Monday, November 30, 2009

Son of Hockey Legend Comes Out

Imagine that you are gay.

Imagine that your dad is a hockey legend, both as a player and as a general manager.

Imagine that you go to college in small-town Ohio to play hockey, following in the footsteps of your famous father.

Imagine that, given great talent to play hockey, you sit out your senior year because of the gay slurs you hear in the locker room.

This happened to Brendan Burke. When he did finally come out to his father, his father offered nothing but his love and support.

To read Brendan's story, click here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mother of Murdered Gay Teen Speaks Out

Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a gay teenager from Puerto Rico, was murdered last week in a vicious hate crime. Prosecutors are weighing whether to recommend that Martinez Matos, who was arrested shortly after the murder, be charged under federal hate crimes law.

The U.S. gay community is asking authorities to investigate whether the slaying was a hate crime, said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The brutality of the slaying and the fact that he was openly gay leads us to believe it was very possibly a hate crime," Serrano said Tuesday.

Steven's mother, Miriam Mercado, recently spoke out in regards to her son's death and the outpouring of support she has received. You can watch it here:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small-business Owner Supports Inclusive ENDA for LGBT Employees

Small-business owner Rhea Mohler weighed in on the importance of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, noting that without the protections the legislation would provide, "Virginia workers can be fired simply because of who they are, with no regard to their experience and talent."

Read the full letter to the editor of the Sun Gazette in Northern Virginia.

New Film Focuses on Homophobia in Women's Sports

Training Rules, a fantastic new movie about homophobia in women's sports, tells the story of Jen Harris, an athlete who started getting recruited by college basketball programs in the fifth grade. She ends up playing ball at Penn State, where she was called one of the 20 best women's basketball players in the country and was a sure bet to ultimately play in the WNBA. Harris winds up getting kicked off the team because of her coach's homophobia, and chooses to fight. This movie showcases the decades of discrimination inside the Penn State women's basketball program and how Jen Harris does not take the news of being kicked off the team quietly.

Click on the image below to watch the trailer for Training Rules.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Florida Competitive Workforce Bill Filed To Add Anti-Discrimination Protections Statewide

Equality Florida applauds the filing of the Competitive Workforce bill in the Florida House of Representatives. House bill 391, filed by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida’s civil rights statues.

Currently, it is legal to discriminate against someone in employment, housing and public accommodations because that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The bill would add these categories into laws that already protect Floridians based on race, age, disability, sex and religion.

“I am proud to be the sponsor of this very important legislation,” said Representative Skidmore, “I look forward to working with Equality Florida and all Floridians who believe that discrimination is wrong and ought to be illegal."

As the Competitive Workforce Bill was being filed, the Tampa City Council voted to add “gender identity and gender expression” to its existing human right ordinance, which already includes sexual orientation protections.

“Even as cities and companies across our state adopt policies banning anti-gay and gender identity-based discrimination, Florida law fails to provide statewide protection to LGBT Floridians against workplace discrimination,” said Mallory Wells, Public Policy Director for Equality Florida, “Equality Florida is working with fair-minded legislators to introduce this legislation because no one should lose their job because of who they are.”

Organizations and businesses can sign on to support the Competitive Workforce Bill, by going to: http://eqfl.org/competitiveworkforce/

Nurses from Miami Hospital Apologize to Janice Langbehn

We have previously blogged about the story of Janice Langbehn, the woman from Washington State who was not allowed to enter the hospital room of her dying partner, Lisa Pond. A Miami federal court threw out her case, but now it appears that some of the nurses at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami are speaking out.

According to this article in the L.A. Times, several nurses at Jackson Memorial Hospital have personally apologized to Langbehn.

"We certainly are sorry for the pain and suffering she felt," said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of Service Employees International Union Local 1991, the union representing about 5,000 healthcare professionals at Jackson, which is in Miami.

"I apologize," said registered nurse Norberto Molina, chairman of the union's gay Lavender Caucus. "I can't imagine what you went through."

The apologies came at a town-hall-style meeting Thursday at Unity on the Bay church, where Langbehn returned to Miami as a speaker.

Baker, Molina and two other Jackson nurses, Jim Nicholson and Diane Poirier, along with 60 other people, attended the meeting.

Langbehn, whose lawsuit against Jackson was dismissed in September by a federal court in Miami, welcomed the nurses' gesture. But she still wants the hospital to apologize formally.

"The management has to do it," Langbehn said.

She tearfully told the audience of her final moments with longtime partner Lisa Pond, who suffered a fatal brain aneurysm on Feb. 18, 2007, shortly before they were to sail with their three children on a Caribbean cruise.

At Jackson, Langbehn said, a social worker would not let her visit Pond because Florida is "an anti-gay state." Pond, 39, died the next day.

Langbehn, with Lambda Legal's help, sued the hospital. The case was dismissed without a decision on whether Jackson discriminated against Langbehn because she is gay. The court determined that the hospital had no legal obligation to allow anyone to visit a patient.

"It's my duty to speak out, that this should never happen to another family of ours," said Langbehn; seated with her attorney, Beth Littrell of Lambda Legal in Atlanta; Stratton Pollitzer of Equality Florida and Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who specializes in nontraditional-family issues.

Friday, November 20, 2009

PFLAG National to Attend the Eleventh Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today, on the eleventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor the memory of our transgender and gender non-conforming family members and friends tragically lost to anti-transgender hatred and violence over the past year. As we all take a moment to remember the tragic and senseless losses of so many amazing transgender and gender non-conforming people within our communities, we continue to work hard at not only passing laws like the recently enacted Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but also educating our communities about what their rights are and opening up dialogues on how to address the very real and systemic problems of transphobic and homophobic violence within and beyond our local communities.

We remain outraged at the countless forms of discrimination our transgender and gender non-conforming loved ones experience on a daily basis and we will continue working hard to develop policies and resources to help support those individuals who have survived anti-transgender hate crimes. In fact, we recently sent out our monthly FYI, which provides important strategies on how to support a community member who has survived a hate crime, educate local communities about existing laws that can help address the problems of hate violence and tips on how to launch an advocacy campaign aimed at developing relationships with local law enforcement officers along with other social justice organizations and community leaders to help tackle the very real problems of hate biased crimes and violence. Furthermore, we continue to fiercely advocate for the passage of critical legislation aimed at protecting our transgender and gender non-conforming family members in an effort to ensure that equal opportunities are available to everyone, including those most vulnerable in our communities.

