Archive for March, 2014

Ready for Leadership Camp?

March 24, 2014

PA Students Eligible
By Central Voice

“Our goal is to teach, empower, and to be pro-active,” says Sean Bugg, executive director, Next Generation Leadership Foundation.

1395616202791His organization is seeking 20-25 LGBT individuals 18 years old for The Next Generation Leadership Camp 2014. April 18 is the deadline to apply online. The camp is scheduled June 16-20.

The Next Generation Leadership Camp 2014 is a new program that brings recently graduated LGBT high school students to Washington, D.C., to meet with successful LGBT leaders in a variety of fields; develop important leadership skills; and build a network of young LGBT peers for support and mentoring as they progress through college and careers.

Over five days, participants will have the opportunity to ask direct questions to LGBT elected officials in Congress; learn about the opportunities for LGBT people in professional sports; meet trailblazing LGBT leaders in both business and activism; and work with their own peers to develop skills that will help them take on leadership roles themselves.

Who can participate?

Recent U.S. high school graduates are eligible to apply. Applications will be reviewed based on academic achievement, community involvement, and an essay or multi-media submission on how participating in the Leadership Camp will make a difference in their lives as LGBT community members and their career goals.

Why organize a new initiative?

“It doesn’t get better everywhere at the same pace,” Bugg points out. “We want young, potential leaders to see how all the pieces fit together and how they can be successful,” he says.

While growing societal acceptance of LGBT people has had a profound change on our culture, many young LGBT people across the country still struggle to find acceptance and support. “On top of that, stereotypes and assumptions about LGBT people cause many of these young people to limit themselves when it comes to choosing careers and leadership opportunities,” Bugg says.

Apply online: http: www.nglf.org/leadership-camp-application

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Fred Phelps Dead; Local Activist Shares Conversations with Son Nathan Phelps

March 20, 2014

2004: Phelps Children Protest in Harrisburg

By Frank Pizzoli

As the LGBT community vacillates between “Ding dong the witch is dead” and more reflective reactions to the death of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, 84, Central Voice talked with Alanna Berger, co-founder of The Silent Witness organization, about her and husband Blaise’s conversations of several years ago with Fred Phelps’ son Nathan Phelps.

“We started talking to Nate four years ago when we had our first Silent Witness Peacekeepers conference,” Berger said.

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps

Estranged from his father and the clan that forms the nucleus of the church, the organization wanted to have him speak. The group couldn’t afford him then, but kept trying to find a way to bring him here. “Blaise was finally able to get him at Millersville University for an MU Allies’ event” a couple of years ago.

Alanna Berger has been I have been in conversation with Nathan Phelps.

Alanna Berger, co-founder, The Silent witness, at 2003 Phelps protest in Harrisburg

Alanna Berger, co-founder, The Silent Witness, at 2004 Phelps protest in Harrisburg

“He believes his family should be ignored. They thrive on attention,” she told Central Voice. Fred Phelps, his son told her, has been mentally ill for decades, and his family has suffered for it.

She believes that love and compassion have swayed many of his grandchildren to leave the cult. “The count is somewhere around 15-16 at this point,” Alanna Berger said.

Historically comprised of family members, the church, founded by Phelps Sr. in the 1950s, is best known for its “God Hates Fags” signs used during public protests, including in recent years the funerals of fallen soldiers from US Middle Eastern wars.

The church’s central belief is that the slow embrace by the US of LGBT civil rights puts the nation at odds with their definition of God and morality.

For before his death, many refused to refer to Phelps as “reverend” or his group as a “church,” citing their routine hatefulness as not worthy of either title. In recent years Fred Phelps, Sr., was deposed by the group’s arcane governance structure known only to family members. He had not made public appearances.

Local Phelps

Phelps family in 2004 protest at PA State Museum

Phelps family in 2003 protest at PA State Museum

In 2004, Phelps family members, including children, protested the public screening of “Jim in Bold,” a film about a troubled young man from the south central Pennsylvania region who committed suicide. Several hundred LGBT people and their allies formed a safety ring around the Pennsylvania State Museum where the film was shown.

In 2006, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder was killed in a non-combat-related vehicle accident in Iraq. On March 10, Westboro Baptist Church picketed Snyder’s funeral in Westminster, Maryland, as it had done at thousands of other funerals throughout the US in protest of what they considered America’s increasing tolerance of homosexuality.

