Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The LGBTQ Movement is Forging On

Marriage equality is an issue that people have been advocating for for a long time.  In 2003, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts became the first court to find a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  Full marriage equality is something that I knew that I would see in my lifetime; however, I did not expect it to arrive this rapidly.  


A whopping 32 states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. .  According to Freedom to Marry, before section three of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in June 2013, only 12 states and the District of Columbia had marriage equality.  In the last three weeks alone, 13 states have gained marriage equality and three others are on the fast track to gaining it as well.  This means that more states have gained marriage equality in the month of October than in the last 10 years prior to U.S. v Windsor.  With the exception of judges in Louisiana and  Puerto Rico,every federal judge who has heard a same-sex marriage ban case has overturned the ban.   


Even with that promise--and even with all of the action taking place right now--there are still 18 states that do not allow loving and committed  same-sex couples to marry.  This is unacceptable.   Whether it be from a Supreme Court ruling, a circuit court ruling, or a state court ruling, there needs to be an affirmative decision made to bring marriage equality to the rest of this country as soon as circumstances permit; I believe we will see full marriage equality in the next few years, at most.  People opposed to  marriage equality are, in my opinion delaying the inevitable.  The train is forging on, full speed ahead.  

It is crucial, however, that we do not forget about the rest of the movement in its wake.  

PFLAG National’s new president, Jean Hodges, emphasized this when she was installed at the annual meeting on Friday, October 24th.  She shared in her speech that “We must not be lulled into believing that full equality has arrived...The work of PFLAG is not done, not by a long shot!”  Our new president recognizes the importance of advocating on all fronts, marriage equality is an integral part of the LGBT movement, but not the only part of the LGBT movement.  

At the annual meeting, the present members of PFLAG National voted to change the name of the organization from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to PFLAG National.  This name change was enacted to be more inclusive and mirror the organization’s already inclusive practices.  The new name more accurately represents the work that PFLAG does, which is support, educate, and advocate on behalf of all LGBTQ persons and allies.  I believe that this name is inclusive of all of the issues the LGBTQ community faces, not just marriage equality.  

There are multiple pieces of legislation that PFLAG will be advocating for over the next few months, all of which can be found in our new publication, One Voice Can Change the World: The PFLAG National Policy Guide and Advocacy Toolkit, which will be released in the next issue of Policy Matters, on November 5th. Check out this publication for effective ways to use your voice on behalf of yourself and your LGBTQ loved ones. Marriage is just the first stop on a long journey to full civil equality and societal affirmation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

PFLAG NATIONAL ANNOUNCES NEW PRESIDENT, NEW INCLUSIVE NAME



PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization of parents, families, and allies united with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ)—announced today at its annual membership meeting the election of Jean Hodges of Boulder, Colorado, as its new board president. She succeeds Rabbi David M. Horowitz, the previous national president, who served two, two-year terms.

Hodges is a longtime member of PFLAG, having co-founded the Boulder chapter, and served as its President. She rose through the ranks, serving as a regional director and then as the chairperson of the 13-member Regional Directors Council. In that capacity, she also served as the Vice President of the National Board of Directors.

“Jean Hodges has been an integral member of the PFLAG National Board of Directors for years, boldly leading on a number of issues, especially regarding people who are transgender and gender nonconforming, elevating their unique issues and educating families and allies on what roles we all can play to ensure that PFLAG, as the national family and ally organization is a resource for everyone,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National’s executive director. “Her background as a PFLAG mom, educator, community organizer, citizen lobbyist for equality,  and advocate for inclusion in her faith community make her an ideal leader for this transitional moment in PFLAG’s history.”

"I’m honored and excited to lead PFLAG during this time of rapid social change," said Hodges after accepting the presidency. "We must not be lulled into believing that full equality has arrived. The challenges ahead are exciting: working for legal protections in every state, helping to make faith communities accepting, eliminating employment discrimination for our LGBTQ loved ones, advocating for gender-neutral spaces in schools for trans and gender-variant children, just to name a few. The work of PFLAG is not done, not by a long shot!"

At the same meeting, the membership voted to change the official name of the organization from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—for which ‘PFLAG’ was an acronym—to PFLAG, reflecting the organization’s inclusiveness; PFLAG National is the official name of the national organization. Also voted on and passed was an updated mission and vision, both of which clearly define PFLAG’s unique role and value within the movement for LGBTQ equality and affirmation.
The change in name comes at a critical time for PFLAG: membership is up, the number of chapters has grown by 30 in the last year alone, and the support, education, and advocacy that PFLAG chapters are providing reflect the dynamic changes taking place throughout the LGBTQ community.

“This new branding for PFLAG will represent more accurately our unique and inclusive family and ally voice, a voice that has been affecting change now for 42 years,” said Hodges.

The next phase of the re-branding and naming effort will be to work with the organization’s 350+ chapters to develop a new tagline, descriptor, and consistent branding which also better represent PFLAG’s inclusive mission and vision.
Editors/Reporters: To schedule interviews with Jean Hodges, please contact PFLAG National’s Director of Communications, Liz Owen, by e-mailing lowen@pflag.org

###
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, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), 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.

FACTS
Organization Name: PFLAG
National Organization: PFLAG National
PFLAG’s Vision:
PFLAG envisions a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

PFLAG’s Mission:
By meeting people where they are and collaborating with others, PFLAG realizes its vision through:
  • Support for families, allies and people who are LGBTQ
  • Education for ourselves and others about the unique issues and challenges facing people who are LGBTQ
  • Advocacy in our communities to change attitudes and create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ

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.