Tuesday, January 6, 2015

APD offers reward in unsolved anti-gay assault in Midtown

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 9:45 AM

Atlanta Police want help finding a person who allegedly assaulted a gay man walking in Midtown last year.

On March 7, 2014, a male suspect reportedly wearing a red shirt and Atlanta Braves hat approached James Reed, yelled anti-gay slurs, and punched him in the back of his head near the intersection of 11th and Juniper streets. Reed, a gay male who was walking with his partner, was knocked into the street as traffic approached.

Following the incident, which was filmed on a Midtown Blue video surveillance camera, the suspect got into a silver BMW and fled the scene. Reed’s partner, Better Georgia Executive Director Bryan Long, recently issued a statement questioning why the case remained unsolved nearly 10 months after the assault happened.

"I firmly believe that the criminal justice system can and should do more to resolve this case," Long said in the statement. "I have no doubt that the driver of the car knows the name of his passenger and can help the police bring this case to a close and achieve justice for me and my partner."

Crime Stoppers has offered an up-to $2,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Tips can be submitted anonymously at 404-577-TIPS or at

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Atlanta's fire chief suspended for one month without pay for anti-gay remarks

Posted By on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran
  • Jeff Baker/CL File
  • Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran
Atlanta's fire chief is usually tasked with making sure that his firefighters are extinguishing blazing infernos all around the city. But now Kelvin Cochran has found himself in the middle of a firestorm.

Cochran today was hit with a one-month suspension without pay for making disparaging remarks about gay people in a religious book he published last year.

Cochran's 2013 book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?, contains several sections that condemn homosexuality, calling it the "opposite of clean" and comparing it to "bestiality" and "sexual perversion." Local LGBT website Project Q posted an except of one of the passages:

Sexual acts pursued for purposes other than procreation and marital pleasure in holy matrimony is the sex life of a naked man. When men are unrestrained in their quest for sex outside of God’s purpose they will never be fulfilled. Naked me refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which define their body-temple and dishonor God. This is the kind of sex that leaves a man continually empty—the ex life of a naked man. Who told you that you were naked?

In a statement this afternoon, Reed said that he's "deeply disturbed" about the book and has ordered a review into its publication and distribution. In addition to suspending Cochran without pay, the mayor ordered his fire chief to complete sensitivity training and banned him from distributing the book on city property. Deputy AFR Chief Joel G. Baker will fill in for Cochran during his absence.

"I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the Administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens - regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs," Reed said.

Cochran's suspension came at an awkward time. Atlanta last week received its second consecutive perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures laws and polices protecting LGBT rights for city employees across the nation. We've reached out to Georgia Equality for comment. If we hear back, we'll post an update.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Georgia’s “religious freedom” bill to return in 2015 legislative session

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 8:45 AM

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus
For your first controversial piece of legislation of the 2015 General Assembly, look no further than the return of a "religious freedom" bill similar to a measure that received massive backlash from the LGBT community and some corporations last winter.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, tells CL that he plans to reintroduce another “religious freedom” bill when state lawmakers convene in January. McKoon says his proposal will help protect the right to free exercise of religious beliefs across the state. The bill will be his second attempt at passing a measure that opponents have said would allow business owners to discriminate against LGBT and other minority groups.

"Religious pluralism is one of the foundation stones of this country,” McKoon says. “Sending a message that people of every faith are welcome in this state, and don't have to worry about government trampling their right to free exercise, is something we should want to champion.”

McKoon says his bill will contain similar language to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 21-year-old federal law designed to block measures that limit a person’s free exercise of religion, which currently doesn’t exist at the state level in Georgia. The state senator’s law wouldn’t be the first in the country: 19 states have adopted RFRA laws that mirror the federal measure following a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened the law’s protections at both the local and state level. In addition, more than a dozen other states have passed similar legislation to bolster religious rights.

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham tells CL such “religious freedom” legislation sets a “dangerous precedent” that could lead to potential discrimination against members of the LGBT community based on religious grounds. He also says McKoon’s proposal could reach far beyond the LGBT community. RFRA law, he says, can potentially be used to prevent women from accessing birth control or making it more difficult for someone to escape a household with domestic violence.

Under the legislation, Graham says business owners would be able to deny gay people services and employees could potentially discriminate in the workplace. Fortune 500 corporations such as Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, and Home Depot; the city of Atlanta; and the Georgia Municipal Association opposed McKoon’s 2014 “religious freedom” legislation for similar reasons.

