Friday, May 28, 2010

Congress Takes Historic First Step to Repealing DADT

Yesterday, the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted for an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill that would repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law prohibiting lesbian, gay and bisexual service members from serving openly and honestly in the U.S. Military. In the House, the amendment passed by a 234-194 vote, and in a closed session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the amendment passed by a vote of 16-12. We are enormously grateful for Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Representative Patrick Murphy’s (D-PA) steadfast leadership and for every member of Congress who voted on the right side of history to end this deeply flawed law.

The measure, supported by both Congressional leaders and the White House, does not formally rescind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until the Pentagon completes a review, due December 1, 2010, and the President and top Defense leaders agree that abolishing the 1993 prohibition would not adversely impact military readiness. The Pentagon would then send its recommendations to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and action on the repeal of DADT would likely occur in the first quarter of 2011. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that he’s “comfortable with proposed legislation that seeks to repeal [DADT] because it includes very clear language that gives senior leaders the final say in whether it’s implemented.”

It’s very clear that yesterday’s vote on repealing DADT is a hugely important first step to moving closer to a full repeal of this ban, but it’s important to remember that the hard work has just begun. The full Senate still needs to approve this measure, and we need all of our members and supporters to contact their Senators to help secure the 60 votes needed to rescind DADT. We can only reach 60 supportive Senate votes with your help. Please take a moment to call your Senators today and tell them to support the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would protect our brave lesbian, gay and bisexual service members and their families.

Congress Moves to End Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The U.S. House of Representatives and a Senate panel have both approved measures that would begin the process of dismantling the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians for serving openly in the military.

After a heated Thursday night floor debate, House members voted 234-to-194 to approve a repeal amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy.

“Tonight, Congress took a historic step toward repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and toward ensuring that every American has the same opportunity I did to defend our nation,” said Murphy, who served as an Army paratrooper. “Patriotic Americans willing to take a bullet for their country should never be forced to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love."

Earlier Thursday evening, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a companion amendment by a 16-12 vote in a closed-door session.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican on the committee joining 15 of her Democratic colleagues to approve the measure as an attachment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it.

If signed into law as part of the Defense funding bill, the measure would not immediately repeal the law. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” would continue as the official policy of the military until two events occur: the Pentagon completes an implementation study due in December; and the secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and President Barack Obama certify that repeal will not weaken military readiness. Once those two requirements are met, a 60-day waiting period will begin before the policy is finally lifted.

Repeal advocates celebrated the historic vote even as they acknowledged that it was one step in what promises to be a multitiered process.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network hailed Democrats for persevering in the face of opposition from the military’s leadership.

“Chairman Carl Levin and Sen. Joe Lieberman showed remarkable courage and steadfastness in the face of unprecedented and inappropriate last minute lobbying by the Pentagon service chiefs who seemed to have forgotten that they are not the policy makers here,” he said.

But Sarvis also cautioned that the road to repeal was not over.

“The U.S. House and Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a historic road map to allowing open military service, but it doesn’t end the discharges," he said. "It is important for all gay and lesbian active duty service members, including the reserves and the National Guard, to know they’re at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law that remains on the books.”

Some activists expressed concerns about the last-minute 60-day concession that was made to secure the vote of West Virginia senator Robert Byrd. But Alex Nicholson, executive director of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United, said the extra time would delay but ultimately not disrupt the repeal process.

“It is our understanding that the additional 60 days are just an extra cushion added into the delayed implementation timeline,” said Nicholson. Once the certification letter is signed and transmitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, he added, "the 60-day clock starts, and when it runs out, then the new law goes into effect automatically.”

Once the Pentagon working group issues its review, Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he expects the process to proceed with dispatch.

“The experience of foreign militaries and dozens of studies have been that gays and lesbians should be integrated into the military immediately,” he said. “Following the completion of the study, we expect that the administration will proceed expeditiously.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, stoked concerns of repeal advocates after he was quoted Thursday saying the certification process — or the “trigger” — would give military leadership control over whether to finally repeal the policy.

"That trigger is to certify whether we should move ahead with that change, even if the law were to repeal it," reported the American Forces Press Service.

But a spokesman for Mullen said the chairman’s quote was misinterpreted and that he remains personally committed to repeal.

“What he was trying to articulate there is that the draft legislation provides the department the ability to complete the review, exercise our own discretion with respect to new policies and regulations, and certify that we are ready for implementation before the policy can take effect,” Capt. John Kirby told The Advocate. “There is no doubt in the chairman’s mind that the president’s intent and desire is to repeal the policy.”

For more information, click here or here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Anti-Bullying Bill Passes NY Assembly

Erie Gay News is reporting that NY Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's Dignity For All Students Act (DASA) passed the Assembly with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and only four opposing votes. This marks the ninth time this anti-bullying and anti-discrimination legislation has passed the Assembly since 2002.

The bill covers the broadest categories of students who face harassment and discrimination in our state's schools and clarifies that those protections should not be limited to the categories listed—actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.

Recently, the New York Civil Liberties Union championed the measure and released its analysis that enacting DASA could boost New York's ‘Race to the Top' score by 7-15 points. DASA requires reporting on all bullying incidents, which meets the U.S. Department of Education's emphasis on capturing data that impacts student achievement. A successful application in this second round could net New York up to $700 million in education funding.

Working closely with the N.Y.S. Department of Education and his colleagues, Assembly Member O'Donnell has crafted legislation that can be easily implemented and will more likely accomplish its intended effect.

On the day of the bill's passage, Assembly Member O'Donnell remarked, "Too many students are bullied based on real or perceived differences with their classmates. Every student deserves an environment free of harassment and discrimination—an environment that allows every child to reach his or her full potential. For too long, our education system has been blind to the plight of these students. I am proud that the Assembly remains willing to address this important issue, and that the Dignity for All Students Act continues to win support."

