Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Being an Ally to One is Being an Ally to All

My university has a political union that brings some of the most compelling and inspiring speakers to campus to speak to students about their experiences and offer advice in a myriad of areas.  Some of the major figures that have spoken are Bill Clinton, Anderson Cooper, Dick Cheney, Ron Paul, and Lilly Ledbetter.  On October 6th, I had the opportunity to hear Jose Antonio Vargas speak. Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a filmmaker, an undocumented immigrant, and a champion of immigration reform in the United States.  
Vargas shared his story with us, explaining that he came to the United States from the Philippines as a young boy.  By using fake documents, he avoided being deported and was able to finish high school.  While in High school, he came out as gay.  Upon graduating from San Francisco State University, Vargas was hired by The Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his breaking news reporting of the Virginia Tech shootings.  He then joined The Huffington Post in 2009.  In 2011, Vargas wrote an essay for Times Magazine in which he came out to the country as an undocumented immigrant.  A tax-paying, working man, Vargas has avoided deportation since he figured out that he was in the United States illegally; and even after his article was published, Vargas was never contacted about being deported.  He even contacted the government to ask what they were going to go with him.  Still nothing.

Since the release of his article, Vargas has introduced a campaign called “Define American,” meant to compel discussion about immigration.  His talk at AU was part of this campaign.  In addition to being an incredibly fascinating speaker, Vargas asked the hard-hitting questions- as every strong  journalist does. He revealed himself  as an undocumented immigrant and asked the government to take a stand; he asked about what the government is going to do with all of the immigrants that are living in this country, as they are not applying the rules equally?  Vargas said, “As far as I am concerned, I’m an American. I’m just waiting for my country to recognize it.”

The movement for immigration reform is one that cannot be separated from any other social justice movement, especially the LGBTQ civil rights movement.  Vargas noted that “every movement needs an ally.”  The ally voice is a powerful one, one that is necessary to a movement.  PFLAG’s dedication to empowering allies of the LGBTQ movement can also be taken as an effort to empower allies in general.  The issues that the LGBTQ community faces and the immigrant community faces are similar; they are facing violations to their basic human rights.  Being an ally to a human rights movement should be natural.  The Fifth Amendment states that “nor shall any person...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  This means that people in the United States have a duty to hold the people who are depriving various communities of their basic rights accountable for their actions.  We, as allies, need to be an active part of the pursuance of human rights for all.  As Vargas said, “You’re living in a time in which the country is only going to get gayer, blacker, more Latino and Asian, and women are going to continue to lean in and breaking barriers.”  It is crucial that we stand up with these communities and keep pushing forward.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

PFLAG National's Statement on Facebook and Real Name Policy

Yesterday, PFLAG National—along with local and national representatives of the drag and LGBTQ communities—attended a meeting regarding Facebook’s real-name policy, which requires people to use their real names (defined by Facebook as the names they use in everyday life) on their Facebook accounts.

The policy came under fire in the last several weeks, when several hundred accounts (primarily of drag performers) across the social media platform were flagged for using fake names; many of these accounts were subsequently locked.

The meeting gave us an opportunity to hear Chris Cox, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, and other Facebook representatives apologize for their mishandling of the issue and talk about their plans for the future. Those plans—including better customer service for users, a better process for authenticating identity, and a much better clarification of how the real-name policy works—all move Facebook closer to their goal of having their platform continue to be a place where everyone, including the members of the LGBTQ and drag communities, can be their authentic selves.

As a member of the Network of Support, PFLAG National has previously provided Facebook education and guidance on issues such as bullying, gender, pronoun use, and more; we are committed to doing the same now with the real-name policy. We will continue working alongside local advocates and other Network organizations so that plans are helpful, implemented in a timely manner and, most of all, allow all who use Facebook the continued opportunity to safely share their chosen authentic identities to connect with others.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Makings of a More Accepting World

Aliya Levinstein, Intern
I think that I am--and we all are--incredibly lucky to live in a country that allows me to stand up for what I believe in.  I have a voice and the ability to go out and make it heard.  Despite the issues we face in this country, few people realize they have the ability to do the same.  Nor do they take action: go to a protest, sign a petition, meet with their elected officials, volunteer for a cause they believe in. .  Interning with PFLAG National has given me another outlet to have my voice heard. the voice inside me that shouts for equality and fairness of all people. Meanwhile, as we in the United States take this for granted, there are people all over the world that face the same issues--or worse--and don’t have the ability to incite change.


