Monday, August 31, 2009

Anchorage Assembly Will Not Override Mayor's Veto

A few weeks ago we brought you this story about Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoing the non-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now comes news that the Anchorage Assembly will not override this veto. Under city law, the Assembly has 21 days from that time to consider an override.

It passed with seven votes in support. Eight are needed to override a veto, and there’s no indication anyone has changed his or her mind.

Assembly Chairwoman Debbie Ossiander, considered the most likely swing vote, said before Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting that she still opposes the measure as passed on Aug. 11.

Ossiander was thought to be a likely yes vote on the ordinance and has said she might support a different version. But she said she objects to the ordinance as passed, because she thinks it may impose onerous conditions on businesses, including requirements for unisex bathrooms.

In a telephone interview before the meeting, Ossiander said she has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls, almost all urging her to reconsider and vote to override Sullivan’s veto.

“I’m apparently now on several national e-mail chains, because I’m hearing from people all over the country,” Ossiander said.

“I’ve probably had 200 contacts a day, combined e-mails and phone calls,” she said. “It’s been pretty exhausting, because I’ve been trying to take the time to really talk to people.”

Ossiander said, however, that she still opposes the measure as written.

“At this point, I can’t amend it, as much as I’d like to,” she said. “It’s either take this or leave it.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Action Alert: Voice Your Support for ENDA

Earlier this summer, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in both the House (H.R. 3017) and the Senate (S. 1584). This legislation will expand the scope of the existing federal law that prohibits employment discrimination to protect people on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Protecting our LGBT loved ones in the workplace is much needed and long overdue.

We have a good chance of passing this bill into law and we need your help! President Obama has said that he is ready to sign this bill. All we need now is for Congress to take action! It is essential that you contact your Representatives and urge them to support this bill. Also, ask them to become a co-sponsor.

Click here to take action and help us address the employment discrimination our LGBT loved ones face.

To learn the name of your US Senators and Representative click here and enter in your zip code.

Please be sure to visit www.thomas.gov and type in H.R. 3017 and S. 1584 to see if your Representatives are co-sponsors of ENDA. If they are, please send a note to thank them.

Vigil in DC Tonight for Transgender Stabbing Victims

A vigil will be held tonight at 6:30pm at the site of a double stabbing that occurred Wednesday in Northwest DC.

The stabbing occurred Wednesday afternoon and the victims are both believed to be transgender. The attack took place about two blocks from the North Capitol Street offices of Transgender Health Empowerment, a private social services group that provides drop-in services to transgender people, including transgender youth.

One of the women, age 21, was killed, and the other is currently in stable condition.

The vigil will be held at 2nd and Q Streets, NW.

For more information on this story you can click here to read the article in the Washington Blade.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

16 Year Old Fights for Gender-Neutral Bathrooms in Vermont Schools

Today, Kyle Giard-Chase, a sixteen year old incoming high school senior at South Burlington High School will speak before the Vermont Human Rights Commission, launching a new campaign on the importance of gender neutral bathrooms in public schools. “I was getting to school at 8:00 in the morning and feeling the urge to go to the bathroom then. I would have to wait until 4:00 PM, or suck it up and deal with the harassment. It was ridiculous. I don’t want the same thing happening to another student,” stated Giard-Chase, a transgender student himself and a Youth Representative to the Outright Vermont Board of Directors.

The new state-wide effort seeks to establish at least one gender neutral bathroom facility in each middle school and high school in Vermont by working with local Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) groups, school administrators and policy makers. Often, gender neutral bathrooms are one stall unisex facilities.

The need for accessible gender neutral bathrooms was rated as the top priority of youth attendees at Outright Vermont’s 2009 GSA Conference in Rutland in May. "The youth voted unanimously this spring and Kyle is heading up this campaign to make sure high school and middle school bathrooms are accessible and safe for all students. This is about making Vermont's great schools even better,” stated Christopher Neff, Executive Director of Outright Vermont.

This campaign will be the first of its kind in the nation to advocate for the establishment of mandatory gender neutral facilities in middle schools and high schools. Vermont is one of only 12 states and the District of Columbia that has laws barring discrimination based on gender identity.

In Vermont, according to the Department of Education's most recent Safe and Healthy Schools Incident Report (2006-2007), 48.5 percent of hazing and harassment cases were related to the victim’s sex. This can include bullying or making fun of a classmate because of feminine or masculine presentation. Outright Vermont distinguishes between sex and gender by noting that sex is related to biology while gender is how one chooses to identify themselves. The state of Vermont defines gender identity as "an individual's actual or perceived gender identity, or gender-related characteristics intrinsically related to an individual's gender or gender-identity, regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth."

Outright Vermont will include the accessibility or plan for accessible gender neutral bathrooms as one of its measures in its upcoming Safe School Report Card this October.

Gay Adoption Ban in Florida Goes to Appeals Court

The Florida state court of appeals heard arguments in Miami yesterday about last year's ruling that struck down the law barring gay couples from adopting.

Last November, Miami-Dade County judge Cindy S. Lederman ruled that the sweeping ban, often called the strictest is the nation, is unconstitutional.

Florida is the only state that excludes all gay men and lesbians from adopting, though it allows gay and lesbian foster parents. Last year, voters in Arkansas passed a measure forbidding adoption by single people after a court there dismissed a state rule excluding gay people from fostering children.

