Friday, April 30, 2010

Schools Slowly Break from Cookie-Cutter Image of Families

Today's Washington Post has a great article on the changing landscape of schools' policies on LGBT families.

What does the school do for Mother's Day?

How about Father's Day?

And what is the plan when the uncomfortable queries come rolling in?

Rather than focusing on test scores, foreign language programs or fancy facilities, these are the linchpin questions for same-sex parents in the great school search.

In a Northwest Washington school last weekend, I listened as about 150 people came to the Rainbow Families conference to navigate the tricky but swiftly changing waters of parenting in a nontraditional family.

Wait, let me scratch that.

These families have always been around, although we haven't always been willing to acknowledge them.

We have a way of continually imposing a traditional mother-and-father construct on our children, despite the fact that this is not always the way a family looks, whether it's because of divorce, death or sexual orientation.

Look at your school directory: Does it list "mother" and "father"? If it simply lists "parent," that change probably didn't come easily.

"Those are the kinds of issues that come up," said Ellen Kahn, who is the director of the Human Rights Campaign Family Project and president of Rainbow Families.

It's subtle things, such as parent designations and what to do when the class is making Mother's Day gifts and a child has two daddies. And thornier topics, including how a teacher should deal with teasing or how to answer questions about a child's conception. And what exactly does the teacher do when kids are playing house and one kid divides up the parts, declaring that he's the daddy, she's the mommy and he's the donor?

With same-sex marriage legal in the District and some states, the next logical step is for our schools to begin the work of including these families.

Which is a fantastic thing, because whether or not everyone agrees with same-sex parenting, these children are in our schools, and making them anything but welcome is certain to harm them.

So instead of meeting children's questions with blank stares or answering their playground questions with: "No, John and Erik can't get married. Only a man and a woman can get married," teachers are working on inclusion. A D.C. public schools official said the system is enhancing the already imbedded agenda of diversity in its school policy.

To read this entire article, click here. [free subscription required]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gay Adoption Proposal Dies in Louisiana Senate

The Louisiana state senate judiciary committee defeated a proposal Tuesday that would have allowed unmarried couples to adopt children together. Senators voted 3 to 1 against the bill, which was vocally opposed by different religious groups. The move is expected to kill the proposal for the rest of the legislative session.

According to the Associated Press, “Louisiana law allows married couples or a single person to adopt a child.

“If a single person adopts a child and is in a relationship — whether straight or gay — the partner in that relationship has no legal parental rights, even if the partner is involved in raising the child. Gay couples aren't allowed to marry in Louisiana and can't legally adopt children together.

“The bill would have allowed two single people to jointly adopt a child," reported the AP.

Sen. Ed Murray of New Orleans was the only senator to vote in favor of the bill.

Louisiana is currently in a federal court battle with two gay men who adopted a Louisiana-born child in a New York court. The Louisiana office of vital records refused to issue a birth certificate listing the two men as the fathers, but a federal judge and appeals court have ruled against the state.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Supreme Court Hears Washington's Ref. 71 Case

Today's Washington Post is reporting that gay rights opponents are asking the Supreme Court to protect the anonymity of the signers of a petition that sought a vote to overturn Washington state's domestic partnership rights.

The case being argued at the high court Wednesday weighs the right to political speech, unfettered by fear of intimidation, against transparency in government.

Opponents of the law that expanded the rights of gay couples mounted a petition drive that succeeded in getting a referendum on the "everything-but-marriage" law on last year's ballot. But voters narrowly backed the law that grants registered domestic partners the same legal rights as married couples.

While the campaign was under way, gay rights supporters sought access to the petitions under Washington's open records law. Protect Marriage Washington, the group that organized opposition to the law, objected, saying its members would be harassed if their names were made public.

The Supreme Court stepped in and blocked release of the names before the vote. The justices later intervened in another case where gay rights opponents complained about potential harassment. The court's conservative majority prevented broadcast of the trial on California's ban on same-sex marriage.

In Washington, gay rights opponents argue that signing a petition is akin to voting, when anonymity is strictly protected. Supporters of disclosure equate signing a petition for a referendum with what lawmakers do.

The Associated Press is among 22 news organizations and media trade associations that filed a brief in the case supporting public disclosure of the documents.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Archie Comics Adds Gay Character

Salon.com has an excellent piece on the addition of a gay character in Archie Comics.

The reaction to Thursday's announcement that Archie Comics' Riverdale High would now include a gay student was as predictable as, well, an Archie Comics plot: hand-wringing and high-fiving, raised eyebrows and rolled eyes. Veronica No. 202 (cover caption: "Meet the Hot New Guy!"), written and drawn by veteran Archie artist Dan Parent, will introduce slender, blond Kevin Keller. From the few pages of the story released so far, it appears Parent is treating Kevin's orientation as a surprise but not a shock: The hot new guy is being pursued by Veronica but has no interest in her, Jughead advises him that she's pretty persistent, and Kevin declares that "it's nothing against her! I'm gay!" To which Jughead's immediate reaction is deciding to to wait and let Veronica figure it out for herself, and the plot goes on.

Kevin Keller, it's worth noting, isn't the first openly gay character in American comic books by a very long shot -- he's just the first character to say "I'm gay" on a panel in an Archie comic book. In superhero comics, it's old news (and in art comics, it's very, very old news). The recently announced Batwoman series by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman will be, as far as I can tell, the first ongoing superhero comic book with an openly gay title character and a Marvel or DC logo on its cover -- but "ongoing," "superhero," "openly," "gay," "title character" and "Marvel or DC logo" are all qualifiers in that description, because otherwise Starman or Renee Montoya or Freedom Ring or Midnighter or any number of other possibilities got there first.

The significant distinction here is that, unlike superhero comics, Archie comics are specifically aimed at kids (well, and at aging collectors who remember reading them as kids, but the kids are the primary audience): They're a fantasy about what high school will be like. That's why the addition of Kevin to the series' endless comedy of desire and disdain is welcome and long overdue. The social fabric of high school is going to include gay people, and the sooner kids (and aging collectors) take that as much for granted as they do the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, the better.

Outside the "safe world for everyone" that Archie Comics' Jon Goldwater says Riverdale represents, this is, of course, a hot-button issue, and if Archie Comics actually wanted to suggest that it's no big deal, they'd have just published the story instead of announcing it via press release long before it appears. (Honestly, somebody protesting a fictional character's entirely chaste homosexuality would be the best possible publicity for this project.) It's safe to assume that the primary audience for this particular issue of Veronica -- which won't be in stores until September -- will be people who haven't bought an Archie comic in decades, unless they also bought those similarly hyped-up comics a few months ago in which a future Archie married Betty or Veronica.

The comics-historical significance of Kevin's appearance is that it marks a shift in the Archie franchise's history. The Riverdale gang appeared in a series of very conservative Christian comic books in the '70s and '80s. And in 2003, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa -- who's also written for Marvel Comics and "Big Love" -- wrote a play called "Archie's Weird Fantasy," which involved older, gay versions of the Archie characters, and was blocked by a cease-and-desist order shortly before its premiere. (It was promptly rewritten as "Weird Comic Book Fantasy.")

