Wednesday, March 31, 2010

N.Y. School District Settles Gay Harassment Suit

Gregory B. Jarvis Jr/Sr High School

A lawsuit brought against the Mohawk Central School District in New York ended with a settlement on Monday, with the district agreeing to protect gay and gender-nonconforming students from harassment.

The settlement includes the school district consenting to numerous policy changes, including increased training for school officials and oversight by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the student involved in the lawsuit. The ninth-grade student at Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School (pictured) — who has since transferred to another school in another district — complained to school officials about harassment and discrimination related to his perceived sexual orientation. He claims his complaints went unaddressed by the school district.

Before the settlement was reached, the U.S. Department of Justice took the unlikely step of filing a motion to intervene on the student's behalf, but the DOJ motion was still pending when the settlement was reached. The DOJ will also work with the NYCLU is maintaining oversight of the new policies.

"We applaud the school district for making this commitment to protect all students from bullying and harassment," said NYCLU senior staff attorney Corey Stoughton, in a release. "We look forward to working with district officials and the Department of Justice on implementing these important reforms, and hope that they will inspire other school systems to confront bulying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming students."

For more information, click here for The Advocate's article on this story.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oklahoma Passes Wrong Hate Crimes Bill

From The Advocate:

Lawmakers in Oklahoma thought they’d figured out a way to exempt the state from enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Act, which added protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes act. But thanks to “a legislative error,” the Oklahoma senate has instead passed a bill that sidesteps protections based on race and religion.

Senate Bill 1965, passed on March 10, states that local enforcement agencies should not enforce any sections of federal law listed under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 245 unless they are already covered by state law. But it’s Section 249, not 245, where sexual orientation and gender identity protections are listed. Section 245 outlines protections based on race and religion.

Now that the mistake has been made public, the bill has little chance of getting through the House, according to Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director. But that’s little solace for Equality Oklahoma president Toby Jenkins.

“People are a little embarrassed that it got this far,” he said.

Sen. Boxer Introduces COBRA Benefits Bill for Domestic Partners

Last week Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Equal Access to COBRA Act, which would allow many domestic partners the same access married spouses currently have to COBRA health coverage if their partner loses a job.

The law would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children. Currently, more than half of Fortune 500 companies cover domestic partners under their health plans.

Boxer said, “This is a question of fairness: Every family deserves access to health insurance, especially in this tough economy. This bill ensures that domestic partners and their families will have equal access to health coverage after a job loss.”

Under federal law, employers must offer continuing health care coverage to departing employees and their beneficiaries for up to 36 months. Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses — even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees.

This legislation would change federal law to allow equal access to COBRA coverage for all individuals who are covered by an employer’s health plan. It would apply to domestic partners as they are defined by an employer’s health insurance plan.

For more information on this story, click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Queering the Census with George Takei

Earlier this month we blogged about the Task Force's efforts to Queer the Census.

The census survey has 10 questions, but not one of them asks if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The data collected impacts issues critical to every American – like our health care, our economic stability, and even our safety. And when LGBT people aren't counted, then we also don't count when it comes to services, resources ... you name it.

Now, Star Trek actor George Takei and his husband, Brad Altman, have created a video urging couples who consider themselves married but whose marriages may not be legally recognized to still mark the husband/wife box to make sure that our community's marriages are counted. This is the first time in history that the census is asking people to identify how they view themselves, and it's important that we respond accordingly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

MS High School in Prom Scandal also Suspended Transgender Student

We've been following the story of Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager who was told by school officials that she was not allowed to bring her girlfriend to the prom. It seems that her school, Itawamba Agricultural High School, has a history of anti-GLBT actions.

According to The Advocate Itawamba Agricultural High School earlier this year suspended a transgender student.

Dan Savage at The Stranger reviews the experience of Juin Baize, who moved to Fulton this year with his family and attended Itawamba Agricultural High School for less than one day.

“The other students wouldn't be given a chance to get used to him: the next time Baize came to school, according Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, Baize was given a suspension notice and sent home,” writes Savage. “When Juin returned to school after his first suspension, he was suspended again.”

Juin, who uses male pronouns, wanted to attend school dressed in feminine clothing. The school never listed an official reason for his suspension, not even after repeated requests from the ACLU. Juin moved to Florida over the weekend because of increasing harassment against him and his family, a move that helps him but makes it unlikely the ACLU can pursue his case, says Savage.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Antigay D.C. Marriage Senate Amendment Defeated

Senator Bennett (R-UT)

Early today an amendment to the health care reconciliation bill proposed by Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah that would have stripped the District of Columbia of its recently enacted marriage equality law and forced a referendum was defeated by a vote of 59–36.

Only two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, crossed party lines to vote against the amendment (a vote to keep D.C.’s marriage equality law intact). Two independent senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, also voted no. All Democratic senators present voted no.

Military to Revise ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Rules

The New York Times is reporting that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will announce measures today to make it more difficult for the military to expel openly gay service members, an interim plan while the Pentagon examines repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, officials said.

Officials said the new steps would include a requirement that only a general or admiral could initiate action in cases where service members were suspected of violating the prohibition against openly gay service in the armed forces.

The guidelines would also raise the standard required for evidence to be presented in such cases, an effort to prevent “malicious outing” by a third party or jilted partner, officials said.

Congressional action would be required to repeal the ban.

But the new measures, expected to be announced Thursday at a Pentagon news conference, would make good on Mr. Gates’s pledge to Congress last month that the military would move toward enforcing the current policy in a fairer, more humane manner.

