Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stanford Study Examines Role of Gay Parents, Finds No Disadvantage to Children



By mining data from the 2000 Census, sociologist Michael Rosenfeld figured out the rates at which kids raised by gay and straight couples repeated a grade during elementary or middle school. He found that children of same-sex parents have essentially the same educational achievement as their peers growing up in heterosexual households.

In nearly every discussion, debate or lawsuit about gay marriage, the talk at some point turns to family values.

Do gay couples make for good parents? Will their children – whether adopted, conceived with the help of a surrogate or brought in from a pre-existing relationship – adjust, adapt and succeed in a world dominated by traditional families?

The answers usually depend on who's giving them, and come dressed in anecdotes and colored by bias. But Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld brings something new to the conversation: facts and figures derived from the country's largest data bank – the U.S. Census.

In a study published this month in the journal Demography, Rosenfeld concludes that children being raised by same-sex couples have nearly the same educational achievement as children raised by married heterosexual couples.

By mining data from the 2000 Census, Rosenfeld was able to figure out the rates at which children in all types of families repeated a grade during elementary or middle school. According to his findings, nearly 7 percent of children raised by heterosexual married couples were held back a year, while about 9.5 percent of children living with adults identifying themselves as same-sex partners repeated a grade.

The difference between the groups pretty much vanishes when taking into account that the heterosexual couples were slightly more educated and wealthier than most gay parents, Rosenfeld said.

"The census data show that having parents who are the same gender is not in itself any disadvantage to children," he said. "Parents' income and education are the biggest indicators of a child's success. Family structure is a minor determinant."

Rosenfeld's findings have been cited by lawyers fighting Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban passed by California voters in 2008. A federal court judge recently overturned the ban, but his ruling is under appeal.

Rosenfeld's study shows that children of gay and married couples had lower grade-repetition rates than their peers raised by opposite-sex unmarried couples and single parents. And all children living in some type of family environment did much better than those living in group housing. Those who were awaiting adoption or placement in a foster home were held back about 34 percent of the time.

"One of the fundamental issues in modern family law that differs from state to state is whether same-sex couples can adopt," Rosenfeld said. "My research makes clear that there's a huge advantage to kids to be out of the care of the state and into the care of any family, even if the family is not perfectly optimal."

Educators, policymakers and social scientists have long known that children left back in school are at greater risk than their peers for not finishing high school and getting into trouble.

Because gays and lesbians make up such a tiny sliver of the American population – only 1 percent – it has been difficult for researchers to conduct a representative study of how their children perform in the classroom. And gay marriage opponents have criticized earlier studies for having sample sizes that are too small.

"Sample size is power," Rosenfeld said. "And the census is the biggest sample we have. This study is based on a sample of thousands and thousands of kids."

Most personal decisions about gay marriage are based on gut feelings, religious beliefs and individual experiences. Rosenfeld knows his research isn't going to change the minds of most people opposed to same-sex unions. But he has added new data to the debate that helps debunk assertions – whether based on a lack of knowledge or some unfounded fear – that children raised by gay couples cannot thrive.

"Social scientists have an obligation to shed light where they can on issues that are roiling the public," he said. "Sometimes we have to throw up our hands and admit that something is unknowable. But in this case, we could bring some real hard data to bear on an area that was otherwise really in the dark."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Protest at Military Funeral Ignites a Test of Free Speech

Albert Snyder tears up, then turns angry as he recalls burying his Marine son while members of the anti-gay fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church picketed nearby.

"I can remember being presented the flag at the graveyard. I can remember saluting the coffin," Snyder says of the unusually balmy day in March 2006 when the family memorialized Matthew, a lance corporal killed in Iraq.

Yet, Snyder says, he can't separate such moments from the memory that his only son's funeral was picketed by fundamentalist pastor Fred Phelps and his followers with an inflammatory message that had nothing to do with Matthew.

Disconnecting the death of his 20-year-old son from his reaction to the protests "became very difficult."

Snyder, who sued Phelps for his distress, says he feels like he has been stabbed, and the wound will not heal.

The case has grown beyond a single clash between a devastated father and an attention-seeking, fire-and-brimstone group into a major test of speech rights and of safeguards for the sanctity of military funerals. The Supreme Court will hear the case Oct. 6, a crucial First Amendment challenge against the poignant backdrop of war deaths, family suffering and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve — as long as their sexual orientation remains secret.

Fourteen sets of outside organizations have entered the case. Those siding with Snyder include a majority of the states and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, led by Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Free speech groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, say they find Phelps' message horrific but that such speech is exactly what the First Amendment was intended to protect.

Supporters of Snyder, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the states, emphasize the importance of protecting the privacy of grieving families and minimize the value of the Phelps' speech.

Phelps, who preaches that God hates gay people and protests what he views as the nation's tolerance of homosexuality — particularly the "don't ask, don't tell" policy — brushes off Snyder's anguish. In a telephone interview from his Topeka home, Phelps says the father's claim of emotional injuries is exaggerated.

"He ought to be very thankful to us that we ... warn people about the perils of sinful conduct that will destroy a nation," Phelps says.

Phelps knew nothing about Matthew Snyder, who was not gay, beyond that his funeral in Westminster, Md., offered the chance to draw attention to Phelps' message. Among the signs he brought were some that said, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."Snyder sued Phelps and family members who were the primary demonstrators for the distress he suffered from their picketing and a Web video the Phelpses created about their protest. Snyder won a $5 million verdict in 2007. A federal appeals court overturned the judgment last year, saying the Phelps protest was protected by the First Amendment.

The dispute before the Supreme Court involves Maryland law, yet cases related to the Phelpses and other local laws are simmering across the country. The issue for the justices in Snyder v. Phelps is an individual's claim for damages from offensive messages, not the validity of government limits on protests near funerals.

"Free speech ideals usually are pretty abstract," observes University of Missouri law professor Christina Wells, who has written extensively on protesters' rights. "People say we agree with the First Amendment but when we get into areas that are offensive, like flag burning, people are much less tolerant."

Wells is among several scholars of First Amendment law, civil libertarians and news media representatives who have joined briefs stressing the need to protect odious speech.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, among the groups on Snyder's side, counters in its brief, "If Albert Snyder, a grieving father of an American hero, cannot seek remedy from (Phelps and his relatives) for the emotional torment (they) viciously imposed upon him, what purpose do our laws serve?"

"You only get one chance to do a burial," adds Harrisburg, Pa., lawyer Timothy Nieman, who wrote the VFW's filing. He says the Westboro protest created "a circus atmosphere at a private, sanctified time."

To continue reading this story in USA Today, click here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Trans Victory in Pennsylvania Driver's License Policy

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has changed its gender identification policies for driver's licenses to better accommodate transgender people, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Equality Pennsylvania and PennDOT announced the change Wednesday, explaining that the past policy allowed for a gender change on the licenses only if the driver could present proof of sex-reassignment surgery. Now trans-identified drivers can request the identification change as long as they are living full-time in the new gender and can back it up with verification from a licensed medical or psychological caregiver — no surgery required.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Memphis Tables Proposed Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove


A controversial city ordinance that's generated conflict, debate and even death threats is now dead in the water.

Gay rights group Tennessee Equality Project requested that Councilwoman Janis Fullilove withdraw the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) that would have protected gay and lesbian job seekers from discrimination when applying for jobs with the City of Memphis or its contractors.

ENDO was up for three readings in City Council, but members of TEP say it was clear from the first, it would not get a fair shake.

“It became very apparent that it was being treated differently, and it became very, very apparent we were not going to get a fair hearing from the majority of the council members,” Michelle Bliss, Vice-Chair for the Shelby County TEP said.

Local clergy came out hard against the measure. They say ENDO’s wording would have made for a slippery slope and those behind it had an agenda.

“It was a subtle move to desensitize what's taking place as a way to ease in a life style and to cause everyone who's against it to agree with it,” Bishop Edward Stephens from Golden Gate Cathedral said.