So how big a deal will Kevin end up being in the long run? Probably not much of one. Parent has noted that the Archie line has been trying to expand the diversity of its cast, but as Chris Sims has pointed out, the last new character who's actually appeared in Riverdale more than a few times was introduced something like 35 years ago. Even if Kevin sticks around, it's hard to imagine him having a role beyond "the token gay guy." That's just hard-wired into the premise of the last 68 years' worth of Archie comics: There's a small, limited group of characters, and everyone gets exactly one personality trait. And it's safe to assume that the first same-sex kiss in an Archie comic is a good long ways off -- the interracial kiss on the cover of this week's Archie No. 608 was a long time coming, too.

So, yes: Archie's bosses get points for trying to make Riverdale a slightly less 1940s vision of what American culture is like, because stories for children don't just reflect the world, they shape it. But the proof that the Archie characters don't live in a world where everyone is heterosexual won't be the first story Kevin Keller appears in -- it'll be the 40th.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Illinois Passes Anti-Bullying Bill

From The Advocate:

With a vote of 108-0, the Illinois house of representatives Friday passed a bill requiring schools to adopt policies prohibiting bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other characteristics, according to the LBGT rights group Equality Illinois.

The state senate passed the measure earlier this month, with only two votes against it, and it now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who is expected to sign it into law.

The legislation also requires schools to offer students training in how to resist bullying and take other reasonable steps to stop harassment.

“Students who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are particularly vulnerable to bullying,” said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “And the attempted suicide rate among LGBT students, which is as much as three times higher than the general average, presents alarming evidence for just how urgently we need this law. This was a no-nonsense bill, and I am so glad that it sailed quickly through both chambers of the legislature.”

Equality Illinois was one of the early supporters of the legislation. Other groups that worked for it include the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Illinois State Board of Education.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Discrimination Is Not A Partisan Issue

Today the Stonewall Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans joined forces to write an article on ENDA for the Huffington Post:

Discrimination is not a partisan issue. As leaders of the National Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans -- the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans in the nation's two major political parties -- we share a commitment to full equality for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While we disagree on matters of elections and political leadership, we agree that now is the time for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to become the law of the land for all Americans.

Employers in 29 states can legally discriminate based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation of employees and job applicants, and in 38 states they can do so based on gender identity and expression. As a result, hardworking and qualified LGBT Americans are fired, harassed, and denied promotions and job opportunities.

Congress has the opportunity to finally take action on ENDA, starting with the United States House of Representatives. For LGBT Americans, who have been waiting 40 years since the bill's original introduction, that vote cannot come soon enough.

Americans of both parties are opposed to discrimination in the workforce based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. Recently Tony Fabrizio, one of the nation's most respected Republican pollsters, released a study showing that 77% percent of Republicans support non-discrimination in the workforce. Now is the time for Congress to follow the lead of the people and give every American the freedom to seek and hold meaningful employment without fear of unfair discrimination.

This legislation is about freedom. It is about ensuring that every American can work without the fear of discrimination based upon his or her sexual orientation, a policy that has broad support in the business community. 86% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their workplace non-discrimination policies, and nearly a quarter prohibit discrimination based upon gender identity.

This legislation is about fairness. It is not about creating 'special rights' for a single group of Americans, or forcing increased litigation on businesses. In fact, in a 2000 study of states which have enacted similar laws, the Government Accountability Office found "no indication that these laws have generated a significant amount of litigation."

When it is signed into law, ENDA will protect all Americans from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, just as current law protects those based on race, religion, sex, national orientation and disability. Under ENDA, employees working for both the government and in the private sector would be free from being judged on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to decisions about their being hired, fired, promoted or on any matter relating to their compensation.

Employment non-discrimination enjoys strong bipartisan support, is good for American business, and goes a long way to ensure that all hard-working Americans are judged based solely on job performance. Congress must act now to pass ENDA.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

PFLAG National Urges Congress to Move Forward with ENDA

This afternoon, PFLAG National joined with hundreds of LGBT and Ally organizations to urge Congress to move forward on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). PFLAG, along with our allies, has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staffers in the past three months in an effort to shore up votes on this important piece of legislation. You can help amplify this message to “Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW” by calling or emailing you house member today. Check out PFLAG’s ENDA action alert here where you can use our call script or automated email system to take action. To see who signed on to this important document click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gay Men's Bodies Desecrated In Senegal

Over the past few months we have been blogging about human rights abuses in Africa. Today, unfortunately, we have another country to add to the list: Senegal.

According to this piece in the Huffington Post, even death cannot stop the violence against gays in this corner of the world anymore.

Madieye Diallo's body had only been in the ground for a few hours when the mob descended on the weedy cemetery with shovels. They yanked out the corpse, spit on its torso, dragged it away and dumped it in front of the home of his elderly parents.

The scene of May 2, 2009 was filmed on a cell phone and the video sold at the market. It passed from phone to phone, sowing panic among gay men who say they now feel like hunted animals.

Hours after he died, his family took Diallo's body to a nearby mosque, where custom holds the corpse should be bathed and wrapped in a white cloth. Before the family could bathe him, news reached the mosque that Diallo was gay and they were chased out, says the dead man's friend. His relatives hastily wrapped him in a sheet and headed to the cemetery, where they carried him past the home of Babacar Sene.

"A man that's known as being a homosexual can't be buried in a cemetery. His body needs to be thrown away like trash," says Sene. "His parents knew that he was gay and they did nothing about it. So when he died we wanted to make sure he was punished."

The video footage captured on a cell phone shows what happened next. His thin body was placed inside a narrow trough in the middle of the bald cemetery dotted with clumps of weeds. Then you hear shouting.

The shaky image shows a group of men jerking around the edges of the grave. One of them straddles the pit and shovels away the fine gray dirt until you can see the shrouded body. It's still inside the trough when they tie a rope around its feet.

They yank it out, cheering as the body bends over the lip of the grave. The shroud catches on the ground and tears off, revealing the dead man's torso.

Rassul Djitte, 48, watched from behind the wall of a nearby school. He had not known Diallo personally, but says he felt a stab. "People were rejoicing," he says. "They dragged

To continue reading this story, click here.

Policy Matters - April 20, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Finding a LGBT Friendly Campus. A growing number of college recruiters committed to diversity are participating in recruitment fairs specifically designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. While Ivy League schools are often represented, the fairs also attract lesser-known institutions like Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Scott A. McIntyre, associate director of admissions there, says that his university attends some 500 fairs each year, and that including one for LGBT students made sense. "The more I can help my institution be open to diversity of all different kinds," he says, "it's just going to make us a stronger university, and it's going to make our student body be more robust."

LGBT Activists Protest Turkish Minister. A handful of activists interrupted a meeting on gender equality last Thursday, demanding that a Turkish official apologize for saying recently that homosexuality is a disease. The minister, Aliye Kavaf, was giving a speech when the demonstrators began shouting slogans, asking her to apologize for last month's remark. LGBT people aren't criminalized in Turkey, but many pro-equality activists say they lack legal protections and face stigmatization in the predominately Muslim nation. LGBT groups have been calling on the government to amend the criminal code to state clearly that discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime.

Constance McMillion will Serve as NYC Pride Parade Grand Marshall. The lesbian teenager from Mississippi who challenged her school district's ban of same-sex prom dates will serve as grand marshal of the annual LGBT pride march in New York City. Organizer Heritage of Pride, Inc., announced Wednesday that Constance McMillen will appear in the parade on June 27. The event commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots in which patrons at a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against a police raid. The 18-year-old senior says she's honored to be part of the celebration.

