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US to support gay rights abroad December 8, 2011

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Hillary Clinton: “Being gay is not a western invention, it is a human reality”

The US has publicly declared it will fight discrimination against gays and lesbians abroad by using foreign aid and diplomacy to encourage reform.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of diplomats in Geneva: “Gay rights are human rights”.

A memo from the Obama administration directs US government agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.

Similar policies already exist for gender equality and ethnic violence.

“It should never be a crime to be gay,” Mrs Clinton said at the United Nations in Geneva, adding that a country’s cultural or religious traditions was no excuse for discrimination.

Her audience included representatives from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence.

Many ambassadors rushed out of the room as soon as Mrs Clinton finished speaking, the Associated Press news agency reported.

In October, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s suggestion that aid could be cut to countries that did not recognise gay rights was condemned by several African countries where homosexual acts are banned, including Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Last week Nigeria became the latest African country attempting to tighten homosexuality laws, with the Senate passing a bill banning same-sex marriages. Before it becomes law, it must be passed by the lower chamber and then signed by the president.

‘Human reality’

The announcement, described by the White House as the “first US government strategy to combat human rights abuses against gays and lesbians abroad”, is also being seen as part of the Obama administration’s outreach to gays and lesbians ahead of the 2012 election.

The official memorandum does not outline consequences for countries with poor records on gay rights. But it allows US agencies working abroad to consult with international organisations on discrimination.

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” Mrs Clinton said in Geneva. “Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.”

Correspondents say the new policy could pose awkward questions for US officials formulating policy towards some regular allies and regional powers.

In 2011, the state department’s annual human rights report cited abuses against gay people in Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US that bans homosexuality outright.

Afghanistan also prohibits homosexual activity, and the same report found that authorities “sporadically” enforced the prohibition.

In the US, Republican presidential candidates criticised the administration’s decision, with Texas Governor Rick Perry saying in a statement that “promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money”.

Mrs Clinton acknowledged the US had its own mixed record on gay rights. As late as 2003, some states had laws that made gay sex a crime.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama signed into law a bill repealing the “don’t ask don’t tell” law and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the US military.

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Gay rights must be criterion for US aid allocations, instructs Obama December 7, 2011

President Barack Obama has instructed officials to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid.

In the first US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens abroad, a presidential memorandum issued on Tuesday instructs agencies to use foreign aid to promote such rights.

Gay and lesbian lobby groups have reported an increase in human rights abuses across Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Obama is among international leaders who have condemned a bill proposed in Uganda that would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. The Ugandan parliament recently reopened debate on the bill, which had been abandoned after an international outcry.

In a speech in Geneva to mark international human rights day, secretary of state Hillary Clinton backed the presidential directive. “I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes,” she said. “They can and they do. Just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable. But it should never be a crime to be gay.”

Clinton has called for greater protection of sexual minorities and the safety of those seeking asylum. In June, she welcomed a UN resolution on equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Clinton compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women’s rights and racial equality, and said a country’s cultural or religious traditions are no excuse for discrimination. “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” she said.

Among US measures, the state department will lead a group to direct agencies to provide a “swift and meaningful” response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT people abroad, Obama said. Agencies are directed to combat the criminalisation of LGBT status or conduct abroad, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and engage international organisations in the fight against such discrimination. Agencies are instructed to report on progress within 180 days.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney argued gay rights should not be a test for US engagement abroad. “I will be looking at foreign aid, whether it meets our national security interests and, number two, whether these nations are friends of ours and are willing to be friendly with us in ways when it matters the most,” he said on Fox News.

The Texas governor, Rick Perry, went further. “Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money,” a Perry campaign statement said.

It was unclear whether those countries that target and discriminate against gay and lesbians would have their funding cut.

The latest state department report cites countries including US allies such as Saudi Arabia as having human rights issues over treatment of homosexuals.

The UN Human Rights Council passed the resolution on equal rights for all by a narrow margin, despite strong objections from African and Muslim countries.

While the US, the EU and Brazil backed the effort, the move drew strong criticism from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, among others.

In October this year, USAID made an announcement that it “strongly encourages” businesses contracted with USAID to go beyond mandatory non-discrimination protections, to prohibit job bias for LGBT employees and other workers.

Among the top 10 countries granted economic and military assistance from the US, according to USAID, are Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Egypt Pakistan, Sudan, West Bank/Gaza, Ethiopia, Kenya and Columbia.

