Friday, May 14, 2010

Policy Matters - May 13, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Army to Accept Comments on DADT. Army Secretary John McHugh said Friday the military is considering a system for soldiers to anonymously express their opinions about its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay troops. The Pentagon will make a recommendation on changing the policy by the end of the year, McHugh said. Soldiers would make their comments ahead of that recommendation. “We’re trying to do this in the quietest way possible, and by that, I simply mean not to sensationalize it, to try to really assess the soldiers’ opinions,” McHugh said at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks. “Anonymity, of course, is an important aspect.” Any policy change would have to come from Congress. Until then, federal law prohibits service members from discussing their sexual orientation. President Obama supports lifting the ban.

What to Say When Your Teenager Says She’s Gay. While the development of same-sex attraction isn’t completely understood, most medical and mental-health professionals have long concluded that being gay is not an illness and that people cannot choose their true sexual orientation. Studies show that on average, young people, gay and straight, first become aware of sexual attraction about age 10, and that this is a part of early childhood development. “Families and caregivers have a dramatic and compelling impact on their LGBT children’s health, mental health and well-being,” says Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project. She also notes that because sexual orientation starts so early, “we tell parents and families that they need to provide a supportive environment for their children before they know who they’ll become.”

Ten LGBT Leaders Awarded Prestigious Fellowship. The Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute has announced its 2010 class of David Bohnett Gay & Lesbian Leadership Fellows, a group of 10 openly LGBT leaders who will receive scholarships to attend the Harvard Kennedy School this summer. Two groups of five Bohnett Leadership Fellows will attend the school’s three-week Senior Executives in State and Local Government program for mid-career professionals in June and July. Chuck Wolfe, GLLI’s president and CEO, said the new Fellows have deep and varied experience in public service as elected and appointed officials, and as leaders in the LGBT movement. ”We are proud to work alongside the David Bohnett Foundation to invest in the leadership capacity of some of our community’s brightest and most talented people,” Wolfe said.

Public Policy Watch
Human Rights Victory in Florida’s Leon County. By a 5-2 vote, Leon County – home of Florida’s state capital – has amended its Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections along with including additional protections for the county's personnel.. At the culmination of a year-long campaign, more than 100 brave and passionate speakers shared their stories before the Leon County Commission to lobby for the inclusion of these vital protections. Congratulations to all of those who worked tirelessly on this important campaign. With this change, Leon County steps forward to lead Northwest Florida in fairness and equality.

Arkansas Adoption Ban Rescinded. Arkansas voters approved an initiative on November 4, 2008 that banned adoption or foster parenting by “unmarried individuals in cohabiting relationships” – despite the fact that there were 3,700 children in Arkansas living in state custody at the time of the decision. The initiative, called Initiated Act 1, passed with 57 percent of the vote and came after a prolonged battle by religious organizations and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue. Fortunately, on April 16, 2010, a state judge struck down the adoption ban more than two years after it was implemented claiming it, “infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas.” Conservatives quickly condemned the ruling and vowed they would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. The state attorney general announced that the state would also appeal, while at the same time the Arkansas Department of Human Services told its staff to begin accepting applications from unmarried couples who wanted to be foster or adoptive parents.

Federal Housing Department Changes Still Pending. LGBT rights advocates are still waiting for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to issue regulations on changes it announced late last year to include LGBT families in low-income housing programs. The department announced plans to make the changes October 26, 2009 — more than six months ago — but the changes have yet to be enacted. The modifications are intended to ensure the department’s low-income housing programs don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They would clarify the term “family,” as used to describe the public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs, to include otherwise eligible LGBT people and couples. Additionally, grantees and others who participate in HUD programs will be required to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws regarding LGBT people. The changes also would ensure that all Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage loans are based on a borrower’s credit-worthiness and not on unrelated characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,

While I wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s National Veteran’s Lobby Day in D.C., I did schedule an in-district visit with my representative, and shared my story as a straight ally and a veteran who supports the repeal of DADT. Before the meeting, I was reading up on the latest news on where things stand with repeal efforts and was concerned with the recent letter Secretary Gates sent to Congressional leaders asking them not to take legislative action this year. Does this letter give the Congress an excuse not to take action?

All the best,
Sarah
PFLAG Maine

Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for your question! Nearly two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asking that the Congress not pass legislation this year that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He requested a delay because he would like for the Pentagon's Working Group to first complete its DADT study by December, 2010. Shortly after the letter was issued, the White House released a statement deferring to Secretary Gates. Such action suggests that President Obama may be reversing his commitment promised in his State of the Union Address when he said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do.”

Despite this letter and the President’s deferral to the Pentagon, Congressional leaders including the Senate’s Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), dismissed Secretary Gates’ letter and said the decision to advance repeal legislation all depends on if there are enough votes to pass the legislation. Additionally, Senator Levin has stated that he favors repealing DADT and reached this conclusion prior to receiving Secretary Gates’ letter. He stated that there is “no reason we can’t move forward with the legislative process this year.” Rep. Frank blamed the President, stating, “I think the President made a big mistake allowing that letter to be sent,” adding that he believes repeal can still pass, although “it will give some Members an excuse not to vote for it.”

Pressure from outside advocates demanding DADT repeal this year is a major factor that will help move the Congress to take action. In fact, Tuesday’s successful National Veterans Lobby Day attracted over 400 veterans, including many PFLAG members, from across the U.S. to share a unified message demanding that Congress repeal DADT this year. Those who lobbied urged the Congress to include DADT repeal language in the National Defense Authorization bill, which is currently being drafted and will likely be voted on in the House Armed Services Committee as early as May 24. More grassroots pressure must be applied on all members of Congress, especially those who are on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to ensure that repeal language will be included in this year’s Defense Authorization bill.

We encourage you to continue to reach out to your Congress members and ask them to support including repeal language to the Defense Authorization bill to once and for all lift this discriminatory ban.

Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on May 25, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than May 21, 2010.

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