Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gay Man Severely Beaten in Tulsa Hate Crime

According to this article from Tulsa World, what should have been a 10-minute walk to a friend's house ended with a trip to the hospital for Brandon Patrick, a Tulsan who said he was severely beaten last weekend because of his sexual orientation.

Three people followed Patrick down the 1300 block of South Rockford Avenue about 11:45 p.m., yelling homophobic slurs and threats, he said.

Patrick, who is gay, said he ignored the group until they closed in and then asked why they were accosting him without provocation.

The assailants then started beating, biting and slashing at Patrick with a blade, he said, leaving him with several cuts on his head and body.

The 23-year-old has been peppered with insults before, but he said he never thought they would escalate to violence.

"I've never felt scared or feared for my safety before," he said. "You brush it off and walk on. That's what you're taught to do.

"This time, it didn't work."

Tulsa Police Officer Leland Ashley said the people who are accused of attacking Patrick are at large and were seen in a maroon Ford Mustang from the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Patrick described them as a woman in her early 40s and another woman and man, both in their late teens or early 20s.

Patrick said he regularly walks through the neighborhood and doesn't know his attackers. They might have seen him previously and decided to act Sunday, he said.

After his trip to the emergency room, Patrick saw an outpouring of support from across the country as his story was passed along via the social networking Web site Facebook.

Much of the support has been from Oklahomans for Equality, a Tulsa-based group that promotes fairness for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, the group's president, Toby Jenkins, said.

Oklahoma's hate-crimes law makes it a crime to "intimidate or harass another person because of the person's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability."

Jenkins noted that the state law excludes sexual orientation from the qualifiers for a hate crime. As a result, police are investigating the case only as an assault and battery.

Designation as a hate crime would allow for punishment beyond what would be imposed for the assault.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this month that would make assaulting someone because of his or her sexual orientation a federal crime.

The Senate is expected to approve the measure, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

Patrick said it's frustrating that race and ethnicity are taken into account by state lawmakers but sexual orientation is not.

He said he hopes his ordeal will draw attention to the issue and lead to a change in state law.

Although Oklahoma isn't known for being particularly gay-friendly, gay men and lesbians are attacked at about the same rate as their urban counterparts in places such as New York and Chicago, Jenkins said.

"Hate crime, where people are targeted because of their sexual orientation, happens everywhere," he said.

"The kid was just walking down the sidewalk and got targeted," Jenkins said. "This raises the issue that we need to work on a more civilized society and a safe society for all of our citizens."

In response to this horrific crime, Nancy McDonald, chapter president of PFLAG Tulsa, said, "This case points to the importance of passing the Federal Hate Crimes bill so that states such as Oklahoma who have not included sexual orientation in the State Hate Crime Bill will relinquish the right to do so to the Federal Government and enable the Tulsa Police Department to prosecute the brutal attack of this young man as a Hate Crime."

Friday, October 30, 2009

President Obama's Remarks at the Signing of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009

Earlier this morning President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. Below are his remarks:

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT SIGNING OF THE RYAN WHITE HIV/AIDS
TREATMENT EXTENSION ACT OF 2009

Diplomatic Reception Room

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

THE PRESIDENT: We often speak about AIDS as if it's going on somewhere else. And for good reason -- this is a virus that has touched lives and decimated communities around the world, particularly in Africa. But often overlooked is the fact that we face a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic of our own -- right here in Washington, D.C., and right here in the United States of America. And today, we are taking two important steps forward in the fight that we face here at home.

It has been nearly three decades since this virus first became known. But for years, we refused to recognize it for what it was. It was coined a "gay disease." Those who had it were viewed with suspicion. There was a sense among some that people afflicted by AIDS somehow deserved their fate and that it was acceptable for our nation to look the other way.

A number of events and advances over the years have broadened our understanding of this cruel illness. One of them came in 1984, when a 13-year-old boy from central Indiana contracted HIV/AIDS from a transfusion. Doctors assured people that Ryan White posed no risk to his classmates or his community. But ignorance was still widespread. People didn't yet understand or believe that the virus couldn't be spread by casual contact. Parents protested Ryan's attendance in class. Some even pulled their kids out of school. Things got so bad that the White family had to ultimately move to another town.

It would have been easy for Ryan and his family to stay quiet and to fight the illness in private. But what Ryan showed was the same courage and strength that so many HIV-positive activists have shown over the years and shown around -- show around the world today. And because he did, we didn't just become more informed about HIV/AIDS, we began to take action to fight it.

In 1990, the year Ryan passed away, two great friends and unlikely political allies, Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, came together and introduced the Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act -- the CARE Act -- which was later named after Ryan.

In a few minutes, I'm going to sign the fourth reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. Now, in the past, policy differences have made reauthorizations of this program divisive and controversial. But that didn't happen this year. And for that, the members of Congress that are here today deserve extraordinary credit for passing this bill in the bipartisan manner that it deserves: Tom Harkin and Mike Enzi in the Senate, we are grateful to you for your extraordinary work; Speaker Pelosi, who's always leading the charge on so many issues; Frank Pallone, Jr., Joe Barton, Barbara Lee and Donna Christensen in the House, thank you for your extraordinary work -- oh don't worry, I'm getting to Henry. (Laughter.) Nancy is always looking out for members, but we've got a special section for Henry.

And Chairman Henry Waxman, who began holding hearings on AIDS in 1982, before there was even a name for AIDS, was leading here in Washington to make sure that this got the informed attention that it deserved and who led the House in passing the original Ryan White legislation in 1990.

I also want to acknowledge the HIV community for crafting a consensus document that did so much to help move this process forward. Some of the advocates so important to this legislation are with us here today: Ernest Hopkins from Cities Advocating for Emergency AIDS Relief; Frank Oldham, Jr., President and CEO of the National Association of People with AIDS; and Julie Scofield, Executive Director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors.

And I'm especially honored that Ryan's mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, is here today. For 25 years, Jeanne had an immeasurable impact in helping ramp up America's response to this epidemic. While we lost Ryan at too young an age, Jeanne's efforts have extended the lives and saved the lives of so many others. We are so appreciative to you. Thank you. (Applause.)

You know, over the past 19 years this legislation has evolved from an emergency response into a comprehensive national program for the care and support of Americans living with HIV/AIDS. It helps communities that are most severely affected by this epidemic and often least served by our health care system, including minority communities, the LGBT community, rural communities, and the homeless. It's often the only option for the uninsured and the underinsured. And it provides life-saving medical services to more than half a million Americans every year, in every corner of the country.

It's helped us to open a critical front on the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. But let me be clear: This is a battle that's far from over, and it's a battle that all of us need to do our part to join. AIDS may no longer be the leading killer of Americans ages 25 to 44, as it once was. But there are still 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and more than 56,000 new infections occur every single year.

Some communities still experience unacceptably high rates of infection. Gay men make up 2 or 3 percent of the population, but more than half of all new cases. African Americans make up roughly half of all new cases. Nearly half of all new cases now occur in the South. And a staggering 7 percent of Washington, D.C.'s residents between the ages of 40 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS -- and the epidemic here isn't as severe as it is in several other U.S. cities.

So tackling this epidemic will take far more aggressive approaches than we've seen in the past -- not only from our federal government, but also state and local governments, from local community organizations, and from places of worship.

But it will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested; that has stopped people from facing their own illness; and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long. A couple of years ago Michelle and I were in Africa and we tried to combat the stigma when we were in Kenya by taking a public HIV/AIDS test. And I'm proud to announce today we're about to take another step towards ending that stigma.

