Tagged: Wisconsin

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) Comes Out for Marriage Equality

ron_kindA little birth state pride: Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, whose district covers the lower two-thirds of western Wisconsin, announced his support for marriage equality yesterday in a message posted to his Facebook page. It reads:

My 18-year marriage to Tawni has taught me that we’re both stronger because we love and support each other. I support marriage equality because if two people want to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for one another, then the government shouldn’t stand in the way. Continue reading

Northern WI Applebee’s Refuses to Fire Worker Who Drove Husband to Vicious Anti-Gay Assault

timothy_pharesFrom the Wisconsin Gazette:

A gay employee of Applebee’s in Rice Lake was brutally bashed by the husband of a co-worker, then told by the restaurant’s manager he could not return to his job due to publicity surrounding the incident, he said.

Timothy Phares subsequently did return to his job as a server after Greg Flynn, CEO of Apple American Group franchise, intervened on his behalf.

According to Phares and his sister Krista Kathrine, they were getting out of his car in the parking lot of a Perkins restaurant at about 6 a.m. on March 17 when Rien Hendricks and his wife Shannon Hendricks pulled up behind them in an SUV.

“(Hendricks) was getting out of his vehicle, and he said, ‘Fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you,’” Phares said.

At that point Phares said Hendricks struck him in the head with great force using a 2 x 4 piece of lumber. In a written statement, Krista Kathrine said she heard her brother’s head smack the pavement, but Tim Phares lost consciousness and doesn’t remember anything else before waking up in the hospital.

Phares suffered head and facial abrasions as well as multiple facial fractures that will ultimately require surgery to implant metal plates, he said.

rien_hendricksPhares had given his two-week notice after Applebee’s management failed to intervene on his behalf when a table full of customers hurled anti-gay slurs at him; he later reversed his decision. The attack by co-worker Shannon Hendricks’s husband  (left) took place just days later.

Restaurant manager Tara Steinberg has refused to fire Hendricks despite her role in the attack (she drove husband Rien to the scene of the attack, heard him threaten to kill Phares, and watched Rien brutally assault him). Phares says he doesn’t expect he’ll stay at Applebee’s for much longer because he feels unsafe at work.

Scott Walker Dodges Marriage Equality Question

scott_walker_meetthepressIn an interview yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker demurred and deflected when host David Gregory asked him about Sen. Rob Portman’s historic endorsement of marriage equality and whether Walker believed it was indicative of a sea change in opinions on the issue within the Republican Party.

Instead of simply answering the question, Walker ducked and dodged, noting that Wisconsin passed a marriage discrimination amendment (not “years ago” as he claimed, but in 2006). He also disingenuously implied that Wisconsinites don’t really want to focus on the freedom-to-marry issue, then changed the subject entirely.

What a coward. And as far as his ridiculous claim that Wisconsinites are somehow uncaring and apathetic about marriage equality goes, there are committed LGBT students, allies, parents, activists, and organizations across the state that would beg to differ.

Let’s hope equality-minded residents of the Badger State let Walker know how wrong he is. Click here to contact him via his office website, here for Facebook, and here for Twitter.

h/t: Sunnivie Brydum at the Advocate

h/t: Sunnivie Brydum at the Advocate.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dan Savage, UW Drag Show Sells Out

Here’s your heartwarming story for the day: remember my post yesterday about Julaine Appling, the “pro-family” homophobe from the Badger State who’s raising a stink about an upcoming drag show at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley?

At the time I published the post, only about half the tickets to the show had been sold. I decided to buy a few tickets and donate them to the UW-Fox Valley Gay-Straight Alliance as a way to show support, and closed my post by asking if anyone else felt like joining me.

dan_savage_headshotNow here’s where it gets freaking awesome: after publishing the piece I posted it to Facebook and Twitter as usual, but this particular tweet happened to catch the attention of a certain amazing author, media personality, and advice columnist named Dan Savage. Not only did Dan retweet the story to his 140,000+ Twitter followers, he also said that he wanted to help UW-Fox Valley sell out the show.