Today, we encourage you to join one of the many important community vigils honoring our fallen transgender and gender non-conforming family and friends. Many of us at PFLAG National plan to join the Washington, DC Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil to be held at the Metropolitan Community Church (474 Ridge Street, NW) at 6:30 pm. If you live in the area and/or are visiting, please be sure to attend this important ceremony. If you are interested in attending a community event in your area, please be sure to view the official Transgender Day of Remembrance website for events held in or around your specific location. Tonight let’s be sure to honor both those that we have tragically lost to anti-transgender hatred, and also to recognize and support all of the brave advocates who continue to take a bold stance against tolerating hate violence in our communities.

Arizona Workers Sue to Keep Benefits

From Wednesday's Advocate comes news that state employees in Arizona are suing to keep domestic-partner benefits from becoming a casualty of budget cuts.

Ten state workers, represented by Lambda Legal, filed suit Tuesday in U.S. district court in Tucson, saying a plan to end the benefits discriminates against gay and lesbian employees.

Under a budget deal approved by the state legislature last summer and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in September, Arizona would no longer offer benefits for domestic partners but would retain them for heterosexual spouses. Domestic-partner benefits are scheduled to end November 24, according to court documents.

“This is an issue of equal pay for equal work,” Lambda Legal staff attorney Tara Borelli said in a press release. “By stripping away these vital benefits from loyal state employees, the state isn't just paying them less for the same work than their heterosexual colleagues — it's pulling away a vital lifeline that all workers need. This is simply cruel and saves the state next to nothing.”

The release goes on to quote lead plaintiff Tracy Collins, an Arizona highway patrol officer, who relies on the coverage for her partner of 11 years, Diana Forrest, and their family. “I put my life on the line every day for the people of Arizona just by going to work,” Collins said. “Though the stress of working a dangerous job takes a toll on my family, I'm proud to be a public servant. But losing Diana’s health coverage will put us in a desperate situation.”

Other plaintiffs in the case, Collins v. Brewer, include employees of state universities and the Department of Game and Fish.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The True Story Behind the Fight for Marriage Equality in DC

Earlier today the Center for American Progress held a conference call on religion and the fight for marriage equality in Washington, DC.

One of the speakers on the call was Rev. Dennis Wiley, the pastor at Covenant Baptist Church, an open and affirming, predominately African-American church in the District's poorest ward.

You can listen to his entire speech by clicking here.

In part, Rev. Wiley refuted the notion that being gay in the District is a white, upper class issue. He says, "The black church and the black community…have been characterized by some as being united in opposition against same-sex marriage, and this could not be further from the truth. Black people are not monolithic, we are diverse just like all other human beings.”

“Same-sex marriage is not a white issue—from experience, it is also a black issue. Countless same-sex couples have expressed a deep appreciation in our church, and even those outside of our church have expressed this same appreciation of our policy of acceptance. Some have even testified, those who have become a member of our fellowship, that our inclusive ministry has literally saved their lives due to the emotional and traumatic experiences they have encountered elsewhere, where they have been rejected.”

You can view the entire transcript of today's call by clicking here.

An "Open" Letter to the Members of the NJ Legislature

Today's guest post comes to us from Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, PFLAG National Board member. Below is a letter that he wrote to the members of the NJ legislature in regards to marriage equality.

Dear Colleagues,

You have been elected to represent and serve ALL of the residents of your
particularly District. The human diversity of your District is but a slice of the
rich diversity of our nation. I write you as a Christian cleryman who is African
American who has pastored United Methodist Churches, predominantly white
and predominantly black in membership, in 5 states. I am ally/advocate of
equal rights for same gender loving couples! I know that you as an elected
official are committed to the understanding that you do not just represent
Christians, or United Methodists, or African Americans or persons like myself
who are heterosexual in their sexual orientation. You are in office to serve the
needs of All persons, and some of those persons are in committed, same
gender relationships. The equal access and equality language that is in
our Constitutions; national and state, call upon you to uphold equal access
and equality, regardless of your personal or religious views. I know that will
be reflected in your vote to endorse the legalization of same gender marriage.

As a Christian clergyman, the Golden Rule is at the heart of my life and
commitment; "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for
this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12). But the Monmouth Center
for World Religions and Ethical Thoughts in Lincroft has reminded us that
there is a "Golden Rule" in so many of the Religions of the world: The Bahai
Faith, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism,
Judaism, Native Spirituality, Sikhism, Taoism, Unitarianism, Zorostrianism.

Regardless of my Religious views or yours, the genius of our Constitution
and our "American Way" is that we respect the rights of others and make
sure that our laws respect those rights. We may, in our Religious bodies,
discuss and debate same gender marriage. But, the "Golden Rule" of our
democracy is that marriage is not a religious right, it is a civil right.

I believe your vote on same gender marriage will be your way of expressing
the thought that under the law, "We must do for others, that we would like
done for us." Thank you!

Sincerely,

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Asbury Park, N.J.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Arkansas Boy Won't Pledge Allegiance Until Gays Gain Equality

A 10-year-old Arkansas boy name Will Phillips has decided that he cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag as long as the country for which it stands refuses legal equality to its GLBT citizens.

That stand has brought young Mr. Phillips anti-gay taunts in the lunch room, but admiration from around the country, reports a Nov. 5 Arkansas Times article. The West Fork School District fifth grader clashed with a substitute teacher for his refusal to stand for the pledge, prompting a call to Will’s mother, Laura Phillips. When the principal acknowledged that Will has the right to refuse to say the pledge, Ms. Phillips asked that her son receive an apology--a request that the principal declined to honor.

Such has been the case with Will Phillips’ stand, but he hasn’t backed down. Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times that her 10-year-old is "probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair."

Fairness in this case is more than a mere abstraction, since the family has a number of openly gay friends and has participated in GLBT equality events such as Pride parades. Will, who told the newspaper that he would like to pursue a career in law when he’s older, could not square the tenets of the pledge with the political realities faced by his family’s GLBT friends, whose family and individual rights are under constant challenge. "I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all," said Will.

