Washington, DC; October 23, 2009: The past week has been an especially important one for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, as both legislative victories and administration advancements have put the spotlight on key issues for the LGBT community and underlined the necessity for additional laws to ensure parity for LGBT people and all Americans. It is fitting that during the month of October—designated as LGBT Awareness Month—these successes are paving the way for full equality for LGBT individuals and their families.
PFLAG National celebrated success in a decade-long fight on Thursday, October 22, when the Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The groundbreaking bill includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in federal law, the first time these groups have been afforded such protection. President Obama has repeatedly and publically announced his support for the bill and is expected to sign it in the following days.
The history of the hate crimes prevention act goes back more than two decades, to 1989 when Congress passed the Hates Crimes Statistics Act, which required law enforcement to collect data on crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. This legislation built the foundation for the current hate crimes prevention law. In 1997, in response to a wave of murders and arsons directed at LGBT individuals, President Bill Clinton called a White House Summit on Hate Crimes, where the Hate Crimes Prevention Act we know today was crafted.
Before the legislature or executive office began to discuss hate crimes, PFLAG was already driving awareness about increasing violence against LGBT people. Jeanne Manford was outraged at such violence and set out to educate her community, writing letters to the editor, participating in LGBT pride events, and speaking with elected officials. It was from this activism in response to hate that PFLAG was established, and, since that time, PFLAG’s commitment has never wavered when community education and grassroots advocacy is necessary to secure LGBT equality.
“The importance of the hate crimes bill to the LGBT community cannot be overstated,” said John Cepek, president of PFLAG National. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of mothers like Judy Shepard—and Jeanne Manford before her—the U.S. Congress has taken a definitive stand against violence based on hate, they have sent a strong message on behalf of the equality movement.”
The passage of the hate crimes bill came on the heels of several other key gains this week:
- A Family Victory! On Thursday, October 15, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 3827, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would restrict federal funds for states that discriminate in adoption or foster programs on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Currently, at least five states specifically prohibit LGBT people from adopting children. The passage of this law would help our LGBT friends open up their homes to children who desperately need families to call their own.
The latest available research shows more than 500,000 children are currently part of the foster care system, with only 3 percent placed in pre-adoptive homes. The bill introduced by Stark is intended to eliminate barriers to adoption, as studies indicate that foster children are more likely to commit crimes, more likely to experience homelessness and less likely to be able to hold jobs as young adults. The bill will help strengthen families and create a more opportunities for young people to grow into happy and productive adults.
- A Health Victory! On Wednesday, October 21, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced plans to create the first national resource center for LGBT senior citizens (over age 60), a group estimated as high as 4 million. The LGBT Resource Center will not only help existing agencies build competency and cultural sensitivity in serving this growing community, but also will expand awareness among LGBT individuals about the need to plan for later life and long-term care. The Administration on Aging plans to award a grant of $250,000 each year to eligible entities, which include public-private nonprofit organizations with experience working on LGBT issues on a national level.
- A Housing Victory! On the same day as HHS’s announcement, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan discussed the housing agency’s series of proposals to ensure that its core housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination on these bases is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, but HUD acknowledged that the Act doesn’t specifically cite its protection of LGBT people.
Although there is no existing data on such discrimination, Secretary Donovan said that it undoubtedly exists. To build the evidence of such barriers, HUD is commissioning the first-ever nationwide study into the occurrences and effects of discriminatory housing sales and rental programs. The plan includes clarifying that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples; instituting requirements for grant recipients to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation or gender identity; and stipulating that mortgage loans insured through the Federal Housing Administration consider only credit-worthiness when determining loan approvals, regardless of unrelated factors such as sexual orientation or gender identity.
“PFLAG is grateful to the lawmakers and administrative officials who listened to families and heard their stories, then acted to help secure equality for our LGBT loved ones,” said Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National. “This has been an extraordinary week for the movement, and one that gives us strength to continue driving forward on passing an inclusive ENDA and repealing hurtful laws such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.
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PFLAG promotes the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. Learn more at www.PFLAG.org today.