Public Policy Watch
Employment Non-Discrimination Act to be Considered Soon. The House Democratic leadership had indicated that it intends to move forward on long-awaited legislation banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The inclusive measure offered by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) already has 199 co-sponsors, including six Republicans. Seventeen more votes are needed to pass the bill and we are confident other lawmakers will sign-on in support. Please take action today and encourage your representative to vote for the bill by visiting our action alert center.

State Judge Overturns Ark. Adoption Ban Law. A state judge on Friday struck down an Arkansas law approved by voters that banned gay couples and other unmarried people living together from serving as adoptive or foster parents. A group of families, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in 2008 to overturn the ban. They argued that there are too few families willing to adopt or foster in Arkansas, which has an average of 1,600 children on waiting lists, and that good homes were being arbitrarily cut from the list. The law effectively banned lesbian, gay and bisexual people from adopting or fostering children because they are unable to legally marry in Arkansas.

Obama Hospital Decision Helps Same-Sex Couples. On April 15, President Obama signed a directive that grants hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples, making clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. The directive applies to every hospital across the country that accepts federal funding via Medicaid and Medicare.

Supreme Court Weighs College Non-Discrimination Policies. This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which it will consider whether a student organization has a constitutional right to obtain public funds and other government-provided benefits while reserving the right to exclude members on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factor. The case carries great implications for how public universities and schools must accommodate religious groups.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,

I am so excited PFLAG is co-sponsoring the May 11th Veteran's Lobby Day. I live in Arizona, so I unfortunately won't be able to travel to D.C. to participate on the Hill. I am curious to know if there are other ways I can share my story as a veteran.

Thanks so much,
Samantha, Phoenix, Arizona

Dear Samantha,
Thank you so much for your question! As you know, we are encouraging PFLAGers from all across the country to participate in the May 11th Veteran's Lobby Day. We recognize that many members will not be able to travel to D.C. for the event, which is why we are encouraging folks to participate "virtually" by telling members of Congress and their staff that DADT needs to be repealed immediately. You can virtually participate in the lobby day by doing any (or all) of the following activities:

Share Your Story. If you are a veteran, the family member of a veteran, or an active duty service member, please consider sharing your story by contacting us. We would like to feature your DADT experiences on both our blog and in published op-eds.

Schedule an In-District Visit. On May 11th, you can make a difference by visiting the offices of both your representative and your senators. If you don't know who your member of congress is, please visit our action center, or if you need help in setting up an in-district of D.C. visit on the 11th, please contact us today, so that we can help set-up a meeting with your congress members.

Call Congress. Please visit our action center, and tell your elected officials that all patriotic Americans deserve the right to serve their country. Use the following (or similar) message when you call:

Hello, my name is ______. As a proud member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and as an active constituent in your district, I would like to take the opportunity to express my support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and ask that your boss pass this legislation without delay. The bill would repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, and it would implement a standard non-discrimination policy that would allow all qualified, patriotic Americans to proudly serve their country, freely and openly.

Thank you for your time.

Share this Information. Please forward this information to other veterans and their families, so we can grow the number of powerful voices we have lobbying and calling Congress on May 11th.

Please be sure to let us know how your experience of the May 11th Veteran's Lobby Day went. With your efforts, we will see the end of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law once and for all.

Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on May 4, 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 April 30, 2010.

Metro DC PFLAG Chapter Takes on PFOX

Metro DC PFLAG has been battling with PFOX in the Montgomery County, MD schools for several years now. Here is an update from chapter member David Fishback on their effort to keep PFOX’s message of change out of the schools:

"In February, the interestingly-named group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) distributed fliers in some Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) high schools telling students that people can change their sexual orientation from gay to straight by “therapies.” PFOX was able to distribute these fliers because a federal court decision several years ago required that MCPS not discriminate based on viewpoint in what the court viewed as a “public forum.” The same court also made it clear that MCPS, when speaking for itself, need not present all viewpoints. That is why PFOX lost in its lawsuit in 2007 and 2008 to block the health education curriculum revisions dealing with matters of sexual orientation unless its “viewpoint” was also presented.

The PFOX flyer is dangerous to children’s health.

On April 12, I wrote a letter to the Montgomery County Board of Education on behalf of the Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians (PFLAG), excerpts of which are copied here."

It is imperative that the Board include material, recommended by its own Advisory Committee, specifically stating that mainstream medical and mental health community recognizes that being gay is not a choice and that so-called therapies to change sexual orientation are opposed by the mainstream health professionals as dangerous. Please contact the Board at boe@mcpsmd.org to urge MCPS to provide this needed improvement to the health education curriculum.

To read all of David's comments, click here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

AR Judge Strikes Down Adoption Ban

A circuit judge Friday struck down a state law banning unmarried couples from adopting and serving as foster parents.

Act 1 unconstitutionally burdens non-marital relationships and acts of sexual intimacy between adults by forcing them to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in a lawsuit challenging the initiative voters approved in 2008.

“It infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas,” the wrote in a two-page order in the suit brought by the ACLU.

State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, whose office defended the law, said late Friday a decision on whether to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court had not been made.

Jerry Cox, director of the Family Council, the conservative organization that spearheaded the drive to put the initiated act on the November 2008 general election ballot and an intervenor in the lawsuit, said his group would definitely appeal.

Piazza wrote that “due process and equal protection are not hollow words without substance. They are rights enumerated in our constitution that must not be construed in such a way as to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.”

Piazza sided with the ACLU in its argument that the ban reduced the pool of potential adoptive and foster parents to the point where many children could go without homes.

The ban casts “an unreasonably broad net” and does not serve the state’s interest, the judge said.

Holly Dickson, attorney for ACLU chapter in Arkansas, welcomed the ruling. “We are happy, obviously, and we hope that now families who are perfectly good families will all be able to go through the screening process, and maybe this will start chipping away at the critical shortage of foster and adoptive homes that we have,” Dickson said.

The state had argued children are better off raised in traditional family settings, with married parents, and that the law should be upheld because it protects children from abuse and neglect.

Cox called Piazza’s ruling “a classic example of judicial tyranny.”

“It is a sad day when one judge in Little Rock chooses to overrule the will of the people of Arkansas,” he said. “We teach our children in school that we have government by the people — apparently, not in this case.”

Voters approved Act 1 by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

“Act 1 protects the welfare of children,” Cox said. “The people of Arkansas recognized this and they passed it. Today’s ruling by Judge Piazza hurts children and it puts their welfare in jeopardy.”

The Family Council pushed for the initiated act in response to an Arkansas Supreme Court decision that voided a state agency’s policy that banned gays from Arkansas’ foster care program.

The high court ruled that the Child Welfare Agency Review Board overstepped authority granted by the Legislature in considering morality among criteria for prospective foster parents.

Critics of Act 1 said it effectively banned gays from adopting or fostering children because they were unable to get married in Arkansas. Voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Family Council, which also led the drive for the gay marriage ban, acknowledged its main objective with Act 1 was to bar gays from adopting and fostering children.