That led the young man to his decision not to pledge his allegiance due to the injustice he perceived to prevail against gays and lesbians. He discussed the matter with his family and then took his stand--or rather, refused to stand with the rest of the kids when the time for the pledge came around each morning. The first week of the young man’s protest happened to be a week when a substitute teacher, a friend of Will’s grandparents, was in charge of the class; as days went by, the teacher grew more aggravated, until finally she took Will to task.

"She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up," Will told the Arkansas Times. "I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ’With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’"

Moreover, Will’s stand for equal rights for gays has led those who disagree to attack him personally with anti-gay epithets: "In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay," Will said. "It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad."

The interviewer from The Arkansas Times asked Will what it means to be an American. The answer: "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents."

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

Below is a great interivew with Will and his father from CNN:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Advice Columnist Counsels Mother of Gender Variant Child

Below is an excerpt from Barbara Meltz's advice column concerning a mother who has a gender-variant child:

Q: Please help. When my daughter was 2 years old she told me she wanted to be a boy. Everyone told me she would grow out of this. She has always played with both boy and girl toys. Wears clothing both boy and girl. She is fascinated with batman and superman. She is now 5. She refuses to wear pink or anything girly. She says that is for girls and she is a boy. She is in kindergarten and tells the other kids she is a boy. Her father is absent. She has a few positive male role models in her life. My father and 2 brothers. When she plays with my niece she is so rough and aggressive and truly has characteristics that resemble the behavior of a little boy. She told me over the course of 6 weeks about a little girl who is in the 2nd grade and is in her after school program. Now... she tells me she "like likes her." The other little girl draws her pictures gives her things and my daughter always tells me she is beautiful etc. I am teaching my child socially this is this and that is that "but if that's how you feel, I love you no matter what." My question is ..... For the best interest of my daughter's psychological well-being, how do I handle this gender issue, of her wanting to be a boy, when she is a girl and only 5 years old?

A: It is possible that your daughter has something that's called gender identify disorder. She fits some of the descriptions (dressing like the opposite sex, expressing desire to be the opposite sex, refusing to identify with her gender). And yes, research indicates this can surface in early childhood. (For a scholarly & historical look at the issue, click here.)

As best as I can determine, the consensus is that it's too soon to begin counseling but certainly that is something that your daughter will benefit from down the road. In the meantime, the best that you can do as her mother is love her unconditionally; model your tolerance for differences of all kinds; and include people of all kinds in her world, including people of diverse races, religions, and sexual orientation.

At this age, children notice differences but are not put off by them unless they pick up messages, subtle and not so subtle, that the differences are wrong or bad. So I'm guessing that, so far, she has not run into peers who are troubled by her insistence that she is a he. That may change within a few years. Establishing a foundation now where she knows that (a) she can talk to you about anything; (b) that you will not pass judgment; and (c) that you will give her accurate, age-appropriate information will mean that as she gets older, she will feel supported and not isolated. The good news is that our culture has a much broader tolerance for sexual differences today than it ever has in the past.

In the meantime, help her develop positive self-esteem by allowing her to develop her individual interests and strengths rather than pushing or imposing typical girl interests onto her. She only wants to wear rough-and-tumble boys' clothes? Fine; find some that fit her well. Help her to identify playmates who like to do what she likes to do, whether they are boys or girls (ask the teacher for suggestions). And always be in touch with the teacher so that you can be on top of any social issues that surface; that's something I tell every parent. If you have a close enough relationship with other parents or teachers and you want to share your thoughts with them, also fine. But I don't feel that that's necessary in and of itself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

ESPN Columnist: "GLBT Activists Need to Show Love for Foes"

LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He is the 2009 Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award winner for online journalism and the 2008 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association winner for column writing. He was named one of the top 25 public speakers of 2009 by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization seeking a "safer college environment" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Below is a column he wrote in response to the recent vote in Maine that overturned marriage equality.

I'm a single father of a 12-year-old boy who every five minutes seem to switch personalities on me.

One moment he's a starving student athlete hungry enough to eat a cow, the next he's a picky vegan.

I'm told by people much smarter than me that this is normal for a child going through puberty. And so, while I am not an overly religious man, I have found myself meditating on I Corinthians 13:4 to help me get through. Love is patient, love is kind.

I believe there is something each of us can pull from that Bible verse. We may not agree on spirituality or the existence of God, but we can agree that love is one of the most beautiful and mysterious forces. When I'm frustrated with my son, or a friend or even myself, I try to think about the characteristics of love described in I Corinthians before reacting. Be patient. Be kind.

I felt the need to lean on that verse last week after yet another ballot defeat for marriage equality -- when voters in Maine repealed a state law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

A visceral wave of anger swept over me as once again I was reminded of my second-class citizenship. I wanted to smash something. I wanted to punch somebody out. I wanted revenge. The last thing on my mind was I Corinthians. But at the very core of the debate over marriage equality is that scripture's concept of love.

It's easy to love someone when there is no turmoil, no conflict. And it's no accident that "patient" is the first word Corinthians uses to describe love -- it's first because it is most important. No matter how strongly we may feel about each other, we will not always agree, and it is in those moments that we must tap into the mystery of love even more to find a way to first be patient, and then be kind.

That is true in marriage and in parenting. And it's true in this much-accepted notion that we should love our fellow man. I'm not suggesting the gay community should not be upset -- patient and kind does not mean complacent and apathetic.

We must continue pressuring politicians to end civil injustice, but we're not served if we allow hate and fear to dictate our words. We cannot begin to change the nation's mind if we cannot first speak to the nation's heart.

With the economy and the swine flu and the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, it seems that everywhere there is a reason to hate and to fear. But I agree with my buddy Dierks Bentley, who sings in his song "Beautiful World":

"There's tears and there's fears and there's losses and crosses to bear;
And sometimes the best we can do is just to whisper a prayer;
Then press on because;
There's so much to live for and so much to love."

That might seem Pollyanna-ish, but the truth is that even if President Obama signed a law today to make all forms of discrimination based upon sexual orientation illegal, it would hardly mark the end of the gay rights movement.

After all, true social change isn't revolutionary -- it's evolutionary. That means we will have to continue our forbearance with those who oppose us -- from the black pastor who preaches that gay people should not be allowed to marry, to the white, closeted politician so afraid of losing his position that he would vote to oppress his own community. Through all of that, we will still have to find a way to love.

Many gay rights activists like to draw parallels between the gay community's struggles and those of blacks during the civil rights movement. It's not uncommon to hear them echo the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"I have a dream..."

