Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today: A Knoxville Congregant Speaks Out

From Pam's House Blend:

Listen in to The Michelangelo Signorile Show today (Sirius XM Radio' s OutQ, Channel 109) at 4:30 ET to hear the story of Carla Lewis, a transgender congregant at the Knoxville Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church who was there when the gunfire rang out.

Carla, a regular church congregant and website manager for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition joins us to share her eye-witness account of the tragic events as they unfolded, and her realization that this was an anti-liberal anti-gay attack, spurred on by conservative hate.

You can tune in via a free 3-day pass.

An Important Victory for Safe Spaces & Safe Schools

Creating safe spaces for students in our schools became a little bit easier - at least in one district - with a ruling issued yesterday.

In a precedent-setting opinion released on Wednesday, a Florida judge found that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," and that a local school district must allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on school grounds.

Our friends at the ACLU of Florida brought the suit on behalf of Okeechobee High School senior Yasmin Gonzalez, after the principal at her school said the club could not meet on campus.

Judge K. Michael Moore said the school board failed to show that barring the club's "tolerance based message", was "caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."

"Gonzalez, who now attends Indian River Community College, has said she was plagued by discrimination as a lesbian trying to find her way in Okeechobee's small town of conservative values," the Associated Press reported. "One teacher told her homosexuals should die; kids hanging out the bus window would shout, "Are you the one that's gay?"

"You shouldn't have to grow up feeling like you're alone," Gonzalez said when the suit was filed. "It was just terrible. I saw that something was wrong and I'm trying to change it."

As a recent ABC News article pointed out, more and more young kids are coming out while in school, and administrators, and parents, have an important role to play in supporting, protecting and educating the entire community.

Because of her courage and her determination, Gonzalez has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of countless students who can now be assured of a welcoming space in their school. Her heroic steps (and yesterday's ground-breaking court ruling) mark a significant step forward for the LGBT young people who are attending her high school alma mater today.

A PFLAG Dad Takes to the Stage

All of us at PFLAG see plenty of evidence, every day, to remind us about just how serious the work of fighting for civil rights and equal opportunity can be. But we know the power of a laugh, too, and few people know how to put a PFLAG spin on comedy quite like our national vice president, Mike Neubecker (pictured).

This morning's Flint Journal profiles Mike ahead of a Friday stand-up performance in Michigan, which follows routines he's performed at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, Calif., Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis and Funny Bone in Newport, Ky.

"It will be the parents whom Neubecker, 55, will most try to amuse and inform as he performs a comedy routine he's honed in venues across Michigan and the country," reporter Jim Larkin writes. "A good chunk of his routine is about having an openly gay son, and his humorous message is intended primarily for parents of gay children."

"I like to connect with the parents, ... to tell them you can be visible as a parent and your world won't fall apart," Mike, a proud PFLAG dad, told the paper. "It makes the world a much better place to live."

And Mike's comedy is rooted in his family experience, and his time spent working with PFLAG.

"He gleans his newest material from his own experiences with his son Lee, 36, who came out when he was 19," the paper reports. "Lee, who lives in Chicago with his partner, jokes that he came out in a sock drawer -- with his mother discovering a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays newsletter among his socks."

"Now," the Journal notes, "he translates much of that into the public speaking he does through PFLAG and in his own comedy."

"Anytime I give a speech, I put humor in there. ... As long as they're laughing, they're learning," he said.

Mike takes to the stage this Friday, at 8:30, at The Good Beans Cafe in Flint. For more information, and to read the full profile of Mike in the Journal, click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Breaking News: HIV Travel Ban Lift Signed

Here is some exciting breaking news... Earlier this month we discussed news that President Bush was expected to sign into law a global AIDS relief bill that included a lift on the decades-long ban on visas for visitors with the HIV virus.

This afternoon Bush signed the bill. However, the lift on the ban may not take immediately. Says the Washington Blade article:

"Some Capitol Hill insiders have speculated that the Bush administration might decide to leave the HHS policy in place, preferring to let the next president decide whether to repeal it. That would leave the ban in place until at least late January...A spokesperson for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Obama opposes the ban and would take action to end it if he’s elected president."

See also:

Bush Will Sign AIDS Relief Bill

HIV Ban May End Soon

"A Whole Lotta Ugly" in Church Shooting

Here's a Wednesday must-read: in The Washington Post, faith writer David Waters sums up the tragic shooting that happened on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee (click here for the back-story).

The church was known for it's acceptance of all members of the community - including GLBT people. Waters reports that this past March the UU church's pastor, Chris Buice, wrote an op-ed n the Knoxville News Sentinel entitled simply enough: Tolerance. He writes:

"In the movie 'Hairspray,' the character Mabelle warns a newly formed interracial couple, 'You two better brace yourselves for a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a never-ending parade of stupid'..."

"I prefer to be around people who know how to build things up instead of tearing things down. In the midst of political and religious controversy, I choose to love my neighbors as myself. Ultimately, I believe that tolerance, compassion and respect are the qualities we need to keep Knoxville and East Tennessee beautiful."

And there certainly was "a whole lotta ugly" in what happened on Sunday when a man entered the church and opened fire. Maybe in the wake of this tragic event the community will learn something about loving their neighbors.

Saro Harvey Speaks to Metro DC PFLAG


Rod 2.0:Beta has a great synopsis of Thursday evening's Metro D.C. PFLAG meeting, which included an appearance by Saro Harvey, who was recently profiled in The Washington Post's story on youth coming out, and his mom, Emily Zientara-Harvey. They appeared as part of the chapter's Brothers and Sisters Under the Rainbow series.

From Rod 2.0:Beta's report:

Bill DelGrosso, a Washington-area Rod 2.0 reader who is active in PFLAG DC, captured these images and took some notes. "The discussion ranged in topics from GLBT housing, the disconnect between GLBT people of color and their church, black prides being more about the party and less family oriented, to HIV/AIDS awareness and parents' relationships with their gay black children," Bill tells Rod 2.0. "Saro said, 'I'm just very lucky to have my family love me.' Saro's mother, Emily Zientara-Harvey, was also very emphatic about how glad she was that her son came out. 'I always knew or suspected to the point where I wanted so badly to ask. I just was so relieved when he finally told me. I did a little dance after that.' "

Another panelist, Jacqueline Davison, seen above sitting next to Mrs, Harvey, puts the Harveys relationship in context. Bill Delgrosso tells Rod 2.0 Mrs. Davison has three children, two of which came out to her in the 1970s "When you couldn't even use the word lesbian.," she says. "It was a different time, but I was so glad they did it. I love all my children, my straight daughter feels like the odd one out... I see her marriage and that of my lesbian daughter as the same."