“People’s individual religious views needs to be respected, but that’s why we have the First Amendment in this country,” Graham says. “We run into problems when people’s religious views feel the need to trump the law and deny important services to others.”

McKoon says his 2014 bill was mischaracterized as an attempt to copycat an Arizona measure that would have given business owners the right to refuse services to gay people. He says the controversial bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed, was different from RFRA legislation (Arizona enacted a RFRA law in 1999).

"This discussion about denial of services, the so-called 'right to discriminate,' and other things just frankly were not in any way representative of what the legislation would do," McKoon says. “[My bill] sends the opposite message that Georgia is welcoming and a great place to be."

In Georgia, Graham says sexual and gender identity rights already lack protection under state law, such as the right to marry and employer discrimination. Though that may change, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging Georgia’s gay marriage ban, he’s concerned that the legislation could gut LGBT rights before they’re potentially restored.

“We had a long dark period in our country where various proprietors were able to deny services based on race, ethnicity, sex, or gender,” Graham says. “Sex and gender identity are not protected under the law. It’s still legal to be discriminated against [in Georgia].”

Following Sine Die, McKoon says cooler heads have prevailed in conversations he’s had with people worried about the “religious freedom” bill. If the bill gets passed, he’s not concerned about legal challenges related to potential discrimination, pointing to the lack of litigation in Mississippi following the approval of a similar bill earlier this year. But to keep conversations going, McKoon says he won’t pre-file legislation in case the measure needs minor adjustments.

CL has also reached out to openly gay state Reps. Simone Bell, D-Atlanta, and Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, for comment. If wear back, we'll post an update.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bands unite to raise funds for an LGBTQ charity

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Atlanta-based nonprofit Lost-n-Found Youth aims to help find displaced and homeless LGBTQ youth more permanent living situations, among other services. They have big fans — some so extreme the organization didn’t know about tonight's fundraising event until Creative Loafing emailed them for an interview.


“I've done some checking around and no-one at Lost-n-Found seems to know much of anything about Up the LGBT Punx fundraiser at Mammal Gallery,” LnFY Communications Director Paul Skrbec wrote. “It is entirely possible that they intend to dedicate funds raised at the event to us, but we are not [privy] to the planning or details of the event.”

That’s exactly how Marietta musician Elliott Brabant went about assembling the philanthropic concert at DIY art space Mammal Gallery. “Punk is a culture of outcasts, and that’s exactly who LnFY seek to help,” Brabant, who plays experimental tunes under the name Blue Shirt, says. “The Gloryholes posted on a Facebook group that they were a queercore band looking for a show. Being an active member of both the LGBT community and the local punk scene, I saw this as my chance to finally merge these two passions. So I started booking it immediately.”

Gloryholes’ drummer Tri-pod Rod succinctly explains: “Somebody asked us to be on the bill … We get asked to play a lot of  shows because we are an all-gay punk band.”

Brabant enlisted other queer-front and LGBT ally acts to join including punk band New Clear Lawn Chairs, Shelby Miller (of “bubblegum rock” crew the Cherry Icees) and Decatur’s own garage rockers Man Up, Yancey.

“We received an email from the booker that included the words ‘LGBT,’ ‘fundraiser’ and ‘punk’ and we were like, ‘Yuuuup!’” Anna Ballard, lead singer and guitarist of Man Up, Yancey, says. “We're a bunch of queers — well, half of us are and then the other half are two really cool straight cisgendered dudes.”

Ballard expands on the band’s tie to LnFY: “This really hits home for Man Up, Yancey because there were times when the queer members of our band couldn't stay at their homes. Luckily, they had friends to help them out. However, not everyone has that.”

“Based on my time in the world of punk, a major part of the morale is aiding your fellow punks,” Brabant says. “So I wanted to make this a humanitarian effort as well.”

The not-for-profit sprouted from social activist group Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — specifically the Saint Lost and Found project. LnFY offers a host of services afflicted young people under age 26 including a 24/7 hotline (678-856-7825) — answering emails and texts, among phone calls, a small temporary housing facility and short-term host home program. They strive to outfit, feed ,and meet face-to-face with the group the charity serves. Volunteers run a bulk of the show.

LnFY opened a thrift store in Nov. 2013. It sells clothing, furniture, art, and other items with all proceeds going directly to support displaced queer young people.

Yancey's Ballard echoed the sentiment. “As someone who has experienced this personally, an organization like this is lifesaving and should be supported,” she says. “Every little bit of support will help change someone's life.”

