Thursday, September 30, 2010

PFLAG Encourages You to Claim Your Rights

Not even one full month into the new school year and we have already learned of six tragic cases of young people being victims of hate crimes and severe bullying in schools. It’s time to take a stand for youth, families and inclusive safer school laws and policies. As we have watched these events unfold over the past month, it is more urgent than ever before that advocating for safer schools must be made an unmitigated priority. These tragedies deserve the undivided attention of all of us. Below are the most recent reports we’ve learned about since the official school year began:

• Asher Brown – Harris, TX – 09/27/10. Asher Brown, a 13 year old eighth grader, put a bullet in his brain this week after enduring years of anti-gay taunting and bullying at his Texas middle school. His parents say they complained to the school repeatedly. The school, of course, claims no knowledge of such complaints. Cy Fair ISD officials alleged Monday that they never received any complaints from Brown's parents before the suicide about the way the boy was being treated at school. School district spokeswoman Kelli Durham said no students, school employees or the boy's parents ever reported that he was being bullied. That statement infuriated the Truongs, who accused the school district of protecting the bullies and their parents. Texas does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.

• Tyler Clementi – New Brunswick, NJ - 09/22/10. A Rutgers University freshman is presumed to have killed himself by jumping off the George Washington bridge after his roommate broadcast live video of him engaged in a sexual act with another man on the internet, according to The New Jersey Star-Ledger. Authorities found 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s car, wallet and computer on the bridge last week. Clementi’s body has yet to be found. Dharun Ravi, 18, and Molly Wei, 18, have both been charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for setting up a camera in a dorm room on Sept. 19 and using it to view and transmit a live sex scene, said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan. Ravi and Clementi were roommates at Rutgers. Ravi’s Twitter feed on September 19 referred to his seeing his roommate engaging in the act in their dorm room. Two days later, Ravi posted an iChat link to a video feed of the encounter.

• Seth Walsh – Tehachapi, CA – 09/10/10. Seth Walsh, a 13-year old California boy hanged himself last week in the wake of what friends and neighbors describe as another case of anti-gay bullying. Police and school officials are investigating the suicide, which occurred in Tehachapi, a town 40 miles east of Bakersfield. Walsh was found Sunday, September 19, unconscious and not breathing, and it appeared he had tried to hang himself from a tree branch, according to police reports. He was rushed by helicopter to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. According to reports, Walsh is openly gay and was taunted by bullies for years, at school and at a local park. Walsh attended Jacobsen Middle School last year and for only two weeks this year, before being transferred to independent study — reportedly because he had been bullied relentlessly. But school officials at Tehachapi Union School District claim there have been no reports of bullying. “The circumstances which led to Seth’s current condition are neither his family’s nor his friend’s focus at this time,” the Walsh family said in a statement earlier this week. “Seth’s family is simply requesting respect for their privacy, positive support and prayers for Seth!” The statement continued: “A negative action … by adults and children … will not solve or help anyone! Violence is not the answer! Please everyone, be kind and love one another!”

• Billy Lucas – Greenburg, IN – 09/09/10. Billy Lucas, 15, took his own life inside his family’s barn in Greenburg, Ind., on September 9. His and the other suicides point not only to bullying as a lingering issue facing many LGBT youth, but also to a culture that continues to condone anti-gay harassment and discrimination in schools across the country. Indiana does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.

• Tyler Wilson - Findlay, OH – 08/31/10. Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old cheerleader was persistently bullied by two boys because of sex-stereotypes. Kristy Wilson, of Findlay, Ohio, told ABC News that she knew her son Tyler would get some flak from classmates for joining a youth football cheerleading squad over the summer, but she never imagined it would turn so violent. Wilson’s mom reached out to school administrators, but was disappointed that they didn’t do more to stop the bullying. Recently, Wilson’s bullies beat him so badly that they broke his arm. According to Wilson’s mom, the beating didn’t break his spirit - Wilson has vowed to continue cheering with hopes it helps him get into college some day. Ohio does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.

• Justin Aaberg - Anoka-Hennepin, MN - 07/09/10. Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old, committed suicide on July 9. Aaberg came out as gay when he was 13 and, as his mom found out only after he hanged himself, suffered tremendously inside. The school district had already suffered the tragedies of two other suicides of LGBT youth within the year on the heels of a widely publicized case where two teachers conspired to harass a student who they thought was gay. Many activists feel the district should be doing more to trump up anti-bullying policies and train staff on how to address LGBT issues with they arise in the classroom. Minnesota does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.