To read the full report on Thursday's meeting, click here.

Photo from Rod 2.0:Beta and Bill DelGrosso.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Update: Marriage Equality in Massachusetts

Here's a major update from our earlier story today:

The Massachusetts House has voted to allow out-of-state gay couple to marry!

Massachusetts is now expected to join California as the second state in the union to allow all citizens full marriage equality.

'Crisis,' featuring PFLAG's Jody Huckaby

On September 1, Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America, will release a new book featuring stories of lesbian and gay Americans who have faced obstacles and overcome barriers in their own coming out journeys.

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, features personal essays from some of America's most well-known LGBT faces, including Ari Gold, Nate Berkus, Candance Gingrich, Billy Bean and PFLAG's executive director, Jody Huckaby. Jody, whose family story was profiled last year on Oprah, writes about his experience growing up, and coming out, in rural Louisiana as part of a large, Catholic family.

PFLAG supporters can pre-order Crisis, with a portion of the purchase price benefitting PFLAG National, by visiting Amazon.com using this link. Just put Crisis: 40 Stories in the search box. And check back here on the PFLAG blog for more information on upcoming events, readings and more as the publication date approaches.

Vigil for Church Shooting Victims

Reports have been coming in from sources such as The New York Times, that the shootings that took place in Knoxville, Tennessee were committed by a gunman who was angry at "liberals and gays."

Eight people were shot during a Sunday production of a children's play; two are now dead. The shooting took place at the local Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church - the same church that opened its arms to PFLAG meetings.

In response, tomorrow night our Tri-Cities chapter will be holding a vigil:

"In light of the recent tragedy at the UU church in Knoxville, the newly formed Tri-Cities chapter in East Tennessee will be holding a vigil on Wednesday night at 7pm at the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton. According to the chapter, the show of support will be 'an opportunity to share some feelings so we don’t think we are going through this alone.'”

Tomorrow: A Debate on Marriage Equality

Today there is more news on our coverage of the marriage equality debate in Massachusetts. We've reported on the debate in the Massachusetts state government to repeal a law that forbids out-of-state gay couples from marrying. A bill repealing the residency requirement passed the state Senate, and tomorrow will be debated in the state House of Representatives.

The Boston Globe reports today
that the bill doing away with the outdated residency requirement, if passed by the House, will go to Gov. Deval Patrick [pictured, upper right, with daughter]. Governor Patrick has vowed to sign the bill once it reaches him. As you may remember, recently his daughter, Katherine, came out to him - though Patrick has been a supporter of GLBT equality well before that.

Stay tuned for updates on how the debate in the House progresses.
See also:
Marriage Update From Massachusetts
A Long Way Since 1913

Monday, July 28, 2008

Listen Up!

PFLAG Providence chapter President Myra Shays was recently featured on her local National Public Radio (NPR) station. Modeled on the successful This I Believe project that NPR began in 2005, WRNI's This I Believe - Rhode Island is an effort to share the many stories of the people of Rhode Island. In the audio clip Myra shares how she came to accept, and celebrate, her lesbian daughter.

Right Click this link to download the MP3 of the interview to your computer

-Jamie Curtis

Tragedy in Knoxville

I was saddened to hear this morning about yesterday’s horrible shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. According to reports, a man shot and killed two people and wounded seven others, before being stopped by congregants.

The church is a welcoming spot to many LGBT individuals as well as many LGBT groups. The Knoxville PFLAG chapter is just one of many groups that use the church as a meeting space. Some news reports have suggested that, unfortunately, the church may have been targeted because it was viewed as ‘liberal.’

The Unitarian Universalist Churches have long been at the fore front for the pro-LGBT faith movement. In addition to being welcoming places of faith for LGBT people, they have also been leaders in fighting for Transgender inclusion. We are encouraged to hear that many in the local GLBT community are working together to find support and healing during this difficult time.

A vigil has been scheduled for tonight at the Knoxville Second Presbyterian Church at 7pm. All those in the area are encouraged to attend to show their support.

- Jamie Curtis

Update: Out & About, an LGBT newspaper in Tennessee, has just posted a first-hand account of the tragedy in Knoxville by Carla Lewis, a member of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

Bush Will Sign AIDS Relief Bill, Lift HIV Travel Ban

President Bush said over the weekend that he is "eager" to sign legislation, passed by Congress, which triples the United States' investment in combating AIDS. The bill, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, also includes legislation - endorsed by PFLAG and other organizations - to repeal the HIV travel ban.

“I thank members of Congress from both sides of the aisle for working with my administration to pass this important bill, and I will be honored to sign it into law next week,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Repeal of the travel ban will end "a two-decade-old U.S. policy that has made it nearly impossible for HIV-positive people to get visas to this country as immigrants, students or tourists," the Associated Press reported this morning.

Earlier this month, PFLAG joined Immigration Equality and other groups in calling for a repeal of the ban. "This draconian policy has negative consequences for our nation," a joint letter to Congress said. "Medical professionals, researchers, and other exceptionally talented people have been blocked from the United States. Since 1993, the International Conference on AIDS has not been held on U.S. soil due to this policy."

For more information on how repeal of the ban will effect travelers to the United States, click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

PFLAG, Newsweek and Larry King

The July 28th Newsweek cover story on the murder of Lawrence King has generated a heated debate about safe schools, the role family and community leaders play in students' lives and the series of events that led to King's death. The story, which looked at the administration in the school where King attended classes, and both his family life and that of his killer's, resulted in a flood of letters to the magazine.

On Friday, Newsweek editor Kurt Soller summarized some of the feedback the editorial team had received, including a response from PFLAG executive director Jody Huckaby:

While some saw the story as a saga of self-discovery, others viewed it as a tale of sexual harassment--in which King's taunting of McInerney, including rumors of a relationship as well as a valentine, crossed the line. "Larry was a bully and was allowed to get away with it because the school officials were fricking afraid to confront him because he said he was gay," wrote Divadawn. "It saddens me that the end result was death and I'm not condoning what Brandon did, but I'm also not condoning what Larry and the school officials did." Other readers wrote that "Larry should have been admonished for sexual harassment," and that given McInerney's declining grades and recent classroom disruption, "the adults in this situation should have been watching Brandon like a hawk."

