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.
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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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stonewall...

Stonewall Inn - September 1969
The Stonewall Inn might not be a recognizable place for many Americans, but the riots that took place there marked the most important turning point for the LGBT movement in the United States. The riots were a reaction to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

Police raids on gay bars were frequent in this era, occurring about once a month. During these raids, alcohol was seized, anyone in drag was arrested, and the owners were usually arrested too.

However, at Stonewall, the patrons didn’t comply. Men didn’t show ID, people in drag refused to go to the bathroom to prove that they weren’t crossdressing. Police tried restraining the growing crowd, and pushed some people down. After a while, the crowd had over 500 people, and the police barricaded themselves inside the inn to protect themselves. The crowd then hurled projectiles at the inn, breaking the windows.

Photo from New York Daily News front page - June 29, 1969



Once more police arrived, they tried freeing the police trapped in Stonewall and detained as many people as possible. Fight broke out, which led to the police marching down the street in military formation while the crowd of LGBT people was doing a kickline on the other side of the street.

Sylvia Rivera, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front who was in Stonewall during the raid, recalled thinking that the police had been “treating us like shit all these years...Now it's our turn... It was one of the greatest moments in my life.” In all, thirteen people were arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, and four police officers were injured. Three New York newspapers covered the riots the next day. And the crowds were just as large if not larger the next night. The riots continued for six nights.

New York Times Coverage of Stonewall from 1969

Stonewall represented a turning point in the LGBT movement, the moment that LGBT people got angry and took a stand for equality. President Obama referenced Stonewall in his second inaugural address before saying that “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” This was the first mention of the word “gay” or gay rights in an inaugural address, and the president invoked Stonewall in the same sentence as Selma (a historic march which led to the 1965 voting rights act) and Seneca Falls (the first ever women’s rights convention). The comparison conveys how important the riots truly were. In fact, pride festivals are usually held in June specifically to commemorate Stonewall.

The Stonewall Riots are important to PFLAG’s history in addition to the history of the LGBT movement as a whole. Among the patrons at Stonewall was Morty Manford, the son of PFLAG’s founder Jeanne Manford. After Stonewall, Morty helped found the Gay Activists Alliance and became its president. Morty was famously beaten by Michael Maye, then president of the city’s Uniformed Firefighters Association, while he was protesting 50th annual Inner Circle dinner. The protest’s message was that the city government and media were ignoring gay-rights issues. Maye was tried and acquitted but the incident brought attention to the protest, and led to the 1986 passage of a city gay-rights law.

For more information on Stonewall, visit these links:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Statement from PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby on Executive Orders 11478 and 11246, Federal Workplace Protections

"Today feels like a major shift, a tipping point, in ending workplace discrimination for those of us and our family members and friends who are LGBTQ. Today the American values of fairness and equality--values that thousands of PFLAGers across the country have been advocating for, for decades--are taking a major leap forward.

Today, President Obama made history, signing Executive Orders 11478 and 11246, moving so many more people into the protected column which tens of millions of other Americans might take for granted: being judged in the workplace based on what they do, not who they are or whom they love. And for that, PFLAGers everywhere say thank you.

Today, I am more hopeful than ever that fairness can win over discrimination, but only if we continue to stand up and speak out, reaching our elected officials in their local communities, their statehouses, and on Capitol Hill about why discrimination is not an American value.

Today, PFLAGers everywhere recommit to creating a world where society not only affirms people who are LGBTQ, but celebrates this rich diversity."

Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director PFLAG National

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PFLAG Statement on Religious Exemptions and the Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 9, 2014
Contact: Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org> | (202) 467-8180 ext. 214


PFLAG NATIONAL INSISTS ON FAIR AND EQUAL RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION

“We won’t close the door on conversation, but we will close the door on discrimination...”

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 released the following statement from Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby on the issue of religious exemptions and the law:

PFLAG has a long, proud history of engaging in difficult conversations, often related to issues of faith.  We understand and see every day how freedom of religion is being conflated with the freedom to discriminate and the growing crescendo that this discrimination be enshrined in law. PFLAG’s richness of diversity compels us to operate from a lens of fairness when looking at religious exemptions, and fairness dictates that any religious exemption in judicial ruling, executive action, or legislation cannot be so broad as to compromise an individual’s dignity. 

Yet from decades on the front lines of LGBT equality advocacy, we also know that if we want laws written, supported, and passed, we must commit to staying engaged, no matter how difficult the conversations get. PFLAG will always use the same test, whether it be for ENDA, an Executive Order, some other piece of legislation, or a court ruling: Will people who are LGBT be treated differently than protected classes of people? If the final version or ruling does not pass that test, then we will not support it and will instead actively mobilize all PFLAGers and people everywhere committed to fairness and equality to oppose. 

PFLAG National will continue to support ENDA and insist on a fair and equal religious exemption in the bill. Whether through ENDA or via an Executive Order, people who are LGBT have a desperate need for workplace protections, and should have the same workplace rights and responsibilities as anyone else. In fact, the majority of Americans already agree that people in the workplace should be judged on the merits of their work, not based on who they are; that is fair. 

In PFLAG’s view, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling was wrong, any Executive Order aimed at protecting workers but offering loopholes to discriminate is wrong, and the breadth of the religious exemption in ENDA as it is currently drafted is wrong. PFLAG never closes the door on conversation, but we will close the door on discrimination, for we cannot change hearts and minds—which sometimes means reconciling different faith beliefs—if the foundation on which we do so ís discriminatory.


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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 www.pflag.org.