“We believe that we have a degree of latitude within the existing law to change our internal procedures in a manner that is more appropriate and fair to our men and women in uniform,” Mr. Gates said last month.

A review is to be completed by the end of the year on how the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy might be ended. President Obama has called for Congress to repeal the law.

Same-Sex Weddings Open the Door to Finding the Right Male Attire for Women

From The Washington Post [free subscription required]:

When Robin Cloud told her friends she was getting married, they offered to help in the way that friends offer to help, at least for straight weddings.

"They said: If you need anything, I'd love to go dress shopping with you."

And Robin responded in the way she had learned to respond, at least to straight people.

She said: "I am the Ellen of the relationship."

That, says Cloud, a 35-year-old lesbian who hasn't worn a dress in more than a decade, "seemed to clear it up for them."

What the woman needed was a good man's suit. A good man's suit can be hard to find if you are a woman.

"Honestly, I don't know how it's supposed to fit," says Cloud. Though she normally dresses in masculine apparel, her job as a comedian rarely forces her to explore further than the casual convenience of Club Monaco or Uniqlo. The wedding "means I have to go to a real men's department, and that will be a little more intense. It's going to be an education."

This is the sartorial plight of the sporty, the butch, the soft butch, the tomboys, the bois, the "Ellens," the Big Dykes on Campus, the women who love women but don't love wearing skirts and really don't love those girly pleated pantsuits with princess seams and scalloped collars. The women who know how to buy work pants, play shirts, clubbing shoes and everything else, but who do not know how to buy formal wear (really, who does?) and are now navigating the experience for their now legalized weddings.

"I've been really thinking about this," says Nancy Blaine, a book editor who, like Cloud, lives in New York but will hold her ceremony in a state where same-sex marriages are legal. "I've been wearing men's business suits to work for 20 years, but I still don't put on a tie. That's the one step that would raise eyebrows just a little bit higher." In the past she's shopped at warehouse sales to avoid potentially awkward interactions with salespeople. But for her wedding, "I want to be able to ask somebody. If I'm going to do it, I want to do it well." She wants the custom tailoring, the professional eye. She wants to pull out all the stops and wear a tie, and she wants to look darn good.

But still, some women say, the fashion questions felt isolating. "Women like me haven't necessarily had a community," says Susan Herr. "We haven't shared information. Do we shop in the women's department or the men's? How should a good suit fit? We had to figure this all out on our own."

To read this entire article, click here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Legendary Liza Minnelli to be Honored at 2010 Straight for Equality Awards Gala

The second annual Straight for Equality Awards Gala is coming up on May 1 at the New York Marriott Marquis, and PFLAG National is proud to announce that Academy Award®-winning actress and iconic straight ally Liza Minnelli will be honored with the 2010 Straight for Equality in Entertainment award for her lifelong support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Throughout her decades-long career, Minnelli has won an impressive list of awards and has been an outspoken ally to the LGBT community.

“Liza Minnelli is the quintessential straight ally – she has been an outspoken supporter of equality for LGBT people for her whole life, and her tremendous and ongoing philanthropy in the fight against AIDS has made her a very public advocate of the many individuals and their families who have been affected by the disease,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National’s executive director.

“As someone who has been supported and touched by the LGBT community for my entire life, I can’t imagine being anything but an out and proud straight ally who doesn’t fear speaking up to anyone,” said Minnelli.

We are so proud to be able to honor Liza Minnelli with the 2010 Straight for Equality in Entertainment Award. To read the full press release, click here.

To find out how you can attend the 2010 Straight for Equality Awards Gala and see us honor this amazing ally, click here now!

Read what others are saying about PFLAG National honoring Liza Minnelli:
Miami Herald
Broadway World

Judge: School is Wrong, But Won't Force It to Hold Prom

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Mississippi school violated the rights of Constance McMillen by refusing to allow her to bring her girlfriend to prom but said he won't force the school to host the event.

School officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School canceled prom shortly after telling McMillen she would not be allowed to attend with her girlfriend. Officials said the event was canceled because McMillen’s challenge to school rules had caused disruptions in the classroom.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued in U.S. district court to force the school to host the April 2 prom and allow McMillen to attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

District judge Glen H. Davidson denied the request for a preliminary injunction but said he’ll still hold a trial. A date was not yet set, suggesting any ruling would come after the date for which the prom was originally scheduled.

Davidson ruled that the school had violated McMillen’s rights.

"We consider this a victory," said ACLU Mississippi legal director Kristy Bennett. Bennett added that Davidson's ruling allowed McMillen to amend her petition within 30 days, which would enable her to sue for damages because she couldn't get the prom reinstated.

A private prom celebration planned by some parents at the school will go on next month as planned. McMillen is not invited.

McMillen’s story has grabbed national headlines in recent weeks, and she has talked about the ordeal on The Wanda Sykes Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Today. She was awarded a $30,000 college scholarship last week by

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

**If you would like to receive Policy Matters over email every two weeks please contact your field and policy coordinator.

Cambodia Hopes to Attract Gay Travelers

Homosexual acts are not outlawed in Cambodia, as they are in a few Southeast Asian countries, but outward displays of affection and nontraditional lifestyles are rare. Yet in Siem Reap, a small town that gets about a million tourists a year, gay visitors and locals are carving out a little haven. In the last few years, a small flurry of gay-friendly bars, restaurants and hotels has opened up in the city’s center and beyond.

The scene is bolstered partly by Web sites like Cambodia Out, which started in early 2009 and is believed to be the first commercial site in the country devoted to the gay community. Other sites like Utopia and Sticky Rice, which appeal to gay people throughout Southeast Asia, have also raised the city’s profile.

