Gay UCC pastor nom’ed for top post
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The United Church of Christ has nominated its first out-gay candidate to serve the 1.1-million-member denomination as one of its top elected national officers.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, 44, was selected by a search committee to serve as a member of the UCC’s five-person Collegium of Officers and to head Local Church Ministries, one of the church’s four national bodies. Guess’ selection must be affirmed by a board of directors in April, before his name is put forward for election by 1,000 delegates attending the UCC’s biennial General Synod, July 1-5, in Tampa, Fla.
Guess, who presently directs the UCC’s publishing, identity and communication ministry, has been a member of the denomination’s national staff for more than a decade and has been active in LGBT activism throughout his ministry. As the UCC’s lead communicator, he has been an active member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
In 1993, while a pastor in Henderson, Ky., a city of 27,000 near Evansville, Ind., Guess helped co-found the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization which he co-chaired for five years. In 1996, Guess’ congregation formed Matthew 25 AIDS Services, a comprehensive federally-funded HIV/AIDS clinic that continues to serve clients throughout southern Indiana and western Kentucky.
In 1999, Guess successfully led a grassroots campaign to add sexual orientation to the city of Henderson’s non-discrimination policy, a measure adopted then repealed by the city’s commissioners just three years later.
“While at Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., he led the congregation through a period of significant growth and courageous prophetic witness,” wrote Carol Williams-Swoope, chair of the 12-member national search committee. “Ben offers visionary, creative and collaborative-styled leadership during a time of sweeping change for every setting of our church, especially our local congregations.”
Guess is a graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism, Vanderbilt University Divinity School and the Chicago Theological Seminary.
While Guess would be the first out-gay person to lead the liberal denomination, the UCC, with 5,300 churches nationwide and the largest Protestant church in New England, is well known for its support of gay rights. The church was the first to ordain an openly gay pastor in 1972 and the first to affirm same-gender marriage equality in 2005.
Hospital visitation rights in effect
NEW YORK, N.Y. — On Jan. 18, new federal regulations regarding hospital visitation rights went into effect. The new rules will affect same-sex couples and their families across the country.
“We applaud the Obama administration’s steps to address the discrimination affecting LGBT patients and their families,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director for Lambda Legal. “Now, in hospitals across the nation, LGBT people and their families will have more protections so they can be by their loved one’s side when they are sick and need them most.”
The regulations require hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare to have written policies and procedures regarding patients’ visitation rights. Hospitals must now inform patients, or an attending friend or family member, of the patient’s rights to visitors of his or her choosing. The policy also prohibits discrimination against visitors based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Lambda Legal has noted in comments submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services that some important protections still need to be added. The new regulations do not address who may visit when an incapacitated patient has not designated someone to make decisions; the need for an appeals procedure for visitation denials; and the need for hospices and nursing homes have LGBT-specific nondiscrimination policies in place.
No Name-Calling Week observed
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Thousands of schools across the country participated in GLSEN’s eighth annual No Name-Calling Week, a series of educational activities held Jan. 24-28 designed to address bullying and name-calling of all kinds.
A project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing and more than 50 participating organizations, and sponsored by Cisco, No Name-Calling Week has become one of the most used and celebrated bullying prevention programs in the country.
Initially created for middle schools, No Name-Calling Week is now used in all grade levels. Schools participate in a variety of ways, from hosting assemblies to hanging posters promoting respect to using lesson plans that encourage students to intervene when they hear name-calling. Lesson plans for all grade levels and other resources were posted at www.NoNameCallingWeek.org.
Many schools also encourage students to participate in No Name-Calling Week’s Creative Expression Contest (submission deadline is Feb. 28).
“This is an extremely important message for students to hear, not just once a year, but throughout the year,” said Susan Goldfarb, a teacher at participating school Silver Lakes Middle School in North Lauderdale, Fla. “It is vital that we continue getting the message out.”
GLAAD unveils media awards noms
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the nation’s LGBT media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, has announced the nominees for its 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards. Winners will be revealed during three separate ceremonies that will be held in New York on March 19, in Los Angeles (details to be announced) and San Francisco on May 14. The GLAAD Media Awards will also celebrate GLAAD’s 25th anniversary year, looking back at a quarter-century of work to build acceptance and advance equality through LGBT images in the media.
There are 114 nominees in 23 English-language categories and 33 Spanish-language nominees in 9 categories. They include: Lisa Cholodenko’s Oscar-nominated film “The Kids Are All Right,” “I Love You Phillip Morris,” starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, “Howl,” starring James Franco, the summer hit film “Easy A,” HBO’s acclaimed drama “True Blood,” Fox’s hit show “Glee,” ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family,” NBC’s hit sitcom “30 Rock,” “Prodigal Sons,” a documentary about a transgender woman and her family, season eight of “Project Runway,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for Ricky Martin’s first televised interview, MSNBC’s interview with Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns, CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Essence.com’s “Bridal Bliss: Aisha and Danielle,” the Scissor Sisters, Chely Wright, and Spanish-language nominees “Levántate,” “Aquí y Ahora,” “Caso Cerrado,” “Casos de Familia,” and openly gay music artists Christian Chávez and Fedro.
This year GLAAD introduced a new category to recognize independent blogs, in recognition of the growing role of online media in shaping today’s culture. The first nominees in this category are The Bilerico Project, Blabbeando, Joe. My. God., Pam’s House Blend, and Rod 2.0.
Special Honorees for each city will be announced in the coming weeks.
Workplace rules at Jewish non-profits studied
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is set to begin an effort to investigate the existing workplace policies for LGBT employees at Jewish non-profit organizations. The work, an expansion of HRC’s workplace equality project, is supported by a generous lead grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and supporting grants from The Morningstar Foundation, Stuart S. Kurlander — a leader in several non-profit Jewish and Jewish LGBT community organizations — and an anonymous donor.
“Together, HRC and our partners share a vision of a work environment that provides every employee with the opportunity to achieve their full potential – in policy and in practice,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the HRC Foundation. “This collaborative partnership will expand the conversation about equality for LGBT people to the communities these organizations serve and to religious communities more broadly about their role in making fairness and equality a reality for all.”
“The continued marginalization of LGBT Jews in some quarters is especially disheartening for those of us who believe in the power of a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every person as having equal and infinite merit,” said Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “We hope that by creating this equality index, we can advance a process whereby LGBT Jews will be more welcomed and protected in the workplace and in Jewish community organizations, which will, in turn, create a more open, vibrant and diverse Jewish community.”
Last year Lynn Schusterman issued a call for all Jewish organizations to join her family’s foundation in adopting non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Key Ugandan activist murdered
KAMPALA, Uganda — David Kato, one of Uganda’s most prominent LGBT rights activists, was murdered Jan. 26. Initial reports indicated he was killed in his home by a hammer blow to the head and his body was discovered later by neighbors. However, a subsequent police account suggests Kato died on the way to the hospital and that there was a witness to the crime.
The murder comes only weeks after the Uganda Supreme Court told a local magazine, Rolling Stone (no relation to the U.S.-based publication), to stop printing the names of prominent alleged Ugandan homosexuals and calling for their death. It is possible that Kato, who was out already as a gay man and activist, has become the first victim of the magazine’s call.
During his long campaign for equality Kato had been arrested three times for his activism and endured countless other forms of harassment and assault. He was known as the “grandfather of the kuchus” — as gay men in Kampala call themselves — for his tireless fight to improve the treatment of Uganda’s LGBT community.