ACLU case fast-tracked
by Jen Colletta
Apr 24, 2014 | 204 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A decision could be made in the coming weeks in a case filed by same-sex couples challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Whitewood v. Wolf, filed last summer by the American Civil Liberties Union and firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, was slated to head to trial June 9. But, both parties agreed this week to have the case decided upon the briefs, rather than a trial. All briefs will be filed by May 12, and the judge could rule days after. “We are pleased that this case will be moving forward quickly," said John S. Stapleton of Hangley Aronchick. "Our clients have waited long enough for the state to recognize the love and commitment that these couples have for each other." The decision to circumvent a trial was made after the state said it would not call any expert witnesses to explain the reasons same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage, nor would it dispute the detriments plaintiffs say marriage inequality causes same-sex couples. “We are pleased that the state has agreed to allow the Whitewood v. Wolf case to proceed in this expedient manner," said Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin. "All committed couples in Pennsylvania should be allowed to share in the freedom to marry, and we hope the court will come to the same reasonable decision that the majority of Pennsylvanians have come to — that all families should be treated with the same dignity and respect.” The case was filed on behalf of 11 couples, two of their children and a widow. It was the first of a series of legal challenges to the state law filed last summer.
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Rep. to introduce first-ever trans bill
by Angela Thomas
Apr 24, 2014 | 4 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A state legislator plans to introduce the first-ever legislation to specifically tackle issues affecting the transgender community. State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) announced last week that he plans to introduce a four-bill package addressing transgender discrimination. He is circulating a cosponsorship memo for the legislation. The bills will focus on Medicaid expansion to include transition-related treatment; trans-inclusive state-employees’ health-care benefits; establishment of a tax credit for all private businesses that provide transgender-related health care; and elimination of gender-based restrictions and prerequisites for high-school students. Cohen said he has had conversations with transgender activists for several years about legislative efforts to support the trans community. “I think it is time that the legislature deals with these issues of transgender rights,” he said. In his cosponsorship memo, Cohen referenced the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems’ recognition that gender dysphoria should be treated and supported. Cohen cited the success of Philadelphia’s recent adoption of legislation that expanded transgender-related health care for city employees and which also gave a tax credit to companies that provided transition-related health-care options for transgender employees. The education component is based on California’s decision last year to allow students who are transgender to be in the proper gender environments. Cohen said he did not have a set timeline for the bills’ introduction. While Republicans have been slow to support LGBT-equality issues, Cohen said he hopes the legislative package picks up backers from both sides of the aisle. “Nothing is impossible,” he said. “I would be pleasantly surprised if Republican legislators supported this.” While passage of his bills will likely take time, Cohen said it is important to lay the groundwork with awareness-raising conversation. “I think you have to have a public discussion for people in the legislature to be comfortable with these ideas,” he said. “It could take years or decades for things of this nature to pass. This is just the beginning.”
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Appellate brief filed in Morris case
by Timothy Cwiek
Apr 24, 2014 | 6 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An appellate brief was filed this month in support of PGN’s request for an unredacted dispatch record relating to the Nizah Morris case. In 2008, the city’s Police Advisory Commission gave PGN a copy of a redacted dispatch record in the case. The paper is seeking an unredacted version from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Morris was a transgender woman who became a homicide victim in 2002, shortly after entering a police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.” The case remains unsolved, and Morris’ advocates are calling for a state probe. It’s believed the unredacted dispatch record could help explain why Morris’ initial set of police-tracking numbers were permanently voided at the 911 call center. Once those numbers were voided, responding officers had no obligation to document the courtesy ride. Detectives didn’t learn about it until several days after Morris was declared a homicide victim on Dec. 25, 2002. The dispatch record, also known as a time-response log, is a public record under the state’s Right-to-Know Law. Last year, PGN gave the D.A.’s Office a copy of the redacted dispatch record and requested an unredacted version, citing the RTKL. The D.A.’s Office denied the request, indicating it didn’t have any dispatch records relating to the case. But a subsequent attestation of non-existence provided by the D.A.’s Office didn’t name the person who performed the search, nor did it specify the record searched for. Typically, homicide records are filed under the victim’s legal name. Morris’ legal name was Robert G. Morris. But the D.A.’s Office gave no indication that it searched under Morris’ legal name. Additionally, the D.A.’s Office failed to cite supporting legal authority when denying the request, as required by the RTKL. Melissa B. Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said it’s important for agencies to fully explain public-record denials. “The RTKL places the burden of proof on agencies to fully explain public-record denials and provide adequate proof supporting their position,” Melewsky said. “In cases where agencies claim a record does not exist, it is critically important that government affiants have direct knowledge of the search for records in the case because the affidavit is often the only ‘proof’ offered in an appeal. Factual hearings are rare at the administrative-appeal level, and affidavits are used in place of testimony. Agency employees would not be able to testify that records do not exist if they didn’t have direct knowledge of the search. And they should likewise be prohibited from claiming non-existence in an affidavit if they cannot affirm direct knowledge of the search. The administrative appeal is intended to offer a free, quick and simple appeal to records denials and it is often the only appeal citizens can pursue, since it does not involve the cost and time involved in formal legal proceedings. Agencies need to provide the best evidence possible in order to fully effectuate the intent of the law. And affidavits from employees without direct knowledge are not the best evidence, and could lead to additional litigation or inappropriate denials.” Melewsky also said an agency should specify the record that doesn’t exist in its possession, custody or control. “It’s critically important that agencies denying access describe, in detail, the search and specific records so that requesters can be confident that the agency’s denial is appropriate,” she continued. “Again, this is vital because in many cases, the requester cannot pursue formal legal action and the law requires agencies to act in good faith when dealing with records requests.” Finally, Melewsky noted that an agency is required to cite supporting legal authority when denying access to a requested record. “Section 903 of the RTKL requires agencies to cite to specific legal authority supporting their basis for denial. This basic rule guides agencies denying access and keeps the public informed. Without this critical information, the public cannot understand or analyze the agency’s basis for denial, making appeals more common and more difficult.” The matter remains pending before Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Nina Wright Padilla. The deadline for a reply brief from the D.A.’s Office is May 5. Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. June 2 in City Hall Courtroom 426.
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News Briefing
Apr 24, 2014 | 8 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gay cop seeks antibias records Attorneys for gay police officer N. Melville Jones intend to serve subpoenas on three government agencies for LGBT-related antibias complaints filed against the Philadelphia Police Department. Jones is suing the city in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for pervasive anti-LGBT workplace bias. Earlier this month, his attorneys informed the court they intend to serve subpoenas on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. They want all LGBT-related antibias complaints filed since 2006 at those agencies by former or current employees of the police department. The city has until April 29 to object to the issuance of the subpoenas, according to court records. The matter is pending before Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox. A non-jury trial is expected in October. Neither side had a comment for this story. Information on church remains pending Information on a city inspection of the old Church of the Assumption at 1123 Spring Garden St. remained pending at presstime. The church, which is located next to the offices of AIDS agency Siloam, has been vacant for about 20 years. Concerns have been expressed that the church’s two spires require fortification to ensure they remain upright. Last year, city officials said inspectors from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections would examine the church to ascertain its structural integrity. This week, city attorney Andrew S. Ross said he asked L&I officials whether the inspection was done, but hadn’t heard back from them. Efforts to demolish the church have been blocked by the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, which wants the church preserved as an architectural icon. John Wei and Mika He, the church’s owners, couldn’t be reached for comment. — Timothy Cwiek Fundraiser for football tourney Join members of the Greater Philadelphia Flag Football team next week to party for a cause. Team members and supporters will head to ICandy’s Liquid Lounge from 4-8 p.m. April 27 at 254 S. 12th St. A $5 donation will support the Philadelphia Revolution, GPFFL’s tournament