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Volume 15/Issue 19

by PlanetOut,, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People

Teen Activist Dead, Remembered

Y ou've probably seen reports recently of Gary Remafedi's Minnesota research finding gay and bisexual middle and senior high school students 7 times more likely to attempt suicide and 3 times more likely to think about it than their heterosexual peers; but now, sadly, one young man has "put a face" on the issue: Jacob Orozco, a part of the pioneering Gay-Straight Alliance at Salt Lake City's East High School that sparked a statewide controversy, documented as part of the Tzabaco Safe Schools Intiative's film Out of the Past. Orozco reportedly hanged himself in his mother's home on Sept. 4. A memorial fund has been established in his memory that will carry on his work to support gay and lesbian youth and make schools less hazardous environments for them.

Although it's been usual to assume that gay teen suicides tend to be closeted and isolated, Jacob was emblematic of a new generation of gays and lesbians, an upfront activist notable for his self-assurance. Out of the Past co-producer Jeff Dupre says, "Jacob stood out as a dynamic, funny and seemingly confident young man. Our camera was drawn to his energy and charm again and again. He was an accomplished athlete, a talented gymnast and an inspiration to the fellow members of the Alliance...a vibrant and impressive young man who turned handsprings on a sunny lawn to the applause and admiration of his friends."

Utah native and gay journalist Dan Romesburg of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's (GLAAD) San Francisco Media Resource Center also met Orozco, while covering the East High story for the queer youth magazine InsideOUT. He writes, "Jacob was clearly highly regarded by his fiiends and peers in the East High School Gay-Straight Alliance. He was gentle, funny and warm-hearted." Orozco was slated to be the Alliance's president in this new school year.

The Gay-Straight Alliance formed to provide support to its members and to combat homophobia, the first such student effort in Utah. In 1996, it became a matter of intense debate in the Utah state legislature, which at first chose to ban all school clubs rather than allow the Alliance to continue (federal law prevented banning only the Alliance). Another legislative effort attempted to prohibit the Alliance through reference to the state's sodomy law, by prohibiting clubs which might encourage criminal behavior. The discussion of gay and lesbian student groups occupied most of two state legislative sessions, and also sparked a special day-long closed-door legislative meeting after the 1996 session had ended. Various protest demonstrations included a march on the state capital by several hundred high school students.

Students at other Salt Lake schools also began to try to organize their own gay-straight alliances. The controversy continued through the state Board of Education's development of policy guidelines, and then through Salt Lake's Board of Education's process of selecting one of three options approved by the school board. Meanwhile, the Alliance itself managed to succeed in getting together room rental costs, supervision and transportation in order to meet stringent guidelines for use of the school facilities after hours-only to have the Salt Lake school board discover this term that it could require the group to carry $ 1-million per meeting of liability insurance. The American Civil Liberties Union is looking into this new wrinkle on behalf of the Alliance and the Utah chapter of GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, formerly GLSTN).

Orozco's close friends held a memorial service on him Sept. 12, and condolence messages may be sent to: East High School Gay-Straight Alliance, c/o Camille Lee, Advisor, 840 S. 1300 E., Salt Lake City UT 84102. Those who wish to send condolences to Alliance founder Kelli Peterson may do so by writing c/o the Utah Stonewall Center, 770 S. 300 W., Salt Lake City, UT 84101. PlanetOut is setting up memorial pages for Orozco on both its Web and America Online platforms, including a bulletin board to leave condolence messages for Orozco's fiiends and family. XY Magazine will be contributing advertising space to a Orozco memorial as well.

A memorial fund has been set up to support existing and newly-forming gay-straight student alliance groups throughout the U.S. by means of grants to local helping agencies and to local chapters of national groups including GLSEN, P-FLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays) and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Tax-deductible donations can be made by three methods to what is currently being called "A Memorial Fund to Remember Jacob Orozco" (legal discussions now in progress will likely ultimately result in a shorter name), to be administered by the tax-exempt, gay-friendly Tides Foundation, which will make periodic reports via press releases. A 24-hour automated phone system can accept contributions in multiples of $25 at 1 800.856.1667, if you ask for reference SKU:JACOB (or just "JACOB"). Checks or credit card information may be mailed to A Memorial Fund to Remember Jacob Orozco, c/o TCLGCF, P.O. Box 460607, San Francisco, CA 94146.

Businesses wishing to participate may contact Tzabaco's Stuart Harrison at 415.647.9003. Tzabaco, a Petaluma, Califomia-based catalog sales company marketing to the gay and lesbian community, established the fund with an initial gift of $2,500 and plans tribute solicitations to its customers for the rest of the year.

