Tag Archives: feminist

Still the elephant in the room

Thirty-five years ago, as editor of Amazon: Milwaukee’s Feminist Press, I reported on the murders of Heather Halseth, Alice Alzner, Joanne Esser, Janet Marie Bey and Nancy Lynn Radbill. 

They were only a few of the women murdered, raped and mutilated in southeast Wisconsin during the spring and summer of 1979. Adding to the horror was the disgraceful response of Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Breier to feminist advocates: “How many of these rapes do you really think are rapes?”

This misogynist rampage by both criminals and the criminal justice system fueled intense anger that led to the first Take Back the Night protest. On Oct. 19, 1979, 3,000 people marched through downtown Milwaukee demanding “Fire Breier, he’s a liar!” 

The events of 1979 haunt me still amid recent reports of women’s remains found in burn pits, in corn fields, in suitcases tossed onto roadsides. There are also women who disappear without a trace, like Kelly Dwyer, who vanished from the apartment of a male acquaintance. Landfill searches failed to unearth her remains. Increasingly, criminals plan well, knowing that no evidence or degraded evidence means no murder charges.

Even when there is evidence, murder charges are pleaded down and perpetrators get hand slaps. Judge Jeffrey Wagner recently gave 15 years to a previously convicted felon who plugged nine bullets into Alexis Taylor, killing her and her fetus. At that rate, the young killer can serve time for the murders of four more women during his lifetime. 

Then we have defense attorneys who blame victims, suggesting that women like those found bound in suitcases expired in the pursuit of “consensual” sexual gratification. “If it’s a reckless act involving two people, which one is being reckless?” asked Steven Zelich’s attorney. Conveniently, dead women cannot testify as to the circumstances. 

Those are only a few of the most sensational crimes and injustices against women in recent months. Each year in Milwaukee County alone, almost 5,000 women seek restraining orders against abusive husbands, boyfriends, relatives and even children — mostly male. That staggering figure represents a minority of the number of women being abused, those at the end of their ropes and brave enough to come forward.

Congress is focusing on the military’s failure to assist rape victims. WiG ran an editorial tying violence against women to the anti-woman political climate. The Nation, a liberal bastion, ran a cover story about making colleges more responsive to rape victims. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested that since alcohol use is often present in campus assaults, all drinking ages should be lowered to 18.

Well-meaning or absurd, editorial writers keep talking around the elephant in the room. Male violence against women is endemic in all societies, across all cultures, races and economic and political classes. Decades of statistics from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document pervasive patterns of male violence against women and its pernicious effects on families, communities and whole nations.

Better social services and legal accountability are admirable goals. But nothing will change until scientists and health experts focus their research on men. That is where the problem lies. Why do men treat women so brutally? What can be done to stop them? In a classic example of patriarchal reversal, feminists who raised the issue of woman hatred in the 1970s were condemned as “man haters.” 

Evidence of widespread misogynist violence has multiplied since then. We continue to avoid the essential question.

Republicans block Senate bill designed to override Hobby Lobby ruling

Senate Democrats suffered what looked like a difficult setback on birth control on July 16, but they hope it pays big political dividends in November.

Republicans blocked a bill that was designed to override a Supreme Court ruling and ensure access to contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies with religious objections. The vote was 56-43 to move ahead on the legislation – dubbed the “Not My Boss’ Business Act” by proponents — four short of the 60 necessary to proceed.

But Democrats hope the issue has enough life to energize female voters in the fall, when Republicans are threatening to take control of the Senate.

GOP senators said this week’s vote was simply a stunt, political messaging designed to boost vulnerable Democratic incumbents. The GOP needs to gain six seats to seize control.

“Democrats are just trying to win an election,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said bluntly.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Republicans were the ones “out of touch with reality.” He promised that Democrats would continue to press the issue.

