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by Kevin Osborne 04.30.2012
Posted In: News, Women's Rights, Racism, Equality at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Francie Pepper Wins National YWCA Award

Other winners include U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

A well-known Cincinnati philanthropist is among four people selected to receive the first-ever Women of Distinction Award by the national YWCA.

 

Francie Pepper is being recognized for her years of work in support of issues involving women, girls and racial justice.

 

Pepper has served on the board of the Cincinnati YWCA since 1996, and also served as chair of its board from 2000-04. She has played a critical role for women who have experienced domestic violence, co-chairing a YWCA capital campaign that raised $7.5 million for a larger shelter that tripled the agency’s capacity to serve battered women and their children so they wouldn’t have to be put on a waiting list.

 

Also, some campaign funds were used to restore the YWCA’s historic headquarters, located on Walnut Street downtown, add a childcare center to the facility.

 

Further, Pepper has volunteered for numerous organizations and causes in Greater Cincinnati, and her work in support of domestic violence awareness programs has gotten national recognition. She is a major supporter of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, an internationally recognized repository of manuscripts, archives, photographs, periodicals and other primary sources in women's history, including all of the YWCA’s historical files.

 

Francie Pepper is the wife of John Pepper, who previously served as the chairman of the board at both Procter & Gamble and The Walt Disney Co.; she is the mother of David Pepper, a former Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner.

 

The Women of Distinction Award, bestowed by the YWCA USA, honors professional women from the private and public sectors across the United States who have demonstrated excellence, leadership and integrity in their fields and in the community, serving as role models for other successful women.

 

Nominations from YWCAs across the United States were solicited to find leaders whose work has made an impact on women’s economic empowerment and racial justice.

 

Other award recipients this year are:

 

• Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived an assassination attempt in January 2011, and is recovering from her injuries;

 

• Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and ex-Army helicopter pilot who combat wounds led to the amputation of her legs and cost her the use of her right arm; and


Elouise Cobell, a Native American leader who challenged the United States' mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual Native Americans, leading to a $3.4 billion settlement.
 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2012
Posted In: Death Penalty, Courts, Equality at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Racial Bias in Death Penalty Cases Gets Ohio Supreme Court's Attention

Death Penalty Task Force approves changes to prevent discrimination

Ohio’s death penalty came under scrutiny again today, when the Ohio Supreme Court's Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty heard presentations from three different subcommittees on strategies to make sure the process in administering a death penalty sentence in Ohio is transparent and fair.

The task force heard presentations from the Law Enforcement Subcommittee, Race and Ethnicity Subcommittee and Clemency Subcommittee; the Clemency Subcommittee's recommendation was passed, while the Law Enforcement Subcommittee's recommendations were tabled for the next task force meeting, pending further review.

The Race and Ethnicity Subcommittee presented recommendations for dealing with evidence of longstanding racial bias in Ohio death penalty cases.


A 2005 Associated Press study concluded that offenders who killed white victims were significantly more likely to receive the death penalty than when victims were black, regardless of the race of the defendant. See the below chart, courtesy of the Associated Press, which charts the rate of death sentencing for defendants charged with killing white versus black victims during the course of the study, which was conducted from Oct. 1981-2002.




The Supreme Court’s Race and Ethnicity subcommittee made seven recommendations, three of which passed. Those passed include a mandate that all attorneys and judges in death penalty cases attend training to detect and protect against racial bias, and that attorneys must seek recusal of judges who are suspected of being motivated by racially discriminatory factors. Implementing the recommendations won't be immediate; according to Bret Crow, Public Information Officer for the Supreme Court of Ohio, task forces typically submit a final report to the Ohio Supreme Court for input, a process that might not be completed until into 2013.

Recommendations that were tabled to be reconsidered at a Sept. 27 meeting of the task force included the recommendation that all death penalty-eligible homicide cases be maintained and monitored for evidence of racial bias by the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.

According to the Associated Press, the data collection would apply to both old cases and any future homicides that could result in death penalty allegations. It wouldn’t, however, impact whether or not the death penalty should be an option of punishment in the state of Ohio.

Ohio’s death penalty has come under fire several times over the last year, even experiencing an extended moratorium on executions set forth by a U.S. District Judge, who ruled that Ohio unconstitutionally wasn’t following its own death penalty procedure and couldn’t be trusted to ethically carry out executions.

CityBeat reported on July 3 about the avoided execution of Abdul Awkal, a Muslim who narrowly escaped his death penalty sentence with the help of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC). Awkal was ruled not competent enough to be executed after making several statements suggesting he didn’t understand the reason for his execution.
 

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2013
Posted In: Equality, LGBT Issues, News at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Newlywed Gay Couple Sues State of Ohio for Discrimination

Plaintiffs: Out-of-state same-sex marriages must be treated equally

A gay couple living in Ohio has filed a lawsuit today against the state of Ohio for failing to recognize their Maryland-certified same-sex marriage, which they claim is discriminatory because the state is required to recognize any certified heterosexual marriage from another state as valid.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and disabling neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate, traveled to Maryland last week to officially tie the knot after remaining as partners for 20 years, reports Cincinnati.com. The trip reportedly cost nearly $13,000 for a chartered, medically-equipped plane, all of which was sourced by donations from friends and family.

Arthur, 47, is a bed-ridden hospice patient and was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. 

In a press release from Gerhardstein & Branch, the legal association representing the couple, Obergefell stated that not recognizing Arthur's marriage on his death certificate, when the time comes, would be unconstitutional. "It is the final record of a citizen's life. It must be accurate. We hope that this can be one small step toward making marriage equality a reality in Ohio and perhaps all 50 states," he noted. 

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who is representing Arthur and Obergefell, cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, noting that the Supreme Court's historic overturn of DOMA has stripped states of the right to discriminate against couples who seek same-sex marriages.

