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Shelter for Homeless LGBT Youth Opens in Sugar Hill

by Cody Lyon
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Dec 5, 2007
The Ali Forney Center in Manhattan is named in honor of Ali Forney, a homeless gay teen murdered in 1997.

The Ali Forney Center in Manhattan is named in honor of Ali Forney, a homeless gay teen murdered in 1997.  

On the Monday night after Thanksgiving, a freshly painted pink walled basement room within the impressive Church of the Intercession on West 155th Street in Sugar Hill is busy with activity. Large cots with pillows and a puffy sleeping bag and a small storage chest lay in the middle of the floor.

Three young people are sitting, watching and talking in a distant corner with suitcases in tow. After everyone else has gone home, they will each take a cot at Sylvia’s Sugar Hill – New York’s newest emergency shelter for homeless LGBT youth.

Peggy Borgstede, president of the Interfaith Task Force, and her partner Kathy Green were the driving forces behind this upper Manhattan facility. It is an extension of Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth the Metropolitan Community Church of New York opened inside its Hell’s Kitchen congregation in 2002. The Sugar Hill facility, which cost $4,500 to set up, can accommodate six people each night.

Borgstede said congregations around the city remain an important part of her organization’s mission.

“We go to churches and say, hey, open your doors and take in some of our youth,” he said.

A disproportionate number of these youth are of color or come from poor or working class families. Carmen, 24, is a homeless transgender woman who sought shelter at Sylvia’s Sugar Hill. She told EDGE many homeless LGBT youth she knows have been kicked out by their parents.

“Being homeless is not some musical like “Rent” where everyone can sing along and be happy about it,” she said. “They [LGBT youth] are afraid to go to any place for help because they’ve been taught their whole lives that the way they are is wrong. They are afraid someone will hurt them; kill them.”

Joey, a 24-year-old student who currently attends the Fashion Institute of Technology, said he hasn’t spoken to his father since he was 17. He further described him as an abusive man who eventually beat him.

“Yeah, it got physical,” Joey said.

Kate Barnhart, director of homeless youth services at Metropolitan Community Church of New York, confirmed the prevalence of these accounts among those who seek refuge at Sylvia’s Place on West 36th Street.

“The most common types of issues we see among our youth is… they come out and got kicked out,” she said.

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, agreed.

“If there are kids coming out, and their parents can’t accept them, there has to be a sense that they are our kids,” he said. “The fact that thousands of young people are being tossed to the street because they are gay is one of the worst crises happening in the gay community.”

The Ali Forney Center opened its doors in 2002 and is named in honor of Ali Forney, a homeless gay teen murdered in 1997. It operates emergency shelter and transitional housing facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn where residents must attend high school or work towards their GED and demonstrate a will to work. Ali Forney also maintains a drop-in center in West 27th Street in Chelsea where psychologists and social workers are available.

“Being homeless is not some musical like “Rent” where everyone can sing along and be happy about it.”

It currently houses 43 homeless LGBT youth but 120 remain on a waiting list. Siciliano conceded resources are scarce and bureaucratic obstacles remain a problem.

“For any system to be humane, there has to be more supply than demand,” he said. “If you have an effective program – that gets kids off the street and connected to social service and programs – that helps them move into adulthood in a healthy way.”

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates there are between 575,000 and 1.6 million homeless and runaway youth between 12 and 24 in the United States. The National Lesbian & Gay Task Force further concluded in a 2006 report titled “LGBT Youth; Epidemic of Homelessness” that between 20 and 40 percent of these youth self-define as LGBT.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homeless LGBT youth are on the streets in New York on any given night. And the National Alliance to End Homelessness maintains these youth remain more vulnerable to violence. They suffer higher rates of mental illness and are more likely to engage in sex work. The Washington-based advocacy coalition further estimates sexual violence rates are more than seven percent higher among homeless LGBT youth than their straight peers and are more likely to attempt suicide.

Siciliano and other activists maintain the broader movement for LGBT rights must do a better job to address the plight of homeless LGBT youth. He pointed to the movement’s focus on coming out in recent years but conceded many young people – especially those whose parents are socially conservative or even homophobic – often do not take into account the possible consequences.

“If you come out in an accepting environment, certainly that’s more healthy than hiding your sexual orientation,” Siciliano said. “If you come out [of an] area [where] you are like spawn, and you are thrown out of the house that night with your belongings in garbage bags and have no way to support yourself except through prostitution, that is a catastrophe.”