Women have proven crucial in electing President Barack Obama and members of his party. And Democrats desperately need a strong turnout as they defend 21 Senate seats to the GOP’s 15, many in Republican-leaning states where Obama’s abysmal approval ratings are a likely drag.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that requiring closely held companies to pay for various forms of women’s contraception to which they object violates the corporations’ religious freedom. The decision marked the first time the high court had declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

“Five men on the Supreme Court rolled back the clock on women in America,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

A Senate veteran — the four-term Murray — and an incumbent locked in a tight race — Colorado’s Mark Udall — joined forces in pushing the legislation that would have reversed the court’s decision by providing access to contraception through insurance plans at businesses that object on religious grounds.

Republicans asserted that the government must accommodate the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans, including the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision in the law.

“The issue in Hobby Lobby is not whether women can purchase birth control, it’s who pays for what,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in remarks on the Senate floor. “Those of us who believe that life begins at conception have moral objections to devices or procedures that destroy fertilized embryos.”

Fischer said the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, has similar objections and “they don’t want to use their money to violate their religious beliefs.” She said the company’s health coverage does pay for 16 of 20 forms of contraception, including birth control pills.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats “think they can score political points and create divisions where there aren’t any by distorting the facts.”

McConnell joined with two Republican women, Fischer and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, in backing separate legislation that would reaffirm current law on access to contraception and in calling for a Food and Drug Administration study on whether contraceptives could be sold over the counter without a prescription.

In one of the most closely watched races in the country, McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in his bid for a sixth term.

On the July 16 vote, three Republicans broke ranks with their party — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois — and backed the Democratic-led legislation. In a procedural move, Reid switched his vote to no, allowing him to bring the measure up for another vote closer to the election. All other Democrats backed the bill.

Democrats facing re-election insisted that the court ruling would force some women to pay out of pocket for contraceptives, or simply skip the purchase if the cost was too much.

“When you charge women more for contraceptive coverage, then you are denying them access to that care,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is in a competitive race.

The government has said nearly 30 million women receive birth control as a result of the four-year-old health care law.

In the 2012 presidential and House elections, Democrats captured the female vote by double-digit margins — 55 percent to 44 percent — as Obama won re-election, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and other news organizations.

Democrats enjoyed a slightly better edge in the 2008 elections when Obama captured his first term and Democrats maintained their congressional majority.

But it was far different in the 2010 midterm elections, some eight months after Obama signed the health care law and as the tea party energized the GOP. Female voters backed Republicans 49 percent to the Democrats’ 48 percent in a low-turnout election that enabled the GOP takeover of the House.

In Colorado in 2008, female voters were critical to Udall’s election to the Senate, favoring his candidacy 56 percent to 41 percent while men backed him 50 percent to 46 percent.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the court’s decision has “awakened the pro-choice majority in this country.” In Kentucky, NARAL began a 30-second ad criticizing McConnell for his opposition to the legislation.

Democratic candidates in other states have been pressing their GOP rivals on whether they supported the court’s ruling.

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Love wins and chaos ensues

We all knew it was coming, yet U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling against Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban sent many of us into a flutter of activity that bordered on chaos — blissful chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

Quick! Leave work early! Get down to the courthouse! Bring your ID, some money for the license! Do you have the rings? Pick up the kids! Call mom and dad! Oh my God, it’s really happening! Hurry!

What a delight that the ruling came down on the day PrideFest opened in Milwaukee. For years, PrideFest has been hosting mass commitment ceremonies for devoted same-sex couples. If the ruling stands, it looks like it will be able to host the “real thing” from now on.

Kudos to the many couples whose joy and surprise were captured by TV news teams across the state and seen in millions of homes. Some couples managed to make lucid statements about what marriage meant to them and their families. Others just dissolved into tears. Either way, it was perfect. The genuine emotion was contagious. Only those with frozen hearts could fail to be moved.

Mainstream news coverage was positive, despite the obligatory sound bites from fundamentalist types who predicted the country’s moral demise. Some reporters seemed stirred by the emotions and conveyed that vividly through their coverage.