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.

If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives. (Applause.)

We are continuing the work of crafting a coordinated, measurable national HIV/AIDS strategy to stem and suppress this epidemic. I'm pleased to report that the Office of National AIDS Policy, led by Jeffrey Crowley, has already held eight in a series of 14 community discussions in cities across the country. They've brought together faith-based organizations and businesses, schools and research institutions, people living with HIV and concerned citizens, gathering ideas on how to target a national response that effectively reduces HIV infections, improves access to treatment, and eliminates health disparities. And we are encouraged by the energy, the enthusiasm, and great ideas that we've collected so far.

We can't give Ryan White back to Jeanne, back to his mom. But what we can do -- what the legislation that I'm about to sign has done for nearly 20 years -- is honor the courage that he and his family showed. What we can do is to take more action and educate more people. What we can do is keep fighting each and every day until we eliminate this disease from the face of the Earth.

So with that, let me sign this bill. (Applause.)

(The Act is signed.) (Applause.)

END 12:07 P.M. EDT

Hates Crimes Signing Turns Emotional

At a White House reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Barack Obama told about 300 civil rights leaders that the day was a milestone toward the fair treatment of all Americans.

"As a nation we've come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. And today, we've taken another step forward," Obama said. "This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit."

Judy Shepard said the law — named in honor of her son Matthew, who was killed in 1998 by two men in Wyoming — was just the beginning.

“This is the first step,” she said, tears rimming her eyes after more than 10 roller-coaster years filled with advocacy and anticipation. “We have a lot to do, we need to be grateful for this and move on.”

Asked what the day meant to her and her family, Shepard said simply, “Everything.” As she had watched the president bring the bill’s journey to completion from her front-row perch at the signing, Shepard wiped away tears flanked by Atty. Gen. Eric Holder on her left and her husband, Dennis, and their son, Logan, on her right. Despite the well of emotion, she added, “I am totally energized; it's all positive. I just can't even tell you how great it feels.”

Holder called the legislation “the next great civil rights bill” and added that it would greatly enhance his agency’s ability to prosecute hate crimes.

“This is a great tool for the Justice Department and will, I think, significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, for women, and for gay and lesbian Americans,” he said just after the bill was signed into law.

The new law expands federal hate-crimes protections beyond people targeted on the basis of a their race, color, religion, or national origin to victims of bias crimes motivated by their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. The legislation will provide extra resources to state and local law enforcement officials, give the U.S. Justice Department the power to investigate hate crimes that local officials decline to pursue, and direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track hate crimes committed against transgender individuals -- statistics the FBI already keeps for other groups.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the day was a watershed moment for trans equality.

“It is the first time ever that transgender people will be respected by a federal law,” Keisling said. “Five years ago, we were told that Congress would never, and in fact could never, pass legislation that protected trans people. Thanks to strong leadership from congressional allies and the civil rights community, that myth is shattered.”

Gabi and Alec Clayton [from our PFLAG chapter in Olympia, WA], who traveled from Washington to attend the reception, hoped the law would help save lives in the future. Their son Bill took his own life one month after being beaten because of his bisexuality in 1995.

“He committed suicide because he didn’t think he’d ever be safe,” said Gabi Clayton, clutching a photo album of her son. “Getting this bill passed and signed is sending a message to this country that that’s not OK and we’re not going to be silent anymore and the country is going to take a stand against hate.”

In his remarks, President Obama recalled the first time such a stand was taken, in 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

"As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, President Johnson said that through this law 'the bells of freedom ring out a little louder,'" said Obama. "That is the promise of America. Over the sounds of hatred and chaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals -- even when they are faint, even when some would try to drown them out."

The late senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts originally introduced the hate crimes legislation in 1997 during the 105th Congress. The bill was renamed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in honor of Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man from Wyoming, and Byrd, a 49-year-old African-American man from Texas, both of whom were brutally murdered in 1998.

Vicki Kennedy, the late senator’s wife, said seeing the legislative process finally come to completion was incredibly gratifying.

“This is something that meant so much to my husband,” she said. “He worked on this legislation for so long, I think he’s smiling right now.”

To read the full article from The Advocate, click here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

President Obama's Statements at the Signing of the Hate Crimes Bill Yesterday

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

AT RECEPTION COMMEMORATING THE ENACTMENT OF THE MATTHEW SHEPARD AND JAMES BYRD, JR. HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT

East Room

5:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you so much,
and welcome to the White House.

There are several people here that I want to just make mention of
because they helped to make today possible. We've got Attorney General
Eric Holder. (Applause.) A champion of this legislation, and a great
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) My dear friend, senior
Senator from the great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin. (Applause.) The
outstanding Chairman of Armed Services, Carl Levin. (Applause.)
Senator Arlen Specter. (Applause.) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee
in the House, Representative John Conyers. (Applause.) Representative
Barney Frank. (Applause.) Representative Tammy Baldwin. (Applause.)
Representative Jerry Nadler. (Applause.) Representative Jared Polis.
(Applause.) All the members of Congress who are here today, we thank
you.

Mr. David Bohnett and Mr. Tom Gregory and the David Bohnett Foundation
-- they are partners for this reception. Thank you so much, guys, for
helping to host this. (Applause.)

And finally, and most importantly, because these were really the
spearheads of this effort -- Denis, Judy, and Logan Shepard.
(Applause.) As well as Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris -- sisters
of James Byrd, Jr. (Applause.)

To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make
this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism,
pushing and protesting that made this victory possible.

You know, as a nation we've come far on the journey towards a more
perfect union. And today, we've taken another step forward. This
afternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.
Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Applause.)

This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a
decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the
measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of
the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and
love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued,
waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by
folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and
organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who
fought so hard for this legislation -- (applause) -- and all who toiled
for years to reach this day.

You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only
to break bones, but to break spirits -- not only to inflict harm, but to
instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen
under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights --
both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how
necessary this law continues to be.

In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly
7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were
more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone.
And we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.

And that's why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections
against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart,
or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections
against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual
orientation. (Applause.) And prosecutors will have new tools to work
with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would
perpetrate such crimes. Because no one in America should ever be afraid
to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No
one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of
who they are or because they live with a disability.

At root, this isn't just about our laws; this is about who we are as a
people. This is about whether we value one another

-- whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to
become a source of animus. It's hard for any of us to imagine the
mind-set of someone who would kidnap a young man and beat him to within
an inch of his life, tie him to a fence, and leave him for dead. It's
hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of those who'd offer
a neighbor a ride home, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck,
and drag him for miles until he finally died.

But we sense where such cruelty begins: the moment we fail to see in
another our common humanity -- the very moment when we fail to recognize
in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and
imperfections, the same dreams that we all share.

We have for centuries strived to live up to our founding ideal, of a
nation where all are free and equal and able to pursue their own version
of happiness. Through conflict and tumult, through the morass of hatred
and prejudice, through periods of division and discord we have endured
and grown stronger and fairer and freer. And at every turn, we've made
progress not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our
willingness to walk in another's shoes, by our capacity to love and
accept even in the face of rage and bigotry.

In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther
King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuddered in anger, President
Lyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation. This was the
first time we enshrined into law federal protections against crimes
motivated by religious or racial hatred -- the law on which we build
today.