But as the frustration of the gay community grows, it is important that we -- and our allies -- do not forget another of Dr. King's powerful quotes:

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

In other words, hate the sin but love the sinner.

It may seem weird to think in those terms because many well-meaning Christians also like to use that last phrase to justify oppressing gay people at the polls. But here's what's curious: The quote is from Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who said it in reference to his own people's oppressors, who happened to be Christians. This undoubtedly inspired another one of Gandhi's famous quotes: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians."

You don't have to like either in order to have love in your heart.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Catholic Church Upset with DC's Views on Marriage Equality

From yesterday's Washington Post [free subscription required]:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

"If the city requires this, we can't do it," Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. "The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that's really a problem."

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city's long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination.

Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council this week.

The church's influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands.

"They don't represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure," said Catania, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill and the chairman of the Health Committee.

Catania, who said he has been the biggest supporter of Catholic Charities on the council, said he is baffled by the church's stance. From 2006 through 2008, Catania said, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts, as well as several hundred thousand dollars' worth this year through his committee.

"If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes," Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.

Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he did not know of any other group in the city that was making such a threat.

"I've not seen any spillover into programming. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen if [the bill] passes," he said.

To read the full article, click here.

Memphis GLBT Community Deals With Another Act of Vandalism

A few months ago we blogged about the vandalism to a Memphis billboard featuring a gay marine. It looks like the Memphis GLBT community has been the victim of another act of hatred.

According to this article Memphis Police arrested 23-year-old Ross Burton early Wednesday morning after he attempted to burn the gay pride flag at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC).

Plainclothes officers observed Burton and another man — who fled the scene and remains at large — attempting to set fire to the rope that runs up the flag pole in front of the MGLCC. When police officers approached the men, an altercation ensued, and one suspect attempted to disarm an officer. Additional police were dispatched and some reportedly received lacerations and abrasions from the struggle. The suspects fled, but Burton was located and arrested.

Burton is being charged with aggravated assault and vandalism under $500.

This event marks the second act of vandalism against the MGLCC in two months. In September, an MGLCC National Coming Out Day billboard at Poplar and High was destroyed. No word on whether the two crimes were related.

Said MGLCC director Will Batts: "Public incidents such as this shed light on the larger issue of intolerance and hatred that our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens face every day. Once again, attempts to silence or frighten our community will not succeed, but will make us more determined to fight for equality. We appreciate the support of the community in this struggle."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

AMA votes to seek repeal of 'don't ask,don't tell'

The American Medical Association went on record as opposing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and agrees that gay marriage bans contribute to health disparities.

The AMA on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at its annual meeting in Houston, TX, approved a resolution proposed by Dr. Paul A .Wertsch, family physician and PFLAG dad from Madison, Wisconsin, requesting a repeal of the military’s "Don’t ask, don’t tell" law. Dr. Wertsch’s resolution pointed out that a law that makes people lie to their physicians is a bad law.

The AMA also accepted a well researched report that points out that health disparities exist for unmarried couples and their children. Gay couples are not able to get health insurance through a spouse. Married people live longer than unmarried people. Children of LGBT parents benefit when their parents are in a legal, respected relationship. Much of the report was researched and written by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Society.

The AMA’s positions will help the lobbying efforts of gay-rights advocates.

--Kay Heggestad, PFLAG Regional Director


Learn more: AMA votes to seek repeal of 'don't ask,don't tell'

Book Review: How Beautiful the Ordinary

How Beautiful the Ordinary, edited by Michael Cart, is reviewed by Dave Parker.

This unusual book is an assembly of 12 stories of identity written by 12 authors of note in the GLBT community. It is unique in that the stories vary from spiritually philosophical to personal histories to comic strips – all dealing with teen GLBT experiences.

The book starts with a tale of young romance narrated by an unknown spirit of gays past now observing gays present and projecting their future. There are a number of brief views into the hesitancy of young romance with all the mental anguish so many teenagers suffer over their affection for another and that person’s response. A young transwoman relates her first venture outside her home dressed as the girl she knows she is. In First Time, Julie Anne Peters expresses all their joys and fears as two girls stumble their way through their first full loving experience.

Two adult perspectives complete the picture. A woman writes (again) to the daughter she lost when she lost her partner, who refuses to allow contact with the child they shared for several years; she doesn’t know if this daughter ever receives her letters. A young Muslim father remembers as he travels with his two sons back to his Alma Mater to hear his former lover perform in concert. He has chosen to suppress his true feelings to live as his Iranian parents desire.

Every reader will react differently to these stories, probably preferring one over another for their own reasons. The main point, I think, is that there are joys and sorrows in all relationships, no matter our orientation or identity.

David Levithan’s quote on the back jacket is one to treasure: “Freedom isn’t just about voting and marrying and kissing on the street, although all of these things are important. Freedom is also about what you will allow yourself to do.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mormons throw support behind gay-rights cause

On Tuesday night, after a series of clandestine meetings between local gay-rights backers and Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would support proposed city laws that would prohibit discrimination against gays in housing and employment.

Read the full article here » Mormons throw support behind gay-rights cause

One Step Closer to Marriage in DC

The DC marriage bill has officially passed committee by a vote of 4-1! The next step is the first vote before the full Council.

According to this update in the Washington Blade, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) released Monday a revised draft of the same-sex marriage bill that removes language that would have phased out city registration of new domestic partnerships.

Mendelson, who chairs the Council committee that has jurisdiction over the bill, also broadened the bill’s exemption for churches and religious organizations to allow them to refuse to rent facilities or provide services for same-sex marriage ceremonies, even though such facilities and services are available to the general public.

The bill’s original version was written by Council member David Catania (I-At Large), who is gay, and was co-introduced by Catania and nine of his colleagues on the 13-member Council.

Mendelson made the revisions in his role as chair of the Committee on Public Safety & Judiciary, which held public hearings on the legislation Oct. 26 and Nov. 1.

The committee was scheduled to hold a markup hearing on the bill, known as the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, on Tuesday, when a final committee draft is expected to be debated and approved.

The revised draft released Monday leaves intact all of the major provisions written by Catania, including the key provision allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the District of Columbia.