DASA would afford all public school students an environment free of harassment and discrimination and improve New York State's chances to receive an infusion of school aid. The bill has been endorsed by Governor Paterson but languishes in the Senate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Take Action TODAY on the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

We expect Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and ChairmanCarl Levin (D-MI) to offer an amendment to the Senate version of the Defense Authorization Act this Thursday that would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) once and for all. For repeal to be included in the Senate version of the legislation, we need to reach 15 votes in the Armed Services Committee.

We can only secure these votes with your help! PFLAGers must take action today!

We've been asking for your help to move your Senators for months. If you've already called and emailed, please take a few minutes and do so again. Urge your Senator to vote for DADT repeal this week. Just one vote on the committee could make the difference between victory or defeat and the future of the countless LGBT servicemembers who depend on your voice.

We are closer to achieving repeal now than ever before. Here's how you can help keep the pressure on:

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.

E-mail Your Senators. Please visit our action center, and tell your Senators that all patriotic Americans deserve the right to serve their country.

Share this Alert. Please forward this alert to your family and friends, so we can grow the number of powerful voices calling for DADT repeal.

Thank you for adding your voice to the millions of people who are moving equality forward for LGBT people everywhere! You can support this kind of advocacy work right now. Click here to make a contribution to PFLAG National. Your contribution will empower us to reach more people and move equality forward for all of our LGBT loved ones.

Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell - Get the Facts!

Today's Washington Post is reporting that President Obama has endorsed a "don't ask, don't tell" compromise between lawmakers and the Defense Department, the White House announced Monday, an agreement that may sidestep a key obstacle to repealing the military's policy banning gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.

The compromise was finalized in meetings Monday at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers will now, within days, vote on amendments that would repeal the Clinton-era policy, with a provision ensuring that any change would not take effect until after the Pentagon completes a study about its impact on troops. That study is due to Congress by Dec. 1.

In a letter to lawmakers pushing for a legislative repeal, White House budget director Peter Orszag wrote Monday that the administration "supports the proposed amendment."

"Such an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions," he wrote.

While gay rights advocates hailed the move as a "dramatic breakthrough," it remained uncertain whether the deal would secure enough votes to pass both houses of Congress. Republicans have vowed to maintain "don't ask, don't tell," while conservative Democrats have said they would oppose a repeal unless military leaders made it clear that they approved of such a change.

To continue reading, click here. [free subscription required]


This Huffington Post article says that Obama administration threw its weight behind a compromise that will, over the next six months or so, lead to the dismantling of the policy. This was leadership on a historic scale by the administration as well as Speaker Pelosi, Senator Levin, and Congressmen Frank and Murphy.

Within hours, skeptical members of the gay community began accusing the Obama administration and the Democratic party of selling out. Why can't we have full repeal, and why can't we have it now? Why do we have to compromise? Some even went so far as to compare the compromise to Jim Crow, the racist, post-Civil War social order in the American south.

Members of the community are understandably concerned about some of the key provisions in the compromise. Most significantly, and contrary to our highest hopes, Congress is poised to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law, but probably will not instruct the Pentagon to adopt a non-discrimination policy. This means that, in theory, the military could continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Or, even if the Pentagon starts to treat gays and lesbians on an equal basis with everyone else, a future administration could undo progress. The community fears a return to the pre-Clinton days when the gay ban was a military regulation, not a law, and the Pentagon had free license to discriminate.

To continue to reading this article, click here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Federal Domestic Partner Benefits on the Way?

From The Advocate:

A bill extending benefits to same-sex partners of gay federal employees could be introduced on the Senate floor “within weeks,” according to aides to Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The Washington Post reports that the benefits would cost $310 million through 2020, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Though some Republicans have criticized the legislation due to its potential cost, Lieberman said Tuesday, “This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government’s overall costs for the civilian workforce. That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention, and morale."

A House committee approved a similar a domestic-partner benefits bill in November, though the legislation has yet to receive a floor vote.

Last year President Barack Obama signed a memorandum extending certain benefits to partners of federal employees, though the most substantive benefits, such as most types of health care, were excluded.

Lieberman’s bill is expected to be introduced before July 4.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Newly Out Singer Chely Wright and Father Appear on Oprah

Country singer Chely Wright, who came out earlier this month, appeared this week with her dad on Oprah. It's a three-part video series on Youtube. You can watch them all here:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Malawi Gay Couple Convicted, Face 14 Years in Prison

This story is the latest in a line of anti-gay headlines from various countries in Africa. According to The Advocate, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the Malawi gay couple jailed since December for holding a public engagement ceremony, were convicted Tuesday of “unnatural acts and gross indecency” and face up to 14 years in prison.

According to the Associated Press, “Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa said the sentencing will take place on Thursday. The couple could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.”

Malawi is one of nearly 40 African countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Monjeza, 26, and Chimbalanga, 20, may be able to appeal, but the likelihood of success appears slim.

“Priti Patel of the Southern African Litigation Centre, an independent rights group, said Monjeza and Chimbalanga could appeal on the grounds that the laws under which they were prosecuted violate the country's 1994 constitution. But an earlier attempt by their lawyer to have the case thrown out on those grounds was rejected,” the AP reports.

Last week, gay rights leader Peter Tatchell told the UK Guardian that he had received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: “I love Steven so much. If people or the the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Portugal Becomes Sixth European Nation to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Portugal's conservative president announced Monday he is ratifying a law allowing gay marriage in the predominantly Catholic country. President Anibal Cavaco Silva said in a nationally televised address he regretted that the country's political parties had failed to reach a compromise during days of heated debate in Parliament four months ago.