Another concern remains the lack of services the majority of homeless shelters and health care systems provide to homeless LGBT youth. NGLTF senior policy analyst Nicholas Ray, who authored “LGBT Youth; Epidemic of Homelessness,” maintained this absence of basic services mandates the need for Sylvia’s Sugar Hill, Sylvia’s Place, Ali Forney and other LGBT-specific organizations whose mission remains to help homeless LGBT youth.

“Until we can guarantee that LGBT youth seeking help and support will receive the care they need for mainstream agencies, then there will be an ongoing demand for LGBT specific service providers to support our community,” he said.

Carmen agreed.

“What if you had to eat from dumpsters, had to sleep on the train [or] had to turn to sex work to survive,” she asked. “That’s not something people want for themselves – or for their children – even if they can’t stand what that child does.

News :: National

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Despite Rocky History, Birmingham GLBT Community Making Progress

by Cody Lyon
EDGE Contributor
Saturday Jan 5, 2008
Birmingham’s official symbol, Vulcan, with downtown Birmingham in the background

Birmingham’s official symbol, Vulcan, with downtown Birmingham in the background  (Source:National Trust collection)

On the cool Thursday night just before Christmas, wooden pews inside Birmingham, Alabama’s brownstone St. Andrews Episcopalian Church were filled to capacity with a variety of ages, ethnicities and genders who’d come to hear the Magic City Choral Society Men’s Chorus’ Holiday Concert. The 40 choir members, all dressed in matching formal wear, were under the direction of Dr. Joseph Paul Dease for the group’s debut performance.

“It was time,” Dease said of the group’s formation, later pointing out the rainbow flag on the evening’s program flyer and the chorus’ stated purpose: “a voice of song for our community.”

There is a large, visible, albeit loosely organized gay community in Alabama’s largest city. There are 24-hour gay bars, social, religious and political organizations, annual events, even entire neighborhoods that gays have transformed into friendly enclaves.

In fact, according to the 2000 United State Census, the city of Birmingham was home to a higher per capita concentration of same-sex couples than cities of comparable or larger sizes like Memphis, Charlotte and even more liberal northern cities like Columbus, Ohio.

But for many Americans, the notion of Birmingham evokes intolerance, still viewed through the lens of the 1960s civil rights movement, home to streets where police dogs and fire hoses met foot soldiers in the fight for civil rights. It was Birmingham that helped change the course of history for African American citizens. Today’s Birmingham, however, touts itself as a place of reconciliation, diversity and inclusion. But as any Southern native living in a northern city learns, the image of Birmingham is often still that of backwoods, white, racist and homophobic.

This simplistic view of the South by outsiders still raises the ire of local residents in Birmingham.

“People in Alabama don’t have a monopoly on prejudice and racism,” said Danny Upton, an attorney and Executive Director of Equality Alabama, the state’s leading GLBT civil rights organization. “We certainly have struggled with it, and we have a tortured history because of it, but when people speak of Alabama with disdain, they are oftentimes speaking out of their own ignorance since many have never been here. And there are some pretty educated homophobes located outside the South.”

Still, Birmingham is located in the heart of the socially conservative Bible Belt. In recent years here, shrill local politicians like former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and former Governor Fob James earned headlines by spewing anti-gay rhetoric, earning votes from Alabama’s well-organized conservative voting blocks. But rather than flee to more liberal turf like New York or California, a number of GLBT members have stepped up and are helping pave the way, slowly but surely, to a more inclusive and officially accepting society in the heart of the deep South.

After the Thursday concert, choral members, friends and supporters took off their formal wear and shared drinks while loudly celebrating a birthday at one of the city’s new downtown venues called The Wine Loft. The bar, a cross between Soho and South Beach, is massive, and on this night was filled with a variety pack of patrons. “I want everyone, straight or gay, to know they have a place here,” said owner Mike Dunnavant.

Sipping red wine and nibbling some cake was choral member Howard Bayless. Last year, Bayless made local political history after he won an election onto the Birmingham Board of Education, becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in Birmingham. He described the distinctly Southern road to change in Birmingham’s GLBT community: “In Birmingham, we don’t wear our issues on our sleeves, it’s more about friends and neighbors and relationships, who we eat supper with. Still, we keep our personal business very close to our chest. It’s part of our problem, but it’s also part of our culture.”

Bayless’ win followed the earlier election of the state’s first open lesbian, Patricia Todd (also from Birmingham), to the state legislature in Montgomery.