But the new spots also reflect a growing acceptance, in a country that still hews to age-old Khmer values and where the concept of homosexuality seemed nonexistent until recently. In fact, there is no word for “gay” in Khmer. The most commonly used term is kteuy or ladyboys, based on the misperception by many Cambodians that homosexuals and transvestites are one and the same.

The stereotypes are slowly fading. In 2004, after watching thousands of same-sex couples in San Francisco rush to the altar, Cambodia’s much-loved King Norodom Sihanouk wrote on his Web site that gays should be allowed to marry because God loved a “wide range of tastes.”

His successor and son, King Norodom Sihamoni, holds similar views. “The Cambodian Royal Family, as a whole, share the same point of view as the King-Father,” Sisowath Thomico, a spokesman for the royal family, wrote in an e-mail message. “We’ve always been very tolerant about sexual preferences as some Khmer Royals are/were openly gays/lesbians.”

The new open-mindedness is attributed to Theravada Buddhism, the predominant religion in Cambodia. “When you’re looking at Buddhist countries, you’re going to encounter an openness and tolerance,” said Caroline Francis, a spokeswoman for the Cambodia field office of Family Health International, a public health organization involved with gay-related health issues. “The religious teachings aren’t being used to arrest or persecute people because they’re gay or lesbian.”

To read this entire article in The New York Times, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Malaysia: Gay Characters OK, If They Go Straight

From The Advocate:

New censorship guidelines for the Malaysian film industry relax a strict ban on showing homosexuality, so long as the gay characters change their ways by the end of the story.

Malaysian Film Producers' Association president Ahmad Puad Onah explained the new rules to Agence France-Presse .

"We are now allowed to show these scenes," he said. "As long as we portray good triumphing over evil and there is a lesson learnt in the film, such as from a gay (character) who turns into a (straight) man. Previously we are not allowed to show these at all."

In the conservative majority-Muslim country of Malaysia, books and films are routinely banned or edited in order to delete parts believed to threaten moral and religious values.

Under the new rules, according to AFP, kissing, undressing and obscenities will still be banned. The rules apply to other subjects deemed detrimental to morality, not just homosexuality.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mississippi Ends Segregation of Prisoners with HIV

From The Advocate:

The Mississippi Department of Corrections has agreed to end the practice of segregating prisoners with HIV, ending a practice that ostracized inmates and prevented them from accessing resources available to other prisoners.

According to a joint news release from the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, which advocated for the change, corrections commissioner Christopher Epps made the decision. The move leaves Alabama and South Carolina as the only states that continue to segregate prisoners with HIV, a practice more common during the early days of the HIV epidemic.

“Public and correctional health experts agree that there is no medical basis for segregating HIV-positive prisoners within correctional facilities or for limiting access to jobs, vocational training and educational programs available to others,” said the news release on Wednesday. “Since 1987, however, MDOC has performed mandatory HIV tests on all prisoners entering the state prison system, and has permanently housed all male prisoners who test positive in a segregated unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state’s highest security prison. As a result, prisoners with HIV have been faced with unjustified isolation, exclusion and marginalization, and low-custody prisoners have been forced unnecessarily to serve their sentences in more violent, more expensive prisons.”

The change means that HIV positive prisoners now can participate in training programs and jobs like kitchen work, and avoid public disclosure of HIV status that results from being housed in a separate unit. A desegregation policy will be phased in for prisoners currently in the separate HIV unit, and new prisoners will be incorporated into the general population immediately.

A forthcoming report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch will analyze the impact of segregation policies in prisons in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

PFLAG National Adds Family Voice to DADT Hearing

This morning, PFLAG National submitted written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding the important voices of our members and supporters to the hearing record - concerned parents, family members, and friends of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

Our written submission includes the testimony of retired Air Force Colonel, Dan Tepfer, a straight-all, father of a gay child and a member of PFLAG’s board of directors. We continue to encourage other members and supporters impacted by the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law to share your stories with us, so that we can more effectively educate members of congress, and encourage them to repeal this harmful law.

To review our written testimony, please click here.

NJ Marriage Advocates Still Fighting

A local New York news station is reporting that New Jersey gays rights advocates, with the help of New York-based Lambda Legal, are going back to the New Jersey Supreme Court in order to fight for the right to marry in the Garden State.

It comes barely two months after a stinging defeat in the New Jersey State Senate, when several legislators apparently backtracked on earlier promises and failed to pass a Marriage Equality law.

The advocates are prepared for a tough battle. "It's hard to tell [how long this will take]," said Lambda Legal spokeswoman Lisa Hardaway in New York.

But the organization will be building on a 2006 decision by New Jersey's highest court that ordered legislators to pass either a Marriage Equality law or an equivalent Civil Union law that gave gays identical rights. Legislators chose civil union.

Ever since, gay marriage advocates have argued civil union doesn't work, that it's not recognized by hospitals, doctors and employers. And in fact, several senators who voted against gay marriage in January admitted that it might not work, but they weren't willing to go with a law that used the word 'marriage.'

So now it turns to New Jersey's Supremes.

In 2006, after a Domestic Partnership law had been passed but before the civil union law was approved by legislators, the Court's decision started off by saying "the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution."

But in a lengthy decision, the Court finally decided that it should be up to the Legislature to determine if full rights were to be given with the word "marriage" or with the term "civil union."

In their 2006 opinion, the Court wrote "Here is the perplexing question -- 'what's in a name?' -- and is a name itself of constitutional magnitude after the State is required to provide full statutory rights and benefits to same-sex couples?"