Judge Lederman ruled that the ban violated the equal protection requirement of the Florida constitution and contradicted the state policy of finding permanent homes for children. The judge said there was “no rational basis” for preventing gays and lesbians from adopting.

The three-judge panel will decide the fate of two half-brothers who say they want to be adopted by the foster father who's raised them since 2004. The foster father, Martin Gill of North Miami, can't adopt under state law because he's gay. Lederman's ruling allowed Gill, who has been in a long-term relationship with a partner, to adopt the two brothers.

Some legal observers say the case is likely to arrive before the Florida supreme court. That court upheld the ban in 1995.

To read more about this story, click here for The Miami Herald article, and to read more about the original November ruling that called the law unconstitutional, click here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LGBT Champion Senator Edward Kennedy Dies

From this Advocate article comes a fitting tribute for Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, the last remaining Kennedy brother and a tireless champion for LGBT rights. He died early Wednesday morning after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. He was 77.

Kennedy, who became known as "the liberal lion of the Senate" over the 47 years he served in the chamber, scored a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign, introducing historic pieces of pro-LGBT legislation and making critical votes. He was one of only 14 senators who voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage of Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

During the unsuccessful attempt by conservatives to pass the 2004 Federal Marriage Amendment constitutionally banning same-sex marriage, Kennedy said from the Senate floor, "We all know what this issue is about. It's not about how to protect the sanctity of marriage, or how to deal with activist judges. It's about politics and an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage ... The Constitution has never been used as a tool to entrench currently popular views at the expense of an unpopular minority – and it should not be used that way now."

Among his slate of progressive legislative sponsorships, Kennedy pushed such bills as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

In 2007, he introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which passed as an amendment to the Defense Department reauthorization bill but was eventually dropped from the legislation after President George W. Bush threatened to veto it. Kennedy reintroduced the measure this year with 45 cosponsors and again it was attached as an amendment to the 2010 defense appropriations legislation, which must be reconciled with the House version of the bill before being sent to President Obama's desk.

Kennedy also introduced ENDA in 2007 after the House legislation went through a tumultuous journey that ultimately stripped it of protections for transgender individuals. This year, he and lead senate sponsors Jeff Merkeley, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, reintroduced the legislation, which became the first transgender-inclusive bill in the senate's history.

"We had no greater hero in Congress," said David Smith, vice president of programs for HRC who also worked for Kennedy as communications director for a little over a year. "His loss is stunning; he's not replaceable."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lesbian Couple Assaulted in Memphis Church

According to this story in the Commercial Appeal, a lesbian couple in Memphis told police they were assaulted while attending an 11 a.m. church service Sunday.

Monique Stephens and her partner of three years were at the New Olivet Baptist Church to meet the Reverend Kenneth Whalum Jr., a candidate for the local mayoral election in October.

An hour into service, Whalum told the congregation to bow to the ground and blow kisses to God, Stephens said, but she and her partner, who are agnostic, did not move.

She said Whalum and church members began calling them “devil worshippers” and “gay,” among other derogatory names. Security guards surrounded and pushed them out of the sanctuary. Stephens said her glasses were broken and both she and her partner of three years have bruises and scratches from the altercation.

Whalum, however, said the women were “being disruptive, boisterous and speaking loud. They had to have some kind of agenda to come in church like that.”

It took about 10 minutes for security to remove the women for interrupting service, not for being lesbians, he said. “If I put every lesbian out of church, we’d be putting people out of church all day long,” said Whalum.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Action Alert: Immigration Reform

Members of Congress are writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill right now that will fix our country's broken immigration system. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he will complete the bill by Labor Day, and it is critically important that he, and other lawmakers, hear from us about the need to include LGBT families in the legislation.

Every day, more than 36,000 lesbian and gay families are impacted by discriminatory immigration policies. Families, like those recently featured in The Advocate, are forced to leave the United States or be split apart - because U.S. immigration law does not allow lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their partners and children for residency. For each of those families, the clock is ticking.

By speaking out now, you will help ensure a critical victory for your LGBT loved ones and their families. And by supporting truly comprehensive immigration reform, we can be part of an historic effort that helps millions of other families, too.

Click here to take action and encourage Congress to include LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform.

Please be sure to visit www.thomas.gov and type in H.R. 1024 and S. 424 to see if your member has co-sponsored these bills - if they have please send a note to thank them.

Congress needs to know you support comprehensive immigration reform that includes LGBT individuals and their families. You can make a difference by taking a few minutes to share your story with your congress members.

Lutheran Church Votes to Allow Gay Clergy

The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, the 4.7-million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA), voted Friday to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

The ELCA - the nation’s seventh largest Christian church - reached its conclusion after eight years of study and deliberation. That culminated Friday when the church’s national assembly in Minneapolis struck down a policy that required any gay and lesbian clergy to remain celibate.

While not calling it marriage, the assembly also signed off on finding ways for willing congregations to “recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.”

Conservative ELCA members have warned of damaged relationships with Lutherans in other countries. While Lutherans in Europe and Scandinavia are to the left of the ELCA on homosexuality, African and Asian Lutherans have been taught a more conservative line by missionaries and theologians, said the Rev. Conrad Braaten, senior pastor of Church of the Reformation, an ELCA congregation in Washington, D.C.