  •  South,” Bayless said. “I love working here, I love to live here, its all about understanding this place where you grow up and how things work, and that’s different than in most places in the country and its often misunderstood. People in the North assume that all the work has already been done in the South. They look at their own communities where the gay rights work has been done for a decade or more, but you can’t equate the work and progress there, or the civil rights movement here, with the work we as a community are doing now.”

Later that week during another conversation, Equality Alabama’s Upton spoke with EDGE about the organized political work GLBT members and their local allies are undertaking. Equality Alabama uses a multi-pronged approach to reach the GLBT community and likeminded allies through nuts-and-bolts advocacy methods like mass mailings, events, and e-mail. Upton said that events where both gay and straight individuals have opportunities to meet and share concerns also forge new opportunities, both politically and socially.

“By bringing people into contact with people who may be different than they are we have an opportunity to give people a really personal reason to rethink some of their feelings about gay people,” said Upton. “And with the election of Howard Bayless and Patricia Todd, GLBT voters in Birmingham are more aware of their political prowess than ever before.”

Still, some worry that Birmingham’s GLBT community members are complacent since the city feels more liberal and economically advantageous than life in areas outside Birmingham.

“When it comes to advocacy, there’s a bit of nonchalance in the gay community in Birmingham,” said Bob Palmatier, chairman of the board at Equality Alabama.

Among local residents both straight and gay, there’s even a pronounced air of desirability by residents for gay neighbors, who have the reputation as excellent homeowners or pioneers who turn run down or abandoned areas into some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

Howard Bayless, for example, lives in the Crestwood neighborhood of the city, an area with a heavy gay population. He said he bought his home over ten years ago for around $60,000. Today his house is appraised at $270,000.

Palmatier, a retired Birmingham Public School principal, says that the entire staff at his school knew about and had met his partner of 18 years.

“The staff had met and accepted Russell,” Palmatier said. “They always came to the house we own for holiday parties and other events, and then, when I retired, they bought us a cruise.”

He said the goal of GLBT leaders in Birmingham is to educate those co-workers, that the on a human level, the city’s residents for the most part, socially liberal, but the difficult challenge has been how best to educate those neighbors and friends about the need for job protection as well as partner asset and health care concerns that have the potential to disrupt life in ways straight people don’t’ have to worry about. He said he’s beginning to see changes in attitudes that make tangible results more possible by coming out and letting people know this is just one aspect of who they are.

Still, in 2006, 86 percent of Alabama voters passed a marriage protection amendment outlawing same sex unions, joining 20 other states with similar amendments. But in Birmingham’s home county Jefferson, only 55 percent of voters approved the amendment. Ironically, some see the slim majority as a baby step in a more progressive direction. “Incremental steps are critical to making progress in the South,” Bayless said. “You can’t at the same rate that you do in New York or California.”

And then there is the still sensitive issue of race, which plays a role both economically and demographically in the Birmingham area.

Like many American cities throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Birmingham experienced a period of “white flight,” when white residents moved outward to new suburban areas. Unlike most Southern cities, Birmingham was industrial, and when the main economic engine, steel mills, began to close in the 1970s, the city slid into an economic downturn in 1980s.

During this period, African Americans in Birmingham gained new political power, electing mostly black leadership since the 1970s.

Over the past couple of decades, thanks in great part to the medical, research and other service industry investment, the greater Birmingham area began to see an economic, cultural and social renaissance.

In great part due to the scars of the past, some say, the city’s majority African American city government has been cool to the idea of extending official civil rights legislation to what many see as an affluent and mostly white, at least those who are out and open about sexual orientation, GLBT community. In Birmingham, like much of the South, conservative evangelical influence is not color blind.

Last March, white City Council member Valerie Abbot introduced a non binding inclusion anti-discrimination resolution that would include sexual orientation.

The first attempt failed.

One African American city council member, Roderick Royal, reportedly said that to equate the GLBT movement with the “noble movement of civil rights does not compare.”

According to local news reports, Royal and another city council member were actually “rolling their eyes” and “snickering” as Abbot read the inclusion resolution.
The resulting local outcry over the measure’s failure was tremendous. Just a few months later, the resolution was presented again, and that time it passed overwhelmingly.

Bayless explained that a number of GLBT people as well as allies often assume a natural kinship with the civil rights movement. However, he says that is a mistake.

“The civil rights movement and the events of Birmingham were about dealing with racism,” Bayless said. “African Americans were separated from whites in all eating, drinking, shopping, schools, even elevators here in Birmingham.”