Tragically, Ohio, Texas, and Indiana all lack fully enumerated anti-bullying protections for LGBT school community members and mandatory anti-bullying trainings, which only aggravates the existing problems of unchecked bullying, harassment and discrimination. However, PFLAG and numerous other organizations are working hard to educate school community members on how to advocate for their federal civil rights in the absence of state protections. We stress the need to report incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department. To learn more about how to claim your rights and the rights of LGBT students, please visit our new Claim Your Rights Resource Center.

We also recommend writing to your members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would establish a comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, something that surprisingly only 11 states currently have. Along with SNDA, we encourage promotion of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which instructs school districts to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes specific enumeration for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as well as requires states to include bullying and harassment data in the statewide needs assessments. To learn more about lobbying and talking points for these bills, please check out our latest version of Bringing the Message Home.

The call for action has never been more pressing than today. Please do what you can to reach out to your local school community members to help cultivate respect for all and build safer schools today!



This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

PFLAG / The LA Event - Get Your Tickets Today!

This Friday, October 1, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) National will join with entertainment industry leaders to honor and celebrate the work of Ryan Murphy (CREATOR, GLEE & NIP/TUCK; director of EAT PRAY LOVE) and Lisa Cholodenko (Writer/Director, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT). The evening will be emceed by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet of MODERN FAMILY, and will feature appearances by GLEE’s Jane Lynch, NCIS star Pauley Perrette, Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black (screenwriter, MILK) and a live performance from Grammy-winning musical artist Nelly Furtado.

Among those scheduled to appear are Ryan Murphy, Lisa Cholodenko, Mark Salling (GLEE), Jane Lynch (GLEE), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (MODERN FAMILY), Eric Stonestreet (MODERN FAMILY), Julie Bowen (MODERN FAMILY), Grammy-Winner Nelly Furtado, Pauley Perrette (NCIS), Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, Kirsten Vangsness (CRIMINAL MINDS), Dustin Lance Black (OscarTM winner, MILK), Bryan Singer (X-MEN), Bruce Davison (LONGTIME COMPANION), Laurence Fishburne (CSI), Marlee Matlin (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD), Adam Shankman (SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE), Erin Cummings (DETROIT 187), Jonathan Silverman, Jennifer Finnigan, Levar Burton, Natalie Coler, Stephanie Miller, Sam Harris, Wilson Cruz, Jai Rodriguez, Calpernia Addams, Hal Sparks, and Thea Gill.

For more information, and to purchase tickets, go to www.pflag.prg/thelaevent.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Be the Change on 10.02.10!

The National Press Club was the site for the American Constitution Society’s Voting Rights Symposium on Tuesday, September 28. John Lewis, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th district and a longtime social advocate and leader of the civil rights movement, joined Pulitzer Prize Winner Taylor Branch, author of the 2,912-page trilogy collectively called America in the King Year, for a conversation about the past and the future.

The two gentlemen first began by discussing history and their role in what turned out to be some of the largest civil rights victories in American history. Lewis specifically recalled a conversation former President Lyndon B. Johnson had with Martin Luther King, Jr., where Johnson expressed his thanks to King for mobilizing voters and gaining national recognition of their cause, which allowed the Voting Rights Act of 1964 to pass. The discussion seemed especially poignant in terms of thinking about civil rights today. Branch and Lewis were quick to remind their audience that civil rights is a much more inclusive term than how it is often applied; civil rights are rights for all.

Forty six years after such legislation has passed, society is able to look back and see how trivial such opposition to these particular rights was, which are so clearly deserved by all. Though there is always progress to be made, the amount of road covered has been tremendous thanks in full to those who marched and rallied for their rights and recapitulated the emotional history behind the movement time and again in the way that John Lewis and Taylor Branch have. The question remains, will our generation be afforded such a luxury with the issues that we fight for?

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” While the progressive movement looks bruised, part of the blame belongs to those who continue to stand by and allow the sore to grow worse. Whether the struggle is fighting for marriage equality, non-discrimination in the military, workplace, or schools, adoption rights, or any of the other forms of discrimination that affect the LGBT community or the progressive movement as a whole, we need to make our presence known and inspire the change we wish to see in this country. On October 2, join PFLAG National along with 150 other organizations for the One Nation Working Together March to make clear our commitment to progression forward.

RSVP now to let us know you will join us at the march on 10.2.10.