To read more about this story click here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bowling Green, OH Passes Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Bowling Green, OH is the latest municipality (and 18th in Ohio) to offer protection to its GLBT citizens, including the areas of employment, housing, and education.

The vote came on Monday night. The city council unanimously approved the fair housing ordinance and passed the education and employment ordinance by a vote of 6 to 1.

At a standing room only meeting, both sides debated for more than two hours.

"One person being turned away because they're being discriminated against is one too many," says Larry Sorrells, Bowling Green City Council.

The ordinance sets forth a detailed process for handling complaints, using investigation, conciliation, a hearing, and an additional conciliation, before going to a complaint process that could lead to up to $1,000 in fines. Failure to comply at that point would be a fourth degree misdemeanor. The process also provides for judicial review or civil cause of action in extreme cases. This section is modeled after Cincinnati’s ordinance.

Because the mayor is on vacation, Council President of Council Megan Newlove became acting mayor Tuesday.

Newlove has said she plans to sign the ordinances, according to the Sentinel Tribune. But several council members said that they expect the ordinances to be challenged by referendum petitions.

Petitions challenging the ordinances would have to be filed within 30 days of the time the ordinances are signed.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Runner Required to Prove She is a Woman

From The Advocate comes this article about South African runner Caster Semenya. Seems that racing officials seem to think she might be biologically male. She is being asked to prove that she is a woman after twice clocking the fastest time this year -- the latest of which came in the 800-meter final at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Berlin.

Semenya, 18, has been asked to take a gender verification test to prove that she is a woman, according to The Daily Guardian. Nick Davies, a spokesman for the IAAF, said that the test was requested after a race last month when she ran the fastest 800-meter time (before the games in Berlin) at the African junior championships.

The test, which takes several weeks to produce an outcome, includes several "complex procedures" involving doctors, scientists, gynecologists, and psychologists. Davies said he is not sure whether she would be stripped of her medal if the test results show that Semenya is biologically male.

The teen from Limpopo province had never raced outside of Africa before the IAAF World Championships this year.

On Wednesday, she won the race in 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Defending champion Janeth Jepkosgei, from Kenya, crossed the finish line 2.45 seconds after. Jenny Meadows, a British runner, came in third.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anchorage Mayor Vetoes Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Dan Sullivan, the conservative mayor of Anchorage, Alaska vetoed an ordinance passed by the Anchorage Assembly in a 7-4 vote that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination against the LGBT community in employment, housing, education and other areas. Eight votes are currently required to override the mayor’s veto, and though the Assembly has said they will revisit the issue, it is unlikely the vote will change. An override to the veto must be passed within 21 days or the mayor’s decision.

Sullivan cited a lack of quantifiable evidence that proves such discrimination exists in Anchorage, despite months of public testimony to the contrary. Supporters of the ordinance have also noted that there are currently no formal means for gay men, lesbians, or transgender individuals to file complaints. He also cited public opposition to the ordinance stating, "My review also shows that the vast majority of those who communicated their position on the ordinance are in opposition." According to his office, Sullivan received almost 2,500 comments via phone and email from the community as he considered his decision.

Throughout the summer there were more than 20 hours of public testimony and more than 700 people that testified, many of whom were not from Anchorage. Some observers, including Matt Claman, one of the co-authors of the ordinance, have noted that the opponents of the measure had created a type of public filibuster, ensuring that the debate would continue until after Sullivan was sworn in. Much of the opposition was made up of Christian conservatives, such as Jim Minnery, the President of the Alaska Family Council and Reverend Jerry Prevo, of Anchorage Baptist Temple, who has been fighting against such an ordinance for more than two decades.

Supporters of the bill demonstrated in front of City Hall on Monday evening. Many had not anticipated the veto and were shocked by Sullivan’s decision. Jackie Buckley, a spokeswoman for Equality Works, a pro-ordinance organization in Anchorage stated that the first step will be to take the issue back to the assembly. The assembly’s next meeting will be held August 25th.

To read more from The Anchorage Daily News about the battle brewing in Anchorage as well as Mayor Sullivan's entire statement on this topic, click here.
-Jamie Henkel

A PFLAGer's Perspective on Being a Straight Ally

Everyone knows how important straight allies are to the LGBT community. And we all love and want to support our allies as much as possible. However, being a straight ally to LGBT people isn’t always easy. As PFLAG’s Straight for Equality program points out, allies have a lot of barriers to face and overcome on their ally journey.

But don’t just take my word for it. Peter Ji, president of PFLAG Chicago Metro and straight ally extraordinaire, has written several articles on the experience of being a straight ally to the LGBT community. In this article, he tells the story of his own ally journey, including how he came to be an ally and why he believes allies are so important to the LGBT community.

Says Ji, "My first lesson was examining my need to be 'credible.' Turns out, I wanted to be 'credible' because I was afraid others might ridicule me. For example, I was afraid that others would question my motives. Why would I speak for LGBT persons if I were not gay? What investment could I possibly have in the LGBT community? I then realized that this was my first experience of what it is like to live in fear for proclaiming who you really are."

To download and read the entire article as a PDF, click here.

Want to know more about being a straight ally? Want to know how to do effective outreach to straight allies? Visit http://www.straightforequality.org/ to learn more!