Bayless said its hard for whites to understand that many African Americans are still dealing with the fact that whites, through institutions based on racism, controlled their entire lives for over three hundred years in this country. He believes a more sensitive approach is necessary for any alliance between the two to work, particularly in Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council member Valerie Abbot says that she hopes to see an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation passed in the future.

“Of all the cities in America, Birmingham has the most to prove because of our history and because of the images of fire hoses that are shown any time Birmingham is mentioned in the news,” she said.

She and others say that Birmingham is a wonderful place for gay or straight, black or white, and that a wise person would give the city a visit. She is optimistic about the prospects for openly gay leaders in the city.

Upton, who was born in a tiny north Alabama town, said that even in the most rural parts of the state, he’s seen change first hand.

“I’ve seen the most rural people, who’ve met, found out about a relative or friend being gay, and came to the realization that people are people,” he said.

“I’m hopeful about the growing gay community in Birmingham, because history and justice are on our side.”

Mother Wins Lawsuit Against Hotel for Showing Gay Adult films on TV

by Cody Lyon
EDGE Contributor
Tuesday Nov 6, 2007

On October 12, 2007, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded Edwina McCombs, a Tennessee resident on vacation with her two daughters, then aged 8 and 9, $85,000 after the two little girls were unintentionally exposed to hardcore pornographic material in a Value Lodge motel room in the suburban town of Artesia. According to the plaintiff law firm, the material had included “close up images of people engaged in sodomy and homosexual acts.”

“She first went to the police, where she was informed that there is no law in California that prohibits the showing of pornography to children” and “she would have to bring a civil action,” said Elliot F. Krieger, one of Ms McCombs’ attorneys from Jarvis & Krieger law firm in Long Beach.

The jury held the motel was liable since it allegedly didn’t have “lock outs” to pornography on its television screens. The award was based on McCombs’ claim of emotional distress and negligence.

Unlike most hotels, where guests go through a pay-per-view system for adult movies, Artesia’s Value Lodge readily broadcasts porn over a particular channel on its TV screens free of charge. The motel claimed warning signs were in place in the rooms. Further, according to the hotel’s lawyer, if guests requested that the material be blocked during check in, or if the front desk saw children with parents, employees could block the movies.

But allegedly that’s not what happened at Value Lodge the night Edwina McCombs checked in on Aug. 3, 2006. Instead, while McCombs was in the bathroom and assumed the two girls were watching children’s shows, they knocked on the bathroom door and told their mommy that something was terribly wrong.

In a cultural landscape where cable and broadcast networks are littered with reality television dripping with innuendo and sexual couplings, suggestive music videos and celebrity crotch shots, some might find the idea that someone could win thousands of dollars after two children are exposed to a few minutes of pornography ridiculous.

A Right-Wing Victory?
On the other side, social conservatives bent on seeing an elimination of what they see as the takeover of our culture by porn, are calling the California verdict a victory over ubiquitous sleaze.

They can now point to a brave mother who took it upon herself to stand up, protect her children and who ended up a warrior in the war on porn. But beneath the initial reporting and touting of triumph over titillation, clues point to a sad, disturbing story and what is very possibly a frivolous exploitation of the civil justice system.

“This is an interesting and somewhat scary story,” said Marjorie Heins, founder of The Free Expression Policy Project in New York.

Heins, who wrote “Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship and the Innocence of Youth” said that given today’s political climate, the hotel probably should have been more fearful about allowing access to the adult channel. But she argued that the verdict was scary, because “the notion that someone can be held liable for showing a movie, based on the psychological harm is supposedly caused puts all creative expression in jeopardy.”

Artesia, a suburban city in Southeast Los Angeles is best known for its Little India neighborhood. The Value Lodge on Artesia Boulevard offers rooms for $60 to $65 dollars a night. The motel offers a three-hour rate of $45. Regardless of what an hourly rate implies, the motel has the appearance as a “family hotel” according to those involved in the civil action. A police spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that covers the area wouldn’t say whether the hotel has a high incidence of complaints.

The motel had appeared to be a decent spot to spend the evening for McCombs and her children, Krieger said. . She had been planning on visiting a friend in the San Fernando Valley that evening, but was to tired to go that far.

Max Chiang, who defended motel owner Charles Su, describes himself as Christian. But Chiang’s scenario differs widely from the way the case is being portrayed among anti- pornography groups. McCombs, who had run into some money from her 2005 divorce, is a longtime resident of Los Angeles who recently moved to Tennessee with her two daughters to enjoy the lower cost of living. She had decided she preferred California and was looking to move back and a potential financial windfall from this case would enable that, he maintained.

