Hostile Climate 1999: Report on Anti-Gay Activityby Carol Keys
Included in the 1999 edition of "Hostile Climate" are essays by activist, writer and former Clinton adviser David Mixner; U.S. Rep Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin); independent filmmakers Arthur Dong ("Licensed to Kill", winner of three awards at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival) and Oscar winner Debra Chasnoff ("It's Elementary"); California legislator Sheila Kuehl; activist Jeffrey Montgomery of the Triangle Foundation; California student Alana Flores, the lead plaintiff in a harassment suit against her school district; Utah teacher Wendy Weaver; former "ex-gay" Christopher Camp, and many others.
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Here are sample incidents from two state sections.
* OKLAHOMA/statewide: Bill to Ban Gays from School Jobs
In April, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed SB 1394, a bill to bar "known homosexuals" from working in schools. The bill had originated in the Senate as a measure prohibiting sex offenders from working in the public school system, and was amended in the House by Rep. Bill Graves (R-Oklahoma City) to include gay men and lesbians as well.
Graves claimed that homosexuals were sexual criminals guilty of "consensual sodomy," which is prohibited by state law. He also said that many homosexuals are pedophiles who use schools as a "breeding ground" to "recruit young people" to become gay or lesbian. In addition to barring gay men and lesbians from working as school "support personnel," such as janitors or secretaries, the bill also prohibited schools from contracting with companies that employed gays.
Furthermore, the bill would also have prevented the state from contracting with any vendor that offered its employees domestic partner benefits. Graves' amendment was accepted without debate, and after the entire bill was passed unanimously it was sent back to the Senate. Graves told a local newspaper that his goal was to "drive [gays] back in the closet like the way they were."
The Senate would not accept the amended bill, so it was sent to conference committee for revision. Graves' amendment was eventually stripped from the bill, which was then signed by Gov. Frank Keating in June. Gay men and lesbians convicted of sodomy are considered sex offenders and are still barred from employment in public schools under this law. A similar bill was passed and became law in the late 1970s, prohibiting teachers from performing "homosexual acts" in public and from "advocating, encouraging or promoting public or private homosexual activity." This law was struck down as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech in 1985.
* MISSOURI/ Jefferson City: Child Custody Ruling
The Missouri Supreme Court denied a lesbian mother custody of her three children in a September ruling. No gay or lesbian parent has ever won a custody appeal in the state. This ruling overturned an appellate decision that had favored the mother, which had in turn reversed a circuit court decision that had denied her custody.
Janice DeLong, a Jefferson City substitute schoolteacher, had divorced her millionaire husband of eleven years and the father of her children, F. Joseph DeLong III, in 1995. Their marriage had been going downhill for some time, and both admitted to having affairs. The fact that Ms. DeLong's affairs were with other women proved to be a deciding factor in the custody battle. Macon County Circuit Court Judge Ronald M. Belt ruled in April 1996 that all three children, aged 5, 7, and 9, should be awarded to the father, because without therapy, he believed Ms. DeLong was "always going to be indiscriminately searching for stimulation and affection." He based his ruling on the fact that she testified to having four affairs during her marriage.
Belt further ordered her to tell her two eldest children that she was gay, acting on the recommendation of Ken Lewis, a professional custody evaluator who believed it was necessary so the children could understand why their father was so angry with their mother. DeLong was also ordered by the court to keep "the homosexual lifestyle" away from her children, restricting her from seeing the children in the presence of any lesbians or female housemates, save one longtime family friend.
Citing Belt's apparent anti-gay bias, DeLong appealed his decision. A Kansas City appellate court ruled in favor of DeLong, approaching the case with the legal principle now used in 28 states that unless a parent's sexual orientation can be shown to be detrimental to a child, it should not be considered in a custody case. The children's father appealed the case to the state's Supreme Court. It handed down a decision overturning the appellate court, saying that sexual orientation was not the sole basis of Belt's decision awarding custody to the children's father.
The court did, however, order Belt to come up with a less restrictive visitation plan. While the children were not permitted to testify in court, in a letter to one of the judges, Ms. DeLong's eldest child wrote, "It's like the judge is punishing us because he does not like our mom. Our mom is the greatest person....I think this prejudice in the world needs to stop. God loves everyone the same."
6) Chapter Excerpt: Excerpts from two of the 14 essays that open the book
From the essay by filmmaker Debra Chasnoff:
Once word got out that our film, "It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School" was going to be broadcast on public television stations this past summer, the phone calls, letters, and e-mails started pouring in. For the first three years that our small nonprofit company had been distributing the film, the correspondence had been overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of teachers and parents had contacted us, brimming with emotion, full of thanks for creating a resource they could use to get people to talk about how to prevent anti-gay discrimination and to make sure schools were safe for all children.
But now groups like the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Coral Ridge Ministries, radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger -- even Oliver North had decided "It's Elementary" was evil incarnate. Distorting one boy's comments in the film to make it look like we were trying to get children to hate Christians, they fanned the flames for a massive campaign to stop the broadcasts, the likes of which PBS affiliates across the country had never seen....
From the essay by U.S. Rep Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin):
I'll never forget the phone call I got back in January 1993. It was the day of my swearing-in as a member of the Wisconsin Assembly. A newspaper article had run statewide about the fact that I would be the first openly gay or lesbian person to serve as a member of the Wisconsin Legislature. The voice on the other end of the phone sounded young and frightened. He identified himself as being from northern Wisconsin, then he said, "I just read about you. I had never heard about you before. I just want you to know that I feel differently about *myself* today."
I never learned anything more about that young man. But I can't help thinking that reading something positive and exciting about a gay or lesbian person stood in stark contrast to other messages he had heard. It gave him hope.
A decade before I got the phone call, I was engaged in a search of my own. A search for information to challenge the screaming silence about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues that emanated from all the educational institutions that I'd been affiliated with. My public schools and my liberal arts college were viewed as outstanding institutions. But my passage through each left me with no information about the young woman I had become. So I set out to fill the void -- to give some social and historical context to my own coming out as a lesbian. And what I found made me so proud and so angry....
What People are saying about this
As the lives of gay and lesbian people and families become more visible through policy discussions on the state level - - it is critical that the public, the media and policy-makers have accurate information. Hostile Climate is one of the most comprehensive and well-documented catalogues of discrimination against our community.
A powerful and insightful study on how the battle for tolerance is far from over.... A must-read for those who wish to understand how the right has distorted the political process.
A riveting, and sobering, account of the tremendous barriers we still must surmount as a nation.... Hostile Climate shows that while discrimination against gays and lesbians remains a growth industry for the extreme right, it also thrives among employers, schools, and lawmakers at all levels of American life.
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This is an indispensable reference book for activists, legislators or anyone interested in the struggle for gay civil rights... the facts gathered here about anti-gay discrimination across the U.S. aren't available in one source anywhere else, and the essays are incredible -- especially the Chasnoff piece, in which she describes a typical mundane day but interjects horrifying quotes from hate mail she received over her film 'It's Elementary.' This book isn't easy to read but it's priceless.