Two Female Couples Become First to Wed In Australia Under Marriage Equality

Same-sex couples began marrying in Australia on Saturday, a full three weeks sooner than the first marriages were expected to happen on Jan. 9 since the Australian people and Parliament voted in favor of marriage equality earlier this month. 

For months, pro and anti-marriage equality ads flooded Australia as the people there had until November to mail-in a non-binding ballot saying whether they were for or against marriage equality, which Parliament would use as a guide for the official vote. The votes were counted and by Nov. 14, it was clear that the Australian people chose love. By Dec. 7, Parliament voted in favor of equality and couples began registering to marry. The hitch was that there was a 30-day waiting period, which would have meant couples could marry only as soon as early January. 

But a pair of female couples, one from Sydney and one from Melbourne, sought exemptions that allowed them to wed early, according to The Telegraph

The lesbian couple from Sydney, Lauren Price and Amy Laker, wore white as they said “I do” at their wedding in Macarthur Park in Camden. The couple was allowed to wed before the 30-day waiting period was up because they had planned a civil ceremony and Price’s family had already booked the trip from their home in Wales, UK, according to Yahoo

Another couple, Amy and Elise McDonald, who had originally planned just a commitment ceremony, were allowed an exemption to skip the one-month waiting period and they married in Melbourne on Saturday, according to 7 News First. 

“You don’t choose who you fall in love with,” said Amy McDonald. “At the end of the day, Elise was the perfect person for me.”

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These Schools Get Millions Of Tax Dollars To Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students

LYNCHBURG, Va. ― Sunnie Kahle used to think that if she promised to be good, she could go back to her old school.

She’d plead with her great-grandmother to let her enroll again at Timberlake Christian Schools, where she had gone since she was 3 years old. Even if teachers were mean to her, even if other kids said bad things about her, she wouldn’t be mad. She just wanted her old life back.

Her great-grandmother and guardian, Doris Thompson, 74, didn’t know how to tell Sunnie she wasn’t allowed back at the school. Administrators didn’t want her there. In a 2014 letter to Thompson that essentially expelled Sunnie, the school referenced several passages from the Bible as to why they wouldn’t take her back. They suggested Sunnie wasn’t acting “Christlike” by wearing her hair short and preferring pants to skirts.

Sunnie was 8 years old. She wasn’t traditionally feminine enough for them.  

Timberlake Christian Schools in Virginia is one of over at least 700 religious schools in America currently receiving public money while openly advertising and practicing anti-LGBTQ policies, HuffPost has found in a new investigation.

HuffPost has been examining private schools that receive taxpayer dollars through voucher or tax credit programs. We created a database of more than 7,000 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia with private school choice programs that give public money to private religious schools. 

In the first story of this investigation, which we published earlier in December, we looked at what was being taught. We discovered thousands of schools that used evangelical Christian curricula, largely considered inaccurate and unscientific. In our second article, we singled out a handful of schools that purported to be secular but maintained strong ties to the Church of Scientology. For this story, we researched the number of schools in our database that practice discrimination toward LGBTQ students and staff members.

We visited every website of each school in search of evidence of their attitudes and policies on gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ students. If a school did not advertise a specific policy, we followed up via email or a call. For Catholic schools, we looked for diocese-wide policies on these issues. Often, these schools had policies against heterosexual sex before marriage, as well.

We found at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. Some of these schools have policies on their websites generally broadcasting their opposition to same-sex marriage or even stating their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality. Others have harsher policies ― specifically stating that students can face punishments, like expulsion, for displaying signs of a “homosexual lifestyle” or “alternate gender identity.” At least 5 percent of these schools also have explicit policies against hiring or retaining LGBTQ staff.

On the other hand, we also found many schools that have policies specifically protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

Many more of these schools belong to larger churches that preach anti-LGBTQ sentiment. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is “opposed to homosexual practices and relationships,” per the denomination’s website. The Roman Catholic Church says marriage can occur only between a man and woman. We did not assume that schools identifying with these groups were hostile places for LGBTQ students. In our count, we included only schools (or dioceses) that had a specific anti-LGBTQ policy. In that way, our numbers represent a bare minimum of schools where LGBTQ students may encounter hostility.

Religious schools are generally exempt from the types of regulations that would protect students and teachers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s only in recent years, though, that these schools have received an injection of taxpayer funds with the rise and expansion of state-level private school choice programs.

Since President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, have expressed the desire to use federal dollars to increase private school choice, it’s worth closely examining which students are served and which are not. 