UP THE LGBT PUNX FUNDRAISER!!!!! goes down tonight, 8 p.m., at Mammal Gallery. 91 Broad Street SW. 404-771-6912. $6.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

APD's new transgender policies offer guidelines to police

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 1:53 PM

The Atlanta Police Department recently joined a small number of law enforcement agencies nationwide when it unveiled procedures outlining how officers should interact with the city's transgender and gender-nonconforming residents.

In new four-page document released last week, APD specifies new guidelines for officer to exhibit professionalism and courtesy during interactions with the public and with colleagues including transgender, intersex, or gender-nonconforming individuals.

Brian Sharp, an APD senior police officer and LGBT liaison, says the policy has been in the works for about two years. He says the new procedures will increase the "amount of respect we have within the community and for the community."

“There were only a handful that I could find around the country," Sharp says. “We’ve trained all of our sworn officers, all of our civilian employees have received the training as well.”

The policy recommends that officers use the name and pronoun given by the individual, whether or not it matches gender assigned at birth, and generally be respectful. It also says that personal items associated with a person's gender identity, such as prosthetics, clothing and wigs, are subject to search, but can be retained by the person if “reasonable safety concerns" are resolved. APD's written records will match government ID, subject to an employee’s “verification” of gender if a person has no ID with them.

While very few police departments have a written transgender policy, more agencies have moved in that direction over about the last year, said Jennifer Orthwein of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, Calif. Also, in 2012, the federal government also approved formal procedures to enforce the Prison Rape Elimination Act. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, LGBT and gender nonconforming people are at higher risk of sexual assault in prison than other inmates.

"It's partly nondiscrimination laws regarding gender and transgender people," she says. "There's also been a lot of awareness of particularly trans communities not trusting the police."

Continue reading »

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Luke O'Donovan receives 10-year sentence - and 'banishment' - for NYE altercation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 6:36 PM

Supporters of a man who says he was defending himself during an alleged homophobic attack at a New Year's Eve party are asking a judge to revisit the terms of a 10-year prison sentence he agreed to as part of a plea deal he struck with prosecutors on Tuesday.

According to an Atlanta Police report, sometime after revelers rang in 2013, Luke O'Donovan was involved in an altercation at a Reynoldstown party with five to 12 people over "sexuality." Supporters say the Georgia Gwinnett College student defended himself with a pocketknife after he was called homophobic slurs and attacked. According to the APD report, witnesses claimed that people who were later cut or stabbed by O’Donovan tried to "stop" him. O'Donovan then left the party to receive medical treatment at Atlanta Medical Center for stab wounds sustained during the attack, his supporters say. He was charged several hours later with five counts of felony aggravated assault and later charged with attempted murder.

The Luke O'Donovan Support Committee, which claims it includes O'Donovan's friends, family, roommates, and others, is categorizing what happened to the 21 year old as a hate crime.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jason Carter clarifies support for gay marriage, talks Olens lawsuit and protections for LGBT state employees

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Jason Carter's support for gay marriage in Georgia has come into question over the past week. The Atlanta state senator had reportedly failed to say the words "gay" or "LGBT" at a recent fundraising event with local LGBT supporters. In an editorial yesterday, the Georgia Voice called for the Candler Park attorney, who's in the midst of a heated gubernatorial race against Gov. Nathan Deal, to clearly vocalize his support on the issue.

In response this morning, campaign spokesman Bryan Thomas wrote a short statement to the AJC defending Carter's longstanding support of marriage equality. Earlier this afternoon, CL asked the Democratic gubernatorial candidate to elaborate on his stance toward same-sex marriage. We also chatted with him about the state's efforts to uphold its constitutional gay marriage ban and LGBT workplace protections for state employees. Here's what he had to say:

Do you support same-sex marriage?

I have, for a very long time, supported marriage equality. ... I didn't understand [the Georgia Voice's editorial]. Everybody who knows me knows where I stand on the issue. I haven't had a conversion. My grandfather is 89 and supports marriage equality in part because of the influence we've had on him.

I do think it's important for people to know that no one in the movement is talking about telling churches what to do. But as far as the government is concerned, marriage equality is something I believe in and have [believed in] for a very, very, very long time since before I got into politics.

What do you think about Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens' attempts to defend the state's gay marriage ban?

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

AG wants lawsuit challenging Georgia's gay marriage ban dismissed

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has called for the dismissal of a lawsuit contesting the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Last April, several gay couples filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the same-sex marriage ban that's been on Georgia's books for nearly a decade. The lawsuit included Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Midtown; Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro; Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville; and Jennifer Sisson, whose wife Pamela Drenner passed away earlier this year.