Jody Huckaby, the executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, who released a statement on our story, echoed that idea: "California has a strong anti-bullying law that specifically includes our gay and transgender kids," he writes. "But it is how adults--both parents and educators--ensure the law is carried out, and that teachable moments are seized, that makes all the difference in the world." There is something to be learned here, he argues, from the death of Larry King and its coverage by the magazine. "We need to give our children the room, and the safety, to be who they are," he adds.

You can read Soller's full report here. And for the full Newsweek coverage of King's death, click here. Then, leave your own thoughts about the story in our comments section here at the blog.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Possible Hate Crime in Colorado

Early this week Angie Zapato, a transgender woman living in Greeley, Colorado, was found dead. Authorities say she was fatally beaten in her apartment and that her car is still missing.

News coverage has varied on the use of Angie's name and gender pronoun she, as a transgender person, identified with. According to an ABC News article, some investigators feel "her lifestyle"(sic) may be a factor or motive in her death.

Angie (pictured, left - photo courtesy Colorado Anti-Violence Project) was 18 years old. Colorado does, thankfully, include both sexual orientation and gender identity in its state hate crime laws. If it is found that her being transgender was a motive in her killing, this could help in the prosecution of her attacker.

Angie's family, who were supportive of her, spoke in a public statement asking for the public's help with finding information.

"We want the whole community involved to find this person who hurt my sister and to let everyone be aware that all she wanted was to be beautiful," Angie's sister, Monica, said in the statement. "We want this violence to end. Transgender people deserve to be treated with respect."

Images from OutFest

As we reported over the weekend, PFLAG executive director Jody Huckaby was in Los Angeles on Monday for the closing ceremony of OutFest, the L.A. gay and lesbian film festival. Jody joined the cast and crew of the closing night film Tru Loved and walked the red carpet at The Orpheum Theatre.

Here are some snapshots from Monday's event, courtesy of the ACLU-SC/Tessie Borden.


For more information on Tru Loved, click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Chance for Healing?

We've been reporting on the historic Lambeth Conference in England. As much as one-third of all bishops within the Anglican Communion have stayed away because of the controversy surrounding openly gay people within the church hierarchy. Bishop Gene Robinson (who was a keynote speaker and guest at our PFLAG National Gala last October) has come to Canterbury despite not being invited. His presence there has been the cause of much discussion and controversy.

The Lambeth Conference is held every 10 years, and it was five years ago that openly gay Bishop Robinson was appointed Bishop in the Episcopalian Church here in the States. The head of the Anglican Communion, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Clive Handford told the BBC today that the Communion remains at an impasse. As Bishop Handford said, "Through modern technology there has been active fear-mongering, deliberate distortion and demonising. Politicisation has overtaken Christian discernment."

Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike watching the Lambeth Conference can agree that this should be a time of putting aside differences and being able to move forward. However some bishops, like Sudanese Archbishop Daniel Deng, have called for Robinson to resign. One has to wonder why the mere presence of openly gay people in the clergy are enough to potentially create a schism.

See also:
Schism vs. Welcoming
Equality in the Anglican Communion

Thoughts From the "DADT" Hearing

I was privileged enough to join two other PFLAG National staffers in being part of the audience of the House Armed Services Committee's historic hearing on the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ("DADT") policy.

Overall I think it was abundantly clear that the majority of Representatives present were sympathetic to the plight of gay and lesbian servicemembers. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Susan Davis (D-California). Here's a clip of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pennsylvania) taking issue with Elaine Donnelly's remarks.




Elaine, who was one of two witnesses opposing equality, mostly made arguments about "eligibility" - though with no clarification under scrutiny as to why a gay or lesbian servicemember is any less able to serve than a heterosexual one. From there her arguments spiraled downwards into ridiculous comments about HIV, "transgenderism" [sic], and sexual harassment. I can tell that at least half the audience was snickering and laughing at her (not with her).

As OnTop Magazine is reporting, "Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-California) authored the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the ban and allow gays to serve openly in the military. But Democrats concede there will be no vote on the legislation unless Barack Obama is elected president. President Bush would certainly veto the legislation." I am hopeful after attending yesterday's hearing that there are plenty of sane heads in Congress on this issue who see the unfairness and discrimination of "DADT." Perhaps in the near future we will see it repealed and finally highly qualified servicemembers can serve without fear.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Straight, But Not Narrow, In The House

In what will surely be remembered as a pivotal moment in our country's quest to live up to its promise of "liberty and justice for all," the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing on Wednesday to debate the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. The hearing, which was the first in the 15 years that the military's ban has been on the books, marked an important turning point in the fight for equality in our armed services.

Three military veterans - one of the Army's first African-American Generals, the first service member wounded in Iraq and a Navy Captain who was at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 - told members of the committee that the time has come to repeal this law, and told their own stories of why they so fervently believe in ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Chaired by Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA), (pictured) the hearing stood in stark contrast to the 1993 debate over gays in the military. Gone were the short-sighted defenses of the law by Pentagon leaders (who chose not to show up and argue for maintaining the ban) . . . the doom and gloom predictions that previously accompanied discussions of open service . . . and the line-up of military leaders calling for exclusion of gay troops. Indeed, Wednesday's debate was set against the backdrop of a changing landscape for LGBT troops, with more than five dozen retired officers having endorsed repeal, and a new poll showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans - 8 out of 10 - care more about performance than sexual orientation.

Continue reading PFLAG's account of the hearing online at HuffingtonPost.com . . .

Photo by Rudy K Photography.

Live Webcast: Congress Debates "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


PFLAG supporters are invited to watch the live coverage of the House Armed Services Committee's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hearings. The HASC website will provide live coverage of the hearing, beginning at 2pm today.

Visit the HASC website here, and click on Live Webcast to watch coverage of the hearings.

Then, leave your thoughts, as the hearing happens, here in the comments section. And come back later today for PFLAG's report from the hearing room. We'll have a complete report on what happens on the Hill, and what our supporters - and opponents - had to say as they testified and fielded questions from the Committee.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Hearings Today

Just a reminder to everyone that today at 2 PM EST, The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold its hearing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This hearing will hopefully help shed light on this unfair and discriminatory ban on those who openly serve their country.

If you can't be on Capitol Hill today? No problem; you can watch the live webcast from the comfort of your computer in one of two ways. You can watch it on the HASC website, or you can watch it on the C-SPAN website, staring at 2 PM Eastern this afternoon.

