July 9, 2009

UC officials mum about turning choir away

By Adam Sulfridge, Staff Writer

After uninviting a Texas church's chapel choir from participating in University of the Cumberlands' Mountain Outreach program, UC officials are keeping mum on their reasoning.

Broadway Baptist Church's pastor, Brent Beasley, said UC officials told him that Broadway’s tolerant stance toward homosexuality was the reason its chapel choir could no longer stay in UC's dorms or help build and repair homes for local disadvantaged families this month.

Social groups which advocate equal rights are condemning UC's recent decision much the same way they condemned the school for forcing former student Jason Johnson to withdraw after Johnson admitted he was gay on his MySpace profile in 2006.

Jordan Palmer, President of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said, "I applaud the Broadway Baptist Church for realizing that you cannot discriminate against your fellow man or woman and disguise the hatred as 'indifference of religious views.'"

Palmer also noted, "I believe that people are free to choose and practice their own religious and spiritual beliefs in whatever way they choose so long as they do not receive government funding or benefits of any kind."

Earlier this year, U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers presented Cumberlands with a $1.2 million check to help build a wellness facility and finish construction of a science building at the university. Previously, UC was denied $10 million in state funding to build a pharmacy school. In 2008, a circuit judge sided with the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, ruling that a private institution which discriminates in its admission and expulsion procedures cannot receive public funding. An appeal is currently pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Jody Cofer, a KFA board member, sympathized with Broadway Baptist and said, "By withdrawing the Texas group's invitation, University of the Cumberlands has reiterated what many fair-minded Kentuckians already know about that institution."

KFA has yet to determine if it will also challenge the $1.2 million federal appropriation.

Rogers' office released a statement clarifying the Congressman's decision to secure funding for the university: "It has been my long-standing mission to promote projects that enhance the educational opportunities for everyone in the 5th Congressional District, regardless of where they choose to attend college. I have enthusiastically supported many initiatives over the years from both public and private institutions, and I see no reason to distinguish one university over another. They all play a vital role in the betterment of our region."

Roger's Communication Coordinator explained that whereas specific portions of Kentucky law may prevent UC from receiving state funds for its pharmacy school, the Congressman’s office was unaware of federal provisions which may prevent the private university from receiving federal funding.


July 8, 2009

KEF Condemns Funding To University

kypost.com -- Kentucky Equality Federation today condemned the allocation of $1.2 million dollars in federal funding to the University of the Cumberlands.

The funds will be used to help construct a health and wellness center for students, faculty and community members and a new science and technology building for the university. U.S. Representative Hal Rogers (R) requested a total of 4 million dollars for projects at the University of the Cumberlands.

"Kentucky Equality Federation remains opposed to the allocation of any public funds to an institution that discriminates against a minority group," stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. "If all the citizens of the Commonwealth cannot enjoy the new facilities this money will bring, it must be challenged. Separation of Church and State must be maintained; funding a facility which will reject gay and lesbian people is unacceptable."

Palmer concluded, "Kentucky Equality Federation will weigh all available options with its legal counsel and urge the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky to do the same."

Halyn Roth, Kentucky Equality Federation's Regional Director for Southern Kentucky added, "The University of the Cumberlands is an institution of learning and is meant to inspire young minds to become the leaders of tomorrow, but with the backwards policies of the University leaders, they are indeed causing the downfall of progress as we know it."

In 2007 Kentucky Equality Federation co-sponsored the 2007 Soulforce/Equality Ride at the University of the Cumberlands. Dozens of gay and lesbian activists were arrested and community members held signs reading "You Will Be Judged," and "Repent Now," among others. Nick Herweck, now Kentucky Equality Federation's Treasurer spent most of the day directing representatives from Soulforce to the Whitley County Jail to post bond for those arrested.

Kentucky Post

June 27, 2009

Church has "Saturday night special" service for gun owners

It would be fair to call it unconventional. Not every pastor encourages his or her flock to show up to church packing heat. Or for that matter, participate in a raffle for a big gun giveaway during the service. But not every pastor is Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Pagano likes guns. He likes guns so much that he asked his parishioners to come to church this evening armed like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo (.50 caliber machine gun optional).

