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National & World Briefs

Medal of Freedom for stargazing

Astrophysicist Jane Rigby, chief scientist at the world’s most powerful telescope was one of 19 people to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom recently. She has worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She was the senior project scientist at the very powerful James Webb Space Telescope and on the Keck and Magellan Observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope. The White House website says the medal is “presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.” She has degrees from Penn State and the U of Arizona. She was a founding member of the “American Astronomical Society’s LGBTQ+ Equality Working Group, the Committee for Sexual-Orientation & Gender Minorities in Astronomy.” She lives with her wife in Maryland.

Methodist Church

The 40-year ban on gay clergy by the United Methodist Church has been overturned by the church’s top legislative body. A split by UMC congregations disagreeing with the decision has been threatened for some years, but has been avoided so far. The vote was 692–51 as the legislative body passed several rules without debate, including overturning both its ban on gay clergy and the penalties for holding same-sex marriages. UMC is the second-largest Christian-based denomination in the U.S.

Lawyers win again

The East Frank Superette and Kitchen in Monroe, North Carolina, has been hosting all-ages drag brunch shows for several years. It has attracted protests from some who think the shows are not appropriate for children. The owners are now suing the anti-LGBTQ+ protesters for defamation because of the protester’s accusations of “grooming” and “pedophilia.” The onsite protest has caused chaos outside the downtown restaurant with a loss of business. The business owner says, “They can claim to be peaceful and not getting in the way, but they’re blocking sidewalks, and they’re interacting with our customers who are trying to use outside seating.” In 2023, several of the protesters sued after the restaurant pulled photos from the protesters’ social media site and used them in advertising. So, lawyers on both sides are filing motion after motion on the unauthorized use of personal information and the defamation suit. Both sides are making First Amendment arguments

Religious freedom versus non-discrimination

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the decision of a federal district judge which will allow a Catholic school in North Carolina to fire a gay teacher who announced his marriage on social media a decade ago. The teacher had been full-time until 2012 and then was a substitute at the school. The school stopped using the teacher as a substitute after he announced his marriage after the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality in 2012. The teacher claimed the 2020 clarification of the Federal Civil Rights protected gay and lesbian employees. The appeals panel ruled that the school’s action was covered under the “ministerial exception” to Title VII that courts say protects religious institutions in how they treat employees.

Targets tries not to be a target

Just in time for June Pride celebrations, Target has announced that products with a “Pride theme” will be eliminated from over half of the store’s 2000 nationwide locations. A news release said, “Target is committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month and year-round.” The company told the media last year after a hullabaloo, mostly about items with some relationship to the transgender community, that employees experienced “very aggressive behavior,” including threats, destruction of merchandise, and disruptions in the cashier area. Target began removing some Pride items in certain locations in May of 2023 after media exposure and protests. Target sales dropped 5 percent from April to June compared to the same time. No decisions on which stores will carry Pride merchandise have been announced.  All products will still be available online.

Straight women outlive lesbians, bisexual women

The “Journal of American Medicine” published a Harvard study of 90,833 women who worked as nurses and were born between 1945 and 1964. The women volunteered their sexuality. Self-declared bisexual women had the highest early mortality with 37 percent of them dying earlier than heterosexual women. Lesbians died 20 percent earlier than hetero-declaring women. The report identified the gap is due to existing “extensive health disparities,” including “worse physical, mental, and behavioral health” among lesbian and bisexual women in comparison to straight women. Drugs, alcohol, and mental-health reasons were identified as the symptoms leading to death. The report suggested disparity is heavily influenced by the social stigma that LGBTQ+ people had in the last half of the 20th century. The report said that “screening and treatment referral for tobacco, alcohol, and other substance use need to be available without judgment” to combat the disparity.

The Jockstrap is 150 years old

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the “gay apparel” item called “the jockstrap.” To celebrate the occasion, dancers from “Broadway Bares” spent a day in Times Square in New York City for a day shaking, dancing, and disrobing down to their jockstraps. Sponsored by BIKE Athletic, the company released a, what else, limited-edition jockstrap for this anniversary. A portion of the funds from sales will go to the “Broadway Bares” organization and “Equity Fights AIDS.”

Pittsburgh’s top’ cop

“The drinking city with a football problem,” Pittsburgh, Pa. has hired Larry Scirotto as chief of police. Scirotto was last heard of as chief in Fort Lauderdale, where he left after being accused of promoting a gay police officer over a straight one. The lawsuit was dismissed, and he says the hire was “on merit.” But the controversy took him back home to Pittsburgh. He has a classic coming-out story of finding the friendly gay bar, Pegasus, and making friends as a young man. He became a Pittsburgh city police officer before his foray to Florida. He says Pittsburgh was not really the “Queer as Folk” place of the television series, but still was welcoming to him in his “coming out.” No problems with the police department or community, gay or straight. His early tenure is marked with a decrease in violent crime, and he has been praised for the department’s handling of a “Gaza-Palestinian” demonstration at a local university. Scirotto said he and his partner of 13 years and their two dogs feel at home in Pittsburgh.

Herstory

A celebration is planned for the 50th anniversary of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. One of the founders, Deborah Edel, is still active in LHA. She and activist Joan Nestle were the originators of the idea of an archive. Edel founded LHA because she and members of the Gay Academic Union, a group working (unbelievable now) to make “academia a safe place for gays and lesbians,” and they saw a need to make it easier to find and store reliable information about lesbian history. The archives were initially housed in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In 1993, the archive was moved to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, then called “Dyke Slope” because of all the lesbians that had moved there. The LHA has moved from a “friends-funded library” to a nonprofit run entirely by donations and a group of about 20 volunteers.

Tough political putts

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is an allegorical tale of a tree growing out of a crack in the sidewalk on an inhospitable urban city street. The same allegory goes for gay and lesbian politicians in inhospitable political environments like Texas and Tennessee. But Molly Cook, in Texas, and Zach Young, in Tennessee, are sprouting if not yet thriving. Cook, a bisexual woman, won a special election to fill the remainder of the term of a senator who got elected mayor of Houston. She will get to vote on drag in public places bans, restroom and changing room regulations, library regulations, and other hot-button issues.  She runs again this fall. Zach Young is the first out-gay school board member in Tennessee. In Tennessee, he will have to contend with the state attorney general’s suit against the U.S. Civil Rights Act Title VII over transgender treatment in public schools. Tennessee has laws regulating school bathrooms, changing rooms, and athletic participation. He has held municipal public office in other Tennessee locales.

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