"John and James were validly married in Maryland. If they were an opposite sex couple, Ohio would recognize their marriage. Being a same-sex couple is no longer a good enough reason to deny them equal rights.”

As an example, he explains that should two first cousins fall in love in the state of Ohio, they can't be wed in Ohio and have their union recognized; however, should they travel to Georgia, where marrying your first cousin is legal, they could come back to Ohio and have a recognizable union under state law, enjoying the same benefits as any other heterosexual married couple in Ohio. The same rules would follow for other stipulations prohibited under Ohio law, such as getting married underage in another state where the union would be legal.

Defense attorneys Terry Nester and Bridget Koontz were not available for comment. CityBeat will update this story with any changes.

Gerhardstein told CityBeat that the plaintiffs will go before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Monday, July 22, to ask for an expedited ruling in light of Arthur's rapidly deteriorating condition.

"Had the Supreme Court made this decision one year ago, this would have been as simple as us taking a trip because I could still walk. It's the progression for me of the ALS, it's...it's just compounded everything," he told Cincinnati.com camera crews earlier this week.


 
 
by Hannah McCartney 09.26.2013
 
 
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State Rep. John Becker Is a Sore Loser

Becker worried a same-sex marriage case will turn U.S. socialist, make him cry

When my brother and I were little kids, we used to play board games all the time, and because I was older and smarter I usually won. Back in those days, my little bro didn’t really understand the concept of sportsmanship and he would sometimes defiantly flip over the entire Stratego board when I started to win a game and get really close to finding his flag, and then he’d storm off and say I cheated (I didn’t cheat, Dylan!). 

Republican Rep. John Becker is pretty upset that a terminally ill gay man has earned the right to die in peace, and now it’s become a very real possibility that other gay Ohioans might also get to die (and live) in peace. And, just like my brother, he’s kind of trying to ruin the game for everyone just because he’s losing.

In July, Judge Timothy Black heard the case of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a long-term gay couple who flew to Maryland to marry at the beginning of the month because Arthur is terminally ill, in hospice care, and not expected to live much longer.  

Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio for discrimination in not recognizing their out-of-state gay marriage, legal and recognized in Maryland, when other gay couples residing in states recognizing same-sex marriages and subsequently moved to Ohio would have their marriages treated as valid. And because Arthur is terminally ill, it's just as much for the emotional connection as it is for any kind of economic benefit.

Here's what Obergefell wrote in his original complaint (grab a tissue):

“Our legacy as a married couple is very important to John and me… in two or more generations our descendants will not know who we are. Married couples, often through research based on death records, have recognition for their special status forever. I want my descendants generations from now who research their history to learn that I loved and married John and that he loved and married me. They will know that they had gay ancestor who was proud and strong and in love.”

In his ruling, Black called the case “not complicated,” explaining that he’d allow the marriage to be legalized on Arthur’s death certificate because it was likely a constitutional violation that the state of Ohio treated lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages differently than lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages. 

In September, he ruled to allow the marriage of another gay couple — David Michener and William Herbert Ives — after Ives unexpectedly passed away in late August. Although these aren't (yet) blanket rulings, they're being interpreted as monumental victories for supporters of marriage equality.

Becker, then, decided to do the political equivalent of my brother running to my mom and accusing me of cheating; he wrote U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and called for Black to be impeached for “malfeasance and abuse of power,” which apparently made him really concerned about the “federal government’s ever growing propensity to violate state sovereignty.” 

Unfortunately, though, U.S. District Court judges are appointed for life, so since Becker’s claims against Judge Black are totally unfounded, Black is free to continue to anger Becker and other people who don't approve of equality for gay couples.

Alphonse Gerhardstein, the attorney for both couples, calls Becker's response to the rulings "bullying."

"Federal judges are granted tenure for life for a reason. It's their job to enforce core principles even when the majority disagrees," he says. "Look at the Dred Scott case. I think most people would agree that's the worst case decision ever made by a judge, and even he didn't get impeached." (In case you forget, he's talking about Dred Scott v. Sandford, the landmark 1857 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ruled black people weren't citizens.)

Things that actually can get a judge impeached, says Gerhardstein, are offenses like having sex with a criminal defendant or taking bribes. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the court added licensed funeral director Robert Grunn, who is responsible for registering deaths and providing personal information to the state on what should go on a death certificate, to the list of plaintiffs. Grunn currently serves same-sex couples when he signs death certificates, says the lawsuit, including those with marriages recognized outside the state of Ohio. The lawsuit, if successful, could require all funeral directors to recognize gay clients as married on death certificates if they were legally married in a different state.

Gerhardstein also says since accepting Arthur and Obergefell's case, he and his colleagues have received inquiries from between 30 to 50 other gay couples seeking legal recognitions of their out-of-state marriages. For now, he says, he and his firm are concentrating on cases specifically involving recognizing same-sex marriages on death certificates, although this litigation could (and probably will) lead to other blanket rulings on how same-sex marriages are recognized in Ohio. 

Another hearing with Judge Black is scheduled for Dec. 18.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.22.2012
Posted In: Education, LGBT Issues, Equality, News, Courts at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Judge Rules 'Jesus is Not a Homophobe' T-shirt Permissible

Federal court orders district to pay $20,000 in damages and costs for banning teen's shirt

A federal court judge in Cincinnati ruled Monday that gay Ohio student Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear his "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" T-shirt to school whenever he pleases.

Wayne Local School District, the district in which Couch attends high school, will also be required to pay Couch $20,000 in damages and court costs, according to Judge Michael Barrett's ruling.

Couch was first prevented from wearing the T-shirt in April 2011, when he showed up to school in the shirt during a "Day of Silence," meant to raise awareness of cases in which gay students are victims of bullying. Waynesville High School Principal Randy Gebhardt allegedly told Couch that he needed to either wear the T-shirt inside out or remove it, stating that the "T-shirt had to do with religion, religion and state have to be separate," and the T-shirt was "disrupting the educational process."