After Sunnie was kicked out of Timberlake, her great-grandma transferred her to public school. Thompson, who is emphatic when she talks about Sunnie, in the way only proud grandmas do, has a tattoo on her wrist that says, “Family is forever.”

Sitting in her living room, the walls lined with photos of Sunnie, here in this city just a couple of hours from Richmond, the Virginia capital, Thompson explained how she came to be Sunnie’s guardian. It’s a complicated tale of mental illness and addiction, but since Sunnie was 2 months old, Thompson has been her protector.  

In February of 2014, when Sunnie was in the second grade, the school principal sent a letter home to Thompson saying that, although Sunnie was a “very bright girl,” she recommended that Sunnie not re-enroll the next year if she wasn’t able to “dress” and behave accordingly with her “God-ordained identity” as a female.

Thompson pulled her out of the school immediately.

“They pretty much ruined a little girl’s life,” said Thompson, who helps with her husband Carroll’s truck repair business.

Sunnie didn’t attend Timberlake using a publicly funded scholarship through Virginia’s tax credit program for low-income students. But the year she was kicked out, other students did. During the fiscal year of 2014, Timberlake received $104,121.57 in scholarships. That number has increased. For the fiscal year of 2017, the school received $237,500, per the Virginia Department of Education.

In Virginia, tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate to scholarship programs. These scholarship groups then help low-income students attend private schools. Voucher programs are more direct: Taxpayer funds help provide voucher scholarships for students who meet certain requirements to attend private schools.

A 2016 analysis of voucher program rules conducted by Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes found that not a single one had protections preventing discrimination for LGBTQ students. Eckes did not include tax credit programs in her research.

So HuffPost conducted a similar analysis including programs that were left out by Eckes. We found the same trend. Only one state’s program, Maryland’s, protected students from discrimination based on sexual orientation. While in our research we found a handful of Maryland schools that expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality, each stopped short of saying they would deny these students admission.

DeVos has been pressed before on if private schools receiving federal money under a possible voucher program would be required to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In June, testifying before a Senate subcommittee, DeVos said that such a program would have to follow federal law.

Indeed, in an email to HuffPost, a spokesperson for DeVos emphasized the fact that there is no federal voucher program and that, if there were, it “would have to comply with federal law.”

The problem is federal law is murky.

The Obama administration interpreted Title IX ― the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools ― to include protections for LGBTQ students. The Trump administration seems to think these decisions should be made at the local level.

“There’s no federal protections for LGBTQ students outside of Title IX,” said Nathan Smith, director for public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We still think it covers LGBTQ students, despite the fact that this administration doesn’t think so.”

Advocates of school choice emphasize that anti-LGBTQ bullying is a problem in all schools, not just private religious ones that participate in voucher programs. They preach the bigger cause of giving parents the ability to choose the most appropriate school for their child. Indeed, voucher programs are typically targeted to low-income families who normally wouldn’t be able to afford the private school of their choice.

“I abhor discrimination and I would hope that schools would not discriminate against LGBTQ students even if the issue is part of their statements of faith,” wrote Robert Enlow, CEO and president of EdChoice, an education reform group, in an email. “I also recognize, though, that we live in a pluralistic society that values choice, individual freedom and an abiding respect for all faiths. I trust parents to make the best choices for their kids based on their shared values and goals.”

But Thompson hopes leaders at Timberlake know that their interpretation of faith is one without merit. 

I feel sorry for them,” Thompson said, referring to administrators at Timberlake, “if they have to answer and stand before our God one day.”

The 74-year-old describes Sunnie as the great love of her life. Even after raising two kids and helping with three grandkids, Sunnie is her ultimate baby. The child has always been fiercely loyal and unfailingly independent, and she has a heart as sweet as apple pie, Thompson said, beaming with pride when asked about Sunnie’s personality.

But now, at 12, Sunnie is also angry and sad.

Life was never going to be easy for Sunnie. Sunnie’s mom had her as a teen. Sunny’s father has not been a consistent presence, Thompson said.

Sunnie’s story of being kicked out of Timberlake was largely covered in the media when it first happened in 2014. Headlines screamed outrage. Sunnie was another victim of homophobia, another viral story here today and gone tomorrow.

What wasn’t covered is what happened next. Sunnie didn’t want to leave Timberlake. From her point of view, it was a place where she was loved and accepted by her friends.

At her new public school, she was teased. The other students would call her “it” and “gay.” Sunnie made one friend ― he used to come over on weekends, and they would play games, Thompson recalled. Then, suddenly, the boy’s father stopped letting him come over. The father said Sunnie needed to “find out her gender” before they could hang out again.