As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, President
Johnson said that through this law "the bells of freedom ring out a
little louder." That is the promise of America. Over the sounds of
hatred and chaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear
those ideals -- even when they are faint, even when some would try to
drown them out. At our best we seek to make sure those ideals can be
heard and felt by Americans everywhere. And that work did not end in
1968. It certainly does not end today. But because of the efforts of
the folks in this room -- particularly those family members who are
standing behind me -- we can be proud that that bell rings even louder
now and each day grows louder still.

So thank you very much. God bless you and God bless the United States
of America. (Applause.)

END 5:53 P.M. EDT

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

PFLAG Joins President Obama for Historic Hate Crimes Bill Signing

Statement by PFLAG National Executive Directory Jody M. Huckaby

Dear PFLAG Family & Friends,

Thanks to you and thousands of other dedicated activists, today marks a historic event for our LGBT loved ones, as President Obama has signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I was proud to represent you at the White House earlier today to mark the first federal law ever that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

This law represents a victory more than ten years in the making, and would never have happened without the commitment, outreach, and support of PFLAG members and friends like you, who are at the heart of all that we do. Along with Judy, Dennis, and Logan Shepard, many other families were on hand at the signing to remember the LGBT loved ones who inspired this law and to stand together against violence motivated by hate.

We know that this expanded hate crimes law is a tremendous step forward, but it is only a single step and there are many more to take. We are not resting on this victory. In fact, PFLAG is already working hard to continue moving equality forward, focusing on upcoming legislative priorities such as passing ENDA and repealing DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I hope each of you will celebrate today’s victory and then support PFLAG as we move onward, toward the next victory in our commitment to moving equality forward.


Sincerely,

Jody M. Huckaby
PFLAG National Executive Director

President Obama to Sign Hate Crimes Bill Today!

The Advocate is reporting that President Barack Obama will sign the hate-crimes measure into law today at 2:30 p.m. and will host a White House reception to commemorate the law's enactment at 6:05 p.m.

At the signing the president will be joined in the Rose Garden by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, members of Congress, and relatives of Matthew Shepard (his mother and father, Judy and Dennis, and his brother, Logan) and James Byrd Jr. (his sisters Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris), for whom the hate-crimes measure is named.

Later on Wednesday, the president will hold a reception in the East Room of the White House beginning about 6:05 p.m. to commemorate the enactment of the hate-crimes law. Attending will be Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and a broad spectrum of civil rights leaders, including LGBT advocates.

President Obama is expected to deliver brief remarks at both events.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Equality March - A PFLAGer's Story

Annette Gross, PFLAG Indianapolis

Today's guest post comes to us from Annette Gross [pictured, above] of PFLAG Indianapolis.

On October 11, 2009, I had the opportunity to attend the March for Equality in Washington, D.C. When I first heard about the March, I knew I had to be a part of this historical coming-together of GLBT people and straight allies.

The night before the March, I attended the National PFLAG Board Meeting. After the meeting was over, we adjourned to a bar in the hotel to watch President Obama speak at the HRC Dinner. Much to our surprise, President Obama spoke about the formation of PFLAG. Along with Jody Huckaby, PFLAG Executive Director, we huddled around the TV and cheered as the president spoke about the good work of our organization.

Sunday proved to be a lovely, sunny day, perfect for marching. Along with Janet Fox from Silver Spring, Maryland and Judi Egbert from Muncie, Indiana, we took the train to D.C. While on the train, we saw other people riding to the March. There was a party atmosphere on the train and I felt that I was part of something historic.

We didn’t know how many people would attend. As we ascended up to street level, we saw thousands of people waiting to march. We had to look for the “purple balloons” – this is where we would meet our fellow PFLAG parents. I met parents from D.C. as well as from New York and Boston. Despite having to wait an hour until the March began, we chatted with these PFLAGers and took photos.

Eventually, we began to walk. I had never been in such a large gathering before. Everyone was in such a good mood and as I walked, I felt grateful to be able to show my support for my gay son and my GLBT friends. As we walked along, our route took us to the front of the White House. This was a wonderful photo opportunity. I was hoping that President Obama might be watching us. I wanted him to see the large outpouring of love and support for the GLBT community as we walked by.

Finally we reached the Capitol. My feet were aching and I just wanted to sit down. I joined other marchers who sat on the grass and on ledges. We could hear the speakers through loudspeakers. Right after we arrived at the Capitol, Judy Shepherd spoke. The first thing she did was ask the crowd to smile as she took a photo. Judy’s message was that we all have to participate and tell our stories. We need to educate ourselves and vote.

As I looked around me and saw thousands of people who came to D.C. to be part of this gathering, I was aware that despite the party atmosphere, there was a serious side to the March. I realized that when we go back home, we have to work even harder to educate our friends, families, co-workers and neighbors. We have to speak to our legislators and urge them to vote for the repeal of DOMA and DADT. We have to urge them to vote for ENDA.

There is a lot of work to do. The March was a catalyst that hopefully will energize us all. I hope that the momentum keeps going. I feel so grateful that I could be a part of this huge gathering. I feel grateful that I could march with other PFLAG parents who want equal rights for our children. Our task is not easy, but it is extremely important. I think we’re all up for it. As Lt. Dan Choi said in his speech, “Asking is over – we will tell. Silence is not a strategy. My plan for today and my plan tomorrow and my plan forever is to tell, is to tell, and we will tell, we will tell, we will tell.”

-Annette Gross, PFLAG Indianapolis

Military Father Testifies in Support of Marriage Equality in Maine

As the fight for marriage equality in Maine heats up (it will be up for vote on the November ballot), we wanted to share with you the video below. It is from the testimony of Phillip Spooner, an ex-military father who has four sons, one of whom is gay. He stood before a crowd of approximately 4,000 people to publicly support his son's right to equal marriage.





Monday, October 26, 2009

Still waging battles over marriage rights

One of PFLAG's newest Board members published a letter-to-the-editor in today's Boston Globe:
"AS I read the front-page article “Same-sex marriage fight roils Maine’’ (Oct. 20), I thought how strange it is that, at a time when a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to perform the marriage ceremony of a white woman and a black man, Maine is roiled about same-sex marriage. We know that there are still many Americans who oppose interracial marriage. Some people refused to vote for Barack Obama because his father was black and his mother white. But how foolish it would be to give an opportunity to the few (or many) people who oppose interracial marriages to vote their prejudices. Interracial marriages have not diluted “traditional’’ marriage, and neither will same-sex marriages.

I was in Boston last week to participate in a worship service at Boston University’s School of Theology, led by students who belong to the group Sacred Worth. The group is a public expression of the worth of all people regardless of their gender identification or sexual orientation. Many of us hope that Maine voters will support same-sex marriage as another expression of the worth of all people as described in the founding documents of our nation. Ballot initiatives that would restrict the rights of people to equal access diminish all of us."

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Asbury Park, N.J.
The writer is former pastor of Union United Methodist Church in the South End, and served on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.


College of William and Mary Elects Transgender Homecoming Queen

Students at the College of William and Mary have elected a transgender homecoming queen.

Jessee Vasold took the field Saturday at halftime of the Williamsburg school's football game against James Madison. The junior and other members of the homecoming court were introduced to the crowd and posed for pictures.

Vasold identifies as "genderqueer," a term for those who don't adhere to either strictly male or strictly female gender roles.

Students nominated and elected Vasold, who will represent the Class of 2011. An e-mail message left for Vasold on Saturday wasn't immediately returned.

"William and Mary is a diverse and inclusive community, and student selections to this year's Homecoming Court reflect that," school spokesman Brian Whitson said in an e-mail.