Vetoing the bill would only send it back to Parliament where lawmakers would overturn his decision, he said, adding that the country needed to focus on overcoming an economic crisis that has increased unemployment and deepened poverty.

The Socialist government's bill was backed by all of Portugal's left-of-center parties, who together have a majority in Parliament. Right-of-center parties opposed the measure and demanded a national referendum.

"Given that fact, I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions between the Portuguese and divert the attention of politicians away from the grave problems affecting us," Cavaco Silva said.

He said that, in ratifying the law, he was setting aside "personal convictions."

Elsewhere in Europe, gay marriage is permitted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway.

Five U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, as have Canada and South Africa.

Portugal is nearly 90 percent Catholic. However, only around 2 million of its 10.6 million people describe themselves as practicing Catholics and in recent times Portugal has drifted away from the church's teachings.

The current Socialist government has defied the church before. It passed a law in 2007 allowing abortion. The following year, it introduced a law allowing divorce even if one of the spouses objected. It has argued that the legislation is part of Portugal's "modernization."

The new law removes the previous legal stipulation that marriage is between two people of different sexes.

Portugal's Constitutional Court validated the bill's legality last month.

Like neighboring Spain, which introduced same-sex marriages four years ago, previous efforts in Portugal to introduce gay marriage ran into strong resistance from religious groups and conservative lawmakers.

Gay rights advocates have said they will continue to fight for gay couples' parental rights, including adoption, which are not included in the law.

Portugal lifted a prohibition on homosexuality in the early 1980s. In 2001, it passed a law allowing "civil unions" between same-sex couples, which granted couples certain legal, tax and property rights. However, it did not allow couples to take a partner's name, nor inherit his or her possessions or state pension.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

LGBT Leaders and Community Members Demand ENDA Vote

Earlier today, PFLAG National’s Executive Director, Jody Huckaby, joined other LGBT rights leaders and community members at the National Press Club demanding for immediate action in both the House and Senate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - a federal bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The press conference kicks off a series of nationwide actions planned for later this week, all of which calling for an immediate vote on ENDA.

At the press conference, Jody acknowledged that while “most of our PFLAG members are not directly impacted by the lack of employment protections for LGBT people, they know all too well the incredible impact employment discrimination has on their LGBT loved ones.” He also talked about the high volume of grassroots lobbying accomplished by PFLAG members since the last time the House voted on ENDA in 2007; hundreds of trips to Capitol Hill, countless in-district lobby visits along with thousands of telephone calls sharing one simple message; “our LGBT loved ones deserve the same equality we have. Congress must pass an inclusive ENDA now.”

Other LGBT advocates reminded the audience that they have continued to lobby for ENDA’s passage since its original introduction in 1994. With years of hard work accomplished, these leaders are quite confident that there is more support for ENDA than ever before in Congress, and it continues to grow every day. Moving ahead, they are urging Congress to prioritize ENDA for immediate passage to secure the most basic of civil rights - the right to work - for LGBT people. In parting from the media event, these leaders and community members closed by sharing a united message to Congress: No more excuses, no more delays: Pass ENDA now.

To continue sharing your message of support, please visit our PASS ENDA NOW webpage, and take action today!

5 Things You Can Do TODAY to Help Pass ENDA

5 Things You Can Do TODAY to Help Pass ENDA

Many of you have been working for years to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017). This is important legislation that will make it illegal to discriminate against our loved ones because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in employment.

Most of you have taken action on ENDA in the past, but today, we urgently need your help again. Please take the time RIGHT NOW to do the following five simple things:

1. CALL - You can find your representative's phone number by checking out our Action Center. Once you have the number, call and say, "As a constituent and member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays - PFLAG - I am calling to ask the representative to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act now." Remember to be polite, but firm.

2. E-MAIL - Access our e-mail action center here. Simply fill out your name and address and an e-mail will automatically be sent to your representatives.

3. SHARE - Forward this action alert to your friends and family. The more responses congress receives the better.

4. CHANGE - Use social media to spread the word. Change your Facebook status to say PASS ENDA NOW! For those of you on Twitter, tweet about passing ENDA today.

5. REPEAT - Even if you have called and e-mailed before, do it again!
Tomorrow, PFLAG will join leaders in Washington, D.C. to demand that Congress vote on ENDA immediately - help support PFLAG's efforts with your voices from the field by taking action right now.

For more information on what is happening with this important legislation read our media advisory and ENDA fact page.

Thank you for helping to more equality forward!

Friday, May 14, 2010

ENDA: The Votes are There, but the Clock is Ticking

Bay Windows reporter, Lisa Keen, provides an excellent summary on where things stand with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. With 202 House co-sponsors and 45 Senate co-sponsors, all signs suggest that an ENDA vote is ripe. Unfortunately, congressional leadership has grown silent on when a scheduled markup and vote will occur.

Earlier this spring, many senior Democratic aides and lawmakers suggested that an ENDA vote would likely take place before Memorial Day. With less than two full weeks of work remaining before the upcoming congressional recess, LGBT advocates remain concerned.

To help advance the bill, we encourage you to take action now and ask your Representative to help move ENDA forward for a floor vote. Far too many of our family and friends continue to lose out on employment opportunities and advancement simply for being themselves. Let’s tell Congress how they can end workplace discrimination once and for all.
Supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) say they have the votes to pass the bill, they are just waiting for the Democratic leadership to call the bill to the floor. But the leadership has grown quiet -- no more regular expressions of optimism and predictions for when Congress will take up the bill, and the waiting game is wearing on nerves.

"The community and the movement have done everything we've been asked to do," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, this week. NCTE is one of the key groups lobbying for the bill this session, taking the lead on the additional language that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, as well as sexual orientation.

"We've worked and worked and gotten sufficient votes to make sure gender identity stays in the bill," said Keisling, "but the bill is not being prioritized."