McDaniel said Friday that though he did not personally support the ballot initiative, his office advised and defended the state Department of Human Services throughout the process.

“A number of factors will have to be considered and evaluated before a decision is made as to whether an appeal would be in the best interests of the state,” McDaniel said in a news release.

Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said Friday the governor was aware of the ruling but had not read it.

Beebe opposed Act 1 because he feared the law hindered the state’s ability to recruit qualified parents.

Straight for Equality Featured in Gay City News!

If you’re looking for more reasons to support PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project, Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG’s Director of Equality Partnerships, is ready to give them to you. She sat down with Dean Wrzeszcz of New York’s Gay City News to talk about the Straight for Equality project and the upcoming Straight for Equality Awards Gala on May 1 in New York.

Interested in learning more about Straight for Equality? Then we’ve got links. You can check out the Straight for Equality website here, find out everything you need to know about the Straight for Equality Awards Gala here, and get a look at the newest Straight for Equality publication, Straight for Equality in Healthcare right here.

And if you’re a PFLAG member, be sure to check your mailbox this week for the newest issue of the PFLAGpole, which has some great new details about the PFLAG Chapter Program Guide for the new Straight for Equality healthcare publication.

Friday, April 16, 2010

PFLAG Weighs in on Nominees and Gay Rumors

Leading gay rights group are accusing Republicans of trying to rile up their conservative base by launching a whisper campaign against potential Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan -- suggesting the current Solicitor General is a closeted lesbian even though she's not.

In its first entree into the upcoming Supreme Court nomination process, the group Human Rights Campaign blasted the increasingly public discussion of Kagan's sexuality, calling it a play "straight out the right-wing playbook."

"Even though the majority of Americans couldn't care less about a nominee's sexual orientation, the far right will continue to be shameless with their whisper campaigns to drum up their base and raise money off of prejudice," Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the group emailed, in a statement to the Huffington Post

In a separate interview, Jean-Marie Navetta, spokeswoman from PFLAG -- Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- accused people of trying to manufacture scandal out of thin air.

"People love taking part in rumors like this, whether they're gay or not, because it implies that there's some sort of scandal going on there. And the bottom line is, it doesn't matter and it shouldn't matter," she said. "But we hear it all the time... it's a gossip point for people. And I think it could certainly be used, or be perceived to be used by some as a way to discredit [Kagan], even though we all know that it does not matter and it should not matter."

The comments come a day after CBS published a blog by Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, in which he asserted that choosing Kagan would help Obama "please" much of his base, because she would be the "first openly gay justice." The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight. It was the first public pushback by the administration in defense of any potential Supreme Court nominee.

Even before the CBS post, a top conservative religious group was already insisting that a nominee's sexuality would play a major role in his or her confirmation process. This past week, the organization Focus on the Family abruptly reversed its position from the last Supreme Court confirmation battle by declaring it would oppose a gay Supreme Court pick, no matter who the nominee is.

"We can assure you that we recognize that homosexual behavior is a sin and does not reflect God's created intent and desire for humanity," said Tom Minnery, the group's senior vice president. "Further, we at Focus do affirm that character and moral rectitude should be key considerations in appointing members of the judiciary, especially in the case of the highest court in the land. Sexual behavior -- be it heterosexual or homosexual -- certainly lies at the heart of personal morality."

The fact that the rumor campaign surrounding Kagan has been settled doesn't necessarily mean that the issue is off the table, Republicans still seem poised to make gay rights a prominent feature of the confirmation process -- should she be chosen as Justice John Paul Stevens' replacement. Already conservative websites are latching on to a brief signed by Kagan and 40 Harvard Law School professors in which they argued that the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was discriminatory against gay troops.

"Let's just say that if somebody is gay, it clearly becomes political fodder," said Navetta, when asked if the effort could damage Kagan's chances for the court or confirmation. "And I'm not implying one way or the other that she is or is not [gay]. I'm just saying that its no myth that people's sexual orientation can and does become an issue in political campaigns. We've seen it before."

President Obama Calls for Healthcare Equality for All!

Yesterday, President Obama signed a memorandum which gave an historic directive to the Department of Health and Human Services: They are ordered to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. It also specifies that partners of gay and lesbian individuals should be allowed power of attorney.

According to the White House, this order will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding – in other words, just about every hospital in the U.S.


“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean -- a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them…uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

It goes on to issue the instructions for “compassionate care and equal treatment” in hospitals.

Here at PFLAG, we all applaud the president’s principled stand and the power that he’s putting behind it to ensure that our gay and lesbian loved ones are granted the equal rights that they deserve. This is a tremendous step for the government and a landmark day for equality.

(By the way…if you’re interested in how you can learn more about making sure that your healthcare providers understand why this is so important, check out our new Straight for Equality in Healthcare resources and pass them on!)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Episode of IN THE LIFE

In the Life Media produces IN THE LIFE, the longest running television show documenting the gay experience. This month, IN THE LIFE talks to hate crime victims and perpetrators about The Nature of Hate, followed by a visit with artist Alix Smith, who is traveling the country photographing hundreds of same-sex couples, challenging stereotypes. This very powerful episode illustrates the damage that hate does to our LGBT loved ones.

You can watch the 30 second video preview here.
You can learn more about In the Life Media online here.

New Visitation Policy at FL Hospital at Center of the Lengbehn Case

The Advocate (via the Miami Herald) is reporting that a South Florida health care system has changed its visitation policy to allow unmarried same-sex partners after a woman accused a Jackson Memorial Hospital worker of refusing to let her visit her dying partner in 2007.

According to Steve Rothaus at the Miami Herald, “Partners of gay and lesbian patients are now assured by Jackson Health System to have the same visiting rights as heterosexuals, according to a new Jackson policy that redefines the terms ‘family’ and ‘family member.’

“Recognized family members now may include people who are not legally related to the patient, including "spouses, domestic partners and both different-sex and same-sex significant others," announced SAVE Dade, one of several gay rights groups that worked for a year with Jackson to redefine the policy.

“Gay and lesbian nonbiological parents are also assured of visits when minor children are hospitalized.”

In 2007, Janice Lengbehn said that a Jackson Memorial Hospital social worker refused to allow her to see Lisa Pond, her longtime partner who suffered a fatal brain aneurysm. The employee told Lengbehn that Florida is “an antigay state.”

For more information on Janice Lengbehn's story, click here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

National Day of Silence: Let Your Voice Be Heard Without Saying a Word!

Friday, April 16, 2010 is the National Day of Silence, sponsored by GLSEN. Since 1996, the National Day of Silence has brought awareness to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools nationwide. This student-led event has aided in the fight towards creating safe learning environments for all students.

We are looking for stories that reveal how bullying and harassment affected you or your child for the PFLAG blog. By sharing our stories we can remind our schools and communities that bullying impacts all students. We would also love to hear how participating in the National Day of Silence helped foster strong community partnerships, raised awareness or positive change. Parents, students, teachers, allies, etc. are all welcome to share their good experiences, struggles, successes, and everything in between.

Please send your stories to PFLAG’s Safe Schools Coordinator, Mekina Morgan, at mmorgan@pflag.org.

