Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Atlanta Gay Bar Raids Were Unconscionable

Atlanta Gay Bar Raids are a Gross Injustice

By Norm Kent

It was in 1991 that the Broward Sheriff’s Office, under the supervision of then Sheriff, Nick Navarro, raided the most popular gay bar in South Florida, the Copa, on a busy Friday night.

It was a remarkable incident. Scores of cops in swat teams enter a huge dance bar with hundreds of patrons targeting a half-dozen persons who they had previously done undercover drug deals with. There was no guarantee the named suspects were even going to be there.

Notorious for publicity, the Sheriff personally arrived along with a helicopter, his wife, and television crews. As SWAT type deputies swarmed through the bar, they ordered all the patrons, at gunpoint, up against the wall, lied them on the floor, and randomly searched them for drugs while publishing denigrating epithets.

The cops became thugs and the patrons became victims. Innocent men and women were unlawfully detained, unjustifiably restrained, and purposely humiliated. Twenty years ago, scores of those customers were still in the closet. They were also marched out of the bar with their hands held over their head to waiting TV cameras which filmed and aired their faces.

The cruel and unconstitutional conduct of law enforcement would not stand. The courageous operator of the bar, John Castelli, now a renowned realtor, directed me to file suit immediately. The entire gay community was justifiably outraged. The suit would not have been settled and the case would have gone on for years but for the public denying Sheriff Navarro re-election in the next year’s primary.

A new sheriff was elected, Democrat Ron Cochran. He was troubled by the conduct of his department that evening, and instructed his attorneys to settle the case with me. In public ceremonies which were covered by the media, we negotiated a fair and honorable agreement which served not the pecuniary needs of any one party but the interests of the community. BSO presented Center 1, then our county’s largest and oldest AIDS agency, with a check for $25,000.

The memory of days past in South Florida is a calling to today’s gay leadership in Atlanta. The legal issues raised by their gay bar raids are identical. The conduct of law enforcement at The Eagle was reprehensible; overkill. Instead of quietly coming into the bar at the end of the night and arresting targeted dancers who had committed second degree misdemeanor lewd act violations, they busted inside in the middle of the evening.

Police shoved innocent patrons into the ground, on the floor, restraining and detaining them illegally and unconscionably. They employed SWAT teams and undercover drug officers who of course are going to say their conduct was essential for their own safety. Bullshit. If their conduct had been sensible and coordinated, the arrests would have been timed and responsible. Atlanta cops chose to use a display of physical force, armed with guns and verbal epithets. But they should pay through the nose for their illegal methods and inappropriate messages.

Not only could have cops cited the bar under ABT laws, they could have more prudently gone into the dressing rooms and segregated out dancers who violated laws without humiliating patrons who did not. Think about it, if the only eight persons arrested were bar employees for permit violations, it also could have been done at the end of the evening after patrons left and the club was closing.,

Twenty years ago in South Florida, the sheriff said he had to raid the Copa because it was ‘awash with drugs.’ But the raid found less than five persons in the bar with narcotics. In Atlanta, NO patrons were found to have any contraband. So the cops were just plain wrong, and their police chief, Mr. Pennington, should be more than apologetic. They were so reckless as not to even utilize their designated police officer who operates as the liaison to the gay community. Simply shameful.

The time to sue the Atlanta police is now. The time to rally the community is immediately. Similar carelessness by the Texas Liquor Board in a gay bar raid a few months ago left a patron needlessly injured. The authorities just fired three of the agents involved in the fiasco. That is what could have happened in Atlanta. That it did not was more luck than planning. There was never an excuse to put innocent patrons at risk. It was the height of recklessness to do so. Atlanta cops must now pay the price for their misconduct.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Blog by TV Anchor Charles Perez

As reported by Steve Rothaus in his daily blog on gay South Florida in the Miami Herald, here is an awesome op ed by former WPLG anchor Charles Perez, above with fiancé Keith Rinehard.


I've decided to move out of the Sunshine State. It's a bit more chilly here than I had expected. Some may say good riddance, but I'm no longer willing to live in a place where I can't get married, can't adopt children and where there are no state laws to protect me from being fired because I'm gay.