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, "We have heard that the official whip is completed and that there are enough votes to pass ENDA in committee and in the House, which tells us that our vigorous lobbying and grassroots engagement efforts are being effective."

"Leadership needs to do the right thing, right now," said Carey, "and schedule a markup and pass an inclusive ENDA."

One of those leaders is Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the most veteran of Congress' three openly gay representatives, chairman of the House's influential Finance Committee, and sponsor of the bill. Through a spokesman, Frank had no new information this week about when a vote will happen.

Frank introduced the bill, H.R. 3017, in June of last year and the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing on it last September. But a long-sought hate crimes bill got the nod last year; Democratic leadership attached it to the annual bill authorize spending by the Department of Defense. And an enormously contentious and time-consuming debate over health care reform kept most everything else off the table until March of this year.

After the health reform legislation passed and was signed into law in late March, Frank said the way was now cleared for the House to take up ENDA. He predicted then that a vote would likely come as soon as Congress returned from a spring recess -- in early April. It is now mid-May. On May 10, Roll Call newspaper, specializing in coverage of Congressional legislation, reported that "senior Democratic aides and lawmakers" believe ENDA could be on the House floor this month.

One such aide told this reporter that Democratic leaders would likely be discussing timing next week and there should be "more clarity" on timing "by the end of this month."

Meanwhile, the remaining days in which the House can vote on anything are ticking away -- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's legislative calendar shows a total of 48 full days for voting and 14 part days before adjournment and mid-term elections.

Roll Call ran two articles in late April suggesting support for ENDA has been suffering because some supporters of the legislation in 2007 are suddenly getting cold feet over the inclusion of gender identity protection in the bill this year. But Frank told Roll Call this week the provision will stay in the bill and that he's still optimistic for passage.

Some LGBT activists expressed upset over Frank's comments to Roll Call that the bill, in addressing the gender identity issue, does give employers the right to expect that employees have a "consistent gender presentation" before they can sue claiming gender identity discrimination.

"They can't sit there with a full beard and a dress," Frank told Roll Call. But NCTE said Frank's comment was simply reiterating the current state of the law.

"Barney was not really saying anything new," said NCTE legal counsel Harper Jean Tobin. "It was troubling to a lot of transpeople, but people forget that ENDA puts rules on employers, not employees. And most employers don't have gender-based dress codes."

So, if the votes are there and a vote has been promised, why hasn't a vote happened yet?

People on the Hill who are close to the action offer several explanations, though none would do so with their name attached. One said Democratic leaders worry about a repeat of last week's debacle on a bill to encourage homeowners to adopt energy-saving measures. The bill passed the House 246 to 161 but not before Republicans attached provisions that could prevent it from being successful. One amendment requires that it cannot go into effect unless supporters can prove that it will not add to the deficit. Another amendment requires that contractors participating in the program ensure that they do not have any sexual predators among their employees.

Conservative Republicans are almost certain to try similar amendments on ENDA, as well as an effort to recommit the bill to committee, as a way of thwarting it.

But Keisling said these types of efforts are simply part of the game in Congress and that she's "extremely confident" the support is there to pass ENDA.

"It's just a question of getting prioritization" from Democratic leaders, said Keisling. "I know they're busy -- I get it. But apparently we're not being prioritized. ...The clock is running out."

Policy Matters - May 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,

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

All the best,

Dear Sarah,

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

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

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

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

Warmest Regards,
Policy Matters

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

Thursday, May 13, 2010

PFLAG Sends ENDA Letter to House Members

Earlier today PFLAG National sent the following letter to all 435 House members encouraging them to support ENDA. The letter asks the representatives to do three basic things: 1) support the base bill, 2) ensure that it remain inclusive, and 3) help end the delays to advancing it.

Dear Representative,

On behalf of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National’s more than 200,000 members and supporters, I am writing to request your support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 – H.R. 3017. PFLAG families are committed to making sure that our children and loved ones are protected from workplace discrimination. We urge you to take action and end the employment discrimination that disadvantages our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) loved ones in these tough economic times by supporting this legislation.

Anecdotal and empirical evidence reminds us that our LGBT loved ones face a disproportionate rate of workplace discrimination and lack adequate remedies in federal law. ENDA would prohibit workplace discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee simply because they are LGBT. This legislation mirrors existing federal civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and therefore would cover private employers with more than 15 employees, as well as federal, state, and local governments, unions, and employment agencies. The U.S. Military, as well as religious organizations, quotas, disparate impact claims and domestic partner benefits would all be exempted.

We would also like to stress to you the importance of passing a fully inclusive ENDA that includes strong gender identity protections for those most vulnerable in our community. Our colleagues at the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently completed a national survey measuring employment discrimination experienced by over 6,500 transgender people. The preliminary findings are absolutely shocking. Of those respondents fortunate enough to find employment opportunities, 97 percent experienced some form of mistreatment or harassment on the job. Additionally, 15 percent of the respondents reported earning less than $10,000 per year, which is twice the national average. In addition, the majority of respondents also reported that lack of job security lead to housing instability and barriers to affordable and accessible healthcare.

LGBT people need to work to live and support their families just like everyone else. They deserve to be judged based on their work performance, not based on who they are. ENDA can help fix these problems by making it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Please help by ending the delays and bring this bill to a vote in the House this year. This legislation is vital, and is a top priority for all of us at PFLAG. Should you have any questions about this bill, please contact our Policy Manager, Rhodes Perry, at (202) 467-8180 ext. 221 or e-mail

Jody M. Huckaby
Executive Director
PFLAG National

Leon County, FL Broadens Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Leon County is home to Tallahassee, FL. Our PFLAG chapter there is led by Susan Gage (pictured), who works tirelessly fighting for GLBT rights. Last night she, along with hundreds of other supporters, were able to claim victory as the Leon County Commission, in a 5-2 vote, approved the wildly controversial changes to the county's current human-rights ordinance. The changes are designed to deter discrimination and include more protection for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

According to the local Tallahassee news, it turned into an issue that struck emotions deeper than many expected. Residents made their feelings known in a barrage of e-mails and in phone calls, whipping up a frenzy usually reserved for a too-close-to-call fall election.