In all seriousness, Pagano did hold an "open carry celebration" tonight at his church. That meant if you owned a gun you could bring it to the service (provided it was unloaded) as part of an effort, he says, to promote responsible gun ownership and firearms safety.

About 200 people took him up on the invitation. It wasn't mandatory to have a gun to get in. In fact, according to the church website, you didn't even have to believe in God. The only requirement was to be a supporter of the First and Second Amendments.

"We are wanting to send a message that there are legal, civil, intelligent and law-abiding citizens who also own guns," Pagano said in welcoming the attendees.

"If it were not for a deep-seated belief in the right to bear arms, this country would not be here today," he said.

This was an oft-repeated message for Pagano. He's been fielding media requests from all over the world since word of the service became widespread earlier this month. All appearing to have the same question: What are you doing?

"As a Christian, I believe, and as an American this country was founded on the deep-seated belief in God and firearms -- without which we wouldn't be here today," Pagano told FOX News earlier this week. "There is nothing illogical nor immoral about being a God-fearer and a decent community-minded individual who believes in rights to bear arms and use firearms for self-defense if necessary or just for sporting purposes."

OK. But why hold the event at a church?

"This event is not taking place on the Lord’s Day," Pagano explained on his website. "This is not a Church worship service, where the focus is on Jesus and our responsibility to Him. Rather, this is merely a Church hosted event, similar to any other event that any other Church may do to celebrate their heritage. It would be our hope to see this event become a nationally celebrated, annual occurrence on the last weekend of June."

Pagano said he got the idea after some members at his Pentecostal church expressed concern about the Obama administration's views on gun control.

It's not the first time Pagano has discussed firearms at his church. According to the Kentucky Equality Federation, his sermon two weeks ago was titled, "God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry."

Whatever the outcome, Pagano's become a media sensation. The New York Times has been live-blogging the event. Yesterday, after seeing a sign on the front door of the library which said, "No concealed deadly weapons," a reporter wrote, "It was kind of startling for someone who lives in New York City, where the guns laws are much more restrictive and there is no need (or less of a perceived need) for such signs."

"But here in Kentucky, the gun laws are among the least restrictive in the country, which makes possible an event like the one tomorrow night at the New Bethel Church, where people will be wearing and carrying their firearms into the sanctuary for a celebration," the reporter wrote.

April 29, 2009

Northern Kentucky University to offer same-sex benefits

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS -- Northern Kentucky University will expand employee health-care benefits, including coverage for domestic partners, putting it in the middle of a political battle over benefits for same-sex partners.

NKU regents Monday approved the benefits package, which would allow employees to add family members or others to their plan when a spouse is not covered.

It would require that the covered person live in the employee's household for at least 12 months and be "financially interdependent" with the employee. The employee would pay the cost.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, chairman of the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus, supported a bill earlier this year to ban universities from offering benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

While that bill never came to a House vote, Thayer said the ban would have broad support both in the legislature and with the public.

"I find NKU's decision disappointing and a bit of slap in the face of the will of the people of Kentucky," Thayer said.

State Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, said the decision is NKU's and state government should not be involved.

"I know Northern will take a lot of heat for doing this, particularly from those in the Republican Party," Keene said. "But legislators should stay out of it. Northern has a lot of courage to be doing this. It is their decision to make."

NKU has mostly avoided the political battles so far, preferring to let the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville take the lead.

But NKU officials said the extended benefits would help attract and retain better employees. They noted that it could cover an adult child or a sibling as well as a live-in partner of either sex.

The University of Cincinnati extended full benefits to domestic partners of about 6,500 employees last fall.

"We're not supporting any particular lifestyle or judging anything," Lori Southwood, NKU's senior director of human resources, told regents. "We're acknowledging that one offer does not fit all."

The vote to approve was 7-2, with regents Frank Downing and Joyce Griffin voting against it.