And so my partner Keith and I have decided to sell the house, load up the dogs and head north, toward a decidedly warmer climate.

To those who visit here, Florida must seem somewhat schizophrenic. We sell ourselves as a great place to come and play, a multicultural paradise where you can be who you are, as long as you respect the rights and privileges or everyone else. Not so if you're gay and you decide to stay. You'll be greeted by a regressive system of laws more emblematic of a backwater state than one that now, because of its population, draws comparisons to California and New York.

Last year, as gay rights took front and center on the Florida ballot, through the Florida Marriage Amendment, or Proposition 2, religious groups, like the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, were able to collect more than 600,000 signatures and raise millions of dollars to defeat not only gay marriage, but its equivalent. In essence they pulled the rug out from under civil unions as well, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual.

Many of these voters took to the polls hoping to save kids and marriage. Yet states such as Connecticut that have gay marriage, allow gay adoption and have laws protecting gay men and women, seem to be doing just fine. In fact, according to the most recent figures for the National Center for Health Statistics, Connecticut has a divorce rate approximately 36 percent lower than does Florida. Connecticut also was able to place more than double the percentage of kids available for adoption into permanent homes.

Maybe that gay-tolerant state is, actually, more pro-marriage and pro-family than we are. I grew up as a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I went to a Catholic high school in Fort Lauderdale. I still consider myself a Christian, at least in philosophy: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is an ethic shared in Judeo-Christianity that has at its core a call for tolerance and love. However, I am also cognizant that for most of the history of Christianity, the church and its many offspring often sided against the forces of compassion and used fear, threats and ignorance as their most powerful tools.

Organized religion can be uplifting, community building, powerful and spiritual. But, as with government, if left unchecked by its adherents, can also become misguided.

As long as my homosexuality is confined to the ``immoral'' by some, questions about my right to marry, adopt kids and be protected in the workplace will persist. I also have green eyes, by the way. They are as much a part of me as is my sexual orientation. My green eyes have as much to do with my morality as does my sexual orientation. I can cover them with contacts, but I cannot change them. They are inseparable from who I am, as homosexuality is inseparable from human history.

Keith and I are tired of visiting attorneys who tell us, right off the bat, ``There is no privileged communication between the two of you.'' In other words, if we were married, we could not be forced to testify against each other in a court of law. What we'd say in the privacy of our relationship would stay in the privacy of our relationship. We don't have that right in the state of Florida. In Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont we would. We could also be raising the family we want, all respected by the laws of our state, giving our children nothing less than the dignity that comes with having a seat at the table.

We have a right to sit at that table, along with everyone else, and we should have that right in Florida. To fight for that right is certainly the good fight. However, as the clock ticks, and my partner and I push through our 40s, we're no longer willing to wait to have the family we want.

And so, though I hate the cold, to warmer pastures we will go, certain to receive a warmer welcome, convinced that too much love and too much commitment are never a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Barney Frank wants Cabinet post

Barney Frank wants a Cabinet post, Bob Cusack of The Hill is reporting tonite.

Frank (D-Mass.) told author Stuart Weisberg that he would like to be Housing and Urban Development secretary. However, the 69-year-old lawmaker stresses that his departure from Congress is not imminent.

He first wants to pass more legislation on affordable housing, saying, “I want at least two years with President Obama and a solidly Democratic Senate so that we can get the federal government back in the housing business.”

No president has ever appointed an openly gay man or woman to the Cabinet. A couple of ambassadors here and there, and some people quietly in the closet, as far back as the Eisenhower administration, but never an openly gay man.

Weisberg, who used to work for Frank on Capitol Hill, spent five years on his authoritative book, titled "Barney Frank, The Story of America’s Only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman".

Frank talks about how he struggled as a gay man growing up in blue-collar Bayonne, N.J. He dated women throughout high school and college, but knew he was gay at 13. Still, he delayed revealing his sexuality until he had established a foothold in the House.

In the 501-page tome — to be released later this month — Frank is described by people who know him well as a masterful legislator, an impatient boss, and “socially handicapped.”

Frank has been the subject of many profiles, but Weisberg provides news that political junkies crave.