Things didn’t get better. First, Sunnie faked being sick so often that truancy became a problem.

Sunnie didn’t talk to HuffPost for this article for reasons that HuffPost is not reporting to protect the privacy of a minor.

But Thompson wants Sunnie’s story to be heard.

“Being so young, she really doesn’t know how she feels. She doesn’t know what she wants to be. Or who she wants to be,” Thompson said as her eyes welled with tears, reliving the trauma Sunnie experienced. 

Sunnie still doesn’t talk about feelings she may or may not be having. She’s on the verge of puberty. But Thompson worries about what will happen next.

At the time that Sunnie was kicked out of school, lawyers for Timberlake Christian Schools told the media: “Parents and guardians send their children to the School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values.”

HuffPost reached out to the school and asked if they had anything further to add about Sunnie’s situation, years later. They said they did not.

The school’s anti-LGBTQ policy remains in place.

Punishable behaviors include, “but is not necessarily limited to, living in, condoning or supporting sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity; promoting such practices; or otherwise having the inability to support the moral principles of the school,” according to the school’s website.

Sunnie’s story is unusual because of how young she is. She had adult thoughts and projections pushed on her before she was even close to having them herself.

But a similar version of this story plays out around the country regularly.

In 2012, the same year 15,000 Indiana students used vouchers, Warren came out to his family and friends as transgender, he told HuffPost. At the end of his junior year, he informed the principal at his Catholic school that he would be returning as a boy for his senior year.

The bishop from the diocese overseeing Cathedral High School thought this was unacceptable. But instead of kicking Warren out, or telling him not to come back, administrators ignored the way he chose to identify, Warren said.

Teachers were told that if they called Warren by his chosen name, they would face reprisal. Those with whom Warren was close, who wanted to respect his new identity, were afraid to buck the diocese, he said. Some found workarounds by calling him by his last name or initials.

Warren was deeply involved in the school marching band as well as the school’s plays. During the marching band performances, they would announce the performers. Warren asked announcers to leave his name out, since he knew only his “dead name” would be announced. He asked not to be listed in the programs for the school plays.  

“I was pretty depressed a lot of the  time. I had horrible social anxiety,” said Warren, who’s withholding his last name because his college peers are not aware of his transition.

Even after Warren got his name changed legally that school year, the school refused to accept it. They sent off his high school transcripts to colleges with the wrong name, compelling Warren to explain the confusion to admissions offices, thereby being forced to out himself.

A representative of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said that it opens its doors to “all who are committed to a quality Catholic education, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economics, religion, learning differences, etc. Our admissions policies and practices at each local site conform to this approach.” The high school did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

The diocese does, however, have a policy against employing staff members in same-sex unions, a representative told HuffPost during data collection.

For Warren and Sunnie, other kids at their private schools were not the problem. They were supportive.

It was the adults.

Thompson only hopes the adults at Timberlake learn to treat children with kindness and empathy.

“God wants you to love everybody,” she said. “Especially his children. He loves his children.”

Thompson is attending regular counseling sessions to educate herself on how to be the best parent she can be to her great-granddaughter. 

Course, now I’m 74 years old, so I don’t know that I’m going to be around here 10 years, when she’ll be 22 years old. I hope to God that he will let me stay here until she is grown. But I hope that she will make something of herself. Be somebody, and be proud of who she is.” 

Data and graphics by Alissa Scheller.

If you have experienced discrimination in schools, email rebecca.klein@huffpost.com.

This is the third story in a HuffPost investigation on the policies and curriculum of schools that participate in private school choice programs. The first story, looking at the curriculum used in evangelical Christian schools, is here. The second story, dealing with schools with strong ties to Scientology, is here

Rotten Apples Database Tracks Sexual Predators in Your Favorite Films and Shows

Gone are the days of blissfully consuming content that may or may not be attached to serial predators since the launch of Rotten Apples, a database that allows users to search films and TV shows to discover if anyone in front of or behind the camera is a sexual harasser or abuser. 

So if there’s that one movie you still love despite the presence of say Kevin Spacey or Dustin Hoffman, or the Weinstein Company’s name in the producing credits, search for it on Rotten Apples and the site will tell you if the content you want to consume is either “fresh apples,” meaning no serial sexual predators are attached to it, or if it’s “rotten apples.” Those movies and TV shows that earn a “rotten apples” rating also provide the name(s) of the attached predators with a link to a story about their transgressions and crimes. If you’re a lover of classic cinema who still has a soft spot for Annie Hall, Chinatown, or any number of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Rotten Apples is there to remind you just which type of monster helped create the content. 