During the committee’s two days of hearings, Catania said he was open to removing language he placed in the bill that called for ending the city’s registration of new domestic partnerships after January 2010. Catania noted that he put the provision in the bill because most states that have legalized same-sex marriage have ended existing domestic partnership or civil unions programs on grounds that most same-sex couples prefer marriage.

But a number of witnesses, including officials with the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and lesbian rights attorney and American University law professor Nancy Polikoff, urged the Council to remove the “sunset” clause for domestic partnerships from the marriage bill. These witnesses suggested that the Council take up the domestic partnerships issue at a later date and through separate legislation.

On the religious exemption provision, Catania’s original bill noted that “a religious organization, association or society, or a nonprofit organization which is operated, supervised, or controlled by” a church or religious group “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods” for the purpose of performing any marriage “unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available … to members of the general public.”

The revised bill removes the “unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available … to members of the general public” language.

In a 22-page report that accompanies the bill’s new version, Mendelson’s committee says it “removed this language … after considerable comment from both secular and non-secular organizations.”

“Including this language would have had the undesirable impact of religious institutions closing their spaces to community groups and organizations, as there would otherwise be civil [liability] stemming from any refusal to solemnize or celebrate a same-sex marriage,” says the report.

Similar to his view on the domestic partnership provision, Catania noted during the Council hearings on the bill that he would be open to considering modifying the religious exemption provision in a way similar to the change made by Mendelson.

However, both Catania and Mendelson said at the hearings that they did not support further changes in the religious exemption provision proposed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. Archdiocesan officials and an official with Catholic Charities called on the Council to add a provision allowing religious organizations that provide services for the city, such as homeless shelters and adoption or foster child services, to refuse to provide employee benefits to the spouse of a same-sex employee.

Catania noted that as much as 75 percent of the funding for Catholic Charities-operated homeless shelters and adoption agencies come from the government. He said it would not be fair for groups receiving funds from taxpayers to engage in discrimination in employee benefits against same-sex couples.

Council members serving on the committee holding the markup hearing Tuesday, in addition to Mendelson, include Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Eyvette Alexander (D-Ward 7). Alexander is the only member of the committee who isn’t a co-introducer of the bill.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NY City Council Member Gets Emotional Speaking for Gay Rights

As the state senate considers whether to vote Tuesday to legalize same sex marriage, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (pictured) made an unusually emotional plea for the bill Monday.

Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat who is openly gay, came close to tears when she was asked about the measure at an unrelated news conference.

"This is literally a moment where people can stand up and say that everybody's family matters, that everybody's home is a blessed place and that everybody has the same rights," Quinn, her voice shaking, said in the Red Room at City Hall. "You don't get a lot of times in life when you get to do that, when you get to send a message like that."

The room of reporters and council members and their staffs grew quiet as Quinn spoke, pausing several times to collect her emotions.

Gov. David Paterson, who called the senate into session to consider a series of budget measures, has asked that the marriage bill be voted and passed. As of Monday, the Democratic leadership was mulling whether to put the bill to vote. It passed the assembly twice.

With several wavering Democrats and an unknown number of Republicans opposed, prospects are far from certain.

But Quinn, who plans to marry her partner if the law is passed, said the idea has her wondering about where the wedding might be and "picking up cheesy bridal magazines."

Pausing several times to collect her emotions, Quinn said she felt hopeful but still wary, following the defeat of a similar bill in Maine last week and the continued fits and starts of the New York proposal.

"Now the worst thing in the world is to have your hopes beaten down," she said. "And I urge people, if they think I am not as good as they are, to actually have the courage to say that in front of me and the rest of the New Yorkers who are members of the LGBT community."

For the full article, click here.

Kids' Thoughts on Same Sex Marriage

This fantastic story comes from Steve Singiser's posting at Daily Kos. It details a story that took place with his eight year-old son.

My four year-old daughter is absorbed by a Disney cartoon on her seatback DVD player, while my seven year-old son fidgets in the back seat. I have lunch duty with my kids, because my wife is on a deadline, and needed to go into the firm on Saturday to tie up some loose ends. I am listening to a college football game on the radio when my son interrupts the play-by-play from the backseat:

"Hey, Dad, how are we going to vote on Proposition 8?"
Aside from the plural "we", which I found kind of cute, this was not the question I was hoping for. Discussions on marriage with a second grader is not my idea of a fun conversation, "traditional" or same sex.

"Why do you ask, buddy?"
"Well, Dad. I have been thinking about it. And I talked about it
with some friends at school. And I think we ought to vote "yes."
Ruh-roh.

This comes, to say the least, as a shock. I am pretty well to the left-of-center politically, and my wife, if anything, is to my left. So, hearing my elementary school-aged son coming out as a proponent of marriage discrimination was a bit of an eye-opener.

I need to get to the bottom of this...

"Really, bud. Well, why do you think that?"

"Well, Dad, that would make
it illegal for a boy to marry a boy, and a girl to marry a girl, right?"

"Yes, Cody, that's what Proposition 8 would do."

"Well, I think
that it should be illegal."

This is where the speculation sets in. Has his teacher been pushing this? Is one of his buddies the product of a very conservative home, and they have pushed the issue with their kids? Who knows?

"Hey, Cody, why do you think it ought to be illegal?"

"Because, Dad, I don't want to marry a boy. I want to marry a girl. You know,
like Kate or somebody."

I start breathing again. He thinks "same sex marriage" is somehow a mandatory thing, and that Prop 8 is the thin line between marriage the way he has always understood it, and some bizarre new world where only boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.

"No...buddy. It is not like that. Prop 8 makes it illegal for boys to marry
boys, or girls to marry girls, if they want to. It won't change who you get to
marry."

Silence from the backseat. Wheels, quite clearly, are turning.

"Oh...well...that's okay then. Besides, why should I care who someone else
marries??!!"

Kids get it.

To read this entire story, click here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ultimate Measure of A Man -- Letter to Joel Osteen

PFLAG Board member Rev. Gil Caldwell will be the featured guest tonight on OutQ radio’s “Derek & Romaine Show” on Sirius 109/XM 98. Gil’s portion of the show will begin around 7:00 p.m. ET.

Last week, Derek and Romaine discussed statements made by Pastor Joel Osteen on “The View” talk show, where Osteen said, “"What I believe the scripture teaches is that homosexuality is not God's best.” Tonight, Rev. Gil Caldwell will respond to Osteen’s comments and provide a broader view of faith communities as part of the LGBT movement. Listeners are welcome to participate by calling 866-305-6887. For those who don't subscribe to Sirius, a free online trial is available at www.Sirius.com.