Picketers displayed placards such as “America is doomed”, “You’re going to hell”, “God hates you”, “Fag troops”, “Semper fi fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”.

Albert Snyder, the father of Matthew Snyder, made a legal claim against the Phelps family hoping to block their protest at his son’s funeral. Known as Snyder v. Phelps, the case ended up before the US Supreme Court, which held that speech on a public sidewalk, about a public issue, cannot be liable for a tort of emotional distress, even if the speech is found to be “outrageous”. By an 8-1 vote, the top court by 8-1 decided the protest was a First Amendment issue.

On March 30, 2010, the court further ordered Albert Snyder to pay the court costs for the Phelps defendants, an amount totaling $16,510. People all over the country, including political commentator Bill O’Reilly agreed to cover the costs, pending appeal. O’Reilly also pledged to support all of Snyder’s future court costs against the Phelps.

In early March, Phelps’ estranged son, Nathan Phelps, has reported on his Facebook page that his father was near death.

Phelps death brings mixed reactions from the LGBT community. Some activists and advocates are calling for a protest of Phelps’ funeral. Others are advising caution.

Last February, Marge Phelps, Phelps’ daughter, told Huffington Post editor Nick Wing that memorials were not in line with their church policy. Her communication said: We don’t worship the dead in this church, so there’d be no public memorial or funeral to picket if any member died. — GodHatesYourStars (@WBCMargie) February 4, 2014.

Although memorials are not within their church’s policy, given the number of times the Phelps’ family has shown up at the funerals and memorials of others, it is apparently within their church’s policy to protest funerals and memorials.

Family affair

The private relationships of the Phelps family were as controversial as their public profile.

Church elders eventually excommunicated Phelps after a power struggle in which Shirley Phelps-Roper lost a battle with male elders for control.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Fred Phelps Sr. was excommunicated from the church after advocating a kinder approach between church members. The excommunication occurred after the formation of a board of male elders in the church. The board had defeated Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church’s longtime spokesperson, in a power struggle, and Fred Phelps Sr. called for kinder treatment of fellow church members. The board then ejected Phelps Sr. The power struggle and excommunication was revealed by Nathan Phelps, who broke away from the church 37 years ago.

Nate Phelps said he observed that Shirley Phelps-Roper had fallen from grace and wasn’t as visible in the church as she had been while Drain and Tim Phelps had become more visible. In recent months, calls made to Shirley Phelps-Roper have been answered by Drain. Some observers have speculated that with the takeover by male members of the family, there may be a “tell all” book published down the road.

The elder’s decision had a big impact on Phelps Sr., Nate Phelps said.

“They took the one thing that meant everything to the man,” Nate Phelps said, referring to Phelps Sr.’s tie to the church. “That old man and his reason to exist have gone away.”

Right before his death, church representative Steve Drain refused to talk about the excommunication of Fred Phelps Sr. “We don’t discuss our internal church dealings with anybody,” he said.

Should He Die, No Funeral for Fred Phelps?

March 17, 2014

By Central Voice

Should Fred Phelps die, will he have a funeral?

Should the LGBT community and their allies protest his funeral like he, and the children he taught, did so many times?

Estranged son of Fred Phelps, Nathan Phelps, has reported on his Facebook page that his father is near death. Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church known for its “God Hates Fags” and other signs carried when they protested funerals and other events.

Meanwhile, as word swirls around cyberspace on Phelps’ worsening medical condition, some LGBT activists and advocates are calling for a protest of Phelps’ funeral in the event he dies. Other members of the LGBT community are advising caution.

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps

Last February, Marge Phelps, Phelps’ daughter, told Huffington Post editor Nick Wing that memorials were not in line with their church policy. Although memorials are not within their church’s policy, given the number of times the Phelps’ family has shown up at the funerals and memorials of others, it is apparently within their church’s policy to protest funerals and memorials.

Does Fred Phelps remain a member of the church he founded?

In his Facebook posting, Nathan wrote:
I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. In response to the question, “Has Fred Phelps been ‘excluded’ from membership at Westboro Baptist Church?” the church wrote, “Membership issues are private.”