Since The New York Times published its expose that revealed Weinstein’s serial predation, there’s more of a push than ever to completely eschew projects with predators attached. And Rotten Apples is an invaluable tool to boycott the bad guys (and a few women) of TV and film, but it’s also sobering to come face to face with the fact that some of your faves are problematic. 

“The Rotten Apples is a searchable database that lets you know whether or not a film or television show is tied to a person who has been accused of sexual misconduct. In the case of this website, the ‘person’ is defined as a cast-member, screenwriter, executive producer or director,” Rotten Apples mission/about statement reads. “The goal of this site is to further drive awareness of just how pervasive sexual misconduct in film and television is and to help make ethical media consumption easier.” 

The statement goes on to clarify, “By no means is this site meant to serve as a condemnation of an entire project.”  And that’s where it gets interesting. For instance, search Carol, out director Todd Haynes’s Cate Blanchett-Rooney Mara lesbian-themed masterpiece with a screenplay from lesbian screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, which also stars beloved out actress Sarah Paulson, and the “rotten apples” rating comes up over a famous still from the film. The film is cherished for its artistry and its queer representation on and off screen, yet it’s not easy to look away from the names Harvey and Bob Weinstein (the serial sexual abusers who executive-produced the film) and all that they represent.

 

Despite Rotten Apples‘ eye-opening mission that holds a mirror up to what consumers of content are willing to support, the site is a bit of marvel for its thoroughness, assuming it was created post-Weinstein. Search something recent like Manchester by the Sea and it comes up “rotten” for Casey Affleck’s participation in it. Or toss it back 60 years and search Rear Window and that classic turns up a “rotten apples” rating for Hitchcock having terrorized several of his lead actresses, particularly Tippi Hedren on The Birds and Marnie.

But it’s not just film. The TV section is already rather comprehensive. Searches for Transparent and House of Cards turn up “rotten apples” scores for their predatory lead actors, while a show like the CW’s Arrow gets a rotten rating for producer Andrew Kreisberg’s history of harassment. 

While it seems like an exercise in becoming increasingly disgusted to continue to search content with harassers attached to it, there is a bright side. Searches for new and old popular content like Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, The L Word, Orange Is the New Black, Big Little Lies, Stranger Things, and so on yield a bright green “fresh apples” rating with a line that reads, “This TV show has no known affiliation to anyone with allegations of sexual misconduct against them. If you believe this is an error, please let us know by clicking here and we’ll fix it as soon as possible.” 

For all of the correct results the site yields, there are swaths of content that have yet to be fleshed out for good or bad, particularly in foreign cinema. The site fails to recognize famous foreign films by the greats like Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut and even the early work of Pedro Almodovar, to name a few. 

The site does allow that there’s room for error and correction with some of its results. For instance, search any Mel Gibson project and it comes up with a “fresh apples” rating, which is debatable since he’s well known to be a racist, anti-Semitic misogynist who threatened to kill and rape his wife. For the record, his name has now been submitted for review on several of his films. 

Consumers of content often develop blind spots when it comes to their favorite movies, actors, and shows, but like it or not, Rotten Apples makes it all painfully clear. 

New 'Yass' Community Center Linked to Peter Thiel Money

A new LGBT community workspace called Yass debuts next year in San Francisco — if it can survive the backlash of having Peter Thiel as a backer.

Thiel is Silicon Valley’s best known Donald Trump supporter, and Yass would become a members-only community gathering place that costs up to $300 per month in dues. Its website calls it “A headquarters & hangout for today’s generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” How much you pay to join (what seems a lot like an LGBT center, which are usually free) depends on your industry.

The Guardian reported Thursday that Thiel’s venture capital firm is its only backer. There’s no word on how much Thiel’s firm has put behind the center; he reportedly gave $1.25 million to the Trump campaign. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thiel’s association isn’t clear cut: “The investment in Yass, though it came from a Thiel-backed firm, was actually made by Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who told Wired in 2016 that she identifies as both a man and a woman and calls herself genderqueer. Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, the Presidio-based venture capital firm Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.”

Still, even that much of a link comes with consequences. The Huffington Post reports that some on Twitter are pledging never to join. 

Thiel’s connection to the LGBT community is tentative. He famously sued Gawker into oblivion in retribution for outing him. He did it by secretly backing a number of unrelated lawsuits, with the Hulk Hogan case breaking the company.