To make a long story short, after talking with Dan and getting him in touch with the UW-Fox Valley box office, he decided to buy all the remaining tickets and donate them to the school to distribute free of charge to students and community members!

Amazing, right? I’m incredibly touched that a tireless national LGBT advocate like Dan would team up with a blogger in Vermont to help make a university drag show in northeastern Wisconsin a success. What a great gift to the entire Fox Valley community! And as a bonus, it’s also great way to stick it to Ms. Appling and the puritans over at Wisconsin Family Action.

Thanks, Dan. A free drag show and a one-finger salute for the haters? Sounds like a win-win to me.

UW Drag Show Makes Confirmed Bachelorette Very Upset

julaine_applingJulaine Appling, Wisconsin’s most outspoken anti-gay bigot and the president of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-LGBT, anti-choice, pro-”intelligent design” GOP front group, is very, veeeery upset about a drag show that’s coming to the Univeersity of Wisconsin-Fox Valley this Thursday.

In a breathless ACTION ALERT (!!) posted on the group’s website, readers are warned about a shocking “‘drag show’” (yes, scare quotes and all) featuring as its “‘main attraction’” (again, scare quotes are theirs, not mine) an appearance by “self-proclaimed male homosexual transvestite ‘Shangela’ from a lewd reality television show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race‘ in which homosexual male drag performers compete for prizes.”

Be very afraid. It continues: “The tickets are cheap ($3), and so, it appears, is the propaganda, display of immorality, and overall message to the Fox Valley community.” (Seriously?!? Who wrote this, Anita Bryant?)

Then Appling sanctimoniously scolds:

Our University of Wisconsin System is placing the stamp of approval on homosexual propaganda and explicitly immoral content with an upcoming “drag show” event that sends the wrong message to our next generation of leaders, parents, and families. Taxpayers should beware, and quickly take action to defend our shared values.  The Badger State’s standards for it’s families are much higher than this shameful display of sexual immorality on our campuses and in our local communities.

uwfox_dragshowThe release also includes contact information for the UW-Fox Valley Dean’s Office, presumably to encourage WFA supporters to flood the switchboard with outraged calls, and an UPDATE about a similar show (gasp!) that was presented at another UW school in January. It’s actually rather hilarious that WFA is just now catching wind of drag shows being held at UW campuses — at some campuses, they’re incredibly popular annual events.

At least one controversy-hungry local news affiliate, apparently hard-pressed for actual, umm, news, picked up the non-story. Reporter Chad Doran of WLUK-Fox 11, Green Bay’s self-proclaimed “balanced news” source, interviewed Appling and a poor, hapless UW-Fox Valley student who claimed drag shows are “contrary to her religion” and said she “would feel uncomfortable seeing it.” (Note to student: If you don’t want to see the drag show, don’t attend the drag show.)

There’s more than a little irony in Julaine Appling’s opposition to LGBT culture, LGBT people in general, and LGBT equality. To be sure, she’s a wretchedly spiteful person who, for all intents and purposes, represents the public face of homophobia in the state of Wisconsin. Appling is the architect of Wisconsin’s voter-approved 2006 constitutional marriage discrimination amendment. Her group even sued unsuccessfully to block the implementation of Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry, which provides a very limited set of basic protections to same-sex couples in that state.

diane_westphallBut for all her vitriol, Appling is also arguably the state’s leading (ahem) confirmed bachelorette — one whose living situation makes her eligible for a domestic partnership herself. Ms. Appling is over sixty years old and has never been married, but she doesn’t live alone. No, Julaine owns a house in south-central Wisconsin with a woman named Diane Westphall (left), another never-married woman who works with Appling at WFA and has been her companion for decades. No one knows the precise nature of their relationship and Appling claims she’s straight, but it’s an unconventional arrangement at the very least. The Wisconsin Gazette reports that when Westphall’s father died in 2007, Appling was listed as a survivor in his obituary, despite the fact that she’s not a legally-recognized member of that family. (How did they refer to her, I wonder? Diane’s “special friend?”)

It’s always the ones who are most outspoken that are the biggest hypocrites, amirite?