Below is a letter from Rev. Caldwell to Pastor Osteen.

Dear Pastor Osteen,

I am writing to you as one pastor to another, as a follower of Jesus who shares with you the Christian walk, and as one who believes that, too often, the Bible is used to demean and diminish people.

I have seen the video of your appearance on “The View” on November 3, 2009, where you say that “homosexuality is not God’s best,” and that, while God loves all people, for LGBT people “their sexuality is a flaw.” I am disappointed that you would use your position and prominence to perpetuate the idea that God made a mistake in creating those whose sexual orientation or gender identity are different than your norm.

I am dismayed that you and others continue to use the Bible to justify prejudice toward and denial of rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. The Bible was once used justify the reprehensible enslavement and segregation of persons of African descent. Even the Ku Klux Klan, with their white robes and burning crosses, found justification in the church for their acts of hatred and violence against black people and communities. Following the words from the pulpits, the KKK sought to punish and diminish black people, whose “flaws” made them “not God’s best.”

Do you understand, Pastor Osteen, how your negative statements about LGBT people provide substance to misguided and violent groups?

I was a foot soldier in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and his words and actions have served as a model for my life and ministry. In Strength to Love, Dr. King wrote: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We know that this is a time of change and controversy related to equality and equal access for LGBT people. Lawmakers in Washington have not yet resolved the irrational and illogical Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the military; the state of Maine has just become the 31st state to deny marriage to same gender couples; and yet, 11 years after the beating death of Matthew Shepard, Congress has finally added sexual orientation and gender identity to its hate crimes provisions.

If we are to measure a man by where he stands during this time in our history, then your words have made you an accomplice to those who deny equality to LGBT people and their families.

This is a new century, Pastor Osteen, and I have faith that the God in whom we both believe expects us to cease using the Bible to support bias and hatred.

I have no national prominence as you have. You have never heard of me and it is likely that our paths will never cross. But, in the spirit that is at the heart of our faith, and as a fellow American who believes that the genius of our nation is our commitment to become one out of many, I felt compelled to share these words with you. I hope this letter finds you strong in faith.

Sincerely,

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Asbury Park, N.J.

The Media: How is Chaz Bono's Transition Being Portrayed?

Friday's Bilerico Project had a fascinating article Chaz Bono's representation in the media. Here is an excerpt:

Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny of Cher, paraded before the nation in the frilliest dresses as a child, separated from parents after coming out as gay, losing a father in a tragic accident, and finally reconciling with his mother as he battled his way through addiction and denial before finally starting his transition at 40, is an interesting case.

Anyone who doubts that his presence and involvement in Hollywood was and is significant forgets that he has access to some of the most powerful people in the media, for Hollywood is absolutely part of the media, and these people, entertainers, inform the world in ways that people generally don't even want to know about, let alone think on.

His work with
GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has helped them to have a reach that might have been difficult otherwise, and his background involvement with projects is often rumored to be somewhat critical.

It doesn't hurt that his mother is somewhat more than revered by many gay and trans folk across the world, either.

In coming out as Trans, he gives us an outstanding case to look at how far the media, and those who get involved with the media, has come, and how far it has to go.

One example is the recent piece selected by the local press here for their story on him. Rather than have a local person write it from several different stories, as the Arizona Republic usually does with what they perceive to be controversial stories, they chose (an active action on their part) to go with the stringer version from "BANG Showbiz", a London based entertainment news agency who's "clients include all the major British tabloid newspapers, European magazines, commercial British radio stations and a galaxy of top entertainment outlets".

This article is quite surprising from a trans point of view. It starts off with "Cher's Daughter" - something that Chaz can probably expect to hear for the rest of his life, and one example of why the relationship that transfolk have with their families can often be complex - the fame and visual remainders will haunt him as reminders of privilege lost - cissexual privilege.

They respect, however, his name - which is notable. He is not called Chastity throughout it. This may have something to do with the Gender Recognition Act in the UK - I don't know, but that is about as far as the respect goes.

So why, one might wonder, does a Gannet owned, Phoenix, Arizona based newspaper go to a story from outside the country? Perhaps because other American sources for Chaz aren't as insulting in their somewhat more respective use of the proper pronouns? Or maybe its because this BANG Showbiz group is cheaper, or possibly even could it be that there aren't any local US stories about?

To read this entire story at The Bilerico Project, click here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Census Report Numbers

According to this New York Times article, same-sex couples who identify as married are similar to straight spouses in terms of age and income, and nearly one-third of them are raising children, according to Census data released Monday that provides a demographic snapshot of gay families in America.

The study released by a think tank based at UCLA also found that Utah and Wyoming were among the states with the highest percentages of gay spouses in 2008, despite being heavily conservative states with no laws providing legal recognition of gay relationships.

The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as ''husband'' or ''wife,'' although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.

The couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.

''It's intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,'' said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis. ''Most proponents of traditional marriage will say that when you allow these couples to marry, you are going to change the fundamental nature of marriage by decoupling it from procreation. Clearly, in the minds of same-sex couples who are marrying or think of themselves as married, you are not decoupling child-rearing from marriage.''

Gates said the report is the first to reliably compare same-sex couples who identify as married with gays who say they're in unmarried partnerships and with married opposite-sex couples.

To continue reading this article, click here.

ENDA Updates

Yesterday, President Obama said that he fully supports an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)!

According to this article, the Obama Administration Thursday endorsed full-scale protections for gay and transgender workers from job discrimination, giving a major boost to legislation written by Sen. Jeff Merkley that is based on similar protections offered in Oregon.

"No American should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions, pay raises and other benefits of employment because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identify, which have no bearing on work performance,'' Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights told a Senate panel.

"No one should be fired because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Period,'' Perez told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He added: ``This is a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.''

The bill offered by Merkley is the latest iteration of a legislation originally offered in 1994 by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Merkley's bill is largely patterned after one he helped pass in Oregon in 2007 that provides protections against job discrimination.

It would prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability.


