Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Wave Wednesday: "867-5308/Jenny", by Tommy Tutone (music video)

In 1982, the pop/rock band Tommy Tutone hit it big with "867-5309/Jenny" and set the standard for prank callers, as drunk college kids and bored high-schoolers everywhere called the number asking for Jenny. In one case, the number happened to belong to the daughter of the Buffalo, NY chief of police, who wasn't all that thrilled about it.

When I worked in the Dish Network call center several years ago, it was what we called the code number given to customers to reboot their crashed DVR's. It was an early, inferior knock-off of Tivo that crashed or locked up at least twice a week. When we were trouble-shooting the issue with customers on the phone and nothing else worked, we gave them the Jenny Code, which they entered using their remotes, that caused a forced reboot but also wiped the hard drive clean of any saved programs.

Tommy Tutone is still around. You can check out their website here.

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General Apologizes For Dutch Gay Genocide Remark, DOJ Defends DADT with Outdated Powell Testimony

Last week, retired Marine General Jack Sheehan testified before a session of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the genocide committed in Bosnia during the 90's was the fault of gay soldiers serving in the Dutch military. Sheehan has apparently been spending his golden years in Bizzaro World.

It's funny how when things that are easily checkable are checked, the people making these foolish assertions look even more foolish. General Sheehan said he was told of the Dutch gay soldier problem by someone in the Dutch military named, "Hankman Berman", who apparently doesn't exist. There is, however there was someone in the Dutch Defense Ministry named General Henk van den Breeman who says that he never made such a statement.

Rachel also talked about a brief filed Monday by the Obama Justice Dept. in a court challenge to Don't Ask, Don't Tell using the words of retired General Colin Powell, who testified in favor of DADT back in 1993, to defend the homophobic policy. The only problem is that Powell has since changed his mind about DADT and has spoken out against it many, many times over the last few years.

While the DOJ is legally compelled to defend acts of congress when they're challenged, they could have done a little more homework on this one. On the other hand, perhaps they're deliberately setting themselves up for failure? Maybe Obama's heart just isn't in this fight. They do have to put on a good show though, so expect lots of anti-gay remarks to come out of the proceedings as this case moves forward.

Here's Rachel:

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cooch talks about Gay Rights, Health Care at Liberty University (video)

Roanoke's Jay Warren of Newschannel10 caught up with Virginia's attorney general Ken Cuccinelli at Liberty University in Lynchburg on Tuesday where the arch-conservative joked, "I’ve been in two-and-a-half months, and it’s been pretty boring." Pardon me if I fail to see the humor.

Warren grilled Cuccinelli about his notorious letter to Virginia's colleges and universities, known as "the campus letter". The A.G. told Warren, “They (colleges) went beyond their state law authority. Everyone has the potential for protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution, but that’s not a specially protected class.“

In other words, LGBT Virginians have "the potential" for full protection of federal law, but no "actual" protection under state law.

Warren followed up by asking, “So if they were fired if they were gay, could you defend that? Defend the university for the firing?“ Cuccinelli responded, “Arguments could made on either side of that. We could defend the university, it would be uncomfortable.“

Warren asked if being gay was a fireable offense to which the top lawyer in the commonwealth answered, "No."

Warren also asked Cuccinelli about his participation in the federal lawsuit challenging the recently passed Health Care Reform Bill. Critics have complained about the cost of fighting this battle with Virginia's economy still deep in the red. Cuccinelli insists that the expense will be minimal and no staff will be pulled from their regular assignments. He says the entire expense will be the $350 fee required to file the suit.

See the full interview below.
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Better Late Than Never, The NY Times Honors Roanoke's Home-grown "Cookin' Cheap"

Back in the day, before I moved to the Roanoke area, I had a crappy little apartment in south Arlington, Va. with no amenities and couldn't afford cable. One of the programs I enjoyed was a little cooking show that also had no budget called "Cookin' Cheap", which aired on PBS every Saturday afternoon. Broadcast  from Roanoke, Va. and hosted by Larry Bly and Laban Johnson, the show featured recipes sent in by viewers that required a can of this, a box of that, a dash of down home banter and a very gay sensibility.