How about the men and women who spontaneously came forward to serve as witnesses? Some of them were as thrilled as the married couples to be a part of history in the making. Thanks too to those, especially the kids, who showed up with supportive signs bearing the slogan of the day, “Love Wins.” As a lefty, I’ve been a part of way too many demos with unwieldy chants and slogans. “Love Wins” is definitely a winner.

There weren’t too many anti-gay protesters waving banners, and those who showed up were outnumbered and outshone by the happy couples and family members. It was mostly online, where posters can remain anonymous, that the nastiest comments appeared. Anti-gay zealots sure have a creepy obsession with “disgusting sex acts.” The posts almost all used this same phrase, as if they were parroting a particular preacher.

I didn’t post this because I’m sure it would perplex their itty-bitty brains, but I found a great line from Shakespeare’s King Lear to answer their hate: “Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile; filths savor but themselves.” 

I had to dash to the drugstore to find some wedding cards for my friends and, boy, was that an adventure. No offense to straight readers, but the selection of wedding cards, mostly aimed at heterosexual couples, seriously sucks. They were either solemn and religious or snickering and suggestive of wild wedding nights, nothing with the wit or flair most queers would expect. A little Googling for LGBT-themed greeting cards ensued, so I should be good to go for the future.

Amid all the excitement, my ex, a radical feminist anarcho-pagan, called and asked if I would marry her. “Are you insane?” I parried. “We spent 12 years together, the last two very rocky, and have since become good pals. Why ruin a good friendship?” 

That a radical dyke could be dazzled by marriage fever speaks to the inspiration — or the temporary insanity — of the moment. We must still await the final court ruling, but what a wild ride!

Mormon founder of women’s group faces excommunication

Two months after Mormon Kate Kelly led hundreds in a demonstration to shed light on gender inequality in the religion — defying church orders to stay off Temple Square — the founder of a prominent Mormon women’s group is facing excommunication.

Kelly said she was shocked, dismayed and devastated to receive a letter earlier this week from the bishop of her congregation in Virginia informing her that a disciplinary hearing had been set for June 22 to discuss the possibility of her ouster. The leader of Ordain Women is accused of apostasy, defined as repeated and public advocacy of positions that oppose church teachings.

John P. Dehlin, the creator of a website that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith, is facing the same fate. He received his letter from a local church leader in Logan, Utah, giving him until June 18 to resign from the faith or face an excommunication hearing. The letter says church leaders are deeply concerned about Dehlin’s recent comments about no longer believing fundamental teachings of the faith.

The cases against the two lifelong members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mark the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University. That year, the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and kicking out a sixth only temporarily.

Church leaders seem to be drawing a line between private or informal expressions of discontent with church teachings and public protests aimed at pressuring the church, Mauss said.

“The LDS Church is not a democratic institution, and has never claimed to be,” Mauss said in an email, “So such actions are interpreted by church leaders as attempts to displace or undermine their legitimate authority over church policies and teachings.”

Singling out two critics of church policy who have made themselves very visible seems like “boundary maintenance” by the church, said Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is a non-Mormon expert on the church.

“They are saying to folks: `If you go this far, you are risking your membership,’ ” Shipps said.

Church officials said in a statement that there is room for questions and sincere conversations about the faith, but that some members’ actions “contradict church doctrine and lead others astray.”

In certain cases, local leaders step in to clarify false teachings and ensure other members aren’t misled, the church’s statement said. Disciplinary hearings only come after members are counseled and encouraged to change behavior.

“Some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs,” the statement reads. “This saddens leaders and fellow members.”

Even if Kelly and Dehlin are kicked out of the church, the door will remain open for them to repent and return someday. Excommunication is not a lifelong ban.

Nobody has solid numbers on how many church members are excommunicated each year, but the number is probably between 10,000 to 20,000, a fraction of the 15 million worldwide members, said Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.

Kelly and Dehlin both hope to be allowed to continue to be members of a church that they love and that has been a part of their lives since birth. Both served Mormon missions and were married in temples.