Some PFLAG National staff members will be up there in-person, so stay tuned for reports from the hearings.

We All Became Victims That Night

Joshua Collier is a nonprofit fundraiser in Dallas for an organization that works with homeless teenagers, many who identify as LGBT. An active member of the Dallas LGBT community, Collier is a member of the DFW Gay Professionals, marketing director for OUT TAKES Dallas and secretary for the Dallas Chapter of PFLAG, where he serves with his mother Kathy, who is co-president, and his father Gary, who is treasurer.

On July 16, Jimmy Lee Dean was walking home in the predominately gay neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, known as Oak Lawn. Just a block away from the main strip where hundreds of LGBT men and women were enjoying a night out, Jimmy was robbed, punched, beaten with the butt of a 9mm gun and kicked in the head, face and body. In what could have been the last moments of his life, the last things he would hear were anti-gay slurs being yelled at him. The two men who did this said they targeted him because they thought Jimmy would make an easier target as a gay man.

Upon hearing the news of this attack, I was overwhelmed with fear. After all, Jimmy was attacked on a street I have parked my car on multiple times to walk to the main strip. It could have just as easily been me in Jimmy’s situation. I immediately flashbacked to the fear I felt as a 19-year-old who had just come out of the closet watching the news of the tragic beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard. It could have been me.

My fear quickly turned to anger as it was reported that the Dallas Police Department was not immediately filing hate crimes charges against Jimmy’s attackers when their own confession statements clearly showed that Jimmy was attacked because he was gay. How could this be? In the ten years since Matthew’s murder had we really made this little progress?

Jimmy was not the only victim on the night of July 16. I was also a victim because of the fear invoked by the attack in the one neighborhood where I should feel the freest to express who I am without fear. Every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who has ever been to Oak Lawn became a victim that night. This is the essence of hate crimes legislation. This incident, like all the others, shows why crimes perpetuated against a person because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, nationality or any other social group must be treated differently and have more severe punishments.

This past Monday, five days after Jimmy’s attack, the Dallas Police Department announced that hate crimes charges were being filed against both perpetrators. And though their trial has not taken place for what they did to Jimmy, I feel a sense of justice has been served to the GLBT community and every multicultural community. The Dallas Police Department has taken a courageous step in the right direction to let it be known across Dallas that the victimization of an entire community will not be tolerated. I laud them for their efforts.

As for Jimmy, he remains in intensive care following emergency surgery to save his life. Doctors are hopeful that he will make a full recovery. The thoughts, prayers and concerns of his community, his gay family, are with him.

On the Radio

Our PFLAG supporters in West Virginia are invited to tune in this morning as I discuss today's Congressional hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with MetroNews Network.

I'll be giving PFLAG's insights on, and thoughts about, the hearing, beginning just after 10am local time. If you're in West Virginia, you can tune in on any of the following stations:

WHIS-AM 1440
WCHS-AM 580
WAJR-AM 103.3
WAJR-AM 1440
WDNE-AM 1260
WTBZ-AM 1260
WRVC-AM 930
WMOV-AM 1360

Or, to listen in live, click here and click on Listen Live.

Update: You can also hear PFLAG's interview yesterday, with Public News Service in California, by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Safety is not a special interest.

Participating in my first pride this summer, I found myself eager to attend another parade and festival. I’ve known for a while now that my hometown of Rochester, NY hosts a pride, but had never been interested until Capital Pride 2008 sparked this sudden drive for diverse people and colorful outfits and colorful decorations coming together in an outspoken demand to be seen, heard, and accepted . Much to my dismay, when I looked up this year’s events I found that the festivities would be taking place two weeks prior to my return home on August 2nd.

My life brightened a bit when I caught wind of worthy and noble substitution taking place here in D.C. on July 19th, the same day as the Rochester Pride Parade.

The DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) was hosting a protest against the Department of Corrections for their unfair and unsafe policies regarding incarcerated transgender people and I knew that this was something of which I had to be a part.

By my count there were around 35 people in attendance, raising signs and raising voices against the DOC’s refusal to address all of the DCTC’s demands, including an assurance of access to clothing and cosmetics appropriate to an inmate's gender identity; access to medical treatment, including hormone therapy; inmates being addressed by gender-appropriate pronouns; privacy during strip searches; a record of injuries or assaults against transgender inmates; and ongoing sensitivity training for DOC officers.

To make your voice heard about the unfair treatment of DC transgender inmates and to demand change, click here to sign the DCTC's Petition to Defend Our Rights.

Included below are some of the pictures I was able to take once I stepped out of the marching and chanting line!



In Memoriam: Rich Kormelink

J. Richard (Rich) Kormelink, co-founder of PFLAG Tri-Cities and a retired biology Delta College professor, died on June 2, 2008 in Wyoming, Michigan.

Rich is survived by his loving wife, companion and friend, Barbara Anne Johnson Kormelink and three children: Jeffrey, (Diane) of Grand Rapids, Karen Kormelink and companion Pam Shaff of Baltimore Md, Gregory (Juliette) of Grand Rapids, as well as 5 grandchildren and one great grandson.

Words from his wife, Barbara, another co-founder:

"Rich Kormelink was an educator before all else. He spent his life teaching and enjoyed it very much. When his daughter came out to him, he was determined to teach as much of the world as he could reach that being gay or lesbian was a natural thing and so he did to the end of his life. He co-founded the local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Tri-Cities in 1985 and often shared his experiences as a parent with other parents who were seeking knowledge. Rich helped hundreds of families accept their own sexuality and that of their children and others."

Rich retired as an associate professor of Biology from Delta Community College, University Center, Michigan where he was awarded the coveted Bergstein Award for Teaching Excellence in 1966. He was a collaborator on many editions of Biology Texts, Pre-Nursing Texts and an Environmental Science Text for college students. After retirement Kormelink volunteered with PFLAG and at the local chapter of the American Red Cross. He spent the last few years of his life at Aurora Pond retirement center in Wyoming, Michigan.

The bodily remains were cremated and a memorial service to celebrate his life will be held on Saturday, August 2, 2008 at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Midland, 6220 Jefferson, Midland, MI at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contribute to PFLAG Tri-Cities, P.O. Box 834, Bay City MI 48707-0834 or Delta College, University Center, MI 48710.

Marriage Update From Massachusetts

Last Wednesday we reported on the bill that would allow same-sex couples from out-of-state to get married in Massachusetts (as they can now in California). The bill breezed through the state's Senate, and Gov. Deval Patrick vowed to sign the legislation once it reached his desk.