It was a divided court that handed down this decision, but not in the way gay marriage foes would hope. Three of the seven justices wanted to go bypass the legislature and simply rule that gay marriage would be law in New Jersey.

"The Legislature gave them every legal right," said Len Deo of the Family Policy Council.

Deo said he is hoping the High Court refers this to a lower court.

"There could be a new court by the time it gets to the Supreme Court," said Deo, referring to the turnover that normally occurs, and the possibility that Republican Governor Chris Christie may appoint some more conservative judges.

Gay marriage advocates are hoping the Supremes will take their case immediately for the same reason. And while there has been some turnover since the 2006 decision, the new appointees all came from Democrat Jon Corzine before he left office in January.

"It's hard to tell," said Lambda Legal's Hardaway, referring to whether the High Court will bypass the lower courts or not.

Gay marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and five states; Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa. It was repealed last November in Maine, and is banned by law or constitutionally in dozens of states.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PFLAG Challenge on Facebook: Respond by March 24 for Your Chance to Win a PFLAG Gift Pack!

The PFLAG National Facebook group is a forum where people can come to get support, exchange ideas, and connect with other PFLAG members, and it’s been a great success.

Right now, we have a special challenge for PFLAGers on Facebook. The winner of the challenge gets a PFLAG Gift Pack, and we encourage you to visit PFLAG National on Facebook and participate in this challenge. The contest ends March 24, so check it out now before time runs out!

Have you visited PFLAG National on Facebook yet? Check it out by clicking here.

Tell Congress Health Care Reform IS an LGBT Issue!

The House of Representatives hopes to vote on health reform this week. After months of hard work from so many PFLAG members advocating for specific provisions to improve the health and well-being of our LGBT loved ones, reforming health care as we know it is almost a reality. But, we still need your help to get to the finish line! We need you to tell your representative to vote YES on health care reform.

E-mail Your Representative TODAY!

It is crucial for the LGBT community that this bill passes. While the reform package isn't perfect, it is a huge step forward in making health care more affordable and accessible for more individuals, including the LGBT community. The bill includes:

• Improved data collection for at-risk groups - with our continued lobbying, this will likely include sexual orientation and gender identity demographic categories

• 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 31 million uninsured people

Take action now: tell your representative to pass health reform today! Access to competent and affordable healthcare is out of reach for far too many of our LGBT loved ones.

International Outlook: LGBT People Around the World

With all the recent developments in LGBT issues, many have been wrapped up in American politics these days. But we must remember that there have also been many recent developments on LGBT issues in other countries as well.

This article in Foreign Policy describes the situations in four different countries where LGBT rights have come to the foreground:

• Uganda is currently considering the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would punish gay people with life imprisonment or even death.

• In Malawi, it is currently illegal to be gay. Recently, several citizens have come out publicly in the country, shocking their fellow citizens and causing some run-ins with the local law.

• In Pakistan, hijras (transgender women) recently won the right to be officially registered as Pakistani citizens. Additionally, Pakistan is recommending that a third gender option be added to official forms, allowing hijras to be open and honest about themselves in official documents.

• Turkey, while widely regarded as a country more tolerant of LGBT people than others in the area, is experiencing some friction between those who are in favor of accepting LGBT people and those who are not.

Read more about the LGBT issues in these countries here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Bill Fails to Adequately Protect LGBT Students

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 2313, An Act Relative to School Bullying, which brings much-needed attention to the crisis of bullying and harassment in commonwealth schools. However, the bill falls short as it fails to enumerate the classes of persons who have historically and disproportionately been the subjects of bullying and harassment. Research shows that students at schools with an enumerated anti-bullying policy reported harassment at a significantly reduced rate.

“This policy leaves behind Massachusetts’ most at-risk youth,” said Stanley Griffith, board president of Greater Boston PFLAG, and Danielle Murray, co-chair of GLSEN Massachusetts, in a joint statement. “It is critical to specifically name the problem in this kind of legislation—girls would not have sports and our schools would not be integrated if policymakers had not specifically addressed these inequities by enumerating categories like sex and race in our laws.”

The most common form of bullying and harassment in Massachusetts schools is based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The hostile school climate in schools contributes to elevated risks including an increased number of violent attacks against LGBT students and higher rates of suicide attempts and the use of drugs and alcohol among LGBT students.

Eleven-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself last April after enduring anti-gay bullying at his Springfield school. His mother, Sirdeaner Walker, testified in support of enumerated legislation before the Massachusetts Legislature’s subcommittees on education in their November hearing on this topic.

In a statement at last week’s press conference for S.B. 2313, Walker said, “My son was bullied with anti-gay remarks. Those kids at his school called him those names because they were probably the most hurtful things they could think of to say. And they hit their mark. Sexist and homophobic bullying and harassment are all too common. And evidence shows that school officials often do not recognize this kind of bullying and harassment as unacceptable. “

Less than one-fifth of students reported that school personnel frequently intervened when hearing homophobic remarks or negative remarks about gender expression, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey (NSCS). More disturbing, nearly two-thirds of students heard homophobic remarks from school personnel.

Enumeration makes it clear that this kind of harassment is unacceptable and gives educators the tools they need to implement safe schools policies that protect each and every student. Students reported in the NSCS that teachers were significantly more likely to intervene when homophobic bullying occurs in states with enumerated policies, as compared to states with either generic policies or no policies at all (25.3% vs. 15.9% and 12.3%).

Further, comprehensive policies with enumeration help ensure that the most at-risk students are afforded the right to an education. Students from schools with a comprehensive policy are 50% more likely to feel very safe at school (54% vs. 36%). Students without such a policy are three times more likely to skip a class because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe (16% vs. 5%).