Location: Meet-up at Freedom Plaza @ 10 am – look for the rainbow flags at the southwest corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania.

Dress: Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and breakout your PFLAG T-shirts, buttons, rainbow flags and banners.

Date: 10/02/2010 from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm (Eastern Time)

Hosted By: One Nation Working Together

RSVP by: October 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Endorsed by: In addition to PFLAG National, over 150 allied organizations support this march

How to get involved:
E-mail the Task Force to let us know you’re coming!
Ride share or get on a bus to come to the rally in Washington, D.C.!
Find a local event for Oct. 2!
RSVP for the rally!

If we allow our opportunities for change to pass us by, we won’t be afforded the chance to look back at the great strides we made at this point in history while being given such ripe opportunity, and we will not be allowed to enjoy the freedoms and justice we dream of on the way there.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Another Bullying-Related Suicide – and a Call to Claim Your Rights

Yesterday news broke about Asher Brown, an eighth-grader in the Houston, TX area, who was found dead in his stepfather’s closet. The 13-year-old boy had shot himself in the head after what, according to his mother, was relentless bullying and harassment from classmates, much of which centered around being teased for being gay.

Beyond the obvious tragedy that we have lost yet another child to bullying-related suicide is the fact that Brown’s mother, Amy Truong, tells reporters that she made multiple calls and reports to Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District asking them to address the persistent harassment and bullying of her son by four other students. Truong says that none of the calls were returned, and the school district claims that such calls were never placed and any investigations that were done turned up no evidence of a problem.

Regardless of what transpired, the fact is this: another child is dead.

While there is nothing that could ever remedy this situation, this needs to be another call to action to all of us to demand that bullying and harassment are addressed in schools. One of the most important tools that we have for this is right at your fingertips – the PFLAG / GLSEN Claim Your Rights Campaign.

In order to make the case for legislation that will address bullying and harassment, create resources to respond, and create accountability for dealing with these cases before they become tragedies, we need your help. We need to be able to prove that this is a persistent and widespread problem that needs to be seriously addressed immediately. Your reports can help do that.

Please – if you are being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity – check out the Claim Your Rights resources and consider filing a report. It is only with everyone working together to send a message that this is an issue and it must be addressed that we can end these kinds of cases.

This time, it actually is a matter of life and death. Claim your rights now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

PFLAG / THE LA EVENT is Three Days Away…Do You Have Your Tickets?

Join us for a fabulous evening to celebrate PFLAG’s accomplishments and honor Ryan Murphy (GLEE) and the film, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT at PFLAG / THE LA EVENT on October 1 in West Hollywood. Special appearances will be made by Jane Lynch (GLEE), Jessee Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (MODERN FAMILY), and Pauley Perrette (NCIS). We’ll also have a special musical performance by Grammy winner Nelly Furtado. Additional guest names are being announced, so get your tickets now. Learn more at www.pflag.org/thelaevent.

ME Human Rights Commission Issues Historic Ruling

The Maine Human Rights Commission issued a historic ruling on September 20 that Orono Middle School unlawfully discriminated against a transgender sixth grad student for denying her access to the girl's restroom – instead, she was forced to use a gender-neutral bathroom. The student's parents had contended that the policy isolated and alienated their child, in effect creating a hostile educational environment.

In its ruling on Monday, the panel cited that the school discriminated against the student by denying her access to the girl’s restroom. Despite the school department’s warning that schools around the state may not be ready to manage the practical fallout from the decision, civil liberties advocates hailed the ruling as a historic advancement for basic human rights. The ruling moves equality forward for a vulnerable population of students that should be entitled to the full protection under the law.

We know from experience that Orono Middle School’s case is not isolated, and there are school districts across the country in desperate need of cultural competency trainings to help comply with human rights laws providing civil rights protections to transgender and gender non-conforming students. In order to help meet this need, we continue to offer tools such as our Claim Your Rights Resource Center and trainings like our Cultivating Respect Program that foster safer learning environments for all students, including transgender and gender non-conforming young people. We applaud the Maine Human Rights Commission’s ruling and welcome the opportunity to help inform recommendations to schools throughout Maine on how to comply with the law.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

With Justice for….???

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has never been what we’d see as an advocate for the movement for LGBT equality. His dissenting opinion in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas compares anti-sodomy laws to anti-child molestation and laws against bestiality and incest.