Discrimination and violence against LGBT people exists all over the world.  This is not just America’s issue.  This is an issue that will be resolved through actions from world powers on the largest scale possible; we saw a small step in this direction a few days ago.


On September 26th, 2014, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations passed a resolution that will combat the violence and discrimination that people face based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.  The resolution looks to recognize the rights of people who are LGBT as human rights for all people internationally.  The Human Rights Council recognizes that solutions will never be reached without global cooperation. 25 countries voted to pass the resolution, 14 voted against it (Algeria, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and The Russian Federation
), and seven abstained from voting, including Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and India.

The fact that this issue has reached the United Nations is telling; the world has decided that these are issues that we cannot stand for anymore and people and nations are beginning to take action.  Yes, in America, we have the right for our voices to be heard.  Now, lets make them louder.  The world cares and it is about time that we, as a global community, make our voices heard and tell the perpetrators of violence and discrimination that we will not stand for it any longer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Inspiration Comes in All Sizes

Aliya Levinstein,
PFLAG National Legislative Intern
Have you ever walked into a room and knew that when you left, you would leave feeling inspired?


I had that feeling two weeks ago when I attended a meeting and met Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker and champion of the anti-bullying movement. I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Capitol Hill while she was here on a lobby trip to push for the passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would, if enacted, require all public K-12 schools to enact an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with other categories like race and religion.


I personally had heard a small part of her story last winter, when she gave a TEDx talk that went viral on Youtube.  The video is called  "How Do YOU Define Yourself".  The talk (which I highly recommend you all watch) shares a little of Lizzie’s story...and so much of her strong heart and mind.  Lizzie has a rare disease that does not allow her to gain weight and she is blind in one eye, but she does not let that define her or stop her from reaching her goals. A documentary, called THE LIZZIE PROJECT, is now being made based on her story, and it is sure to empower anyone who sees it.


The feelings I had while watching her video were magnified tenfold during the meeting on Capitol Hill. I felt the respect everyone had for her emanating throughout the room while she was sharing her story.  Her outlook on life is incredible; she uses everything she has gone through in her life to drive her forward.  Her passion to push the Safe Schools Improvement Act through Congress is contagious.  Her dream is to make sure that kids in school now are not bullied the way she was and that kids who do bully are accountable for their actions.


SSIA is a legislative priority for PFLAG.  In addition to creating comprehensive anti-bullying policies, the act includes specific provisions that provide protections for LGBT students.  The systemic bullying of not only LGBT students, but all students, needs to end.  The detriments of being bullied are far too numerous, but SSIA, if passed, has the ability to constructively deal with the issue.

Lizzie said, “Don’t stand up for me, stand beside me in this fight.”  Lizzie did not share her story to make people feel bad for her; she told it to inspire people to make a change.  No one should ever have to be a victim of bullying and Lizzie has made it her goal to make that change; we all should as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A personal passion for social justice...

Aliya Levinstein,
Communications and Legislation Intern
Just over three weeks ago, I began my junior year at American University, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies (communications, legal institutions, economics, government) and Justice & Law. At the same time, I joined PFLAG National as the Communications and Legislative Intern. Perfect timing, for I believe that one cannot fully understand an idea until they are out in the field immersed in it to some capacity. And with a firm personal passion for social justice, I also believe that no person should be a target of discrimination based on any characteristic, whether it’s their sexual orientation, their self-identified gender, or their gender expression.