Kelly, an international human rights lawyer, said she stands behind everything she has done since forming Ordain Women in 2013. She said she has not spoken out against church leaders or church doctrine, only saying publicly that men and women are not equal in the faith.

The bishop’s letter doesn’t include precise examples of why they accuse her of apostasy.

Her group drew the ire of church leaders in April when they marched on to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City and asked to be allowed in a meeting reserved for members of the priesthood, which includes most males in the church who are 12 and older. They had been told previously they wouldn’t be let in and warned by church leaders to stay off church property to preserve the sanctity of general conference weekend.

Mormon church officials say the women’s group views represent only a small fraction of church members.

Kelly doesn’t plan to attend the June 22 disciplinary hearing in Virginia, calling it “both cowardly and un-Christ like” to hold the meeting after she had moved to Utah.

She does plan to send in a package of letters from friends, families and other members of Ordain Women about how they’ve been inspired and their faith strengthened by joining the group.

Kelly said the feminist Mormon movement won’t die even if she’s kicked out of the religion.

“Disciplining arbitrarily and unfairly one person is not going to stop this movement,” Kelly said.

Dehlin, a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high tech industry, said he believes he’s being targeted not only for the website, Mormonstories.org, which he started nine years ago, but also for his outspoken support of the LGBT community.

He said he has no plans to take down the website or back down from being an ally for gays and lesbians. But Dehlin said he worries about the effects the upcoming proceedings may have on his four children and wife, and Mormons everywhere who have misgivings.

“Excommunicating me sends the message to thousands of church members who are struggling with doubts and questions that they are not welcome in the church,” Dehlin said.

EMERGE-ing for the spring election in Wisconsin

A series of surveys and counts released in recent weeks show that women continue, on average, to earn less than men for comparable work and to be under-represented in corporate corner offices, law firm partnerships, museum exhibits and art shows, Hollywood films, medical studies, IT management posts and, perhaps most notably, elected office.

The Women in Politics Map 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and U.N. Women, for example, shows the number of women parliamentarians at a record 21.8 percent. The bright news from the U.N. survey? Women could achieve equal representation in the world’s parliaments in less than 20 years. Just 10 years ago, IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson said he didn’t think even his children would see gender parity in parliaments.

In the United States, surveys show that the number of women candidates has plateaued.

But Emerge America, a network in the United States with operations in at least 14 states, including Wisconsin, seeks to expedite gender parity in politics by identifying, training and promoting Democratic women who want to hold elected office.

On April 1, in the spring election, 14 Democratic women from Emerge Wisconsin’s program are on local ballots. They include:

• Julie Allen for Lincoln County Board supervisor.

• Annette Ashley for Middleton-Cross Plaines Area School Board director.

• Carol Beals for Grant County Board supervisor.

• Leah Blough for Kenosha County Board supervisor.

• Carousel Andrea Bayrd, Jenni Dye, Mary Kolar and Pat McPartland for Dane County Board supervisor.

• Julie Jansch for Brown County Board supervisor.

• Tara Johnson for La Crosse County Board supervisor.

• Kimberly Kane for Racine City Council.

• Diana Lawrence for Outagamie County Board supervisor.

• Judy Smriga for Clark County Board supervisor.

• Mary Von Ruden for Monroe County Board supervisor and Sparta City Council.

EW executive director Wendy Strout says this is the second spring election in which the nonprofit saw 14 alumnae make ballots. A 15th Emerge Wisconsin competed in a primary earlier this year, and Emerge Wisconsin alumna Kelly Westlund is making a bid for Congress, seeking to unseat Republican Sean Duffy in the 7th District.

Emerge Wisconsin conducts intensive seven-month training programs. To date, about 56 percent of its alumnae have run for office and 59 percent of those candidates won their races.

“When there’s no parity, there’s lack of diversity,” says Blough, who was born Philippines. She adds, “If someone has something they are passionate about, that they want to change, they should run. You’d be surprised how people will respond.”