To read more, click here for the article from Saturday's Washington Post.

Census Bureau Says 2020 Count Could Include Gays

Friday's New York Times details the steps that the U.S. Census Bureau is taking to include same-sex couples in its population count.

According to the article, the U.S. Census Bureau is making an unprecedented effort to include same-sex couples in next year's national population count, but legally married gay couples won't show up as such in the official once-a-decade tally, bureau representatives said Thursday.

Statistical problems related to the development of the 2010 census form and the evolving legal state of same-sex relationships led Census officials to conclude that trying to include married gay couples in the overall snapshot of household marital status could yield an inaccurate number, said Gary Gates, a University of California, Los Angeles demographer who has been advising the bureau on gay issues.

Instead, same-sex married couples will be added into the category for unmarried partners, just as they were for the 2000 census. But in a marked policy departure, the agency plans to make the data on same-sex couples who described themselves as married available on a state-by-state basis.

''The Bureau has decided to give us the information, but be a little cautious,'' Gates said.

The decision to develop separate sets of numbers was a compromise position that was ''less about politics and more about accurate data,'' he said.

Gates stressed that it was important for gay couples to participate in the census, noting that information drawn from the last one had been used in lawsuits dealing with same-sex marriage and to lobby congressional representatives who may wrongly assume they do not have many gay constituents.

Because same-sex marriages were not legal in any U.S. state a decade ago, the 2010 census is the first for which the bureau has wrestled with how to count married same-sex couples. In June, census officials announced that they would make the attempt, reversing an earlier decision made under the Bush administration.

Since then, however, it's become clearer that a wildly inflated number could be produced if the number of heads of household who said they lived with another adult of the same sex, and described that person as a husband or wife, were only counted.

Some couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships, or who live as spouses in states where gay couples have no spousal rights, have tended in past surveys to identify themselves as husbands or wives anyway, according to Gates.

The annual American Community Survey the bureau produced for 2008, for example, had 150,000 married same-sex couples spread across every U.S. state, even though only two states -- Massachusetts and for a 5-month period, California -- allowed same-sex marriages. Gates estimates there are probably no more than 35,000 legally married gay couples in the country now.

Undercounting same-sex couples also remains a significant concern, Gates said, since some couples may not be living openly and fear discrimination.

Tim Olsen, assistant chief of the bureau's field division, told gay community leaders at a census outreach meeting in San Francisco Thursday that the agency is continuing to refine the way it counts same-sex couples and could have the ability to separate married from unmarried couples in time for future surveys.

''We have a big opportunity to create a picture of America that includes us. We are not invisible anymore,'' Olsen said.

This census marks the first time that gays and lesbians have been targeted for minority outreach efforts that also include reaching out to groups deemed ''hard to reach'' because of their disaffection with the government.

The gay community campaign will include a Web site, scheduled to go up in about two weeks, called Our Families Count, as well as advertising campaigns in cities with large gay populations. Among the video vignettes meant to demonstrate the nation's diversity on the main census site is one featuring a transgender person, Olsen said.

''You will see yourself in these videos, whether you are Hispanic, black, white, mixed-race, gay or straight,'' he said.

Although the census has not attempted to count individuals who identify as gay, lesbian or transgender, they could be included in the next count or even future editions of the annual American Community Survey, Olsen said. The survey, which is much more detailed than the 10-question census form that will be mailed to every household in March, is designed to give state and local governments a snapshot of how their populations are changing.

Olsen said gay leaders need to keep advocating if they want to be recognized.

''In terms of 2010, we are set in stone. For 2020, now is the time to start doing what you do best,'' he said.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Historic Week for LGBT Issues Signals Strong Support for Continuing Momentum for Full Equality

As one legislative victory passes the Senate, another key bill is introduced; critical government agencies announce new initiatives to end housing discrimination and strengthen support for LGBT elders.

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.

# # #

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.

Contact: Nikki Willoughby | 202/467-8180 ext. 214 | Nikki@PFLAG.org

PFLAG Praises Senate Passage of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

PFLAG National—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—is celebrating today’s passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The historic passage of this bill marks the first time that sexual orientation and gender identity have been included as protected categories in federal law.

In a speech earlier this month where he confirmed his support for the LGBT community and called PFLAG’s story, “the story of America,” President Obama announced that the bill was set to pass and pledged that he would sign it into law.

“PFLAG is proud of the members of the Senate who supported this important bill,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby. “As we know, crimes against LGBT people have long been among the most violent and most numerous, and our loved ones have gone too long without protections afforded to other citizens. This bill is a tremendous step forward, but it is only a single step and there are many more to take, including passing ENDA to give LGBT workers more of the rights that their co-workers already enjoy.”

The Act is named for Matthew Shepard, a college student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 because he was gay. Shepard’s murder brought the national spotlight to the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes based on sexual orientation make up approximately 17 percent of all hate crimes. Considering that LGBT people make up approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population, the FBI statistics suggest that these individuals are victimized at a rate approximately 6 times higher than that of the average American.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was introduced in the 111th Congress by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House, and the Matthew Shepard Act was introduced by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate. On April 29, 2009, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1913 by a vote of 249-175. On July 16, 2009, the Senate voted 63-28 to proceed with the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, which passed the Senate with the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment on July 23, 2009. The Senate and House versions of the bill were then reconciled in a conference committee. On October 8, 2009, the House voted to pass the conference report of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill, with the Matthew Shepard Act included, by a vote of 281-146.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Washington, D.C.: Lowest Marriage Rate, Highest Percentage of Same-Sex Couples

According to this story, Washington, DC has the lowest marriage rate in the country and the highest percentage of same-sex couples.

According to a recent Pew Research study the District of Columbia has the lowest marriage rate in the country. Only 23 percent of women and 28 percent of men and in D.C. are married, compared to 48 and 52 percent nationwide. The rates in D.C. are so low that they lie entirely off the Pew map’s color key. The closest states to D.C.’s numbers are Rhode Island, where 43 percent of women are married, and Alaska, where 47 percent of men are married.

So why aren't DC resident getting hitched?

The Pew poll offers up one possibly related figure: residents of D.C. get married significantly later in life than do the residents of the 50 states. In D.C., the median age at first marriage is 30 for women and 32 for men. In contrast, the median age for a first marriage in the state of Idaho is 24 for women and 25 for men.

Additionally, marriage rates are generally lower in urban areas than they are in rural areas. A quick review of the Pew map shows that states like Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas have the highest concentration of married couples, whereas the states which host the nation’s biggest cities—like New York and California—generally have a lower percentage of married people. D.C., which is all city, all the time, would clearly trend toward singledom.

But the District also has another demographic issue working against high marriage rates. In the in the 2000 “gay census,” the District of Columbia ranked first in the nation for its percentage of same-sex couples. Same-sex couples, of course, cannot currently be married in D.C., and their out-of-state marriages became recognized in the District only recently.

To read this entire article, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lesbian Student in Mississippi Fights for Yearbook Photo

Everyone at Wesson Attendance Center knows 17-year-old Ceara Sturgis is gay because she's never tried to hide it.

But when Sturgis — an honor student, trumpet player and goalie on the school's soccer team — wanted her senior photograph in a tuxedo used in the 2009-10 yearbook, school officials balked. Traditionally, female students dress in drapes and males wear tuxedos.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has gotten involved, issuing a demand letter to Principal Ronald Greer to publish the picture of Sturgis in the tuxedo. The ACLU says it's giving the school until Oct. 23 to respond before pursuing court action, said Kristy L. Bennett, the ACLU's legal director.