-Julie Handy

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Transgender Woman Sues Former Employer Over Photo Request

According to this article from The Advocate, a Pennsylvania transgender woman has filed suit against her former employer, who she said requested a photograph of her genitalia as a condition of continued employment.

In 2007, Kate Lynn Blatt, was employed by Manpower Inc., a staffing services agency that placed Blatt at an aluminum products manufacturer for $10 per hour as a temporary factory worker. However, she was let go by the plant after a supervisor said she was not healthy enough to complete her job.

Shortly following her dismissal, Blatt returned to the Manpower office to regain employment. It was at this time that Irene Kudziela, a Manpower branch manager, said she needed to turn in a letter from her surgeon that documented her sex-reassignment surgery along with a photograph of her genitalia, which Kudziela said would solve problems related to appropriate use of restrooms and locker rooms.

Blatt, 28, told the Philadelphia Gay News that she found the request “disgusting,” refused to comply, and promptly filed a bias complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, saying she was dismissed wrongfully due to her gender identity and her disability -- she identified her disability as sexual dysphoria.

“I was trying to work there in a dignified and private manner, but my dignity and privacy were constantly being violated,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Manpower Inc. told the Philadelphia Gay News that she could not comment on the specifics of the case, but said the company works to ensure a safe and nonexploitative work environment.

Now Blatt is looking to prevent similar situations. Currently unemployed, she said she’d be interested in advocating on behalf of the transgender community, assisting companies through tolerance training.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gays Targeted in Iraq

From this article in today's Washington Post [free subscription required] comes news that, unfortunately, isn't hard for most of us to believe: that gay men are being heavily targeted in Iraq. Many have been tortured and killed in recent months as part of a "social cleansing" campaign.

In a report to be released today, Human Rights Watch will urge the Iraqi government to do more to protect them.

Hundreds of gay men may have been killed this year in predominantly Shiite Muslim areas, the report's authors said, basing their conclusion on interviews with gay Iraqi men, hospital officials and an unnamed United Nations official in Baghdad.

"The government has done absolutely nothing to respond," said Scott Long, director of the gay rights program at Human Rights Watch. "So far there has been pretty much a stone wall."

Homosexuality was tacitly accepted during the last years of Saddam Hussein's rule, but Iraqis have long viewed it as taboo and shameful.

When violence in Iraq began ebbing in 2008 and militia and insurgent leaders lost sway in several parts of the country, social norms became less strict. Women began to shed abayas -- long black robes that cover them from head to toe -- in certain formerly conservative neighborhoods. Liquor stores began selling alcohol openly. And gay men began to congregate in cafes and other venues for parties. The advent of the Internet in Iraq after the 2003 invasion also allowed gay men to form bonds and circles of friends.

The attacks on gay men appear to have coincided with a call by religious leaders in Sadr City and other Shiite communities to curb behavior that clerics called unnatural and unhealthy.

Sadr City residents opposed to homosexuality said in interviews that the presence of gay men became overt after the Iraqi army was allowed to move into the district in the spring of 2008, asserting control over a vast area formerly controlled by Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.

"When the Iraqi army started coming here, this phenomenon started coming to our area," said Ali Abu Kara, 23, a mechanic who identified himself as a member of the Mahdi Army. "We felt very glad when those puppies were killed," he added, using a pejorative term for gay men.

Human Rights Watch said the Mahdi Army, which has been observing a cease-fire for more than a year, appears to have used the gay issue to build its image.

"It exploited morality for opportunistic purposes," the report said. "It aimed at popularity by targeting people few in Iraq would venture to defend."

Says openly gay Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), "There is no doubt that gay Iraqi men live in a constant state of terror. That was not the case under Saddam Hussein's regime. And it's not the case in Jordan and Syria, where homosexuality is not accepted as it is in the West but people don't live in fear."

Scott Long, the Human Rights Watch official, said reports of slayings and intimidation have become more infrequent in recent months as gay communities have gone underground and scores of gay men have fled their neighborhoods.

"The militias have run out of people to kill," he said.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Access to LGBT Sites No Longer Blocked in Some TN Schools

Two Tennessee school boards, Metropolitan Nashville and Knox County (Knoxville), are now allowing access to LGBT websites (and those containing information on LGBT issues) that were previously blocked through the schools' web filters.

The decision to unblock the sites came from Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of two high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville and a high school librarian in Knoxville who is also the advisor of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

The ACLU first learned about the discriminatory filtering from Andrew Emitt, a Knoxville high school student who discovered the problem while trying to search for LGBT scholarships. Internet filtering software is mandated in public schools by Tennessee law, which requires schools to implement software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the "LGBT" filter category does not include material which is sexually gratuitous and already included in the "pornography" filtering category.

Until recently, the software's default setting blocked sites categorized as LGBT, including the sites of many well-known LGBT organizations, PFLAG among them. However, the filter did not block access to websites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" ministries.

"All we ever wanted was to be able to get information out about LGBT issues, like what our legal rights are or what scholarships are available for LGBT students, so I'm really happy that the schools are finally making our Web access fair and balanced," said Bryanna Shelton, a 16-year-old student at Fulton High School in Knoxville and a plaintiff in the case. "These Web sites were never something dirty or inappropriate in any way and shouldn't ever have been treated like they were."