He says the original amount that McCombs and her lawyers asked for to cover the damages was around $400,000. The motel owner, he says, didn’t have that kind of money, and instead offered $50,000 to settle the case.

Krieger said McCombs had no intention of moving back to California. He wouldn’t not say the exact amount of money he was originally seeking, only that it was more than $85,000. Apparently in anticipation of a large settlement in a jury trial, McCombs then mortgaged her home in Tennessee to pay mounting psychological evaluation bills.

“She did mortgage her house-she did it because she wanted the best treatment for her daughters and that treatment is expensive,” Krieger said. By the time of the trial, in October, McCombs had spent over $29,000 in psychological evaluation costs alone, an amount her insurance company refused to pay.

That money was paid by VISA credit card to Yorba Linda California Forensic/Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Michael Perrotti, who also happened to testify as an expert witness in the trial. According to court transcripts, Perrotti received $1,500 per day for his testimony. (A hotel management expert also testified.)

Paying experts to testify in trials has long evoked controversy, but most agree that it’s a necessary component of winning a state civil case. “Even the most careful, thorough, honest experts will typically only be willing to participate in the trial process if they are compensated,” said Jennifer Mnookin, a professor at the University of California Law School who specializes in evidence and expert theory. But she also criticizes the widespread use of the practice.

On his website, Dr Michael J. Perrotti lists extensive treatment and expert evaluation experience as well as a long list of testimonies at civil and criminal trials. He has also worked as a forensic consultant on the television program CSI. In addition, Perrotti advertises that he offers biblical counseling. He also lists among his honors an award for soliciting large donations to the Republican Party.

During the trial, Perrotti testified that he had spent around 100 hours with multiple clinical interviews, background, history and mental status examinations of the two young girls as well as the mother and father.

The girls themselves were dressed head to toe in white. “They looked like little angels from above,” Chiang said.

Perrotti testified that McCombs’ daughters had been traumatized by the exposure to pornographic material. After a number of clinical tests, he says he found psychological symptoms that included dissociation; symptoms related to-but still not meeting-the criteria for diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD; and that the two girls’ thinking had become sexualized. While Dr. Perrotti only said there were symptoms similar to PTSD, the very use of the term is bound to raise questions.

Dr. Steven J. Berokowitz, assistant professor at the Child Study Center at Yale University, has done extensive work with child and trauma. He also serves as medical director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence as well as director of the Intensive-In Home Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Service.

Mother Wins Lawsuit Against Hotel for Showing Gay Porn on TV

(Continued from Page 1)
by Cody Lyon
Legal experts caution against equating homosexuality with pornography. “Pornography, and the harm it might cause children, should be assessed in an even-handed way that doesn’t rely on distinctions drawn to sexual orientation,” said Douglas NeJaime, Assistant Professor at the Williams Institute at UCLA.Perhaps a more key aspect to this case might have been Ms McCombs reaction to the incident. According to Perrotti, a therapist in Tennessee had indicated Ms McCombs had a “histrionic” personality. “That means she dramatizes things,” he said. Still he added, “I think her feelings are normal as far as a mother who’s children are exposed to such a thing.”In the trial, it came out that McCombs had been diagnosed with symptoms of depression, she’d had anger management counseling, and she also exhibited hysterical traits and she too, had been molested as a child. “The kids are already highly stressed, things sound chaotic after the divorce, the mother’s histrionics,” Berkowitz said. “All of these things can contribute to a child’s reaction.”One of the more interesting aspects of Perrotti’s testimony is his assessment of the impact of pornographic material. He cited studies of adolescents in which repeated exposure to pornography increased sexual violence and aggressive behavior in boys. He cited his expertise in the evaluation of sexual offenders, for whom one of the risk factors is pornography. He also said that paraphilia (“abnormal sexual behavior”) can develop out of pornography and that can lead to dangerous behaviors.Homosexuality was once listed as a paraphilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. Currently, the list includes a number of fetishes some might consider as simply kinky.

Once again, the judge was curious. “Doctor, how long were these girls exposed to pornography in that one incident?” Judge Birney asked.

“I believe it was minutes,” Perotti replied. Perrotti did not respond to numerous requests for an interview for this story.

In the end, although Edwina McCombs was awarded $85,000, she may well have ended up in the hole. She had already paid Perrotti over $30,000 for evaluations and testimony. And then there are the legal fees and court costs–and “hotel expert” Alan Snyder, who expressed his disbelief that a family hotel didn’t have protective measures.