Couch complied, and was asked to remove the shirt when he wore it to school a second time. Principal Gebhardt threatened to suspend Couch if the shirt was worn again.

Couch and Lambda Legal Defense, a legal organization focused on protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, brought forth a lawsuit against Wayne Local School District on April 3, 2012, alleging that Couch's first amendment rights had been egregiously violated in barring him from wearing the shirt. Only a day after the lawsuit was filed, administrators at Waynesville High School told Couch he'd be allowed to wear the T-shirt annually on one day exclusively: "Day of Silence," which took place April 20.

"I just wanted to wear my shirt. The shirt is a statement of pride, and I hope other students like me know that they can be proud, too," said Couch, according to lamdalegal.org.

When Lambda Legal sent a letter inquiring about Couch's First Amendment rights to the school district, this was the district's response: "the message communicated by the student's T-shirt was sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in the school."

For information about LGBTQ students' rights in schools, click here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 04.18.2012
Posted In: Equality, Ethics at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Kasich Office Shows Gender Wage Gap

Governor's male staffers earn 56 percent more than women

As of late, the media has been shoving it in my face that being a woman kind of sucks. Yesterday in particular was a painful reminder that aside from women's highly publicized birth control and body woes as of late, our male counterparts still earn more than $10,000 per year more the rest of us working females.

April 17 was "Equal Pay Day," a holiday created to illuminate the gap between the wages of women and men, even in the 21st century. We've been "celebrating" the holiday in April since 1996 in order to signify the point in the year into which women must work (on top of the previous year) to earn what male counterparts earned in one year. Jezebel reported it best with a lovely chart illustrating all the things men can buy with the extra moolah they make (I'd pay off my student loans and then buy a modest beach bungalow on the Mediterranean. You?). 

Political website plunderbund.com recently took the time to dig up some even more grim statistics — ones that bode far more ominously for anyone working under Ohio Gov. John Kasich's regime. A simple examination of public salary records found massive inequities between Kasich's male staffers and female staffers. The findings, which highlight the biweekly earnings of employees working in the governor's office, showcase that Kasich's male staffers earn a whopping 56 percent more than female staffers. The below image shows women's salaries highlighted in yellow, while men's are left blue. Granted, the positions of the people named aren't listed, but the gap exists nonetheless.

"Of the 34 people listed as Governor’s office employees, only 4 of the top 17 paid staffers are women (76 percent are men). And only 4 of the bottom 17 are men (76 percent are women)," reports Plunderbund.


If you compute the average salaries earned by men and women in Kasich's office, respectively, you'll find the numbers even more stark; $77,730.88 versus $49,498.52.

According to the latest Census statistics, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. If the numbers in Kasich's offices meshed up with that statistic, women working in his office should, in theory, be making about $60,000 compared to men's $77,730.88. What gives? Perhaps it has something to do with Kasich simply not wanting to employ women in high-power positions in his office, instead relegating them to lower positions; it was Kasich, after all, who famously said, "I had a woman campaign manager, I have a woman lieutenant governor, I have a woman finance chairman, and I’m married to a woman with two daughters, OK? I’ve said all along, I really wish I could get some guys around me."

Either way, the gap in Kasich's office should raise some eyebrows about staffing and salary decisions by the state governor.

Critics of the existing pay gap nationwide insist that it continues to triumph because of occupational and lifestyle choices (e.g., not as many women pursue high-paying, elected positions), "rigorous analysis of data by labor economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found that over 40 percent of the pay gap cannot be explained by such differences, concluding that 'there is evidence that…discrimination does still continue to exist.'" according to this article published by the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan educational institute.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.16.2013
Posted In: Social Justice, Equality, News at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Homophobic Boy Scouts Supporters to Protest Inclusion

Local rally to protest the BSA's proposed open homosexuality resolution

While the rest of the world is dealing with problems like gun violence, poverty, hunger, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, hoards of people all across the country tomorrow will dedicate their time, energy and voices to another important cause.

That cause, of course, is protesting the Boy Scouts of America's proposal to change its homophobic membership standards and start openly recognizing that some Boy Scouts are going to be gay and stay that way, whether a bunch of uptight parents want to realize it or not.

It's propelled by OnMyHonor.net, which describes itself as a "coalition of concerned Boy Scouts of America (BSA) parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other Scouting leaders who affirm Scouting's timeless values." By "values," of course, they're referring directly to their idea that allowing open homosexuality among Boy Scouts would be some kind of moral dilemma that would inevitably lead to the organization's demise and corrupt little badge-seeking boys all across America.

The resolution is to be voted on by the Boy Scouts national council meeting on May 22 in Grapevine, Texas. At a place, in some awesome twist of fate, called the GAYLORD TEXAN RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER.

If it's approved, it would change the current membership policy and allow openly gay Scouts, but leaders would still have to stay in the closet, which is totally inconsistent and probably would be really confusing for kids who are supposed to look up to troop leaders as idols and mentors. 

For now, the local anti-gay Scout supporters are holding their "Rally for Scouting" at noon on Friday, May 17 in protest of the change at the Dan Beard Council at 10078 Reading Road in Evendale. It joins 39 other chapters across the country. 

On My Honor recently published an open letter to BSA delegates on why they should vote "no," and it's full of even more incongruities than the proposed membership policy, including assertions that allowing Boy Scouts to be openly gay will lead to mass gay orgies and ultimately lead to the downfall of the entire Boy Scouts. See it for yourself:

Open Letter to BSA Delegates Apr 29 2013

 
 
by German Lopez 05.02.2012
 
 
gay_rights_sign_by_the_enabler

City, State Move Forward With Same-Sex Rights

Trend follows other cities, states, countries and a majority of Fortune 500 companies

Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.

With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.

The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.

The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.

If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.

Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”

The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.

Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 10.11.2012
 
 
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Seelbach Touts Obama's LGBT Record, Urges Early Voting

On National Coming Out Day, Obama campaign releases new ad featuring LGBT activist

On National Coming Out Day, Cincinnati’s only openly gay city councilman told CityBeat that equality for America’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered people would take a hit under a President Mitt Romney.

“On day one (of his presidency) he (Romney) could hurt gay families by reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and hurt security for our country,” Seelbach said. “We need as many people serving as possible.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to CityBeat as he waited to vote early outside of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

Proponents of the measure that prevented openly gay service members from serving in the military have said repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would damage the country’s combat-readiness. 

A study published by the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles Law School in September found that there has been no overall negative impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment, retention or morale.

Seelbach said there would be a stark contrast for LGBT people under President Barack Obama and his GOP rival. He pointed to the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court; his vocal approval of same-sex marriage; anti-discrimination measures signed by the president that, among other things, give same-sex partners the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital and make medical decisions.

He said the next president would also likely have the opportunity to appoint new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court will likely decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage.

"If you care about equality, you've got to vote," Seelbach said. "The easiest way to vote is to vote early."

The Obama campaign in Ohio plans to release a new online ad touting the president’s accomplishments for LGBT people.

The ad, made available to CityBeat, features Zach Wahls, a gay-rights activist born to a lesbian couple via artificial insemination. Wahls is known for his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee against a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in that state.

In the ad, Wahls touts the president’s accomplishments and exhorts Ohioans to reelect Obama.

“We want to make sure that we’re all doing everything we can this fall to get out, register voters, canvass, knock on doors, get our family members and friends out to the polls so that we can re-elect the best president this country has ever seen on LGBT rights,” Wahls said.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 04.04.2013
Posted In: Poverty, Prisons, Equality at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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ACLU: Ohio Courts Wrongfully Criminalizing Poor

Hamilton County Municipal Court included on list of offenders

A new report from the ACLU of Ohio released today suggests that in many courts across Ohio, it's a crime just to be poor.

The report, titled The Outskirts of Hope, delineates how several courts across Ohio, including Hamilton County Municipal Court, are unlawfully jailing people because they’re too impoverished to pay court fines.

It’s a system called “debtors’ prisons,” a tool in which people are jailed for debts as small as a few hundred dollars, even when the offense committed could have been something as minor as allowing a dog to walk off its leash in public, according to Mike Brickner, ACLU Ohio's director of communications
.

“Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” reads the report.

It’s referring to Bearden v. Georgia, the landmark Supreme Court case in which the courts ruled it was unlawful to imprison someone for failure to pay a criminal fine unless the non-payment was “willful,” also upheld in the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Revised Code. That means that if a judge is able to determined than an individual actually does have the financial resources available to pay a court fine but refuses to do so, he or she is subject to incarceration, not for actually failing to pay the fines but for willfully refusing to do so. In the case of not being able to afford the fine, the jailing is for a civil misdoing, not a criminal one, and, according to the ACLU, that’s not something that merits jail time costly to the state of Ohio.

The report examined 11 different counties in Ohio and found that seven of courts in at least seven counties, including Bryan Municipal Court, Hamilton County Municipal Court, Mansfield Municipal Court, Parma Municipal Court, Sandusky Municipal Court, Springboro Mayor’s Court and Norwalk Municipal Court, were using some form of  “debtors’ prison” practices by illegally jailing people for not paying fines without the judge-certified ruling that they’re financially capable of doing so.

In one finding, the ACLU points out that the staff at the Norwalk Municipal Court’s Clerk of Court Office in Huron County “openly admitted that whenever court records showed a person was incarcerated for ten days on a ‘contempt’ charge, this meant he or she had most likely been jailed for failure to pay fines.”

The ACLU’s investigation found that over a six-month period, 22 percent — more than one in five — of the total bookings at the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.

ACLU staff members attended multiple contempt hearings in the Norwalk Municipal Court and found a pattern for dealing with non-payment at hearings, noting that “people facing jail time were informed of the total amount owed and, without any inquiry into their financial situations, assigned arbitrary monthly payment plans. At no time were they informed of their right to counsel. The court informed them that, if they did not stay current in these payment plans, they would be required to turn themselves in to jail on a specific date several months in the future.”

That’s where the vicious cycle begins; if the fines weren’t paid and the individual didn’t report to jail, he or she would be taken to jail and incarcerated for 10 days with no bond. Ten days later, they’d be released with an extra stack of fines involved in the arrest, creating more crippling debt and often causing this process to be repeated.  

The number of people living in poverty grew by 57.7 percent in Ohio from 1999 to 2011, according to the report — a trend mirrored across the Midwest. The ACLU calls for courts to be more transparent in communicating defendants their rights, consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and "willfulness" to pay accumulated fines and provide retroactive debt credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty.

Brickner says ACLU Ohio sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor outlining the report, and he's hopeful the Supreme Court will issue statewide guidelines to make the laws extremely clear to judges across the state.

"With these 11 cases, we believe they're just the tip of the iceberg," says Brickner.

 
 

 

 

by German Lopez 10.31.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Equality at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Council Members Propose Funding to Ease Racial Disparities

Motion cites infant mortality, unemployment and economic worth as major issues

Councilman Wendell Young and five other council members on Oct. 30 signed a motion that asks the city administration to budget $2 million to address racial disparities in Cincinnati.

The motion cites three statistical disparities: Infant mortality rates for black babies are three times the rate for white babies; the unemployment rate for black residents is two to three times the rate for white residents; and the black population only makes up 1 percent of the Cincinnati area’s economic worth despite making up nearly half of the city’s population.

“As the City of Cincinnati invests in infrastructure to support economic development and job growth, in developments that attract new businesses, and in job retention and growth, it is of critical importance that all members of the Cincinnati community participate in our progress and prosperity,” Young’s motion states.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and council members Pam Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson joined Young in signing the motion.