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader in advocating for and protecting all or our youth,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN National, Jennifer Chrysler, executive director of Family Equality Council, and Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National in a joint statement. “However, this legislation leaves Massachusetts behind 12 other states and the District of Columbia, which have already passed effective, enumerated safe schools legislation.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Transgender People and Families Gather in DC for Employment Rights

Faced with staggering rates of bias in the workplace, transgender people and their families are convening on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 16 to advocate for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This legislation would extend protections against discrimination on the job based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A near-universal 97% of transgender people who responded to a survey on discrimination had experienced some level of harassment on the job, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, organizers of the lobbying effort. Among the 6,450 people who answered the survey, a shocking 26% had been fired simply for being transgender. Rates of poverty were also stark, with transgender people with an annual income less than $10,000 at more than twice the national average. For transgender people of color, the numbers were even worse, with Latinos and African Americans in poverty at four and five times the national average respectively.

"In the face of numbers like this, we absolutely must do everything we can to protect people's jobs and create a working environment where transgender people—and everyone else—can work safely and with dignity. Americans firmly believe that we should all be judged on the quality of our work, not on who we are. That's what we are advocating for," commented Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

ENDA has strong support in the House of Representatives, with 198 co-sponsors joining Rep. Barney Frank, who is the author of the measure. This is the highest number of sponsors to date on legislation that will positively impact the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Senate support has been steadily growing. Advocates are calling for prompt action from both chambers and are very optimistic about the measure's chances of passage.

Also scheduled is an awards ceremony to honor allies in the movement for transgender equality, on Monday, March 15 at the National Press Club from 7-9 p.m. This year's award recipient is Bishop Yvette Flunder from City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco. The communities of faith and social service programs that Bishop Flunder has nurtured through the years are known for their inclusiveness of transgender people. She also leads The Fellowship, an organization of African American religious leaders and communities affirming transgender and same gender loving people.

On Tuesday, March 16, approximately 200 people—transgender people, their families and allies—are expected on Capitol Hill for numerous appointments with legislators. There they'll make their case about the urgent need for federal protections in the workplace. "Not only does it have a positive impact on lawmakers as they learn more about transgender people and our lives, it also empowers our members as they urge their Representatives and Senators to represent the true diversity of their constituency," noted Justin Tanis, one of the organizers of the event. "It is very powerful to see families going together to speak up for ENDA and to see the wide range of transgender people standing up for ourselves and our rights."

Is the Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men Coming to an End?

According to The Los Angeles Times, Washington federal health officials announced Friday that they would reexamine a 27-year-old set of restrictions on blood donations by gay men.

The restrictions, enacted in the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, impose a lifetime ban on men donating blood if they've had sex with another man at any time since 1977.

In recent years, the American Red Cross, the American Assn. of Blood Banks and America's Blood Centers, which collectively represent almost all blood banks in the country, have recommended loosening the restrictions to allow men who have abstained from gay sex for one year to donate blood.

The American Medical Assn. also has proposed revising the policy but recommended a five-year instead of a one-year waiting period.

Gay rights groups also have pushed for a change in the donor policy, arguing that it stigmatizes gay men and does not adequately address threats to blood safety posed by high-risk heterosexual behaviors.

Changes in the rule have been opposed by hemophilia patient groups. People with hemophilia, a bleeding disorder, are heavy users of blood products, and about 10,000 were infected with HIV in the late 1970s and early 1980s before the current limits were put in place. Thousands of those infected with the virus subsequently died.

Last week, a group of 18 senators, led by John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote to the Food and Drug Administration urging it to revisit the policy on donations by gay men, calling it "outdated, medically and scientifically unsound."

Improvements in testing technology allow for a revision in the donation rules without threatening the safety of the blood supply, the letter said.

The FDA last examined the donation protocols in 2006 but left the restrictions in place.

The FDA "has been actively engaged in reexamining the issue of blood donor deferral for men who have had sex with other men, taking into account the current body of scientific information, and we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety," the agency said in a statement.

The issue will be examined by the Department of Health and Human Services' blood safety committee in June, according to the statement.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mississippi High School that Forbade Same-sex Prom Dates Cancels Prom

Earlier this week, we wrote about a Mississippi High School that forbade a student from bringing a same-sex date and wearing a tuxedo to the prom. This student, Constance McMillen, went to the ACLU, who demanded that the high school allow Constance to bring her girlfriend and wear a tux.

The school has responded. ABC News reports that “…the school board met and issued a statement announcing it wouldn't host the event at Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Fulton, ‘due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.’" They did not mention McMillen or the ACLU in the statement. The school went on to say (as quoted in the same article), “‘It is our hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors,’ district officials said in the statement. ‘However, at this time, we feel that it is in the best interest of the Itawamba County School District, after taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students.’”

So now, rather than change their policy that only opposite-sex couples may attend the prom, the high school has decided that there will be no prom for anyone.

Read the full article online here.

PFLAG’s VP Weighs in on Adoption and Foster Care Bill

Yesterday, Family Equality Council and PFLAG hosted a briefing on the Every Child Deserves a Family Act at the Capitol. Many children are denied permanent homes and loving family members because of discriminatory bans in some states. This bill would open more loving, permanent homes for many children in foster care by restricting federal funding to states that do not allow people to foster and adopt because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

PFLAG’s vice president, Mike Neubecker, wrote an op-ed on this important issue, and we’re happy to share his article with you! Click here to read Mike Neubecker’s article on The Huffington Post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Washington State Passes Inclusive Anti-Bullying Law

The Washington state Senate passed an enumerated anti-bullying law last week. The House had already passed the law, and now Governor Christine Gregoire has pledged to sign the bill into law as soon as it gets on her desk. According to The Advocate: “The law will require, among other things, each school district to create a structure to manage harassment and bullying complaints, and to publish online its policies and procedures for dealing with complaints.”