A secretary for Greer referred questions to Copiah County Schools Superintendent Rickey Clopton, who declined to comment on Thursday.

Sturgis said she should get to decide how she looks in the senior photo.

"I feel like I'm not important, that the school is dismissing who I am as a gay student and that they don't even care about me. All I want is to be able to be me, and to be included in the yearbook," Sturgis said in a statement.

Veronica Rodriguez, 47, said school officials are trying to force her daughter — who doesn't even own a dress — to appear more feminine.

"The tux is who she is. She wears boys' clothes. She's athletic. She's gay. She's not feminine," said Rodriguez during an interview Thursday at the ACLU office.

Rodriguez said Sturgis took her pictures over the summer instead of with the other students last year, but she used the same studio.

In August, Rodriguez said she received a letter from the school stating that only boys could wear tuxedos. Rodriguez said she met with assistant Superintendent Ronald Holloway who told her he didn't see regulations about the issue in the student handbook.

But when she talked with Greer, she said he told her it was his "conviction" that Sturgis wouldn't appear in the yearbook in a tuxedo.

Bennett said the teenager's constitutional rights are being violated. Bennett said similar cases, including same-sex prom couples and girls wearing tuxedos to proms, have been successfully challenged in court in other states. ACLU officials said they were unaware of any other constitutional disputes involving gay teens at Mississippi schools.

"You can't discriminate against somebody because they're not masculine enough or because they're not feminine enough. She's making an expression of her sexual orientation through this picture and that invokes First Amendment protection," Bennett said.

There's no state policy that deals with the yearbook photo issue, said state Department of Education spokesman Pete Smith.

The deadline for the photo to be accepted for the yearbook was Sept. 30. But advertisements for the publication are still being taken so Sturgis has time for her photo to be included, Bennett said.

Sturgis lives with her grandparents in Wesson, a town of about 1,700 founded during the Civil War in southwest Mississippi. The town's Web site said residents "pride ourselves on our quiet way of life."

To read the entire Associated Press story from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, click here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Salt Lake City Mayor Proposes Pro-GLBT Law

The Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission conducted a study to determine what types of discrimination the city's GLBT population faced. The study concluded that some Salt Lake City residents had been evicted from or denied rental housing because they were gay. Some had lost jobs or had been passed over for promotions because of their sexual orientation or because they are transgender. Such discrimination was widespread enough to warrant government intervention.

These findings prompted Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and his staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting housing and employment discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. Becker said that there is a need since neither federal nor state law designates gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people as a protected class.

Federal law already makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, national origin, pregnancy, religion, color or disability. And there is growing momentum in Congress to add gay and transgender people to that list.

The Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division, which is responsible for enforcing federal and state laws protecting Utahns from discrimination, does not keep track of complaints from gay, lesbian and transgender Utahns. But it did record them between June 2007 and September 2008, at the request of Equality Utah. It received an average of three complaints per month, despite the fact there is no law prohibiting this kind of discrimination.

Salt Lake's mayor sees an urgent need to protect the GLBT community in his city. The ordinance he will present to the City Council points out that the city values diversity and that discrimination "impedes the social and economic progress of the city by preventing all people from contributing to or fully participating in the cultural, spiritual, social and commercial life of the community."

Becker has modeled his ordinance on the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would protect members of the GLBT community.

To read more about this story in the Salt Lake Tribune, click here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Two DC Republicans Support Same-Sex Marriage

According to this article in The Washington Post [free subscription required], two leading Republicans in the District of Columbia have announced their support for efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the city.

Robert J. Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee, and Patrick Mara, an unsuccessful Republican D.C. Council nominee last year, pledged to lobby Republicans on Capitol Hill to stay out of the local same-sex marriage debate.

"On behalf of a large constituency of D.C. Republicans, we would like to thank you," the two wrote to D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) last week after he introduced his legislation. "We appreciate your efforts in supporting this long overdue legislation in the District of Columbia. . . . We would like to offer our support in aiding the advancement of this bill in Congress, particularly amongst Republicans."

Kabel is believed to be the only openly gay chairman of a state Republican committee in the nation. Mara, who is heterosexual, has been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage. He is also widely believed to still have ambitions of joining the council.

The comments from Kabel and Mara put them odds with many of their counterparts in other state Republican committees and highlight the local party's progressive views on many social issues.

Still, local Republican officials are limiting the committee's role in the same-sex marriage debate. Although Kabel and Mara made public their letter to Catania, the committee does not plan to endorse his bill. The D.C. Democratic Committee approved a resolution this summer supporting same-sex marriage.

Catania, who is gay, was a Republican until 2004, when he quit the party in protest of President George W. Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dear Abby Mentions PFLAG (Again!)

DEAR ABBY: I am a 15-year-old girl who is losing the will to live. I am bisexual, but my parents are very anti-gay/lesbian, so I can't tell them about my sexual orientation.

Every day I engage in self-injury using a metal chain, and I think about suicide a lot. Please help me.

- Hurting in Orlando, Fla.

DEAR HURTING: As you already know, your sexual orientation isn't something you chose. It is something you were born with, and your parents' disapproval - as intimidating as it may be - isn't going to change it. What you are experiencing is not uncommon in young people who have discovered they are "different." But there is help, not only for you but also for your parents.

The first thing you should do is contact The Trevor Helpline. It is a nationwide, 24-hour helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people. A counselor there can help you sort out your feelings and figure out some options. You can find out more about it by going to www.thetrevorproject.org. The toll-free number is 1-866-488-7386.

Another terrific resource is PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG was established in the 1980s and offers specific advice on how to deal with your parents. You will find its Web site at www.pflag.org.

Both of these organizations provide the support you need, so please don't wait to contact them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hate Crime in NY Leaves Gay Man in Coma

According to this article in The Advocate a 49-year-old gay man from Queens, N.Y., remained in a medically induced coma on Monday after being attacked by two men as he left a corner deli near his home Friday around 3 a.m.

Jack Price is in serious but stable condition. One suspect has been arrested and the other is still being sought in the incident, which police view as a hate crime, according to the Associated Press.
“Police say the two suspects taunted Price and yelled anti-gay slurs while he was in the store early Friday,” the AP reported. “They attacked him outside, not far from his home in the middle-class Queens neighborhood of College Point.”

Daniel Aleman, 26, was arrested Sunday and charged with assault, aggravated assault as a hate crime, and aggravated harassment.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian, called for the second suspect to be apprehended quickly during a press conference on Monday.

“I know the Queens community is outraged that hate has tainted their streets, and I know they will join with us in helping the local authorities find the second suspect,” said Quinn in a statement. “I applaud the NYPD for taking swift action on this case, and I know they will continue their efforts until justice is served.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Creates Day Honoring Harvey Milk

From today's Associated Press comes news that Slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk will get a special day of recognition in California, making him only the second person in state history — in addition to conservationist John Muir — to gain such a designation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signing of the bill establishing "Harvey Milk Day" each May 22, Milk's birthday, was announced Monday.

The Republican governor vetoed similar legislation a year ago. In the interim, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August and was the subject of a movie for which Sean Penn won the Academy Award for best actor.

Penn spoke out in favor of the bill last spring, saying he didn't want to insult Schwarzenegger's intelligence by assuming the governor would again oppose creating Harvey Milk Day.

"He has become much more of a symbol of the gay community than he was a year ago because of those things," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. "That made the difference from last year: he's really come to symbolize the gay community in California."