UPDATE: as noted in the Fox 11 article, approximately half of the tickets to the drag show have been sold so far. I think I’m going to see if I can purchase a few tickets and donate them to the UW-Fox Valley Gay-Straight Alliance as a way to show support and perhaps enable someone who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see the show to attend. General admission tickets are only $3 in advance, and VIP tickets are $12.

Anyone else want to join me?

Rural Wisconsin Man Makes Obama Sign With Noose, Claims It’s Not Racist

No, you’re not reading the Onion. Green Bay FOX affiliate WLUK-TV reports on a homemade sign in little Redgranite, Wisconsin (population 2,149):

The new attraction in Redgranite? A controversial sign.

It reads: “Hang in there Obama,” next to a picture of a noose.

“A lot of people find it offensive,” said Rachel Kern, who lives across the street. “It’s definitely a very big eye catch to people driving past.”

From further away, you can really only read the larger print that says “HANG OBAMA” in bold, red letters. You can see the outline of the noose. But if you get up close, you can see the smaller print that says, “in there.” And this message has some people confused.

“I’m not really sure if it’s supposed to be for Obama or against him. Because if you actually read it, it’s like, ‘keep up the fight.’ But with the noose, it doesn’t exactly say, ‘keep up the fight,’ at the same time,” said Kern.

“That got your attention. It got you to look at the sign,” said Thomas Savka, who made the sign.

I’ll say. but despite the presence of, oh I don’t know, a freaking noose, Savka wants you to know that he’s not, not, not racist. In fact, he actually likes the President! (“See? I wrote ‘I love Obama’ on it! That means I’m not racist, right?’”)

He claims he’s actually pro-Obama. He says he even put that in small print in the corner of the sign.

“It’s my attitude for it. Everybody’s picking on Obama. It’s the attitude of ‘hang in there, buddy!’ It isn’t over ‘til you’re done kicking,” said Savka.

Dude. You drew a noose. Who do you think you’re fooling?

During the months-long fury over Governor Scott Walker‘s aggressive union-stripping, education-cutting, teacher-scapegoating agenda, some progressives referred to the state using nicknames like “Wiscissippi.” Given Wisconsin’s recent forays into ugly, racial politics, I’m starting to worry that their words may prove to be eerily prophetic.

Photos of Savka’s sign and video from the WLUK-TV report are below.



Obama sign causes stir in Redgranite

Meet My (Pro-Equality) Parents, Lyle and Michele Becker

(Photo by Lukas Keapproth for the Green Bay Press-Gazette)
(Photo by Lukas Keapproth for the Green Bay Press-Gazette)

For my first post of the day, I’m going to do a little shameless bragging.

Longtime readers know that I have a soft spot in my heart for pro-equality parents of LGBT children. I often call them “equality moms,” since I know far more women than men who fit this description, but I suppose I really should find a more inclusive term. But whatever one calls them, hell hath no fury like a parent fighting for their LGBT child. In my experience, equality parents are often able to reach out even to hardened homophobes who wouldn’t be receptive to a pro-equality message from one of us LGBT folk. After all, who (other than a sociopath) can’t relate, at least on some level, to the love of a parent for their child? And when parents choose to affirm and embrace their LGBT children and trust the truth of their child’s identity, they may also quite literally be saving the child’s life: a 2009 study by San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics that found that LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 3 times more likely to use drugs, 6 times more vulnerable to severe depression, and 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their peers.

And now, for the shameless bragging: yesterday my hometown newspaper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, ran a front-page story about the Adult Gay-Straight Alliance of Green Bay (A-GSA) — a group for parents of LGBT children that my parents, Lyle and Michele Becker, were instrumental in founding — that used their own personal journeys to full acceptance as the springboard from which to tell the story.

When I first came out to my parents in 2003, they weren’t exactly ready to fly a rainbow flag or march in a Pride parade:

“You think to yourself, ‘Should I tell anybody at work? What will they say?’” recalled Becker, 54, whose son John, the eldest of four boys, told Becker and her husband Lyle that he was gay earlier that summer after he graduated Green Bay East High School. He was 18.