Max Chiang claims that the jury awarded the money it did because it felt sorry for the young girls, so they basically awarded enough to cover part of the pre-trial costs, and expenses. Still, a number of conservative organizations are touting the case as a triumph.

Such organizations have been targeting hotels that show adult films for years. Groups like Citizens for Community Values, led by self-described former porn addict Phil Burress, saw success in Cincinnati back in 2002 after engaging in what it called sting operations at three area hotels. They say that resulted in the elimination of adult pay-per-view films. Recently, CCV put the pressure on LodgeNet Entertainment Corp, a supplier of television, on-demand movies and Internet access to around 1.8 million rooms in 9,300 hotel properties in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This past August, a group of 13 organizations–including Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America–formed an alliance specifically targeting hotels that offer adult films. The alliance took out a full page ad in some editions of USA Today asking the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate whether some pay-per-view films in hotels violate federal and state obscenity laws. The coalition had also developed a new website,, a directory of “family friendly” hotels and motels where adult entertainment was not on the menu.

About a month before the Value Lodge case in California went to court, the anti-porn group Lighted Candle Society announced Family, a site meant to serve as an informational port for the organization led by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and former California Lieutenant Governor John Harmer. During an August 2007 appearance on Michael Reagan’s radio talkshow, the former lieutenant governor said the Lighted Candle Society intended to attack the pornography industry using civil litigation. In addition to utilizing existing obscenity laws, the group has said it would attempt to present scientific evidence that shows pornography causes physiological and psychological harm, much of this “evidence” based on the research of people like former Captain Kangaroo singer and producer Dr. Judith Reisman.

Lighted Candle’s Harmer recently co-authored the book “The Sex Industrial Complex: America’s Secret Combination; Pornographic Culture, Addiction and the Human Brain.” Here, the authors charge, among other things, that homosexuality has become a huge part of pornography, asserting that the Abu Gharaib prison torture scandal was porn inspired.

Although there is no tangible proof that points ot Edwina McCombs’ lawsuit being connected to groups like the Lighted Candle Society, reaction by these groups to the verdict was swift. ’We’ve been in close contact with the lawyers in this suit,” according to Family Fragments.

“If this hotel is made to pay for this kind of activity, other hotels might be subject to a lawsuit,” threatened Pat Trueman at Alliance Defense Fund, on the Focus on the Family Citizen Link website. Janet Folger, of Faith to Action, told Citizen Link that she believed the decision would send shockwaves and go a long way in protecting children.

“While we like to say that events cause symptoms of PTSD, that’s just not true,” Berkowitz said. “There are events or experience that are ’likely’ to cause PTSD than others. Rape is high on the list. So is torture. But it’s much more what we bring to the event.”

The best predictor of a diagnosis of PTSD is a history of child abuse, he added, even in soldiers. As it turns out, during testimony Perroti revealed that the younger daughter had been sexually molested by an older child cousin a few years earlier and that might have contributed to her traumatic reaction to the pornographic material.

During friendly questioning from Leejanice Toback, another of McCombs’ lawyers, Perrotti stated that the two girls would need at least two to four more years of therapy to deal with the PTSD-like symptoms and “remove” the harmful images now implanted in the girl’s heads. The cost of the future treatment for the girl and their Mother would be more than $150,000.

Berkowitz agrees that exposure to pornography can be a very disturbing experience for a young child and can cause traumatic symptoms. Berkowitz said it would be impossible for him to fully evaluate this particular case since he did not have all of the background information.

He added, however, that the 100 hours of evaluation in the pre-trial preparation was suspicious and the cost and time for future therapy, even if the child was diagnosed with PTSD symptoms in relation to the trauma would probably not approach two years or $150, 000. “Six months to a year tops,” he said.

In alternately graphic and tedious courtroom testimony, Perrotti described in detail a litany of destructive psychological symptoms beyond PTSD that he attributed to the brief exposure to pornographic material. “She described having something like a concussion, things went black, and then she was in the sky and the clouds with her (stuffed) animals looking down on herself–kind of to get away from the traumatic event,” he said in the courtroom. “It was so terrifying to her.”

The flurry of references to the children’s use of the word pornography sparked Judge William J. Birney’s curiosity. “It strikes me as somewhat strange that an 8-year old in her very first contact with you when you were interviewing her comes up and uses the term ’pornography’” the judge said. “She must have heard that from somewhere”

Perrotti explained that since the daughter was part of a legal case and the fact that the Mother was impacted she was bound to learn the word. “I never heard it out my grandchildren of the same age” answered the judge, evoking laughter in the courtroom.