As wonderful as this news is, it gets even better. The Senate passed the bill 48-0, while the House had passed the bill 97-0. Clearly, Washington state lawmakers understand the importance of safe schools for all students.

PFLAG is, of course, a great supporter of safe schools initiatives. Check out PFLAG’s safe schools program here.

Read the full article on The Advocate online here.

Take Action Today on Important Adoption and Foster Care Legislation!

Today Representative Pete Stark (CA-13) introduced Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 4806), a child welfare bill that takes into consideration the best interests of children in the foster care system. The bill would open up permanent homes to more foster youth by working with states to eliminate laws, policies, practices and procedures that exclude potential adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

As the House Ways and Means Committee begins to review and analyze this bill, we need you to urge your representative to co-sponsor this critically important legislation that will help give foster children permanent, safe and supportive homes.

E-mail Your Representative TODAY!

Tragically, approximately 125,000 foster children across the US are waiting to be adopted. With only 50,000 adoptions each year, there is a clear shortage of adoptive parents. The result is that children, especially minority and special needs children, languish in foster care and bounce from placement to placement. The 25,000 youth who never find a permanent family and "age out" of the system each year are more likely than nearly any other group to experience poverty, homelessness, incarceration, early pregnancy or suffer with mental illness or substance abuse.

Despite the need for more adoptive and permanent foster homes; some states have enacted discriminatory bans that prohibit children from being placed with qualified parents due to the parent's sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. The result is less children being adopted and more children bouncing around the foster care system with no permanency and no security. In some cases these bans have resulted in a grandparent having to go through costly litigation in order to care for their own kin who are in foster care. This kind of discrimination does a disservice to many children who need a permanent, safe and supportive home. It robs far too many young people of a family, a core value that many Americans hold dear, and it's time to take a stand.

Click here to e-mail your representative to co-sponsor and pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 4806). Loving homes are on the line for far too many children seeking a permanent, safe and supportive home to call their own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

D.C. Gay Couple Just Married Shares Their Story

Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend could be your neighbors, your coworkers, or your friends. They met in school, like so many other couples. But unlike many other couples, they were not allowed to legally marry in D.C. – until recently, that is. In fact, several years ago they gave up waiting and had a commitment ceremony in Maryland. However, they still dreamed of the day when they could legally wed.

That dream came true last week when the D.C. Superior Court began accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples. Young and Townsend were among the first same-sex couples to be married in the District. As a result, they have gotten a lot of public attention. Though they are eager to be out of the public eye, they understand that this is a significant moment for the LGBT community. Says Young in a Washington Post article: “’I am doing this because I love my partner and we deserve to be married,’ Young says. ‘But I am also doing this because the first one is always the hardest.’"

Read the full article online here.

PFLAG Sponsors Briefing Urging Congress to Open Up More Safe Homes to Foster Youth

Tomorrow, PFLAG National and the Family Equality Council will be sponsoring a Congressional Briefing with Representative Pete Stark’s office entitled Every Child Deserves a Family. For those of you who live in DC, the hearing will be held in the Capitol Building in room H-137, and for those of you who live outside the beltway, the briefing will be streamed live over the internet starting at 1:30 pm. Information on the live streaming will be available on We would be delighted to have as many PFLAG members as possible view this important event to learn about efforts aimed at opening more homes to foster youth.

Tragically, there are approximately 125,000 foster children waiting to be adopted. With only 50,000 adoptions each year, there is a clear shortage of adoptive parents. The result is that children, especially minority and special needs children, languish in foster care and bounce from placement to placement. The 25,000 youth who never find a permanent family and “age out” of the system each year are more likely than nearly any other group to experience poverty, homelessness, incarceration, early pregnancy or suffer with mental illness or substance abuse.

Despite the need for more adoptive and permanent foster homes, some states have enacted discriminatory bans that prohibit children from being placed with qualified parents due to the parent’s sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. The result is less children being adopted and more children bouncing around the foster care system with no permanency and no security. In some cases these bans have resulted in a grandparent having to go through costly litigation in order to care for their own kin who are in foster care.

The following panel of experts will provide an overview of why this critical issue requires the attention of Congress:

What: Congressional Briefing: Every Child Deserves a Family
Date: Thursday, March 11
Time: 1:30-3:00
Location: H-137

Panelists will include:
  • Nakea Page and Kendra Langley - Foster Care Alumni will discuss their experiences in the child welfare system and “aging out” of the system without a family;
  • Uma Ahluwalia - Director of Montgomery County Maryland’s Department of Health and Human Services will discuss the benefits of opening as many adoptive homes as possible to foster children;
  • Charlotte Patterson - Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia will discuss 30 years of research on LGBT parenting and adoption;
  • Gary Gates - Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Institute will discuss research on the fiscal impact of banning and restricting LGBT adoption and foster parenting;
  • Leslie Cooper - Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU will discuss ongoing litigation at the state level to overturn discriminatory adoption bans;
  • Martin Gill - Foster parent engaged in litigation to be able to adopt two brothers he and his partner have been fostering since 2004.
Should you have any questions about the event, or if you want to learn about ways your chapter can help advocate for passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, please don’t hesitate to contact PFLAG National.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mississippi High School Forbids Student to have Same-Sex Prom Date

Constance McMillen just wanted to be herself at her high school prom. Unfortunately, her high school in Mississippi has banned her from attending the prom with her girlfriend because they are both women. Furthermore, the school also forbade her from wearing a tuxedo to the prom. According to the ACLU:

McMillen said she approached school officials shortly before a memo about prom was circulated at school on February 5 that said same-sex dates would not be allowed, because she knew same-sex dates had been banned from prom in the past. McMillen met with the assistant principal and later the superintendent, who told her that they would not be allowed to arrive together, that she would not be allowed to wear a tuxedo to prom, and that she and her girlfriend might be thrown out if their presence made any other students “uncomfortable” at the April 2 event.”