After historian Jim Downs wrote a guest op-ed for The Advocate calling out Thiel for backing Trump, Thiel lashed out at all LGBT people, saying their “intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a ‘gay innovator,’ even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, ‘not a gay man,’ because I don’t agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of ‘diversity’ could not be made more clear: If you don’t conform, then you don’t count as ‘diverse,’ no matter what your personal background.”

Downs had written that, “By the logic of gay liberation, Thiel is an example of a man who has sex with other men, but not a gay man. Because he does not embrace the struggle of people to embrace their distinctive identity.”

Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and proudly declared he’s gay, helping to drive home the notion that Trump would be a good choice for LGBT people. Trump went on as president to try banning transgender people from the military while rolling back inclusive guidelines for trans students. His Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, issued a “religious freedom” order that lets federal agencies and contractors turn away LGBT people without repercussions. Activists call it a “license to discriminate.” Most recently, Trump’s spokesperson said he believes religious freedom means businesses can post “No Gays Allowed” signs.

Having Thiel’s support these days isn’t what it once was. In November, Silicon Valley learned that famed incubator Y Combinator was no longer affiliated with Thiel. That’s according to a news release from 2015 when the company had announced it was welcoming Thiel. It’s now been revised.

Whether Yass can recover from the Thiel affiliation, it will still have to contend with criticism that its name further appropriates ball culture, and that its location is another example of the worst kinds of gentrification. Read more at about those issue from SFGate.com.

Jeffrey Tambor Must Step Down From 'Transparent'

Jeffrey Tambor may not be leaving Transparent after all.

The actor previously said “I don’t see how I can return” to the acclaimed Amazon series, after facing three accusations of sexual misconduct. Two accusers are transgender women from the Transparent universe: his former personal assistant Van Barnes and actress Trace Lysette.

His statement, which condemned the accusations against him as part of “the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set,” was interpreted as a declaration of resignation.

However, a representative told The New York Times in a Wednesday article that Tambor actually had no plans to quit at present, leaving the show’s fifth season in limbo.

The accusations rattled the team of Transparent, which helped bring trans issues to the mainstream and employed trans talent both on and off screen. “It was devastating,” former producer Micah Fitzerman-Blue told the Times.

And the news that Tambor might stay on the production has angered and unsettled trans activists.

Dawn Ennis, The Advocate‘s former news editor and a blogger at LifeAfterDawn.com, has used her platform in the past to defend the cisgender actor and his casting as the transgender matriarch Maura — a divisive decision criticized by many as “transface” from the onset.

“I feel duped and betrayed,” said Ennis, who declared, “I can’t fathom how I can watch another episode of Transparent ever again.” The show is now “tainted by Tambor” if he stays, she said.

“I believe his refusal to step aside reveals his utter hubris, cis male privilege, and his complete ignorance of the perils we women actually face,” Ennis said. “There is no award for acting like you really care, when all you’ve done is prove you’re no better than any other cis het dude who lets his dick do all his thinking. I had expected better.”

Ashlee Marie Preston said she was “sickened but not surprised” by the allegations against Tambor. “Sexual abuse and violence at the hands of those we trust, even in the workplace, is part of our narrative,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened off script, out of role, and in a designated safe space meant to empower trans people.”

The trans writer and media personality, who hosts the Shook podcast, called on Transparent to make Tambor leave, if he refuses to do so volunterarily. Otherwise, the production would be complicit in any wrongdoing.

“Jeffrey Tambor had a lucky run, but it’s time for him to go,” Preston said. “The fact that he became the expert on our vulnerabilities through his role and consciously exploited them for his own pleasure makes Jeffrey a predator.”

“Refusing to leave the show is an act of intimidation and subjects those victimized to further violence,” she stated. “Anyone with the authority to remove him that doesn’t is an accessory, and they are actively promoting rape culture.”

In addition to a compromised work environment, Preston warns about the message Tambor’s staying would broadcast to viewers, which would run counter to the show’s spirit.

“It sends the message that trans women aren’t worth protecting,” said Preston. “It breaks the promise to all 24+ trans people who’ve lost their lives [this year]  that as a society we will do better.” She also believes that if Lysette and Barnes were cisgender, “the consequences would be heavier.”

In contrast, Tambor’s removal would proclaim that trans “lives matter, that we are believed, and that we are worthy of the dignity and respect the show claims to strive for through its storyline.”

Canada to Give $110 Million to 'Gay Purge' Victims

Justin Trudeau has apologized for decades of persecution against gay and bisexual Canadians.