The filtering software, used by 80% of Tennessee public schools, was provided by Education Networks of America (ENA), and the ban is believed to be lifted on all of the approximately 107 school districts in TN that use ENA's software.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Focus on the Family's Budget Cut; Ex-Gay Conferences Out

Apparently, the economic downturn has affected Focus on the Family just like the rest of us. According to this article in The Advocate, Focus on the Family faced a $6 million budget shortfall this year and has cut it's ex-gay Love Won Out conferences.

Orlando-based group Exodus International -- known for its "reparative" therapies for gay Christians -- will now be taking the lead on Love Won Out, slated for November, as the ministries merge to boost their promotion of the "traditional" view of the American family.

Focus on the Family also announced a $28 million cut from last year's budget, to $138 million for 2009, and elimination of 18% of its workforce, or about 200 jobs.

Last week the American Psychological Association challenged the mission of both organizations, releasing a 100-plus-page report condemning "ex-gay" conversion therapies, stating there is insufficient scientific evidence that "reparative" and conversion therapies are effective -- and that their practice is potentially harmful.

While we are sad to hear that the Love Won Out conferences will continue, we can only hope that the budget shortfall will mean less money for Focus on the Family to fight marriage equality and similar ballot initiatives across the country.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New College DVD Guide for LGBT Youth

Campus Pride and Wolfe Video have announced a partnership to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally students at colleges and universities across the country, including the release of a LGBT Youth DVD Guide.

"Seeing ourselves represented on the silver screen can be one of the most empowering experiences for LGBT people coming of age," said Wolfe Video president Maria Lynn. "We're so happy to have Campus Pride helping us reach the LGBT students who want and need to see these images of themselves."

Wolfe Video is the oldest and largest exclusive distributor of gay and lesbian films. In 2009, the company released more than thirty films and is well known for releasing classics such as Desert Hearts.

Campus Pride was founded in 2001 and is the leading national nonprofit organization serving LGBT and ally college students and campus groups. Both organizations partnered to provide a new LGBT DVD Guide specifically for colleges and universities.

The guide provides suggested videos and resources to bring quality LGBT films and videos to campus.

For more information on the youth DVD guide, click here or visit www.campuspride.org/dvdguide.asp.

President Obama to Award Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk

Today President Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest honor for a civilian, to 16 people. One of those is Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official from a major city (San Francisco). Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality. Milk, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor.

His award will be accepted by his nephew, Stuart Milk. Acording to this article by Chuck Wolfe from The Huffington Post, "When Stuart Milk stands before the president and the country to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his late, slain uncle Harvey Milk, it'll be a moment of incredible pride for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Yet this is a moment that will transcend identity politics because Harvey Milk represents the aspirations of all Americans. More than 200 years ago Washington, Jefferson and Adams fought to create a more perfect union. They probably had no idea that their vision would be embodied in the late 20th century by a gay, Jewish camera shop owner in San Francisco.

Milk's murder could have had a chilling effect on the then burgeoning gay rights movement. Many forces were already actively at work to put gays back in the closest including crusader Anita Bryant. Instead it's a testament to American idealism that in the 30 years since Milk's assassination, we have continued to appreciate and honor his political work.

In fact, there are now more than 440 openly LGBT public officials in our country who serve in states as diverse as Alabama, Idaho and Kentucky. That's real progress, but even that number seems small when you realize there are more than one half million elected offices in the U.S.

When Stuart Milk accepts the Medal of Freedom this Wednesday we will beam with pride, but it will be tinged with the thought of what might have been -- for Harvey, for our movement, and for our country. And then we will remember what he taught us about perseverance, pride and telling the truth about who we really are, and we will press on."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Harry Potter Star Makes Major Donation to The Trevor Project

Daniel Radcliffe, known to many fans as Harry Potter, has made a large donation to The Trevor Project, a non-profit that operates the country's only suicide-prevention hotline for GLBT youth.

Says Radcliffe, "I am very pleased to begin my support of The Trevor Project, which saves lives every day through its critical work. It's extremely distressing to consider that in 2009 suicide is a top three killer of young people, and it's truly devastating to learn that LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. I deeply hope my support can raise the organization's visibility so even more despondent youth become aware of The Trevor Helpline's highly trained counselors and Trevor's many other resources. It's vitally important that young people understand they are not alone and, perhaps even more important, that their young lives have real value."

Says Charlie Robbins, The Trevor Project's Executive Director, "We're incredibly grateful to Daniel for his truly inspiring and historic generosity and support. He is setting a meaningful example for millions of young people around the world by embracing diversity and demonstrating that he cares deeply about the well-being of LGBTQ youth."

Radcliffe has been a vocal supporter of the GLBT community in the past, and we congratulate him for publicly supporting our friends at The Trevor Project!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Final Ruling Comes in Case Involving Florida GSA

Plaintiff Hannah Page

Earlier this year we blogged about Yulee High School in Yulee, FL. Two high school students were trying to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) and were told that they could not do so.

Today we received news from the ACLU of Florida that a partial settlement with the School Board of Nassau County (FL) has been reached. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, approved by federal judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr. this past Friday, a permanent injunction has been entered against the district prohibiting discrimination against the high school’s GSA and forbidding retaliation against students and faculty who are associated with the GSA. The school district will also pay about $40,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs associated with the litigation thus far to the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed on February 10, 2009 after Yulee High School administrators repeatedly denied student requests for permission to form a GSA and to hold meetings at the high school, and previously at Yulee Middle School in the 2007-2008 school year. On March 11, 2009, Judge Adams entered a preliminary injunction ordering the school district to allow the GSA to meet at Yulee High School while the case made its way through the courts. The settlement agreement makes permanent the terms of that preliminary injunction.

