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In brief: Phelps-a-thon, GLAD’s Goodridge podcast

by Rachel Kossman & Aviva Gat
Sunday Dec 7, 2008
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Activist harnesses Phelps’s hate for pro-equality cause

Fred Phelps and his clan from the Westboro "God Hates Fags" Baptist Church, centered in Topeka, Kansas, plan to protest a production of the Laramie Project at the Boston Center for the Arts on Dec. 12. But this time when they hold up signs stating "Fags Burn in Hell" and "Thank God for AIDS," they will also be raising money for Driving Equality, an 85-day, 15,000-mile road trip Chris Mason plans to take in summer 2009 through the lower 48 states to advance LGBT equality.

Mason has organized a "Phelps-a-thon," in which people can pledge money for every minute that Phelps and his followers protest outside the BCA. Mason plans to hold a sign in front of the protesters tallying how much money is being raised with each minute of their protest.

"I think it will be exciting to hold a sign showing Fred Phelps how much money they are helping raise for LGBT equality," Mason said. "Hopefully they’ll leave sooner."

Mason said the Phelps-a-thon is more about its message than about making money. "I don’t really have a goal set about money," he said. "It’s about turning Fred Phelps’ message into a positive one."

Mason first heard the idea of a Phelps-a-thon at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce’s 2004 Creating Change Conference.

"It sounded like a great idea," Mason said. "It stuck in the back of my mind and now it’s our turn to have one."

Mason has protested the Phelps clan before, when they came to the Boston area to picket three high schools in 2004. This is the first time he’ll use their presence to raise money for a good cause.

The Phelps protest schedule states "Matt is in Hell! Deal with it" about the play based on Mathew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered near Laramie.

Mason came out when he was 14 years old and right away was faced with prejudice and homophobia, inspiring him to do whatever he could to create equality for the LGBT community.

"I think the main reason [people are homophobic] is because of ignorance," he said. "I think people don’t understand we are born gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. There’s a lot of fear about it."

To battle that fear and ignorance, Mason plans during Driving Equality to speak with LGBT community organizers, activists and citizens across the country to gain an understanding of the current political climates and explore ways of combating discrimination.

"Driving Equality is kind of my brainchild that came out of my love for traveling and equality," Mason said. "I can be treated equally in one state and in another I’m a second class citizen."

Mason plans on making a documentary film about his travels to highlight the disparities of rights in different states, which he hopes will incite a discussion about potential strategies for ensuring equality. His vehicle of choice is a Honda Odyssey because it’s big enough for him to sleep in the back and gets better gas mileage than other minivans.

Mason’s ultimate goal is to help create a country where everyone is equal. "The first step is finding where we’re at."


Good pod! GLAD examines "Goodridge" as part of anniversary podcast series

On the heels of the fifth anniversary of the "Goodridge" decision, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the organization that brought the lawsuit, has released a retrospective podcast on the historic case.

"The Dignity and Equality of All Individuals: ’Goodridge v. Department of Public Health’" was made available for free last week on iTunes and on GLAD’s website, glad.org. The audio podcast outlines the fight for gay marriage, beginning with GLAD founder John Ward’s decision in the late 1970’s to help a lesbian couple in Vermont prepare legal documents and change their names to reflect their union. The podcast outlines the continued battle in the marriage cases in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut and speaks of the loss in California during the latest election. It emphasizes GLAD’s goal ongoing legal battle to protect the marriage rights of LGBT citizens across the United States.

"At its core, marriage is about the love and commitment of two people, people who have made the choice to spend their lives together. Marriage is also a bundle of legal rights meant to protect spouses and families, an adult right of passage, a way for two people to honor their relationship, an opportunity for family and friends to bond together and a respected cultural institution," states the podcast’s narrator. "It’s also a fundamental legal right and a personal choice, not something that should be decided by the state. It is precisely because marriage means so many things on so many levels that it has become a corner stone of GLAD’s legal work."

In celebration of its 30th anniversary this year, GLAD has produced monthly podcasts highlighting some of the organization’s groundbreaking legal work. The entire series of podcasts, 11 altogether, takes less than 10 minutes to download and is completely free. The series offers an interesting history of important LGBT cases that can be heard on your iPod as you commute to work on the T, schlep across campus or endure your daily workout.

At just under 15 minutes, the ’Goodridge’ segment doesn’t introduce any particularly groundbreaking information, rather it puts a personal touch on the issue with interviews from those directly involved in the case.

Other podcasts address the case of Trina Harrington, a transgender middle school student who, with GLAD’s help, won the right to wear feminine clothing to school after her principal prevented her from doing so, and the case of Nancy Walsh, who lost her partner in the Flight 11 plane crash of 9/11 and worked with GLAD to win compensation from the federal September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Other topics include the expulsion of David Knapp, now 81, from the Boy Scouts after a life time of service, the story of the GLIB’s fight to march in the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the case of Aaron Fricke, who sued his school district to bring a male date to his prom back in 1980.

In addition to it’s podcasts, GLAD recently posted a 30th anniversary video, which outlines the organization’s genesis after a rash of bathroom sex stings in Boston Public Library, its fight for transgender rights, marriage quality, HIV/AIDS and adoption by LGBT parents. The video begins with a statement from Ward that encapsulates the rapid progress GLAD has brought to the LGBT movement: "When I was 25 it didn’t seem to be possible to have a life that integrated my sexual orientation," states Ward. "And when I was thirty, it did."

"We started winning," he says later on. "And you know, that changes things," It certainly does.

To download the podcasts, visit http://www.glad.org/30years/podcasts.html . To view the anniversary video, visit http://www.glad.org/current/video/30th-anniversary/

Copyright Bay Windows. For more articles from New England's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.baywindows.com

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