But recently his “originalist” rhetoric simply went too far. Scalia has now claimed (on the record) that the U.S. Constitution provides no civil rights protections based on gender or sexual orientation. He also claims that the 14th amendment should not be applied to issues of gender bias or discrimination based on sexual orientation because it was not what was intended in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Scalia believes that the Constitution and its amendments should be interpreted in the context of those lawmakers who wrote them and the time period in which they lived and claims that "You do not need the Constitution to reflect the views of current society.”

Worried about things like this? You can be helping influence those making decisions about our laws and how they’re interpreted. If you would like to learn more about this and other stories to stay informed please sign up for PFLAG National’s Email Alerts.

Indiana Suicide Invokes Inspiring YouTube Outreach

On September 13, we learned that a Billy (William) Lucas, a 15-year-old student at Greensburg High School in Indiana, tragically took his own life, after enduring persistent bullying and harassment for being “different.” While many of Lucas’ classmates perceived him to be gay, he had not come out to anyone. His mother found him after he had hanged himself in his grandmother’s barn, reportedly shortly after kids at school had verbally taunted him and told him to “go kill himself.”

In response to this tragedy, Dan Savage, a gay political blogger and activist who was moved by the news of Lucas’ passing, has teamed with his longtime partner Terry to create a new Youtube channel titled the “It Gets Better.” The channel is an attempt to reach out to LGBT youth and assure them that their experiences in high school are not indicative of how the rest of their lives will play out. Savage’s goal is to recruit others in telling their own individual stories and providing encouragement for those who may be suffering through the trials and tribulations that someone like Billy Lucas was facing.

To date, hundreds of videos have been uploaded by family and friends of LGBT youth along with LGBT people themselves to voice their support and demonstrate how their lives have improved or how they managed to get through high school, despite the obstacles. To visit the channel or to contribute to the cause with your own video, click here. In addition to sharing your stories, we encourage you to continue educating and engaging community members in school districts across the country about how to cultivate respect and build safer schools for all students. There are three key things you can do today to help:

1. Report incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department. To learn more about how to file a claim, please visit our new Claim Your Rights Resource Center.

2. Write to your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. and S.) along with the Student Non-Discrimination. To learn more about lobbying and talking points for these bills, please check out our latest version of Bringing the Message Home.

3. Learn more about our Cultivating Respect Program and the top ten ways to make schools safer for all students by clicking here.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

PFLAG National Honors Ryan Murphy, The Kids Are All Right, and Features Nelly Furtado at PFLAG / THE LA EVENT!

HOLLYWOOD, September 24, 2010 – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National will join with entertainment industry leaders to honor the contributions of producer Ryan Murphy (GLEE; EAT PRAY LOVE) and the creators of the hit film THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT at the first-ever PFLAG /LA EVENT to be held on Friday, October 1st at the London West Hollywood.

“For nearly 40 years, PFLAG’s work has supported families and strengthened communities with a message of unconditional love and acceptance,” said PFLAGs executive director Jody M. Huckaby. “This event will give PFLAG the opportunity to honor entertainment industry leaders who are advancing the same message through their work.”

Event Co-Chair Daniel Sladek, (Emmy Award-nominated executive producer of PRAYERS FOR BOBBY), echoed Huckaby’s sentiments. “Ryan Murphy and Lisa Cholodenko have put the stories of LGBT youth, parents, their families and friends in millions of homes and movie theatres around the country. We are so proud to honor their accomplishments on this occasion, the first LA Event PFLAG National has produced in its long history as a leader in the LGBT equality movement.”

The LA Event will be hosted by Emmy Award-winner Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson from ABC’s hit comedy MODERN FAMILY, and will include appearances by Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch (GLEE) and Pauley Perrette (NCIS). Additionally, the event will have a live musical performance by Grammy-Award winning recording artist Nelly Furtado.

“We are thrilled to have the tremendously talented Nelly Furtado performing at this inaugural event,” added Sladek.

The PFLAG LA Event Host Committee features some of the industry’s top talent – and advocates for equality – including co-chairs Daniel Sladek, David Permut and Chris Taaffe (Emmy Award-nominated executive producers of PRAYERS FOR BOBBY), screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Academy Award®-winner, MILK), director Bryan Singer (X-MEN; SUPERMAN RETURNS), Laurence Fishburn (Academy Award®-nominee, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT ; CSI), Jane Lynch, Marlee Matlin (Academy Award®-winner CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD), producer Bruce Cohen (Academy Award®-winner, AMERICAN BEAUTY and MILK), Dan Jinks (Academy Award®-winner, AMERICAN BEAUTY and MILK), Linda Berman, Brian Graden (former MTV President of Entertainment and founder of Logo), Erwin More (agent), and Jeff Olde (VH1 programming chief).