The Canadian prime minister, speaking at the House of Commons in Ottawa Tuesday, atoned for “Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization, and violence” caused by a discriminatory government program, reports The New York Times.

Over the span of more than 30 years, tens of thousands serving in the military, public service, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were fired, prosecuted, or imprisoned due to their sexual orientation.

The policy of targeting gays and lesbians began in the 1950s, as a means of identifying those who might be susceptible to blackmail by the Soviet Union. It lasted until 1992 and ruined many lives.

In addition to destroying livelihoods, some of the female “gay purge” victims claim to have been raped, under the belief it would turn them straight. Others were believed to have committed suicide as a response to the policy.

“It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong,” Trudeau said at the House of Commons. “It is my hope that in talking about these injustices, vowing to never repeat them, and acting to right these wrongs, we can begin to heal,” he added.

The Canadian government has allotted a total of 110 million Canadian dollars, or 85 million U.S. dollars, toward compensating the victims of the “gay purge.” Those who suffered mental or physical harm may claim an additional 150,000 Canadian dollars.

Moreover, 15 million Canadian dollars will be used to honor the dead in the form of memorials, as well as education about LGBT history and persecution. A national monument to the victims is to be constructed in the Canadian capital.

LGBT activists praised Canada’s response to the crimes of its past, which is unprecedented in world history. R. Douglas Elliott, the head legal representative of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called it “something we can be extremely proud of in Canada.”

“At a time when America is going backward and trying to reintroduce discrimination, we are moving forward and facing this historic injustice, making reparations to the victims and an unshakable commitment that this discrimination will never be repeated,” he said.

Conservatives Try to Sneak 'Religious Freedom' Into Australia's Marriage Bill

Australia is expecting a sizable “yes” majority to the question of legalizing same-sex marriage, according to recent polls.

However, this vote is nonbinding, which means it is up to the country’s Parliament to pass legislation. And versions of this marriage equaity bill include so-called religious freedom exemptions that attack LGBT rights, reports Al Jazeera.

Sen. Dean Smith, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (which is actually conservative), drafted a bill with bipartisan support that would give religious officials the power to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

An even more draconian bill written Monday by Sen. James Paterson would give a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people to businesses, teachers, parents, and nonprofits. If passed, this law would, for example, allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, or students to “opt out of classes that conflict with their values,” said Paterson.

“If it is wrong to force a priest to participate in a same-sex wedding against their beliefs, it should be wrong to force a florist or a photographer too,” Paterson told The Australian.

This legislation echoes fears voiced by the “no” campaign in Australia, which promoted myths that same-sex marriage would lead to “compulsory” gay sex education courses as well as cross-dressing kids.

Paterson’s version was denounced by the opposition Labor Party. “Are we really saying, in Australia today, that you can refuse to serve someone because they’re gay? You can refuse to bake them a cake or drive them in your car? Honestly, that is a bridge too far,” said Tanya Plibersek, the party’s deputy leader.

LGBT activists also said this bill runs counter to the will of the Australian people casting a vote for equality, not a “license to discriminate.”

“Australians are voting to make our country a fairer and more equal place, not to take us back to a time where people can be denied service at a shop,” said  Anna Brown, cochair of the Equality Campaign.

Hate Crimes Rose About 5 Percent In 2016, FBI Report Says

Hate crimes across the U.S. rose nearly 5 percent in 2016, according to the FBI’s annual tally, marking the first time in over 10 years that the country has experienced consecutive annual increases in crimes motivated by bias against race, religion, sexuality, national origin or disability. 

The FBI’s annual hate crimes report, published Monday, counted 6,121 hate crime incidents in America last year, up from 5,850 such incidents in 2015, a rise of 4.6 percent. 

About 58 percent of the hate crimes in 2016 were motivated by racial bias, with more than half of the race-based incidents targeting black Americans, the report said. Hate crimes targeting Latinos rose 15 percent, and hate crimes targeting Arabs and whites rose 38 percent and 17 percent respectively. 

Twenty-one percent of the hate crimes the FBI counted last year were motivated by religious bias. Of those religious-based incidents, 54 percent were anti-Jewish and 25 percent were anti-Muslim. 

There was a 3 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents, and a nearly 20 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents. (Last year, the number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67 percent, increasing to levels not seen since the period directly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.)  

Nearly 18 percent of the hate crimes last year were motivated by sexual-orientation bias, 62 percent of those targeting gay men. The FBI also counted 105 anti-transgender incidents last year, a rise of 44 percent. 

