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February 29th, 2012
06:36 PM ET

Q&A: ‘Gay in America’ photographer Scott Pasfield

By Nina Raja, CNN

(CNN) - New York photographer Scott Pasfield released his first digital photography project in the book, "Gay in America," last fall. With a mission to educate and destroy stereotypes about being gay, Pasfield spent three years traveling 52,000 miles across the nation to document the stories of 140 gay men.

"I hope that people see this project for what it truly is and know that it is perfectly normal to be gay," Pasfield said. "And it comes in many shapes, colors and sizes.  And that life would not be the same or nearly as beautiful without us."

Here's what Pasfield had to say about the project.

CNN: What inspired you to take on this project?

Pasfield: First and foremost I started this project to make a difference.  I wanted to make a book that I wished existed when I was a kid, one that I could learn about the realities of being gay and what my options were.   I wanted to reveal the truth about the wonderful gay men in this country and I wanted to share that knowledge with the world.  I think there is a tendency to unjustly stereotype gay men in a negative way that is perpetuated by many and that cycle really needs to stop.  I saw this book as an opportunity to do my part in taking my gifts and using them for some greater good.

CNN: What were the biggest challenges you faced as you embarked on this project? What surprised you during this journey?

Pasfield: As I started the project, getting people to believe in me was not difficult. I have a nice website, with lots of celebrity portraits, so most of these guys thought it a great opportunity to have a pro come take their picture.   I was amazed at how honest and beautiful everyone's emails were. I learned an incredible amount by just reading the thousands of replies.  And I chose men first and foremost based upon what they wrote.  I had always planned on editing the emails for the text to accompany the photos.  In that respect, the book wrote itself.  Secondly I considered other characteristics and tried my best to include as much variety as possible, based on age, race, occupation, religion and political opinion. I thought there should be as many different types of gay men as possible.

I find that the challenges on the project have only changed and actually grown for me since the book has been released.  I feel that the real work begins now, not only having to convince people of the books merits and worth, but to get its message out that being gay is normal, that you can live a happy fulfilled life in this country.  Not only gay boys and men will benefit from this book, but also their parents, family and friends.  I want them all to know that everything will be fine, that life can be wonderful and fulfilled and complete.

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Filed under: How we look • Sexual orientation • Where we live • Who we are
February 29th, 2012
04:17 PM ET

Preserving the dream at historically black colleges and universities

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – Howard, Morehouse, Spelman, Tuskegee, Xavier – these are just a few of America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, known as HBCUs. HBCUs are accredited historically black institutions of higher learning established before 1964. While many of these colleges are located in the South, there are HBCUs as far north as Michigan and as far west as Oklahoma. While some HBCUs are public and others private, all of them serve a principle mission to educate black Americans.

Several Morehouse and Spelman college students who we interviewed recently discussed the diversity they see on campus. They told us that HBCUs are "not exclusively black" and also serve international students and students from other ethnicities. Morehouse junior Jarrad Mandeville-Lawson, who comes from Matawan, New Jersey, identified himself as "Nigerian, Italian and Greek," and said, "My high school is majority Caucasian so I don't actually have those strong African-American traits that people would assume I would have." In 2008, Joshua Packwood became the first white valedictorian in Morehouse's history.

Students from both schools talked about their schools’ nurturing environments. At Morehouse, one of America's few all-male campuses, the students talked about the school's strong tradition of a brotherhood. Mandeville-Lawson told us, "We're going to constantly have our brother's back and uplift them.....These are my brothers. I'm going to do everything possible to make sure they stay strong and to get them where they need to be." Spelman senior Gabrielle Horton echoed Mandeville-Lawson's sentiments. "When you think of Spelman you think of the 'Spelman Sisterhood' ... You're indoctrinated with that your first year ... They have their brother's back, we have our sister's back. And that's something we just carry with us every day," Horton said.

Read the full story on CNN's schools of thought blog

Opinion: Don't threaten women's health care
Most people support free access to contraceptive health care, according to polls.
February 29th, 2012
02:05 PM ET

Opinion: Don't threaten women's health care

Editor's note: Felicity Huffman was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award for her performance in "Transamerica." She received an Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award for her starring role in ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

By Felicity Huffman, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Congress is attempting to eviscerate women's health care. Like many women across America, I am outraged.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on legislation proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt that would allow employers to deny coverage for health care services that are considered morally objectionable.

On February 16, Republicans in the House of Representatives held a hearing designed to undermine President Barack Obama's decision to guarantee women free access to contraception health care regardless of their workplace.

Fair enough. We all have the right to disagree and fight for our beliefs. But by definition, a hearing is an inquiry into many sides of an issue with testimony from various points of views. But mark this: The Republicans did not have a single woman to testify in support of the contraception mandate. That is not a hearing; that is a sham.

Read Felicity Huffman's full column

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Filed under: Gender • Health • Politics • What we think
Engage: Mormonism, race and Romney
Ruth Williams passes out bulletins at the Third Ward in Washington, D.C., a diverse Mormon church.
February 29th, 2012
01:18 PM ET

Engage: Mormonism, race and Romney

Engage with news and opinions from around the web about under-reported stories from undercovered communities.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, African-Americans, and Mitt Romney –The Washington Post

Graphic: 10 states with fastest-growing immigrant populations –Multiamerican.org

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Jeremy Lin, and how we merge race and ethnicity with "some deeper objective reality " –The Atlantic

Marker commemorates the slave labor that helped build U.S. capitol –The Los Angeles Times

Musical revue highlights common ground of  Jewish, African-American musical traditions - Voice of America

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February 29th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Prison bars white inmate from reading 'Slavery by Another Name,' citing security risk

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – The Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II," by Douglas Blackmon, tells the story of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction south who were imprisoned and forced into involuntary servitude after being convicted of trifling crimes. Now a modern-day prisoner in Alabama is suing for his right to read the book.

The lawsuit, filed in September, alleges that when officials at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Mt. Meigs, Ala. denied prisoner Mark Melvin access to the book, it was a violation of his rights to "freedom of speech, equal protection and due process." The case is currently in the discovery phase.

The Alabama Department of Corrections declined comment for this story, citing the pending litigation. In their answer to the lawsuit, they admitted that Melvin had been denied access to the book, but denied any violation of his rights.

The Department said the book was in violation of its rules about what kind of reading material can be sent to inmates – namely that "the book, its title, its contents and/or its pictures could be used (or misused) by the plaintiff or other inmates to incite violence or disobedience within the institution." They also noted that the book, which describes the forced labor of African Americans in detail, "could also be used (or misused) in a manner which is inconsistent with legitimate peneological objectives, for instance the rehabilitation of inmates through prison work details and/or the inculcation of a work ethic."

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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • History • Race • What we think