Stephens and other clergymen felt the ordinance’s language would have opened the floodgates for various kinds of homosexual expression, even allowing gay employees to come to work dressed as a man one day and a woman the next.

“The ultimate question is where does all of this end? From here, then to the school, to the teachers. Where does this really stop?” Stephens asked.

Fullilove expressed disappointment at ENDO’s failure, thanks largely in part to “close-minded” council members and lack of support from Mayor A C Wharton.

TEP said they plan to bring the issue before the Mayor and City Council again when they feel they can get a fair shake from city leaders.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Family Equality Council, GLSEN, PFLAG Laud Introduction of Enumerated Anti-Bullying Bill in Michigan

Family Equality Council; GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and its Michigan chapters; and PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, and its Michigan chapters laud last week’s introduction of an enumerated anti-bullying bill in the Michigan Senate by Sen. Gretchen Whitmer. Enumerated bills include a list of characteristics most often targeted for bullying or harassment.

“We commend Senator Whitmer for introducing an enumerated anti-bullying bill that will provide strong protections for all Michigan students,” the organizations said in a statement. “Research shows that naming the problem is particularly important in addressing all forms of bullying. We know this is especially true when it comes to actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. We urge Michigan’s elected leaders to protect all of Michigan’s students by supporting Senator Whitmer’s bill.”

The Harris Interactive Report From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America found that students who live in states with enumerated policies are less likely than those with a generic, non-enumerated policy or no policy at all to say that bullying is a very or somewhat serious problem at school (33% vs. 44%).

The bullying problem is especially severe for LGBT students (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). A GLSEN research brief found that 87% of Michigan LGBT students had been harassed in school in the past year.

Policy Matters - August 24, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Third Way Op-Ed in Politico: Moving the Middle on Marriage. This month, a federal district court judge in California struck down Proposition 8 — the state ballot measure that banned same-sex couples from marrying — as unconstitutional, and the case is most likely to be settled by the Supreme Court. Although the decision has been stayed (meaning that no marriages can occur while the case is under review in the Ninth Circuit), many understandably saw it as a victory and perhaps an indication that legal arguments — not public persuasion — are going to be the fastest way to bring about equality. But lawsuits are not a substitute for public support, and legal arguments do not operate in a vacuum. This decision makes it all the more crucial to build a solid majority of Americans who strongly support the full range of legal relationship recognition, including allowing same-sex couples to marry.

John Wells Bennett Op-ED: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Long Overdue. John Wells Bennett, nephew of Republican Sen. Robert Bennett (R), expresses his support for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA): "As a gay man, I find it painful to realize that something as seemingly basic as employment non-discrimination is still controversial. But I, for one, am not willing to see this year and this session of Congress pass into history without a vote on ENDA. My grandfather, Sen. Wallace F. Bennett, back in 1964 and 1968, broke ranks with his party and voted for both major civil rights laws of that decade. I call upon all the members of the current Utah delegation to become co-sponsors of ENDA and to help move this important bill forward for a vote this session."

Prop 8 Stay Gives Congress Room to Focus on Midterm Elections. Some Congressmembers are reportedly relieved by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that extended the stay on Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling in the federal Proposition 8 trial until the appellate court hears the case. They believe marriages for same-sex couples could have been a distraction in the upcoming midterm elections. Marriage equality opponents in California said in a statement that they are pleased the appellate bench will hear the matter in December, while supporters for marriage equality were hugely disappointed by the decision, but hope the appellate bench will declare Prop 8 unconstitutional.

Pentagon to Send “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Surveys to Spouses of Service Members. The Pentagon plans to survey approximately 150,000 military spouses about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In a statement, Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the surveys "will help the military leadership assess the impacts, if any, a change in the law…might have on family readiness and military community life." The survey comes as part of a larger reevaluation of the controversial policy, which the House voted to repeal in May as part of a defense authorization bill. The policy prohibits lesbians, gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military. A vote by the Senate and a review by the Pentagon are required for any change in the policy to become official. Smith said the information from the survey will be used to develop a "contingency plan" if "don't ask" is eventually repealed.

Transgender People Harassed on the Job. The transgender community faces extreme difficulties when trying to find work due to severe discrimination and a stagnant economy. Currently, it is legal to discriminate against transgender people in 38 states. Harper Jean Tobin, Policy Counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality, explained the misconceptions and misinformation that far too many people have with regard to trans individuals, and how this plays out in disturbing numbers that are reported by our friends at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2009 survey on transgender discrimination.

Public Policy Watch
Fall “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lobby Day Announced. Our friends at Servicemembers United announced earlier this week that it will host another "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" lobby day for repeal supporters on Thursday, September 16, 2010. The fall lobby day, affectionately nicknamed "The Final Assault," will come at a critical time after the Senate reconvenes but before the chamber is expected to take up the repeal-inclusive defense authorization bill. During the lobby day, PFLAG members will join Service Members United, which plans to host a first-ever meeting in Washington for military partners from around the country. The Campaign for Military Partners initiative was created in 2009 to connect and support the partners of LGBT military personnel. Military partners who are interested in attending this meeting can register for this event at ww.MilitaryPartners.org.

DOJ has Sixty Days to Appeal MA Ruling that Declared DOMA Unconstitutional. Federal Judge Joseph Tauro officially entered his judgment in a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in Massachusetts, giving the federal government 60 days to decide whether to appeal. Judge Tauro ruled in early July that DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional. Yesterday, he officially entered the judgment, starting a 60-day clock for the Justice Department (DOJ) to decide whether to appeal his ruling. Tauro also approved a stay for his ruling, pending appeal. The plaintiffs, represented by GLAD, didn't fight the stay. GLAD said the stay is in its clients' best interests, adding that only a "final victory" ensures that they will have access to the Social Security and other benefits of their spouses. The DOJ has not yet decided whether to appeal the case, the head government lawyer told the Bay Area Reporter. It's unlikely the government would decline to pursue the case, but the Obama administration took a big hit among LGBT rights advocates (and voters) last year when it filed a brief defending DOMA and comparing same sex marriage laws to those against incest and child marriage. The end of the 60 days falls on Oct. 11 -- National Coming Out Day and less than a month before the midterms.

Doylestown, PA: Council Takes Step to Protect LGBT Rights. The Doylestown Borough council has passed an ordinance that protects the rights of the borough’s LGBT citizens. KYW Newsradio’s Jim Melwert reports the council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance which outlaws discrimination in housing, employment and in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender identity. While some in the crowd wondered if this was redundant and offered protections already offered by federal or state law, Councilman Don Berk responded, “Absolutely not. The federal government does not protect LGBTQA people, 21 states have ruled this way. The District of Columbia has, 16 municipalities in Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania hasn’t done it yet, so hopefully this will send a message up to Harrisburg.” Many who support the basis of the ordinance are concerned about cost and about who will pay for the newly-created human relations commission in Doylestown Borough. Supporters though, say what better way to spend tax dollars than on civil rights.

DOJ Seeks Role in Anti-Gay Suit Against North Country School. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed a northern New York school district’s attempt to have a former student’s anti-gay-bias lawsuit dismissed in federal court. The Justice Department filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Friday to participate as a friend of the court in a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by former student Charles Pratt against the Indian River Central School District near Watertown. Pratt sued in April 2009, claiming he was harassed before he dropped out of high school when he was 15 years old. The district has filed a motion to dismiss the action. The Justice Department disagrees with key reasons the district believes the suit should be dismissed. The court has not decided whether to allow justice officials to join the case.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
Over the past few weeks we have witnessed a frenzy of activity surrounding the
Perry v. Schwarzenegger challenge of California’s Proposition 8. What does the ruling in the federal Proposition 8 trial mean and what are the next steps in the marriage equality movement?
Thanks so much,
Karen

Dear Karen,
Thank you so much for your question. As you may know, last week a three-judge panel on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that same-sex marriage licenses cannot, for the time being, be issued despite Judge Vaughn Walker’s recent ruling overturning Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in California. Despite last week’s ruling, it is highly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will finally make a decision on marriage equality.