Members of the Phelps family showed up in 2004 when the film “Jim in Bold” was screened at the Pennsylvania State Museum. Hundreds of LGBT and allied individuals also showed up to form a human ring around the museum in order to provide for a peaceful way for moviegoers to make entrance.

UPDATE: United Methodist Church and No More Trails; Schism Ahead?

March 17, 2014

By Central Voice

Central Voice talked with defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer, Lebanon, on a decision by an upstate New York United Methodist Church conference to stop church prosecutions of pastors within their conference who perform same-sex weddings.

Rev. Thomas Ogletree

Rev. Thomas Ogletree

March 10, United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee and Rev. Thomas Ogletree announced that the church was dropping the case against Ogletree for officiating at his son’s wedding. There is a movement within the UMC to organizing its marriage ministry to all couples on an equal basis in open defiance of church law.

Bishop McLee said, “I call for and commit to cessation of trials,” the first time ever a sitting UM bishop has categorically declared he will not prosecute pastors for ministering to LGBTQ people.

“I am grateful that Bishop McLee has withdrawn this case and the church is no longer prosecuting me for an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love,” Ogletree said. “But I am even more grateful that he is vowing not to prosecute others who have been likewise faithful in ministry to LGBTQ people. May our bishop’s commitment to cease such prosecutions be the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people.”

Rev. Thomas Ogletree was scheduled to be tried March 10 after officiating his son’s same-sex wedding.

The new announcement means that these kinds of trials will no longer occur only within the upstate New York conference. The UMC is governed by many conferences, each of which participates in the larger governance structure of the international church.

“This decision, to end trails, effects only the upstate New York conference, nowhere else,” Schaefer confirmed for Central Voice. He is still defrocked within his own conference.

The entire UMC meets every four years, next in 2014. Schaefer says there is a real possibility that the church will experience a schism over same-sex marriage.

“We are deeply divided on same-sex marriage,” Schaefer says. “There’s lots of turmoil but perhaps this will bring change, but maybe not,” he reflects. “I expect this division could lead to a schism within the church when we next meet in 2016. If by then the rules stay the same – no same-sex marriage – then each church, each conference will have to decide. That may lead to a split,” he says.

Fred Phelps Near Death?

March 17, 2014

By Central Voice

Estranged son of Fred Phelps, Nathan Phelps, has reported on his Facebook page that his father is near death. There has been no official verification of Nathan’s report.

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps

From Nathan Phelps:
I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

United Methodist Church: No More Trails

March 13, 2014

It looks as if the United Church of Christ has acknowledged the adage ‘Father knows best.’

Rev. Thomas Ogletree was scheduled to be tried March 10 after officiating his son's same-sex wedding.

Rev. Thomas Ogletree was scheduled to be tried March 10 after officiating his son’s same-sex wedding.

The church has announced that it will no longer prosecute Methodist pastors for their support of the LGBT community, including when a pastor marries his own son. The church is dropping its case Rev. Thomas Ogletree, who was scheduled to be tried by the church on March 10 after officiating his son’s same-sex wedding.

You may remember a similar case reported on by Central Voice against local pastor Rev. Frank Schaefer, Lebanon, who also performed a same-sex wedding for his son in 2007.

The new announcement asserts that these kinds of trials will no longer occur.

From Joe.My.God.: At a joint press conference today, United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee and Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree announced that the church was dropping the case against Dr. Ogletree for officiating at his son’s wedding. In a huge victory for the Methodist movement that is organizing ministry to all couples on an equal basis in open defiance of church law, the bishop dropped the case without any conditions.

Furthermore, Bishop McLee said in his statement “I call for and commit to cessation of trials,” the first time ever a sitting United Methodist bishop has categorically declared he will not prosecute pastors for ministering to LGBTQ people.

“I am grateful that Bishop McLee has withdrawn this case and the church is no longer prosecuting me for an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love,” said Dr. Ogletree. “But I am even more grateful that he is vowing not to prosecute others who have been likewise faithful in ministry to LGBTQ people. May our bishop’s commitment to cease such prosecutions be the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people.”

New IRS Video Helps Same-Sex Couples with Tax Tips

March 7, 2014

The Internal Revenue Service now has a YouTube video that provides useful tax tips to married same-sex couples.

The video is the latest addition to an online library featuring short IRS instructional videos on topics ranging from identity theft to new simplified home office deductions.