In an op-ed yesterday, Jaime Grant, Policy Institute Director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said,

"So as unemployment rates continue to climb, workplace fairness has a special resonance among Americans struggling to keep their homes and their dignity. While this sense of vulnerability is new to many, it is not for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, many of whom have absolutely no protection from discrimination and can be fired from their jobs arbitrarily, on the basis of sheer bias rather than work performance. Jobs and workplace fairness are critical to our country’s future, and people should not be denied their livelihoods because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As the nation’s political leaders consider how to get America back on solid economic footing and its people back to work, the passage and enactment of ENDA must be part of that solution.

Mitchell Gold Speaks at Rocky Mount, NC PFLAG event

Rose Marie Walston stood at the podium at the Nash Arts Center Monday night and said she was "coming out."

But it wasn't the typical revelation to others that she is gay.

It was a mother. A mother who did not know her son was gay until he overdosed on drugs six years ago.

"It's hard for me to stand up here," she said. "It has taken me six and a half years to get to this place. I live with the pain every day of my son. It's got to stop and this is where I'm starting."

Walston, originally from Wilson, lost her son in 2003. He was 36.

Mitchell Gold, author of "Crisis: 40 stories revealing the personal, social and religious pain and trauma of growing up gay in America," asked Walston to share her story during his visit to Nashville. The Rocky Mount branch of PFLAG invited Gold to speak. Close to 130 people attended the event.

The New Jersey native, who moved to Hickory 22 years ago, learned many teens struggled in small-town America with their sexual identity. As a young man, he was gripped with fear thinking that his parents and brother would reject him. He was also afraid at school, wasn't sure if he would ever have a successful career and didn't know if society would accept him.

"I don't remember a happy day when I was in school or in my college days," Gold said. "I remember so many nights going to bed thinking about killing myself because I didn't want to live this kind of life that has no future in this society."

Gold finally told his father and was relieved his father only wanted him happy. Through therapy he learned how to accept his identity and love himself.

He discussed his interaction with many politicians who oppose gay marriage or other human rights for people who are not heterosexual.

"I've had an understanding of how religious beliefs can be used to hurt or harm other people but I also have an understanding of how religious beliefs can be used to welcome and love and care about people," he said.

Gold is the founder of Faith in America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending religion-based prejudice. He is best known as a leader and trendsetter in the furniture industry.

For the full article in The Wilson Times, click here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Demand Workplace Equality; Tell Congress To Pass The Employment Non-Discrimination Act!

Right now, legislators in the Senate are holding a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Watch the hearing live online right now.

This critical legislation would fill a significant gap in employment law, adding protection for American workers from discrimination by employers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The momentum for passing an inclusive non-discrimination bill has been building, and now Congress needs to hear from the American people that ENDA is necessary and long overdue.

The time for action is now. Without strong support from Americans across all demographics, ENDA could continue to languish in Congress, as it has since 1994. Every day that ENDA is not law, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are at risk for losing their jobs based on something that has nothing to do with their job performance. Right now, Congress must hear from every one of us!

Tell Congress to get their act together. Currently, only twelve states, the District of Columbia, and about 100 localities have non-discrimination protections that protect LGBT workers. Many U.S. corporations and small businesses alike already have workplace non-discrimination policies in place and support ENDA.

Stand up for fairness. No American who wants to work should be denied the opportunity based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT employees work just as hard and contribute just as much as other workers. Discrimination against LGBT Americans isn’t right and we can help put an end to it.

Equality is up to you. Our legislators must feel the pressure from their constituents to act quickly and send ENDA to the President’s desk, where it will become law. Contact your Representative and Senators to let them know that you support ENDA and you want them to support it, too. President Obama and ENDA’s co-sponsors have demonstrated that workplace fairness is a priority for them. Make sure that your elected officials know that it’s a priority for you, too.

WI Supreme Court Upholds Domestic Partner Benefits!

From our friends at Fair Wisconsin:

Lambda Legal and Fair Wisconsin applaud the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to reject a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Family Action, an antigay group attempting to strip away newly enacted domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples and their families.

“We are pleased that the Court has rejected this challenge to an important law that was validly enacted to protect Wisconsin families,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office based in Chicago. “Because of today’s ruling, Wisconsin’s same-sex couples and their families who depend on domestic partnership protections can take care of each other in times of illness and crisis. Even with the discriminatory amendment excluding same-sex couples from marriage, the Wisconsin Constitution does not prevent enactment of laws that offer basic decency and security for couples.”

Fair Wisconsin, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, along with national and regional allies, recently helped enact these important domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples. Fair Wisconsin, vigorous opponents of the 2006 amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions, is defending the new domestic partnership law. Lambda Legal filed to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and its members to protect the few but fundamental protections granted to same-sex couples through the domestic partnership law. After reviewing the case, Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit.

“We are elated with this decision from the State Supreme Court,” says Executive Director Katie Belanger. “Over 15,000 same-sex couples in our state need the basic protections domestic partnerships provide.”

Lambda Legal Files Complaint Against Philadelphia Youth Detention Facility for Tormenting Transgender Girl

Lambda Legal has filed a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) against the City of Philadelphia and the Youth Study Center (YSC) among others on behalf of a 17-year-old transgender girl who was physically attacked by other residents and verbally abused by staff every day for almost a year and a half.

"Youth Study Center violated Philadelphia's Fair Practices Ordinance when their staff discriminated against our client for being transgender," said Flor Bermudez, Youth in Out-of-Home Care attorney for Lambda Legal. "This city facility was supposed to protect her but instead Youth Study Center staff failed to respect her gender identity, verbally abused her, let residents physically attack her and forced her to live in fear."

The girl, who has asked to be unnamed for safety reasons, has been in the foster care system since she was eleven. In February 2008, a Family Court Judge ordered Department of Human Services to provide her with all appropriate medical treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID), including hormone therapy and mandated that her female gender identity be respected. However, YSC staff and administrators failed to treat her in accordance with her female gender identity. They refused to refer to her by her preferred female name and to use female pronouns. YSC staff also refused her access to clothing and grooming options that matched her gender identity and reprimanded her for acting in a feminine manner. When she asked to be referred to by her preferred female name, YSC staff told her: "You ain’t no fucking female, you are a dude. . . Till you get your dick cut off, I’m not going to call you [by your preferred female name.]"