In his veto message a year ago, the Republican governor said Milk should be honored locally by those who were most impacted by his contributions. He did not write a signing message this year saying why he flip-flopped.

"Harvey Milk Day" will not be a formal state holiday, so government employees will not be given the day off. The bill instead calls for the day to be observed by public schools as a day of special significance. Teachers will be encouraged to conduct exercises recalling Milk's life and contributions to the state.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who wrote the bill, said Milk was a human rights leader in the same way Cesar Chavez championed Hispanic farmworkers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sought equal treatment for blacks.

"Harvey's work was not only about the respect and dignity and validation of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, but for all human life. That's why I think he ranks among the other world-renown human rights leaders," he said.

To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

President Obama tells the story of PFLAG

Tonight at the HRC annual dinner, President Obama told the story of PFLAG, and called it "the story of America." Here's the text of the portion of the speech that mentions PFLAG; you can watch that portion online at PFLAG's YouTube channel.
So tonight I’m hopeful. Because of the activism I see in this room, and because of the compassion I’ve seen all across America. And because of the progress we have made throughout our history, including the history of the movement for LGBT equality.

Soon after the protests at Stonewall, 40 years ago, the phone rang in the home of a soft-spoken elementary school teacher named Jeanne Manford. It was one in the morning. And it was the police. Now, her son Morty had been at the Stonewall the night of the raids. And ever since he had felt within him a new sense of purpose. So when the officer told Jeanne that her son had been arrested, which was happening often to gay protesters, she was not entirely caught off guard. And then the officer added one more thing: “And you know, he’s homosexual.”

Well, that police officer sure was surprised when Jeanne responded, “Yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?”

And not long after, Jeanne would be marching side-by-side with her son through the streets of New York. She carried a sign that stated her support. People cheered, and young men and women ran up to her and kissed her and asked her to talk to their parents. And this gave Jeanne and Morty an idea. So after that march, on the anniversary of the Stonewall protests, amidst the violence and vitriol of a difficult time for our nation, Jeanne and her husband Jules, two parents who loved their son deeply, formed a group to support other parents—and in turn to support their children as well.

At the first meeting Jeanne held, in 1973, about 20 people showed up. But slowly, interest grew. Morty’s life, tragically, was cut short by AIDS. But the cause endured. And today the organization they founded— Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—has more than 200,000 members and supporters, and has made a difference for countless families across America. And Jeanne would later say, “I considered myself such a traditional person. I didn’t even cross the street against the light” … “But I wasn’t going to let anybody walk over Morty.”

And that’s the story of America, of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating, and advocating for change. Of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury. Of Americans fighting to build for themselves and their families a nation in which no one is a second class citizen, in which no one is denied their basic rights, in which all of us are free to live and love as we see fit.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hate Crimes Update: Bill Passes Houses, Will Move to Senate

As expected, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Defense (DOD) Authorization Conference Report, which includes the Hate Crimes Prevention Provision, by a vote of 281-146. It’s now off to the Senate where it is expected to pass with the hate crimes provision included and soon to be signed into law!

Below is the news coverage of this story, courtesy of The Advocate.


The House voted 281 to 146 Thursday to pass a Defense Department funding bill that includes a measure extending hate crimes protections to people targeted on the basis of their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

The conference report for the defense bill, which is a melding of the versions passed separately in the House and the Senate, will now move to a vote in the Senate as early as next week.

“The week of the 13th, we expect the Senate will take up the conference report and pass it as well, and then the bill gets pushed over the finish line and sent to the President’s desk for signature,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign.

At Thursday's press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pledged that President Barack Obama would sign the legislation.

Herwitt said the legislation should remain intact exactly as it passed the House.

“A conference report cannot be amended so it's simply an up or down vote in the Senate,” she said. “We are extremely optimistic.

The conference report kept several amendments that were offered by Republicans but dropped the most problematic amendment, which would have included the death penalty as a possible sentence for perpetrating a hate crime.

The two provisions that remained added additional first amendment protections to the measure and charged the U.S. Attorney General with providing guidelines for determining whether a hate crime has been committed.

Herwitt highlighted the work of Sens. Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin, and Susan Collins as well as Reps. John Conyers, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Kirk as instrumental in ensuring passage of the measure.

"And of course, the years of work that Senator Kennedy did -- what a tribute that it's going to become law this year," she added.

Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who passed away this August, and Representative John Conyers of Michigan originally introduced hate crimes legislation in both chambers of Congress in 2001. The legislation was renamed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act in honor of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The NFL's Scott Fujita Speaks Out for GLBT Rights

The following interview comes from Dave Zirin's column at The Huffington Post. In it, Dave talks with Scott Fujita, a star linebacker for the unbeaten New Orleans Saints. He is also a 2001 graduate from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in political science. In addition to playing for the Saints, he is also is someone proudly raising his family in post-Katrina New Orleans. In the following interview, Scott speaks out about why he is supporting the October 11th National Equality March for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights in Washington DC.




Dave Zirin:
Scott, you made the decision to lend your name and endorse the National Equality March. Why did you choose to do that?

Scott Fujita: I think for me it was a cause that I truly believe in. By in large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate. Really, there should be no debate anymore. For me, in my small platform as a professional football player, I understand that my time in the spotlight is probably limited. The more times you have to lend your name to a cause you believe in, you should do that.

DZ: You've said to me in previous discussions that one of the reasons why this issue really resonates with you is because of the issue of adoption, and who gets to adopt children in the United States. Can you speak about that?

SF: A year ago or two years ago, I remember reading about an initiative that was proposed in the state of Arkansas. It was some kind of measure that was aimed at preventing adoptions by single parents. Now, the way I read that and the way that I translated that language was that only heterosexual, married couples could adopt children. As an adopted child that really bothered me. I asked myself, what that is really saying is that the concern with one's sexual orientation or one's sexual preference outweighs what's really important, and that's finding safe homes for children, for our children. It's also saying that we'd rather have kids bounce around from foster home to foster home throughout the course of their childhood, than end up in a permanent home, where the parent, whether that person's single or not, gay or straight. Either way, it doesn't matter. It's a home that's going to be provided for a kid who desperately needs a home. As an adopted child, that measure really bothered me. It just boggles my mind because good, loving homes for any child are the most important thing.

DZ: Now Scott, what makes your stance newsworthy is that people don't really think of the National Football League as a gay friendly place. How present is homophobia in the locker room on a day in and day out basis?

SF: You know people do call it homophobia, and even that term alone is interesting to me. Because I don't even know how they call it homophobia, because that's a fear of the same. It's more heterophobia. It's a fear of something different from yourself. Is there still some of that in the locker room? Absolutely. People tell me, hey, that's pretty courageous. You come out in favor of gay rights. I don't think it's that courageous. I think I have an opinion, that I wish was shared by everybody, but I honestly believe that it's shared by more [football players] than we know because a lot of people just won't speak out about it. I'm hoping that what [Baltimore Ravens linebacker] Brendon [Ayanbadejo] did, and things like what I'm doing, speaking out a little bit, hopefully more people will step up and acknowledge the fact that hey, its ok to talk about this. Just because I'm in favor of gay rights doesn't mean that I'm gay or doesn't mean I'm some kind of "sissy" or something. That's the language that you hear in locker rooms. I know these guys well. I know for the most part, guys are a lot more tolerant than they get credit for but they're not comfortable yet speaking out about it. It's going to come in time. By in large, it's an opinion that's shared by more people than are realized. I just wish it was shared by everybody.