The motion asks the city administration to budget $500,000 to each of four organizations in fiscal year 2015: the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, the Hamilton County Community Action Agency, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Closing the Health Gap. The money will “support minority business startups and entrepreneurship, job training and workforce development, and access to healthy foods and health care,” according to the motion.

The proposal comes as the city administration begins putting together a disparity study to gauge whether the administration can and should favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses through Cincinnati’s business contracts. The results for that study will come back in February 2015.

It’s unclear how much weight the motion will carry in the upcoming weeks. On Nov. 5, voters will elect a new mayor and City Council. The next city administration and council could have a completely different approach — or no approach at all — to addressing racial disparity issues.

For more information on the upcoming election, check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.25.2013
 
 
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Saturday Homelessness March to Protest Displacement

Over-the-Rhine, Central Business District march comes amisdt Justice Center debate

If you had to guess how many people are in Cincinnati are considered homeless, what would be your guess? Would it be anywhere near 7,000?

That's the number of Cincinnatians cited in a 2012 report from Strategies to End Homelessness that are either staying in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation. 

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition will coalesce to recognize the plight of those 7,000 when it holds its annual Homeless Awareness March on Saturday, Oct. 26 starting at 3 p.m. at Buddy’s Place, a permanent housing facility for the homeless located at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.  

Josh Spring, executive director at GRHC, says the march will explore areas in Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District particularly plagued by homelessness. There will be about 10 stops, each of which will be marked by a speech from representatives of several advocacy groups, including the Interfaith Workers' Center, OTR Community Housing, Streetvibes, People's Coalition for Equality and Justice and the Drop Inn Center.

The march comes at a particularly auspicious time for GRHC, which recently helped four homeless plaintiffs file a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office for depriving homeless people of their constitutional rights by threatening to arrest people who sleep or inhabit the common areas around the Hamilton County Courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center downtown. 

Those areas have recently become the center of a public health debate between groups like GRHC and county officials, who have been forced to clean up urine and feces left behind the homeless and argue they just don’t have the resources to keep up.

The GHRC held a protest on Oct. 16 in front of the courthouse asking Sheriff Neil to rescind the policy, the same day the lawsuit was filed.

In an effort to compromise, Spring and other supporters have asked the county to at least wait to stick to the policy until the winter shelter opens in December, but county officials are hesitant to ignore the cleanliness problem for that long.

Advocates such as Spring, however, argue the city should take a “prevention first” approach instead by figuring out what will keep Cincinnatians from becoming homeless in the first place.

Spring says he hopes the march will draw both people who have come specifically to protest displacement and others who come to learn about the nature of homelessness in Cincinnati. "We really hope people walk away with some passion to go and do something about this," he says.

Last year's march was centered around protesting Western & Southern's manipulative legal disputes with the Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing to low-income women. The battle came to an end in May when Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, signed an agreement with Western & Southern to move from Lytle Park to Mount Auburn.

November is National Homeless Awareness Month. Here are a few volunteer opportunities in the Greater Cincinnati area to look into this winter.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.04.2013
Posted In: News, COAST, City Council, Equality, LGBT, LGBT Issues, Taxes at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

Seelbach: I'll Pay $1,200 to Dismiss COAST Lawsuit

Defending suit would cost the city $30,000, says councilman

Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.

That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for  $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.

In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.

On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.

Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.

In City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response:

Solicitor Response - Champion of Change by chrisseelbach1



In Seelbach's campaign email, he chocks the lawsuit up to another one of COAST's attacks to continue their thinly veiled bigotry-fueled crusade against Seelbach and Cincinnati's LGBT community as a whole. "You can bet they never would have asked a City Councilmember to pay for a trip to the White House to celebrate Cincinnati if it weren't for the connection to Harvey Milk and the LGBT community."

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 09.26.2013
 
 
timothy black

State Rep. John Becker Is a Sore Loser

Becker worried a same-sex marriage case will turn U.S. socialist, make him cry

When my brother and I were little kids, we used to play board games all the time, and because I was older and smarter I usually won. Back in those days, my little bro didn’t really understand the concept of sportsmanship and he would sometimes defiantly flip over the entire Stratego board when I started to win a game and get really close to finding his flag, and then he’d storm off and say I cheated (I didn’t cheat, Dylan!). 

Republican Rep. John Becker is pretty upset that a terminally ill gay man has earned the right to die in peace, and now it’s become a very real possibility that other gay Ohioans might also get to die (and live) in peace. And, just like my brother, he’s kind of trying to ruin the game for everyone just because he’s losing.

In July, Judge Timothy Black heard the case of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a long-term gay couple who flew to Maryland to marry at the beginning of the month because Arthur is terminally ill, in hospice care, and not expected to live much longer.  

Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio for discrimination in not recognizing their out-of-state gay marriage, legal and recognized in Maryland, when other gay couples residing in states recognizing same-sex marriages and subsequently moved to Ohio would have their marriages treated as valid. And because Arthur is terminally ill, it's just as much for the emotional connection as it is for any kind of economic benefit.

Here's what Obergefell wrote in his original complaint (grab a tissue):

“Our legacy as a married couple is very important to John and me… in two or more generations our descendants will not know who we are. Married couples, often through research based on death records, have recognition for their special status forever. I want my descendants generations from now who research their history to learn that I loved and married John and that he loved and married me. They will know that they had gay ancestor who was proud and strong and in love.”

In his ruling, Black called the case “not complicated,” explaining that he’d allow the marriage to be legalized on Arthur’s death certificate because it was likely a constitutional violation that the state of Ohio treated lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages differently than lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages. 

In September, he ruled to allow the marriage of another gay couple — David Michener and William Herbert Ives — after Ives unexpectedly passed away in late August. Although these aren't (yet) blanket rulings, they're being interpreted as monumental victories for supporters of marriage equality.