For more information, please visit http://www.pflag.org/TheLAEvent.

Marlee Matlin Invites You to the PFLAG LA Event on October 1




To learn more and purchase tickets, click here.

Flip-Flops in Florida

Charlie Crist, the current Governor (and recently-converted) independent Senate candidate from Florida, released a nine-point policy statement articulating his stance on LGBT equality issues. Observers continue to question whether this effort is a sincere change of heart or purely politically motivated. What we do know is that the move is a fantastic development for the Florida Senate race as it brings many LGBT Issues to the forefront of a closely-watched campaign.

In the statement, Crist voiced support for ENDA, the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the existence of legally-recognized civil unions, and immigration equality. The most controversial position – his support of same-sex adoption – has received a great deal of attention from the media, activist community, and from both his Republican and Democratic opponents.

Why? Besides the bold move, in 2006 Crist – then a Republican – ran on a platform of “traditional family values” (which, at the time, looked nothing like the traditional family values PFLAGers hold) and blasted his opponent for supporting marriage equality and adoption rights with mailers like this.

To dispel criticism in regards to his previous positions, since the policy paper was released, Crist announced that he would attempt to drop the state of Florida’s appeal in a Miami-Dade County case, disputing the legal adoption of half-brothers to a North Miami gay couple.

But it seems as if he won’t get that chance. The Third District Court of Miami announced yesterday that Florida’s total ban on adoption by gay and lesbians is unconstitutional. Many of you read the news Wednesday that Martin Gill and his family have won their case.

What happens next? We’re all going to be watching. If you’re interested in learning more, stay tuned on the blog. Want to talk to your legislators about these issues? Check out PFLAG’s Bringing the Message Home resources to get started.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

National LGBT Organizations Launch Claim Your Rights Campaign

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National join with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) today to launch their Claim Your Rights campaign, a historic effort to empower students and their allies to report incidences of bullying, harassment, or discrimination to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department. The campaign launch coincides with the release of GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, which found that 85% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students report being harassed in school in the past year due to their sexual orientation. Moreover, 63.7% of LGBT students report being harassed because of how masculine or feminine they are in appearance or behavior.

“With fewer than 1 in 5 LGBT students saying their school specifically protects students from anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, it comes as no surprise that nearly two-thirds of LGBT students who experience harassment do not report the incident to school staff,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “The Claim Your Rights Campaign provides students a safe way to report bullying and harassment.”

“When students and teachers, parents and allies make reports of bullying, harassment, or discrimination directly to the Education Department, they are building a record that will confirm what we know through research and personal narratives alike: bullying and harassment is widespread, pervasive, destructive, and must be addressed,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National Executive Director. “It is our hope that our colleagues within the Obama Administration and our elected officials will take action immediately to remedy these disparities that far too many LGBT students experience daily,” Huckaby continued.

The new effort to report incidents of bullying, harassment, and discrimination includes a basic toolkit and instructions on how to submit a report online that can be found on both the PFLAG National (www.pflag.org/claimyourrights) and GLSEN’s websites.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PFLAG Applauds FL Court Decision on LGBT Adoption Rights

We are thrilled to have received news concerning an important ruling made by the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami on Wednesday morning. The ruling stated that Florida’s adoption ban on prospective LGBT parents is unconstitutional and affirmed the adoption of two foster children by a gay Northern Miami couple.

Martin Gill and his longtime partner began fostering their two children, one four-year old and one four-month old, in 2004. They arrived with medical problems and other needs; one of the children arrived wearing a dirty adult-sized t-shirt and sneakers four sizes too small. Both children were suffering from ringworm and the four-month-old suffered from an untreated ear infection. The four-year-old did not speak and his main concern was changing, feeding and caring for his baby brother. According to the case report, the two children thrived in Mr. Gill’s household. In 2007, Gill filed a petition to adoption, and the case has made its way through the courts since that time. Many believe the case will eventually wind up in Florida’s Supreme Court.

The unanimous opinion was agreed upon by the three judges who reviewed the case, Gerald B. Cope Jr., Frank A. Shepherd and Vance E. Salter, who wrote a concurring opinion. “Given a total ban on adoption by homosexual persons, one might expect that this reflected a legislative judgment that homosexual persons are, as a group, unfit to be parents,” the opinion states. “No one in this case has made, or even hinted at, any such argument…To the contrary, the parties agree `that gay people and heterosexuals make equally good parents.’”