In his first race for the House, Frank almost went head to head with now-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 1980 primary. After a meeting with Frank, Kerry opted not to run. Ten years later, Republicans tried to persuade Bill O’Reilly to run against Frank. O’Reilly also passed on the seat, but the Fox News commentator would clash with Frank 18 years later in a 2008 interview that has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.

There are other rich details in Weisberg’s book, including Frank’s political battles with then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) and Clarence Thomas, when the Supreme Court justice served as director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Weisberg also states that Frank was friends with the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.) and admires Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).

One of the most riveting parts of the book is Frank’s recollection of his ethics scandal, when he paid a male prostitute for sex. Various media outlets called for Frank to resign, but he persevered by admitting his mistakes and asking the ethics committee to investigate him in 1989. Many Republicans, including then-Rep. Larry Craig (Idaho), called for serious sanctions against Frank, who was ultimately reprimanded by the House, 408-18.

The following year, a Republican challenger to Frank’s seat — described as “not the smartest person in the district” — called on Frank to take an AIDS test and reveal the results publicly. Frank replied that he would do so if his GOP challenger would take an IQ test and release it to the public.

Throughout his life, Frank has battled bouts with depression and his voracious appetite. When Frank was advised by a political operative to improve his appearance, Frank responded that “when you are 5 feet 10 inches and you have a 46 waist and your thighs rub together, your clothes have a way of not looking good.”

At other points in his life, he was able to lose weight — a lot of it. He once lost 100 pounds in eight months. Knowing that avoiding obesity would be a lifelong struggle, Frank said, “The day I die, I will either be fat or hungry.”

Sometimes to his detriment, Frank was not shy in criticizing Democrats publicly, most notably President Bill Clinton during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” debate. He also irritated Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) by suggesting Kennedy had no chance of becoming president after his 1980 bid fell short.

The personal details about Frank show a side of the Financial Services panel chairman that Washington insiders have not seen. He pumped gas as a teenager at his father’s truck stop in New Jersey, formally changed his name from “Barnett” to Barney and was an avid baseball and tennis player. Weisberg writes that only Frank’s mother Elsie, and his sister, Democratic strategist Ann Lewis, consistently won arguments against him. Elsie Frank died in 2005.

Amid the GOP-led Congress’s actions to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, Frank challenged Republicans who offered their medical analysis during the debate: “The caption tonight ought to be: ‘We’re not doctors — we just play them on C-SPAN.’ ”

Weisberg writes that “the best of times is now” for Frank, noting the 15-term member is “at the top of his game as a lawmaker and as a deal-maker … He feels comfortable with who he is and he is no longer emotionally isolated.

“I am what I am," Frank said, adding, "sort of like Popeye.”

It would be a great finish to a marvelous career with ups and downs. The important thing to remember about Barney Frank is that he overcame adversity, dealt with embarrassments, and stayed the course to leave a legacy of achievement. None of us make it through life without the waves that drive us under. We just have to rise to the top again, deal with the pain, and push on. Barney Frank is very human. Barney Frank is a symbol for gay men and women though, to be known not for his lovers, but for his legislating. He reminds us all that our achievements are won in boardrooms,not bedrooms.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Matthew Shephard Remembered

Trivium-And Sadness Will Sear(With Lyrics)

Trivium-And Sadness Will Sear(With Lyrics)

Matt Heafy is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Trivium, a heavy metal band where you would ordinarily not expect to find a tribute to Matthew Shephard.

Matt's influences include bands such as Metallica, Pantera, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Iron Maiden, Queen, The Beatles, Muse, Coldplay and Radiohead.

In this vein, the 23 year old artist, born in Japan, and now living outside of Orlando, spun together this moving piece to honor a slain American teenager, killed solely for being gay. It was about eleven years ago next month. I just came upon it, and it is certainly worth sharing.

Especially now that Congress is trying to pass new laws insuring that hate crimes pay a serious price. Here is a link to what the Foundation, still given life by Matthew Shepard's courageous mom, Judy, is doing.

Matthew Shepard Foundation webpage

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ben and Jerry's Goes All the Way

Hubby Hubby Ice CreamMarks Gay Marriage

- Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is renaming their famous "Chubby Hubby" flavor to "Hubby Hubby" for the month of September to mark Vermont's legalization of same-sex marriages.

