Thursday, April 4, 2013

Around The Nation

Texas University Student Government Votes To Opt Out Of Fees Used To Pay For Campus LGBT Centre
COLLEGE STATION, TX -- The Texas A&M student senate Wednesday passed a bill that allows students to opt out of paying fees that fund the school's LGBTQ campus centre on religious grounds. Prior to the final 33-38 vote, senators heard impassioned pleas and arguments from an overflow crowd that packed the senate chamber as a majority of students present testified in opposition to the measure according to the student paper, The Battalion.
The measure, "The Religious Funding Exemption Bill," which had been introduced weeks before as the "GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill," is designed to allow students to choose not to pay portions of their student fees to specific university services that conflict with their religious beliefs. The bill's title was changed and its language altered as to broaden its scope 24 hours prior to the senate session. Critics charge that even with those changes, there was only one targeted purpose for the legislation, defunding the LGBT centre.
Thomas McNutt, a senior political science major and one of the bill's principal authors said the goal of the bill is to use existing systems to ensure the religious freedom of every student.
“Texas A&M already allows [students to opt-out for religious reasons],” McNutt said. “And look, we are doing just fine. Nobody knew that they already allow it, so what we are asking for in this bill is for there to be a clear, advertised process.”
Levi Bohanan,  a sophomore, spoke in open forum on behalf of LGBT students and said while they were grateful for the responsive and respectful attitude of Senate "in communicating with GLBT Aggies," the ethical action would be to postpone voting on the bill because changes were made less than 24 hours beforehand. Amendments were passed that changed the title and substance of the bill at Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee meeting.
The local paper noted that one student, Andrew Lupo, who identified as openly gay, spoke against the bill.
"The Religious Funding Exemption bill is a facade to deprive GLBT students of resources to create a safe environment," Lupo said to the senators. "I see so many of you, you're young -- 18 and 19 years old-- and there is a great future for you. Is this how you want to begin your career -- by attacking your own Aggies, your own community?" 
The Eagle went on to report that another student, Aaron Ackerman disagreed and compared forcing students to pay for the GLBT center to forcing doctors to perform partial-birth abortions.
"Our decision here is not going to reach that far," Ackerman said. "I just want to show how dangerous a philosophy is that some organization, government or otherwise, can make a person do what is against their most deeply held beliefs."
The debate has polarised the university which is seen as a traditionally conservative school since the measure's introduction at the beginning of the spring term. The 2012 Princeton Review's "LGBT-unfriendly" list ranked Texas A&M as the seventh least-friendly LGBT public university nationwide.
The bill now goes to student body president John Claybrook, who has not indicated if he will sign or veto the measure.
"I don't wish students to be disenfranchised with this or anything that this body does because these are students who have a home here and who are cared about by thousands and thousands and thousands of students. The actions by a few should not make them feel like this is not their home," he said.

Gay Student Leader's HIV Status Outed In A Poster Smear Campaign
HOUSTON, TX -- Campus police at the University of Houston Downtown launched an investigation last week after a poster surfaced that detailed private medical information about a gay student's HIV status.
Junior Kristopher Sharp, who had announced an interest in running for student body vice-president, was called into the UHD Dean of Students Tommy Thomason's office last week and given a copy of a flier that had been found at numerous locations around the campus. The front of the flier had the words “WANT AIDS?” above a picture of Sharp with a large X on it, and “Don’t support the Isaac and Kris homosexual agenda” at the bottom. [ Junior Isaac Valdez is Sharp's running mate.] On the back was medical information from a physician visit, including his HIV status and prescribed medication, along with his home address and telephone number. 
Director of Media Relations Claire Caton told LGBTQ Nation that the university is actively pursuing an investgation into the matter and trying to find the person or persons responsible.
“We’re taking this incident very seriously,” Caton said. “Of course, any time our students’ rights are violated, we take that very seriously.”
In an interview with a Houston alternative newspaper, Sharp said;
"I was initially really devastated that this could happen. What was going through my head was, 'How quickly can I transfer?'"
"I've never seen anything like this -- this is the very first time anything like this has occurred [on campus]," he added. 
"There's a culture at UHD that is somewhat less accepting of LGBT youth, but something of this magnitude is completely mind-blowing. I knew, going into the election, that I could possibly be targeted because of my sexuality -- but I had no idea that it would go to this level." 
According to campus university police officials, because proper words such as AIDS and homosexual were used on the flier versus offensive slang it is considered Free Speech and is protected. However, the involuntary public disclosure of the medical status without permission does fall under criminal statues in the Texas Criminal Code.
Sharp however is not interested in pursuing criminal charges. He doesn’t want anyone to go to jail — just an apology.
“I just want to know why they did it,” Sharp said. “Truth be told, we can keep that between us, as long as the person comes forward and speaks to me. I’ve been able to reflect, and I really just want an apology.”
Film critic & longtime LGBTQ community supporter Roger Ebert dies
CHICAGO, IL -- Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times who was known for his "thumbs up, thumbs down" critiques of films, has died according to the paper Thursday. He was 70 and had battled cancer in recent years.
Last month the famed critic and columnist had written a column entitled, “How I Am a Roman Catholic,” in which he said he still considers himself a practicing Catholic, although he disagrees with the official church stance on LGBTQ equality rights and same-sex marriage. “My feeling is that love between consenting adults is admirable,” he wrote.
Ebert who started as a movie reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, gained national recognition and prominence in his syndicated TV programs on which he reviewed films, first in partnership with the late Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel, then later with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper. He and Siskel were known for their trademark practice of giving “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to the movies they reviewed.
Wednesday Ebert posted a blog entry that said he was taking a “leave of presence” and allocating some of his duties to others because of the return of his cancer. He had been unable to speak since 2006 when he suffered complications after surgery for thyroid cancer.
Survivors include his wife, Chaz.