This ruling is a major victory for prospective adoptive LGBT parents in the state of Florida, which is the only state that affirmatively bans LGBT parents from adopting. As PFLAG congratulates Mr. Gill and all LGBT and allied Floridians on today’s victory, we look to the road ahead in hopes that the higher courts will agree with this decision and strike a law that has been on Florida’s books and conscience for thirty-three years. To learn more about PFLAG National’s work on adoption and foster care matters, please visit our website.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Coming Soon to Washington

Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware sent shockwaves through the mainstream media last Tuesday when she upset Republican Mike Castle in the primary for the nomination in this year’s special election to replace Joe Biden.

Interestingly, O’Donnell’s win has caused LGBT observers to start shedding light on the candidates decidedly LGBT-unfriendly past.

CSPAN currently offers a video that provides some details. In the mid 90’s, as founder and President of The Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT), O’Donnell spoke out against HIV/AIDS funding for research and to develop prevention and treatment programs because in her opinion an HIV diagnosis was caused by a lifestyle choice. She detailed her objections to calling individuals with HIV/AIDS “victims” and claimed that prevention programs in the US and abroad will do nothing to stop the spread of the disease.

But that wasn’t all. While working with SALT O’Donnell also dabbled in “reparative therapy” and thought that homosexuality could be “cured” and spent much of her time in California promoting this idea. In a 2006 candidate profile O’Donnell called homosexuality an “identity disorder” which is a concept that was dispelled by the modern psychiatric, scientific, and medical communities nearly 4 decades ago.

A former aid and former darling of the ex-gay movement recently spoke out about his experience with O’Donnell and the way she treated him after he came out in 2000. Further complicating her positions this aid’s experience informs us that O’Donnell’s sister is a lesbian living in California. Maybe their family would benefit from PFLAG’s Tips for a Happy Holiday?

Clearly, Ms. O’Donnell’s success sends some bleak messages to equality advocates about some of the candidates coming soon to Washington. Interested in why some of her platforms – like advocating for reparative therapy – are so bad? PFLAG has more info on the topic here.

Join PFLAG National at the One Nation Working Together March on 10.02.10

On Saturday, October 2nd 2010, the Lincoln Memorial will be the site of an afternoon rally, headed by a broad coalition of progressive organizations under the united theme of ‘One Nation Working Together’. The march is an effort to organize one of the most inclusive progressive coalitions assembled to date. Precisely one month after this gathering in the capital, Americans will go to the polls in midterm elections that threaten to make progressive change in this country even more difficult than it has proven to be under the historic election of President Obama and majorities of fair-minded legislators in both the House and the Senate.

Such heights, however, should not obscure what is undeniably irrefutable: our chances for progress on employment protections, partner and family recognition, and perhaps even an issue on which we seem to have turned a corner, repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, will endure neglect if control of Congress falls into the hands of those legislators against equality for all. A blind eye will immediately be turned on all of the progress we have worked relentlessly to procure so far.

The day will see hundreds of thousands of people from across America gather at the Lincoln Memorial to demonstrate re-commitment to change. The One Nation March will feature human and civil rights leaders, labor leaders, environmental and peace activists, faith leaders, celebrities and sports figures – all marching together to help reorder our national priorities so that investments in people come first.

Our friend, Jasper Hendricks, III, Director of Public Engagement at the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT advocacy group, sees the march not only as an opportunity to energize the progressive movement a month before midterm elections, but also as an opportunity to show the Obama administration and the Democratic Congressional Leadership the aspirations of the left, and to demonstrate the power of a coalition of progressive groups coming together under united front advocating for jobs, justice and peace.

PFLAG is one of many groups mobilizing to participate. LGBT organizing for the march is being handled by an “LGBTQ table,” spearheaded by the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Stonewall Democrats, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), and Pride at Work, the LGBT group within the AFL-CIO. Their coordination has included the participation of groups including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Immigration Equality, the grassroots group GetEqual, and the Equality Federation, representing state-level LGBT rights organizations. PFLAG believes that working together as one united coalition with both LGBT-related organizations along with groups committed to the progressive movement as a whole is an overwhelmingly positive action to help amplify LGBT policy priorities. A fragmented, cleaved movement made by different associations with the same aspirations is much less powerful than a consolidated, cooperative effort, and we are looking forward to displaying commitment to such a commitment on October 2nd. We hope to see you there!

