Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Policy Matters - May 25, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Impatience on ENDA. As the timeline for action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) tightens, LGBT organizations turned up the pressure on Tuesday, May 18, with a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington and a rally in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco. The events – particularly the San Francisco event – led Pelosi (D-Calif.) to spend an hour Monday, May 17, on a conference call aimed at reassuring LGBT groups that she intends to hold votes on both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and ENDA this year.

UK LGBT Asylum Seekers Sent Back to Persecution
. Britain's immigration system is guilty of "institutional homophobia", according to a new report. that the report revealed that 98% of LGBT asylum-seekers fleeing persecution for their sexuality or gender identity are returned home to a likely fate of death or persecution. The hard-hitting study by the LGBT rights group Stonewall will add to pressure on the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the new coalition government to be more responsive to LGBT asylum seekers. As a result of the report, the Home Secretary said she would block moves by the Ugandan government to force the extradition of Ugandan LGBT asylum-seekers who had fled to the UK. Proposed new laws in Uganda threaten imprisonment of anyone found "guilty" of homosexual acts. The proposals extend this to Ugandan nationals living abroad, who could face extradition back to Uganda. The Home Office made it clear that the UK will only extradite people to their home countries if their "crime" was an offence in this country.

Opposition to Marriage Equality Eases. Over time, Americans have become more accepting of legal same-sex marriage, and a growing number of subgroups now show majority support. However, religious and conservative segments of the U.S. population remain largely opposed — even though their support for marriage equality has also increased in recent years. Because religious and conservative groups are larger than nonreligious and left-leaning groups in the U.S., overall, more Americans remain opposed to, rather than in favor of, marriage equality. The District of Columbia and five states — Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa — legally recognize same-sex unions by extending state marriage benefits to these couples.

Public Policy Watch
FDA Considers Lifting Blood Ban. Following up on a March announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the June meeting of the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability ''will hear presentations and engage in deliberations'' on the 1985 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy prohibiting men who have had sex with another man ''even one time since 1977'' from donating blood. Officials at HHS and advocacy groups said that no decision on the specifics of any change – or if there even would be any change – has been made. Unlike the FDA reviews of the policy in 2000 and 2006, however, the Advisory Committee will be free to consider non-scientific factors – like societal issues and cost-benefit analysis – in its review. The meeting, formally announced in the Federal Register on Thursday, May 20, is to take place June 10-11 at The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, MD.

Senator Franken Introduces Student Non-Discrimination Act. Senator Al Franken (D-MO) and 22 cosponsors introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a companion to H.R. 4530, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in the House early this year, which would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Rep. Polis’s bill currently has the support of over 100 representatives. “It’s time that we extend the protections of our nations’ civil right laws to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students across the country,” Franken said. “No student should be subjected to the ridicule and physical violence that LGBT students so often experience in school. It’s time we demanded equal treatment for all of our children under the law.”

Opportunity to Scuttle “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Exists. A prime opportunity is at hand for Congress to repeal the repressive “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has drummed out more than 13,000 capable members of the military simply because they are gay or lesbian. President Obama and the top Pentagon brass have called for repeal, and House strategists plan a floor fight to attach repeal to the big defense budget bill that comes up this week. Election-year nervousness is evident among some supporters, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi braced them last week with a flat prediction that “don’t-ask will be a memory by the end of this year.” The speaker did not detail the process, but an amended defense bill generated by the House would be a good start. Senate opponents would have to come up with a supermajority to delete the repeal from the measure.

Lieberman Ready to Move Domestic Partner Benefits Bill. A bill extending benefits to same-sex partners of lesbian, gay or bisexual federal employees could be introduced on the Senate floor “within weeks,” according to aides to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). The Washington Post reports that the benefits would cost $310 million through 2020, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Though some Republicans have criticized the legislation due to its potential cost, Lieberman said Tuesday, “This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government’s overall costs for the civilian workforce. That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention, and morale." Lieberman’s bill is expected to be voted on in committee before July 4.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,

I’m thrilled to learn that the Congress is taking action to finally repeal the destructive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, however, I’m really concerned that the proposal they are considering does not include a non-discrimination law for lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. Wouldn’t the lack of a non-discrimination clause bring the military back to the dark days before even the discriminatory DADT law?

Thanks,
Claire
PFLAG South Dakota

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Dear Claire,

Thank you for your question. We are all very excited that the Congress will likely include an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that will repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Everyone at PFLAG remains committed to seeing this discriminatory law overturned once and for all, and we encourage all of our members to ask their Senators and Representatives to vote on the right side of history when the opportunity soon arises.

We expect that some of the key provisions included in the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (the bill that fully repeals DADT) will be left out of this amendment. Most notably, Congress will not instruct the Pentagon to include a non-discrimination policy protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. In theory, this could lead to continued discrimination on the basis of a service member’s sexual orientation. In reality, we know that both the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, along with the pubic and service members themselves support the open service of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

Once Congress repeals the legal ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, we plan to work with the Administration to issue an executive order (or a Pentagon regulation) that will implement such a non-discrimination policy. Experience has demonstrated that when previous Administrations implement non-discrimination policies through executive orders, they tend to stay around for quite some time. For example, President Truman issued an executive order to racially integrate the forces. While this action was met with intense opposition, the policy has remained on the books for over six decades. Similarly, when President Clinton issued a non-discrimination policy for the federal, civilian workforce, through an executive order, President George Bush was unsuccessful in overturning this policy.

Ultimately, we know that our main legal obstacle is the DADT law. While this law remains on the books, our loved ones will continue to be unjustly discharged. We must continue to push our Members of Congress to take action this week and vote on the right side of history, allowing all of our brave service members to serve openly and honestly. We can only achieve this victory with your help!

Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

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