“Every student deserves a safe and secure education. Bullying of gay students is epidemic in American schools and in Nassau County,” said Robert Rosenwald, ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Director and lead counsel. “These courageous students took a stand to address the problem and the school policies that exacerbate it. Hopefully, Nassau school administrators will follow their students’ example and become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

The judge’s order outlines what the school must do to comply, including:

• Allow the club to hold meetings on campus
• Allow the students to use the name Gay-Straight Alliance rather than one that does not use the word “gay”
• Allow the club to further its goals of advocating “for tolerance, respect and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people” and curbing bullying and harassment against LGBT students
• Refrain from retaliating against students and faculty who participate in the GSA and the lawsuit.

“We started a gay-straight alliance because we wanted a safe space where all students can talk about harassment and discrimination that LGBT students face,” said ACLU plaintiff and Yulee student Hannah Page. “We’re grateful that the court recognized that the GSA should be allowed to meet and be treated like any other club.”

Protestors Attacked in Tel Aviv

Last week we blogged about the deadly shooting at the GLBT youth center in Tel Aviv, Israel. According to this Advocate article residents of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem attacked a group of young people who visited the area on Thursday to hang posters condemning the deadly shooting.

The youth and an Army Radio reporter went to the Mea She’arim area to raise awareness about the shooting at a gay youth center that killed a counselor and a young woman and injured at least 10 on Saturday. Members of the ultra-Orthodox haredim chased the protesters down alleyways, prompted by the feeling that the youths were blaming them for the shootings, but the young people managed to escape.

In the days since the shooting, many have cited strong religious bias against LGBT people, and appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mitigate the influence of conservative religious opinions in government.

Israeli government officials have confirmed that the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, among other possible motives.

A vigil was scheduled for Saturday night to mark one week since the shooting, considered the worst attack ever against Israeli’s LGBT community. President Shimon Peres was expected to attend.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New From PFLAG: Bringing the Message Home

As you know, no voice is more powerful, or more persuasive, than that of a PFLAG member. As the parents, families, friends and allies of America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens, we know first-hand the impact that discriminatory laws have on our loved ones. Our stories of the pain prejudice inflicts upon our families are enormously important in moving fair legislation forward, and in opposing anti-LGBT bills and resolutions in Congress.

For the past seven years, you all have continued to meet with countless lawmakers and their staff through our Bringing the Message Home campaign. Similar to past years, we have revised our 2009 guide to share with you all the most recent federal legislation introduced in the 111th Congress. The guide aims to empower and encourage you to begin or continue meeting with your representative and senators about important issues impacting our LGBT loved ones. It features issue briefs, talking points, information to help you set up a lobby visit, and techniques for gaining the support of your congress members.

It is imperative that as a PFLAG family we let lawmakers and the President know where we stand on important legislation and administrative priorities.

Remember, it is up to each member of the PFLAG family to Bring the Message Home that discrimination, prejudice and second-class citizenship must end. To that end please take action today by downloading your copy of Bringing the Message Home and by scheduling a lobby visit! After the visit, please be sure to fill out the lobby report form found on page 8 of the new guide - the information you provide in these reports helps advance our lobbying efforts both in your hometown as well as in Washington.

Download your copy by clicking here or going to http://community.pflag.org/Document.Doc?id=259.

PFLAG Salisbury (NC) Gets Press for Local Scholarships

On the heels of yesterday's post about the wonderful work that the Jacksonville chapter is doing in the community comes news that our chapter in Salisbury, NC has also awarded numerous community-based scholarships.

According to this recent article in the Salisbury Post:

Salisbury/Rowan Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has awarded three $1,000 scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year.

The Anne Stanback-Charlotte Kinlock Scholarship, named in honor of Salisbury native Anne Stanback and her wife; the Founder's Equality Scholarship, named in honor of chapter founder Michael Clawson; and the Linda Ketner Community Service Scholarship, named for Salisbury native Ketner, are awarded to seniors who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or who identify as a straight ally.

The local chapter of PFLAG was founded in 2006 and established the scholarship foundation and awarded its first two scholarships in 2008. The organization was the first in North Carolina to award scholarships exclusively to GLBT students and/or their straight allies.

"Uniquely, Salisbury/Rowan PFLAG's scholarships may be awarded to any high school senior continuing his or her education, including students of trade schools, community colleges or traditional four-year colleges and universities," said Todd Adrian, chapter president.

"We are very pleased to award these scholarships to these courageous and deserving students," said Margaret Basinger, chairperson of the scholarship advisory committee. "Provided the Autumn Soiree, our major scholarship fundraiser, is as successful as past years, our hope is to add a fourth scholarship for academic year 2010-2011," Basinger said.

Congratulations to PFLAG Salisbury!

If you are a member of a chapter and have some good news to share, please email Erin Williams at ewilliams@pflag.org.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

PFLAG Jacksonville's Successes: Scholarships and Education

Our PFLAG chapter in Jacksonville, FL participates in an annual billboard campaign to help educate people in the area about PFLAG's message of love and support for the GLBT community.