For more information on how you can participate, visit One Nation Working Together here.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PFLAG National Disappointed by Senate Vote Stalling DADT Repeal

It became clear as Senator Susan Collins of Maine stated her opinion on the floor of the Senate today that the end was still out of sight for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. “I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.” Collins stated. She first made an impassioned plea for striking “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from law by passing The Defense Authorization Act, stating “I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s only fair,” but she followed by stating, “I cannot proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down debate and preclude republican amendments. That too is not fair.”

Democrats persistently reiterated that the vote was simply a push to proceed with debate, not the vote to pass the proposed legislation. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, took the Senate floor after Collins to say that he agreed that members should have the opportunity to amend it, but Republicans planned to filibuster the motion to proceed to the debate - and without proceeding to the debate, there could be no amendments.

Republicans, including Senator John McCain, (R-AZ) put forth the same offense they have repeated in recent weeks; stating the DREAM Act – a bill that would allow certain undocumented high school graduates conditional permanent residency - and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are tacked on to the Defense Authorization Bill extraneously and do not specifically relate to the bill, along with echoing Collins’ concern of the feared inability to add amendments and debate the bill openly and freely.

Another blow to the Democrats was Obama's pick to lead the Marine Corps telling a Senate panel today that he worried changing the policy would serve as a "distraction" to Marines fighting in Afghanistan.

"My primary concern with proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations," Gen. James Amos said in a written statement provided to the panel for his confirmation hearing. Senator McCain directly referenced the quote and read General Amos’ words aloud to further his argument on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, maintained repeal would return again before the year was out, and that the proposed legislation would make its way through Congress one way or another.

Earlier today, PFLAG, along with numerous other organizations, sent a letter to the Senate members, urging them to support repeal for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. In the letter, PFLAG and our allied organizations outlined the poignant reasons as to why the law no longer belongs in effect, referencing the testimonies given by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen. The letter also evidenced where the American public stands on repeal – which an overwhelming majority support at 79% for repeal – as well as recent judicial decisions calling the law unconstitutional. Despite this, the Senate did not meet the 60 votes needed for cloture to move the bill to debate on the floor; the vote was 56-43. While we at PFLAG National are immensely disappointed by this decision, we are still wholeheartedly committed to fight against the law that denies our loved ones the opportunity to serve simply because of who they are.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

DADT repeal vote live at 2:15 pm (EST)

A vote to proceed to the Defense Authorization bill will occur today at 2:15 pm in the Senate. For those interested, you can watch what will prove to be a lively debate here: http://www.cspan.org/.

Below is a letter PFLAG National endorsed in support of DADT repeal that was sent to the Senate earlier today.

Dear Senator:
We write to urge your support for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the current law prohibiting lesbians and gays from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. Right now, one of the greatest threats to securing equality and strengthening our national security are possible amendments designed to delay and kill repeal language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

As the recent cases of Log Cabin Republicans vs. U.S. and Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach demonstrate, DADT undermines national security by disrupting the work of well-qualified and experienced service members. A 19-year combat aviator with over 2,000 total flying hours and 25 million dollars in training, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is now about to be drummed out of the Air Force after being outed by a spiteful civilian. This situation not only harms military readiness but also disrespects a combat veteran’s selfless service.

DADT is the only law in the country that requires people to be dishonest about their personal lives or face the possibility of being fired. Poll after poll shows that the attitudes of today’s service members
have changed and they care more about their fellow service member’s ability to help in accomplishing missions than who they are as a person. Further, the American public stands with them – 79 percent, a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, support repealing DADT and allowing gays and lesbians to serve with integrity, openly and honestly.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen have told Congress that it is time to repeal DADT. Adm. Mullen testified that “we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution." In addition, Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary in the first Bush administration; and retired Gen. James Jones, former Marine Corps Commandant, have all indicated their support for repealing DADT.

Furthermore, the Comprehensive Review Working Group at the direction of the Department of Defense is currently assessing how best to implement a repeal of DADT. Their report is due December 1, 2010 and the repeal language currently before the Senate states that the report must be reviewed and certified by the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that repeal will not harm the military before any change in the DADT law would be enacted.

