Tuesday, March 23, 2010

PFLAG's Policy Matters - March 23, 2010

Front Page Headlines
PFLAG VP on the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. Mike Neubecker, Vice President of PFLAG National's Board of Directors, writes about the importance of passing the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 4806), a bill that would prevent states from discriminating against LGBT people in adoption and foster care services if those states want to continue receiving federal funding. In his post, Mike writes about the barriers that far too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people experience when attempting to foster or adopt. In fact, it's estimated that there are nearly two million LGBT people who want to open their homes and lives to the estimated 500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. But they cannot realize this dream, because unfair state laws discriminate against them or their families, regardless of how qualified they are to be parents. The current patchwork of discriminatory state laws does a disservice to children in desperate need by denying them access to permanent, safe, and loving homes.

Grassroots Lobbyists Push for Inclusive ENDA. Grassroots lobbyists from across the country descended on Capitol Hill last week to encourage lawmakers to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, including protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Participants in the lobby day, led by the National Center for Transgender Equality, met with Congress members on Tuesday to emphasize the importance of passing ENDA inclusive of our transgender family and friends along with our lesbian, gay, and bisexual loved ones. PFLAG National also helped train participants on how to lobby for an inclusive ENDA, and rallied members and supporters to join the cause in advocating for a fully inclusive ENDA.

Could Pentagon's DADT Review Hinder Repeal? A Pentagon study is currently underway to review DADT. However, questions have arisen about the focus of the study. If the parameters of the study are to determine whether repeal would have a positive or negative impact — as opposed to examining the best way to implement repeal — it would be inconsistent with how Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined the review in congressional testimony last month and could potentially hinder repeal efforts. At the time, Gates said the study would focus on implementing repeal and not whether it would be beneficial or harmful to the military. "The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it," he said. "We received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving out accordingly."

Aging Issues Can be Tougher on LGBT Older Adults. Though aging is tough for everyone, it tends to be tougher for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people, according to a report presented Wednesday at the annual conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging in Chicago, Illinois. The report, entitled, Improving the Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults, identifies issues that disproportionately affect LGBT older adults including stigma, isolation and unequal treatment. These factors combined mean that LGBT seniors have more financial and health problems as well as fewer opportunities for social and community engagement than do their heterosexual peers.

Public Policy Watch
ACLU Challenges Law Banning Unmarried Couples from Adopting. ACLU sued the state of Arkansas on behalf of a group of families seeking to overturn a law that prevents unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children; a ban they say limits the number of permanent placements for foster children. Now, three teenagers living in state-run group homes are joining the lawsuit. Voters approved the law in 2008, two years after the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a policy by state child welfare officials that blocked gays from being foster parents. The law bars unmarried couples who live together from adopting or fostering children, and it effectively bans gays and lesbians from adopting or fostering because Arkansas has a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.

LGBT Contingent to Join Immigration Rally. Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform legislation rallied this past weekend to support the bill, as well as to drum up support for a proposed component that would help same-sex couples. Thousands of demonstrators gathered Sunday at 2 p.m. on the National Mall to call for passing immigration reform this year. Reform Immigration for America, a coalition of immigration reform organizations, staged the event. Within this larger protest, a contingent of about 200 advocated for LGBT inclusion in immigration reform, and in particular, a provision to help same-sex bi-national couples. Because same-sex couples don't have federal marriage rights that are available to straight couples, people in same-sex relationships with a foreign national cannot marry their partner to allow them to stay in the U.S. Under current immigration law, an estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples are kept apart or are in danger of separation. Standalone legislation in Congress known as the Uniting American Families Act would allow LGBT people to sponsor their partners for permanent residency.

Mississippi Maintains Ineffective Abstinence Only Approach. On February 9, 2010 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed House Bill 837. The legislation would require every school district to implement either an "abstinence-only" or "abstinence-plus" curriculum. If passed by the state senate, HB 837 would amend state law by mandating every school district to provide human sexuality instruction. The bill would institute greater sex education guidelines for school districts and task state agencies with developing new strategies for addressing adolescent sexual and reproductive health outcomes. However, it would still allow school districts to teach a failed abstinence-only-until-marriage approach.

Demand US Census Bureau Collect Better Data. The U.S. Census Bureau claims that an accurate count of our nation's population offers "a brighter tomorrow for everyone." However, the census does not count our LGBT loved ones — it does not ask for peoples' sexual orientation or gender identity in the census form. Neglecting to collect this information means that census data is not only inaccurate and incomplete — it will deny the LGBT community the resources that can make a difference in the social, political and economic well-being of our LGBT loved ones across the nation.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
I thought the Comprehensive Healthcare Reform bill (H.R. 3590); aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also included the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act (H.R. 2625) that would remove the unfair federal tax on health insurance when someone is covered under their same-sex domestic partner's plan. Do you know if this provision has been eliminated from the current Patient Protection Act?
Thanks so much, Karyn Kai Anderson

Dear Karyn,
Thank you so much for your question! You are correct in noting that the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act is an incredibly important provision that was initially included in the House of Representatives health care reform package. It would eliminate taxes on employer-provided health coverage for employees' spouses or same-sex, registered domestic-partners and their dependent children, along with other designated beneficiaries or employees. Unfortunately, a lot of the really solid LGBT health care provisions were dropped in the Senate version (S. 1728/ H.R. 3590), including the tax equity piece.

As you know, over the weekend the House approved the Senate's health reform package. While the reform package certainly isn't perfect, the House's actions help extend affordable and accessible health care insurance to more individuals, including LGBT people. In particular, the bill provides:
• Improved data collection for at-risk groups – likely to include "sexual and gender minorities," or LGBT people
• Non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal grants for mental health education and training
• $8.5 billion in funds for community health centers, including LGBT health community centers
• Prohibition of insurance exclusions based on pre-existing conditions
• Extension of insurance coverage to approximately 32 million uninsured people

While this past weekend's vote is history, health care reform is not. The House has already approved the Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872), and the Senate is expected to take action on this bill. Congress members upset with the leaner package intend to pass the reconciliation version, ultimately adding back some of the key provisions PFLAG National has lobbied for over the past year, such as the Tax Equity for Health Beneficiaries Act. As the dust settles after Sunday's vote, we'll be sure to update you and all of our members and supporters on the status of those very important provisions.

Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

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