One winning Emerge Wisconsin alumna is Johnson, a veteran member of the La Crosse County Board, who encourages progressive women to get involved in local politics.

“It will give you a great understanding of how laws are made, how group-process happens in a political arena, how to do that work and then move up to the Assembly,” says Johnson, a member of the first county board in the state to vote for domestic partnership benefits for county employees.

When Johnson was involved in Emerge training, there were 18 students. “Now there are 25 every year,” she say. “And they know what they want to run for.”

Kane, who completed Emerge Wisconsin training in 2013, says the “experience made me think a lot more deeply about what it took to be a political leader. It also convinced me of the importance of supporting people (who) really do have what it takes.”

On the Web …

Emerge Wisconsin: www.emergewi.org

Wisconsin election information: www.myvote.wi.gov

Save the date …

Emerge Wisconsin holds its second annual Woman of the Year celebration, with honors for U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, on June 4. The event takes place at The Grain Exchange, 225 E. Michigan St., Milwaukee.

— L.N.

Photo: Courtesy Emerge Wisconsin

Kimberly Kane, Leah Blough and Tara Johnson

Girl Scouts asked to end partnership with Barbie

America’s top doll, Barbie, finds herself in controversy once again, this time over a business partnership between her manufacturer, Mattel, and the Girl Scouts.

Two consumer advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream — criticized Barbie as a flawed role model for little girls and launched a petition drive urging the Girl Scouts of the USA to end the partnership. The Girls Scouts said they would not do so.

Just a few weeks ago, Mattel incurred widespread criticism — as well as some accolades — for letting Barbie be featured in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition.

The Girl Scouts’ partnership with Mattel, announced last August, includes a Barbie-themed activity book, a website, and a Barbie participation patch — the first Girl Scout uniform patch with corporate sponsorship.

“Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type, and undermines the Girl Scouts’ vital mission to build `girls of courage, confidence and character,'” said Susan Linn, director of the Boston-based commercial-free childhood organization.

She said the Barbie patch — targeted at 5-to-8-year-old Daisies and Brownies — would transform these girls into “walking advertisements.”

“This is product placement at its worst,” said New American Dream’s executive director, Wendy Philleo, who described herself as a longtime admirer of the Girl Scouts.

“Our children are already being bombarded by marketers’ pitches at stores, at home, online, on TV, and in school,” said Philleo, whose Charlottesville, Va.-based group tries to counter the commercialization of American culture.

The Girl Scouts’ national headquarters in New York rejected the groups’ appeal.

“Our partnership with Mattel focuses on career exploration and teaches girls about inspiring women in a fun way,” said spokeswoman Kelly Parisi. “We stand behind this partnership, as it helps us bring to over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything.”

That’s the essence of the Barbie uniform patch – a bright pink oval with a gold-letter slogan stitched on it: “Be anything. Do everything.”

Barbie — still slim-waisted and long-legged after 55 years — had pursued roughly 150 different careers, and she stretched her boundaries again in February by posing along with real-life supermodels in Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue. Anticipating the criticism that ensued, Mattel promoted the campaign with the catchword “unapologetic.”

In announcing the partnership with Mattel last year, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez depicted both her own organization and Barbie as “American icons.”

“Together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities,” Chavez said at the time.

Parisi, in an e-mail Thursday, said Mattel gave the Girl Scouts $2 million to implement the Barbie-themed initiatives. At the time the partnership was announced, the Girl Scouts were struggling financially, with revenue shortfalls prompting the national headquarters to trim about one-fourth of its staff through buyouts and layoffs.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said the Girl Scouts’ Barbie-themed website included a game that would encourage girls to identify careers based on attire – “from a veterinarian in a frilly miniskirt, to a pink-suited U.S. president, to a race car driver in stilettos.”

Said Susan Linn, the campaign director: “The website is little more than an interactive ad for Barbie promoting the brand’s insidious message that women really are what they wear.”