Little did I know at the time that I would eventually move to Roanoke, when the company I worked for relocated from Northern Virginia. Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting Larry Bly socially on several occasions and found him to be as warm and friendly as he appeared to be on "Cookin' Cheap" all those years ago. I can't say that we're good friends, but we do run in the same circles and I can now brag that Larry now often remembers my face, if not always my name.

So what has prompted this little trip now memory lane? It seems that Lawrence Downes of the New York was also a fan of Cookin' Cheap and wrote an editorial in Sunday's edition where he called it, "the best cookin' show ever".

In explaining why he was so in love with the show, Downes writes:  
It isn’t the culinary skill. The hosts, Laban Johnson and Larry Bly, were amateurs. They struggle to open zip-lock bags and fumble in their oven mitts the way you or I would. Their kitchen gets messy and sometimes dangerous, as they juggle hot trays and gesture while chopping. They puzzle over pronunciations and employ questionable knife techniques. They spend a lot of time on boring prep work, because, as Larry confesses, if they didn’t, the show would be a lot shorter.

No, what makes this show so good is all of the above, plus the chemistry of Laban and Larry. They are tall (Laban) and short (Larry), chunky and skinny, and they bicker, josh and giggle (and sometimes dress) like a couple of old ladies. What they created is honest and funny, a surreal parody of a cooking show that is also a heartfelt display of genuine Southernness.
 Then there's the other aspect of the show which made me an instant fan. Downes takes great pains to describe that certain quality, that certain something, that kept him tuning in every week:
Laban and Larry are the real Virginia deal. When they get to their regular cross-dressing segment, dispensing advice as the Cook Sisters, there’s a strong suggestion that something here is not being discussed, but their matter-of-fact self-assurance feels candid anyway. Somebody once wrote an academic paper about the show. It said the men embodied the old Southern archetype of the gentle mama’s boy, an emblem of that region as traditional as that of the beer-swilling good ol’ boy, though far less celebrated.
 In other words, they were a couple of campy, sometimes bitchy old queens who knew they were not creating high art, they were just trying to have fun and fill a half hour of air time every week. They were the antithesis of Julia Child, but just as much fun to watch.


Most of the original tapes of the show have been lost, but enough survived to kick off the first broadcast season of the Bravo channel back in its infancy. That's right, the NBC-owned unofficial "gay channel" that brought you the original run of "Project Runway", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "The Real Housewives" and its recap show, "Watch What Happens" (with uber-gay cutie Andy Cohen), was launched with the help of Laban and Larry.

 It pretty cool to know that a big city writer has fond memories of the same show many Roanokers grew up loving. Sadly, Laban has passed on, but Larry can still be heard doing commercial voice overs produced by his ad agency and the occasional radio host gig. And he may pop up at the odd pot luck dinner or holiday party when you least expect it.

For those of you who did not have the pleasure of watching "Cookin' Cheap" when it was on the air, here's a sample of what all the fuss is all about. For those of you who did, this will bring back some great memories.



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He Bangs, He Bangs! Ricky Martin Comes Out (music video)

Okay, this is the story that has been all over the web since yesterday. When you work a full time job and the big news hits during the middle of the day, you can't be the first to break the story, so you just bring you own perspective to it and hope for the best.

Ricky Martin is officially ending the speculation and is now an out and proud gay man. Welcome to the club, you gorgeous piece of man meat! Er... I mean you incredibly brave and talented singer who has done so much to raise the level of awareness of the plight of the Latin community and break down social barriers.

A lot of folks are shaking their heads and saying, "duh!", and I've been one of them. Honestly, no one was surprised by Martin's announcement on his website yesterday, where wrote in both Spanish and English about his decision to come out, saying, "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am."