The bill is expected to be signed into law before this fall...but it may have hit a speed bump.

The Boston Globe is reporting
that there have been concerns from some lawmakers in the state's House (where the bill will have to pass next before going on to the Governor). Specifically the concern comes from those facing tough re-elections - and they are less than happy about a "hot button issue" going to vote that could hurt them in their runs for office.

Massachusetts has had complete marriage equality for four years now. While there are fringe elements that still resist the reality of same-sex marriage in the Bay State, one would think the controversy had blown over. The sky never fell, and the world never came to an end. Gay spouses are simply enjoying what their straight counterparts have always been able to enjoy (albeit without the federal benefits). It's sad to see the fear factor causing even Democratic representatives to hesitate on this civil rights issue.

Fortunately, many are predicting the bill will go through in this session. Arline Isaacson, who co-chairs the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian political caucus, said, “We are not at all concerned about the speaker’s commitment or whether he will follow through on it. It’s going to happen.”

PFLAG in USA Today

This morning's USA Today previews tomorrow's Congressional hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

From reporter Andrea Stone's coverage:

Without this hearing, said former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman John Shalikashvili, "you will never repeal the law. It's a great idea." He is among more than 50 retired generals and admirals who have said it is time to rethink the policy.

No Pentagon brass are scheduled to speak at the hearing. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said several had answered questions at other hearings. "Not much has changed," he said. "It is still the law of the land."

The hearing comes as the volunteer armed forces struggle to retain troops to fight two wars. Changing attitudes are seen in polls such as one by The Washington Post, published Saturday, showing that 75% favor allowing gays to serve openly, up from 44% in 1993. . . . .

Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California, the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the policy, said she knows what military leaders would say if they testified.

"The military leadership will tell you that this is the law they've been given to operate under and that's what they do," she says, "which is a very different question of off-line and off-the-record, 'Personally, admiral, what do you think?' That's the only way they could answer … differently."

Gay-rights advocates say they are disappointed at the Pentagon's no-show. "At a time when the military is relaxing every possible standard to attract new recruits, and at the same time is losing mission-critical specialists such as Arabic linguists, medical professionals and others, one would hope and expect that Defense Department leaders would be first in line to call on Congress to repeal the law," says Steve Ralls of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

To read USA Today's full coverage, click here.

Update: You can discuss this morning's coverage, including John Shalikashvili's exclusive statement to USA Today, over at Pam's House Blend.

Families on the Frontlines: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell . . . and Don’t be Transgender Either

Our 'Families on the Frontlines' series continues with a guest blog by Monica F. Helms, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association.

For years, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been the official witch-hunt policy that gave the U.S. military open-ended permission to ruin the careers of any person they suspected were “homosexuals.” It never had anything to do with whether the person actually acted upon their sexual orientation, or even if the person was really gay or not. It mostly stems from the Department of Defense’s archaic and narrow view of what they think should be gender-normative behavior for men and women, including sexual activities. Basically, you don’t have to be gay, or act gay, or be sexually active with a same-sex partner, as long as they think you’re gay. They hold all the cards.

It’s the famous oxymoron of “Military Intelligence” in play here. This is why transgender-identifying service members also find themselves snared in the DA, DT trolling nets that commanding officers like to throw out every so often. Maybe they have to “catch their limit” to get promoted. Who knows? But, we do know for sure that transgender service members need to be factored into the DA, DT mix when the discussion comes up.

Over 12,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service men and women have been discharged under DA, DT. We may never know how many of those discharged were really transgender-identified people. We also don’t know how many transgender people who were discharged under DADT that did not get counted in the above number. We do know that some have been sent packing and DA, DT was the excuse the military used.

We have recently heard the words “gender non-conforming” in the DA, DT discussions. This should not be used as an absolute definition to describe transgender service members. Gender non-conforming indicates that the person acts or expresses themselves in a manner not stereotypical to their birth gender. This means a male who exhibits some stereotypical expressions or mannerisms of females, or visa versa.

A person does not have to be trans to appear gender non-conforming. In many cases, transgender people will exhibit hyper-masculinity or femininity to mask how they really identify. In this case, it would be better if we let the military person self-identify themselves as being transgender rather then saying that those who do not conform to stereotypical mannerisms are also transgender-identified.

In a recent article by Steve Ralls called, “Turning Point for Troops & Their Families,” he mentioned some survey statistics that come from my recent article called, “Transgender Military People and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” posted on June 25, 2008. I will repost those figures and elaborate on them.

“One of the questions we asked was, ‘Did anyone ever suspect you were gay or asked if you were gay’? Out of the 801 people who answered that question, 302 said, ‘Yes’. We also asked, ‘Have you ever been questioned by your commanding officer or any other officer because someone said they thought you were gay’? 799 people answered that question and 109 of them said ‘Yes’. It seems that by these questions, transgender people are very much at risk for being targeted for being discharged under DA, DT.”

The figures come from the raw data of the Transgender American Veterans Association’s Transgender Veterans Survey, conducted from 12/13/07 to 5/1/0/8. From the time the survey ended, until today, the Palm Center in California has been helping to provide the appropriate people to analyze the results and to help in putting together the final report, which should be out sometimes next week, at the earliest.

It is very important to note that even though the figures look impressive, we have to adjust them for those who actually served since DA, DT went into affect. Over the years before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," others have also been asked if they were gay. Making those adjustments, we see that 237 people who took our survey spent either all or part of their military service from July 1993 to today. Out of those, 95 answered “Yes” to the question, “Did anyone ever suspect you were gay or asked if you were gay?” On the other one, “Have you ever been questioned by your commanding officer or any other officer because someone said they thought you were gay,” 34 of them said “Yes” to that.

All of this shows that transgender-identified service members have always been asked about being gay. It goes back to what I said in my other article:

“The military cannot distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity. As far as they are concerned, if a male likes to wear women’s clothes or a woman wants to change her sex, then those people are gay. They don’t know any better and most refuse to be educated about it.”

Plain and simple, we are equally at risk. There maybe far less of us and we may not have added to the overall total by that much, but we can no longer be ignored in this discussion. The mindset has always been that since the law was written to cover sexual orientation only, then we would confuse people by including transgender people. My question has become, “How can we confuse people who already think transgender people are just gay?” Regardless of what our sexual orientation really is, we have been targeted and kicked out for being gay.