Linn said she communicated privately with the Girl Scouts last year, hoping they would end the Mattel partnership without the need for a public advocacy campaign, but those efforts failed.

A psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, Linn founded the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in 2000. It now reports a membership of 54,000, many of them parents.

The group’s advocacy campaigns have achieved numerous victories, notably in forcing several companies to halt or modify advertising claiming that certain videos and other products could help infants learn. It also has helped block proposed state laws that would have allowed advertising on school buses.

The Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit founded in 1997, says its mission is to help Americans reduce and modify the level of consumption “to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice.”

Due to their size and high profile, the Girl Scouts have been a frequent target of criticism over the years, notably from certain conservatives who contend – despite the Girl Scouts’ repeated denials – that the organization tilts toward the abortion-rights side of the national abortion debate.

Last month, some anti-abortion groups launched a boycott of the Girl Scouts’ annual drive to sell cookies.

On the Web…

Girl Scouts’ Barbie-themed website: HTTP://FORGIRLS.GIRLSCOUTS.ORG/


The rough road to PrideFest

I’ve covered some wild stories related to Milwaukee Pride events over the years. Pride’s growing pains are a fascinating part of our history.

Years before PrideFest, in 1987 or ’88, the first open meeting of the Gay Pride Planning Committee of the Gay People’s Union nearly degenerated into a riot. People outside the GPU were demanding input, and the GPU realized it could benefit from broader involvement to build a better event. What resulted, however, was a perfect storm of miscommunication between lesbian activists and the longtime, mostly male members of the GPU. 

The first issue that set things off was limiting the voting rights of people in attendance. Because it was a GPU committee meeting, it was announced that only GPU members could vote on planning items. This sounds reasonable, but it effectively disenfranchised the newcomers, who were mostly lesbians. Nothing is more likely to piss off lesbians than telling them they don’t have the right to vote! There was lots of yelling and chaos. 

A second furor broke out when a male presenter casually suggested that a “slave auction” would be a good fundraiser. Jaws dropped and the battle resumed, with accusations of racism added to sexism. The disagreements grew nearly physical. Half the room was spitting mad, the other half reverted to defensive mode. 

Looking back, this acrimonious meeting represented the inevitable clash between gay men and lesbian feminist organizers, who had evolved politically on largely separate tracks. Many lesbians, veterans of battered women’s and anti-rape campaigns, viewed men as the enemy, and some of what they heard at this meeting reinforced that impression. GPU members, for their part, felt they were making an honest effort to invite others into the process. They were unprepared for the level of criticism.

These divisions healed over time. The GPU reluctantly but correctly moved toward relinquishing Pride organizing to a broader, more representative community entity. A series of crises, including anti-gay measures by the Milwaukee County Board and the Jeffrey Dahmer case, along with the desire for a community center, gradually drew Milwaukee’s lesbian and gay communities together on common ground.

Another challenge to be overcome was Mayor John Norquist’s veto of Pride Parade funds in January 1992. The mayor had encouraged the Pride Committee to apply for a $5,000 grant from the city’s Festival Fund, which would have covered part of the festival that year. Committee members applied for the funds and lobbied the Common Council, which approved the request. 

But to everyone’s shock, the mayor vetoed the allocation. As offensive as the betrayal was the patronizing lecture Norquist gave to gay leaders. The veto stung even more because it came in the context of a wave of homophobic attacks at the time of the Dahmer case.

Queer Nation led spirited protests against Norquist to no avail. Anger over the veto mobilized the community to secure new sponsors and funds for the Pride festival, which was held in Juneau Park from 1991–93 and moved to Veterans Park in 1994. 

Although finances were still dicey, PrideFest made great strides in terms of logistics and attendance. Visionary leaders set their sights on Henry Maier Festival Park, the home of Summerfest and ethnic festivals, as the ultimate venue for PrideFest. When that goal was achieved in 1996, the Wisconsin Light ran a banner headline exulting: “Summerfest Grounds, Here We Come!” Our three-day PrideFest, featuring national, regional and local talent, is now a solid part of the summer festival season.