Becker, then, decided to do the political equivalent of my brother running to my mom and accusing me of cheating; he wrote U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and called for Black to be impeached for “malfeasance and abuse of power,” which apparently made him really concerned about the “federal government’s ever growing propensity to violate state sovereignty.” 

Unfortunately, though, U.S. District Court judges are appointed for life, so since Becker’s claims against Judge Black are totally unfounded, Black is free to continue to anger Becker and other people who don't approve of equality for gay couples.

Alphonse Gerhardstein, the attorney for both couples, calls Becker's response to the rulings "bullying."

"Federal judges are granted tenure for life for a reason. It's their job to enforce core principles even when the majority disagrees," he says. "Look at the Dred Scott case. I think most people would agree that's the worst case decision ever made by a judge, and even he didn't get impeached." (In case you forget, he's talking about Dred Scott v. Sandford, the landmark 1857 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ruled black people weren't citizens.)

Things that actually can get a judge impeached, says Gerhardstein, are offenses like having sex with a criminal defendant or taking bribes. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the court added licensed funeral director Robert Grunn, who is responsible for registering deaths and providing personal information to the state on what should go on a death certificate, to the list of plaintiffs. Grunn currently serves same-sex couples when he signs death certificates, says the lawsuit, including those with marriages recognized outside the state of Ohio. The lawsuit, if successful, could require all funeral directors to recognize gay clients as married on death certificates if they were legally married in a different state.

Gerhardstein also says since accepting Arthur and Obergefell's case, he and his colleagues have received inquiries from between 30 to 50 other gay couples seeking legal recognitions of their out-of-state marriages. For now, he says, he and his firm are concentrating on cases specifically involving recognizing same-sex marriages on death certificates, although this litigation could (and probably will) lead to other blanket rulings on how same-sex marriages are recognized in Ohio. 

Another hearing with Judge Black is scheduled for Dec. 18.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.29.2013
Posted In: News, Business, Equality at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
qualls

City to Consider Funding for Disparity Study

Minority-owned businesses struggle to regain foothold

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies.

“Once we conclude the parking lease agreement and see the results of the close-out of the last budget year, I believe there may be a majority (of Council) that would support funding a Croson study,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls told CityBeat.

The disparity study — named a “Croson study” after a U.S. Supreme Court case — could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, according to city officials.

Qualls expects to see the final revenue numbers from the previous budget cycle sometime this week. The numbers are expected to come in higher than projected, which would give Council some leftover money to allocate for newer priorities, including a disparity study and human services funding.

Another potential funding source: the city’s parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which will take over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages and manage them through various private companies from around the nation.

The announcement comes shortly after minority inclusion became a major issue in the 2013 mayoral race between Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.

Cranley announced his minority inclusion plan, which includes a disparity study, on July 12.

Because of a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, city governments are unable to enact programs that favorably target minorities or women without first doing a disparity study that proves those groups are underrepresented.

The city’s last disparity study was done between 1999 and 2002. It found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.

But since the city did away with its affirmative-action contracting policies in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007. Participation among women-owned businesses remained relatively stable, hitting a high of 6 percent in 2005 and otherwise fluctuating between 0.9 percent and 3.8 percent from year to year.

Rochelle Thompson, head of the city’s Office of Contract Compliance, points out that classifying as a minority- or women-owned business is now voluntary, whereas it was mandated through the city’s policies in the 1990s. That, she argues, might be understating how many contracted businesses are truly minority- or women-owned.

Still, business leaders are calling on the city to do more. They claim minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire minorities, which could alleviate an unemployment rate that’s twice as high for them as it is for white Cincinnatians.

Qualls says City Council hasn’t pursued a disparity study until now because it was waiting for the full implementation of recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city’s small business program. The resulting policies forced the city administration to be more transparent and accountable for the program’s established goals.

Thompson claims OPEN Cincinnati’s changes “breathed life” into the small business program, but none of the changes specifically targeted minority- and women-owned businesses. Instead, the program broadly favors and promotes small businesses, which Thompson calls the drivers of job and economic growth.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2013
Posted In: Equality, LGBT Issues, News at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Newlywed Gay Couple Sues State of Ohio for Discrimination

Plaintiffs: Out-of-state same-sex marriages must be treated equally

A gay couple living in Ohio has filed a lawsuit today against the state of Ohio for failing to recognize their Maryland-certified same-sex marriage, which they claim is discriminatory because the state is required to recognize any certified heterosexual marriage from another state as valid.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and disabling neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate, traveled to Maryland last week to officially tie the knot after remaining as partners for 20 years, reports Cincinnati.com. The trip reportedly cost nearly $13,000 for a chartered, medically-equipped plane, all of which was sourced by donations from friends and family.

Arthur, 47, is a bed-ridden hospice patient and was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. 

In a press release from Gerhardstein & Branch, the legal association representing the couple, Obergefell stated that not recognizing Arthur's marriage on his death certificate, when the time comes, would be unconstitutional. "It is the final record of a citizen's life. It must be accurate. We hope that this can be one small step toward making marriage equality a reality in Ohio and perhaps all 50 states," he noted. 

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who is representing Arthur and Obergefell, cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, noting that the Supreme Court's historic overturn of DOMA has stripped states of the right to discriminate against couples who seek same-sex marriages.

"John and James were validly married in Maryland. If they were an opposite sex couple, Ohio would recognize their marriage. Being a same-sex couple is no longer a good enough reason to deny them equal rights.”

As an example, he explains that should two first cousins fall in love in the state of Ohio, they can't be wed in Ohio and have their union recognized; however, should they travel to Georgia, where marrying your first cousin is legal, they could come back to Ohio and have a recognizable union under state law, enjoying the same benefits as any other heterosexual married couple in Ohio. The same rules would follow for other stipulations prohibited under Ohio law, such as getting married underage in another state where the union would be legal.