In Susan's own words:

"What a night!! After almost five hours of public testimony, attempts at last minute changes, and many years of hard work... the Leon County Commission voted 5-2 Tuesday night to adopt a Human Rights Ordinance that bans discrimination on the basis of traditionally protected classes such as race, sex, disability and religion... and now adds to it gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation.

I cried. I didn't think I would, but as this reality hit me, that a growing majority of the Leon County Commission was willing to go on record to support an ordinance that protects minority persons from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation, I couldn't help but cry a little. Times have changed from when I first moved to this community twenty years ago. We used to have to beg to have a proclamation from local government for Gay Pride Week... and even when we finally got it, the city commissioners would only agree to call it "Pride Week" because to call it "gay pride" would somehow cause a problem. Our Gay Pride committees would plan our big celebrations to occur in remote locations because the LGBT community was afraid to be seen.

Luck of the draw had me testify early in the evening. And, as prepared as I thought I would be, all the back and forth... threats of new language and delaying the public hearing to the next month... not to mention the nagging voices in my head about what I should or shouldn't say... I was totally unprepared. Thank God I had taken time in the hour before the meeting to go to St. John's, light a few candles, and pray aloud the words of Psalm 35. Coming from that place of being centered, I spoke my truth. Yes, I knew what it meant to experience discrimination because in my prior life as a reporter, I almost didn't get a promotion due to a manager who was concerned about "the way I dressed" (a popular euphemism at the time for "lesbian"). I was careful not to use names, but I am still well-known in this community, and people could figure it out.

Probably the most stunning part of the evening came during the preliminary discussion of the ordinance. Commissioner Bill Proctor, who came in for a good deal of earned criticism on this blog, calmly talked about how he has felt under attack... and maintained the attacks were unfair because he "has always been in support of anti-discrimination"... and he felt the Human Rights Ordinance had a 'blood line from the 14th Amendment' of the United States Constitution. In a seven minute statement, the Commissioner told us (a) I want to vote on the ordinance tonight (b) I'm for it and (c) this is a legitimate civil rights issue. What a HUGE change from two weeks ago where he was talking about "homosexual church people". I don't know what changed in two weeks. Perhaps the furor in the wake of his letter about another friend, Terry Galloway, and her deafness, made Proctor do a turnabout.

The reasons for the change aren't as important. The important part was that he finally saw this as a civil rights issue that would benefit all people, not just gay people. And so, I go to bed tonight happier with and prouder of my local government officials."

To read all of Susan's comments on this historic night, click here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What to Say When Your Teenager Says She's Gay

From The Wall Street Journal:

What role, if any, should parents and schools play in a child's emerging sexual orientation?

Sparks have been flying around that question this spring.

Early last month, a small group called the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) sent a letter to the nearly 15,000 school superintendents in the U.S., stating that most adolescents who experience same-sex attraction at age 12 no longer do by age 25, and warning that prematurely labeling them could lead some "into harmful homosexual behaviors they otherwise would not pursue." The letter also stated that homosexual attraction and/or gender confusion "can respond well to therapy."

The far larger American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) posted a statement saying it is in no way affiliated with the ACP and referred schools and parents to its own publications that urge acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. (The ACP was founded in 2002 by pediatricians protesting the AAP's support of homosexual parenting.) The National School Boards Association also backed the AAP's position and warned schools not to be confused by the similarly named groups. And several prominent researchers, including geneticist Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, accused the ACP of distorting its research to make its case against homosexuality.

Behind all the incidents is the long-running dispute over when and how sexual orientation develops and whether outside influences can affect it.

While the development of same-sex attraction isn't completely understood, most medical and mental-health professionals have long concluded that being gay is not an illness and that people cannot choose their true sexual orientation. It seems to develop slowly in early childhood; studies show that on average, young people, gay and straight, first become aware of sexual attraction about age 10.

"By the time children are 11, 12 and 13, they have a very good sense that their sexual orientation may be different from the majority of their friends," says Ellen Perrin, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "There is no evidence that people could become gay because of external influences," she adds.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stories from Veterans' Lobby Day

Hundreds of veterans from across the country are participating in today’s Veteran’s Lobby Day, sending one clear message to the Congress - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) needs to go and it needs to go this year! The lobby day precedes the upcoming debate on the National Defense Authorization Act – a bill that should contain DADT repeal language. Many of our very own PFLAG veterans are participating in the event virtually by sharing their stories with their members of Congress through letters, emails and over the phone.

Below, we have shared some of our members’ very personal and deeply emotional stories of how this unjust law impacts their lives and the lives of their family and friends. It is our hope that by amplifying these narratives, Congress will remedy this unjust treatment of our brave lesbian, gay and bisexual service members who may be indiscriminately targeted and fired simply for being themselves. There is something you can do about this unfair treatment by taking action today!

I am an ex sailor from the USS Henderson serving shipside during the Korean War. I was the chief cook and my assistant cook was a humorous sailor who happened to be a gay man. Most everyone on the ship knew there were gay men in all different areas of the Navy and we never experienced any problems.

Not once did any gay sailor act inappropriately, jeopardizing unit cohesion - it just did not happen in all of my time aboard the ship. In fact, having an open and honest unit allowed us to relate and share funny stories, making what could have been an otherwise grueling time on a battle ship stuck at sea a great learning experience. We were good friends and shared stories about our families and laughed about good and bad relationships – straight or gay.