The much-anticipated FBI report is the most comprehensive hate crime data available for the divisive 2016 election year, and backs up earlier evidence of rising hate in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented a wave of hate incidents in the months following the November 2016 election. 

“We now have an unbroken streak of presidential election year increases [in hate crimes] going back to 1992, around the time national data collection commenced,” said Brian Levin, a professor at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

But what makes 2016 stand out, Levin previously told HuffPost, is the steep rise in hate crimes around Election Day itself. Los Angeles, for example, saw a 29 percent increase in hate crimes in the last quarter of 2016, and New York City saw a five-fold increase in hate crimes over a two-week period around the election. 

Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost that “we cannot see such data and forget the humans whose lives were changed by an act of hate.” 

“Americans have to act to ensure that these hate crimes numbers go down by standing up to fear mongers,” he said.  

“It’s deeply disturbing to see hate crimes increase for the second year in a row,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. They not only hurt one victim, but they also intimidate and isolate a victim’s whole community and weaken the bonds of our society.”

About 29 percent of hate crimes last year, according to the FBI, were acts of intimidation; 26 percent were acts of destruction, property damage or vandalism; 23 percent were simple assaults; and 12 percent were aggravated assaults. The FBI counted 4 murders in 2016 that it considered to be hate crimes. 

The FBI’s annual hate crime statistics, while the best measurement of hate in America, are deeply flawed. That’s because the FBI relies on local and state police departments to voluntarily report their hate crime numbers to the FBI, which over 3,000 law enforcement agencies don’t bother to do on a yearly basis. 

In 2015, of the agencies that did report hate crimes to the FBI, 88 percent reported zero. Moreover, federal law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration often fail to send their own hate crime statistics to the FBI, even though they are required to do so by law. 

A national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of hate crime victims don’t report incidents to authorities at all. There were a staggering 250,000 hate crimes each year in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015, according to the survey. 

“FBI data showing 6,121 total hate crime incidents and 7 anti-Sikh hate crime incidents in 2016 represents the tip of the iceberg,” said Sim Singh, the Sikh Coalition’s national advocacy manager. “The only way to bridge the data gap is for law enforcement agencies to adopt mandatory hate crime reporting.”

“If law enforcement agencies fail to document the true extent of hate crimes against our communities, our nation will have a hard time mobilizing the political will and resources necessary to prevent and combat the problem,” Singh said. 

In a statement Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that “no person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, of how they worship.” 

He stated that the Justice Department’s Hate Crimes Subcommittee will continue to “explore ways to expand and improve training for federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators; improve data collection of hate crimes; and to create even better partnerships with local law enforcement and affected communities.” 

Meanwhile, the hate crime numbers for 2017 aren’t looking great. Levin, the UC San Bernardino professor, conducted an analysis in September that found that 827 hate crimes had occurred so far this year in 13 large cities, a rise of nearly 20 percent compared to the same period in 2016 for those locations.

Of those crimes, 526 happened in America’s six largest cities, amounting to a 22 percent rise, Levin said.

Romanticizing the Confederacy Is Sick and Wrong

The recent remark by White House chief of staff John Kelly (pictured) on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show reopened a divide so deep in this country that I am reminded of American novelist William Faulkner’s quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Kelly, sounding like a die-hard Lost Cause apologist with a reconciliationist spin, told the conservative media television host that he viewed Confederate general Robert E. Lee as  “an honorable man” and that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”  

To the surprise of many, myself included, Kelly’s remark eerily echoed Trump’s repugnant “blame on both sides” comment about the Charlottesville mayhem that took place this summer. The false equivalence of Trump’s remark blaming “many sides” rendered the perpetrators as victims, too. And, by condemning counterprotesters similarly as he did white supremacists and swastika-wielding neo-Nazis at the rally, Trump suggests both groups are at fault, and one is equally in the wrong as the other. 

Kelly’s remark, however, is a false equivalence, too. And, in the most odious way because it minimizes the moral turpitude of the Confederacy’s dogged and “by any means necessary” way for the continuation of chattel slavery as a central pillar to their Southern way of life.

The moral relativism of Kelly’s statement suggests there’s no absolute truth, only the truths that a particular individual or culture upholds. But Kelly is wrong.
Slavery is America’s original sin; many of our venerated founding fathers were wealthy slaveholders. Slavery was a brutal history of deliberately debasing and dehumanizing black people, and it was ruthlessly done by means human trafficking, sexual exploration, medical experimentation all at the expense of maintaining white supremacy. And it’s a history this country at best has not taken seriously and at worse isn’t accurately known.  

