

According to the CDC, young African American gay and bisexual men accounted for the highest number of new HIV infections among all gay and bisexual men in 2010. Black gay and bisexual men ages 13-24 also accounted for twice as many new infections as their white or Latino/Hispanic peers in that year.

Some in the public health community have argued all along that riskier behavior wasn't the right explanation, Stall says, but "It was ignored; people didn't know what to do with it."

The project, a collaboration with the Center for Black Equity, will survey 6,000 black men who have sex with men—the largest sample of this subgroup ever studied—to try and figure out why they are less likely to get tested for HIV, or seek medical treatment even if their HIV status is known. Participants will give their feedback anonymously and will be recruited at black gay pride events across the country. They'll also be asked to answer questions about their mental health, substance use and violence victimization and other health issues to understand negative health outcomes associated with the subgroup, but also possible areas of resilience.

"It turns out black men have far less access to medical care,” Stall says. "The question has turned into 'how can we help marginalized populations get into medical care?'”

That's an increasingly important question, since HIV treatment can render viral loads undetectable, meaning "your infection is being effectively controlled and your immune system will start to recover and your chances of getting an opportunistic infection will radically decline," Stall says. It also dramatically reduces the chances of spreading the infection.

The research is funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health, an organization that funds a disproportionately small number of LGBT health related projects.

"At this point in the game, anyone who gets funded is surprised,” Stall says. "The [proposal] was written under the attitude of 'shame on me if I don’t try and shame on them if they don’t fund it.'"

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

UPDATED: Study shows just 0.1 percent of NIH funding went to LGBT research

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 5:42 PM

The arc of the country's moral universe is bending toward equality for LGBT people, so the narrative goes. Gay marriage is inevitable. And laws that allow for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity are the last vestiges of our intolerance.

But publicly funded LGBT research might have a long way to go, according to a study published online today in the American Journal of Public Health.

At the National Institutes of Health, the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, studies focusing on LGBT health are still rare, which "contributes to the perpetuation of health inequities," according to the study. Just one-tenth of one percent of NIH funded studies between 1989 and 2011 focused on LGBT health-related issues. (The number slides up to 0.5 percent if you count HIV/AIDS and research related to sexual health).

And even among the studies that did receive funding, the vast majority focused on sexual minority men (86.1 percent) and HIV/AIDS (79.1 percent).

Only 43 studies — out of 628 total LGBT-health studies — focused on transgender people.

"One of the major findings that surprised me was how great the proportion is related to HIV and sexual health,” says Robert Coulter, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student at Pitt's Center for LGBT Health Research, through the Graduate School of Public Health.

"We know that these health disparities exist with regard to tobacco use and homelessness," Coulter says, "so why haven’t intervention studies in these areas been funded yet?”

“It’s because the NIH doesn't care about LGBT health,” says Randall Sell, a public health professor at Drexel University who specializes in LGBT health. "The problem is that NIH is a huge ship and to turn it in another direction is a slow process,” he says.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ACLU launches new marriage equality campaign

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Peduto upstaged by ACLU plaintiffs son

In an effort to increase visibility for marriage equality, and its lawsuit seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban, the state ACLU launched its "Why Marriage Matters" campaign this morning.

Flanked by local politicos including mayor-elect Bill Peduto, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Braddock mayor John Fetterman, two plaintiffs in the ACLU suit spoke holding their one-year-old son.

"We are like a lot of families," says Diana Polson, a plaintiff in the case. "We sit around the dinner table and share interesting pieces of our day, we have dance parties in our living room, we hike together on a snowy day [...] we know we represent just one of the thousands of love stories in Pennsylvania."

Peduto likened Pennsylvania's place in history to the South during desegregation. "I don't want us to be looked back [on] like we look back on the South and the civil rights movement," he says. "I don't want Pennsylvania to be the 50th state to finally understand that rights should be given to everyone."