In 2004, Georgians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that made it illegal for the state to acknowledge or perform gay marriages and civil unions. Most other states' bans have been challenged - and in some cases, overturned - following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling that deemed the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. Georgia was one of the last states to have such a lawsuit filed.

The Associated Press' Kathleen Foody explains the state attorney general's decision to ask for the federal lawsuit's dismissal:

Attorney General Sam Olens, representing the state registrar, said in a filing Monday that the suit takes away Georgia residents' right to define marriage.

Olens' brief acknowledges a movement in some states to recognize same-sex marriage and public opinion polls that support those changes.

"But judicially imposing such a result now would merely wrest a potentially unifying popular victory from the hands of supporters and replace it instead with the stale conformity of compulsion," the brief says. "This Court should reject Plaintiffs' invitation to disregard controlling precedent, decline to anticipate a future ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and dismiss Plaintiffs' claims in their entirety."

The Georgia Voice's Patrick Saunders chatted with Lambda Legal, an LGBT-focused legal group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven different people, about Olens' decision:

Lambda Legal senior attorney Tara Borelli weighed in on the Olens brief, saying, “This brief raises the same arguments that have been rejected time and time again in several federal courts unanimously since Windsor was decided.”

Borelli cited Olens’ argument in the brief about Baker v. Nelson, in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a state law limiting marriage to opposite sex couples did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

“This is an argument that isn’t even a question to be answered by the court,” Borellis says. “This is a one-sentence decision issued by the Supreme Court 42 years ago. Obviously a lot has changed since then.”

Georgia Equality yesterday delivered more than 3,000 signed petitions to Olens' office asking him to not defend Georgia's gay marriage ban.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Marriage equality advocates call on AG to not defend ban

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Attorney General Sam Olens
State Attorney General Sam Olens should refuse to defend Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban against a pending lawsuit, says the LGBT rights group Georgia Equality in a new petition effort.

Olens “has the opportunity to do the right thing and avoid wasting taxpayer money defending the indefensible,” the group said in an action alert today, noting that marriage bans in other states are falling left and right these days. “Let Sam Olens know that Georgians of all political stripes support marriage equality and don’t want to see Georgia’s leaders spend our money to be on the wrong side of history yet again.”

Olens’ office did not immediately respond to a comment request. In late February Olens said he had a "duty" to enforce and defend the ban.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, says advocates have not contacted Olens directly but are "relying on his public comments that he intends to defend the constitutional ban." Graham also says they just launched the petition Friday and nearly 800 people signed it over the weekend.

July 21 is the deadline for the defendants - the clerk of Gwinnett County Probate Court, a Fulton County Probate Court judge and state Registrar Deborah Aderhold - to decide how to respond to the pending lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of various Georgians in April by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Olens is currently signed on to represent Aderhold, while the other defendants have other attorneys, according to Lambda’s lead attorney, Tara Borelli. Even if Olens backed out, other attorney might still present a defense, she said.

But the lawsuit, and Georgia Equality’s petition, are based on the fact that around the country, same-sex marriage bans are increasingly proving morally and legally indefensible. Since the Georgia lawsuit was filed, several other state bans have fallen or been challenged. Governors and attorneys general in such states as Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Nevada have given up on presenting defenses, seeing that they are doomed to fail.

And defenses are pricey. According to the Associated Press, Utah’s ongoing defense of its marriage ban has already cost $300,000, and the state has budgeted another $300,000 for its U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

“I think it will be very difficult [for a court] to ignore the unanimous swell of decisions in favor of marriage equality,” Borelli said, since last year’s groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Winsor.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here's a copy of the lawsuit challenging Georgia's same-sex marriage ban

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 10:39 AM

As we noted earlier this morning, Lambda Legal has filed a class action lawsuit that seeks to toss out Georgia's same-sex marriage ban. The legal challenge represents an important first step toward ending marriage discrimination throughout the state.

In 2004, Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibited the state from acknowledging or performing gay marriages or civil unions. But it's been expected that the state's law would be contested since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

That action came particularly slow in Georgia, which had been one of the last states in the country to file this kind of challenge. But the cause has gained momentum in recent months, most recently with a new advocacy effort from Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a coalition of 12 Southern LGBT organizations seeking to rally support for marriage equality throughout the region.

To announce the landmark legal challenge, the lawsuit's plaintiffs joined Lambda Legal and Georgia Equality at a press conference. The lawsuit includes four different parties: Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Midtown; Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville; Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro; and Jennifer Sisson, whose wife Pamela Drenner passed away earlier this year.

We've included the full 48-page lawsuit after the jump:

Continue reading »

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