Statememt on MI Gov. Granholm’s Anti-Bullying Measure

Last week Governor Jennifer Granholm reiterated her call for anti-bullying legislation in the wake of the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in Michigan. Granholm has favored legislation that would specifically address the common reasons for bullying--sexual orientation and gender identity. The Family Equality Council, GLSEN, and PFLAG National issued a statement responding to the Governor’s comments.

"We applaud Gov. Granholm for urging lawmakers to take up anti-bullying legislation that includes language spelling out prohibitions on specific kinds of bullying. Several authoritative studies demonstrate why school policies that include enumeration language, including sexual orientation and gender identity, are vital to school safety and protection from verbal and physical abuse. Students who attend schools with enumerated anti-harassment policies report they feel safer and are less likely to skip a class because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Enumerating categories does not create special groups or privileges; rather, it provides safety in a way that research has shown is essential for protecting all students but particularly the one million American children who have LGBT parents. Safe schools legislation that affords the strongest protections through enumeration and mandated training programs should be the standard for the rest of the country.”

Missoula, MT Passes Non-Discrimination Ordinance

According to the Missoulian, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning the Missoula City Council adopted the first equality ordinance in Montana that protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Most of us can't remember civil rights in action," said Councilwoman Stacy Rye, an ordinance sponsor. "This is it for us. This is our lifetimes."

In front of citizens who sat through a nearly seven-hour meeting, the council voted 10-2 in favor of the measure - which protects Missoula residents from housing and employment discrimination based on "actual or perceived ... sexual orientation, gender identity or expression."

The measure passed at 1:45 a.m.

"Hopefully our actions tonight will ripple through Montana from Libby to Billings, from Dillon to Wolf Point, and eventually to the capital in Helena," said Councilman Dave Strohmaier, another sponsor of the ordinance.

Early in the evening, Mayor John Engen warned people he would recess the meeting if the audience clapped for anyone - for or against the proposal. When the final vote was taken, the pent-up applause erupted and many supporters who remained in the room offered the council a standing ovation.

The following councilors voted yes: Strohmaier, Jason Wiener, Pam Walzer, Roy Houseman, Rye, Bob Jaffe, Jon Wilkins, Dick Haines, Ed Childers and Marilyn Marler.

The ordinance will take effect in 30 days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marriage Fails to Make it on California Ballot

From Reuters:

Los Angeles-based Love Honor Cherish carried out a volunteer-driven signature-gathering effort after large groups decided there was not enough time to ensure victory this year, even with some polls showing more than 50 percent support for same-sex marriage.

A 150-day period to gather signatures to place the question on the ballot ended on Monday.

Courts and state legislatures have legalized same-sex marriage in five U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but popular votes have always rejected such unions, which are illegal in the vast majority of U.S. states.

California voters in November 2008 ended a summer of court-allowed gay marriage by enacting a ban on same-sex unions by a 52 to 48 percent vote. The move by the trend-setting state enthused social conservatives and stunned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender supporters nationwide.

A San Francisco federal court now is weighing whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. That battle is expected to be appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"That trial I think is the most import single event in the modern LGBT equality movement," said Rick Jacobs, head of the Courage Campaign, speaking of the gay and lesbian movement. His community organizing group considered a 2010 push but decided it was too soon.

"If the court rules that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, that is going to catalyze folks on both sides," he said.

Many gay activists are wary of the Supreme Court bid, fearing conservative justices would not support their cause.

Love Honor Cherish Executive Director John Henning said if voters overturned Proposition 8 in 2012 -- the next time a ballot measure could qualify -- it could effectively take the issue out of the Court's hands.

"I'd rather repeal Prop 8 than see the Supreme Court review it, given the current composition of the court," Henning said.

Straight for Equality Gala – Get Your Tickets Today!

We are proud to announce that at the Second Annual Straight for Equality Gala on May 1 in New York City, in addition to honoring Liza Minnelli with our Straight for Equality in Entertainment award, we will be honoring Sodexo with the Straight for Equality in Business award, and Scott Fujita will be honored with the Straight for Equality in Sports award.

As we’ve said here previously, the legendary Liza Minnelli has been an outspoken ally to the LGBT community for years. Learn more here.

Sodexo has set the standard for realizing the potential of LGBT people and allies. Since 2004, Sodexo’s PRIDE network group has been committed to providing education and support for GLBT and straight ally employees of the company. As part of its activities, PRIDE has hosted several Straight for Equality in the Workplace training sessions, including one for Sodexo’s executive-level management team. Read more about Sodexo’s commitment to diversity here.

Scott Fujita, a football player who recently joined the Cleveland Browns after winning his first Super Bowl in 2010 as a player for the New Orleans Saints, is an out and proud ally. His powerful straight ally voice has made waves in an area where it is rarely heard. Read an interview with Scott Fujita here.

Come and celebrate along with us at the Second Annual Straight for Equality Gala May 1 as we pay tribute to these amazing allies. Learn more about the event and get your tickets here now!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Participate in May 11th Veteran's Lobby Day on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

On May 11th, hundreds of veterans from across the country will descend on Washington, D.C. with one clear message for Congress - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) needs to go and it needs to go this year! The National Veterans Lobby Day on DADT, which is coordinated by a broad coalition of pro-military and pro-equality organizations including PFLAG, will take place immediately before the National Defense Authorization Act - the bill that should contain DADT repeal language - is drafted on Capitol Hill. During this critical time, we need all hands on deck.

We need you to participate...

We need you to join us in Washington, D.C., whether in person or "virtually" for the National Veterans Lobby Day on DADT to help us tell members of Congress and their staff face-to-face that DADT needs to go, and it needs to go now! Now is the time to put pressure on congress to act this year. We can only accomplish this goal with your help. In coalition with many partnering organizations, we are coordinating efforts to make this lobby day one of the largest and most effective of its kind.

In order to keep the pressure on, we encourage you to participate in one of the following activities:

Share Your Story. If you are a veteran, the family member of a veteran, or an active duty service member, please consider sharing your story by contacting us. We would like to feature your DADT experiences on both our blog and in published op-eds.


Schedule a Visit. On May 11th, you can make a difference by visiting the offices of both your representative and your senators. If you don't know who your member of congress is, please visit our action center, or if you need help in setting up an in-district of D.C. visit on the 11th, please contact us today, so that we can help set-up a meeting with your congress members.

Call Congress. Please visit our action center, and tell your elected officials that all patriotic Americans deserve the right to serve their country. Use the following (or similar) message when you call:

Hello, my name is ______. As a proud member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and as an active constituent in your district, I would like to take the opportunity to express my support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and ask that your boss pass this legislation without delay. The bill would repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, and it would implement a standard non-discrimination policy that would allow all qualified, patriotic Americans to proudly serve their country, freely and openly.

It is unconscionable that lesbian, gay and bisexual service members can STILL be discharged for their real or perceived sexual orientation. Since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was enacted, nearly 13,000 service members have been discharged, costing the federal government $555 million to reinforce bigotry and discrimination. In fact, it is the only federal law on the books that endorses employment discrimination. While this practice is unfortunately legal, we all know it is wrong. Please help by supporting legislation to overturn this unjust law.


Thank you for your time.

Share this Alert. Please forward this alert to other veterans and their families, so we can grow the number of powerful voices we have lobbying and calling Congress on May 11th.

Thank you for moving equality forward!