I am going to say right off the bat that I am a constitutional law nerd (really: I carry around a pocket-sized Constitution in my backpack and often read court opinions for fun) so forgive me in advance; there will be a lot of references to Supreme Court cases and precedents while I’m writing this blog. This semester, I’m taking a course called “Equal Protection,” which focuses on the constitutionality of laws in relation to the Equal Protection Clauses of the of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

I find these ever-evolving issues fascinating, and love studying cases that are legally complex and intellectually stimulating. In our first lesson, we discussed four cases that considered the constitutionality of laws and statutes that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, one of which is Romer v. Evans. This was a case that was heard by the Supreme Court in 1996 that reviewed an amendment to the Colorado Constitution which prohibited any state government action from creating provisions that would protect people that were involved in "homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships." The Court struck down the amendment, saying it was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The discussion in our class focused more on the language of the amendment, specifically, trying to identify what the lawmakers at the time considered “homosexual conduct.” We came to the general consensus that one, it is quite difficult to define homosexual conduct for lawmaking purposes, and two, that whatever that conduct is, it does not affect the ability of a person to be a contributing member of society and people who partake in “homosexual conduct” should not be barred from doing so.

On first read, I believed the decision in Romer was completely out of date and thought it ridiculous that a law of this nature would ever arise again; I was wrong. While there will never be a law on the books that explicitly prohibits protection of a class of people because of the precedent set in Romer, there is no law--state or federal--that mandates the protection of the LGBTQ community. While many municipalities and states have implemented protections of their own for their constituents, there are too many people in this country who are not afforded the protections that they deserve as human beings who live in the United States of America, a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all.”

PFLAG National is an organization that is fighting to end the two types of inequalities that we see in society: social and political inequality. People tend to be afraid of what they do not know, and PFLAG National is dedicated to bringing about social equality through support and education. As for political equality, PFLAG is a fierce advocate for equality in the political sphere, and it is because of this that I knew that PFLAG was where I wanted to be. Over the next two and a half months, I will write about what I am learning and experiencing at PFLAG and the impact of the changes that are taking place in the LGBTQ community almost daily. I am thrilled to be working with such an incredible organization to both further my beliefs in a way that could never be taught in a classroom and to help PFLAG further their goals for making society a more equal, affirming, and safe place for everyone.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: PFLAG NATIONAL REPRESENTS FAMILY VOICE IN MULTI-ORGANIZATION AMICUS BRIEF

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 4, 2014
Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org | (202) 657-4026  