team, heading to Chicago for the annual Pride Bowl in June. GPFFL will host the Gay Bowl, an annual gathering of LGBT flag-football teams from across the nation, in October. For more information, visit www.phillyflagfootball.com. Showcase to benefit LGBT youth efforts A night of song, comedy and theater performances will raise money for a group seeking to combat anti-LGBT stigma among youth. Laughing for Life will start at 8 p.m., with the doors opening at 7 p.m., April 27 at Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St. The evening will be hosted by drag stars Brittany Lynn and Miss Lisa Lisa with entertainment by a host of local drag performers, singers and others. Proceeds from the event benefit the It Gets Better Project, which seeks to provide support to LGBT youth struggling with their identities. For more information or tickets, visit http://laughingforllife.brownpapertickets.com/. Party for equality with Stimulus Stimulus Philly is bringing back its Party for Equality next week, with proceeds this year benefiting the educational arm of the statewide LGBT organization. The fourth-annual Party for Equality will be held from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. May 2 at ICandy, 254 S. 12th St. Proceeds will benefit Equality Pennsylvania’s Educational Fund. The party will feature drink specials, go-go dancers and shot girls, and opportunities to learn more about Equality Pennsylvania’s work. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1402589780015997/. — Jen Colletta
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Equality Forum celebrates Canadian equality
by Angela Thomas
Apr 24, 2014 | 5 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Equality Forum will celebrate the USA’s northern neighbor during its annual global LGBT summit next week. Equality Forum will take place from May 1-4, with Canada as the featured nation. The four-day event will feature its signature events such as the International Equality Dinner at the National Museum of American Jewish History, SundayOUT! at the Piazza at Schmidt’s and a myriad of panels. Equality Forum executive director Malcolm Lazin said with Canada celebrating its 10th anniversary of marriage equality, it only seemed appropriate to feature the nation. “It gives us an opportunity to celebrate but also to learn from their experiences and hopefully learn some of their best practices in many ways,” he said. “While same-sex marriage first happened here in Massachusetts, it wasn’t until recently that a lot of states have legalized same-sex marriage, whereas Canada has for 10 years across their country.” Equality Forum panels will include representatives from all facets of Canadian culture, who will speak about politics, legal issues and religion. The National Politics Panel will take place from 5:30-6:45 p.m. May 2 at the University of the Arts, Connelly Auditorium, 211 S. Broad St. The panel will include editor of the Washington Blade Kevin Naff, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans Gregory Angelo, Victory Fund and Institute managing director Torey Carter, National Center for Lesbian Rights policy director Maya Rupert, and Lazin. There will be three panels the following day: the National Legal Panel from 1-2:15 p.m. in Connelly Auditorium; International Workplace Panel from 1-2:15 p.m. in the UArts Terra Hall Board Room; National Religious Colloquy from 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Connelly Auditorium; and a panel on Canada from 2:30-3:45 p.m. in Terra Hall Board Room. All panels are free of charge. Lazin said the 15th annual LGBT art exhibit, “You Are You,” will focus on explorations of gender identity. “This year’s exhibit will be very interesting,” he said. “The photographer, Lindsay Morris, is very well known. There is a camp for pre-adolescents who are non-binary in their sexuality and gender. Her photos from the camp show how gender can play out in all ages.” The exhibit will be featured throughout the duration of Equality Forum at the Gershman Hall, Avenue Gallery, 401 S. Broad St. It is free of charge. The International Equality Dinner will take place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. May 3 at the National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East. Equality Forum will honor Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane with the Distinguished Equality Award, which will be presented by state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. TD Bank will be given the International Business Leadership Award and the National Hockey League and the Burke family will be given the International Role Model Award. “The NHL has been the most active in terms of being out in sports and we are also co-presenting it with the Burke family, one of the major families in the hockey world and they are the earliest in hockey to be advocates for the LGBT community,” Lazin said. Lazin said SundayOUT! is always a crowd pleaser. “We’ve got a great line-up and SundayOUT! is obviously a very great event every year and a lot of fun,” he said. SundayOUT! will close Equality Forum from noon-6 p.m. May 4 at The Piazza, North Second Street and Germantown Avenue. The event is $10, or $5 for students. The event, sponsored by Wired 96.5, will feature Philadelphia-based DJ KAsh, DJ Cassidy, Fuego Dance Company and Jamai Mosley. For more information on Equality Forum, visit www.equalityforum.com.
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