Twelve billboards are set up on a rotating basis in the area, and they generate a lot of positive support in the community. This year the billboards were on display around Jacksonville from July 24 - August 4.

The chapter also has one of the largest scholarship programs in the country for any PFLAG chapter. This coming Saturday the chapter will host its annual Scholarship Awards Dinner where they will be giving out $24,000 in college scholarships to people from the local GLBT community. Through the incredible generosity of donors, the chapter has given out $154,000 in college scholarships since 1996!

We applaud you, PFLAG Jacksonville, and thank you for your continued efforts to reach out to the community. We are so proud of your success!

American Psychological Association Officially Rejects "Gay Therapy"

We love it when we get to start the day off with good news!

According to today's New York Times, the American Psychological Association declared yesterday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments. The Times goes on to say that:

In a resolution adopted by the association’s governing council, and in an accompanying report, the association issued its most comprehensive repudiation of so-called reparative therapy, a concept espoused by a small but persistent group of therapists, often allied with religious conservatives, who maintain that gay men and lesbians can change.

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the resolution, adopted by a 125-to-4 vote. The association said some research suggested that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

Instead of seeking such change, the association urged therapists to consider multiple options, which could include celibacy and switching churches, for helping clients live spiritually rewarding lives in instances where their sexual orientation and religious faith conflict.

The association has criticized reparative therapy in the past, but a six-member panel added weight to that position by examining 83 studies on sexual orientation change conducted since 1960. Its report was endorsed by the association’s governing council in Toronto, where the association’s annual meeting is being held this weekend.

The report breaks ground in its detailed and nuanced assessment of how therapists should deal with gay clients struggling to remain loyal to a religious faith that disapproves of homosexuality.

Judith Glassgold, a psychologist in Highland Park, N.J., who led the panel, said she hoped the document could help calm the polarized debate between religious conservatives who believe in the possibility of changing sexual orientation and the many mental health professionals who reject that option.

“Both sides have to educate themselves better," Ms. Glassgold said. “The religious psychotherapists have to open up their eyes to the potential positive aspects of being gay or lesbian. Secular therapists have to recognize that some people will choose their faith over their sexuality.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Action Alert: Please Show Support for AAA

We recently blogged about the policy change at AAA South where they now allow gay and lesbian couples to have family memberships.

Some anti-equality groups out there are not happy about this and are sending negative letters to AAA. Below is the letter that our opposition is sending out:

My family and I are deeply shocked and saddened that AAA would alter its Family Membership policy to include recognizing homosexual couples as being “married.”

Thirty states have overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Yet AAA is treating homosexual couples as if they are married.

My family and I ask you to immediately reverse this policy of recognizing homosexual couples as if they were “married.”

I will share your response with my family and friends.

We think it's important to let AAA know that we support them. Please take a moment to call, email, or write AAA and say "thank you."

Robert L. Darbelnet, CEO
AAA
1000 AAA Dr.
Heathrow, FL 32746

MemberRelations@national.aaa.com

407-444-8402

Senate Introduces Inclusive ENDA!

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was recently introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley, joined by Senators Edward Kennedy, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe and is a companion bill to H.R. 3017.

The introduction of this bill marks an important day for supporters of fairness and equality. Workplace protections for LGBT people are urgently needed and long overdue. We have waited far too long for a meaningful chance to see protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity enacted into federal law.

ENDA would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It creates express protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people similar to those available under existing federal discrimination laws for other protected classes of workers. The bill enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, and President Obama has made clear that passing an inclusive ENDA is one of the priorities of his civil rights agenda.

Currently, twelve states, the District of Columbia, and more than 100 localities have non-discrimination protections that protect all LGBT workers, covering nearly 40 percent of Americans. Additionally, more than 150 of Fortune 500 companies have enacted non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT workers. These advancements are testament to the heroic efforts of local advocates and visionary corporate leaders. These gains are also evidence of the overwhelming public support for employment protections for LGBT workers. Anti-discrimination measures have helped to protect workers in many places, but millions more remain unprotected.

LGBT people continue to remain invisible on the job and many suffer open harassment and discrimination simply because of who they are. Passing ENDA will go a long way to rectify this inequity and indignity.

According to numerous surveys, 60 percent of likely voters in the United States support an inclusive federal employment non-discrimination law. The time to pass an inclusive ENDA is now.

We urge Congress to take speedy action to put this bill on the President’s desk. LGBT employees work just as hard and contribute just as much as other workers. They should not have to fear losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We need to join together and engage with Congress by contacting you Senators until the bill is passed and signed into law. Visit our website for steps you can take TODAY to pass an inclusive ENDA. And keep checking back—we’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two Dead, 11 Injured at Israeli GLBT Community Center

Pavel Wolberg / EPA

Saturday night a masked gunman walked into a GLBT youth community center in Tel Aviv, Israel and opened fire, killing two people and injuring 11. The shooter fled the scene on foot.

The deceased were identified as a 26-year-old man who was a counselor at the center and a 17-year-old girl.

During a protest at the Center on Saturday night openly gay laywer Arnon Hirsch said "I fear that if the man who did this is not found, the consequences to the gay community might be far-reaching — they might live in fear. I have no intention of giving in to terror. I'm not going to hide anywhere."

