Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Policy Matters - July 26, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Has the LGBT legislative agenda been shelved? The limited time remaining in the legislative calendar for this Congress is raising questions about whether lawmakers will pass any further pro-LGBT bills before year’s end — and whether it will be politically feasible to pass such bills next year. Further complicating the situation is the specter of reduced Democratic majorities in the next Congress — or even a Republican takeover — and whether measures unaddressed this year would be viable in 2011. Despite the limited time remaining this year, some LGBT rights supporters are hopeful that Congress will move forward with additional legislation. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a gay lawmaker and House sponsor of ENDA, expressed optimism about the bill passing the House this year.

Risky Behavior, Drug Use Linked to Childhood Abuse. Gay and bisexual men who were victims of sexual abuse and social shaming as children are more likely to have psychosocial health problems that could put them at greater risk for HIV infection, a new study suggests. The study included more than 1,000 HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay and bisexual men enrolled in the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, which began in 1983. Almost 10 percent of the participants had been victims of childhood abuse and nearly 30 percent had been the targets of gay-related victimization between the ages of 12 and 14, including verbal insults, bullying, threats of physical violence, and actual physical assaults. The University of Pittsburgh researchers found that men who experienced childhood sexual abuse and a sense of masculinity failure were more likely to use illegal drugs and to engage in risky sexual behaviors in adulthood, both of which heighten the risk of HIV infection. They added that those health issues have led to a “syndemic,” or shared epidemic.

TX Mom Challenges Transgender Widow’s Marriage. The family of a southeast Texas firefighter, T. Araguz III, killed in a July 4 blaze is suing to void her marriage to her transgender widow, Nikki Araguz. The family of T. Araguz wants to prevent her widow, Nikki Araguz, from collecting any of her death benefits because Texas doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. But the widow said Thursday her marriage was not a fraud — she married Araguz prior to her transition from male-to-female. The Wharton Volunteer Fire Department captain died while fighting a blaze at an egg farm in Boling, about 55 miles southwest of Houston. In a lawsuit T. Araguz's mother filed on July 12 in Wharton County, she asked that her daughter's marriage to Nikki Araguz be voided because they were members of the same-sex and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriages.

Public Policy Watch
Levin: Senate to Tackle “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Thursday he’s expecting the full Senate to take up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in September after lawmakers return from August recess. Advocates have been anticipating a vote on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill — the vehicle to which repeal language is attached — after the Senate Armed Services Committee attached the provision to the bill and reported out the legislation to the floor on May 27 . Levin said the quickest possible route for passing repeal in the Senate is by reaching an agreement this month to take up the defense bill shortly after lawmakers return from August break. Levin, who had earlier said he was hoping for a vote on the defense bill in July, said this agreement would eliminate the possibility of a filibuster on a motion to proceed after lawmakers return.

Lawyers Seek an Injunction to Halt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Lawyers for the Log Cabin Republicans say they will ask U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips for an injunction to halt the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy during their closing arguments in a federal trial challenging the law and request that she declares the law unconstitutional. The case is unique in that it is not based on an individual’s complaint but rather is a broad, sweeping attack on the policy, making it is the biggest legal test of the law in recent years. The case has put the Obama administration in the awkward position of defending a policy the president wants repealed. Government attorneys have argued throughout the two-week trial that Congress should decide on the policy — not a federal judge. They presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense.

Argentina’s Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed into Law. President Cristina Fernandez signed a new law last Wednesday making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Civil registries across the nation will now begin processing long lists of marriage applications from gay couples. The first such ceremony in Buenos Aires is set for August 13. The law, which was approved by the Senate last week following earlier endorsement by the lower house, grants same-sex couples the full legal protections and responsibilities that marriage gives to heterosexual couples, including the ability to inherit property and to jointly adopt children. Mexico’s capital was the first city in the region to legalize gay marriages. The bill was pushed by Fernandez’s left-of-center administration, worsening its already strained relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
I realize that the House and the Senate plan to break for summer recess beginning August 9th. Do you have suggestions on how my chapter can take advantage of our legislators’ time while they are visiting the district?
Thanks so much,
Michael

Dear Michael,
Thank you so much for your question. During each legislative recess, Congress adjourns and members leave Washington and return to their home districts. Recess is an important time for members, as they visit constituents, attend fundraisers, and march in parades, and establish visibility in their communities. Essentially, this is the time that your Congress Members are coming home to hear from you and bring your concerns back to Washington. Congressional recess is also an important opportunity for PFLAG members just like you. Away from the noise of the capital, Congress Members are more attuned to local concerns, which is why it’s important to make sure your concerns get on their radar screens during the recess.

Here are several suggestions for how you can take advantage of legislators’ time home and help move equality forward:

1. Invite Your Congress Members to a PFLAG Meeting!
Inviting your Congress Members to a PFLAG meeting is a great way for your chapter to share a little about what you all are doing in your community, and it will give you the opportunity to get your legislators’ attention while you talk more about LGBT bills that are under consideration in both the House and the Senate. Hosting your legislators at a PFLAG meeting is a low cost way to establish media contacts, educate legislators and enrich communities.

2. Schedule an In-District Meeting
Your legislators’ schedules may be less hectic while they are at home, compared to when they are working in D.C. And it is certainly cheaper for your group to meet with them at home than to travel to Washington! Plan ahead and schedule a meeting with your legislators to educate them about PFLAG, our issues, how we are helping the community, and how they can be part of this effort by supporting equality-friendly bills. Bring community partners and members who also care about the issues with you. Face-to-face visits are the most effective form of influence. Even if you can only meet with the legislator's staff member, the effort will likely be worthwhile because the staff member can help shape the member's views. Please be sure to read our Five Easy Ways resource for recommendations on how to make the most of your meeting.

3. Plan a PFLAG Lobby Day
If you have the time and resources, arrange a lobby day for chapter members to visit your legislators in-district. You can organize an in-district lobby day with your representative by first deciding what day works the best to get the most community participation. Once a date is decided, be sure to invite your chapter members along with your allies to join you on your visit to your Congress Member’s office to meet with district staff. Make sure the members you recruit live in the member's district. Legislators pay more attention to the concerns of the people on whom their reelection depends. Be sure to have a clear agenda for what you want to accomplish and a specific ask of your lawmaker.

4. Attend your legislator’s local events
While they are home, legislators schedule public appearances, such as town hall events, fundraisers, and policy conferences. To find out their schedules, check their website or call their office. Attend these events and introduce yourself and your organization to the congressperson. You may also consider bird-dogging the congressman at such events, by asking them specific questions about the issues you care about.

5. Use Media to Your Advantage
While your legislators are home, they are sure to read the local paper, watch the local news, and listen to the radio to find out what their constituents are thinking. Legislators may be more likely to pay attention to your issue if they hear about it from these sources. Work with local reporters and news organizations to place stories on issues important to your chapter during the weeks your legislators are home by contacting reporters and putting out press releases. Encourage chapter members to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. You may also consider placing an advertisement. Local news organizations may have specially discounted rates for organizations like PFLAG.

6. Scheduling a PFLAG Event During Recess
If your chapter plans to hold a fundraising, informational, or other event, consider scheduling it during a legislative recess. Invite legislators and their staff. If they cannot attend, send them any documents related to the event or a summary of the discussion or proceedings that took place.
If you have more questions on how you can outreach your legislators during the August recess, please feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience.

Warmest regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on August 24, 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 August 20, 2010.

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