Vatican denies internal split on crackdown against liberal U.S. nuns

The Vatican this week denied there were any internal divisions over its crackdown on the largest umbrella group of U.S. nuns after a top Vatican official complained that he had been sidelined by the reform project.

The head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, was quoted as saying his office wasn’t consulted or even advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about its decision to overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American sisters. He said the crackdown had caused him “much pain.”

The Congregation last year placed the Leadership Conference under the authority of a U.S. bishop after determining that the sisters took positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Braz de Aviz was quoted by the National Catholic Reporter as telling an international gathering of sisters in Rome that he only learned of the Congregation’s crackdown after its report had been completed. He said he told the then-prefect of the Congregation, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, that the issue should have been discussed with his office but wasn’t.

Braz de Aviz was quoted as saying he hadn’t spoken out publicly before about the lack of consultation because he “didn’t have the courage to speak.”

Earlier this week, the Vatican said Braz de Aviz’s words were misinterpreted.

“The prefects of these two congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process,” the statement said.

It said Braz de Aviz and the current prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, met and reaffirmed their commitment to renewing religious life in the U.S. as well as to the Vatican’s reform plan for the Leadership Conference. It stressed that Pope Francis approved of the plan.

The Vatican’s crackdown unleashed a wave of popular support for the sisters, including a U.S. congressional resolution commending the sisters for their service to the country. It also cost Braz de Aviz’s deputy his job: Archbishop Joseph Tobin was removed after he spoke publicly about the need for the Vatican to mend fences with American sisters. Tobin is now archbishop of Indianapolis.

The sisters’ hopes for a change in approach with the arrival of Pope Francis – a Jesuit dedicated to the poor – were dashed last month when Mueller said he had discussed the crackdown with Francis and that the pontiff had reaffirmed the original findings and reform plan.

As part of its imposed reforms, the Vatican appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops to oversee a rewriting of the conference’s statutes, to review its plans and programs, approve speakers and ensure the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

The conference represents about 57,000 sisters. It has argued that the Vatican reached “flawed” conclusions based on “unsubstantiated accusations.”

Late last week, the head of the nuns’ conference addressed the Rome meeting of the International Union of Superiors General – the gathering of all the heads of women’s religious orders – and provided the most extensive criticism to date about the three year process that led to the Vatican takeover.

Among other complaints, Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon said the Vatican took the conference to task for matters that were completely beyond its authority and purpose, such as criticizing it for not having programs dealing with homosexuality.

In a transcript of her speech posted on the National Catholic Reporter website, Deacon said the Vatican should have directed its concerns to individual religious orders, since they are responsible for such training programs, not the conference.

“LCWR has no authority over the formation programs of an individual congregation,” she said. “Our goal is not set up as an organization to teach church teaching.”

She concluded that the Vatican’s assessment showed “there is serious misunderstanding between officials of the Vatican and women religious, and the need for prayer, discernment and deep listening.”

While remarkably blunt and forthcoming, Braz de Aviz’s revelations about the internal divisions sown by the stealth nature of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are not new.

In 2009, the Congregation announced it had created a new church structure to make it easier for Anglicans upset over the progressive trends in their church to convert to Catholicism. The Vatican’s office for relations with Anglicans and other Christians wasn’t consulted, much less advised, about the initiative.

The retired head of that office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has since become one of the most vocal proponents for a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy so that its departments actually work together rather than against one another.

Pope backs crackdown on nuns for social justice work

The Vatican says Pope Francis supports the Holy See’s crackdown on the largest umbrella group of U.S. nuns, who were faulted for focusing too much on social justice instead of issues such as opposing abortion rights.

American sisters had expressed hope that Francis, a Jesuit whose emphasis on the poor mirrored their social outreach, would take a different approach than his predecessor.