IRS_logoThe new video, less than two minutes long, is available in English, Spanish and American Sign Language and can be accessed via IRS.gov.

Following last summer’s Supreme Court decision invalidating a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, are now treated as married for federal tax purposes.

The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.

Visit IRS.gov to access these and other helpful tax resources.

Support for Same-sex Marriage Hits New High

March 5, 2014

Half Say Constitution Guarantees Right

PA-Capital-rainbow-Editor’s Note: On this Ash Wednesday, a major day of religious observance for Roman Catholics, it is significant to note that 6 of the 10 parishioners priests will annoint on the forehead with Holy Oil support same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Pennsylvania.

By Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement
Washingtonpost.com
March 5

Half of all Americans believe that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in which a large majority also said businesses should not be able to deny serving gays for religious reasons.

Fifty percent say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Beyond the constitutional questions, a record-high 59 percent say they support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent are opposed, the widest margin tracked inPost-ABC polling.

The poll was conducted in the wake of a series of rulings by federal judges that state bans on same-sex marriage and prohibitions on recognizing marriages performed elsewhere are unconstitutional.

The judges have said they relied on the reasoning in the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in June that struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which withheld federal benefits from, and recognition of, same-sex couples married in states where such unions are legal. Since then, the highest courts in New Jersey and New Mexico have said same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in those states, and the six federal court decisions have come in some of the most conservative states, including Oklahoma and Utah.

In the 33 states that prohibit same-sex marriage, 53 percent of those polled support allowing it, while 40 percent oppose doing so.

Apart from supporting the policy, Americans are slightly more ambivalent about whether the Constitution guarantees gays the right to marry.

According to the poll, public opinion is more unified on recent proposals that would allow businesses to refuse serving gays and others based on the religious convictions of the business owner. Nearly seven in 10 respondents say businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays. On this question, majorities across partisan lines said businesses should not be allowed to deny service. Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a measure that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to customers based on religious grounds.

“She did the right thing in vetoing that,” said Charles Musser of Marana, Ariz., who said that he opposes same-sex marriage and adoption rights for gays but that he thought the legislation was ill-conceived. If they passed that law, “that would open the door to all kinds of discrimination,” he said.

Support for same-sex marriage has changed more rapidly than almost any social issue in the past decade. In a Post-ABC poll in March 2004, 38 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal, while 59 percent said it should not, the same percentage now in favor of allowing gays to marry.

The shifting attitudes extend beyond issues of marital rights to more basic beliefs about the nature of homosexuality and its implications for child rearing. Nearly eight in 10 say that gays can parent as well as straight people, up from just below six in 10 in a 1996 Newsweek survey.

Sixty-one percent support allowing gays to adopt a child, up from 49 percent in 2006 and 29 percent in a 1992 poll by Time magazine and CNN. More than twice as many people consider being gay as “just the way they are,” rather than something they chose.

Despite the changing views, deep chasms remain along religious, generational and political lines. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while about six in 10 Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants and eight in 10 with no religious affiliation support it. Three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage, while less than half of seniors say the same.

Although support for such unions has grown to clear majorities among Democrats (70 percent) and independents (61 percent), Republicans have moved at a slower pace. Fifty-four percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage in the new poll, while 40 percent approve of it.

“I just don’t believe in the marriage thing; the Bible says that isn’t right,” said Musser, who opposed the Arizona legislation on the religious rights of businesses.

Republicans are split along ideological and religious lines. Support for allowing same-sex marriage is lowest, below one-third or less, among conservatives and evangelical Protestants.

Among Republicans who say people are born gay (half say this), 64 percent support same-sex marriage, 61 percent say the Constitution provides the right to such unions and 70 percent favor allowing gays to adopt.

“Even though I was brought up very conservatively and very religiously, I don’t care what sexual orientation people are,” said Lilly Telatycki of Surprise, Ariz., who asked to be identified by her maiden name, saying she feared being harassed for that view. Telatycki, who usually votes Republican, said she thinks the party is spending too much time on the issue.

The poll also shows divisions among Democrats along racial and class lines. Support for same-sex marriage peaks at nearly eight in 10 white Democrats, and an even larger proportion with incomes more than $50,000 favor such unions. Support is lower, just over six in 10, among non-whites and those with lower incomes.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.