Top Portuguese Court OKs Marriage

Portugal's highest court ruled on Thursday that the country's proposed same-sex marriage law should be enacted, which leaves only the president's signature as the last step before the bill becomes a law.

Portuguese president Anibal Cavaco Silva, a conservative, sent the Parliament-approved bill to the constitutional court last month after he had apprehensions over the constitutionality of the bill. He now has 20 days to sign the legislation.

Tribunal president Rui Moura Ramos said that while the marriage equality bill does not conform to the concept of marriage laid out in the current constitution, he agreed that the concept is open to interpretation and evolution, according to Euro News.

If signed into law, Portugal would become the sixth European nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sodexo Named 2010 Straight for Equality in Business Awardee

Another honoree for the 2010 Straight for Equality awards was named today!

Sodexo, the nation’s largest provider of food and facilities services, has been named the 2010 Straight for Equality in Business awardee. In a statement from PFLAG today, the organization’s commitment to creating both policy and culture change when it comes to their diversity and inclusion efforts made them a clear choice for this year’s honors.

The company’s Employee Resource Group, PRIDE, has been waving the ally flag since its inception, and also stands as one of the first ERGs to add “ally” to its mission. PRIDE has also worked with Sodexo leadership to bring Straight for Equality in the Workplace training to both employees around the country as well as its executive-level management.

You can learn more about Sodexo by visiting the PFLAG Online Newsroom now. And there’s still time for you to buy tickets to the 2010 Straight for Equality Awards Gala in New York City on May 1. Find out more about the Gala and the 2010 class of awardees online now. (Did someone say Liza?)

PFLAG Mom Works for Safe Schools, Coalition Building in Genessee, MI

Terri Dinsmore figures she has tacked about 4,000 miles on her car while doing volunteer work for the Genesee County PFLAG - not an easy thing to do when her income, since the former teacher left the Saginaw School District in December 2008, has been limited to whatever odd jobs she can get.

But there are important things that drive Dinsmore, who was elected the chapter's PFLAG president on March 14.

"I like to help other people who are struggling with issues," said Dinsmore, who takes over the seat that has been vacant since Allen Biles stepped down as president last year.

A PFLAG member since 2004, she has been the chapter's vice president since 2006 and has been perhaps its most visible member - serving on the Flint Out N About committee, doing presentations at Flint's numerous colleges and attending meetings of the Flint/Genesee County Hate Crimes Task Force.

She takes her commitment to the area's LGBT community seriously, noting that Genesee County's chapter also serves people in neighboring Shiawassee, Lapeer and Oakland counties, with the closest PFLAG chapters being in Livingston County and the Tri-Cities area of Saginaw, Midland and Bay City.

"I think it's important to have something like PFLAG for people to get support," said the 40-year-old Montrose area resident. "And for the younger people, it serves as a social outlet."

Dinsmore knows that well. She joined Genesee County's PFLAG because it was a good social outlet for her at a time when she didn't know of any other place to meet other gay people. Since then, she has championed numerous causes, with her goals as the new president being to strengthen and continue the work of the Genesee County Safe Schools Coalition, increase the membership from its current 14 paying members and reaching out to more middle school, high school and college students.

The chapter's monthly meetings are at 2 p.m. the second Sunday of every month at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint and include a speaker and confidential support groups for gay, transgender and straight members. The ages range from high school students to senior citizens.

For more information, go to www.pflagflint.org or e-mail pflagflint@yahoo.com.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Action Alert: Adding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to National Health Interview Survey

From our friends at the National Coalition for LGBT Health:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is currently circulating a letter in the Senate, requesting funds for the addition of a question about sexual orientation and gender identity to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the federal government's most comprehensive and influential survey. This question is vitally important for gathering the information needed to understand and address the health disparities affecting the LGBT community.

Please call your Senator today and urge them to sign on to Senator Whitehouse’s letter. To contact your Senator, please dial the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121, give your state, and ask to speak to your Senator. When you are connected to your Senator’s office, ask to speak to the staff member who works on Health and Human Services Appropriations. Tell them you are a constituent who supports appropriating an additional $2 million for the National Health Interview Survey and that you would like them to sign on to Senator Whitehouse's letter.

In order to sign on, you must contact Nick Bath in Senator Whitehouse’s office and enter your request in the Appropriations Committee's database. If you have any questions, please have them contact Rebecca Fox at 202-558-6828 or rebecca@lgbthealth.net.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Policy Matters - April 7, 2010

Front Page Headlines
DADT Discharges from Service Still Possible. The Army secretary, John M. McHugh, said Thursday that he had incorrectly stated that there was a moratorium on the discharge of lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the military. At a meeting with Pentagon reporters on Wednesday, Mr. McHugh said that it made no sense to pursue discharges of service members with whom he had initiated conversations about how best to carry out a repeal of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Mr. McHugh said it would be “counterproductive” to “take disciplinary action against someone who spoke with me openly and honestly.” On Thursday, Mr. McHugh issued a statement saying there was no moratorium on enforcing the law, though he said that recent changes by Defense Secretary Robert Gates apply the law in a fairer and more appropriate manner.

New York Transgender Woman Murdered. A transgender woman found dead in her Queens apartment was strangled, and detectives suspect she was killed by a man she had been dating. The 29-year-old victim, Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, was likely killed late Saturday or early Sunday, police sources said. A neighbor reported hearing a loud fight at the time, but when officers arrived, there was no answer at the door. A police official said detectives now believe the killer had fled by the time cops showed up. There was no evidence that would have allowed police to go into the apartment, the official said. It’s unclear at this point whether local law enforcement officials will report Amanda’s murder as a hate crime.

Iowa Draws a Trickle of Marriages. Last year, when the Iowa Supreme Court released its unanimous decision overturning a 1998 law banning same-sex couples from marrying, county recorders from all of Iowa’s 99 counties felt nervous. They worried about when and how to begin issuing the new licenses in a way that would comply with Iowa law. When a flood of same-sex marriage applicants was predicted to be around 3,000, a level of applicants that would have almost doubled the state's annual volume of marriage licenses, concerns about workload arose. In the end, the first year of licensing for same-sex couples turned out to be a little like March; “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” In the first seven months of marriages for lesbian and gay couples, 1,783 same-sex marriages were recorded in the state, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Regardless of the predictions, out-of-state same-sex couples haven't made Iowa the marriage destination many either dreamed of or feared it would become. For 1,783 couples, it's still special. For county recorders, it's been just another year at work.

Public Policy Watch
CA Law Aimed at Curing “Homosexuality” in Question. Believe it or not, California law requires health experts to find a cure for homosexuality. This is no joke - Welfare and Institutions Code Section 8050. This 60-year-old relic was not some gay-baiting prelude to the McCarthy era. It came, rather, in response to public outcry over sex crimes in California, specifically the molestation-murder of a 6-year-old Los Angeles girl. The murderer was not a gay man. There was no connection between the crime and homosexuality at all. Even so, before the dust had settled, well-meaning California legislators passed a law that not only required health officials to seek "the causes and cures of homosexuality" but likened people who are gay to child molesters. Amazingly, it's still on the books, but thankfully Assembly Bill 2199, which faces its first hearing this week before the Public Safety Committee, would undo 60 years of libel and give California a set of law books that reflects science and values that were sadly absent in 1950.