There is no more confined place than on a Navy carrier and the brass that say confined quarters will jeopardize unit cohesion are simply narrow-minded and do not value the professionalism of the U.S. Armed Services. Lesbian, gay and bisexual service members are great Americans and I was proud to serve alongside all of my shipmates – gay and straight – during the Korean War.

Edward Keitzman
Navy Veteran

To read all of the veterans' stories, click here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Action Alert: Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Tomorrow, 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 is drafted on Capitol Hill. During this critical time, we need all hands on deck.

We need you to participate...

Join us in Washington, D.C., whether in person or "virtually" for the National Veterans Lobby Day on Don't Ask, Don't Tell 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.

• Call Congress. 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 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.

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.

Share this Alert. Forward this message 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!

President Obama's Mothers' Day Proclamation References "Two Mothers"

Yesterday, President Obama issued a Mothers’ Day Proclamation to honor all of the mothers in our country. In the proclamation, he references the diversity of families, and among the different kinds of families, he included “two mothers.”


Generations of mothers have labored tirelessly and selflessly to support and guide their children and families. Their loving, devoted efforts have broadened horizons for their children and opened doors of opportunity for our Nation's daughters and granddaughters. On Mother's Day, we pay tribute to these women who have given so much of themselves to lift up our children and shape America's character.

Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words for the song The Battle Hymn of the Republic, led early efforts to establish a day honoring the influence of mothers on our lives and communities. In the ensuing decades, many Americans rallied to support this cause, including Anna Jarvis. After the loss of her own mother, Anna helped spur the nationwide institution of Mother's Day we celebrate each year.

From our first moments in this world and throughout our lives, our mothers protect us from harm, nurture our spirits, and encourage us to reach for our highest aspirations. Through their unwavering commitment, they have driven and inspired countless acts of leadership, compassion, and service across our country. Many mothers have struggled to raise children while pursuing their careers, or as single parents working to provide for their families. They have carried the torch of trailblazers past, leading by powerful example and overcoming obstacles so their sons and daughters could reach their fullest potential.

Whether adoptive, biological, or foster, mothers share an unbreakable bond with their children, and Americans of all ages and backgrounds owe them an immeasurable debt. Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by two parents, a single mother, two mothers, a step-mom, a grandmother, or a guardian. Mother's Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate these extraordinary caretakers, mentors, and providers who have made us who we are. As we honor today's mothers, we also reflect upon the memory of those who have passed, and we renew our commitment to living the values they cultivated in us.

The Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 8, 1914 (38 Stat. 770), has designated the second Sunday in May each year as "Mother's Day" and requested the President to call for
its appropriate observance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 9, 2010, as Mother's Day. Let us express our deepest love and thanks to our mothers and remember those who, though no longer with us, inspire us still.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


Friday, May 7, 2010

China Lifts Travel Ban on HIV Positive Visitors

The New York Times is reporting that China has lifted a two-decade ban on travel to the country by people who carry the virus that causes AIDS or who have other sexually transmitted diseases.

The government approved amendments to a 1986 law governing quarantines and a 1989 law regulating entry by foreigners, removing prohibitions related to people with H.I.V., which causes AIDS, China’s State Council, a body roughly equivalent to the White House cabinet, reported on its Web site late Tuesday.

The council’s standing committee approved the changes on April 19 and Premier Wen Jiabao signed decrees putting them into effect on April 24, the council said.

With the changes, the ban on travel is officially limited only to people with infectious tuberculosis, serious mental disorders and “infectious diseases which could possibly greatly harm the public health.”

China has temporarily lifted the ban on H.I.V.-positive travelers for major events in the past, but the revision of longstanding laws indicates that the latest change will be permanent. The state-run newspaper China Daily quoted a spokesman for the health ministry, Mao Qun’an, as saying that the ministry had been working to permanently remove the prohibition since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Between 450,000 and one million Chinese are infected with H.I.V. virus, according to Unicef, the United Nations health organization. Roughly 75,000 of those have developed AIDS.

The proportion of H.I.V.-infected people in China is far below that of neighboring nations — Vietnam, for example, records about 20,000 AIDS deaths a year — but health experts have worried that China’s H.I.V. population may be poised to expand.

The infection is most common among sex workers, migrant workers and residents of some border areas, like the Yunnan province in southwest China, where drugs are smuggled into the country.

In January, the United States dropped its own ban on visitors who are H.I.V. positive. The ban had been in effect for 22 years.

President Obama said he was fulfilling a promise he had made to gay advocates and acting to eliminate a restriction he said was “rooted in fear rather than fact.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Passport Magazine's Coverage of the Straight for Equality Gala. Plus, Liza Sings!

From Passport Magazine:

On Sunday night hundreds of well heeled, diverse members of the GLBT and community and their allies gathered at the Marriot Marquis in New York City for the Second Annual PFLAG Straight for Equality Gala. This year, Liza Minnelli was honored with the Straight for Equality in Entertainment Award, recognizing her decades of activism on behalf of the GLBT community.

The event, celebrating leaders in promoting GLBT equality, and especially recognizing the work of the community’s straight Allies, is one that PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby says is critically important.

People and companies want to do the right thing,” Huckaby said. “With this event we’re helping to promote the tools and provide a place to recognize that work. People want to welcome GLBT community members, and that’s how all of this came to be.”

The gala recognized companies like American Airlines, AOL, Campbell’s, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, and the New York Stock Exchange, among others, as outstanding supporters of PFLAG and the GLBT community.

This year’s Straight for Equality in Business Award went to food provider Sodexo, which earned the number one rating for diversity and inclusion in a national survey, and which the Straight for Equality Gala recognized for creating a space for the voice of straight allies within the company and fostering a culture of inclusion for all employees.