In addition, YSC staff subjected Lambda Legal's client to ridicule and cruel and degrading treatment and allowed abuse by residents on a daily basis. She endured verbal harassment, including slurs such as: "You're a faggot," "Wanna-be-girl," "You are not a girl," and "You will never be a girl." On several occasions, the verbal harassment escalated to physical attacks.

The complaint filed by Lambda Legal to the PCHR claims that the YSC, operated by DHS, violated the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance because she was harassed and discriminated against on the basis of her actual and/or perceived gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, and disability.

"Even though I asked the administration and staff at the Youth Study Center on multiple occasions to stop the harassment, to call me by the right name, to let me wear clothes that match who I am, and to allow me to sleep in a unit where I would feel safe, I continued to be degraded by staff and residents," said the 17-year-old girl. "Nobody, including sexual minorities, should have to experience the physical and emotional abuse that I encountered there."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

WI Supreme Court Arguments on Marriage Equality - A PFLAG RD's story

Our guest post today comes to us from Kay Heggestad, regional director for the Great Plains region and past president of the Madison, WI chapter.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McConkey v. Van Hollen, a case regarding the legality of Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment which states that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state AND a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.

Wisconsin statute states that two different ideas being placed in the same amendment. Lester Pines, the attorney representing Mr. Bill McConkey, argued that the two statements of the amendment were different and thus Wisconsin voters might have voted "yes" to the ban on same sex marriage but might have voted "no" on the ban against allowing legal rights that might be similar to marriage, e.g. civil unions or domestic partnerships. Mr. Bill McConkey, is a professor residing in Oshkosh professor and he filed the lawsuit in 2007.

Several members of PFLAG attended the hearing. One of the younger attendees tried to hold up a small sign saying, "Gay Marriage Now", but was not allowed to display it. The proceedings lasted about 90 minutes with the justices asking pertinent questions. Click here to watch the hearing. The justices will deliberate and hand down a decision in a future time, most likely in the spring of 2010. If they decide in favor of Mr. McConkey, then the amendment will be struck down. Same sex marriage would still not be legal in Wisconsin but the door would be open for legislators to introduce legislation that will allow same sex couples to marry.

Ryan Skipper's Killer Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder

Facing television cameras shortly after her son's killer was convicted, Pat Mulder told reporters Tuesday her son didn't deserve to die, and she encouraged people to fight against hatred.

"You have to make a stand," she said.

Mulder's son, Ryan Keith Skipper, was stabbed to death in March 2007 in what has been described as a hate crime.

Jurors spent about two hours deliberating Tuesday before finding William "Bill-Bill" Brown Jr. guilty of first-degree murder and robbery.

Prosecutors have argued Skipper, a gay student at Traviss Career Center in Lakeland, was considered an easy robbery target by Brown and his co-defendant, Joseph "Smiley" Bearden of Wahneta, because of his sexuality.

During a separate trial, Bearden, 24, was found guilty in February of second-degree murder and related charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Brown, 23, of Wahneta also faces life imprisonment at his Dec. 1 sentencing hearing.

Skipper's family let prosecutors forgo seeking the death penalty against Brown so his trial could go forward as planned.

Skipper's stepfather, Lynn Mulder, said the public will be protected if Brown is behind bars for life. He said the jury's decision demonstrates Skipper's killing was a hate crime.

"I think the first-degree murder verdict does show there was forethought, malice and planning," he said. "It was a hate crime."

Brian Winfield, a spokesman for the advocacy group Equality Florida, said the "overkill" assault against Skipper went beyond what was necessary for a robbery or even to kill him.

"The violence Ryan suffered is the most extreme expression of an all too common sentiment that gay and transgender people are worth less," he said.

Skipper's body was found about 1 a.m. March 14, 2007, around Morgan Road in Wahneta.

The 25-year-old Winter Haven man bled to death on the isolated, dark, dirt road. Autopsy results showed he had been stabbed and cut 19 times.

During Tuesday's closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo said Bearden was interested in robbing Skipper, but Brown pushed things to murder.

Castillo played a secretly recorded video of Brown talking to detectives. He described the more than 40 minutes of black-and-white footage as the "essence" of the case against Brown.

To read the entire article on Ryan Skipper's murder and trial, click here.

Election Results - Updates from Across the Country

As you all know, the GLBT community faced three important elections yesterday: marriage equality in Maine, domestic partner benefits in Washington State, and a non-discrimination ordinance in Kalamazoo, MI.

The results were mixed, but we do have some positive news to report.

Kalamazoo voters passed Ordinance 1856, which gives all people in Kalamazoo, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the chance to live without fear of being fired or denied housing or access to public accommodations.

In Washington State, we are optimistic that once all the votes are counted, Referendum 71 will be approved. Ref 71 would expand the state's domestic partner benefits to include all state-level rights and benefits that married couples have.

The most disappointing news comes from Maine, where voters chose to repeal same-sex marriage. The results where close, and our friends at No on 1, the group that fought tirelessly to persuade voters to keep the marriage laws in tact, waged a hard-fought campaign. Our hearts go out to those in Maine affected by these results, as well as to all the people who worked so hard on the ground to try and stop this measure from passing.

Our work will continue, and we will take pride from the results that did go our way. Thanks to all of our supporters who did their part, whether by voting, donating time or money to the election, or calling friends and family in the states holding elections. We appreciate your hard work!

New Study Shows that Social Work Schools Need to Prepare Students to Work with LGBT Youth

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and Lambda Legal jointly published a study that found a relationship between social work educators’ knowledge of LGBT issues and how prepared students are to work with LGBT populations. In the study, program directors and faculty were asked about institutional policies, program policies, course offerings, curriculum, educational environment, and instructor training.

The report showed that a majority of social work schools do not provide classes or training opportunities on LGBT issues. Lambda Legal’s Youth-in-Out of Home Care project attorney, Flor Bermudez, commented on the study’s findings about social work curricula regarding LGBT youth. “Preparing the next generation of child welfare advocates so they are better equipped to help LGBT youth in out-of-home care is a critical first step in addressing the problems we’re hearing from youth.

It is clear that faculty and students need more LGBT youth specific training. Working in partnership with CSWE we can offer resources and suggestions for curriculum development.” The CSWE Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression has agreed to assist with developing a series of resources and opportunities for program directors and faculty members to better prepare students to work competently with LGBT adults and youth. The Council will be working on the resources this fall for launch in 2010.

To read more about this study, please visit the website for the Council on Social Work Education.