I say we just let them go on thinking we are gay. It means our numbers are included in the total, our people’s stories are told and our voices are heard in this fight. Whenever DA, DT is mentioned or written about, I would love to see people start saying, “This law affects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members.” This was one fight we didn’t asked to be included in, but it appears we didn’t have a choice. If they want to throw us into the mix, then they better be prepared to hear us on the Hill. We will be there, proudly standing beside our LGB brothers and sisters.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Families on the Frontlines: Children Ask, Children Tell

PFLAG's series 'Families on the Frontlines,' leading up to Wednesday's historic Congressional hearings on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' continues with this January 2008 post from Mombian.com.

Family Under Fire:
Iraq War vet tells of struggles to raise two sons while closeted

Five-year-old William and three-year-old Ryan are the children of decorated U.S. Army officer Cheryl Parker. Like other children of service members, they have dealt with cross-country moves and months without their mother while she was deployed in Iraq. Unlike the others, however, they must forgo many benefits, conveniences and support services offered to military families, or risk revealing that they have another mother, Donna Lewis. This could lead to Parker’s dismissal under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, even in LGBT-friendly Massachusetts. (Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the family.)

In the close-knit community of an army base, there is a strong chance the young children will inadvertently out their mothers. “When I tried to put William in on-base daycare,” explains Parker, “he would talk about having two moms. A lot of the daycare workers are spouses of military personnel. I don’t need somebody’s wife saying ‘What’s the deal with William Parker?’” The same applies to the other activities provided by the Army family centers, such as kiddie gym classes. “The questions start and then the lying begins, and it’s just too complicated.”

The couple is adamant, however, that however much they must lie to protect their family, they will never have their children do so. Lewis explains “We can’t take them to the commissary together anymore. One of the boys will say ‘Mom? Not you, my other mom.’ We can’t tell him ‘Don’t say that,’ because he’s going to say ‘Why?’ The best way to deal with it is just not to put them in that situation.”

Continue reading 'Children Ask, Children Tell' at Mombian.com . . .

Stock photo for illustration purposes only. Story subject is not pictured to protect the identities of those involved.

PFLAG Tacoma in the News

PFLAG's Tacoma, Washington chapter was the subject of a Sunday profile in the Tacoma News-Tribune. Reporter Debbie Cafazzo profiles three local PFLAG families: the Scheurers, the Lathams, and Sue Redkey and Dan Chushing and their daughter, Saracristina Garcia.

Writing about the Scheurers, Cafazzo says that "Both Larry, now 61, and Vernene, now 55, made an immediate decision to accept their son for who he is. But as accepting and supportive as they were, the Puyallup couple knew they also needed support. They turned to the Tacoma chapter of a national organization called PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays."

"Jarid is glad his parents are PFLAG members," the paper reports.

“I have some gay friends who are jealous of that,” he says. He has one friend whose mom thinks he’ll grow out of being gay. Another is afraid to tell his parents.

Claudia Latham (pictured, with her husband), who now serves as president of the chapter, recounts her daughter's coming out, too, telling the paper that "I burst into tears."

Her daughter, Kristen, shared a PFLAG brochure with her mom, who, after she left her daughter and headed back home following her announcement, says that, "“I stopped at every rest stop on the way back to read chapters in the book . . . I knew right away I had to accept it. I didn’t want to lose her.”

“I had no dreams for a gay person,” Claudia told the News-Tribune. “I hadn’t thought about it. Now I see all kinds of dreams fulfilled by gay people. … My little narrow view of what makes families happy got bigger.”

You can read the full report from Sunday's News-Tribune online here.

Photo by Drew Perine for the News-Tribune.

Families on the Frontlines: Discipline, Structure & A Sense of Family

PFLAG's 'Families on the Frontlines' series continues with this guest post from Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight. He served two tours, from 2001-2005 and 2006-2007.

Jason, a trained military linguist who served in Kuwait, was dismissed from the Navy after he spoke out publicly in response to remarks by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, who referred to LGBT military personnel as "immoral."

In 2001, at the age of 18, I found myself in a Navy recruiting office in Newark, Delaware making a decision that I never would have seen myself contemplating before; to finally step out into the world.

Coming from a broken home, and being moved in an out of foster care, I thrived on the discipline, the structure, and the sense of family the Navy instilled in me. I quickly found myself accelerated to the top one-percent of the Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C. as part of the Navy Ceremonial Guard, of which I was privileged to perform military funerals, including those who died on September 11, 2001.

After completing my tour, I trained as a Hebrew linguist, working with the National Security Agency, and continued to pave a promising career in the Navy. Nevertheless, it came to a screeching halt when my commander received annulment paperwork from my spouse that revealed that I was gay. When questioned about my own sexuality, I could not compel myself to break the military's code of honesty and integrity and was quickly discharged and removed from the base. I had become a casualty of a policy that enforces discrimination solely based on who I was.

After only a year, I was recalled back to service and shipped to Kuwait where I experienced a very different situation, serving openly with the support of my command and colleagues for nearly a year.

Despite promotion and accolades (and even a recommendation and pending package for Officer Candidate School), I was discharged again under the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for speaking out against former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace when he stated that gays were 'immoral' in March 2007. My experience is Kuwait was certainly not unique or unparalleled to the shift in attitude toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans that serve in our military today.

Supporters of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," many of whom have never served in the military, are clinging to their only argument - allowing homosexuals to serve would undermine unit cohesion and disrupt good order and discipline. However, this claim has never been substantiated. In fact, there is mounting evidence that proves just the opposite. With countless polls showing that nearly 80% of Americans are in support of repeal, and a drop of nearly 50 percent in discharges since the start of the war, it is clear that this counterproductive law that only perpetuates hatred and discrimination.

On Wednesday, Congress will reassemble after more than a decade to discuss the impact of "Don't Ask, Don' Tell." The hearing, held by the House Armed Services Committee, is a critical moment in the efforts to repeal the failed law that has ended more than 12,500 careers, over 800 personnel who were in mission critical job fields such as linguists and medics. The repeal of this law would finally end a legacy of intolerance, afford opportunities to young adults to pursue a fulfilling career, and express the respect that Americans have for our lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

'Loved' in Los Angeles


On Monday evening, PFLAG executive director Jody Huckaby will join the cast and crew of Tru Loved, Stewart Wade's new film about LGBT youth and their families, classmates and friends. The film will be the closing night presentation at OutFest, the gay and lesbian film festival in Los Angeles.