“Supporting GLBT equality is everybody’s issue—a human issue,” said Dr. Rohini Anand, accepting the honor on behalf of Sodexo, nothing that it took eight years of hard to work to get Sodexo where it is today in GLBT inclusion, saying that in the end every year was worth it.

Caroline Rhea and “Amazing Race” winner Reichen Lehmkuhl hosted a spirited auction benefiting PFLAG, in which Rhea kicked off her shoes and ran around the room with a microphone, cajoling and teasing guests until more than $10,000 was raised for the PFLAG coffers.

This year the Straight for Equality in Sports Award was given out for the first time, bestowed upon New Orleans Saints NFL player Scott Fujita, an ally of the GLBT community. Fujita strongly supports same-sex marriage and, as an adopted child himself, also strongly supports adoption by same-sex couples.

“Love is love,” Fujita said plaintively, shrugging his shoulders. “It doesn’t get any simpler than that for me. And when it comes to this fight, I think, ‘Should I shut my mouth and just play football, or stand up and fight for something?’ I’d rather fight for something.”

The crown jewel of the evening’s entertainment was the presentation of the Straight for Equality in Entertainment Award, presented to Liza Minnelli, clad in a white sequin pant suit, and aided on stage by two gentlemen after a recent knee replacement.

“Be a call to action,” Minnelli urged the audience. “Find the everyday things people can do to help make this big, important change for equality. Be loud, like I am. Think to yourself, What Would Liza Do?” Once the laughter died down, Minnelli continued, “Use your place in life and talk to everyone about how discrimination is never okay. Equality means equality for everyone.”
In a seemingly ad libbed gesture, Minnelli sang a song A Capella, said to be track from her upcoming album “Confessions,” in a two-minute performance that left the audience silent, still, and seemingly a bit star-struck.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Chely Wright's Coming Out Matters

Many of you have probably heard the news that country music star Chely Wright has recently come out. Heather Hogan at has written a fantastic piece on why this matters. In part, she says:

"The response to Chely Wright from much of the LGBT community bemuses me because it falls somewhere between apathetic and angry. Tweets and comments all over the Gay Internet are loaded with disappointment and agitation, mostly because people wanted the Big Gay Blind Item of Cinco de Mayo to be 'someone who mattered.'

So, from my Southern heart to your empathetic ears, here are five reasons why Chely Wright's coming out matters:

1) It always matters when anyone comes out.
People who have already come out and are surrounded by supportive communities often forget the dark fog of fear and shame and confusion that lives inside the closet. Some people say that coming out is an ethical obligation, and that if all the closeted gay people in all the world climbed up on chairs and jumped off at the same time, the whole earth would be thrown off-course. Or at the very least, gay people would start to see some civil liberty equality.

And there's real truth to that, but we do a terrible disservice to our queer brothers and sisters when we forget that coming out is a personal decision that often requires monumental courage.

The exhaustive research of LGBT rights groups proves that the game-changer for straight people is knowing someone who's gay. So, no: Chely Wright isn't an A-list movie star or an American Idol winner or a CNN anchor — but she once was closeted and now she's not. And that changes things.

2) In our society, familiarity with a celebrity counts as knowing someone.

Our culture is just absolutely soaked in celebrity lust. We want to know what's happening behind-the-scenes on movies, what's going on in the studio while artists are recording albums. We want to know what celebs' kids look like, what celebs had for lunch, what kind of pajamas celebs wear on Tuesdays. And through some evolutionary fluke/hole in the legal system, all of that information is readily available to us. So we feel like we really do know them.

If knowing a person who comes out changes the way straight people think about gay people, and familiarity with a celebrity counts as knowing someone, then: congratulations, everyone who has ever sung along to Chely Wright; you now know a lesbian!

(GLAAD's research backs up this claim: Knowing a gay celeb or TV character has the same affect as knowing a gay neighbor.)

3) Red states are country music states.

I'm not saying that all Republicans are gay-bashers. In fact, I know some lovely Republicans who marched in the Equality March in D.C. last year. But it's no secret that the Republican party has climbed into bed with the evangelical Christian community, and that — both socially and monetarily — conservative Christian churches are the biggest threat to equal rights in America.

I'm also not saying that every Republican listens to country music. I'm just saying that if you look at a map, red states have the highest concentration of country music radio stations. Georgia and Michigan, for example, both have populations of about 10 million people, but Georgia has twice as many country music radio stations. And if you combined every country music station in every blue state in the northeast, you still wouldn't have as much country music as Tennessee puts out in a single work day.

Chely Wright is all up in every red state's business with her music. It's visibility where visibility matters most.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

San Francisco May Cut Funding to Transgender Job Center

Michelle WallowingBull, photo by Dave Getszchman, LA Times

From the Los Angeles Times:

Michelle WallowingBull was born a boy. But growing up on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation, she knew from age 5 that she was a girl inside.

As a teen she bounced from the reservation to a South Dakota town to foster homes and back. In these remote communities, with a family steeped in addiction, she said, it was difficult to openly express the gender she deeply felt. Substance abuse and economic uncertainty followed — travails all too common for transgender people.

But last week, WallowingBull worked the room at a job fair organized by San Francisco's Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, a pioneering program that has received an outpouring of public support in recent weeks as it faces possible elimination of city funding.

"I think I've hit everyone now," WallowingBull, 20, said of the more than two dozen employers at the job fair. Her most promising contacts: Macy's, Safeway and Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group.

The program — the first of its kind in the country and a model for one run by the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center — relies heavily on city money that has come under threat as the city tries to close an unprecedented budget hole of $483 million. About half of its roughly $450,000 budget comes from the city.