The Vatican last year imposed a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious after determining the sisters took positions undermining Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes.”

The heads of the conference met on April 15 with the Vatican’s doctrine czar, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller.

Mueller’s office said he told the sisters that in discussions with Francis, the pope reaffirmed the Vatican’s findings and reform program.

Putin faces furor of gay rights, feminist protesters

Vladimir Putin faced hundreds of protesters ranging from gay rights activists to a topless feminist group during his visit to Germany and the Netherlands on April 8, but the Russian president appeared unruffled by the furor.

In Hannover, Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Russia’s human rights record at a press conference. Then activists from Ukraine’s Femen group bared their torsos and ran at him shouting “Putin dictator!” before they were detained.

Putin shrugged off the protest later with what appeared to be a comment on the women’s breasts and a swipe at Dutch protesters angry over Russian lawmakers’ approval of a bill that bans gay “propaganda.”

“I hadn’t had time to have breakfast, so I would have liked it more if they showed some sausage or pork fat, not the beauties they showed,” he said at a press conference in Amsterdam. “Thank God, the gays didn’t strip naked here.”

In Amsterdam, more than a thousand gay rights activists picketed outside his meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and rainbow flags around the city flew at half-staff.

Protesters booed and whistled at Putin’s arrival at the Amsterdam arm of the Hermitage museum and Amnesty International blanketed the area with satirical signs and police tape proclaiming it a “human rights free zone” during Putin’s visit.

The Russian bill makes gay public events and the dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000. It still requires final approval by Parliament and would have to be signed by Putin to become law.

Rutte said he had told Putin during their meeting that for the Dutch, gay rights are “inextricably linked with human rights.” In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage.

Putin deflected the criticism, claiming that gay rights are not abused in Russia.

“These people, like others, have all rights and freedoms,” he said.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains strong and authorities routinely ban gay Pride parades.

Russia’s treatment of gays “is clearly very hotly debated,” said Philip Tijsma, spokesman for the Netherlands’ largest gay rights organization. “It’s not only among the gay community, straight people are also very angry.”

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan snubbed any meetings with Putin, saying he had “other commitments.”

Putin’s visit to the Netherlands was intended to showcase growing economic ties between the two countries. With $83 billion in bilateral trade last year, the Netherlands outpaced Germany to become Russia’s No. 1 trading partner in Europe and its second biggest partner in the world after China.

The leaders on April 8 announced a deal between Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell PLC to jointly develop gas fields above the Arctic circle in Siberia – a plan vehemently opposed by Greenpeace.

Amsterdam deputy mayor Andrée van Es said the city appreciates the importance of trade and was glad to host Putin, but it was sympathetic to the protesters.

“We see Russia as an important trading partner, but Amsterdam has an identity of what I call hyper-diversity… and we very much want to be able to express that, even to our important trading partners,” she said in an interview.

The trip also kicks off a year of cultural exchanges. Putin and the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix opened an exhibition at the Hermitage dedicated to Peter the Great, the Russian czar who founded St. Petersburg and sought to open up closer ties with Europe.

Putin spent the morning with Merkel at an industry fair in Hannover, where she confronted him about Russia’s crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.

“A lively civil society can only develop if individual organizations can work without fear and worry,” Merkel said at a joint news conference with Putin.

Putin brushed the issue aside by saying his government just wants to know who funds such groups.

Leading Russian NGOs have pledged to boycott a bill that requires them to register as “foreign agents.” Putin has responded by ordering wide-ranging checks of up to 2,000 NGOs across the country.

“We aren’t trying to put anyone under control, but we want to know how much money, through what channels and for what purpose, is being sent,” Putin said.

He said NGOs in Russia had received nearly $1 billion from abroad.

“Maybe this money, which is quite a bit – a billion – could have been sent to help Cyprus and then it wouldn’t have been necessary to fleece unfortunate depositors,” Putin commented, referring to the European Union’s complicated bailout for the island nation in which Russian depositors are expected to lose significant funds.