For example, in commemorating the start of Black History Month this year, President Trump hosted a “listening session” at the White House that left listeners scratching their heads wondering if he knew Frederick Douglass, a former slave, and abolitionist, died in 1895, and 2018 will be the bicentennial of his birth. 
Expecting then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer to clarify what Trump meant regarding his comment on Douglass, Spicer, however, made it clear he, too, didn’t quite know if Douglass is dead.

“I think he  [Trump] wants to highlight the contributions he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements he’s going to make, I think that the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

Kelly’s comment is straight-out of the Lost Cause Civil War propaganda machine. The Lost Cause movement immediately following the end of Civil War romanticizes the South’s loss, depicting its fallen Confederate soldiers as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry and honor, slavery as a benevolent form of charity and government handout, and the secession as a necessary evil in response to the North’s economic aggression to demolish its primary means of revenue-enslaved Africans. This image has been cinematically promulgated in blockbuster hits like Birth of a Nation (1916), Gone With the Wind (1939), and Cold Mountain (2003), to name a few. 

Also, Kelly is incorrect in stating that a lack of compromise resulted in the Civil War. As a matter of fact, the many concessions made had to do with enslaved Africans.   For examples, the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise declared my ancestors three-fifths of a person in Southern states in order to determine the total population of residents in for legislative and tax purposes. The 1820 Missouri Compromise maintained the balance between slave and free states whereby Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri as a slave state; and, slavery prohibited in the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36-30 parallel. In 1863, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a compromise, too. Whereas the document ceased the expansion of slavery but it didn’t free all slaves; rather, it imposed limits to its expansion stating there was “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists.”

If Kelly knew his Civil War history, he would know that Robert E. Lee was not a supporter of the Lost Cause mythology. When the war ended Lee refused to be buried in his Confederate uniform and asked followers to put their flags away because displaying them as a form of defiance would be an act of treason. Similarly, Robert E. Lee, V, the great-great-grandson, made a similar request about the statues. “If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today,” he told the Washington Post in August.

White Americans must take ownership of their history to not only help along my healing from the wounds of Civil War, but theirs, too. 

REVEREND IRENE MONROE does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!”, on Boston Public Radio and is a weekly Friday TV commentator on New England Channel NEWS. She’s a theologian and religion columnist. 

Citing 'Sexual Misconduct,' USC Students Want Bryan Singer's Name Off Cinema Program

A petition to remove out director Bryan Singer’s name from the Cinema Media Studies department at the University of Southern California due to unspecified “sexual misconduct” has garnered nearly 1,700 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Singer — the director and producer of films like X-Men, The Usual Suspects, and Valkyrie — is an alumnus of the USC film school and donated $5 million to the institution — the same sum that the university rejected from Harvey Weinstein last month.

The Bryan Singer Division of Cinema & Media Studies “provides the kind of in-depth knowledge of media and entertainment that serves the media makers and scholars of tomorrow,” according to its USC website.

“Despite Singer’s philanthropic work for SCA, having his name attached to a division of the School of Cinematic Arts gives the impression that we, both as an institution and as members of the entertainment industry, value his financial contributions over the safety, respect and future of students,” the petition reads. “By continuing to associate Mr. Singer’s name with our university, USC is openly supporting a man who has been publicly accused of reprehensible sexual misconduct.”

Meanwhile, actress Jessica Chastain tweeted about Singer on Friday, writing that the public should “not forget” about allegations against him. Chastain also retweeted coverage of the USC petition.

Bartow Weiss, a senior at USC, is one of the six students who launched the campaign to remove Singer’s name from the department.

“Bryan Singer has been accused of sexual assault at least four times since 1997 by actors whom he has held a position of power over,” Weiss told The Advocate. “He has been accused of sexual assault of minors. That’s plural.” 

Singer was named as a defendant in a 1997 lawsuit that, among other things, alleged the director coerced minors to film scenes in the nude on the set of Singer’s movie Apt Pupil. The main accuser was Devin St. Albin, an extra who was 14 at the time. The Los Angeles County district attorney didn’t press charges, and civil suits against Singer were tossed out.

Singer was sued in 2014 by Michael Egan, who alleged that the director raped him as a teen in 1999. Egan later withdrew the claims and his attorneys apologized to Singer and other men Egan accused of misconduct. 

“It’s true that he hasn’t been formally convicted, but the consistency and frequency of these accusations give the story a considerable amount of ground,” Weiss said. 

Singer’s representatives didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.