Fetterman, the shorts-wearing Braddock mayor who has been marrying same-sex couples, spoke of those ceremonies. "The sense of relief that pours over both of their faces is powerful," Fetterman says of the marriages. And to those who think what he's doing is wrong: "You have to look deep inside yourself."

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Study: A Bleak Health Outlook for Young Pittsburgh Lesbians and Bisexuals

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 7:45 AM

It's well known in the LGBT public health community that there are higher rates of substance abuse and mental health problems in gay and bisexual men compared with their heterosexual counterparts. But sexual minority girls haven't been the subject of much research, something Dr. Michael Marshal is hoping to help change.

Marshal, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, has just published a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that looks at health outcomes in young urban sexual minority girls ages 16-19 in Pittsburgh, with a particular focus on whether African American girls who identify as lesbian or bisexual have worse health outcomes than their European American counterparts.

The results are striking: of the lesbian and bisexual girls surveyed, they were four times more likely to report marijuana use or "suicidal ideation," compared with their heterosexual peers over the previous year. They were five times more likely to report cigarette use, and twice as likely to report alcohol use.

Symptoms of various personality and conduct disorders were significantly more severe.

In one sense, Marshal wasn't surprised. He expected more substance abuse and mental health problems in sexual minority girls than heterosexual girls. That's partly due to the "minority stress hypothesis" — the idea that being in socially excluded groups can lead to adverse health outcomes. But, Marshal says, "we didn't expect that the pattern of disparities would be so robust across a number of outcome variables."

And even more surprising were the study's findings that sexual minority African American girls generally fared no worse than their European American counterparts.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crowd gathers to support victims of Lawrenceville beating

Posted By on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 7:40 PM


From CP Staff Writer Alex Zimmerman:

After Ben Stoviak posted to Facebook that he'd been assaulted last weekend because of his sexual orientation, the LGBT community called for the incident to be treated as a hate crime.

And that message reverberated through a protest in Lawrenceville Wednesday night at a peaceful event that drew around 100 people to 51st and Butler streets.

Several community members took the opportunity to show their support, with the squawk of car horns cheering them on.

"We are proud, we are gay, and we are human beings tonight," said Bill Gibson a bartender at the Blue Moon bar.

But one of the more unlikely speakers to wade into the crowd was Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Eric Holmes who says he "shook his head" when he read the report of Stoviak's assault. Police have said they have several suspects in the assault.

Holmes was met with questions from Joe King, a 41-year-old Regent Square resident who asked why the police weren't treating the incident as a hate crime.

Holmes responded that sexual orientation isn't considered a class with hate crimes protection under state law.

That drew boos from the crowd, but he encouraged those in attendance to voice their concerns in to officials in Harrisburg.

"He was targeted; it was a hate crime," King says. "If [Stoviak] was African American he'd be treated that way."

Holmes added that "the criminal justice system can be a slow system" but the system will "bring to justice everyone who committed this crime."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Corbett compares same-sex marriages to incest, then apologizes

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 12:10 PM

That's strike two — at least PR-wise — for Gov. Tom Corbett when it comes to fighting against a Montgomery County register of wills who has been issuing same-sex marriage licenses, despite a state law banning the unions. That case, and one challenging the state's Defense of Marriage Act, are being challenged in court.

In an interview with WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Corbett was asked about his legal team's comparison suggesting that same-sex couples marrying was the same as 12-year-olds marrying. Corbett responded in the interview saying: "It was an inappropriate analogy, you know. I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"

The state's LGBT advocacy organization EqualityPA and organizations across the state erupted at the comparison, and demanded an apology. EqualityPA Executive Director Ted Martin said in a statement “Gov. Corbett’s statements are shocking and hurtful to thousands of gay and lesbian couples who are doing the hard work of building strong families all across the commonwealth."

Corbett's administration released a response. “My words were not intended to offend anyone," Corbett said in the statement. Full statement after the jump.

Continue reading »

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