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Pepper spray cop was involved in anti-gay slur lawsuit which ended in $240,000 settlement November 24, 2011

November 23, 2011

by legitgov


Pepper spray cop was involved in anti-gay slur lawsuit which ended in $240,000 settlement 23 Nov 2011 Video footage of Lt. John Pike and another officer clad in riot gear casually spraying an orange cloud at the heads of University of California, Davis, protesters who were sitting peacefully on the ground has sparked national outrage since it began circulating online Friday night. An alleged anti-gay slur by Pike, a retired Marine sergeant, figured in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit a former police officer filed against the department, which ended in a $240,000 settlement in 2008. Officer Calvin Chang’s 2003 discrimination complaint against the university’s police chief and the UC Board of Regents alleged he was systematically marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike described him using a profane anti-gay epithet.

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Unions criticise IMDb in age row October 29, 2011

IMDb is an online database of movies, television shows, actors and other showbiz personnel

Two US acting unions have criticised movie website IMDb over its policy of giving actor’s ages and dates of birth.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) said the site was “facilitating age discrimination”.

They claim actors are losing work because of details published on site.

It comes after a US actress sued Amazon, which owns the Internet Movie Database, for more than $1m (£621,000) after it posted her age.

The unnamed actress claims the website misused her legal date of birth after she signed up to the IMDbPro service in 2008. She believes revealing her age could lose her acting opportunities.

In a joint statement, the unions said: “An actor’s actual age is irrelevant to casting. What matters is the age range that an actor can portray.

“For the entire history of professional acting, this has been true but that reality has been upended by the development of IMDb as an industry standard used in casting offices across America.”

‘Take responsibility’

The unions said IMDb publishes the dates of birth of thousands of actors “without their consent, most of them not celebrities but rank-and-file actors whose names are unknown to the general public”.

“When their actual ages then become known to casting personnel, the 10+ year age range that many of them can portray suddenly shrinks, and so do their opportunities to work,” they added.

SAG and AFTRA said IMDb had the power to “remove the temptation for employers to engage in age discrimination”, saying the site had to “step up and take responsibility for the harm it has caused”.

A spokesman for Equity, the UK’s acting union, said it agreed with their US counterparts.

“The important element in this case is the playing range of an actor, not their actual age.

“It is a well-established practice in casting that actors provide their playing age and Equity supports SAG and AFTRA’s view that IMDb’s use of a performer’s actual age could lead to age discrimination.”

A spokesperson for Amazon was not available for comment.

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NY bus accused of discrimination October 22, 2011

Sexes sometimes sit apart on buses in the parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, US media report

New York City officials say they could shut a bus service running through an Orthodox Jewish area that is accused of asking women to sit at the back.

Officials have written to the firm operating the bus asking what they are doing to prevent discrimination.

The B110 bus is operated by a private firm under a franchising agreement with the city, but is open to the public.

A student journalist published a story this week reporting that a woman on the bus was asked to sit at the back.

The New York Times later reported that a woman passenger on the B110 had said men and women also sat apart on similar bus services catering for the city’s Hasidic Jewish community.

New York City’s Department of Transportation director, Anne Koenig, has asked the company that operates the B110 to respond to the claims.

“Please be advised that a practice of requiring women to ride in the back… would constitute a direct violation of your franchise agreement and may lead to termination of that agreement,” she wrote, reports Reuters news agency.

The department said the firm that runs the service had no exemptions from city’s anti-discrimination standards.

Officials said the public bus has been franchised since 1973 to the Private Transportation Corporation, which has not yet commented.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg told reporters on Wednesday that segregating men and women was “obviously not permitted” on public buses.

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Regional accents thrive in U.S. September 29, 2011

(CNN) — Hours of TV each day. The internet. Increased travel and mobility.

All these factors expose us to culture and voices on a national rather than local scale. But if you think all this exposure is homogenizing our language, think again. Regional accents are going strong around the United States, bringing with them all kinds of cultural flavor.

If you’re one of the many that assume all this media exposure must be homogenizing the American accent, you’re not alone. It sounds like a logical hypothesis: The accents heard in the media are far-reaching and pervasive, so local accents must be on the decline as the population is exposed to all this “standardized” speech. But experts say it’s a common misconception that has no basis in fact.

“There is zero evidence for television or the other popular media disseminating or influencing sound changes or grammatical innovations,” wrote linguist J.K. Chambers in a 2006 essay for PBS. And experts agree that regional accents around the United States are alive and well.

But what effect are these regional accents having on American culture? As part of the CNN iReport cultural census, which examines some of the more intangible characteristics that define the American population, we asked people around the country to read a standard passage aloud so we could evaluate their regional accent. We also asked them to tell us a little about their speech: how they feel about their accent, who influenced it, and how they think others view it.

Some of the strongest opinions came from iReporters with “country” accents: Southern or Western. These accents are among the most stigmatized in the United States, and people who possess them have a wide range of views, from pride to annoyance.

“I hope that when others hear me speak, they hear me, not my western twang,” writes iReporter Sarah Beth Boynton, who was raised in Salt Lake City.