The three-judge panel also ruled that the case will be expedited to an appeals court which will begin hearing arguments on the constitutional challenge to Prop 8 on Dec. 7. The three-judge panel directed opponents of marriage equality to make the case in an opening brief due Sept. 17 for “why this appeal should not be dismissed.” Yet even if the Ninth Circuit determines that they lack that evidence, marriage equality opponents can still appeal to the Supreme Court, say legal experts. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling gave reason for both sides to feel anxious and ready for the battle ahead, which is why it’s imperative for PFLAG members to take the time and educate community members about why marriage equality matters to their families and friends.

A top lawyer with the team that is fighting for marriage equality, Ted Boutrous, says that the decision to block marriages in California for now was expected, despite the disappointment of same-sex couples. The hold on issuing licenses could be politically advantageous to those who support marriage equality, denying the possibility for it to become a hot GOP issue come November. The expedited schedule, says Boutrous, is extremely helpful and “paves the way for us to obtain the fastest possible ruling affirming the judge’s order striking down Proposition 8.”

Boutrous does not think the biggest threat to opponents of marriage equality is the court’s Article III challenge, which requires them to show evidence that same-sex marriage harms them. The main stumbling block for opponents, he says, is simply Walker’s “detailed factual findings and legal rulings” on Prop 8’s unconstitutionality. But, he adds, the Article III challenge “is another weapon in our arsenal, and another problem for them.”

Sadly, there are no clear answers to the fate of marriage equality in California or the United States at large. The final verdict might come in 2011—at the earliest—if the case keeps moving swiftly, and it will come, as all sides still expect, from the Supreme Court. Should you have more marriage equality questions, please feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience.

Warmest regards,
Policy Matters
P.S. Have you downloaded your new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2010 version of the how-to guide to PFLAG advocacy now and share it with your chapter. Visit. www.pflag.org/btmh for more information now.

Please note that Policy Matters will return on September 7, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than September 3, 2010.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

California Minister Who Performed Same-Sex Weddings Goes to Trial

Rev. Jane Spahr, AP Photo/Ben Margot


From the (San Francisco) Mercury News:

A retired Presbyterian minister and active critic of her faith's position on same-sex marriage will be tried by a church court for performing the weddings of gay couples during a brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

The Rev. Jane Spahr, 67, has been charged with "publicly, intentionally and repeatedly" violating Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) doctrine by presiding at the weddings of 16 couples between June 2008 and November 2008, before California voters outlawed same-sex marriages.

"To turn my back on the love and lifelong commitments of these wonderful couples would have gone against my faith, the ministry where I was called, and most of all, against God's amazing hospitality and welcome where love and justice meet together," Spahr said in a written statement.

She has pleaded not guilty, explaining there are other parts of church doctrine that are just as important such as being welcoming and valuing diversity.

The church constitution defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but its Supreme Judicial Council has ruled that ministers can bless same-sex unions as long as they are not called marriages and the ceremonies don't mimic traditional weddings.

The regional Presbytery of the Redwoods, which oversees 52 churches from an area north of San Francisco to the Oregon border, was required to bring the charges against Spahr earlier this year after a member filed a formal accusation against her.

Eleven of the couples Spahr married are expected to testify as witnesses at the trial scheduled to start Tuesday at a church in Napa.

"The question of this trial is, are state law and church law incompatible," said the Rev. Robert Conover, the prebytery's standing clerk. "Did Rev. Spahr violate the church constitution when she performed same-gender marriages that were legal?"

It's the second time Spahr, a lesbian who founded a ministry for gay Presbyterians, has faced possible sanctions from her church. In 2006, she became the first pastor of her faith to be tried for officiating the weddings of gay couples from states that did not permit same-sex civil marriages.

The regional church tribunal acquitted her, but an intermediate church court rebuked her for misconduct the next year. The church's highest court finally cleared Spahr of any wrongdoing, ruling she did not violate denominational law because the ceremonies she performed were not for government-recognized marriages.

Spahr's lawyers plan to argue this time around that she would have been breaking church law and shirking her pastoral responsibilities if she had refused to marry gay couples who had the legal right to wed and wanted Presbyterian ceremonies.

"The implication of these charges is that Rev. Spahr should have told these couples no—that she should have advised these couples to go elsewhere," the lawyers wrote in their legal brief. "The testimony in this case will show that Rev. Spahr's was the more faithful response."

If found guilty, Spahr could receive sanctions ranging from a rebuke, the most mild discipline, to a suspension. As with her previous case, the verdict following the upcoming trial would likely be appealed to a higher church court and take a few years to resolve, Conover said.

"Presbyterians, like most mainline Protestants, are accustomed to our church law and state law complementing each other," he said. "We are in a situation now where what's at argument is whether that is still the case."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Letters From Military Families on DADT

Lynne Kennedy and Capt. Joan Darrah, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
From The Advocate:

While the Pentagon surveys the spouses of military members about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is highlighting the perspectives of military family members affected by the discriminatory policy.

On Friday some 150,000 spouses of military members began to receive the surveys asking them how they would feel if the policy were repealed. SLDN wants the Pentagon to hear from the family members of gay service members, too.

“As the Pentagon reaches out to 150,000 straight couples on how their lives are impacted, these letters will share the perspective of those forced to serve under this law alongside their loved ones,” writes the group.

The letter for Monday is from Lynne Kennedy, partner to Capt. Joan Darrah, U.S. Navy (Ret.). The couple has been together for 20 years this December.


General Ham and Mr. Johnson:

In 1990 — while working as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress — I met Joan Darrah, an active duty Naval Officer. I already knew about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but I soon woke up to the harsh reality that loved ones of gay and lesbian family members are forced to serve in silence, too.

Over the years, Joan had adjusted to living two lives — in the closet at work and out after hours. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment as I had been fortunate to work for an employer who valued my skills and expertise and realized that my being a lesbian in no way detracted from my ability to do a great job.

I knew that Joan could be deployed at any moment. She may be away from home for two or three years. I realized that being with an active duty military officer was even more constricting than I could have possibly imagined and I worried constantly about Joan’s well being. Yet, through it all, I knew our relationship was worth the compromises. I knew we had to make it work for Joan to continue to serve our Country.

There were so many things that we had to be careful about. For example, Joan had asked that I not call her at work unless it was truly an emergency. When we were out in public if Joan saw someone from work, I learned to “disappear,” until Joan’s co-worker moved on. We didn’t dare go to nice restaurants on Valentine’s Day or even Saturday nights. We could not show any familiarity while out in public. I went to parties at colleagues' homes alone lest a guest I didn't know learn that Joan was in the Navy.

The events of September 11, 2001, caused us both appreciate more fully the true impact of DADT on our lives and the reality of our mutual sacrifices. At 8:30 a.m. that morning, Joan went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30 a.m., she left that meeting. At 9:37 a.m., the plane flew into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space that Joan had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of her colleagues.

In the days and weeks that followed, Joan went to several funerals and memorial services for her co-workers who had been killed. Most people attended these services with their spouses whose support was critical at this difficult time, yet Joan was forced to go alone, even though I really wanted to be with her to provide support.

As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family," which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn’t exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed, because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Whenever I hear Joan recount the events of that day, I relive it and realize all over again how devastated I would have been had she been killed. I also think of the partners of service members injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unable to get any support from the military and they must be careful about the amount of support they offer to their closeted service member loved ones.

The events of September 11th caused us to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process, we realized that this discriminatory law was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Eight months later, in June 2002, Joan retired from the U.S. Navy, and I retired from the Library of Congress. If it wasn’t for DADT, we might both still be serving in our respective positions.

Lynne Kennedy

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wisconsin's Domestic Partnership Law Challenged by Anti-Gay Group

Supporters of Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions sought Wednesday for the second time to have the state's domestic partnership registry declared unconstitutional.

Wisconsin Family Action brought the lawsuit after failing last year with a case it took directly to the state Supreme Court. Once again, Family Action is arguing that the state-recognized partnerships for gay and lesbian couple are "substantially similar" to marriage and therefore banned by the state constitution.

"Our system of government serves no purpose if our elected officials can completely and capriciously ignore the will of the people with impunity," said Julaine Appling, the president of Family Action and one of the plaintiffs. "A reasonable person observing this registry would easily conclude that it is intended to mirror marriage."

In 2006, Wisconsin voters strongly approved a constitutional ban on both marriage and a "legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage" for same-sex couples.

In June 2009 as part of the state budget, Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers approved the partnership benefits for qualifying couples. They include some but not all of the benefits married couples receive, including allowing domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions, and have hospital visitation rights.

The process and fees for registering a domestic partnership is similar to that for getting a marriage license, which is what makes them similar to marriage, the lawsuit says.

In July 2009, Family Action sued to block the registry, taking the case directly to the state Supreme Court, which declined the group's petition without comment in November.

During the budget process last year, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Council reviewed the proposal and said the partnerships would be consistent with the state constitution. But state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, declined to defend the registry in court, saying that it was inconsistent with the will of voters and that he would "abide by their command."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

ACLU Sues (Another) Mississippi High School

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi today filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi high school that excluded a female student's name and senior portrait from the yearbook rather than publish a photo of her in a tuxedo. The lawsuit charges that Ceara Sturgis was unfairly discriminated against by the Wesson Attendance Center based on her sex and unfair gender stereotypes.

"I went to school with my classmates my whole life, and it hurts that I'm not included in my senior yearbook as part of my graduating class," Ceara said. "I never thought that my school would punish me just for being who I am."

Ceara was an honor student and a member of several sports teams at Wesson, where she attended school from kindergarten through her senior year. At home and at school, she dresses in clothing that is traditionally associated with boys, and had previously not encountered any problems from her peers or teachers. When she had her formal senior portrait taken, she opted to wear a tuxedo, rather than a drape that gives the appearance of wearing a dress or a blouse. Because of her attire, the school refused to publish her photo and name as part of the senior year class.

The lawsuit charges Ceara's rights were violated under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and sex stereotypes, and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.

"Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance," said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It's unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people."

Ceara tried posing with the drape, but felt extremely uncomfortable and had her mother request that she wear the tuxedo instead. The photographer permitted Ceara to do so. It was only after the portrait was taken that the principal informed Ceara that he would not allow the photo to be published. Despite efforts to resolve the issue by Ceara's mother and the ACLU, Ceara received her yearbook without her portrait, or even her name, included in the senior class portrait section.

"This should never have been an issue. Title IX and the Constitution prohibit school officials from forcing students to conform to gender stereotypes. Ceara should not have been expected to compromise her everyday appearance and identity for her senior portrait," said Bear Atwood, interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. "The school's actions are discriminatory, unlawful and mean-spirited."

To read the entire complaint filed by the ACLU, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

In late-breaking news yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Prop 8 proponents’ motion to stay U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision… which translates into this basic fact: delayed justice for the countless same-sex couples in California that wanted to exercise their recently (re-re)defined freedom to marry while the case is on appeal.

Feeling a little rusty on your navigation as to what happens next? Our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) have already been good enough to break it down for you.

The short version is that the saga, while on fast track, is still likely to extend past December. This, of course, leaves us all thinking about that “Justice delayed is justice denied” quote again.

Keep checking in for additional analysis and suggestions on how to make the best of the time we have between now and the next ruling on some basic civil rights. (Here’s a preview: it involves telling your story and checking out PFLAG’s new Bringing the Message Home Guide.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Perry and the (Non-)Attack on Religious Liberty

As the debate over the Proposition 8 ruling – and what it entails for some critics when it comes to religious liberty and the law – continues, a number of faith leaders and commentators have been offering their perspective. Some of these views were highlighted in an article this past weekend in the Washington Post.

David Fishback of the Metro DC PFLAG chapter offered his own response to some arguments made by commentator Albert Mohler and shared them with the PFLAG blog here:

In an article in the August 14, 2010, edition of the Washington Post, Rev. R. Albert Mohler criticizes the recent United States District Court decision finding Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional because, in his view, it "establishes secularism as the only acceptable basis for moral judgment on the part of the voters." Rev. Mohler misses the point of the First Amendment, which bars any establishment of religion by the federal government, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which makes the First Amendment to be applicable to the states. The entire purpose of the Bill of Rights is that matters of individual rights that are protected by the Constitution may not be swept away by the majority, absent constitutional amendment.

Rev. Mohler’s sharp distinction between the secular and the religious is troubling. The fact of the matter that the core of all major religions is the Golden Rule, which is a concept not limited to theology. President Obama provided a useful framework here when he wrote that "[w]hat our deliberative, pluralistic democracy. . .demand[s] is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to [something], and seek to pass a law banning [it], I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why [it] violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all." [ The Audacity of Hope, p. 219]. When it comes to Constitutional matters involving equal protection under law, that principle may not be pure theology or a general hostility not rooted in facts.

At trial, the proponents of Proposition 8, represented by some of the most prominent and experienced social conservative attorneys in the country, were given every opportunity to present evidence to support their assertions same-sex marriages would undermine opposite-sex marriages or hurt children, thus providing the arguably requisite "rational basis" basis for discrimination. They were unable to provide any evidence at all. In contrast, the opponents of Proposition 8 presented overwhelming evidence (1) of the harm caused by discrimination against gay couples with respect to the right to marry and (2) that equal marriage rights would create no harm to opposite-sex marriages or children.

Where, as here, it is demonstrated that there is no rational basis for the discrimination – instead, only theological opinions and uninformed prejudice – the Constitution requires that the discrimination cease.

When transient majorities of voters can deprive minorities of basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution – including equal protection under law – then America will cease to be the beacon of liberty and justice that has made it a light unto the nations.

David S. Fishback
Advocacy Chair, Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

Mission-Critical Troops Continue to Hemorrhage Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

New data released today finds the military continued to fire mission-critical specialists for being lesbian, gay or bisexual in fiscal year 2009. The data show that LGB discharges included 8 linguists, 20 infantrymen, 16 medical aides, 7 combat engineers, 6 missile artillery operating crew members, and 1 member of the Special Forces, among others.

The Director of the Palm Center - the research institute at the University of California that released the data today - Aaron Belkin said, “These data show, yet again, that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” undermines national security. Why are we firing linguists and infantrymen in the middle of two wars?” A sample of the complete data set is posted at www.palmcenter.ucsb.edu.

According to the Palm Center, “the data confirm a long-term trend, and a 2005 Government Accountability Report found that the military fired 757 mission-critical specialists, including 322 linguists, in the first decade of “Don¹t Ask, Don’t Tell.” JD Smith, co-Director of OutServe, said that today’s news shows how “Don¹t Ask, Don’t Tell” jeopardizes the safety of the troops. Smith said, “these discharges put our lives at risk. As leadership continues to fire gay service members in critical career fields, it is the troops on the ground who will pay with their personal safety.” OutServe is the first-ever organization made up exclusively of currently-serving lesbian, gay and bisexual troops. It now includes more than 500 members.

The new data were collected by the Defense Manpower Data Center and made available by the House Armed Services Committee. They were submitted to the Committee in compliance with current law which requires each of the services to disclose on an annual basis the number of service members who have left the service, why they left and what jobs they performed.

“The next few weeks will determine the future of “Don¹t Ask, Don’t Tell” stated Christopher Neff, Palm Center Deputy Director. “After 13,500 discharges, hundreds of millions of dollars and 17 years, it all comes down to the Senate.” The Senate is expected to address the policy shortly after it reconvenes from the August recess on September 13.

The Palm Center also noted that the data showed disproportionate discharges on the basis of race and gender. In the Navy, two officers were discharged in FY 2009 and both were Asian. In the Army, of the five Officers discharged, two were African American, one was Asian and two were white.

Although women comprise only 14% of the Army, lesbians received 48% of the Army’s “Don¹t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges in FY 2009. In the Marines, women comprise just 6% of the force, but received 23% of discharges under the policy. The numbers represent a dramatic shift from last year, when women received 36% of Army discharges and 18% of Marine Corps discharges. In the Air Force, women comprise 20% of the service but received 51% of “Don¹t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges in FY 2009. Women comprise 14% of the Navy but received 27% of the discharges last year.

Take action today by calling both your Senators and tell them to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and follow the lead of Senator Carl Levin on any attempts to strike repeal or weaken the language. It’s important that your Senators hear from you early and often.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Judge Walker’s Ruling Extending Stay Until August 18—What Does It Mean and What Happens Next?

Yesterday, Judge Walker ruled that he was putting marriage for same-sex couples on hold for at least another six days, extending a temporary stay until August 18 at 5 p.m. and allowing Prop. 8 supporters time to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

We wanted to share a resource that our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights created to help people better understand what the ruling means in practical terms:

Does Judge Walker’s ruling today mean that same-sex couples in California will be able to marry starting August 18, 2010?
Not necessarily. Judge Walker ruled that there is no legal reason to delay letting same-sex couples marry; however, he kept the stay on his ruling in place until August 18. That extra time will allow the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether to let same-sex couples in California marry while the appeal proceeds, or whether to continue the stay until the Ninth Circuit reviews Judge Walker’s decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

In practice, this means that the proponents of Prop 8 have a chance to file a motion for stay with the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit has a chance to grant or deny that motion, but it must do so by August 18. If it does not, marriages will automatically start again at that time.

Does the Ninth Circuit have the final say over whether to stay Judge Walker’s ruling?
No. If the Ninth Circuit denies a stay, the proponents of Prop 8 can ask the United States Supreme Court to issue a stay. That request would be directed to Justice Anthony Kennedy, because he is the justice designated to hear requests for stays in the Ninth Circuit. If Justice Kennedy denied the motion to stay, the proponents of Prop 8 could ask the entire court to rule on that issue.

Remember, this is not about whether Prop 8 is unconstitutional, but only about whether couples can marry based on Judge Walker’s ruling while the case is being appealed.

If same-sex couples in California can begin to marry again starting on August 18, will those marriages be valid if Judge Walker’s ruling is later overturned on appeal?
We strongly believe that marriages based on Judge Walker’s decision should be valid, even if the decision is later overturned on appeal. In his decision today, Judge Walker also supported that position, stating, “The court has the authority to enjoin defendants from enforcing Proposition 8. It appears, then, that marriages performed pursuant to a valid injunction would be lawful, much like the 18,000 marriages performed before the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008. See Strauss v Horton, 46 Cal 4th 364, 472 (2009) (holding that married couples’ rights vest upon a lawful marriage).”

That said, to be safe, we strongly encourage same-sex couples in California who marry based on Judge Walker’s decision to also register as domestic partners to ensure that you are protected in the event your marriage is ever challenged. California law permits a couple both to marry and register as domestic partners, so long as it is with the same person. Also, you do not have to be a California resident to marry in California or to register as domestic partners.

What if the Ninth Circuit stays Judge Walker’s decision?
If the Ninth Circuit stays the decision, then same-sex couples in California will not be able to marry until the case is resolved on appeal.

Why is the ruling today important?
Even though Judge Walker did not immediately let same-sex couples in California marry, the ruling provides important insight into the merits of the issues that the Ninth Circuit will consider on appeal. For example, in his ruling today, Judge Walker casts serious doubt on whether the proponents of Prop 8 even have "standing" to pursue an appeal because they do not speak for the state of California, and the official representatives of the state agree that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Standing refers to whether a particular person has a legal right to bring an appeal. In his ruling today, Judge Walker said: “As it appears at least doubtful that proponents will be able to proceed with their appeal without a state defendant, it remains unclear whether the court of appeals will be able to reach the merits of proponents’ appeal.”

What would happen if the proponents of Prop 8 do not have standing to appeal?
That would mean that Judge Walker’s decision would go into effect and could not be appealed. Same-sex couples in California would once again be able to marry, and Prop 8 would be permanently struck down.

Who gets to decide whether the proponents of Prop 8 have standing to appeal?
The Ninth Circuit will have the first chance to rule on that issue. No matter which way the Ninth Circuit rules, either side could appeal that decision to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can then choose whether to rule on the issue or let the Ninth Circuit's decision stand.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

BREAKING: Marriages to Resume in CA on August 18

From The Advocate:

Judge Vaughn R. Walker on Thursday put marriage for same-sex couples on hold for at least another six days, extending a temporary stay until August 18 at 5 p.m. and allowing Prop. 8 supporters time to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Marriages could resume at that point or be put off indefinitely, depending on how the court rules.

"Although we're disappointed that Judge Walker elected today to give the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a chance to consider the issue of the stay, we are gratified that he has denied the request to put his historic ruling on hold during any appeals," Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. "He has applied the standard legal tests in the standard way and reached the only logical conclusions given the overwhelming evidence produced at trial: nobody is harmed - especially not the backers of Prop 8 - by restoring equality in marriage to California's same-sex couples. Nobody suffers when everyone is treated equally. There's enough equality to go around."

Though he put a temporary stay on his judgment last week, Walker wrote in his opinion in the case that "California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result[.]"

"Moreover," Walker wrote, "California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings."

Walker ruled last week that the 2008 ballot measure violated both equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Walker wrote in a decision deemed by many legal observers to be both straightforward and breathtaking in its scope.

Prop. 8 proponents have appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some city clerks in California had already given notice they would be performing ceremonies if the stay was immediately lifted. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, couples were allowed to fill out paperwork while awaiting Judge Walker's decision.

Story developing...

Check out PFLAG’s new Degrassi Tie-In Resources!

Last night, we were excited to tune in to watch the newest storyline on Degrassi which features Adam, a trans teen and the challenges that he faces. The episode featured a great portrayal of how many of these very real challenges play out – from finding allies in both friends and his brother, to the harassment he endures when he’s outed by another student, to his mother’s difficulty with achieving full acceptance.

The producers of the show worked with GLAAD to ensure that the portrayal of this student was accurate, and they worked with PFLAG to create a PSA that aired after the episode encouraging viewers who think that they may be trans or who just want to learn more about trans issues to visit PFLAG at http://www.pflag.org/.

If you check out the PFLAG homepage, we’ve got a feature about the show up right now. Or, just start by going to www.pflag.org/degrassi to directly access the resources we collected for this show and to watch the PSA. These resources are all tied to PFLAG’s Transgender Network – or TNET – which you can directly access by visiting www.pflag.org/tnet.

Adam’s story continues on Degrassi this evening, airing on Teen Nick at 9:00 pm (EST) / 6:00 pm (PST). Clips from last night’s episode are available at the Degrassi website, and full episodes are available for download on iTunes. (The series name is “My Body is a Cage”).

Judge to Rule on Stay Thursday in Prop. 8 Case

The Washington Post is reporting that the federal judge who overturned California's same-sex marriage ban is set to rule Thursday on whether gay marriages should resume immediately in the state or await an appeals court's input.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker announced late Wednesday that he would issue his decision by noon on requests to impose a stay that would keep Proposition 8 in effect while its sponsors appeal his decision.

The announcement came after lawyers for gay couples, California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown filed legal motions Friday asking that same-sex marriages be allowed to resume immediately.

Those motions were filed two days after Walker struck down California's voter-approved gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. In his 136-page decision, Walker said gay marriages should begin immediately, but agreed to suspend weddings until he could consider the legal arguments.

California voters passed Proposition 8 as a state constitutional amendment in November 2008, five months after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples already had tied the knot.

Opponents of same-sex marriage said they want Proposition 8 to stay in effect until their appeal of Walker's ruling is decided by higher courts.

They have argued in court papers that resuming gay marriage now would cause legal chaos if the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court eventually reverse Walker's ruling.

Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin, president of the California Association of Clerk and Elected Officials, said county agencies that issue marriage licenses will be ready to serve same-sex couples whenever they get the green light.

Before deciding the case, Judge Walker heard 13 days of testimony and arguments.

Defense lawyers argued that the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

The judge dismissed the notion that gay Americans were seeking a new right as opposed to one already guaranteed them under the Constitution.

He said that preventing gays from marrying does nothing to strengthen heterosexual unions or serve any purpose that justifies the ban's discriminatory effect.

"Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions," the Walker wrote. "Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The PFLAG DVR Alert: Don’t Miss Degrassi Tonight!

For literally millions of viewers around the world – and especially in the U.S. and Canada – the Degrassi TV series is a staple of teen television fare. The long-standing Teen Nick franchise is now in its 10th season and taking on a new nightly novella format to allow more storylines to be incorporated into the ongoing drama about teens and the challenges they face.

This season, Degrassi made headlines as it introduced Adam, the first transgender teen character to appear as a series regular on a scripted TV show.

In the series, Adam and his older brother Drew are new students at Degrassi Community School. Adam is enrolling at the high school as a boy with the support of his family and the school administrators.

As an organization with a long-term commitment to support for our trans family and friends, PFLAG is thrilled about this powerful storyline and the potential that it holds for reaching countless people who need to see this kind of representation.

We’re also especially excited for this evening’s episode. Since we’re not just committed to trans inclusion, but also not divulging any plotline spoilers (or the connections that the show may hold), we won’t say anything beyond this: tune into Degrassi tonight. You won’t be disappointed. Check it out on Teen Nick at 9:00 pm (EST)/6:00 pm (PST) and be sure to check the PFLAG website, too.

Learn more by visiting the Degrassi website now. And you might want to set your DVR, too.

Costa Rica Takes Gay Rights Stand

From The Advocate:

The top court in Costa Rica on Tuesday ruled against a proposed referendum that would have asked voters to decide if the country should recognize same-sex civil unions, the Associated Press reports.

In a 5-2 vote, the constitutional court said that a referendum planned for December would put a minority group—gay people—at a disadvantage. It also ruled that civil unions are a legislative issue, not an electoral one.

Civil unions are not currently recognized in Costa Rica, but the gay rights group The Diversity Movement has submitted a bill to the Legislative Assembly that proposes the recognition.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Join PFLAG National on the Derek and Romaine Show TONIGHT!

Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG National's Director of Equality Partnerships and Communications, is scheduled for a phone interview with Derek and Romaine of Sirius XM Satellite Radio tonight (Monday, Aug 9th) at 7:05 pm ET. She’s going to talk about the next steps for the Perry case and what supporters of equality nationwide need to start doing right now to defend this important decision. She’ll also be talking about our new 2010 edition of Bringing the Message Home, which you can download at www.pflag.org/btmh now.

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 at http://www.sirius.com/.

Common Sense from an Uncommon Ally

Geoffery Stone isn’t just the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. He’s a pretty amazing straight ally, too. And right now at the Huffington Post, he’s taking on the argument being made by anti-equality advocates that last week’s decision in the Perry case was an example of judicial activism trumping the rights of voters.

The big takeaway (for those in need of a preview) is here:

Judge Vaughn's decision is perfectly in line with the Supreme Court's landmark decisions in Brown v. Board of Education, which held that separate is not equal, and Loving v. Virginia, which held that it is not "equal" to deny individuals the freedom to marry a person of another race. Perry is right as a matter of constitutional law, even if it makes the majority unhappy, for the very same reasons Brown and Loving were right.

Now check out the whole article and get the facts that you need to win this argument, fair and square.

Update: Indiana Hospital Responds to Trans Discrimination

Last week we told you about Erin Vaught, a transgender woman who went to an Indiana hospital and was denied treatment because of her transgender status.

Now, Mike Haley, the president and CEO of Ball Memorial Hospital addressed the reports Wednesday, and said the hospital is working with Indiana Equality and the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance to review its policies, employee benefits, and diversity training. Ball Memorial will also implement a Diversity Council to engage local community members on better serving their needs, according to the statement.

Erin Vaught went to the hospital on July 18, but when she tried to submit her information for hospital records, two workers entered her gender as male, despite her identification saying she is female. Vaught said she pointed out that her ID card identifies her as female, to which one worker snickered and the other made an annoyed face. When she was taken to the examination room, hospital staff referred to her as "he-she," "it," and a "transvestite." Two hours passed before she saw a doctor, who then said he couldn't treat her because she is transgender.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage Law Upheld in Mexico City

From The Huffington Post:

Mexico's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a law allowing same-sex marriages in Mexico City is constitutional, rejecting an appeal by federal prosecutors who argued it violated the charter's guarantees to protect the family.

The justices' 8-2 ruling handed a legal victory to hundreds of same-sex couples who have been married in Mexico's capital since the landmark law took effect March 4. When approved last December, it was the first law in Latin America explicitly giving gay marriages the same status as heterosexual ones, including adoption.

The court, however, must still rule on the adoption clause and whether the ruling will affect states outside of the capital. It is expected to address adoption on Monday.

"We are very happy," said Mexico City lawyer Leticia Bonifaz, who argued Mexico City's case. "It fell to us to carry to a conclusion a struggle that has taken a long time."

Justices who voted on the majority side stressed that while Mexico's constitution enshrines protection for families, it does not define what a "family" is.

"It does not appear to me to be unconstitutional," Justice Jose Gudino said during Thursday's session. "The concept of the family established in the constitution ... is an open concept."

Jaime Lopez Vela, a leader of the group Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender, was among a group of activists who celebrated the ruling outside the court.

"Now we hope that the final ruling declares it all constitutional," he said, referring to adoption.

The law was opposed by Mexico's Roman Catholic Church and the conservative government of President Felipe Calderon.

PFLAG Applauds New Joint Commission Recommendations for Patient Care

PFLAG National praised the release of a new publication intended to improve the care that diverse populations receive, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBGT) patients. The publication, issued by the Joint Commission, has significant power in guiding healthcare practices and policies since the guidelines that it issues are followed by about 80% of U.S. hospitals.

"For those with LGBT family and loved ones, knowing that the people that they care about are going to be treated with respect, dignity, and equal treatment is a tremendous relief," said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National's Executive Director. "This publication, containing specific recommendations backed by the authority of the nation's preeminent hospital accreditor, is a major step forward to accomplishing this goal."

The new publication, Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient- and Family-Centered Care: A Roadmap for Hospitals, addresses a wide range of issues relating to LGBT persons, including nondiscrimination policies, the rights of same-sex couples, inclusion of non-custodial parents in caring for children being raised by same-sex parents, how to provide sensitive care to LGBT persons and their families, and other topics. This publication comes on the heels of a January rule issued that rule forbids the hospitals it accredits from discriminating based on a wide range of personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The health care sector as a whole is recognizing that LGBT people and their families have some unique needs and is moving to respond compassionately and effectively to meet those needs," he added.

Huckaby pointed to this guide being an powerful educational companion to PFLAG's Straight for Equality in Healthcare program, which released a 2009 guide for basic cultural competency around LGBT issues for healthcare providers – and the case as to why providers can't ignore this important information. (Straight for Equality in Healthcare resources can be accessed at www.straightforequality.org/healthcare.)

Joel Ginsberg, former Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, advocated for full inclusion of LGBT patients and their families as a member of the Expert Advisory Panel that helped the Joint Commission develop the new standards and guidelines.

"The Joint Commission has taken the right position on many of the most important issues related to LGBT health. This is a huge step forward that has the potential to significantly improve the quality of care that LGBT people receive," said Ginsberg. "The impact may be exponentially larger if we can persuade other parts of the health care sector to follow the Joint Commission's lead."

In April, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to require all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to ensure that LGBT patients are able to exercise full visitation and health care decision-making rights.

Access additional resources now:
* Straight for Equality in Healthcare

* PFLAG National

* Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient- and Family-Centered Care: A Roadmap for Hospitals

* View a list of LGBT-related items from the guide compiled by Dr. Joel Ginsberg

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Webinar Training: Meeting with Your Representative for Family Immigration Rights

Our friends over at Immigration Equality invite you to join them for a webinar training that will focus on how to meet with your Representatives to talk about fixing our broken immigration system.

Ask your Congressperson to Co-Sponsor Inclusive Immigration Reform!

Every day, hundreds of families are separated by our broken immigration system. The best way for you to make an impact is to meet with your Congressperson. Don't know who represents you in Washington? Don't know how to get a meeting? Don't know what to say? Don't worry!

1. First, call your Representative.
Call the Capitol Switchboard right now at (202) 224-3121, and ask to be connected to your Congressperson.

Leave this message: "I am your constituent. I ask you to co-sponsor the Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act. LGBT families must be included in any immigration reform bill."

2. Next, sign up for our online training, where you'll learn everything you need to know about setting up a successful meeting!

When:
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
8 PM Eastern/ 7 PM Central/ 6 PM Mountain/ 5 PM Pacific

Duration: 1 hour

You can access the webinar at
http://www.instantpresenter.com/lgbtforcir1

Toll-free call in number:
1-888-450-5996; access code 328775#

For more information, click here.

Counseling Gay and Questioning Minors about Coming Out

The following article, published in the August 2010 issue of the American Medical Association's Virtual Mentor, was written by PFLAG regional director Dr. Kay Heggestad and her partner, Dr. Paul Wertsch.

The physician treating a gay or questioning minor whose family is unaware of his or her sexual orientation needs to know how to take a thorough history, conduct a sensitive physical exam, and obtain the needed lab evaluations while maintaining confidentiality. The responsible clinician has good resources on hand to give to the adolescent and can balance communication with parents and his or her primary responsibility to the patient.

History-Taking, Physical Exam, and Opening the Dialogue

When the patient confides in the physician about questioning his or her sexuality, particularly if the family does not know, the physician should acknowledge the courage it took to disclose this personal information and communicate to the patient as soon as possible that being gay is normal and OK, that a person is never too young to recognize his or her sexual orientation, and that the physician will accept the patient regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. History-taking and discussion about the patient’s sexual orientation must proceed in a nonjudgmental manner and with the assurance that the doctor will not “out” the patient to anyone, including family members [1].

Laboratory Tests and Sexual Health Counseling

Depending on what is found in the history and physical exam, some testing may be indicated, including some or all of the following: serology for hepatitis A, B and C, venereal disease research laboratory test (VDRL), and HIV; throat and cervical cultures for gonococcal (GC) and chlamydial infections; urethral culture for GC, chlamydia, and lympho-granuloma venereum (LGV); and anal culture for GC and human papilloma virus. This is a good time to make sure that the patient is up to date on immunizations, including hepatitis A and B. Although HPV immunization is only recommended for adolescent girls, it should be offered to male patients after they have come out, when the physician can discuss it with their parents [2].

The doctor needs to be frank about the extent of confidentiality. Depending on the clinic, descriptions like “rectal GC culture” may appear on bills. (In some cases, patients can access information about their visits and tests via a clinic Web site—and, if they are minors, so can their parents.) If there are serious symptoms or exam findings (e.g., a high temperature, a syphilitic chancre, a large abscess), the patient’s parents will probably need to be told about those findings so they can give permission for the necessary treatments.

If the testing cannot be kept confidential at the doctor’s office, another source of testing can be identified. Planned Parenthood offers testing for sexually transmitted infections in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. [3]. They also offer immunizations for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and safe sex counseling and supplies. There may be other local clinics that perform these tests and immunizations. (Access to and payment for these services, however, may present a problem. Getting into a free clinic can be difficult, but it should be encouraged if the patient must have privacy from his or her parents.)

All teenagers would be well served by an in-depth discussion about safe sex practices, including abstinence.

Coming Out

Consider mental health. As part of the history and exam, it is key that the physician evaluate the adolescent’s mental health as well. Coming out can increase the stress, depression, and anxiety of the already turbulent adolescent years, especially if the adolescent feels ostracized, isolated, or rejected by friends or family. If the teen is agitated and there is a concern about suicide, an emergency admission might be in order. A severe but less acute depression might warrant a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist. If the doctor refers the adolescent to a mental health professional, it must be understood that the object is not to change the patient’s orientation, but to help him or her with self-acceptance and coping skills and to supply resources outside the home if he or she feels alienated from, abandoned by, or in conflict with loved ones.

The physician should also make patients aware that GLBT people have a somewhat higher rate of depression and substance abuse, probably related to society’s prejudicial attitudes [4]. This knowledge may help motivate the patient to develop appropriate coping skills early on in order to avoid these pitfalls.

Provide resources and support. The physician should have community resources and other information, such as booklets or Web sites, about coming out at hand.

• Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has an excellent Web site [5] with informative, free, printable booklets for teens and parents. (For teens considering coming out, we recommend “Be Yourself” [6], and for their parents, “Our Daughters and Sons” [7].) Many cities have PFLAG chapters, which can be contacted through the Web site, and the national office can find local contacts for people who live in places that do not.
• Local GLBT centers may also exist where the patient lives. Some of these have teen groups with adult facilitators for kids who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity and considering coming out.
• The Trevor Project operates the only accredited, nationwide, round-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LBGTQ youth [8].
• Many high schools and some middle schools have gay-straight alliances [9].
• If the patient has gay relatives or supportive adult relatives and older siblings, he or she should be encouraged to seek support from them.

Bear in mind the patient’s safety. Before any teen comes out to his or her parents, an assessment must be made of whether it is safe to do so. Some parents already suspect their child is gay and welcome the chance to acknowledge the fact. If there is a chance the teen would be thrown out of the home, coming out should probably wait until he or she is financially self-sufficient or has some other reliable long-term source of room and board. And what about discrimination? A 2006 paper published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted that a disproportionately high number of GLBT kids are homeless, possibly because they were kicked out or just found life intolerable at home after coming out [10]. A physician who knows the patient’s family well may be able to guess how they would take the news.

Protect the patient’s confidentiality when communicating with parents. This brings us to the question of just what the patient’s family should be told. The doctor and patient should plan together what they will say, bring parents or other accompanying people into the exam room, and tell them together. The doctor should explain to the parents that to provide the best care and keep open communication with a teen, he or she must respect the teen’s need for confidentiality. This will allow the patient to feel free to discuss anything. Parents will need to be reassured that medical conditions are being tested for and treated and that the patient’s mental health is being evaluated. If possible, the adolescent should have another appointment in a week or two to follow up about any symptoms or concerns and continue to explore how, and if or when, he or she might come out.

For complete references and to read this entire article, click here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

PFLAG Celebrates CA Decision!

From Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National:

Today, PFLAG National is celebrating the ruling of Judge Vaughn Walker that California’s Proposition 8, is unconstitutional. This decision – the conclusions of the court – validate that not only did the ballot measure violate the rights of equal protection and due process, but it specifically sent a message that opposite-sex marriages were superior to same-sex ones.

We know that simply isn’t true, and we know that in a nation based on liberty and justice for all, that this must be the case – liberty and justice for all.

PFLAG members know how important marriage can be for committed couples and for those raising children. Marriage is a commitment made between two people who love one another and who commit to the obligations that come with and the benefits that spring from contract of marriage. We know that when committed couples are in relationships that are honored through marriage and protected by civil law, families are stronger and communities are healthier.

For all of our gay family members, our friends and our colleagues who were married in California in 2008, and for the tens of thousands who want to commit themselves to their partners in marriage, all of us at PFLAG celebrate today’s ruling. We also extend our gratitude to the legal team who led this charge, and the countless people everywhere who have told their stories of love and commitment to transform hearts and minds on this very simple issue of justice.

Today, as I think about what has happened, I find a quote that sums up today from an unlikely source – Andy Warhol. He once said that, ““They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Today’s win happened because of the work that you are doing in your communities everywhere. Let’s all use Judge Walker’s decision in favor of fairness for all gay couples in California to further inspires us to redouble our efforts to tell our personal stories, to encourage our allies and colleagues to stand up with us, and to help change hearts and minds until full equality is achieved for all of our LGBT loved ones.

You can learn more about the decision by reading PFLAG’s press release. It is available on the PFLAG website right now.

Breaking: Prop 8 Overturned!

“Today’s ruling sent the message that equality means equality for all.”
- Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – PFLAG National – celebrated the U.S. District Court decision that strikes down California’s discriminatory Proposition 8 which denied the right to marry to same-sex couples in the state, stating that the measure violates the U.S Constitution.

“Today is, in no uncertain terms, historic,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National. “With this monumental ruling, all families win and at last have the security of knowing that all of our loved ones – both straight and gay – have the same freedom to marry. Today’s ruling sent the message that equality means equality for all.”

The decision issued today in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger contends that Proposition 8 violates the Constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. In the decision, U.S. District Judge Vaughan Walker concludes that, “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license., the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

“This case provided families across the country with a chance to know that a court heard and accepted their stories of how inequality and discrimination harms their loved ones each day,” said John Cepek, president of PFLAG National. “Once again, we see how telling our stories can and does change hearts and minds.”

Leaders acknowledged that this is not the end of the fight for basic equal rights for all.

“Even as we celebrate today’s victory, know that our work is far from over. Law change is just the start,” said Huckaby. “We need to continue to transform our culture to one that values and treats everyone with the same respect and dignity. There will be more legal challenges, but we’re going to keep doing what we know works telling our stories about our families to change hearts and minds.”

Gay Couples Sue Alaska Over Tax Inequity

From The Advocate:

Three same-sex couples have sued the state of Alaska and the municipality of Anchorage for denying them equal access to property tax exemptions afforded to senior citizens and disabled veterans.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which filed the suit, said that same-sex couples who are seniors or disabled vets currently receive a fraction of property tax exemptions totaling $150,000 available to married couples in the same situation.

Though the state has a constitutional ban on gay marriage, a 2005 Alaska supreme court decision ruled that denying access to health care for same-sex partners of state employees violated the state constitution's equal protection clause.

"Alaska law is clear that denying committed same-sex couples the same rights as married opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional," ACLU of Alaska attorney Tom Stenson said in a statement. "For senior couples and disabled vets, every bit of savings counts. These couples should not have to pay more taxes than other families."

Read more about the lawsuit here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trans Woman Refused Treatment at Indiana Hospital

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a transgender woman said she was ridiculed by hospital staff and eventually denied treatment when she went to a Muncie emergency room coughing up blood.

Officials at Ball Memorial Hospital said they are investigating Erin Vaught's allegations, which triggered complaints from advocacy groups.

"The irony here is that we spend so much time teaching about transgender issues at Ball State University," said Vivian Benge, president of the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance. "And yet there is Ball Memorial Hospital treading a transgender like this. It is so sad."

Vaught is a transsexual, someone who has transitioned or is transitioning from one gender to another, The Star Press reported Friday. In her case, it's from male to female.

Vaught said when she, her wife and son went to the ER on July 18, she was entered into the hospital computer system as male despite an ID that stated she was female.

"I pointed out that my ID says female," Vaught said. "There were two ladies there, and one of them snickered a little bit and covered her mouth. The other got a very annoyed look on her face."

When she went to the exam room, she was met with stares and insults and was referred to as a "he-she," an "it," and a "transvestite."

Vaught said she was kept waiting for two hours without any treatment before a doctor saw her and said she couldn't treat her because of her transgender condition.

"I was confused," Vaught said. "I told them I didn't know my condition, that's why I was there. She said 'No, the transvestite thing.' She said I couldn't see a doctor until I came back with test orders from my doctor in Indy."

Benge said such reactions are not uncommon. But Vaught and her supporters wrote about her experience on the hospital's Facebook page, attracting the attention of advocacy groups including the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance and Indiana Equality.

The groups sent a joint letter to the hospital about how Vaught was "inhumanely treated, dehumanized and disrespected."

Ball Memorial spokesman Will Henderson said the hospital first became aware of Vaught's concerns on July 19 via a Google alert, and that a patient representative was investigating the issue.
"We take our patients' rights policy very seriously," Henderson said.

While the policy doesn't mention transgender people specifically, Henderson said it would apply.

"And, should there be any merit to the concerns expressed in the comments, the Hospital will respond in the appropriate manner," hospital president Michael E. Haley said in a post on Ball Memorial's Facebook page.

Haley said the hospital is "committed to providing care with respect, dignity and courtesy."

Meanwhile, Benge said the Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance has arranged for Vaught to be treated at an Indianapolis hospital.

"We are trying to help her to regain her dignity and humanity," Benge said. "This is a very difficult kind of thing to go through."

Monday, August 2, 2010

National Organization for Marriage Tries to "Protect" Marriage; PFLAG Indianapolis Says Otherwise

Today's guest post come from Annette Gross, PFLAG state coordinator for Indiana and board member of PFLAG Indianapolis.

This past Monday, July 26th, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) came to Indianapolis and held a Rally to “protect” marriage. Prior to the Rally, I was contacted by “Freedom to Marry” – a gay rights organization – and asked to help put together an anti-rally. So PFLAG, together with Indiana Equality and Stonewall Democrats, contacted the GLBT community as well as straight allies through Facebook. In addition to the anti-rally, we decided that we wanted to do something of a positive nature, so PFLAG hosted the showing of “Out in the Silence” that evening. My husband got on the bandwagon and helped me make a sign. We bought stick-on letters and he even made a handle out of wood.

I decided to take the bus downtown. I wasn’t sure if I could get on the bus with my sign, but the bus driver did not comment on it. So off I went to the Statehouse, with my sign. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of over 100 protesters. No sooner did I arrive when a policewoman told me I could not use my sign with the handle. Apparently she thought I might use the wood to hit someone from NOM over the head. That thought never occurred to me, but I did as she asked. I had to take the handle off. A nice young man pulled it off for me, and I tucked it in my bag.

As I was standing with our group, more people kept arriving. As I would later find out, we numbered almost 250 people! That is compared to the 40-50 people that NOM had. The Rally began at 12:00 noon. One of our goals was to drown out the speakers from NOM. We marched from the south side of the Statehouse to the steps, where NOM people were speaking. I didn’t really get to hear what they said because we were chanting so loud. I do know that Maggie Gallagher, president of NOM, was speaking. I didn’t find out what she said until I got home and read her interview on Bilerico.

I have to say we were a polite crowd. There was hardly any physical contact - however, one NOM person did hit a protester in the stomach (she did not press charges). We were told that we had to stay on the sidewalk and leave a path for pedestrians. Eventually, we did climb the Statehouse steps and were marching right in front of the NOM people. I saw one young man on our side almost get into the face of a NOM person, but his friend pulled him away so he wouldn’t get in trouble with the police. The Rally ended a little before 1:00. At that point, many of the protesters posed in front of NOM’s bus to have their picture taken. I declined to go over there.

Later that day, PFLAG hosted the film “Out in the Silence”. I didn’t know how many people would show up and I was a bit nervous. I was hoping for at least 20 people. Much to my surprise, over 50 people came to see the film. Many people came up to me to thank PFLAG for showing the film. So I would say we had two successes that day.

A day after the Rally, I read that NOM went to Madison, Wisconsin for another Rally. I think they had a bad taste in their mouths from their experience here in Indianapolis, because they had the police put yellow tape around the area where they were speaking, so no protesters could get close to them. They must have felt somewhat threatened by the Indy protesters.

I believe that these people are speaking out against gay marriage out of fear. Their status-quo is being threatened and they can’t handle it. It was noted that one of NOM’s signs said “the solution to gay marriage” and underneath that a picture of 2 nooses. That’s pretty scary stuff. We have to speak out whenever we encounter hatred such as this. I am proud that I was able to represent PFLAG and take part in this protest. Hopefully one day equality will prevail and we will not have to protest at a Rally such as this.