During debate on the issue, Bob Zapp, who is rotating off the university's board, called it a "competitiveness issue."

Downing said NKU should stick with its current position, which he called "the moral choice."

Regent Nancy Kremer, the St. Luke Hospitals executive who led a group that studied the issue, said the new policies endorse only the benefit to NKU employees.

"We've made it so broad and so balanced, and the whole intent here is health and wellness," she said.

Under the proposal, the employee will pay the full cost of the extended coverage. An employee could not cover both a spouse and someone else.

In other action, NKU regents approved the administration's plan to increase tuition 9.68 percent for in-state undergraduates next year. NKU presents the request to state officials later this week.

They also approved the plan, announced last week, to be annexed by Highland Heights. In return, Highland Heights will sell its city building to NKU for $1 and build NKU a $6.5 million soccer stadium.

Kentucky Enquirer

February 25, 2009

Adoption bill sparks protest

By: Andy Mead

For more than a decade, a small group of people has gathered in Frankfort while the legislature is in session to support bills that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This year, they're also rallying against something — a bill that would ban adoptions by anyone "cohabiting with a sexual partner outside of a marriage that is legally valid in Kentucky."

Senate Bill 68 is seen as anti-gay by gay rights organizations in the state.

The main thrust of the "Kentuckians Value Fairness" rally scheduled from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda will be to support the "fairness" anti-discrimination bills.

But the rally could get a boost from people who turn out to oppose the adoption bill.

"A lot of additional allies have cropped up since this Senate bill came out," said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign.

People from several groups, including social workers and pro-adoption organizations in Louisville and Pikeville, are expected to take part in Wednesday's rally, Hartman said.

Political activists, including members of Young Democrats and the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, also are lending their support, said Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation.

There's even a group on Facebook, the social networking site. "Stop SB 68 in Kentucky" has more than 5,000 members.

The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Gary Tapp, R-Shelbyville, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The bill has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he had not formed an opinion on the bill. He said he planned to meet with Tapp to discuss it, but until then "I don't know enough to be opposed to it or for it."

The Family Foundation of Kentucky is for the bill, said David Edmunds, a policy analyst for the group. He said research shows that homes with unmarried couples — either homosexual or heterosexual — are less stable than homes with married couples.

"This is about a child's needs, not adult desires," Edmunds said.

But Ken Moellman, chairman of the state Libertarian Party, said the bill would hurt children if it became law.

"It's unfortunate that some would rather see a child left in a group home or in the foster care system rather than put in a stable environment ... and brought up in a home where they're loved," he said.

Hartman, of the Fairness Alliance, said that if SB 68 is approved by the Senate, he thinks it can be stopped in the House.

The bills that will be supported at the rally are Senate Bill 95, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington; and House Bill 72, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.

Similar bills have never gotten out of a committee in either house. Hartman said he isn't expecting more this year.

February 14, 2009

Same-sex couples march for marriage

Sandra Maggard and Tina Parker have been together for five years.

On Thursday, they walked arm-in-arm down the hallway of the Fayette County Clerk's Office. The couple asked the county to recognize their relationship with a marriage license.

They were denied.

"In a way I was hoping we would come and people would change their mind" about gay marriage, Maggard said. "If our grandkids are OK with it, why can't the world be OK with it?"

On Thursday, gay couples across Kentucky walked into county clerks' offices to request marriage licenses. The event was part of National Freedom to Marry Week, which was organized by Marriage Equality USA and other gay rights groups.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said they were trying to draw attention to the denial of a human right. He wants to see repeals for the state's gay marriage amendment (a recent constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions) and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same).

"We don't really care if it changes people's minds," Palmer said. "It is really about making people aware that we are not afraid anymore, and we will be fighting for our rights and we will overturn it."

Nonetheless, Palmer admitted to being nervous before he asked for his marriage license with his partner, Daniel Hill.

"It is intimidating," he said. "I'm shaking just thinking about it."

The clerk, Getha Helfenberger, politely refused to issue the license, explaining that gay marriage is banned by the state. Palmer shook her hand.