"At the core of Ben & Jerry's values, we believe that social justice can and should be something that every human being is entitled to," said CEO Walt Freese in a statement. The action was taken in partnership with Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality group. Partnering with corporations who demonstrate a social conscience is meaningful in its own right.

The Boston Herald reports that the move is mostly symbolic, though, as the Burlington, Vt.-based company is not changing labels on "Chubby Hubby" pints sold in stores across the country. Symbolism in society is still significant. Years after the Hula Hoop has stopped selling in toy stores, it still symbolizes the generation of the fifties.

The Herald also reported that gay-marriage opponents are not fond of the gimmick. "It's a bad idea, especially because I think they're just doing it to rub it in that Vermont has legalized gay marriage," said Brian Camenker of

"Chubby Hubby" ice cream contains pretzel nuggets, which are chocolate-covered and filled with peanut butter, in vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter swirls.

Ben & Jerry’s has been part of food giant Unilever since 2000, but has maintained its activist thinking. Free Cone Day , held in April, is one of the company's biggest promotions and in January the company renamed its Butter Pecan flavor to "Yes, Pecan" to mark President Obama's inauguration.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gay Man Settles False Arrest Case for Nearly $50,000


Gay man wins $45,000 after false arrest

Plaintiff claimed police targeted him for being gay


AUG. 27, 2009

Claude Lessard, the plaintiff in a 2003 case of false arrest at John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach, is taking home $45,000 from the state of Florida. Lessard, an openly gay local junior high school teacher, filed suit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and park officer David Pius in March 2005, after being arrested at the park for what he said was a case of anti-gay bias. His suit included charges of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution stemming from an incident that took place in the park in July 2003.

The state, without admitting fault, decided to pay Lessard the $45,000 for damages rather than continue to fight the case. Lessard’s attorney views this as not only a victory for gay men who are harassed at public beaches and parks, but also a legal step that gives gays another right in the fight for marriage equality.

"Our office is grateful we could help remind law enforcement authorities that gay men will no longer tolerate abuses of their civil rights, and when those rights are violated unjustly, the State will be held financially accountable,” said Norm Kent, Lessard’s attorney. "The settlement is ample proof that the government tried to whitewash and cover up the case from the start, but through the tenacity of our office, and courage of our client, we saw it to a just end. The amount they paid showed it was not just nuisance value. "

The arrest occurred during the afternoon of July 23, 2003. Lessard said he was walking along a trail in the park when he saw a man being arrested. At the time, Lessard said he was mindful of newspaper articles in which numerous gay men had alleged that they were harassed, cited for dubious trespassing violations and falsely arrested in the park.According to Lessard, when he encountered a man along the trail whom he thought was just a park visitor, he commented to him, “Watch out. They’re arresting someone over there.”

The man Lessard encountered turned out to be a police officer. He accused Lessard of obstructing an undercover operation in the park. Park officers had been conducting undercover patrols because of reports of sexual activity in the park. But Lessard said he was there only to enjoy the beach and park on a sunny day.

Lessard thinks he was targeted for arrest simply because he was a gay man in the park, according to the lawsuit.Lessard was charged with “obstruction of justice” and jailed for 15 hours. His car was towed, and he had to pay $136 to retrieve it. Later the state dropped the charge but Lessard was so outraged about how he was treated that he sued the state for false arrest, which was reported by the Blade in 2004 (then called Express Gay News).

An internal investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2004 concluded that there was no evidence that park officers acted inappropriately, violated any statute or policy, or targeted anyone in the park based on sexual orientation.

Along with the monetary award, the case also establishes significant victory for gay couples seeking legal rights for their partnerships. Lessard’s domestic partner of 27 years, Jocelyn Goulet, is also named as a co-plaintiff in this case; as a result, the judge also set case-law for Broward County establishing gay couples, who are registered as domestic partners, the right to sue together under “loss of consortium” just as straight couples would. Loss of consortium laws state that if one spouse is injured and is suing for damages, their spouse can also sue because they cannot complete their marital duties.

Lessard is currently out of the country and is unavailable for comment.