With that, Perrotti made a point that this was exactly the real issue in this case. He stated that before the incident, the two young girls did not talk about sexual things. “A tomboy and a boy kissing was no big deal. Now they are thinking about two boys kissing. Now they are thinking about French kissing. So their thinking has become sexualized,” Perrotti said.

Berkowitz believes the sexual orientation of the porn would not make much of a difference. “It has more to do with how graphic the material was,” he said.

Nature vs. Nurture: Research & Ideology Clash in Search for Roots of Homosexuality
by Cody Lyon
EDGE Contributor
Tuesday Feb 5, 2008

Over the years, there have been countless theories and studies seeking to find some sort of biological or genetic factor that might play a role in determining sexual orientation. Debate over the validity of such studies and how they might impact the gay community in its quest for acceptance and greater equality has gone on for nearly just as long.

Some proponents of this sort of research hope the results reveal a scientifically conclusive genetic component in homosexuality whereby the hope is that social conservatives and other groups, especially those who call sexual orientation a “choice” might temper or silence some of their criticisms.

Dr. Alan Sanders is one of the researchers working on this cutting-edge–and highly controversial–issue. Sanders is looking for gay brothers–the blood kind, not the “girlfriend” kind.

“We’ve been aiming to get about a thousand pairs of gay brothers,” said Dr. Alan Sanders, the lead researcher of an ongoing study at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute near Chicago. So far, they’ve recruited about 700 pairs. Parents as well as heterosexual brothers, with the exception of identical twins, are also being recruited for the study, which expects to release findings at the end of this year.

“We’re trying to use genetics as a tool to better understand the development of sexual orientation,” said Sanders noting that he and his team of researchers are just as interested in how genetics contribute to someone being straight as well as being gay.

Officially, the mainstream psychological community doesn’t “take any sort of stand on those studies,” said Clinton Anderson, Director of the American Psychological Association’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office. “That is fundamentally a scientific question. Our concern is that there is no reason for people to be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. We try to bring psychological information to bear in the appropriate context.”

For his part, Sanders believes environment, psychology and genetics all work together determine sexual orientation. The current study is building on the work of research scientist Dean Hamer, who, 1993, studied 33 pairs of gay brothers and found a link between the genetic marker Xq28 and homosexuality. Many later found fault with his methodology.

Sanders said that he and his team couldn’t quiet replicate what Hammer had found–which he said could be due to a number of factors. He became more curious and realized that in order to reach any sort of valid conclusion, he needed a much larger sample size.

Studies Lead to Greater Acceptance
He and his team obtained a federal grant and began the quest for 1,000 gay brothers, partly on the still-active Sanders does admit that, if his study does indeed offer conclusive scientific evidence that genetics plays a role in determining sexuality, it might impact social attitudes about homosexuality. “There have been polls that show more tolerant attitudes about homosexuality in people who believe there is an early biological or genetic contribution,” said Sanders.

A 2000 study led by California State University’s C.E. Tygart, “Genetic Causation Attribution and Public Support of Gay Rights,” found “The greater degree to which the subjects attributed the causes of homosexuality to genetics, the greater the support for extending gay rights in the areas of legalized domestic partnership and gay marriage.”

Still, evolutions that have occurred in society’s attitudes about gay people have not necessarily been the result of any mea culpa in science that offered proof that one’s gayness is innate. And, even if science did provide a clear DNA trail, would that impact attitudes?

“I suspect it would not take to long for people or groups that are currently hostile towards sexual minorities to find new reasons to be hostile,” said Dr. Gregory M. Herek, a psychology professor at the University of California Davis. “People will still either have prejudice towards sexual minorities or not have prejudice towards sexual minorities–and they will find justifications for those attitudes in either direction.”

Still, some gay activists point to scientific immutability of homosexuality as a means for furthering political and civil progress for members of the gay community. But that raises concern among some experts. “The bottom line is, should the gay rights movement be basing much of its issues of civil rights on science that is simply not there yet,” asked Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist well known for his writings and practice among gay men.

“In the past, the gay rights movement implicitly copied itself on the black civil rights movement and the parallel issue of race,” he said. Since the science was never conclusive, social conservatives vigorously advocated that sexual orientation was an individual choice. The result was a growing cottage industry of so called “conversion” or “sexual re-orientation therapy,” a practice based on the premise that an individual can choose to be gay or not.

Drescher says that these groups, like Exodus or NARTH use therapeutic approaches that tell a person they are the agent of change. So it’s up to the individual. What often happens, however, is that patients simply suppress their sexuality, which can lead to feelings of failure, depression and according to Drescher, suicidal thoughts.