Maryland Attorney General Faces Impeachment Threat. Don H. Dwyer, Jr., a Republican member of the House of Delegates, plans to bring impeachment charges on the House floor on Wednesday against the state’s attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler. Mr. Dwyer said that Mr. Gansler overstepped his authority in issuing a legal opinion last month saying the state would recognize same-sex marriages from other places and ordering state agencies to give gay married couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Mr. Gansler’s opinion does not change the law, but it was meant to guide state officials. The impeachment matter is most likely to be dismissed by the House speaker, Michael E. Busch, a Democrat. If so, Mr. Dwyer has said he will probably call for a ruling from the full House, which is controlled by Democrats.

VA State Employee Argues He was Fired for Being Gay. A VA state employee contends he was forced to resign from his position as at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville in 2006 because he is gay. The Virginia Supreme Court heard an oral petition from his attorney to review his case just this week. The facts of the claimant’s experience, as well as some of the legal arguments that have been made in the case by the attorney general's office, first under McDonnell and then under Bill Mims, would be interesting to those who have been closely following the discrimination issue. Virginia's Department of Human Resource Management found in January 2009 that Moore's sexual orientation was indeed a factor in the ending of his employment, but it found that other issues related to his job performance also played a role, and therefore he was not due back his job. You can read more about the department's finding here.

WI Law Denying Transgender Inmates Hormone Therapy Rescinded. A federal judge has struck down a unique Wisconsin law that prohibits transgender inmates from receiving medically necessary hormone therapy treatment. Lacking such medically necessary treatment could lead to severe health problems. While similar prison policies in other states have been challenged successfully, the ACLU and Lambda Legal said the law was the only one of its kind in the nation that denied such medical care to transgender inmates. The law was declared unconstitutional and unenforceable by U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert. Clevert ruled that the law violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it "results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health-care providers." He added "there is no rational basis" for the law, which he said also violates equal protection rights.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
As I’m filling out my 2010 Census form, I’m very curious about how my son and his husband can be counted. Could you please share any information I can pass along to him?
Thanks so much,
Doug

Dear Doug,

Thank you so much for your question! Earlier this week, the Census Bureau unveiled its historic outreach campaign to the LGBT community, strongly encouraging members of the community to fill out their Census forms. It’s important to encourage your son and his husband to fill out their form since that will help increase the visibility of LGBT families via Census statistics. The information gleaned from Census data will help guide many vital government decisions at the federal, state and local levels, meaning specific government funding for programs and resources to the most vulnerable members in the LGBT community; elders, those living with HIV or AIDS, people of color, transgender individuals and youth to name only a few. Identifying the number of LGBT people in America is critical when advocating for specific programs and investments addressing the community’s very specific needs.

Regarding particular guidance for your son and other LGBT families, please see these frequently asked questions we continue to receive from our members below:

• How does the 2010 Census count lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people? The 2010 Census does not ask about sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people living with a spouse or partner can identify their relationship by checking either the "husband or wife" or "unmarried partner" box.

• How do same-sex couples answer the relationship question? The 2010 Census will be the first to report counts of both same-sex partners and same-sex spouses. The person filling out the form (Person 1) is asked to identify how all other individuals in the household are related to him or her. Census data are based on how individuals self identify and how couples think of themselves. Same-sex couples who are married, or consider themselves to be spouses, can identify one other adult as a "husband or wife," Other same-sex couples may instead decide to use the term "unmarried partner." In general, people who identify as unmarried partners are in a close personal relationship but are not married or do not think of themselves as spouses. Census data is based on how individuals self identify, meaning that even in places where same-sex relationships are not recognized, if two people think of themselves as spouses, they can include that on their Census form.

• What about transgender individuals? The 2010 Census asks a question about each person's sex. Transgender respondents should select the sex they identify as and should mark only one box.

• Important note to bi-racial/ethnic couples. The Census reports some statistics on the race/ethnicity of the "household." Bi-racial/ethnic couples should note that this category is determined using the race/ethnicity of Person 1, the person who fills out the Census form for the household. Unfortunately, this method of assessing the race/ethnicity of a “household” skews the data for bi-racial/ethnic couples.

Please be sure to tell your son that the 2010 Census matters for every LGBT family in the United States. The visibility it continues to provide for our families will be enormously helpful as we continue to advocate for LGBT equality.
Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on April 20, 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 April 16, 2010.

Ellen, ‘Idol’ and the Power of Niceness

Ellen DeGeneres leaves no opportunity untapped, not even a few seconds of chat on “American Idol.”

Casey James, this season’s golden-haired heartthrob, was waiting for Ms. DeGeneres, the newest judge on “American Idol,” to assess his performance of the Rolling Stones hit “It’s All Over Now.” Ms. DeGeneres began with his good looks — and her own public persona.

“Casey, for most women, their hearts are going to start racing just looking at you, right, but then, for people like me ...” She paused, holding the beat while judges and audience members tittered over the implied allusion to her being a lesbian. As the laughter swelled, Ms. DeGeneres held up a finger, prolonging the joke. Then, with a knowing grin, she delivered the punch line: “...blondes ...”

Ms. DeGeneres, one of America’s most popular female comedians and talk-show hosts, is also one of its most beloved gay entertainers — and one of the few who markets herself as such. And she finds a way to remind audiences of her sexual status on almost every episode of “American Idol.” More than in any other of her ventures, Ms. DeGeneres’s performance on America’s favorite television show suggests how hard she works to seem effortlessly funny and how determined she is to be openly but unthreateningly gay. She doesn’t need the work, but she appears to want the demographic — “Idol” is her chance to expand her reach to a younger, more pop-obsessed audience, the Hulu Generation of viewers, who prefer to download their entertainment rather than press the remote. And Ms. DeGeneres, funny, irreverent and also quite cautious onstage, is setting herself up as the Jon Stewart figure on “Idol” that people under 30 can trust.

She already has their parents. Her syndicated talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” was an instant hit when it went on the air in 2003, reviving a career that had faltered after she came out as a lesbian in 1997. She is now a leading candidate for Oprah Winfrey’s throne when “The Oprah Winfrey Show” closes down next year. And that’s just her daytime realm. She has punched every ticket to mainstream success: she was a fish in the Disney-Pixar animated film “Finding Nemo,” she has hosted the Emmys and the Oscars, and currently she stars in ads for American Express, Vitaminwater Zero and Simply Ageless cosmetics for Olay and CoverGirl — a coup for a lesbian in her 50s best known for a tomboyish, no-makeup look.

Even her private life is a thriving enterprise, served up as an affirmation of gay marriage set in a Harlequin romance frame. Ms. DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi showed their gauzy wedding video on “Oprah” last year as part of a major campaign for gay true love and happiness. Now Ms. DeGeneres is bringing all of that with her on America’s most conventional reality show.

To continue reading this story in The New York Times, click here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gay MS Teen Sent to Fake Prom

To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.

McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.

"They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them," McMillen says. "The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to."

Last week McMillen asked one of the students organizing the prom for details about the event, and was directed to the country club. "It hurts my feelings," McMillen says.

Two students with learning difficulties were among the seven people at the country club event, McMillen recalls. "They had the time of their lives," McMillen says. "That's the one good thing that come out of this, [these kids] didn't have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."