Jody will be joined on the red carpet by the film’s stars, including Alexandra Paul, Nichelle Nichols, Jane Lynch, Alec Mapa, and Najarra Townsend. As part of the celebration, George Takei (Star Trek) will present his friend and former Star Trek co-star, Tru Loved’s Nichelle Nichols, with the Liberty and Justice Award from the ACLU of Southern California Foundation.

Press check-in is at 6:30, and red carpet arrivals kick-off at 7. The film will screen at The Orpheum Theatre, at 842 South Broadway in Los Angeles.

For more information on the festival, click here. And be sure to visit the official Tru Loved website, too.

PFLAG Speaks Out in North Carolina

Last night, a local North Carolina CBS news affiliate, WBTV-3, featured media coverage of the ongoing debate about House Bill 1366--the School Violence Protection Act. Framed underneath the message of "Protection or Privelege," the piece gives voice to opponents of the bill as well as some supporters, including Mike Clawson, the NC state coordinator for PFLAG and member of PFLAG Salisbury/Rowan.
[The bill's] sponsors say the intent is simply to protect children from bullying. A local coordinator with the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays agrees, pointing out that the bill is supported by groups like the NAACP and the Girl Scouts. In an email, Mike Clawson says legislators need to remove their blinders of discrimination, and that all children are in danger of being bullied.
Watch the video below!



A print version of the story can also be read here.

Update: You can discuss the NC bill, and PFLAG's reaction, over at Pam's House Blend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Strongest Anti-Discrimination Rules in the U.S. Threatened?

In December 2005, the Human Rights Clarification Act was unanimously approved by the District of Columbia’s City Council due to the hard work and persistence of transgender residents and workers, council members and community allies. Regulations soon followed, which gave the law teeth through enforcement, preventing real forms of discrimination transgender and gender diverse people face. The law puts employers, landlords, city agencies and public accommodations on notice that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression is illegal in the District.

After these regulations were effective, the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) - a group united to improve the lives of transgender people in DC - educated community members about their rights, worked with the DMV in developing a policy for transgender people to obtain appropriate identification, and collaborated with Police Chief Lanier on developing a general order on how police officers must handle interactions with transgender individuals. These key victories built momentum in DCTC’s campaign to address the inordinate rates of prison violence directed toward transgender people.

Despite DCTC’s efforts to work with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to help them comply with the changes to the Human Rights Act, the DOC continues to violate the law. Rather than work with the DCTC and ensure transgender individual’s safety and security within the DC jails, DOC covertly submitted an amendment to the Human Rights Act that “clarifies how the gender identity and gender expression regulations apply to transgender individuals in District government custody,” which would jeopardize the safety of transgender inmates as well as transgender employees working for District Agencies.

According to the amendment, ALL District agencies would be excluded from providing public accommodations that correspond to a transgender person’s self-determined gender identity. This means that agencies like the DOC would have the power to place a transgender person in the gender-specific facility even if it invalidates that individual’s self-determined gender identity. Furthermore, the amendment would force all government agencies to assign government badges that state the employee’s legal name, and only after a legal name change would the employee be able to change their badge - legal name changes are expensive and out of reach for certain transgender individuals. Having identification that does not conform to ones outward appearance could create an unnecessary risk for verbal and physical harassment.

Unfortunately, the teeth once used to enforce the strongest anti-discrimination rules in the country are being replaced with dentures. The DOC’s action is a clear administrative rollback of the application of this law. If this amendment is accepted, transgender people will lose the rights and protections that other individuals have when they are incarcerated, institutionalized, or otherwise within the District’s custody.

Inequality should never be accepted. We must do something now. If you live in the DC Metro Area, please submit a public comment before August 8th on why amending this law discriminates against the transgender and gender diverse community to:

Alexis Taylor, General Counsel
The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
441 4th Street, NW
Suite 570 North
Washington, DC 20001

Please be sure to send an electronic copy to the members of the DC Council at membersonly@dccouncil.us. Additionally, if you have time on Saturday, please consider joining the DCTC from 1-3pm to let the Department of Corrections know that they cannot ignore the transgender community, allies, and the need for safety and security within DC’s jails.

-Rhodes Perry

Census Says Your Marriage Doesn't Count

Here's one more reason the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) needs to go. The New York Times reports that the U.S. Census, which will take place in 2010, will not record same-sex married couples.

The rationale? Even though you might be legally married and recognized in the state of Massachusetts or California, the federal government will not. DOMA ties the hands of Federal agencies from recognizing same-sex unions in any way.

So, like legally married gay and lesbian couples are forced to do now when filing federal income taxes, they will been seen as "unmarried partners." This does such a great disservice to so many married or unioned GLBT couples, many of whom have children. Every tax-paying law-abiding citizen in the U.S. deserves to be treated equally by their local, state and federal government. It's time to do away with DOMA and let our GLBT couples have access to the same benefits and responsibilities as straight couples.

NC Senate Kills Safe Schools Bill

This morning's Charlotte Observer reports that the North Carolina Senate, in a stunning move, has "effectively killed" a safe schools bill that would have protected students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. As Pam's House Blend reported earlier in the week, there was widespread support for the measure in the state.

In fact, "survey results released on Wednesday by Public Policy Polling (PPP) show that 72% of North Carolinians support this explicitly LGBT inclusive anti-bullying bill. Those in favor of the bill were in the majority in all demographic groups. Additionally, 58% of Republicans supported the measure."

So why did the bill, which included common sense protections for LGBT students, essentially fail?

According to the Observer, "Groups interested in socially conservative issues such as the Christian Action League and the N.C. Family Policy Council did not want the term sexual orientation' in state law, saying that gay-rights groups would use it to leverage other rights."

"The bill," the paper notes, "would have required teachers, students and volunteers to report bullying and have local school boards establish anti-bullying policies."

Seven other states, including California, Iowa, Maryland and Wisconsin, have similar laws on the books.

It is unfortunate, and unacceptable, that North Carolina lawmakers, charged with protecting students and creating a learning environment where everyone feels safe, have chosen instead to bow to pressure from extremist groups and, in turn, put children's safety at risk.

If you are a resident of North Carolina, click here to locate your local representative, and contact them to express your disappointment in the legislature's decision. If your representative voted the right way, thank them for their support, and encourage them to continue working on the issue.

You can also reach Senate Pro Tem Marc Basnight at (917) 733-7928. Urge Senator Basnight to revisit this critically important issue, and stand up for students, not extremists.