To continue reading Dave's interview with Scott Fujita, click here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hate Crimes Update: Attempt to Remove Hate Crimes Provision Fails

Last night the House defeated the Motion to Instruct – a procedural vote organized by Republicans to strip the hate crimes provisions from the Department of Defense (DOD) Authorization bill. The motion failed by a vote of 178-234, and the conference report now advances for a vote in the House tomorrow. If passed, the report advances to the Senate where we imagine a similar procedural vote will take place sometime next week. Please check back for more updates!

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have agreed to include in the FY10 defense authorization conference bill a provision that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, several congressional aides said Monday.

The decision ends a long dispute between the two committees over whether the annual defense policy measure should include the hate-crimes language, which has been sponsored over the years by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has long viewed the defense authorization bill - which is considered a must-pass piece of legislation -- as a viable and suitable vehicle for the hate crimes language.

After the Senate approved a hate crimes provision in the FY08 defense bill in 2007, House lawmakers worried that its inclusion in the final bill would compel most House Republicans to vote against the measure. Those "no" votes, when combined with those cast by antiwar Democrats who oppose the annual authorization, ultimately would jeopardize passage of the bill, they reasoned.

Even if the FY08 bill could muster enough votes to pass, House Democrats feared then-President George W. Bush would veto it over hate crimes language and force Congress to drop it to get a defense bill signed.

But the political climate has shifted significantly this year.

President Obama, who will be the keynote speaker Saturday at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, the leading national advocacy group for gay rights, has supported the hate-crimes language. Meanwhile, House Democrats -- buoyed by an expanded majority after the 2008 elections -- approved a stand-alone hate crimes measure in April by a 249-175 margin.
Still, the hate crimes provision was among the last issues to be resolved during private negotiations by Levin, Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton and ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon to reach a conference agreement, aides said.

With hate crimes and other differences in the two bills now resolved, the House is expected to make a formal appointment of conferees on the measure tonight, followed by a House-Senate conference meeting Wednesday.

The House plans to vote on the conference report as early as Thursday, with the Senate likely to vote next week, aides said.

McCain declined to comment on the details of the conference agreement Monday, but said he was generally pleased with the outcome.

"There's always things that you'd rather have or rather not have," he told reporters. "I think overall, it's something that we can support. [I'll] hold my nose in some places, but overall I think it's a good authorization bill."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Transgender and in the Navy - One Woman's Story

Photo by Jeoff Davis

Monica Helms grew up a "typical boy," married "the one" and fathered two children. Then she finally acted on her lifelong desire to become a woman. This is her story.

Sometime around the age of 4 or 5, I knew something was different about me. I was raised Catholic and you’re supposed to pray to God for things. So I prayed to God to turn me into a girl. I finally got to do it 41 years later, so I guess for God that’s like overnight delivery.

Several things slowed down my process of becoming a woman. I was the typical boy. I can honestly say that I was a tomboy in a boy’s body. I had loving parents and we always did things together, so I didn’t have time for a lot of introspective thinking. And I was the oldest child, so I didn’t have an older sister to emulate or to be jealous of. I was always attracted to women, so that was another part that didn’t clue me in. So there were a lot of things that got in the way of me realizing what I was.

I started cross-dressing in 1974, right smack-dab in the middle of my Navy career when I was based in Charleston. It was the deepest, darkest secret in my entire life. I would tell someone that I’d murdered someone before I’d tell someone I cross-dressed. It was scary, because I knew that if I got caught I would get kicked out. So all I did then was dress up at home. Then I got transferred to the Bay Area in 1976, and I had a little more accessibility to a community that was just ready to explode. Talk about stepping out of your boundaries into a whole new world! When I started cross-dressing and going to the gay clubs, I felt like I could be out in public as myself.

I got out of the Navy in 1978 and went to junior college, where I met my wife. I just knew that she was “the one,” but I couldn’t ask her to marry me until I told her about my cross-dressing. So I told her, and I thought she understood. It wasn’t until later that I realized she didn’t. Later on, she denied that I told her. When she caught me cross-dressing, she just went ballistic. We had two sons together.

It took me until 1987 to realize that not only was I a cross-dresser, but I was transsexual. When I told my parents that I wanted to transition, my mother looked at me and said, “I only wish you were just gay.” My father had diabetes and Alzheimer’s and he wasn’t in that great of shape. My mother insisted that I not see him ever again. So I lived five miles from the house that I grew up in and I couldn’t even go in the house. I’d drive by and I’d see my father out in the yard and my mother outside.

To continue reading, please click here for the story in Atlanta's Creative Loafing.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Janice Langbehn Hospital Visitation Case Dismissed

Langbehn and her three children by Karie Hamilton, New York Times

A federal court in Miami threw out the case of Janice Langbehn, a lesbian denied the right to visit her dying partner in a Florida hospital, saying that no law required the hospital to admit visitors.

Langbehn, a Washington state resident, filed the suit against Jackson Memorial Hospital after Lisa Pond, her partner of 17 years, died there in 2007. Pond suffered a brain aneurysm prior to a Caribbean gay cruise with their three children, and a hospital social worker refused to let Langbehn visit her dying partner, allegedly saying that Florida was “an antigay state.”

The court ruled in favor of the hospital, according to The Miami Herald, in a decision that Langbehn’s attorney called “extreme.”

"The hospital took the position that we thought was pretty extreme -- that it has no duty, no legal obligation, to allow visitors [of any sort] in the hospital. The court agreed,'' said Beth Littrell, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, according to the Herald. "We're obviously devastated and disappointed in this decision," Littrell said. "It highlights how vulnerable same-sex couples and their families are."

Jackson Memorial denied that it treats gay patients and their families any differently from other patients. "We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care," Jackson spokeswoman Jennifer Piedra said in a news release. "At Jackson Health System, we believe in a culture of inclusion. For more than 90 years, the institution has taken great pride in serving everyone who enters its doors, regardless of race, creed, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. We also employ a very diverse workforce, one that mirrors the community we serve."

Added Piedra: "Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care."

To read more on this story, click here or here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Speak Up and Urge Your Senators to Eliminate Harmful Abstinence-Only Programs

It's been a 10-year fight to end funding for damaging and ineffective abstinence-only education programs – programs that completely ignore and dismiss the existence of LGBT youth, the realities of their lives and their critical health information needs. President Obama has called to eliminate abstinence-only programs, and Democrats in the House and Senate have held firm through budget negotiations. And yet…

Despite all of these efforts, funding for abstinence-only-until marriage programs is back. On Wednesday evening, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) pushed through an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee authorizing $50 million in funding for abstinence-only programs as part of Health Care Reform - despite more than 10 years of evidence that these programs do not work!

By a razor-thin vote of 12-11, the Senators on the Finance Committee conceded to this dangerous ideology ensuring a victory over science and common sense. With the passage of the Hatch Amendment, the bill advances to the full Senate for a vote, which is why it is more important than ever that we send a clear message to the United States Senate: Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs were—and continue to be—a dangerous experiment, spreading ignorance instead of education. It’s time to move education forward. Together, we can end these harmful programs.

We are too close to finally ending federal funding for failed abstinence-only programs. Please click on TAKE ACTION and tell your Senators it's time to stop these programs once and for all!
In an effort to defeat this amendment and ensure the passage of the Real Education about Life (REAL) Act of 2009, PFLAG continues to work with coalition partners around the country. We recently supported the launch of the October National Sex Education Month of Action, in an effort to build support in Congress and across the country for the REAL Act and comprehensive sex education.