In March, after the Itawamba County School District refused to allow McMillen to bring a female date to the prom, the district canceled the event altogether. McMillen and her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged that decision in court, and a judge ruled the district could not bar McMillen and her date.

The judge declined to force the school district to hold the prom because a parent-sponsored, private prom was being organized — and the understanding was that McMillen and her date were invited to that event. But Hampton says McMillen was never invited and organizers made it very difficult for her to find information on the time and location. That prom was later mysteriously canceled, with the Friday night event at the country club officially replacing it.

PFLAG DVR Alert: Ugly Betty 4/7!

Since it premiered in 2006, many people in the PFLAG family have enjoyed watching Ugly Betty, not just for its unique take on “fitting in” the fashion industry, but for the subplot about Betty’s nephew, Justin, who has been gradually coming out over the course of the show. (Many of us have also been intrigued with the life of openly gay co-worker Marc St. James…but that would be a post for another day.)

We’re excited to report that PFLAG was contacted by the show to help support an upcoming episode about the Suarez family. While we certainly won’t reveal any spoilers here, consider this your DVR alert. Be sure to tune in on Wednesday, April 7 at 10:00 pm (EST) to catch what we think will be a truly memorable episode.

Learn more about Ugly Betty here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

New eTransParent is Available Online Now!

In this issue of the eTransParent, we take some time to congratulate Dave and Joan Parker for winning the 2010 Legacy Award from HRC Carolinas, which recognizes individuals who have contributed efforts to improve the lives and visibility of LGBT people over a period of time. We also congratulate Kim Pearson for winning the 2010 Melissa Chapman Award at the Gold Rush Conference, an award that honors those who have effected positive social change for the transgender community. These awards are certainly well deserved!

Also in this issue of the eTransParent, you can learn more about some current issues that are important to the transgender community, read some news articles about transgender people, and find out about upcoming conferences and events.

Click here to read the current issue of the eTransParent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gay Iranians Seek Refuge In Turkey

Today's Washington Post has an article on the increasing number of gay Iranians who are fleeing the country after June's contested elections. More than 300 gays have fled Iran since the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously proclaimed in 2007, to guffaws from his audience at Columbia University, that there were no gays in Iran. Most have crossed the border into Turkey, joining 2,000 Iranian refugees -- largely political dissidents and religious outcasts -- facing waits of two to three years as the United Nations processes their applications for asylum.

Turkey grants the refugees sanctuary just until the United Nations can find them homes in the United States, Canada, Western Europe or Australia. To avoid a critical mass in any one Turkish city, the refugees are dispersed to two dozen locations. The list does not include more progressive Istanbul, gem of the Bosporus, but rather, smaller metropolises such as Isparta that remain influenced by Islam in the same way Christianity influences the Bible Belt.

In Turkey, where the party that won the national elections in 2002 has sought to foster better ties with Tehranthe movements of the refugees are strictly limited. They can engage in no political activity, cannot work and must check in at police stations at least twice a week.

Human rights groups say the number of gays taking flight has jumped in recent months as some came out of the shadows for a fleeting moment around the time of the tainted elections last June. They attempted to join in the anti-government campaigns that have sparked a brutal crackdown against dissidents by the Iranian government. It marked the first time, gay activists say, that a reviled underclass in Iran poked its face to the surface.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can Animals be Gay? The New York Times Investigates

The Laysan albatross is a downy seabird with a seven-foot wingspan and a notched, pale yellow beak. Every November, a small colony of albatrosses assembles at a place called Kaena Point, overlooking the Pacific at the foot of a volcanic range, on the northwestern tip of Oahu, Hawaii. Each bird has spent the past six months in solitude, ranging over open water as far north as Alaska, and has come back to the breeding ground to reunite with its mate. Albatrosses can live to be 60 or 70 years old and typically mate with the same bird every year, for life. Their “divorce rate,” as biologists term it, is among the lowest of any bird.

Lindsay C. Young, a biologist who studies the Kaena Point colony, told me: “They were supposed to be icons of monogamy: one male and one female. But I wouldn’t assume that what you’re looking at is a male and a female.”

In the course of her doctoral work, Young and a colleague discovered, almost incidentally, that a third of the pairs at Kaena Point actually consisted of two female birds, not one male and one female. Laysan albatrosses are one of countless species in which the two sexes look basically identical. It turned out that many of the female-female pairs, at Kaena Point and at a colony that Young’s colleague studied on Kauai, had been together for 4, 8 or even 19 years — as far back as the biologists’ data went, in some cases. The female-female pairs had been incubating eggs together, rearing chicks and just generally passing under everybody’s nose for what you might call “straight” couples.

Young would never use the phrase “straight couples.” And she is adamantly against calling the other birds “lesbians” too. For one thing, the same-sex pairs appear to do everything male-female pairs do except have sex, and Young isn’t really sure, or comfortable judging, whether that technically qualifies them as lesbians or not. But moreover, the whole question is meaningless to her; it has nothing to do with her research. “ ‘Lesbian,’ ” she told me, “is a human term,” and Young — a diligent and cautious scientist, just beginning to make a name in her field — is devoted to using the most aseptic language possible and resisting any tinge of anthropomorphism. “The study is about albatross,” she told me firmly. “The study is not about humans.” Often, she seemed to be mentally peer-reviewing her words before speaking.

In recent years though, more biologists have been looking objectively at same-sex sexuality in animals — approaching it as real science. For Young, the existence of so many female-female albatross pairs disproved assumptions that she didn’t even realize she’d been making and, in the process, raised a chain of progressively more complicated questions. One of the prickliest, it seemed, was how a scientist is even supposed to talk about any of this, given how eager the rest of us have been to twist the sex lives of animals into allegories of our own. “This colony is literally the largest proportion of — I don’t know what the correct term is: ‘homosexual animals’? — in the world,” Young told me. “Which I’m sure some people think is a great thing, and others might think is not.”

To read more of this fascinating article, click here for the story in The New York Times.

Transgender Woman Killed in New York

The New York Times is reporting that detectives are investigating the killing of a 29-year-old woman whose body was discovered on Tuesday afternoon inside an apartment in Glendale, Queens.

Originally, the police identified the victim, Edelbuerto Gonzalez-Andujar, as a man. They said officers from the 104th precinct responded to 69-30 62nd Street after a 911 call about a “male not breathing,” and that the victim was found “unconscious and unresponsive” and pronounced dead inside a first-floor apartment.

But a day later, officials corrected the record, saying that the victim was a male-to-female transgender person who identified as a woman and had not yet undergone sex-change surgery. They said she went by the name Amanda.

A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said that Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar was killed by strangulation. The death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy. Initial reports that Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar had been stabbed to death were incorrect, the police said.

Law enforcement officials said that Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar had been out with friends and relatives on Friday night and that she had dropped off one of those people in Brooklyn early on Saturday morning.

That was the last anyone had seen her, the official said.

On Tuesday, at about 4 p.m., her body was found lying face down on her bed, naked except for a bra, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was open.

There were signs of a struggle in the apartment, the official said. Pictures had been knocked of the walls and some of Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar’s belongings were knocked to the ground, the official said.

No one had been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon.

It was not immediately clear whether Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar’s gender status played any role in her killing. The police said the killing had not been classified as a hate crime.