PFLAG NATIONAL REPRESENTS FAMILY VOICE IN MULTI-ORGANIZATION AMICUS BRIEF,
URGES SCOTUS TO RESOLVE THE FREEDOM TO MARRY, STOP DAILY HARM FOR FAMILIES
“ ...this brief includes stories of...a family, that experiences daily harm because of laws differing across jurisdictions. Only The Supreme Court can put a stop to this...”
WASHINGTON – PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization for families, friends and allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)—joined a multi-organization amicus (“friend of the court”) brief, filed with The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)  in support of the three cases pending before it on the issue of the freedom to marry: Kitchen v. Herbert in Utah, Bishop v. Smith in Oklahoma and Bostic v. Rainey in Virginia.  The new brief offers compelling reasons to merit requesting SCOTUS to grant certiorari (cert), which would order a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court, in this case SCOTUS, may review it. For these three cases, the reviewing court is SCOTUS, the highest federal court in the U.S. and the only court specifically established by the U.S. Constitution.  
“We’re honored to be part of this multi-organization brief to express the urgent need for The Supreme Court to end the distress and daily harm that affects loving same-sex couples, their children and the families who love them,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby.
PFLAG National joined a number of organizations committed to the cause of LGBT equality: COLAGE, Equality Federation, Family Equality Council, and Freedom to Marry in submitting this brief.  Each supports the three compelling points made in the brief: that denying the freedom to marry imposes severe legal burdens and detriments on millions of Americans, every day and for no good reason; that marriage discrimination inflicts ongoing injury to the dignity and emotional well-being of millions of children, parents, and other family members; and that even when couples are able to marry in their home state, the patchwork of different state marriage laws inflicts ongoing injury to these couples and their families on a daily basis.
“Much like the brief we submitted to the Supreme Court last year in Hollingsworth v. Perry, this brief includes stories of families who experience daily harm because of laws differing across jurisdictions. Only The Supreme Court can put a stop to this,” Huckaby added.  “We’re proud to stand with the families, organizations, and law firms who have also volunteered their experience and expertise to create this brief, which shows compellingly the daily harm from denying loving same-sex couples access to the freedom to marry, and we know that The Supreme Court can put an end to it, and we hope that this brief so compels them to do so with due urgency.”  
Included in this amicus brief are Kris and Jason Morley-Nikfar, whose story was included in PFLAG’s amicus brief supporting Bostic v. Rainey.  Their story focuses on this point in the new brief: the injury done to the families of loving same-sex couples when the laws governing a couple’s loving and legal commitment to each other vary from state to state. Kris and Jason have been in a loving and committed relationship for 12 years and married for 10; when they married, they legally changed their last names to “Morley-Nikfar.” After moving to states which ban marriage equality, Kris and Jason experienced repeated harm from official refusal to recognize their marriage. In Atlanta, DMV officials not only refused to accept their marriage license as valid proof of their name change, but loudly berated them saying they would have to go to court and obtain a “real” name change if they wanted accurate drivers’ licenses. And in Kris’s home state of Virginia, where the couple faced major legal obstacles to adopting children when they learned that Virginia permitted adoptions only by single people and those with recognized different-sex marriages.  
“Our greatest thanks goes to Kris and Jason, and all of the families who so courageously tell their stories and share their lives so that the harm and degradation they experience every day, merely for being legally married and needing to be mobile, might soon end for them and countless others if  SCOTUS agrees  to hear one or more of these cases,” said Huckaby.
Huckaby also thanked the law firm Folger Levin, which has prepared all prior amici briefs for PFLAG National and would continue to represent PFLAG if any of its submissions for the case moves forward. Huckaby also offered high praise and thanks to Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP -- especially Jeffrey S. Trachtman, Partner, Counsel of Record -- who so generously prepared this multi-organization brief, and each of the participating organizations who came together to present this brief.  
“Jeff Trachtman’s special dedication in guiding this brief so quickly and thoroughly, while listening to, working with, and granting constant access to my staff as he once again worked with PFLAG National, having worked on an amicus brief for us 20 years ago on the Dale v. Boy Scouts case, really shows his passion as well as prowess to present this most important case of urgent need to halt families’ daily harm to the highest court in the land,” said Huckaby.
###
Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and allies uniting with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states. To learn more, visit pflag.org.
Editor’s Note: To speak with the PFLAG family represented in this amicus brief, please contact PFLAG National Communications Director Liz Owen.

The full set of PFLAG National’s briefs amici can be viewed at pflag.org/advocacy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

PFLAG National Statement on Marriage Decision in Commonwealth of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 28, 2014
Contact: Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org> | (202) 467-8180 ext. 214

VIRGINIA TRULY IS FOR LOVERS!
PFLAG National Celebrates A Win for Equality in the Commonwealth of Virginia
WASHINGTON, DC—PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization for parents, families, friends and allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)—today celebrated a ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding the ruling that found Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
“This is a huge win for our LGBT loved ones in the state of Virginia, who simply want the opportunity to make legal their commitment to their partners,” said PFLAG Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby. “ I congratulate PFLAGers across the state with special thanks to members from our chapters and the other organizations and people with whom they have collaborated, all of whom have worked so tirelessly on this issue.”

PFLAG National submitted to the 4th Circuit Court an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief, sharing the stories of PFLAGers whose lives, whether their own or their loved ones’, have been negatively affected by the ban. Included among them is a  statement from PFLAG National Board Member Linda Stroupe, whose own 42-year marriage, she says in the brief, is affirmed by the rights for all to be married.

“Marriage is the way that society affirms and recognizes a relationship. We should permit same-sex marriage, and with our laws tell same-sex couples that they are equal, and that their committed relationships are just as worthy of recognition as any other.”

PFLAG National Deputy Executive Director Beth Kohm added, “In our home in Virginia, my son is learning of the proud history of the Commonwealth. The opportunity for all families to be recognized is a Virginian value in 2014 and one that I am hopeful will be added to the rich heritage of Virginia. I’m proud to be a part of PFLAG, and we will continue to work in preparation for the inevitable appeal of this ruling, until the day that marriage equality is the law of the land in the Commonwealth.”

# # #

Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and allies uniting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states. To learn more, visit www.pflag.org.