Boynton grew up singing with her family and got sick of hearing that she should only sing country music because of her accent.

“I have made a concerted effort to speak with as little ‘western twang’ in my accent as possible,” she revealed.

Meghann Holmes also tries to modulate her accent, but for professional reasons. A native of Kentucky, she says she’s proud of her accent and has “great appreciation for regional accents and dialects.” But she thinks this pride may not be appropriate for her workplace.

“Because I work in public relations, and because I am aware that some employ a negative image of people with strong ‘hillbilly’ accents, I tend to modify my speech when I am conducting business,” says Holmes, who lives in London, Kentucky.

According to law professor Mari Matsuda, concerns like Holmes’ are well-founded. Matsuda, who teaches and writes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, penned a frequently cited paper called “Voices of America: Accent, Antidiscrimination Law, and a Jurisprudence for the Last Reconstruction” for the Yale Law Journal.

“Sociolinguists have shown that in the area of speech evaluation, we are particularly susceptible to the cultural stereotypes we have absorbed,” she writes. “Low-status accents will sound foreign and unintelligible. High-status accents will sound clear and competent.”

Or, to put it simply, “there is significant discrimination against regional accents,” she said via e-mail.

Matsuda argues that discrimination against both foreign and domestic accents, intentional or unintentional, can hurt people with a “low-status” accent when they’re looking for a job. A University of Chicago psychology study from 2010 backs her up: The study found that people who spoke with a foreign accent were seen as less credible than those who spoke with a “standard” American accent.

Still, some Americans wouldn’t give up their regional accent for anything. Just ask Sonya Tricie of New Orleans.

“I always hated my accent growing up, often trying to over-enunciate words to prevent sounding like the people around me,” she remembers. But her tune changed, literally, when she went through the hellish experience of Hurricane Katrina.

“After Hurricane Katrina, I was horrified when I realized this very cultural and unique thing might be gone forever,” Tricie explains. “I moved back home and there is almost no way to describe how happy it makes me when one of my kids says something so local in our accent!”

“I love my accent. It is a part of me,” agrees Kenyotta Elijah of Lufkin, Texas. She, too, tried to change her accent for professional reasons when she was younger, and says she’s gotten her fair share of jokes from people who have “preconceived notions about southerners, particularly Texans.” But now, it’s a point of pride.

“I love it when others, especially northerners, hear me talk,” she says. “Most of the time, they find my accent cute.”

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Obama’s Jobs Plan Will Guarantee Full Employment–For Lawyers September 28, 2011

Anyone familiar with the full text of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act will understand why he is in such a hurry for Congress to pass it. He doesn’t want anyone to read it first.

We’ve been down this road before and, heaven help us, the president wants to take us down this road yet again. The bill is full of things that would give a reasonable person pause. One of them is the section identified as the “Fair Employment Act of 2011″ which establishes a “prohibition on discrimination in employment on the basis of an individual’s status as unemployed.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It’s true that long-term unemployment is a serious issue right now, more serious than at any time since the end of the Second World War according to more than one labor economist. But what Obama is proposing will make it harder for the long-term unemployed to find work because, in essence, he is saying it should be actionable should a business decide not to hire them. If ever there was a disincentive to hire someone who doesn’t have a job, this might be it.

The way things work now, thanks to the trial bar and their friends on the federal bench, making an accusation of discrimination is practically the same as proving it. No business owner, no corporate leader, no person involved in the hiring process wants to find themselves on the wrong end of an allegation that they or their company discriminated in its hiring practices. It is an embarrassing and costly charge, one that often gets more attention when it is made than when it is resolved in an employer’s favor. And, no matter what the U.S. Constitution and our judicial system may say about “innocent until proven guilty,” it is almost always incumbent on the accused to prove, one way or another, that they didn’t discriminate, or to settle out of court for what is usually called “unspecified damages with no admission of wrong doing.”

[See the top 10 cities to find a job.]

Under what Obama’s is asking for in his bill it shall be a prohibited act “to fail or refuse to consider for employment, or fail or refuse to hire, an individual as an employee because of the individual’s status as unemployed.” Which opens the door for all the Acorn-like groups out there to send long-term unemployed people into businesses big and small—especially those the liberals don’t like because of their political activity, because they are non-union, or because of the business they are in—to apply for jobs and, when they don’t get them, to allege the decision not to hire was based on discrimination. And, of course, the legislation includes a provision awarding “reasonable attorney’s fees (including expert fees) and costs attributable to the pursuit of a claim under this Act” in the event that discrimination should be found to have occurred.

President Barack Obama has hit on a scheme to guarantee full employment in his American Jobs Act all right—full employment for the trial layers. The rest of those who don’t have jobs will just have to wait a while longer.

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