The attack came amidst a culture and city that has a thriving, uninhibited gay culture. Gay soldiers serve openly in the military, and gay musicians and actors are among the country's most popular. Tel Aviv holds a festive annual gay parade, rainbow flags are often seen flying from apartment windows, and there is a city-funded community center for gays.

The attack drew condemnations from Tel Aviv's mayor, Cabinet ministers, the country's chief rabbis, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We'll bring him to justice and exercise the full extent of the law against him," Netanyahu said of the killer, speaking at the Israeli Cabinet's weekly meeting.

Nitzan Horowitz, Israel's only openly gay lawmaker, called the attack a "hate crime." "This is the worst attack ever against the gay community in Israel," he said. "This act was a blind attack against innocent youths, and I expect the authorities to exercise all means in apprehending the shooter."

"It's true that we do not know the identity and the motive of the killer. But we know this was an act of hatred, because love does not kill," said Tzipi Livni . I hope this day will give power to kids to tell their parents, 'I'm gay, or lesbian,' and power to parents to accept their kids as they are and love them for who they are."

Update: Milwaukee Post Office Issues Apology

A few weeks ago we blogged about the controversy at the Milwaukee Post Office. An approved display commemorating Pride month was taken down almost as soon as it was put up.

Since then, Dr. Maggi Cage, Executive Director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, met with Postmaster Charles Miller to discuss the situation. In the meeting, Cage requested a formal apology from Miller in which the Post Office would be apologizing to the entire Milwaukee LGBT Community.

The letter arrived at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center on July 29 and included the following apology:

“I do apologize for the inconvenience, embarrassment and confusion caused to you, your members and the LGBT community, regarding our internal processes in which proper official procedures were not utilized as specified in guidelines for lobby displays and promotions….”

The Postmaster went on to offer two suggestions for working with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to bring attention to the LGBT Community both locally and at a national level. The first suggestion is to create a pictorial postmark cancellation to commemorate PrideFest 2010 in Milwaukee. The postmark cancellation would be used on letters for a specified period around the time of PrideFest. Scott Gunkel, President of PrideFest, said. “This is awesome! It gives the LGBT community the recognition it deserves.”

Another suggestion from the Postmaster is to participate in the process of stamp selection at the national level. The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee is comprised of people with a wide range of educational, artistic, historical and professional expertise. The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center will explore starting a Harvey Milk Stamp Committee to advocate for the inclusion of an LGBT themed stamp in upcoming commemorative stamps issued by the USPS. Maggi Cage said “CenterLink, the national association of LGBT Community Centers, is very excited about working at a national level with all the LGBT Community Centers on the Harvey Milk stamp idea.”

Cage stated “I see this as a win-win situation for the Milwaukee LGBT Community”, and that she looks forward to collaborating with the Postmaster in a positive way in the near future.

You can read the complete letter from the Postmaster by clicking here (page 1) and here (page 2). [Adobe Acrobat required]

Monday, August 3, 2009

UPDATE: Hawaii Football Coach Suspended

In an update to Friday's posting about Hawaii football coach Greg McMackin's use of an anti-gay slur, USA Today reports that Coach McMackin has been suspended for 30 days without pay.

Additionally, he'll take a 7% cut to his annual $1.1 million salary (that's $77,000).

McMackin will remain with the team on a voluntary basis during the suspension.


To read Friday's posting and find out what McMackin said, click here.

Benefits for Same-Sex Partners of Federal Employees?

According to Joe Davidson's article from Friday's Washington Post [subscription required] a House subcommittee voted Thursday to extend employee benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers.

The debate that preceded the 5 to 3 vote along party lines quickly moved beyond the federal workplace and into such fundamental cultural issues as religion, morality and the state of marriage -- heady stuff for a House Oversight and Government Reform panel that more typically deals with the arcane details of government employment.

The action by the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia would grant same-sex partners of federal workers the same benefits provided to spouses of workers, including health insurance and retirement and disability benefits. It would also subject partners to the same obligations of spouses, including abiding by anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.

Subcommittee Chairman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) said the bill promotes "the basic concepts of equity and fairness," while giving the government an additional tool in federal employee retention and recruitment. He also said the bill would place "the federal government on par with the private sector, where health insurance, retirement, disability and other benefits are already widely available to domestic partners."

But all three Republicans on the subcommittee objected, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah saying: "I fundamentally do not believe that we should be creating benefits like this based on sexual orientation . . . or lifestyle choices. The exception I obviously make is for the traditional view of marriage, which is between one man and one woman. I think what is sought in this bill is a recognition from the federal government of a certain lifestyle and orientation choices, which I cannot support."

The legislation, he added, seeks "in many ways to redefine marriage, and I will not, I will not stand for that."

His notion that gay and lesbians choose their sexual "lifestyle" reflects a view that was largely discredited and rejected years ago.

"It is offensive and . . . anti-science," says Leonard Hirsch, the president of Federal Globe, an organization representing gay and lesbian federal workers.

Chaffetz also complained that the bill discriminates against unmarried heterosexual partners. Lynch replied that heterosexual couples have the option to marry, and he said the Office of Personnel Management recognizes common-law marriages between heterosexual couples.

The measure will now be considered by the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee.