Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Hospital Visitation Rule Proposed

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed new rules on Wednesday for hospitals that would help protect patients’ rights to choose who will be allowed to visit them during a hospital stay, including their same-sex partner.

The rule, which will undergo a 60-day public-comment period starting Thursday, would require every hospital to develop written visitation policies and procedures as well as instructions on circumstances in which a hospital might reasonably decide to restrict access based on medical needs.

But a CMS spokesperson said hospitals would have to have “an awfully good reason” to deny someone access.

“It’s an inclusive intent rather than an exclusive intent,” Don McLeod said of the rule. “The preamble language to the rule instructs hospitals that they should not turn anyone away.”

The press release from CMS said, "A key provision of the proposed rules specifies that visitors chosen by the patient (or his or her representative) must be able to enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those for immediate family members."

Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius added that the change “would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing—whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient’s family.”

The rule follows a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama on April 15 instructing HHS to require that hospitals participating in government Medicare and Medicaid programs not deny visitation privileges to anyone on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Same-sex couples need no documentation of their relationship; patients can simply give a verbal cue to any hospital employee, according to McLeod. But he encouraged people to give an advance directive of their wishes, either in writing or to someone in front of a witness, in case you enter the hospital unconscious.

People often have “do not resuscitate” directives, McLeod said, “but here’s a new reason to have one because if you have one now, they have to let your partner in.”

Although the policy is still several months away from being finalized based on the requisite public-comment and review period, secretary Sebelius sent out a letter late Tuesday requesting that hospitals comply with the policy change immediately.

“Until such time as a final rule can be published, I would appreciate your voluntary support for the intent of the presidential memorandum by encouraging your members to review policies they may currently have in place and adopt and enforce patient-centered visitation policies, as contemplated by the president, to the extent that they have not done so already,” she wrote.

McLeod said the new policy will cover “virtually every” hospital in the nation, since nearly all hospitals participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“I don’t have an exact percentage, but it’s in the upper 90s,” he said.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Australian Prime Minister Opposes Marriage Equality

Australia has its first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, but it doesn’t look like she will be pushing for any changes as far as marriage equality Down Under goes.Gillard became prime minister Wednesday (Thursday in Australia) after Kevin Rudd stepped down in response to falling support in the Labor Party, which itself has been losing favor in opinion polls.

Rudd, who had been prime minister since 2007, was an opponent of marriage equality, telling Australia’s ABC Radio in 2009 that marriage should be between a man and a woman. “[The Labor Party] is consistent with the policy that we took to last election,” he said, that the party "fully respects the integrity of same-sex relationships.”

The Welsh-born Gillard, who served as deputy prime minister to Rudd until Wednesday, has stated the same position on the issue. The following is an excerpt of a TV interview she gave last July:

Interviewer: Where do you stand on [marriage equality?]
Gillard: Well, the government’s position is very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

That’s your position as well?
Yes, it certainly is.

Why is that?
Well, I understand that this is an issue that we’ve got to deal in contemporary Australian society with all of our history; hundreds of years of history in Australia and in western culture beyond what marriage means.

Things change, though, society changes.
Yes, it does. But we’ve said marriage is between a man and a woman. But we understand, I understand, that there are other forms of committed adult relationships and that people want them registered and recognized. And we have obviously said in the past that we understand that there are schemes in states that are moving along to recognize committed adult relationships.

Like a civil union? You think that’s a good idea?
Well, there are registration arrangements now in some states. I don’t want to pre-empt the debate.... But the government’s position about marriage being between a man and a woman is a very clear position.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hillary Clinton Speaks for Gay Rights

In a Tuesday speech commemorating LGBT Pride Month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged that the United States will "advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
Echoing her famous remarks 15 years ago before the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Clinton said that hatred and discrimination against LGBT citizens "are not 'gay' issues" but human rights issues at their core.

"I know that when you’re in the midst of a great movement of change it seems like it is glacial," Clinton said. "But any fair assessment, from my perspective, having lived longer than at least more than 75% of you that I see in this room, is that it is extraordinary what has happened in such a short period of time."

Clinton was joined at the State Department ceremony by human rights activists from Africa, where draconian antigay legislation in Uganda, prison sentences for a gay couple in Malawi, and virulent homophobic rhetoric in Zimbabwe have all grabbed international attention in recent weeks and months.

On the domestic agenda Clinton also spoke about three LGBT rights bills she cosponsored in the U.S. Senate — one that has since passed (the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in October) and two that have yet to receive a vote in either the House or the Senate (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act).

You can hear her comments in the video below:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spartanburg, SC Mayor Supports First Ever Pride Parade

Last weekend Spartanburg, SC hosted its first Pride celebration, and it was a tremendous success. Below is the op-ed piece that Junie White, Spartanburg Mayor, wrote supporting Pride and the GLBT community. We send out a huge thank you to Mr. White for taking an unpopular stand in a very conservative area and not backing down.

Do we really have civil rights for all in the city of Spartanburg?

I grew up in Gaffney in the 1940s and '50s. We shared a lot of simple joys back then, growing up in a small Southern town. But a lot of folks did not enjoy the same privileges and rights as I because they were not white. We accepted things then that are unthinkable today.

I had white and African-American friends. If I went to the movies with black friends, we would go to the theater together, but when we entered my black friends would have to go to the balcony and I stayed downstairs. We just accepted it. Afterward, if we wanted to have a soda or a snack, we couldn't go to the Blue Bird soda fountain and sit together. So I would go buy the drinks and we would sit outside. I just accepted that this was the way things were, never questioned whether it was right or wrong.

Is that what is happening to the gay and lesbian people today because we think they are different?

Well, the time for just accepting the way things are is over. We have laws that protect against racial discrimination, and it's time to protect those of different sexual orientations. No one should be discriminated against for whom they love, for wanting to walk down the street holding hands, or for sharing things a free American should have the right to share.

Great leaders of our time understand that the civil rights of gay people must be recognized. They express it better than I can.

In 2008, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond gave the keynote speech at the National Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality. He stated, "When I am asked ‘Are gay rights civil rights?' my answer is always, ‘Of course they are.' ‘Civil rights' are positive legal prerogatives — the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all — there is no one in the United States who does not — or should not — share in these rights. Gay and lesbian rights are not ‘special rights' in any way. It isn't ‘special' to be free from discrimination — it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship."

The King Center in Atlanta lists homophobia under racism, as one of the triple evils that must be remedied. The late Coretta Scott King said, "We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say ‘common struggle' because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender or ethnic discrimination."

It is difficult to address Mike Smith's recent remarks about religion. A newspaperman should know that we live in a nation built on laws to protect our civil rights, not a nation where religious authorities control the government and the people.

I think it is wonderful that we live in a nation where all people are protected under the law to worship according to any faith, how they please and when they please, a nation where everyone can speak freely without fear.

I believe that in time, just like with the right of American women to vote, and the right of people of any race to marry people of another race, most people will come to agree that all people should be afforded the same right to love and marry whom they please, work where they please, and enjoy these rights without worry.

All the LGBT folks want to do is have a march, to be recognized in their struggle to have the same rights as all other Americans. As mayor of the city of Spartanburg, I am proud that their organization came forward to ask for the proclamation, because they believe in our city, that Spartanburg is a place where all persons can speak up without fear.

This is a quote that has stuck with me, by Congressman John Lewis: "Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles and dreams. It's time we treated them as equals, as family."
Spartanburg is a great city and can be even better. Let us come together and create one city, where we treat everyone as equals. We have come a long way. Let's continue to march forward.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Ruling Extends Family Medical Leave to LGBT Families

Under a new ruling by the U.S. Department of Labor, workers will be able to take family medical leave to care for their same-sex partners’ sick or newborn children. The new ruling allows an employee in a same-sex relationship to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for the child of their partner – even if the partner has not gone through the process of adopting the child. Employees also have the opportunity to take time off for the adoption or care for a foster child, or to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition along with the option to take medical leave due to a serious health condition.

Secretary Solis’ sent a clear message that all families – including LGBT families – will be afforded family medical leave when it’s needed most. She stated “No one who loves and nurtures a child day-in and day-out should be unable to care for that child when he or she falls ill.” She also spoke about the importance to have family medical leave available to all eligible workers when the child’s legal guardian is absent, incapacitated or when the state or employer refuses to recognize an employee’s relationship.

According to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are afforded 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for loved ones suffering from a serious medical condition or the arrival of a newborn child. The ruling widens employees’ rights to cover the children of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, and it builds off of the Administration’s 2009 decision to extend family medical benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. This year, the Obama administration continues its commitment to extend federal employment protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual employees beyond the federal government.

The new ruling helps move equality forward by ensuring that all parents can continue to provide the necessary care and support for their children. While this action is an important extension of benefits, we will continue to work with the Administration to help repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that continues to leave far too many of our families and friends legally vulnerable and unable to access all of the rights, benefits and privileges of legally recognized marriages.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wilmington, DE PFLAG President Helps Lead a Path to Acceptance

Jim Batty thought he was out for a nice dinner with his wife, Sheila, when the world as he knew it changed forever. It was the fall of 1992 and they had a table by the window at Caffe Bellissimo on Kirkwood Highway. They hadn't gotten far in their meal when Sheila took a sledgehammer and hit him in the gut.

Well, not exactly. But the four words she said had a similar impact, he says now.

"Your son is gay."

This was their Jim she was talking about? Their only child? The one who would carry the Batty name to the next generation and present his parents with grandchildren? No, that couldn't be true. They had dreams for their son and nothing about that word -- "gay" -- had ever been on the radar screen.

Jim couldn't control what happened next. He started to cry. And he couldn't stop.

"We left our table," Sheila said.

Looking back, Jim says his reaction was purely selfish. All he thought about then, he says, were the things he wanted and the way this news about his namesake made him feel. They never considered rejecting their son. But Sheila says they both had to deal with powerful feelings. She was most concerned about her son's safety. Would he be able to get a job or find a place to live? Would somebody beat him up? Both of them grieved -- the gut-wrenching kind of grief encountered after the death of a loved one. But this was the death of a dream -- not the death of their son.

"It was a death and a rebirth," Sheila said. "And when push comes to shove, you want your children to be happy and be themselves. This is your only child and the way we are, we want the best for him."

Just as he is.

Now, almost 20 years later, few can believe Jim Batty ever had such struggles. He has devoted himself to changing the future for his son and all those who are gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. For the past 17 years, he has presided over Delaware's chapter of PFLAG -- Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, an organization with 350 chapters nationwide -- and encountered many others who are either struggling with the news that a loved one is gay or want to support them.

Many show up mad at the world, mad at God, mad at everybody," he said. "Why did you do this to me? And that's part of what you go through. Some don't get past that, but many do. ... We're not going to shove anything down your throat. But it helps to have a place where you know you can express that out loud."

Sheila helped get the chapter established, attended meetings for a while and still serves as education chair. But, she says, Jim has been the engine of the group since it started in 1993. He steers each monthly meeting, organizes speakers and special events and maintains an e-mail list to distribute news in the state and nationally.

For his tireless work on behalf of members of the gay community and their loved ones, Batty is among The News Journal's 25 Who Matter, a biweekly series that explores the stories of people who have made a significant difference in the community.

"Jim is the glue that holds this group together," said Anne Gross, an adjunct music professor at the University of Delaware who has a gay son and volunteers with PFLAG. "Rehoboth has tried to start a group, Dover has tried to start a group -- but it needs somebody who is so tenacious, a person who won't let it die."

A person like Jim Batty.

To continue reading, click here.

Sweeping Government Plan to End Homelessness Includes LGBT Youth

Earlier today, representatives from PFLAG National’s policy team were invited to attend a White House press conference where the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) submitted Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Present and End Homelessness to the President. A critical mass of federal, state and local government entities along with faith-based and community organizations informed the plan, which aims to end chronic homelessness in the next five years, promising more effective coordination among 19 federal agencies that all work to assist individuals seeking stable housing and economic empowerment.

We applaud USICH for including the unique needs of homeless youth in its report. Shockingly, estimates suggest that the number of homeless youth range somewhere between 1.6 million and 2.8 million. Of that number, between 20 to 40 percent are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ). Opening Doors acknowledges that youth often leave home as a result of family rejection and severe family conflict that may include physical and/or sexual abuse. It also mentions that young people become homeless when they “leave foster or institutional care (including running away, aging out, or being discharged).” Away from home, many of these young people who are LGBTQ face blatant discrimination when trying to access alternative housing, which is exacerbated by institutionalized discrimination in federally funded programs.

At PFLAG, we know all too well what it feels like to receive a phone call from a young person seeking safe and supportive housing after being kicked out of their home because they are LGBTQ. We also know the unfortunate reality that far too many existing shelters remain unsafe and grossly unprepared to meet these young people’s unique needs. Because of this experience, we will continue to work with the Administration to ensure that all youth shelters available are culturally competent and inclusive for all youth in need. We will also continue to ensure that data collection on these vulnerable populations captures the lived experiences of LGBTQ young people. If you are interested in learning more about PFLAG’s work on this initiative, please contact us today!

A PFLAG Mother's Pride

Below is an article written by PFLAG Milwaukee mom Jane Rasmussen about her experience at her first Pride Parade.

Serving on the welcoming committee for a PrideFest celebration at Milwaukee's lakefront last weekend was a rite of passage for me.

I came alone, but I was not alone.

There stood PFLAG (Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a group that had given me hope and companionship in my struggle with the civil rights issue of our day. I wanted to stand up and be counted among those who welcomed and celebrated diversity, and this was my chance. I took my courage from their collective courage some 37 years in the making since their founding in New York City in 1973.

I was intrigued by the faces in the crowd. Some came painted white for mime performances. Others came in magnificent drag costume. Some were as ordinary as my next-door neighbor and my co-workers.

In my position at the gate, I saw spiked hair and multicolored Mohawk s; T-shirts laden with challenging messages; rainbows on clothes, jewelry and skin; tattoos of every kind; family troupes, couples or loners; people in wheelchairs; toddlers in strollers through seniors with walkers and canes; Christians, non-Christians and the un-Christian.

Negative energy worked its way in as police on horseback and motorcycles arrived with the folks who showed up, self-designated as God's representatives, to shower their own brand of darkness on our parade. A deluge of literature, condemnation, preaching and general harassment barred entrance to the festival grounds for the two hours they spent there before they departed with their police escort. The air cleared.

Positive energy flowed from mothers and fathers who welcomed and honored their children, one with a sign that read "God blessed me with a gay son. Amen" that she has carried long enough to have become an icon at the festival. That message and the warmth of the mother who carried it caused grown men to tear up and ask for a hug in memory of a mother who had died or one who could not be there but would have been had she not been so far away.

I promised a young black woman that her own mother would overcome the rejection she now felt and be proud of her beautiful daughter someday.

I listened to a vet tell of suicide among the young people who couldn't come to grips with their orientation. I hugged an old man who wanted to know how my gay son was doing and saw the joy on his face when he heard me say, just fine.

"Glad to hear that things are changing," he said with a lump in this throat.

I explained to a man on crutches who was resentful and angry of the sign "Homosexuality is a sin" that had been posted by the extreme right-wing, Bible-thumping group across the street that not every member of organized religion was as judgmental and rejecting as they were.

I suggested that he contrast the energy on this side of the street with the loneliness on the other side, and he would know in his heart where God's love abounded. I saw him at the Sunday service the next morning. I heard a fellow volunteer comfort a young Asian man torn in confusion by the messages of hate and anger he had just received as he had walked from the parking lot.

"Yes, we would be glad to have our pictures taken with you - to send back home to your Mom. . . . Thank you for the roasted nuts you shared . . . and the bottles of water you brought us in the heat of the long afternoon sun . . . for the beautiful card in the basket you won that you wanted me to have . . . and the money you gave me as your way of treating me to supper. . . . And thank you for the thumbs up, the mouthed 'Thank yous' and the hugs of appreciation you freely bestowed. . . . It was my honor to be there, I assure you. . . . I was humbled by your applause as I entered the shuttle bus to take our sign to the parade, and grateful to the young man from Marshfield who asked me to share his seat."

I wondered as I drove home if there wasn't some way to make PrideFest happen more often. Once a year is just not enough for me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Can Businesses Influence Vote on Hawaii Civil Unions Bill?

From The Advocate: Hawaii governor Linda Lingle [pictured] is expected to include the state’s civil unions bill — passed by the legislature in April — on a potential veto list on Monday. The list doesn’t mean she’s decided to veto the bill, just that she’s considering doing so.

But, as Time.com reports, a number of big businesses are urging the governor to sign the bill, which would open civil unions to both same- and opposite-sex couples. Those businesses include the Hawaii Medical Service Association (the state’s largest health insurer), Time Warner Cable, Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, March & McLennan Companies, and Aon Corp.

These companies were no doubt influenced by a report from the University of California, Los Angeles's Williams Institute, which determined civil unions would mean a financial boon for Hawaii. Same-sex couples alone would spend between $4.2 million and $9.5 million on civil union celebrations over the next four years, the institute estimates.

Those numbers haven’t convinced all business people, however. The Hawaii Business Roundtable, made up of executives who hope to promote economic vitality and “social health,” urged Lingle to veto the bill.

The governor has until July 6 for her final decision. If she does not act, civil unions will then become law.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

PFLAGer Explains the Need for Pride Month

Annette Gross, our state coordinator for Indiana, responded to a recent email featured on Bilerico, which questions the need for pride parades. Below is her response.

Question sent to Bilerico
From: Sam Riddick
Message: If you are so normal, why do you people have Gay Pride Month? I'm a heterosexual and I feel neither proud or ashamed. I certainly don't need a month dedicated to make me feel good about it. The fact you need your bumper stickers, parades, and entire months shows that you really need some reinforcement that you aren't just a bunch of crazy people. Until that crap stops, I will treat all gays like they are mentally diseased.

Annette's Response
Today Bil Browning spoke to our PFLAG group, which is a mixed group of both straight and LGBT people and asked for our membership to respond to a recent email he received questioning the need for LGBT Pride.

First off, you can't mess with a PFLAG parent. We love our LGBT children unconditionally. My gay son has done nothing in his life that I am ashamed of. He is a wonderful person and I will stand up for him until the day I fall down and die.

Why is there a LGBT Pride parade and festival. Well, I'd like to ask this person if he has ever been discriminated against. As a Jewish person, I have been a victim of discrimination. It's a horrible, demeaning experience. Jews know first-hand what it's like to be excluded. Now it seems that it's fashionable to discriminate against the LGBT community. Many people think that LGBT people won't fight back. But times have changed and they are fighting back. And.....many in the straight community are fighting back with them. At PFLAG, we call them “straight allies.” They know there is injustice in the world and they are right there with their LGBT friends and neighbors.

The reason, as I see it, why there is a LGBT Pride Festival, is that this gives the LGBT community a day where they can be themselves and not have to hide who they are. They can hold hands with their same-sex partner and not feel as if they're doing something wrong. They feel free to express who they are without being judged.

Maybe one day when LGBT people are no longer discriminated against, a LGBT Pride Festival will no longer be needed. Actually, I would love to see these festivals continue - I have an awful lot of fun at them - I get to see people I haven't seen in a year and we can catch up.

I'm sorry you feel the way you do about the LGBT community. It's too bad you're not willing to open up your heart and mind to people who are different from you. Many years ago, my family lived in Naples, Italy. My husband was a Naval officer. We had to learn how to get along in a new community. My husband's commanding officer said to us one day - "We're not better than them, we're just different." Perhaps you can view the LGBT community like that. We are all different and our country is made up of a tapestry of various peoples and cultures. I suggest you try to open your eyes and see the world from a different perspective.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Illinois Expands Domestic Partner Benefits for IL Treasury Workers

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that gay and lesbian employees of the Illinois Treasurer's office with domestic partners will have the same benefits as married employees under an executive order signed by state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias Sunday.

They'll get the same family and medical leave benefits, be able to take time off to have or adopt children and take bereavement time on par with married workers. That is in addition to health care benefits that same-sex partners already received.

The order makes the office the first constitutional Illinois state office or state agency to adopt such a policy and one of only nine states and the District of Columbia to implement leave-related benefits for domestic partners, Giannoulias said. He hopes other state offices will take the same action.

"Today we're looking to lead the way," he said.

"Hard working men and women devoted to their families should not have to choose between their family and keeping their job. The bottom line is that we should not deny same sex domestic couples the same rights that are available to married couples."

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick parent, spouse or child.

The Treasurer's Office's new domestic partner benefits will be available to employees who sign an affidavit affirming that they are in a committed long-term relationship and meet other criteria, such as relying on each other for financial and emotional support, sharing a common household or owning property, representatives said.

The office employs roughly 180 people.

Cleo Downing, a marketing representative for the Treasurer's Office, welcomed the order. She said when her mother-in-law passed away in Newark eight months ago, she flew to the funeral, but had to return home the next day.

"I left my wife in Newark because I had to get back to work," she said. "I didn't have a lot of off time."

A month after that when her wife became ill, she said she had to go to work every day and then from work go directly to the hospital because she wasn't entitled to family leave.

"I had to do what I had to do," she said.

The couple married in Canada and have been in a committed relationship for 10 years.

"This particularly signing will affect me directly and my household," she said, adding it represents "what true equality is."

The order, which could be reversed by a succeeding administration, drew support from Democratic Treasurer's Office nominee Robin Kelly, who was on hand for the signing.

Giannoulias, who is seeking President Obama's former Senate seat, said politics wasn't the impetus for his action.

"Stories like Cleo's, hearing from employees, we just thought it was something that needs to get done," he said. "This is the right thing to do. It's not about politics at all."

State Rep. Greg Harris, noting many private sector companies offer such benefits, said it will assist the office in being able to attract and keep the highest quality workers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Puerto Rico to Address Hate Crimes

The Associated Press is reporting that A special committee to investigate hate crimes has been created in Puerto Rico, where advocates say gay and transgender people are the victims of an "epidemic" of violence.

The announcement by the attorney general was cheered Saturday by activists who complain the government has yet to invoke 2002 legislation establishing harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"I think this is a step in the right direction to start to collect statistics that are vital to curb the crisis of violence against the gay community in Puerto Rico," said Pedro Julio Serrano, a native of the U.S. territory and spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Serrano said 25 slayings of gay and transgender people in the past eight years may have been motivated by bias — including the decapitation in November of gay teen Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, whose killing inspired vigils as far away as New York and Chicago.

The new government committee involves agencies including the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Juan, police officials and the island's civil rights commission, according to a statement release by the attorney general late Friday.

"With the creation of this committee, we will document the extent of hate crimes," said Attorney General Guillermo Somoza Colombani, who added that the data will help develop policies to attend to the victims.

Puerto Rico is known as a welcoming place for gays, particularly in comparison with more socially conservative Caribbean islands where homosexuals often live in hiding.

A recent string of high-profile slayings, however, has put pressure on the government. Some of the cases have received broad local news media coverage, including the April killing of a 31-year-old transgender beauty salon owner.

"It's sort of an epidemic," Serrano said. "It's too much to be ignored."

Monday, June 14, 2010

PFLAG on the Derek and Romaine Show Tonight!

Mark your calendars!

Elizabeth Fregiato, Director of Policy & Programs from PFLAG National is scheduled for a phone interview with Derek and Romaine of Sirius XM Satellite Radio on Monday, June 14th at 7:05 pm ET. She will be talking about trends in new chapters that PFLAG is seeing across the country and what this means for the work that we do.

The interview will last about 10-15 minutes, and will broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio channel OutQ, Sirius 109 and XM 98. Listeners and fans are welcome to participate by calling 866-305-6887.

For those who don't subscribe to Sirius, a free online trial is available here.

Pelosi: No ENDA Vote Until After 'Don't Ask' Repeal

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday said that a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act wouldn’t take place until Congress completes legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

During her weekly press conference, Pelosi said in response to a Blade inquiry on ENDA’s prospects that lawmakers “still have to finish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Referencing the successful House vote May 27 to attach repeal to Defense Department budget legislation, she said, “And now, of course, we’ll go — after the bill passes in the Senate — we’ll go to conference. But our work is not finished in that regard, so one thing at a time.”

A Democratic leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, later affirmed that ENDA would not see a vote until work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is complete.

“It’s very important that we finish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ before we move on to ENDA,” the source said. “We must ensure the community remains focused on getting ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] done and maintaining strong pressure to get the Defense bill done in light of filibuster threats in the Senate. Then we can move on to continuing to assess the votes on ENDA.”

Supporters of ENDA have been pushing Pelosi to move forward with the legislation. At the same time, others have been concerned about a legislative maneuver known as the motion to recommit, which could derail the measure.

Pelosi called ENDA a “personal priority,” but said the House took up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because bringing the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill to the floor presented an opportunity for repeal.

“But because the defense bill came up now, we did ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ first,” she said. “But we want to finish that.”

It could take several months for Congress to finish legislative action on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The full Senate has yet to vote on the defense authorization bill, and differences in the House and Senate versions would have to be hammered out in conference committee before the measure is sent to President Obama’s desk.

Still, Pelosi said, “we’re very proud” of the House vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the House, calling it a “historic” action.

She chided Republicans for voting against the legislation and said she’s “disappointed” only five voted for the repeal measure and nine voted for the defense bill as a whole when it came to the floor.

“It’s nothing to take for granted in terms of nine Republicans voted for the defense authorization bill,” she said. “Five Republicans voted for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Only four more voted for the [Department of Defense] bill, which is something they usually vote for 100 percent.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Attorneys Preview Closing Argument Strategy in Prop. 8 Case

From The Advocate:

Attorneys challenging California’s anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8 said Thursday they expect a ruling in the case within weeks of closing arguments, scheduled to take place next Wednesday in a San Francisco federal courtroom.

In a Thursday conference call with reporters, attorneys Ted Olson, David Boies, and Ted Boutrous spoke about closing arguments in light of a lengthy list of questions distributed to both sides earlier this week by U.S. district judge Vaughn R. Walker, who is presiding over the case. (Walker ruled without further comment late Wednesday that the proceedings will not be televised.)

Regarding one of Walker’s thornier questions — how a ruling striking down Prop. 8 as unconstitutional would affect the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — Olson said, “Even if you assume that DOMA is constitutional, it’s still critical to eliminate state discrimination that prohibits gays and lesbians from marrying. This is the last area in our country where we have state-sponsored discrimination.”

During the call the attorneys reviewed their systematic attempt in court to dismantle Prop. 8 proponents’ primary arguments: that marriage was intended for the purposes of procreation, that it has always been between a man and a woman, that changes in marriage laws are better handled via the political process, that gays and lesbians in California are already afforded domestic partnership rights, and that allowing gays to marry would endanger heterosexual marriages.

The legal team also addressed remarks by U.S. solicitor general and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who replied in a questionnaire during her solicitor general nomination proceedings that “There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” Some legal scholars have said it’s unclear whether the statement is her own interpretation of the constitution or whether it’s merely an assessment of current law that would have little bearing on how Kagan could rule as a justice. Should the lawsuit end up before the high court, Kagan's vote is seen as crucial, given she would be replacing Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the court's liberal wing.

“There isn’t such a right because the Supreme Court hasn’t looked at the issue and recognized the right,” Boutrous said of Kagan’s remark. “We think the Supreme Court equation has not changed [our ability] to attract at least five justices to rule in our favor.”

“We’re not taking any justice for granted, and we’re not giving up on any justice,” Boies added.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Policy on Gender Change in Passports Announced

From the U.S. Department of State:

The U.S. Department of State is pleased to use the occasion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month to announce its new policy guidelines regarding gender change in passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad.

Beginning June 10, when a passport applicant presents a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, the passport will reflect the new gender. The guidelines include detailed information about what information the certification must include. It is also possible to obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician’s statement shows the applicant is in the process of gender transition. No additional medical records are required. Sexual reassignment surgery is no longer a prerequisite for passport issuance. A Consular Report of Birth Abroad can also be amended with the new gender.

As with all passport applicants, passport issuing officers at embassies and consulates abroad and domestic passport agencies and centers will only ask appropriate questions to obtain information necessary to determine citizenship and identity.

The new policy and procedures are based on standards and recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), recognized by the American Medical Association as the authority in this field.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Trans Rights Bill Lost in N.Y. Senate Committee

From The Advocate:

Despite vote counts that indicated it could pass the full New York state senate this month, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in areas like housing and employment, died Tuesday morning in the senate judiciary committee. The committee vote was 11-12, with all Republicans voting against the bill, joined by Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the Bronx.

According to an e-mail announcement to supporters Tuesday from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s leading LGBT lobbying group, “Today the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and failed to move it forward by a vote of 11-12. All the Republican Senators on the Committee voted against it, as did Senator Ruben Diaz as the lone Democrat vote in dissent. Some senators raised concerns about the use of bathrooms and other gender-segregated facilities, and a number of senators who voted against the bill expressed a willingness to support it if this issue could be sufficiently addressed. Committee Chair John Sampson promised to take these concerns back to the prime sponsor of the bill, Senator Tom Duane, for discussion.”

The vote delivers a major disappointment to transgender advocates. As recently as last week, many believed they had enough votes — 32 — to pass the measure in the narrowly divided senate. GENDA already has passed the assembly, where Democrats hold firm control.

Hopes increased over the weekend, when Democratic leader John Sampson moved the bill from the investigations and government operations committee to the judiciary committee, which he chairs. Diaz, Sr. is a member of both committees.

“The assumption was that the man’s in charge of his people and that this would be a good thing for us,” transgender advocate Melissa Sklarz told The Advocate about Sampson's move.

"The senate was confused by bathrooms and dress codes and ignored the last 10 years of reality about trans people in America and stayed with the same tired lame cliches that never pan out in fact,” she said.

Duane, the openly gay sponsor of GENDA, said that he was "very angry and extremely disturbed" about the committee's vote. The Manhattan Democrat said the decision to take the bill through committee ran counter to his preferred strategy, which would have been to put the bill through the rules committee and get it to the floor immediately for a vote.

"The decsion to put the bill through judiciary was not my strategy," he said just hours after the loss. "It was the strategy that was supported by the advocates and the highest levels of senate Democratic leadesrship. I had misgivings about putting it through a committee for exactly the reasons that it failed. However, now it is yet again clear that homophobia and transphobia is a virulent disease within the New York state senate and once again it’s shown its ugly face.”

While the Pride Agenda vowed to continue to lobby senators on GENDA through the end of session, Sklarz expressed pessimism that the long-awaited bill would pass the senate any time soon. Senators likely will come under pressure to make a second attempt on the marriage equality bill after this fall's election.

“My point of view is that 2011 will be all about marriage,” said Sklarz. “And so we will sit and wait. We thought 2010 would be our year.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Prop 8 Op-Ed: Marriage for All

There's a great op-ed piece in today's Washington Post from John Podesta, founder and president of the Center for American Progress, and Robert Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute.

Nearly a century after the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that "marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man.' " That 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, ended bans on interracial marriage in the 16 states that still had such laws.

Now, 43 years after Loving, the courts are once again grappling with denial of equal marriage rights -- this time to gay couples. We believe that a society respectful of individual liberty must end this unequal treatment under the law.

Toward that goal, we have agreed to co-chair the advisory board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. The foundation helped launch the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which is currently before a federal district court in California but is likely to be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Perry case -- scheduled for closing arguments next Wednesday -- was brought by two couples whose relationships are marked by the sort of love, commitment and respect that leads naturally to marriage. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and their four children, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, ask for no more, and deserve no less, than the equal rights accorded to every other American family. But they are blocked from obtaining marriage licenses under California's Proposition 8.

The plaintiffs' legal team, headed by former Bush v. Gore antagonists Theodore Olson and David Boies, has demonstrated that no good reason exists for the denial of fundamental civil rights under Proposition 8. We support that position.

Although we serve, respectively, as president of a progressive and chairman of a libertarian think tank, we are not joining the foundation's advisory board to present a "bipartisan" front. Rather, we have come together in a nonpartisan fashion because the principle of equality before the law transcends the left-right divide and cuts to the core of our nation's character. This is not about politics; it's about an indispensable right vested in all Americans.

As the country evolved, the meaning of one small word -- "all" -- has evolved as well. Our nation's Founders reaffirmed in the Declaration of Independence the self-evident truth that "all Men are created equal," and our Pledge of Allegiance concludes with the simple and definitive words "liberty and justice for all." Still, we have struggled mightily since our independence, often through our courts, to ensure that liberty and justice is truly available to all Americans.

The decision in Perry depends, of course, on values far more permanent and important than opinion polls. No less than the constitutional rights of millions of Americans are at stake. But the public appears to be catching up with the Constitution. Just a little more leadership from the courts would be the perfect prescription for a free society.

To continue reading, click here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Children of Lesbian Families Happy and Healthy, Despite Homophobia

The New England newspaper Bay Windows has an interesting article on a study done on children of lesbian parents. The 17-year-olds participating in the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) “demonstrate significantly higher social competence” and “significantly lower total problem behavior [than the standard population]. This is a very high indication of mental health,” asserts Dr. Nanette Gartrell, principal investigator of the NLLFS and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco. “They are performing much better than the enormous [overall] population of teens out there.”

She and her colleagues Heidi Peyser, the study’s executive director, and co-investigator Dr. Henny Bos of the University of Amsterdam have begun releasing preliminary results from the teen phase of this multi-year study of a group of lesbian families, the longest-running and largest investigation of its kind. To date, they have completed interviews (including questionnaires and standardized psychological tests) with about half of the families. They hope to have the rest by next spring. Their findings provide reassurance for lesbian parents and prospective parents, and offer evidence and guidance for educators and policy makers.

The primary goal of the study was to follow the first wave of lesbian families created through donor insemination. (Limited resources meant they did not also look at adoptive families.) Gartrell’s team began interviewing the mothers in 1986, when they were inseminating or pregnant, then again when the children were a year and a half to two years old, five, and ten. They directly questioned the 10-year-olds, and now the 17-year-olds, as well. Of the initial 84 families, 79 are still participating, Gartrell says, a “phenomenal” retention rate for studies of this type.

One finding from the teen phase that “knocked my socks off,” she observes, was that “in terms of overall quality of life, almost 80% say they enjoy, are satisfied with, and find life worthwhile.” She reflects, “I don’t know how your teenage years were, but I wouldn’t have given mine a rating anywhere close to that. That says something pretty remarkable about what the moms are doing in terms of helping these kids navigate adolescence.” While her team has not yet compared this to an overall norm, she notes, “As a subjective consideration of that finding, when people think about the struggles of being teens . . . every time I have presented that so far, people have been surprised and amazed.”

One ongoing goal for the study has been to document the effects of homophobia on lesbian families. Slightly more than half of the teens felt their schools responded adequately to homophobic incidents. Those who were satisfied with their schools’ responses were “less withdrawn, less aggressive, and rated their overall quality of life higher,” Gartrell says. “These preliminary findings suggest that school involvement in educating kids about discrimination has a direct impact on mental health and the quality of life of the teens.” In the future, she adds, her team is going to look at “what that consists of, what’s needed, and how it can be refined.”

Just over half the teens, too, felt their mothers had adequately prepared them to deal with homophobia. One of the most important ways the mothers did so was by embracing their own lesbian identities and participating in the lesbian community. That much was evident from the 10-year-old interviews. As the children reached their teens, however, and became more concerned about fitting in, some of the moms were careful to let them take the lead in disclosing to friends that they came from a lesbian family. The mothers did not abandon their identities or the lesbian community because of this, but let the teens come out about their families on their own time.

The mothers have also been educating their children about a range of diversity issues, including racism, sexism, and antisemitism, as well as homophobia. “It’s the whole spectrum,” Gartrell says. “That’s a really promising and needed transformation in our culture and in future generations.”

To continue reading this article, click here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

UN Committee Blocks Application of International LGBT Group

Reuters is reporting that a United Nations committee that decides which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can be accredited to the world body moved on Thursday to keep out the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

The group, which had applied for "consultative status" at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) three years ago, is an international NGO and advocacy group focusing on protecting the rights of homosexuals and lesbians worldwide.

Diplomats from Western nations that support gay rights complained that Egypt and other developing states that have been criticized by rights groups for discriminating against gays and lesbians prevented the committee from voting on whether to accredit the group, thereby leaving it in limbo.