Families on the Frontlines: Sonya's Story

PFLAG's 'Families on the Frontlines' series continues with this guest post from Sonya Contreras, a former Army recruiter who was dismissed under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

- My name is Sonya and I am in love with Vanessa.

- We met online through a lesbian website. She sent me an email and said that she thought that I was cute. We corresponded for months over the internet before we finally met in person.

- She and I have been living together as a monogamous couple for over 4 years.

- We have a tendency to hold hands in public and stare longingly into each other’s eyes.

- We were Domestic Partners for 2 years.

- We were married at the Contra Costa County Courthouse in Martinez, California on 6/18/2008.

- We are in the process of fostering-to-adopt a little girl through the county.

- I work for a corporation that does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any individual based upon sexual orientation or gender and enforces that policy.

- We are raising Vanessa’s two biological sons; they receive full medical and dental benefits through the health insurance provided by my employer.

- Vanessa is the sole beneficiary on my life insurance policy.

None of these facts would be possible if I were still serving in the United States Army because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

I was accused of being a lesbian by a male soldier after I refused his sexual advances. I was discharged on July 17, 2003 after more than 5 years of service.

I did not meet Vanessa until January 8, 2004.

My name is Sonya Contreras and I am a veteran of the United States Army.

I am proud to be an American.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is anything but “American.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Schism vs. Welcoming

Christine Holcomb, our Field and Policy Intern, continues her coverage of the recent developments in the Anglican Church concerning GLBT people...

The Lambeth Conference is the Anglican’s denominational meeting hosted every ten years in Canterbury, England in which all bishops (Archbishops, diocesan, assistant and suffragan bishops) are invited to meet for worship, study and conversation.

Although the conference meets in England, it is an influential meeting for denominations who are intricately connected to the Anglican community in the United States, such as the Episcopal Church. Similar to other denominations’ general assembly’s there is an agenda of issues to discuss, which includes sexuality. Although this conference began on July 16th and goes until August 3rd, precedent has already been set with regards to sexuality.

Gene Robinson [pictured], well known for being the first openly gay ordained bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2004 and featured speaker at the 2007 PFLAG National Convention, has been barred from the conference. It seems contradictory to the idea of community to bar someone from a conference intended to “deepen awareness of how we are responsible to and for each other,” and the confusion beset intensifies when the mission of the conference is considered.

The welcome statements quote Jesus saying “Do not be afraid.” They continue, “These are words which I hope will echo for us each day as we meet and talk here. But they will sound in our hearts only when we have our eyes fixed on the reality of Christ’s unique saving person and on the world-transforming power of his resurrection." In light of these statements, the decision to bar one of their own, a well established and devout Bishop, from the conference seems at best contradictory.

If they are interested in healing any of the schisms they perceive in this world, they are going to want to work hard over the next few weeks to heal the very schism that has already divided their community, even before the conference began. That seems a sad way to begin such a deeply needed and potentially powerful conversation.

HIV Ban May End Soon

A shameful law that restricts people with HIV from visiting the U.S. may soon be repealed, according to a report in USA Today.

The U.S. remains a small handful of nations that bans visitors with HIV (including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Russia). However, a Senate bill has been introduced that could change all that.

"[Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass]and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are trying to repeal the ban, first implemented in 1987 and confirmed by Congress in 1993...The Kerry-Smith provision would make HIV equivalent to other communicable diseases where medical and public health experts at the Health and Human Services Department — not consular officials at U.S. embassies — determine eligibility for admission."

It's high time that this embarrassing law be removed. I personally wasn't aware that this requirement still existed until recently. I remember years ago in college I was planning on visiting Russia, as part of a Russian language course. I noticed among their visa requirements that persons with HIV were not permitted to visit. I remember thinking, "this must be some terrible relic of the Soviet period." I was shocked to discover the ban on HIV visitors exists here as well. Let's hope the Senate provision passes! Stay tuned and we'll keep you updated.

Families on the Frontlines: A Military Mom "Tells" Her Story

PFLAG kicks off our Families on the Frontlines series this morning at HuffingtonPost.com, where we have an exclusive interview with Nancy Manzella (pictured), the mother of former Army medic Darren Manzella.

Darren, who told his story of serving as an openly gay medic inside of Iraq as part of a 2007 story on 60 Minutes, has since been dismissed from the armed forces under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But, as Congress gets ready for its first-ever hearings on the law, Nancy is still speaking out and still working to end the ban against lesbian, gay and bisexual troops.

“I don’t believe there is any aspect of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ that is pro-family,” she told PFLAG. “The question is: Pro-family for which families? Certainly this law can’t be ‘for’ the families who have lesbian and gay children who are serving. The law not only discriminates against family members, forcing anguish and fear into their lives, but it tells them that their sons and daughters aren’t good enough to serve our country. Our sons and daughters are over in the war, risking their lives, saving lives and doing a great job for our country. They should be judged on their performance and bravery, not their sexual orientation. Considering all the discrimination the law promotes, it can’t be called ‘pro-family.’ In fact, it reeks of anti-family values, because of the discrimination it inflicts upon so many people."

You can read our full interview with Nancy at HuffingtonPost, and leave thoughts, notes or questions for her here in our comments section. We'll make sure Nancy gets them, and she'll make sure there's s always a true pro-family voice in the fight for the repeal.

Photo by Judy G. Rolfe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Families on the Frontlines: Voices Against the Ban

As Congress prepares to convene its first-ever hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," PFLAG families and supporters are preparing to speak out against the federal ban on open service.

In the coming days, we'll be featuring stories, here on the PFLAG blog, from members of the PFLAG family who have been impacted by this unnecessary and un-American law. Among those who will be sharing their stories here on the PFLAG blog are:

A heterosexual military commander, speaking out about why the ban hurts our families by hurting military readiness;

A lesbian Army recruiter, dismissed under the law, who will write about how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" impacts same-sex couples;

A transgender veteran, who will share insights on how the law affects transgender and gender non-conforming personnel;

A Navy veteran, discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," who talks about why the upcoming hearings are so important to him personally;

A veteran, and father, who will blog about how his views of the ban evolved after having a gay child; and

One very special military mom, who will share her story of having an openly gay son serving inside the war zone in Iraq . . . and share her advice and words of encouragement for other military moms and dads.

Be sure to check back here at the PFLAG blog as we kick-off Families on the Frontlines and share the voices and stories of our family and friends who are working to lift the ban.