Now, the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition are demanding that the school allow McMillen to attend the prom with her girlfriend. Banning same-sex couples from the prom is unconstitutional, say these groups.

And in addition to being a violation of their First Amendment rights, “This kind of discriminatory treatment sends a message to LGBT students that they are not supported or accepted at school, and it sends a message to straight students that it is okay to discriminate against LGBT people,” says Mekina Morgan, Safe Schools Coordinator of PFLAG National.

Read the full statement from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ex-Executive of D.C.'s Catholic Charities Criticizes Health-Plan Change

Today's Washington Post claims that the former chief operating officer of Catholic Charities has called on the organization to reverse its recent decision to change health benefits for employees' spouses, a move designed to avoid legitimizing same-sex marriage.

Tim Sawina, who was until last year one of the group's highest-ranking executives, called the elimination of spousal health benefits "devastating" and "wrong" in a letter Wednesday to the governing boards of the social service organization.

The move to change benefits is the most recent fallout from a struggle between the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and District officials, who passed legislation last year to legalize same-sex marriage.

Rather than provide health coverage to same-sex partners, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl decided to cut benefits for spouses of all future Catholic Charities employees, new spouses of current employees and existing spouses of current employees not already on the plan. Wuerl has said the benefits change is justifiable under Catholic teaching as long as the employees are paid a just wage.

But by eliminating such benefits, Sawina said, Catholic Charities is driving current employees to look for jobs elsewhere, handicapping the group's recruitment efforts and losing the respect of the D.C. community.

"Some, including the archbishop, have argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we are somehow legitimizing gay marriage," said Sawina, a former priest. "Providing health care to a gay or lesbian partner -- a basic human right, according to Church teaching -- is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism."

The archdiocese responded to Sawina's letter Thursday, calling it an inaccurate portrayal of the Church's position and saying that his appeal to the organization's board of directors would have no effect, because the board can't overturn the archbishop's decision.

In his letter, Sawina expressed concern over the organization's future. "Its goodwill and name are being squandered," he wrote. "More importantly, the greatest asset of the agency -- its staff -- feel a profound sense of humiliation and shame. Many are actively looking to leave. Catholic Charities will be forever handicapped in attracting new staff with such a draconian benefit plan."

To read this article in its entirety, click here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

NY Assembly Passes Transgender Protection Bill

The New York State assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would protect transgender people under the state's Human Rights Law.

The 91-40 vote on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, came with bipartisan support. This is the third time GENDA has passed in the assembly but it has yet to pass in the senate, according to the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Gov. David Paterson recently issued an executive order to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression for state employees.

Currently only 13 states and Washington, D.C., have laws to protect transgender people from employment, financial, public accommodation, and housing discrimination. Some cities and counties in New York, including Rochester and New York City, have standing GENDA laws.

"By eliminating the fear of losing their jobs, homes, and fair treatment in communities across the state, we can make certain that every New Yorker receives equal opportunities regardless of gender identity," assembly member Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the bill, told the Empire State News.

For more information on the GENDA Campaign, click here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Action Alert - Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The delays are over! After almost two decades, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010, a Senate companion bill to the House Bill H.R. 1283, which would rescind the disastrous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and replace it with a nondiscrimination policy for lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, allowing them to serve openly and honestly without fear of discharge.

As the Senate Armed Services Committee begins to evaluate this law, we need you to urge your Senators to co-sponsor this critically important legislation to help expedite the repeal of this discriminatory law.

But we need your help right now to make this happen...

It is outrageous that the lesbian, gay and bisexual service members can STILL be discharged for their real or perceived sexual orientation. Since this law was enacted, nearly 13,000 service members have been discharged, costing the federal government $555 million to enforce bigotry and discrimination. In fact, it is the only federal law on the book that endorses employment discrimination for U.S. military service members. While this practice is legal, it is unquestionably wrong.

This kind of discrimination flies in the face of the core values that Americans hold dear, and it's time to take a stand.

Everyone reading this must take action now to tell our Senators to co-sponsor and pass the Senate's Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010. Equality is on the line for millions of patriotic service members who are eager to defend our country from oppression and global inequalities.

Please take action right now. Here's how:

Email your Senators. To learn the name of your U.S. Senators, go to and enter your zip code. Tell your Senators that all patriotic Americans deserve the right to serve their country, and that they can help by co-sponsoring and passing The Military Readiness Enhancement Act.

Same-Sex Marriages Begin Today in D.C.

D.C. Superior Court began accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples Wednesday morning, a historic milestone for gay couples and activists that was made possible by the city's new gay marriage law.

About 45 couples were waiting in line when the court's marriage bureau opened its doors at 8:30 a.m. Employees allowed 10 couples to enter at a time, and had extra personnel on hand to accept the applications.

Processing the applications will take at least three business days, officials said, which means the earliest that any same-sex marriages will be performed is next Tuesday, March 9.