Defense attorneys Terry Nester and Bridget Koontz were not available for comment. CityBeat will update this story with any changes.

Gerhardstein told CityBeat that the plaintiffs will go before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Monday, July 22, to ask for an expedited ruling in light of Arthur's rapidly deteriorating condition.

"Had the Supreme Court made this decision one year ago, this would have been as simple as us taking a trip because I could still walk. It's the progression for me of the ALS, it's...it's just compounded everything," he told Cincinnati.com camera crews earlier this week.


 
 
by Hannah McCartney 06.13.2013
Posted In: Health, News, Equality, Family, Community, Commissioners at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
german cute

Local Leaders Collaborate to Combat Infant Mortality

Cincinnati infants are dying at an alarmingly high rate

Some parts of Cincinnati suffer from higher infant mortality rates than third-world countries. In the city as a whole, infants die at rates more than twice the national average.

We’ve been asking, “Why?” for a long time; this mysterious plague wiping out our infants hasn’t been solved even as our hospitals are recognized worldwide and as it continues to be at the forefront of our public health discussions.

Local politicians, hospitals, health experts and advocates are hoping the answer is one that's been lying in front of them the whole time: collaboration.

Today marked the official conjoining of local politicians, health experts, advocates and Cincinnati’s top hospitals providing birthing services in hopes of working together to reduce the areas’ infant mortality rate to below that of the national average within the next five years.

The new partnership is comprised of Hamilton Country Commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel, who co-chair the effort; the Center for Closing the Health Gap; Mayor Mark Mallory; Councilmember Wendell Young; and hospitals including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, TriHealth, UC Health and the UC College of Nursing.

While the hospitals are typically competitors, the disturbing, long-standing statistics Monzel described as an "embarrassment" have fueled area health providers to set aside competition and unite Cincinnati’s top health experts to bring Cincinnati's infant mortality levels below the national average within the next five years.
“We’re checking egos and names and brands at the door,” said Commissioner Portune. "Enough is enough."

Efforts to reduce infant mortality, Portune explained, have been active for years; however, because they've been fragmented — disconnected from one another — establishing best practices just hasn't been possible.

Initial funding comes from an agreement that County Commissioners Portune and Monzel made with Jim Kingsbury, UC Health president and CEO, as part of the county's sale of Drake Hospital.

Representatives plan to meet on a regular basis to share best practices, exchange ideas and report data.


In February, Mayor Mark Mallory entered the city into the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a national competition to inspire city leaders to solve urban problems. His proposal involved the creation of the Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which would have followed new mothers in high-risk areas through pregnancy, creating a database of new mothers and monitoring pregnancies.   

In Mallory’s submission, he put the problem into perspective: “In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate.”

Although Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 finalists out of more than 305 cities, it was not selected as one of the five to receive up to $5 million in funding to jump-start the initiative.

Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6; the national average is 6.

Cincinnati’s black community is especially afflicted by infant mortality. In Ohio, black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants.

To look at a map of infant mortality rates in Greater Cincinnati by zip code or to read about some of the leading causes of infant mortality, visit the Cincinnati Health Department's website.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.29.2013
 
 
pregnant-teacher-fired

Trial Begins for Pregnant Teacher Fired by Archdiocese

Repeated discrimination in local Catholic Church takes spotlight

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been mired in quite a bit of trouble over the past several years for its morally outdated (and unjust) policies, and now one of the allegations has reached the courts. Today marked the second day of juror hearings in a schoolteacher's lawsuit against the Archdiocese and the two schools from which she was fired for violating her civil rights.

In 2010, schoolteacher Christa Dias, a single, non-ministerial employee at both Holy Family and St. Lawrence Schools, parochial schools owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, became pregnant via artificial insemination. At five and a half months pregnant, she asked her employers for something millions of U.S. women ask for every year: maternity leave.

She got more than she bargained for, though, when her employers fired her, assuming Dias had engaged in premarital sex (one of the many "moral" no-nos in the Catholic Church — for women, at least). She was informed that she was let go because she'd violated a moral clause in the Catholic doctrine that she'd agreed to adhere to when she signed her employment contract, which, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, makes it okay to discriminate when the discrimination falls under something called "ministerial exception" —  a pesky and vague part of civil labor laws exempting religious policies from some basic rules for equality in the workplace.

Ergo: Women who are fired by the Catholic Church for getting pregnant face unfair discrimination because men aren't held to the same standard. Obviously, it's impossible to detect whether or not single male employees are engaging in premarital sex (but they probably are). The basis of Dias' lawsuit is that that little gender caveat is an inherent for of discrimination against women because women and men aren't held to the same moral standards.

Although her employers originally told her she was fired for premarital sex, they later retracted that assertion and said that the use of artificial insemination was immoral, also a violation of the Catholic doctrine.

According to the AP, Dias today told jurors she didn't realize that artificial insemination was a violation of church doctrine or that having the procedure could get her fired. The archdiocese's attorney, Steve Goodin, says that Dias was not discriminated against because she signed a contract that clearly commanded she abide by the Catholic doctrine.

CityBeat reported on a similar case of discrimination by the Catholic Church earlier this year ("Unforgiven Offenses," issue of Jan. 9, 2013), which detailed a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio by former schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan, who was also fired from her non-ministerial position at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, Ohio, in December 2011 after she approached her principal, told him about her pregnancy and offered to work behind-the-scenes until she gave birth. 

Again, her employers and the Archdiocese used the "morality clause" to defend their position.

And then there was Johnathan Zeng ("Gays, Even Christians, Need Not Apply," issue of June 13, 2012), who was offered a job as a music teacher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA) Armleder School after two weeks of discussions; Zeng even put on a teacher demonstration in front of a third grade class. When a board representative asked him point-blank if he was gay, Zeng told the truth: yes, he was gay. All of a sudden, Zeng was out of the running, even though he was already pinpointed as the most qualified applicant.