"Life Partner" Epitaph Won

C ynthia Lynn Friedman can now rest in peace as she lived-as an open lesbian. Friedman and her partner of 13 years, Sherry Barone, knew five years ahead of her 1994 death that cancer would end her life, and took every possible legal precaution to give Barone sole authority over Friedman's posthumous affairs. When Barone went to place a headstone on Friedman's grave with the epitaph she had specified, however, Friedman's parents objected to the phrase "beloved life partner." The Har Jehuda Cemetery in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania said Barone would first have to present a court order before the cemetery would cross the parents' wishes. The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund took up the case, filing a federal lawsuit against the cemetery in April, and now a settlement has been reached that should have the headstone in place for the third anniversary of Friedman's death.

The cemetery will also pay $15,000 to Barone, who said she was unable to complete her grieving process because of the unmarked grave. The full epitaph reads, "Cynthia L. Friedman/July 11, 1959 - October 3, 1994/Beloved life partner,/daughter, granddaughter,/sister, and aunt/A spirited and compassionate/woman who will be/forever in our hearts." Barone intends to be interred beside her partner.

Lambda believes the case makes a strong argument for the need for legal marriage for gays and lesbians, since no grieving widow or widower who had contracted with a cemetery would be expected to go to court for approval of an epitaph, and the couple had taken advantage of all legal mechanisms available to them to deny legal standing in the matter to anyone other than Barone.

Disney Shows Christian Charity

The array of religiously-oriented groups who've lined up be hind the Southern Baptist Convention in boycotting the Walt Disney Company for its gay-friendly policies haven't pulled too many punches...but when about 150 members of those groups demonstrated outside Disney's Southern California studios in sweltering heat Sept. 6, Disney folks went way beyond turning the other cheek to give them a lesson in what might be called Christian charity.

The faithful-notably including the increasingly ubiquitous professional homophobe Alveda King, niece of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.-demonstrated their commitment by rallying outside the gates of Disney's Burbank facility on Sept. 5, despite temperatures over 100 and unusually high humidity for the sub-desert region. The Washington, DC-based Concerned Women for America was the official sponsor of the protest, and the group's vice president Carmen Pate said at the rally that, "We are here to urge Disney to stop making shows that offend the Christian ethic and family values. We will continue our efforts to let people know that Disney is not the same company we grew up with." Another protestor, a local resident, said more explicitly that, "We are boycotting Disney because of their stand on homosexual issues. We don't hate homosexuals. We love them and we pray for them. But the Bible says the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination." Alveda King said as part of her prepared speech, "We are here to ask Disney and [its chief executive officer] Mr. Eisner to return to the agenda of the American family."

Official Disney issued a statement of its commitment to "values that include tolerance and compassion and respect for everybody," but it was Disney staffers who made the point. They took it upon themselves to provide the perspiring protestors with water, soft drinks and cookies.

Alveda King also used the occasion to call on Burbank-area California Senator Adam Schiff to oppose three bills now before the legislature "and keep homosexuality from being pushed in the schools and on our children." Schiff, a Democrat, said later that he views neither the bills nor Disney as having a gay agenda, and that he would vote for all three items. One of them, Assembly member Antonio Villaraigosa's (D-LA) AB 257 to add "sexual orientation" as a protected category under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, was defeated in a Senate vote Sept. 8, although it may be reconsidered as soon as today.

Alveda King also drew on her famous forbearer's name to say, "My daddy and my uncle (Martin Luther King, Jr.) never dreamed that homosexual behavior would be equated with marriage and skin color."

Alveda's kin are now prepared for her public statements: a spokesperson in Atlanta, GA responded, saying that, "The King family has no comment on this matter at this time, except to say that opinions and views expressed by Alveda King are hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the entire King family."

Mom DeGeneres Leads Coming Out

When Ellen DeGeneres came out along with her lead character on ABC's sitcom Ellen earlier this year, she insisted she wasn't doing so to be any kind of activist-and according to at least one report, she turned down a $4-million book deal for her coming out story so as not to "exploit" the situation-but that doesn't mean her mom can't be some kind of activist. Betty DeGeneres won the hearts of numerous gays and lesbians who wished she'd been their mother after they saw her on the "20-20" show (part deux) about Ellen and her family. (If you've got really quick eyes, you may have also spotted her in line at the airport in the coming out "Puppy Episode" of the sitcom.) The Human Rights Campaign announced Sept. 8 that it has hired the elder DeGeneres to serve as the official spokesperson for its National Coming Out Project, which focuses on the Oct. 11 annual observance of National Coming Out Day.

DeGeneres is the first non-gay to fill the slot, which has always been occupied by someone with celebrity name recognition: Amanda Bearse of the recently-concluded Married...With Children, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich's half-sister Candace Gingrich, Cher's and U.S. Representative Sonny Bono's daughter Chastity Bono, Dan Butler of Frasier, and Sean Sasser, formerly of MTV's Real World III. Betty DeGeneres said, "I am thrilled at this wonderful opportunity to talk with gay and straight Americans about the importance of coming out, because honesty truly is the best policy."