Dozens of backers, including a San Francisco County supervisor, the chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and other community organizers, pleaded for a reprieve at a recent hearing. They prevailed when officials removed it from a list of recommended cuts sent to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

But a mayoral spokesman said "there will be some very tough and unpleasant choices that the mayor is going to have to make" before he presents his balanced budget to supervisors on June 1, and no program is guaranteed survival.

"We have won Round 1 in a fight that will probably take a few rounds," said Masen Davis, executive director of San Francisco's Transgender Law Center, one of three organizations that run the initiative.

The program helped WallowingBull with resume-writing classes and mock interview sessions. In its third year, it combines legal help, mentoring and vocational services to assist a population unprotected by federal workplace discrimination law.

It also provides training to a growing list of employers who are reaching out to ensure that transgendered people are welcomed in the workforce.

Many in the transgender community say they face unique employment barriers: Resume gaps from the time of gender "transition" can make job hunting difficult, as can complexities over paperwork that does not match one's current gender, or references who are unaware of name and gender changes.

"If you work in the corporate world you need to address underserved communities," said Mark Pressler, a senior manager of diversity and inclusion at Charles Schwab who sits on the group's Leadership Council. "The transgender community, people don't know about it, they are scared of it. We give employers a way to talk about it."

The initiative was created on the heels of a 2006 survey that showed a high percentage of transgender San Franciscans living in poverty with employment difficulties.

An assessment of the economic health of transgendered people across California further cemented the need: Respondents of the 2008 survey were twice as likely as the general population to hold a bachelor's degree, yet twice as likely to be unemployed. One in five had at some point landed in the street economy, selling sex or drugs. And nearly 70% reported discrimination or harassment on the job, the study found, despite protections in California law that date back to 2004.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is expected to pass Congress in the coming year and would provide federal protections based on gender identity. It remains legal in 38 states to fire someone because they are transgender.

"I've been fired for being trans, not hired for being trans, harassed on the job for being trans," Ramsey Campbell, who recently moved from Seattle, told commissioners at the recent hearing, stressing that the San Francisco initiative "made all the difference" in his current employment.

An independent review of the program found that it had raised skill levels and confidence among participants while educating employers and placing 125 people in jobs. In a city of more than 800,000, the direct impact is small. But the program carries significant weight in a place that has long served as a magnet for transgender people like WallowingBull.

In addition to guiding Los Angeles with its Transgender Economic Empowerment Partnership, the San Francisco initiative has provided "Job Fair in a Box" instructions to a number of cities, said Clair Farley, who oversees the mentoring program and job fair. She recently fielded calls from interested parties in Sacramento, Texas, Louisiana and Illinois. A volunteer from a Denver community center shadowed Farley at last week's job fair in order to create a similar effort at home.

"Without the information I've received here, I'd be three years behind," said Courtney Gray, who was a welder and mechanic before her transition. "It's definitely laid the groundwork for a great many organizations to succeed."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Second Annual Straight for Equality Gala a Success!

On Saturday night PFLAG hosted the second annual Straight for Equality Gala in New York City at the Marriott Marquis. Among the honorees were Liza Minnelli (Straight for Equality in Entertainment award), Scott Fujita (Straight for Equality in Sports award), and Sodexo (Straight for Equality in Business award). Comedianne Caroline Rhea was there to emcee the event, and The Amazing Race's Reichen Lehmkuhl hosted the live auction portion of the evening.

BroadwayWorld was on hand to celebrate the evening with us. You can check out the great write-up and photo gallery here.

Seaton Hall University to Offer Course on Marriage Equality?

Seton Hall University’s governing board is debating whether to cancel a course on gay marriage after Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said the class conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The course is scheduled to begin next fall for upperclassmen in any major on the South Orange campus, university officials said. It is designed to explore the controversial issue without advocating for either side.

Myers said news that Seton Hall students will be studying gay marriage "troubles me greatly."

In a statement, the archbishop said the church teaches that marriage should only be between a man and a woman:
""This proposed course seeks to promote as legitimate a train of thought that is contrary to what the Church teaches. As a result, the course is not in synch with Catholic teaching," Myers said. "Consequently, the board of trustees of Seton Hall have asked the board of regents to investigate the matter of this proposed course and to take whatever action is required under the law to protect the Catholicity of this university."

As archbishop, Myers does not have the authority to cancel a class. But the conservative archbishop serves as chairman of Seton Hall’s board of trustees and president of the school’s board of regents, the governing body that oversees academic issues.

Larry Robinson, Seton Hall’s vice provost, said the course was approved by both the political science department and the dean’s office.

"The initial review at the departmental level and at the dean’s level suggests that the course is not an advocacy course ... but a ‘special topics’ course to objectively examine a significant current public policy issue," Robinson said. "Thus, we fully anticipate that the Catholic position on same-sex marriage will be explored."

W. King Mott, the Seton Hall associate professor of political science scheduled to teach the course, told The Setonian, the campus newspaper, he didn’t think it was unusual for a Catholic university to offer a class on an issue the church does not support.

"The best schools offer controversial classes," Mott told the Setonian in a story published earlier this week. "The class is not about advocacy, but about studying the issue from an academic perspective. It’s about awareness."

Mott, who is gay, has clashed with the church and university officials before. In 2005, he was demoted from his post as associate dean of Seton Hall’s College of Arts and Sciences after his letter challenging the church’s view on homosexuality was published in The Star-Ledger.

School officials objected to Mott signing the letter with his Seton Hall title, causing confusion about whether he was speaking on behalf of the university. The letter said the church unfairly scapegoats gay men for the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Faculty members protested Mott’s demotion, arguing school officials violated his academic freedom when they punished him for writing a letter. But Seton Hall’s provost upheld the demotion and Mott, who has tenure, remained on campus as a prominent professor.