Only two couples asked to be married in Lexington. Palmer said turnout was stronger in Louisville. He estimated that 70 people from college gay-straight alliances showed up.

The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a socially conservative group that was instrumental in passing the state constitution's gay marriage ban, said gay rights groups should follow the proper procedure for amending the constitution.  "I think that there is nothing wrong with people making symbolic gestures like this; it's a free country," said Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst. "But at the same time, this is not how you change the constitution. Trying to do it any other way is at bottom cheating. And we don't believe in cheating."

February 12, 2009

Kentucky Equality's Response to the Family Foundation of Kentucky's attack on the National Freedom to Marry Day

Kentucky Equality Federation and Marriage Equality Kentucky coordinated (with many allies in Louisville), the Marriage Counter Actions here in Kentucky; the Herald-Leader covered the story with the Family Foundation of Kentucky calling our initial attempts to raise awareness of the harm the current same-sex marriage ban has on couples in Kentucky "cheating." In addition, they announced their support of Senate Bill 68.

Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer responds:

"This is another example of how so-called family organizations are some of the most useless, money-hungry scams in the world with their bizarre and all-encompassing 'gay fetish.'

With national divorce rates rising because of layoffs, increases in daycare, and an economy in the tank, one would think a 'family oriented organization' would be focused on economic solutions to help take the stress off couples (such as using their money to provide free daycare instead of lobbying Frankfort against domestic partner benefits, and using children as political pawns). But, instead, they continue to focus on keeping a minority group of families from having the same civil liberties and protections as the majority.

How can excluding gay couples from hospital rooms, fighting to keep us from providing health insurance for each other, and teaching hatred for people who are different be a family value? In Kentucky, you cannot be fired for being a smoker, but you can be fired for being gay……now THAT is cheating (what the Family Foundation of Kentucky called Kentucky Equality Federation’s coordination of the National Freedom to Marry Day in Kentucky).

It is our generation's obligation and opportunity to bring equality to the gay community; we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us – the time is here."

January 23, 2009

Five Questions with Jordan Palmer

By: Michael Jones · January 23, 2009
Topics: Defense of Marriage Act · Marriage Equality

We're launching a new weekly series here at gayrights.change.org, where we'll ask five questions to a leader in the struggle for LGBT rights. Think of it as our version of Time Magazine's 10 Questions (only we won't be asking Hugh Hefner or T. Boone Pickens questions any time soon). First up in the hot seat is Jordan Palmer, a member of the Board of Directors for Marriage Equality USA and the founder of Kentucky Equal Rights (now known as the Kentucky Equality Federation). Palmer gives his take below on lessons learned from the passage of Proposition 8, what states he sees as next in line to recognize marriage equality, and why it's important that marriage equality activists come together during the upcoming National Freedom to Marry Day -- among other good stuff.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) is releasing three reports this month on the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S.. The first report was a look backward on the No on 8 campaign in California. What lessons were learned by marriage equality supporters in the defeat of the No on 8 campaign?

Concerned that California’s No on 8 campaign didn’t utilize the grassroots community to its potential and recognizing the harm associated with a campaign run by political consultants without sufficient accountability or transparency to the larger community, Marriage Equality USA organized community forums across California and received over 3,100 responses to our on-line survey to reflect the collective wisdom learned from the mistakes of this campaign. MEUSA's report entitled "We Will Never Go Back – Grassroots Input on California's No on Proposition 8 Campaign" identified many positive outcomes from the official No on 8 campaign, but also cited the following major concerns and future opportunities:

  • Clergy leaders, identified as the most effective messengers for marriage equality, were underutilized in the No on 8 campaign,
  • People of color are part of our LGBTI family and we must promote their leadership and inclusion to inform and direct outreach to these communities,
  • The official No on 8 campaign ads lacked heart and inexcusably excluded same-sex couples and their families,
  • The official No on 8 field plan lacked visibility and ignored potential volunteers,
  • The official No on 8 campaign abandoned our LGBTI community and supporters in the Central Valley, and
  • Empowering our grassroots community will help advance our national marriage equality movement.

Under each item of concern or future opportunity, we have also identified a Call to Action that allows us a way to move ahead in addressing these issues. For example, under the section related to the role of clergy, we have asked clergy leaders to take the opportunity of President-Elect Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren as the invocation speaker to share with their local congregations and/or communities, reasons why they believe marriage equality is important and begin the slow process of healing and outreach to continue the dialogue with persuadable people of faith.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: MEUSA is one of the lead organizations, along with Join the Impact, behind the February 12 "National Freedom to Marry Day," -- a day of action where same-sex couples request marriage licenses from clerks across the country. What's the story behind this day and what are the plans for this year's day of action?

Marriage Equality USA started the Marriage Counter Action/Get Engaged for Marriage Equality in 2001. This year, we invited Join the Impact to join us, and we are very excited to be working with them and look forward to a large turnout. We do this annual direct action during Freedom to Marry week to make marriage discrimination visible. It forces our local clerks to have to look us in the eye, see our children, and enforce a discriminatory and unjust law at their counter – it moves everyone who witnesses this sad, but powerful event and gives us the opportunity to tell our stories and show that we live in every community and want to honor and protect our families like everyone else.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: Does MEUSA ever get behind efforts to pass civil union legislation, or is the organization solely focused on marriage?

Marriage Equality USA does support civil unions and similar relationship protection legislation as a stepping-stone to marriage equality.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: What are the states you see as most likely to recognize marriage equality in 2009?

I’ll start with one that might surprise you.

On December 9, 2008, the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral argument on its marriage equality lawsuit. The lower trial court has determined that denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage is unconstitutional and we are hopeful that the State Supreme Court will confirm this ruling. We have a wonderful chapter in Iowa working hard to do the education and outreach work necessary to sustain a positive decision and make Iowa the first Midwestern State to recognize marriage equality.

In New York, where the state already recognizes marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state, has a strong chance at passing marriage equality legislation and the Governor is already on record as a firm supporter who will sign that bill into law.

It is very likely we will continue to see states in New England upgrade their separate and unequal system of civil unions into marriage equality – New Jersey is the furthest along the path in this regard, but efforts in Vermont, Rhode Island and other places are moving forward.

Of course, we are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will repeal Proposition 8. This court has already determined that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional. The courts must affirm their important role in protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority and stop efforts to put people’s civil rights up for a popular vote.

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: What does the grassroots of MEUSA look like?

On a chapter level, local meetings, knocking on doors, local community organizing……that’s what it is about; this is one-on-one work to change the hearts and minds of your neighbors, family members, and friends. That is what it takes to bring real change to our entire republic. No one at Marriage Equality USA is paid, no staff. We need money to cover expenses, but I think the 2008 election setbacks in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida, have taught us that no amount of money can replace volunteering, grassroots organizing, and the perseverance of an all - volunteer organization. Yes, we have a tight organizational structure; we would not be able to function without it, but getting people involved as leaders in their local communities, that is our goal...you might even go so far as to call it a ‘dream.’

GAYRIGHTS.CHANGE.ORG: And one more bonus question -- What would you say it will take in order for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be repealed, and how close are we to seeing its repeal?

We must get out in our local communities, tell our stories, and mobilize. We must meet in person with our states elected Congressional delegations and educate them on marriage equality and the unfairness and impact that DOMA has on seniors, on children and on hardworking Americans. We need to create an environment so President Obama can deliver on his promise to repeal DOMA. It is up to us – what are we willing to do, how active will we be – it has less to do with our politicians and more to do with our community getting engaged and bringing this justice forward. This is a choose your own answer – to each reader – it is up to us. It is our generation’s obligation and opportunity to see this injustice righted in our lifetime. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us – the time is here, the time is now, history is calling us – will we answer the call? If you will enlist in the love warrior army – join us at www.marriageequality.org and help us make history together.

News Link: http://news.change.org/stories/five-questions-with-jordan-palmer-marriage-equality-usa