The outcome of Dias' case could set a major precedent for courts ruling on ministerial exception in the future. Last year, the Supreme Court ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, courts sided with the church in a fired teacher's discrimination lawsuit, ruling that because she had some religious duties as a teacher, federal discrimination laws didn't apply.

Some local Catholics, at least, are firing back against the archdiocese's archaic policies; recently, Debra Meyers was ordained as Cincinnati's first female Catholic priest by the Association of Roman Woman Catholic Priests, despite opposition from local Catholic leaders and the Vatican. Read our interview with her here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.16.2013
Posted In: Social Justice, Equality, News at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Homophobic Boy Scouts Supporters to Protest Inclusion

Local rally to protest the BSA's proposed open homosexuality resolution

While the rest of the world is dealing with problems like gun violence, poverty, hunger, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, hoards of people all across the country tomorrow will dedicate their time, energy and voices to another important cause.

That cause, of course, is protesting the Boy Scouts of America's proposal to change its homophobic membership standards and start openly recognizing that some Boy Scouts are going to be gay and stay that way, whether a bunch of uptight parents want to realize it or not.

It's propelled by OnMyHonor.net, which describes itself as a "coalition of concerned Boy Scouts of America (BSA) parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other Scouting leaders who affirm Scouting's timeless values." By "values," of course, they're referring directly to their idea that allowing open homosexuality among Boy Scouts would be some kind of moral dilemma that would inevitably lead to the organization's demise and corrupt little badge-seeking boys all across America.

The resolution is to be voted on by the Boy Scouts national council meeting on May 22 in Grapevine, Texas. At a place, in some awesome twist of fate, called the GAYLORD TEXAN RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER.

If it's approved, it would change the current membership policy and allow openly gay Scouts, but leaders would still have to stay in the closet, which is totally inconsistent and probably would be really confusing for kids who are supposed to look up to troop leaders as idols and mentors. 

For now, the local anti-gay Scout supporters are holding their "Rally for Scouting" at noon on Friday, May 17 in protest of the change at the Dan Beard Council at 10078 Reading Road in Evendale. It joins 39 other chapters across the country. 

On My Honor recently published an open letter to BSA delegates on why they should vote "no," and it's full of even more incongruities than the proposed membership policy, including assertions that allowing Boy Scouts to be openly gay will lead to mass gay orgies and ultimately lead to the downfall of the entire Boy Scouts. See it for yourself:

Open Letter to BSA Delegates Apr 29 2013

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 04.04.2013
Posted In: Poverty, Prisons, Equality at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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ACLU: Ohio Courts Wrongfully Criminalizing Poor

Hamilton County Municipal Court included on list of offenders

A new report from the ACLU of Ohio released today suggests that in many courts across Ohio, it's a crime just to be poor.

The report, titled The Outskirts of Hope, delineates how several courts across Ohio, including Hamilton County Municipal Court, are unlawfully jailing people because they’re too impoverished to pay court fines.

It’s a system called “debtors’ prisons,” a tool in which people are jailed for debts as small as a few hundred dollars, even when the offense committed could have been something as minor as allowing a dog to walk off its leash in public, according to Mike Brickner, ACLU Ohio's director of communications
.

“Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” reads the report.

It’s referring to Bearden v. Georgia, the landmark Supreme Court case in which the courts ruled it was unlawful to imprison someone for failure to pay a criminal fine unless the non-payment was “willful,” also upheld in the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Revised Code. That means that if a judge is able to determined than an individual actually does have the financial resources available to pay a court fine but refuses to do so, he or she is subject to incarceration, not for actually failing to pay the fines but for willfully refusing to do so. In the case of not being able to afford the fine, the jailing is for a civil misdoing, not a criminal one, and, according to the ACLU, that’s not something that merits jail time costly to the state of Ohio.

The report examined 11 different counties in Ohio and found that seven of courts in at least seven counties, including Bryan Municipal Court, Hamilton County Municipal Court, Mansfield Municipal Court, Parma Municipal Court, Sandusky Municipal Court, Springboro Mayor’s Court and Norwalk Municipal Court, were using some form of  “debtors’ prison” practices by illegally jailing people for not paying fines without the judge-certified ruling that they’re financially capable of doing so.

In one finding, the ACLU points out that the staff at the Norwalk Municipal Court’s Clerk of Court Office in Huron County “openly admitted that whenever court records showed a person was incarcerated for ten days on a ‘contempt’ charge, this meant he or she had most likely been jailed for failure to pay fines.”

The ACLU’s investigation found that over a six-month period, 22 percent — more than one in five — of the total bookings at the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.

ACLU staff members attended multiple contempt hearings in the Norwalk Municipal Court and found a pattern for dealing with non-payment at hearings, noting that “people facing jail time were informed of the total amount owed and, without any inquiry into their financial situations, assigned arbitrary monthly payment plans. At no time were they informed of their right to counsel. The court informed them that, if they did not stay current in these payment plans, they would be required to turn themselves in to jail on a specific date several months in the future.”

That’s where the vicious cycle begins; if the fines weren’t paid and the individual didn’t report to jail, he or she would be taken to jail and incarcerated for 10 days with no bond. Ten days later, they’d be released with an extra stack of fines involved in the arrest, creating more crippling debt and often causing this process to be repeated.  

The number of people living in poverty grew by 57.7 percent in Ohio from 1999 to 2011, according to the report — a trend mirrored across the Midwest. The ACLU calls for courts to be more transparent in communicating defendants their rights, consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and "willfulness" to pay accumulated fines and provide retroactive debt credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty.

Brickner says ACLU Ohio sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor outlining the report, and he's hopeful the Supreme Court will issue statewide guidelines to make the laws extremely clear to judges across the state.

"With these 11 cases, we believe they're just the tip of the iceberg," says Brickner.

 
 
 
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