This fight has been long, but with the end in sight it is more important than ever that we make our voices heard. Please be sure to take the following steps:

• Email your Senators. To learn the name of your U.S. Senators and locate their in-district contact information, go to http://capwiz.com/pflag/dbq/officials/ and enter your zip code.

• Bring the Message Home. Please be sure to visit www.thomas.gov and type in S. 611 to see if your Senators have co-sponsored the REAL Act of 2009; if they have, please be sure to thank them when sending the note below. If they haven’t, please encourage them to co-sponsor this bill with the following message:

Subject: Don’t Fail Our Children: Please Strip the Hatch Amendment from Health Care Reform
As a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, I am shocked and outraged that the Senate Finance Committee passed the Hatch Amendment earlier this week, reinstating $50 million in funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as part of Health Care Reform.

As your constituent and as someone who cares about the future of young people in the United States, I am writing to ask you to strip the Hatch Amendment from the final Health Care Reform bill in the Senate. Health Care Reform is a critically important task for this Congress and it should not be hijacked by ideologically-motivated earmarks. Moreover, study after study has shown that abstinence-only programs have no effect whatsoever. It is time for the federal government to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on these failed programs.

I stand with the millions of Americans who support teaching both abstinence and contraception. A 2004 survey by National Public Radio/Kaiser Family Foundation /Harvard University Kennedy School of Government found that 86 percent of voters want young people to receive a comprehensive approach to sex education that includes learning about both abstinence and contraception.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs ignore scientific research, the recommendations of medical experts, overwhelming public opinion, and basic common sense.

As Health Care Reform moves forward in the Senate, you have the power to stand up for our children and strip the Hatch Amendment from the final bill.

Young people all across America are counting on you to do the right thing. And so am I.

Thank you
Your Name, PFLAG Member

Email now and continue to email your Senators until they vote on this bill.

Please be sure to let us know when you reach out to your Senator (and if you get a response) by contacting us.

Comprehensive Sex Education Amendment Approved

When the Senate Finance Committee started debating the healthcare reform bill earlier this week, an amendment to fund comprehensive sex education was approved. This is in contrast to the abstinence-only education that has been and is currently on the curriculum in most schools (and is promoted by the federal government).

According to the press release from SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States,

The Senate Finance Committee approved an amendment offered by Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to fund a comprehensive sex education funding stream, The Personal Responsibility Education for Adulthood Training. The amendment provides $75 million for states; $50 million of which would be geared to evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate programs to educate adolescents about both abstinence and contraception in order to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The remaining funds would be for innovative programs as well as research and evaluation. The amendment passed 14–9 with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (ME) joining all the Democrats voting in favor.

There was also a vote on an amendment introduced by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) that reinstated funding for the failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program which had expired on June 30, 2009. The amendment passed 12–11 with Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Kent Conrad (ND) joining all the Republicans on the Committee in favor. Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding had been refused by nearly half of the states both because of the restrictive nature of the program and the fact that overwhelming evidence has proven these programs to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. This amendment would direct $50 million a year through FY 2014 for the extension of the Title V abstinence-only programs.

Both amendments still face several potential hurdles in committee, on the Senate floor, and in conference with the House before they become law.


To read the entire press release, click here.

Taking Fear Out of the Equation

When I sent my sons to school, I knew they would have to worry about homework and standardized tests, as well as the social pressure to be popular, athletic, and cool. What I didn’t know, and what too few parents realize even today, is that many kids go to school worrying about much more than their grades or their place on the baseball team. Far too many of our children experience school as a frightening place filled with violence and fear.

  • Up to 80 percent of adolescents report being bullied during their school years.
  • Around 160,000 school children stay home from school each day out of fear, often without telling their parents why.
  • Children targeted by bullies experience higher than normal levels of insecurity, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and physical and mental symptoms.
  • Adults who were bullies as children have higher rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other violent crimes.
  • The percentage of students who report being bullied rose 50 percent from 1983 to 2003.
  • More than 86 percent of students who identify as LGBT report being verbally harassed, 44 percent have been physically harassed, and 22 percent report being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
Right now, too few adults understand the issues around school safety, and those who do recognize that there is a problem don’t know what to do about it. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that we expand opportunities to educate parents, teachers, and administrators about school violence.

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools Kevin Jennings has a tremendous record of dedication to our children and our schools. He has devoted his career to an issue that requires attention from all of us: making schools safe places where our children can focus on learning.

By diverting our focus from the verbal and physical bullying and harassment that take place in schools every day to spend time discussing “should have’s” from years ago, we risk losing sight of the important work being done now to address and prevent school violence.

Our children deserve to go to school without fear. They also deserve parents, families, and teachers who will advocate on their behalf. For their sake, we can’t afford to divert more time from this profound issue. We should empower the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to do the work that will help protect our children and create safer schools and communities. Otherwise, our children continue to lose out.


John R. Cepek
President
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

PFLAG Dayton's Rainbow Reading Program

Today's guest post comes from Kim Peters, Safe Schools Chair of the Dayton, OH chapter. The Dayton chapter has recently implemented a new safe schools project, the Rainbow Reading program.

PFLAG Dayton has officially kicked off our Rainbow Reading program. This is an exciting new program for us - we have a terrific history training adults to help sexual minority youth feel safe and welcome in school environments. To date 100% of our focus has been directed towards these trainings.

Last winter we decided to reach out to GLBTQ kids by placing books and information directly into school libraries or instructional media centers. We worked closely with a local, supportive school system to create our model program. We quickly learned it’s not as simple as just buying books and donating them. First we contacted the school board to get their support. They allowed us to contact the middle school principals who were our target for our first wave of donations. In the meantime a middle school librarian had volunteered to work with the Safe Schools committee – she had attended the PFLAG National Ohio state safe schools training hosted by the PFLAG Dayton chapter last fall. We spent a long summer researching and reading every fiction and non-fiction title we felt might be appropriate to donate.

The middle school principals happily agreed to review our books. In August they accepted 6 of the 9 titles we pitched. Additionally they have requested materials for their guidance counselors and for the administrative offices. They have also agreed to promote, to their teachers, the fact that the titles are now available. Both the central office administrators and the principals have agreed to allow us to develop curriculum designed to familiarize staff with GLBTQ titles, authors, etc. and to then allow us to donate age appropriate books to teachers who attend our continuing education sessions. We will be able to effectively reach out to kids in a classroom setting as well.

The second wave of our project is in full swing with the high school in this school system. Their library has an excellent selection of fiction but has very little non-fiction. We are currently working to develop and purchase a list of titles suitable for them.

Another exciting component to this project is the fact that we were “allowed” to promote our Youth First outreach program by placing stickers with logo and contact information in each of the books we donated. PFLAG’s Youth First group meets weekly to provide a social and supportive environment for GLBTQA youth in Dayton and surrounding communities. Additionally, the library staff recognizes that some of the titles would be likely to “disappear” from the collection if a student felt they really needed the book “permanently” to help them through difficult times. Staff has agreed to notify us and we will quietly replace the title.

Rainbow Reading is being featured at the OLEMA (Ohio Library Educational Media Association) statewide meeting in Columbus this October. We also were the beneficiary of proceeds generated by the Sunride Bikeathon organized by Club Aquarius, a bar and dance club famous for supporting GLBTQ causes in our community including PFLAG Dayton’s very own “When the Stars Come Out” scholarship fundraiser.