What everyone in the LGBT community knows is that it's not easy to come out, even in a more accepting world. Think back to when you came out to your family (if you ever have). It takes more guts than most straight people will ever have or will ever be able to comprehend. Add to that coming from a very traditional Latin background and having a huge following in that community, which still very much holds onto the macho standard of masculinity.

We haven't heard much on the pop charts from Ricky Martin in the last decade, but if you do a search on YouTube, you'll find dozens of videos of his Spanish language concerts, which I actually like better than his more commercial hits. It somehow sounds more honest and that's what coming out is all about.

A lot of sites are posting video tributes to Ricky Martin today featuring "She Bangs" or "La Vida Loca", but personally, I think he shines best in this performance from the 2000 Latin Grammy's All Star Tribute to Tito Puente, featuring Gloria Estefan and the legendary Celia Cruz.

As some of you may know, I was born in Puerto Rico when my dad, a Coast Guard officer, was stationed there in the 50's. I studied Spanish for five years in high school and college and still have fondness for Latin music. We may have written off Ricky's career, but the Latin community never has. This is what he is risking by coming out. Bravo, Ricky.

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Viking Zombie Boyfriend, by Jeremy Rizza 3-30-10


Jeremy writes:
"I actually like Keira Knightley and I loved the version of “Pride & Prejudice” that she starred in, but I have to say that she did smirk and roll her eyes an awful lot in that film.

By the way, Rorik and Dill are in the same position that my awesomesauce boyfriend Chris and I take when we watch movies.  (I’m always in Dill’s spot, and it’s quite cozy!)" - Jeremy Rizza 






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Monday, March 29, 2010

Westboro Baptist to Picket Anniversary of Va. Tech Shootings, Students Taking Action (video)

The Roanoke Times reported on Friday that Rev. Fred Phelps and his band of inbred followers are planning to stage protests at strategic points near the campus of Virginia Tech on Friday, April 9, from 1pm - 1:30pm and student groups are preparing to take action.

The following barely-coherent post appears on the Westboro Baptist Church's website, godhatesfags.com:
Virginia Tech N. Main St. & E. Roanoke St. (SW Corner) WBC to picket Virginia Tech to connect the dots. God sent the killer because of your proud sin! You raise your kids to believe they can disobey God with impunity, and that His commandments are all on the table to be disposed of whenever you please. That's why they think fornication, adultery, and sodomy are all just in good fun (instead of the filthy practices they are), and that's why the wrath of God is on them. God is cursing you by killing those same children that you have lied to all their lives. VA Tech was just GodSmacked -- another of your students murdered -- and you still refuse to heed and obey the standards of God. Woe unto you! "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness...!" Isa. 5:20. You're going to Hell, and you're taking your kids with you.
A student group from Tech has formed a Facebook page "How VT Will Beat the WBC", to organize students to take action. One of the suggestions is to use the protest as fundraiser and donate the proceeds to charities that the Phelps folks oppose. The following video shows how one group of students did just that:


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Play Depicting Gay Jesus Cancelled Due to Threats of Violence

Throughout the history of Christianity, church leaders have felt the need to resort to threats of violence in order to preserve their religion, often times following through with bloodbaths of biblical proportions. (Does anyone remember the Crusades and the Inquisition?) You'd think that after 2,010 years they'd understand Jesus' basic message of peace and love and that he was, more than anything else, a pacifist.

This story comes to us from the Great State of Texas, the reddest of the red(neck) states, where everything is bigger, including their bigotry. They've even managed to out hate the haters in Virginia and that's quite and accomplishment.

Via Star-Telegram.com:
Cast members of the controversial play Corpus Christi -- which portrays a gay Jesus character -- said Saturday that they generally agree with the decision to cancel the class performance at Tarleton State University after the school received a barrage of threatening calls and e-mails.

"I'm disappointed. I'm mad," cast member Chance Underwood said. "But I also understand the safety issues. I can't believe that people that I saw in the community as neighbors, friends, leaders of things, would go so far as to put threats on students and cast members. It's just ridiculous to me. I do feel it was the right decision. In no way would we have wanted anyone to get hurt."

Corpus Christi was scheduled to be performed in Stephenville early Saturday, one of four plays that were part of a directing class at Tarleton State. Student John Jordan Otte's project had generated intensifying opposition in the last several weeks.

Though the university administration said it would not bar the production, citing academic freedom, drama professor Mark Holtorf canceled all four productions late Friday. He cited "safety and security concerns for the students, as well as the need to maintain an orderly academic environment."

"We received so many threatening calls and e-mails today across campus, the numbers were just staggering," Holtorf said Friday night. "One administrator received in excess of 800 e-mails.

"Our department received calls of a threatening nature," he said. "I could not guarantee the security of my students. The administration was truly behind the academic exercise, but I could not justify the risk."

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"Lipstick on a Bigot": Homophobic Watch targets McDonnell and Cuccinelli, issues Call to Action

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli continue to call attention to the Commonwealth of Virginia for their bigoted, homophobic policies. Recently the YouTube channel, "Homophobic Watch" posted the following video showing how Virginia's colleges and universities, specifically, the College of William and Mary, are standing their ground against legalized bigotry by not changing their equal protection policies that include sexual orientation and gender expression and identity.

Homophobic Watch's message is simple and direct:
You can put lipstick on a bigot, but its still a bigot, and if McDonnell doesnt put his money where his mouth is with an executive order, his true intentions become clearer. Ladies and gentlemen, confront this homophobia, and here is what you should do:

Respectfully contact Virginina Governor Robert McDonnell by going to governor.virginia.gov or calling (804) 786-2211.

Respectfully contact Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II by going to oag.state.va.us or calling (804) 786-2071.
Respectfully support the College of William & Mary's policy of banning discrimination against gay people by contacting them at web.wm.edu/contact/contact.php
Respectfully urge defense contractor Northrop Grumman to reject Virginia as the location for its new national headquarters. To contact them, click on the link in the description box to this video

https://appserv.northropgrumman.com/R...
Continue to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would protect LGBT people from discrimination everywhere in the country. To find your Reprsentative, go to writerep.house.gov. To find your Senator, go to www.senate.gov and select your state at the top right corner of the website.

Only when you do something will you make a difference.
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Dame Edna: All the Single Ladies (video)

Okay, have we officially worked this thing to death?

Everybody and his dog has a video on YouTube of their kid, their cat, their cheer squad or their grandma doing the dance routine from "All the Single Ladies". Speaking of Grandma, here's Aussie housewife turned international super star, Dame Edna Everidge doing her rendition of the Beyonce hit in her Broadway show.

Honestly, I love Barry Humphries doing Dame Edna, but watching this clip, I was afraid she's have a coronary or fall and break a hip. Can we officially stop doing these parodies now?

Fortunately for Dame Edna, the self-proclaimed "simple haus frau", with those beefy back up dancers around, she won't need to get a Life Alert.



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MetLife Survey: LGBT People More Likely To Age Alone

According to a new survey by insurance giant MetLife (you know, the ones with the cute commercials with Snoopy and Woodstock?) LGBT Baby Boomers expect to put off retirement until age 70 or beyond, fear being overly dependent on others for care, but feel that being LGBT and coping with the associated discrimination, has better prepared them for dealing with life as they age.

LGBT people are more likely to have a chosen family of close friends that they rely on for emotional support and are likely to be more dependent on them in later life. We already knew that, but it's nice that mainstream America gets to find out.

From the survey: Born between 1946 and 1964, LGBT Baby Boomers advanced the U.S. gay rights movement and within one generation succeeded in changing social attitudes from seeing homosexuality as a psychiatric condition to winning same-sex marriage rights and acknowledgment of their civil rights in an increasing number of states. Many unanswered questions emerge as this cohort ages into retirement and beyond and its ability to change the face of aging as much as it has changed attitudes about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some of the findings of the MetLife survey include:

  • 60% of LGBT Boomers fear being unable to care for themselves as they age; 35% fear becoming dependent on others
  • Nearly two-thirds of LGBT Boomers say they have a "chosen family," a group of people they consider family, even though they are not legally or biologically related
  • Nearly half of the LGBT Boomers and four in ten Boomers from the general population say they don't expect to retire until age 70 or older
  • Men in both the LGBT and general population are nearly as likely as women to be giving care to another adult
Click here to go to the MetLife site for a PDF of the full survey results.
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Dan Choi Returns to the Scene of the Crime, The Rachel Maddow Show (video)

Lt Dan Choi made headlines last year for coming out on the Rachel Maddow Show and he's been making headlines ever since for his fight to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Last week Lt. Choi interrupted an HRC event in DC, then led a march to the White House, where he chained himself to the fence with another gay serviceman, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo.

Lt. Choi returned to to the scene of his crime last night, one year after his first visit. Choi and Maddow talked about Secretary Gates' announcement yesterday about supposed changes in the policy, specifically that  that the military will no longer ask personnel whether they're gay, which they're not supposed to do anyway, under the 17-year-old policy.

The "new" guidelines are not the stop-loss we had hoped for, but are intended to execute the discriminatory policy "more humanely". Third parties who attempt to out gay and lesbian personnel will no longer be able to do it anonymously, but will be compelled to testify under oath. Investigations can only be launched by officers with a rank of one-star general or above.


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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gay Teen Can Bring Boyfriend to Prom, Parents Kick Him Out (video)

In January of this year, Georgia high school senior, Derrick Martin started lobbying his school for permission to attend his prom with his boyfriend. The school initially turned down his request, but later changed it's decision in the wake of the ruling in the federal court case of Mississippi teen Constance McMillen. The courts found last week that McMillen's school violated her free speech rights by not allowing her to attend her prom with her girlfriend.

The downside in the case of Derrick Martin is that his parents have thrown him out of his home in the wake of nationwide attention to the case. According to the Macon Telegraph, Martin is currently staying with a friend. His school has no plans to cancel the prom or take any further actions in the case.

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Barney Frank: "Passing ENDA, repealing DADT could happen this year."

Openly gay congressman Barney Frank says in in interview with the Windy City Times that he is optimistic about the future of the LGBT rights movement. "When we first started this [ fight for equality ] , we didn't know how hated we were. But the progress has been good, and it's mainly by coming out. Part of it is, you can't hide and win the fight at the same time," said Frank, who has represented Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District since 1981.


Frank told the Chicago LGBT newspaper, "The fact that the American people now know who we are, and that we are relatives and friends, customers and teammates, students and teachers, barbers, lawyers and policemen, etc. Coming out has helped us, so [ non-LGBT ] people realize we are them, too. In less than 20 years, I think [ LGBT issues ] will be substantially over; that is, we will have full legal equality. It may even be less if we make the same rate of progress," that we have in recent years. 

Read the full story here.
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Falls Church, Va. City Council Rebukes Cuccinell

The city council of Falls Church, Virginia voted 7-0 Monday night to pass a resolution rebuking Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for his March 4th letter to the commonwealth's colleges and universities telling them to rescind protections for LGBT employees.

From the Falls Church News-Press:
The Falls Church Council's "Resolution in Support of Diversity" noted that the Council "was deeply troubled" by the March 4 Cuccinelli opinion, affirming that "discrimination will not be tolerated in any form" in Falls Church, and calls on Cuccinelli to rescind his opinion.

In the same resolution, the Council defies the basis for Cuccinelli's opinion -- that is, that since state law does not explicitly allow for protecting lesbians and gays that no jurisdiction within the state can allow it -- by stating, "It is the policy of the City of Falls Church to welcome people to the City -- residents, businesses and employees -- regardless of their race, color, religion or lack thereof, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age, marital status or disability."

Finally, the resolution "applauds Governor McDonnell's subsequent issuance of a directive that he would not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation," encouraging him to "adopt a formal, legally-binding executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, like his predecessors, Governor Warner and Governor Kaine," and "encourages the General Assembly to amend the Virginia Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a protected class."
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Possible Announcement On DADT Stop-Loss This Week (video)

Rumors have been flying all over the queer-o-sphere tonight about a possible announcement by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates regarding changes in Don't Ask, Don't Tell that would make it harder to dismiss queer service men and women. The new guidelines would require stricter scrutiny, less reliance on hearsay and greater involvement of higher-ups in the chain of command.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the new plan, expected to be announced on Thursday, "is considered a stopgap measure by the Obama administration until Congress decides whether to repeal the 1993 law, which bans openly gay service. Under the new guidelines, firings of enlisted personnel who violate the ban must be approved by officers who hold a rank equivalent to a one-star general or above. Testimony provided by third parties also should be given under oath, the plan says."

Anonymous sources told the AP that this last part is intended to weed out flimsy accusations by third parties who may hold a grudge against the accused. Secretary Gates says he is looking for a way to carry out the current policy "more humanely."

We all appreciate any progress in the repeal of this unjust, wrong-headed policy that will be a big smelly stain on the legacy of Bill Clinton for posterity, but there is no humane way to fire somebody for something that has no bearing on their ability to do their job. There is no humane way to tell Lt. Dan Choi that even though his record of service is impeccable and his Arabic linguistic skills are critically needed while this country is actively engaged in two wars in Arabic-speaking countries, that he is no longer qualified to serve just because he likes dick.

As Aubrey Sarvis, executive director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund told the AP in more polite terms, "At the end of the day, service members would still be leaving the services under 'don't ask, don't tell' every day, so what we need is repeal."

As usual, Rachel Maddow is on top of this developing story.


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Ann Coulter speech cancelled over student protest

In the 1988 movie "The Seventh Sign", Demi Moore plays a women who is about to give birth to the first baby born without a soul, thus bringing about Armageddon. In real life, we know that child as Ann Coulter.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is more merciful than real life. Instead of being put out of our misery by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, we have to endure life with the GOP's favorite ice queen, who can't pass up a chance to make headlines by saying something blatantly racist, homophobic and generally hateful any time there is a gathering of two or more people or a camera present.

Coulter, whose prominent Adam's Apple has prompted some to question her true gender, sees herself as a champion of free speech by thumbing her nose at political correctness. But as anybody with a brain stem can figure out, it's just a desperate, pathetic attempt to stay relevant in a world that as left her behind. Maybe she should do lunch with Madonna for some pointers on how to do that without emitting so much toxic waste.

In Canada, however, they have a more rational approach to venom-spewing hate-mongers. In The Great White North, hate-speech can get you thrown in jail. (OMG, I'm salivating.)
AP reports:
OTTAWA — A protest by hundreds of students led organizers to cancel a Tuesday night speech by American conservative commentator Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa.

A spokesman for the organizers said Coulter was advised against appearing after about 2,000 "threatening" students crowded the entrance to Marion Hall, posing a security threat.

"It would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event," said conservative political activist Ezra Levant inside the hall. "This is an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body . . . who chose to silence her through threats and intimidation."

A protest organizer, international studies student Mike Fancie, said he was pleased they were able to stop Coulter from speaking. "What Ann Coulter is practicing is not free speech, it's hate speech," he said. "She's targeted the Jews, she's targeted the Muslims, she's targeted Canadians, homosexuals, women, almost everybody you could imagine."

The announcement of the cancellation was greeted with shouts of "Shame" and "We want Ann" from about 100 people inside the hall. Outside protesters mockingly chanted "Goodbye Ann Coulter." About 10 Ottawa police cars were called to the scene, but there were no incidents.

Coulter expressed her outrage, calling the University of Ottawa a "bush league" institution in an interview for The Washington Times. "This has never happened before," she told the newspaper. "I go to the best schools, Harvard, the Ivy League and those kids are too intellectually proud" to threaten speakers.

Levant blamed the bedlam on university academic vice-president Francois Houle, who had written Coulter to warn her that Canadian laws make provisions for hate speech. "Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges," he warned her in the letter, which Coulter quickly leaked to the media.
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New Wave Wednesday: "Blister in the Sun", by Violent Femmes (music video)

Originally released in 1983, "Blister in the Sun", by Violent Femmes, has become a staple cover song for bar bands worldwide, because you don't have to know the words or be able to dance to get into it. The song was re-released in 2000 as part of the sound track for the John Cusak movie "Grosse Point Blank".

Here's another bit of trivia from Wikipedia: The characteristic introductory melody is virtually identical to the 1962 Shadows' track "Little B" from the album Out of the Shadows, though with added lyrics and without that track's lengthy drum solo.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breaking: Court Finds School Violated Lesbian Teen's 1st Amendment Rights


This just in from Mississippi ACLU:

Alternative MSSC Prom Open To All Students Will Be Held May 8

ABERDEEN, MS – A Mississippi federal court today ruled that school officials violated a lesbian student’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let the student attend with her  girlfriend. The U.S. Court for the Northern District of Mississippi stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School to put the school prom back on the calendar because of assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students. The American Civil Liberties Union had requested a preliminary injunction stopping the Itawamba County School District from canceling the prom and from prohibiting Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tuxedo to the event.

“It feels really good that the court realized that the school was violating my rights and discriminating against me by canceling the prom. All I ever wanted was for my school to treat me and my girlfriend like any other couple that wants to go to prom,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “Now we can all get back to things like picking out our prom night outfits and thinking about corsages.”

In the 12-page ruling, the court wrote, “The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date. The Court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment. The Court is also of the opinion that the motive behind the School Board's cancellation of the prom, or withdrawal of their sponsorship, was Constance’s requests and the ACLU’s demand letter sent on her behalf.” Further, the court says that since the school represented the private prom being organized by parents at a furniture store as open to all students, then the court expects that event will indeed invite McMillen and her girlfriend.

McMillen said that she plans to attend the “private” prom, but has also long planned to attend the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition’s Second Chance Prom, to be held Saturday, May 8 in Tupelo. That event, sponsored by Green Day, Tonic.com, Iron Chef Cat Cora, and Lance Bass, among others, will be open to all LGBT students in the state, as well as straight students who are LGBT-supportive. The MSSC and the ACLU deal every year with complaints from LGBT students all over Mississippi who face resistance from their schools about bringing same-sex dates to proms or who don’t feel safe going to their own school proms.

“Today’s ruling isn’t just a win for Constance and her girlfriend – it’s a win for all the students at her school, and for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students who just want to be able to be themselves at school without being treated unfairly,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Public schools can’t just stomp on students’ free expression rights just because they don't want to deal with these students, and if schools do try to do that they’ll be dealing with us.”

“We are grateful and happy that IAHS’s attempt to cancel the prom has been seen for the thinly-veiled ruse to violate Constance McMillen’s First Amendment rights that we always knew it was,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. “These school officials should be ashamed of themselves for trying to scapegoat a young girl and then trying to lay the blame for their bad behavior at her feet.”

McMillen’s case attracted national attention and dozens of offers to host or help fund an alternative independent prom from around the country after school officials announced they were canceling the IAHS prom. The school board canceled IAHS’ prom shortly after the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanded that the district reverse its decision to prohibit McMillen from attending the prom with her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS. According to McMillen, school officials told her that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence at the April 2 event. Since McMillen’s case was filed, a Facebook page set up for her case has attracted over 400,000 supporters to date.

McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon and Joshua Glick of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.
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