Author Says Goethe Was Gay

J ohann Wolf von Goethe (1749 - 1832), the poet and novelist best known to English language readers as the dramatist of Faust, towers over German literature as Shakespeare does English literature-and now, like Shakespeare, there is serious discussion that Goethe might have been gay. It's making a terrific kickoff for a new Goethe biography, The Tender Caress of the Tiger by Hehnut Kohl biographer Karl Hugo Pruys, which hit German bookstores Sept. 14 but will take another year to make it to France and the U.S. in translation.

Endless material already published about Goethe has presented him as a great womanizer as well as happy in a long relationship with his wife, but Pruys says it will all have to be rewritten. He also claims that scholars have privately discussed the gay hypothesis for years, but Pruys says that the Goethe Society and other Goethe classicists have suppressed the evidence regarding the venerated figure's sexual orientation. Another leading scholar has already responded that Pruys is misinterpreting the passionate expression of friendship between men in Goethe's era, parallel to similar discussions relating to women (see Lillian Faderman's Surpassing the Love of Men) that have led some to reject the notion that female figures such as U.S. poet Emily Dickinson were lesbian.

"I am firmly convinced that Goethe was gay," Pruys told the media. "Goethe has been fundamentally misunderstood. We must pull him down from this marble pedestal and destroy the false myths created about him by a stiff academia."

Pruys relies heavily on material from some of Goethe's 2,500 letters. He's particularly interested in one from the 1870's to what he believes was Goethe's first lover in the physical sense, the philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi-one marked "Do not let anyone see this letter." It says, "You felt that it was bliss for me to be the object of your love." Pruys says, "I say there was physical love between them." Almost forty years later in a memoir, Goethe wrote of Jacobi, "At midnight you still sought me in the darkness -I felt my soul was reborn. From that moment I could never leave you again."

"Goethe had no serious, meaningful relationships with women, in contrast to his countless relationships with men," Pruys said. "In his younger days Goethe called off an engagement to a young woman. Traveling in Switzerland, there was nothing he liked better than swimming naked in the lakes with other young men." Goethe lived with his wife Christiane Vulpius for 18 years before marrying, keeping separate bedrooms. When they met, Goethe was 39 and Vulpius 23, but she had far more sexual experience, according to Pruys. The biographer believes Goethe had never touched a woman before being seduced by Vulpius, and disputes Goethe's paternity of their one surviving child (four others died in childbirth). "Goethe had only close and warm relationships with men, you see this in his letters. He was terrified of women; they left him cold," Pruys explains.

"His love poems are just meant generally and the passion is actually homophilia," Pruys declares. It gives a new twist to Goethe's famous and influential novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which a youth's passionate, unrequited love for an unattainable woman drives him to suicide. It's a plotline that's often been mirrored by gay writers presenting their own feelings in the guise of heterosexual characters.

No Dutch Co-Adoptions, MA OK

T he Dutch Supreme Court on Sept. 5 rejected a lesbian couple's bid to co-adopt each other's children, according to an Agence France Presse report. Ms. Van ljzendoor and Ms. Louman both underwent artificial insemination, one giving birth to a boy and the other to a girl, and they're seeking co-adoption in part to gain recognition for the children's standing as brother and sister. The women intend to appeal the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights.

A Dutch parliamentary committee is currently reviewing the question of adoptions by same-gender couples, although the parliament failed to legalize them when considering the question earlier this year. There are only a very small number of adoptions each year in the Netherlands and nearly all of them are of foreign-born children, so politicians have been deeply concerned about the possible foreign relations ramifications of adoptions by gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, there's been a co-adoption breakthrough in Massachusetts, where what did *not* happen constituted an advance in equal treatment. While many of the U.S. states now allow same-gender partners to co-adopt each other's children, it is almost invariably a lengthy and burdensome process-in contrast to the essentially automatic adoption rights granted to a would-be step-parent seeking to adopt a legally married partner's biological child. One lesbian couple has gained equal treatment, though, with a Suffolk Probate and Family Court judge's Sept. 6 withdrawal of a requirement for a home study by the state Department of Social Services.

Massachusetts judges are allowed to use their own discretion in deciding whether or not to order such investigations in situations where a child's biological parent is supporting a partner's effort to become an adoptive parent. The couple appealed the family court judge's original order for a home study to the state's Supreme Judicial Court, claiming that such investigations are selectively required of same-gender couples, and that in this case there was no evident reason for a home study (which represents a tremendous invasion of privacy). The Supreme Judicial Court in turn ordered the family court judge either to waive the investigation or explain the reasoning behind it, and the judge chose to allow the adoption to go forward without the home study.

"This decision represents an important advance for lesbian and gay families. The Supreme Judicial Court has made it clear that the adoption petitions we file must be treated with the same respect as those filed by married couples," the parents' attorney, Joyce Kauffman, told the Boston Globe.

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