"I'm very excited. This is the love of my life," said Darlene Garner, 61, of her partner Candy Holmes, 53. The two women, who live in Laurel, were among the first in line to apply for a license. They met at the Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly gay congregation where they are both ministers, and have been together for 14 years.

Court officials opened the building at 7, and handed out numbered tickets to the 11 or so couples who were already waiting in a chilly, light rain.

Many of the couples in line wore casual clothes and Human Rights Campaign buttons on their lapels.

Court officials are encouraging couples to complete the marriage license application before they arrive at the courthouse. They can download an application from the court's Web site. Applicants must also have the $35 application fee and $10 for the license (cash or money order).

The application fee is waived for couples who already are registered in the District as domestic partners. Those couples should bring their proof of registration and the $10 license fee.

Several of the couples who gathered early Wednesday said they were already registered as domestic partners. Michael Lavin, 55, and Joe Peters, 48, of Brookeville have been together for 17 years. The men said getting married was an "extra level of protection" for insurance and other policies to make sure each is covered.

Even before the courthouse doors opened, gay rights advocates hailed Wednesday as a victory for equal rights. The anticipated marriages of same-sex couples, said Mitch Wood, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, were "the fruit of decades of public advocacy and organizing by gay citizens and our numerous allies."

D.C. court officials were expecting demonstrators and protesters to flock to the courthouse Wednesday as well.

Late Tuesday, opponents of the D.C. law passed in December that legalized same-sex marriage tried to seek intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court. But the court declined to intervene.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Upcoming Capitol Hill Briefing on LGBT-Inclusive Federal Child Welfare Bill

Next Thursday, March 11, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) will be hosting a panel discussion on the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act.” Panelists will include foster children who will discuss their experiences in the foster care system, parents who have been prevented from adopting their foster children because of state laws prohibiting gays, lesbians and bisexuals from adopting, and experts on foster care and LGBT family issues.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which Congressman Stark will be reintroducing prior to the briefing, takes into consideration the best interests of children in the foster care system by focusing on increasing their access to permanent homes through working with states to eliminate laws, policies, practices and procedures that categorically exclude potential adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

The briefing will take place from 1:30 – 3:00 PM EST at the U.S. Capitol, Room H-137.

Panelists will include:
• Martin Gill, an adoptive parent, along with his partner of more than eight years has been raising two foster children of the state since 2004. They are currently involved in a lawsuit against Florida's law that automatically denies adoption by gays and lesbians.

• Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, is the lead attorney in the In re: Gill lawsuit.

• Jason Hoffmaster is an alumnus of the foster care system and an adoptive parent. He resides in Seattle, WA with his partner, and their four adopted sons. He also serves as a Board Member for Amara Parenting (a private foster care and adoption agency) in Seattle.

• Charlotte J. Patterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, is one of the nation's foremost researchers on child development in the context of lesbian- and gay-parented families.

• Gary J. Gates, Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, is widely acknowledged as the nation's leading expert on the demography and geography of the gay and lesbian population.

• Uma Ahluwalia is Director of the Department of Health and Human Services for Montgomery County, Maryland. Previously, she served as Principal Deputy Director and Interim Director for the Child and Family Services Agency in the District of Columbia.

Any of our members in the DC area are encouraged to attend. For everyonen else, the briefing will be streamed live over the internet, and you can watch by clicking here.

2010 Census - Will LGBT People Be Counted?

In approximately two weeks the U.S. Census Bureau will begin mailing the 2010 census questionnaires to 12 million U.S. households. For those in rural areas, census workers will begin delivering the forms by hand.

The Census Bureau also is delivering forms to Gulf Coast areas affected by Hurricane Katrina to ensure everyone is included in the once-a-decade count. Census takers will deliver 2010 Census questionnaires directly to each residence in these areas, leaving a form packaged in a plastic bag at the home's main door. Residents are encouraged to fill out and mail back their census forms - using the enclosed pre-paid envelope - as soon as possible.

In 2000, about 72 percent of the population mailed back their census forms - halting a three-decade decline in the national mail participation rate. Mailing back the forms save taxpayers money, as it reduces the number of census takers that must go door-to-door to follow up with households that failed to do so. The Census Bureau saves about $85 million in operational costs for every percentage point increase in the national mail response rate.

It seems the Bureau is concerned about obtaining an accurate count of those in rural areas and those in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. But what about LGBT people? The census survey has 10 questions, but not one of them asks if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The data collected impacts issues critical to every American – like our health care, our economic stability, and even our safety. And when LGBT people aren't counted, then we also don't count when it comes to services, resources ... you name it.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has created a website,, where LGBT people and allies can sign a petition urging the Census Bureau to include LGBT people in all federal surveys as well as get a free sticker that says, "Attn: U.S. Census Bureau, It's Time to Count Everyone!"

To take part in the Task Force's action alert, click here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Malawi Joins List of Growing Anti-Gay Sentiment in Africa

Over the past month we have been documenting the rampant homophobia in the African countries of Uganda and Kenya.

Now it seems we can add Malawi to the list of places that is not safe for members of the LGBT community. The Advocate is reporting that police in Malawi on Sunday said they had discovered “pornographic films” at the office of a rights group and that police officers were, as a result, hunting down a number of prominent citizens to charge them with “having carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and indecent practices between males.

“We are targeting some prominent personalities and our suspects include legislators, priests, academics, and other professionals,” said police spokesman David Chingwalu, who would not identify the rights group that had been raided.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, where the country’s one known gay group, the Centre for the Development of People, operates underground. CEDEP has been providing financial support to gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who have been charged with “indecent practices” after getting married in the country’s first same-sex wedding in December. They couple could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

For more on this story, click here.