The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality or NARTH states as one of its’ position statements that the right to seek therapy to change one’s sexual adaptation should be considered self evident and inalienable.

“The truth of the matter is, re-orientation therapy is like any other therapy,” said Arthur Goldberg, Executive Secretary at NARTH. “It doesn’t focus on one’s sexuality per se, it deals with underlying issues, lack of self esteem, self worth, it’s very conventional therapy,” said Goldberg, adding, once people feel better about themselves, they are better equipped to make the determination into which way they want to go.

Conversion Therapy ’Cures’ What, Exactly?
But, Dr. Gregory Herek says the whole problem in conversion therapies is that there is an “it’ that no one defines clearly. “What is ’it’ that’s chosen?” he asks. “Is it the idea of having an attraction, is it the idea of engaging in sexual behaviors or the idea of adopting an identity?”

“Even those people who have gone through successful conversion therapies will often say they still have attractions to people of the same sex, and the only difference is, they don’t act on them,” said Herek.

He said the consensus among mainstream psychologists is that being gay is simply one way of being sexual and that there is nothing maladjusted about having same sex attractions: “There’s no reason to change, it’s like asking whether or not we could effectively intervene to make left handed people right handed.”

In recent months, the American Psychological Association announced plans to review its 10-year-old policy on counseling gay men and lesbians. Some are hoping the APA strongly denounces these “post-gay” therapies. Current APA policy opposes any counseling that treats homosexuality as a mental illness but does not explicitly denounce reparative therapy.

Among the Task Force panel, were psychologists and one psychiatrist, Drescher. “Those on the panel are imminently qualified to provide APA with a review o scientific literature and recommendations,” said Anderson.

NARTH’s Goldberg counters that the panel was stacked with what it called gay activists. “Gay activist simply means being active in the gay world or actively advocating gay posture,” he said. NARTH protested the fact that no members or supporters of reparative therapy were on the task force and worries that the APA will come to a pre-determined vote.

“If someone is unhappy with his or her sexual orientation, be it religious, cultural, secular or whatever, they have a right to go and seek assistance for it,” Goldberg maintained. Goldberg is quick to point out that NARTH is secular but admitted it does assist religious based conversion groups. “Even if a genetic component was found, it doesn’t invalidate the fact that people who want to change, who are motivated to change, would be able to change,” he added.

While there’s no solid proof anyone is born with their sexual orientation, it’s not easy to change–if at all, according to Drescher. “One of the best examples is how birds learn their songs,” he said. “Birds are not born knowing a particular song, they learn it at a particular age, and once that bird learns that song, it can not learn another.”

Meanwhile, back in the trenches in Chicago, Dr. Alan Sanders says his research would appear to fly in the face of those who say that sexual orientation is a choice. “When you have more evidence being built up that at least part, or a sizeable part of the picture are early pre natal aspects, like genetics, that tends to undermine the idea that sexual orientation is a choice,” he said. “Over time, the arguments of conversion therapy advocates will probably evolve, where they will say, perhaps sexual orientation is not so much a choice, but sexual behavior is, and its what you do with it.”


Gotham laments closure of popular Meatpacking District eatery

by Cody Lyon
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Jul 2, 200
Meatpacking District restauranteur Florent Morellet receives an honor at the New York City Council’s annual LGBT Pride celebration last month. High rents forced him to close his popular eatery on June 29.

Meatpacking District restauranteur Florent Morellet receives an honor at the New York City Council’s annual LGBT Pride celebration last month. High rents forced him to close his popular eatery on June 29.  (Source:Chris Muncy)

On the Wednesday evening before Gay Pride weekend in the city, the Meatpacking District was alive with activity. Finely dressed pedestrians made their way along cobblestone streets while window shoppers admired the latest fashions in freshly sandblasted buildings. All the while, sounds of laughter, conversation and clinking glass from Pastis and other polished restaurants filled the air.

But deep in the heart of this exclusive neighborhood, on Gansevoort Street, a pair of lone rainbow flags crowned the green awning at Restaurant Florent. Albeit crowded, the air of sadness over the popular eatery’s closure consumed all who entered.

“He [owner Florent Morellet] is so overwhelmed right now,” a busy hostess said after EDGE asked her about the possibility of speaking to him. “You know we only have a few days left.”

The paint on the window told the whole story.

“Serving 24 hours until the bitter “sweet” end on June 29,” it read.


Written by codylyonreporter

January 28, 2012 at 1:44 am

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