After finding out, Becker cried and prayed — a lot. She later came to believe her son was born gay.

She said parents in her situation often fear what others will think if they have a child who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“Parents are struggling with their own coming out as a parent of an LGBT child,” she said.

j_m_parents_helengAfter my parents began telling people they had a gay son, other parents started to approach them and tell them, often in a whisper, that they, too, had an LGBT child, and while they weren’t sure how to react to the news, they just couldn’t believe the anti-LGBT teachings of their churches. Along with just a few other like-minded parents, they formed the A-GSA to give struggling parents a place to gather, offer each other support, and meet others who are further along on the journey towards full love and affirmation of their children. The A-GSA is small — it has about 10 members, not including those who aren’t quite ready to self-identify as the parent of an LGBT child — but it’s a dedicated group. It meets monthly, works hard to reach out to local parents (it even had a booth at this year’s Northeastern Wisconsin Pride Alive!), and consistently strives through outreach and advocacy to make Green Bay’s public spaces, schools, churches, and culture more accepting of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. To Michele and Lyle, the group’s supportive presence in the Green Bay LGBT community is critically important because, as Michele says, “If a person can eventually grow into full love with no judgment, that is such a free and affirming feeling not only for [that person], but also [their LGBT] child.”

The article contrasts my parents’ LGBT-inclusive worldview and religious beliefs with the anti-gay stance of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, which in 2010 started its own LGBT-related “ministries:” Courage – which uses a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, to encourage Catholics struggling with so-called “same-sex attraction” to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives — and Encourage, a program for parents that paradoxically claims to foster love between them and their LGBT children while upholding the Catholic church’s official teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.”

john_doerflerFr. John Doerfler, the spiritual director of the Green Bay Encourage chapter and chancellor of the Green Bay Diocese, gave Press-Gazette reporter Charles Davis a perfect example of the Catholic church’s frustrating doublespeak on LGBT issues:

“There’s a great misunderstanding that there’s no place for persons with same-sex attractions in the church, and nothing could be further from the truth…”

Roman Catholic teachings assert that homosexual behavior is immoral, though Catholics are taught to treat everyone with love and dignity, Doerfler said. The Encourage group meets monthly and serves as a way for parents with LGBT children to know they are not alone, he added.

“Sometimes parents will blame themselves and it’s not their fault,” he said. . .

Doerfler. . . said gays and lesbians should strive to live a chaste life, which includes either abstinence or marriage, a union he defined as between a man and a woman.

(Translation: of course you can be gay and Catholic! You just have to suppress your sexual orientation or cover it up by marrying a member of the opposite sex.)

To Davis’s credit, he didn’t allow Doerfler’s anti-gay distortions to go unchallenged; instead, he interviewed a local mental health professional, who correctly said that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation “[lack] scientific merit and could be unhealthy.” In fact, Davis’s reporting was refreshingly free of overt false equivalencies between LGBT-affirming support groups like the A-GSA and anti-gay “support groups” like Courage and Encourage. The only error he made was in incorrectly characterizing my parents’ pro-LGBT activism as support for my “lifestyle” as opposed to my orientation and my community.

In addition to this front-page article in Wisconsin, my parents’ story so inspired LGBT activists here in Burlington, Vermont that they were included in an exhibition by local liturgical artist Judith McManis titled “Prophetic Vision, Courageous Lives: LGBT Saints, Heroes & Martyrs.” The exhibition, which was displayed this summer, featured photographs of LGBT people and straight allies throughout history — some well-known, others relatively little-known — accompanied by short stories about their lives. The image McManis created featuring my parents’ story is below (click the image in order to enlarge it).

Parent-Heroes_Michele&Lyle Becker

As I said to the Press-Gazette, I couldn’t be prouder of my amazing parents and everything they do for LGBT equality in their community and beyond. Their love for each other is an inspiration to Michael and me, and their passion for social justice and equality for all members of the human family, including LGBT people, is what enkindled my own passion for activism. They are true heroes in my book. And thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to introduce Lyle and Michele to you and indulging me as I shamelessly bragged about them. Happy Friday!