"IGLHRC is disappointed by the vote of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to block action on our application," Cary Alan Johnson, head of the New York-based group, said in a statement to Reuters.

The U.N. NGO committee has 19 members, among them the United States and Britain, who supported the NGO. Among those who voted against it were Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Pakistan, China, Russia, Angola, Burundi and Sudan. Turkey abstained.

Johnson said it was "a clear case of discrimination against an organization because it defends the human rights of LGBT people around the world and promotes non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

The U.S. delegation defended the work of IGLHRC (www.iglhrc.org).

"This NGO is committed to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," the U.S. statement said. "It has contributed to valuable research on HIV/AIDs and its work is well known to this committee."

A Western diplomat told Reuters that "unfortunately we didn't have the votes" on the committee to overcome opposition from countries like Egypt, Qatar, Sudan and others. The diplomat added that IGLHRC clearly fulfills all the criteria for U.N. accreditation.

The British delegation issued a statement expressing its "deep regret" for the decision to reject a U.S. proposal to take action on IGLHRC's application for a U.N. accreditation. The British statement said the move not to accredit the group was proposed by Egypt on behalf of African countries.

"This act of simple discrimination runs contrary to the principles of the U.N., of ECOSOC and of the NGO Committee," it said.

One envoy told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the United States and Europeans would push for the U.N. Economic and Social Council itself to move to accredit the group, a strategy that he said would have a better chance of success.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

49 Attorneys General File Lawsuit Against Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church

The attorneys general from Maine and Virginia declined to sign on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed by AGs from 48 states and the District of Columbia, condemning the Westboro Baptist Church's protest at a marine's funeral in 2006.

Albert Snyder, father of the late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, is suing over protests the antigay church staged at his son's funeral, where its members proclaimed that war deaths are God's punishment for tolerance of gay people.

The brief was filed Tuesday, but missing was the backing of the attorneys general from Maine, Janet Mills, and Virginia, Kenneth Cuccinelli. The lawsuit has been filed against Fred Phelps, the notorious leader of the church.

Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Cuccinelli, issued a statement explaining why Virginia did not join in the Snyder v. Phelps case. While the attorney general finds Phelps's actions "vile and despicable," Gottstein said in a statement, "the consequences of this case had to be looked at beyond what would happen just to Phelps and his followers."

This case could set a precedent that if protesters, "whether political, civil rights, pro-life, or environmental — said something that offended the object of the protest to the point where the person felt damaged, the protesters could be sued." He added that the state already has a statute to order a $2,500 fine those who willfully disrupt a funeral or memorial service to the point of preventing or interfering with the orderly conduct of the event.

"So long as the protesters stay within the letter of the law, the Constitution protects their right to express their views," Gottstein said. "In Virginia, if Phelps or others attempt this repugnant behavior cross the line and violate the law, the attorney general's office stands ready to provide any assistance to local prosecutors to vindicate the law."

Mills, Maine's attorney general, also released a statement, saying that she declined to join the amicus brief because her office shies away from taking sides in civil cases.

"The utterances at issue in the Snyders’ claim for damages were offensive and outrageous," she said in the statement. "But the First Amendment does not allow us to distinguish between polite speech and hateful or outrageous speech."

Mills also made an argument similar Cuccinelli’s, saying that advancing this case could contribute to a slippery slope of carving away at the First Amendment. As with Virginia, Mills cites a state statute that was enacted to punish those who disturb the peace of funeral attendees.

"While some have questioned the patriotism of our office because we declined to join the amicus brief, just the opposite is true," Mills said. "Our families too have fought in battle. They fought for the constitutional rights of all our citizens, including Mr. Snyder and the Phelps [family]."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Same-Sex Partners of Federal Workers Can Start Applying for Benefits Next Month

The Washington Post is reporting that same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal workers can start applying next month for long-term health-care insurance, the Office of Personnel Management said Tuesday.

President Obama signed a memo last June extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, including access to the government's Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program. On Tuesday, OPM essentially broadened the definition of relatives eligible for the program to include same-sex domestic partners of eligible federal workers, U.S. Postal Service workers and federal retirees.

OPM will not extend access to opposite-sex domestic partners, because they can obtain the insurance through marriage, "an option not currently available to same-sex domestic partners," the agency wrote in Tuesday's Federal Register.

OPM said same-sex couples can visit www.ltcfeds.com to complete a form that states they are each other's domestic partner and intend to stay together indefinitely. The federal worker must submit the form to their employer. Couples will not be required to provide further proof of the relationship, OPM said, because that "would impose a greater burden on domestic partners than other qualified relatives." The agency said it does not ask opposite-sex couples for bank statements or other proof of marriage.

Tuesday's ruling applies only to FLTCIP, no other federal health-care or insurance programs. Same-sex partners must answer the same questions about their health as other qualified relatives, and are not guaranteed to be approved for coverage. Eligible federal workers do not need to be enrolled in FLTCIP in order for a same-sex partner to apply or be eligible, OPM said.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New McDonald's Ad in France Targets Gay Community

It's not often that we see television advertisements with a pro-gay message. However, in France, McDonald's has just released a new campaign ad designed to let gay customers know they are welcome at the restaurants. The ad, called "Come As You Are," features a young man and his father, who does not know his son is gay.

Watch the video, which has been attracting attention in the blogosphere.