We urge you to support the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and vote against any effort to filibuster, strike or add amendments to the repeal language as it stands.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tell Your Senators to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Today

Critical votes in the Senate are needed to repeal the unjust "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. We expect the Senate to vote on the Defense Authorization bill, which includes a DADT repeal amendment offered by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) this Friday. If passed by the Senate, we will be one step closer to repealing the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law once and for all. For repeal to advance, we need 60 votes in the Senate.

We can only secure these votes if you take action today! E-mail your Senator.

All of your calls, e-mails, letters, and visits have brought us to this moment. If you've voiced your opinion anytime in the past few months or years – please take a few minutes and do so again. If this is your first time, your voice is seriously needed. Call or e-mail your Senators today! Urge them to vote with Senator Harry Reid and Senator Carl Levin in opposing a filibuster, or any amendment to strike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal from the larger defense spending bill. Be sure to tell your Senators to take a final vote on the defense spending bill before leaving for the election recess. This action would help ensure the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Poll: 52% of Americans for Marriage Equality

From The Advocate:

A new national poll from the Associated Press found that 52% of Americans support marriage equality, following a CNN poll last month that showed a similar finding.

The AP poll asked 1,007 Americans, "Should the Federal Government give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same-sex, or not?’ 52% of those polled responded ‘Yes.’ 46% responded ‘No.’ And 2% responded ‘Don't know.’”

Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement, "For the second time, a national poll shows that a majority of Americans support the freedom to marry, reflecting the growing momentum of the marriage movement and a growing awareness in America of who gay people are and why marriage matters to same-sex couples and their families. Echoing the findings of last month's CNN poll, the Associated Press poll shows that those who would deny liberty and equal protection to same-sex couples are now in the minority. Even in a moment in which most people are focused on the economy and unemployment, Americans are still speaking up for our country's core values that the majority should not deny a minority its rights and that we must uphold the Constitution's enduring promise of equal protection for all. But with many hearts and minds still to be changed, we must continue to make as strong a case for the freedom to marry in the court of public opinion as in the court of law. The work on Freedom to Marry's Roadmap to Victory - winning more states, continuing to change hearts and minds, and ending federal marriage discrimination - is more urgent than ever. We must ensure that political and legal change keep pace with growing public support for the freedom to marry."

Friday, September 17, 2010

GLSEN and National Collaboration for Youth’s 2009 National School Climate Survey

GLSEN has partnered with the National Collaboration for Youth to release its biennial National School Climate Survey. The research was conducted during the 2008-2009 school year using various methods including paper surveys, online surveys, along with pinpointing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students and asking them to participate through means of social networking websites like Facebook and Myspace.

In 1999, GLSEN began data collection on the school experiences of LGBTQ students in order to fill a critical void in knowledge and understanding of the ways LGBTQ issues play out in our nation’s schools. Specifically, the 2009 survey includes 7,261 students from 2,783 unique public and private school districts representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey selected students representing diverse backgrounds in grades 6-12, and participants’ ages ranged from 13-18. The study focuses in on indicators of school climate as far as biased language, safety, and victimization; the effects of negative school climate on victims, the various resources available and the access students have to them, as well as the changes in trends noticed over time.

The 2009 survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns. The effects of being unfocussed on academics at school or the feeling of fear associated with attending are obvious; the reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).

Unfortunately, LGBT students’ experiences with harassment and assault have remained relatively constant over the last 10 years. However, there has been an increase over time in the presence of several LGBT- related resources and supports in school, specifically: gay-straight alliances or other student clubs that address LGBT issues in education; school staff who were supportive of LGBT students; and LGBT-related materials in school libraries, which are all things the study finds to have contributed to more positive experiences for LGBT students in terms of dealing with less verbal harassment, less absenteeism, greater academic achievement, and a greater sense of belonging within the school community.

For more information on GLSEN and National Collaboration for Youth’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, click here, and to learn more about PFLAG’s work to cultivate respect in our nation’s classrooms, please click here.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Attitudes Changing About Same-Sex Couples, Legislation Slow to Follow

Americans’ perception of same-sex couples seems to be changing slowly over time, despite the legislation corresponding to the altered attitudes lagging behind. The findings are reported in a new book, Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family, according to part of a survey conducted this year as well as in 2003 and 2006 by Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. The book was published on Wednesday, September 16 by the Russell Sage Foundation. Since the surveys began, the proportion of people who reported having a gay friend or relative rose 10 percentage points, according to Powell.

Major findings of the survey [free subscription required] included that most Americans now say their definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as well as married gay and lesbian couples. The survey also found a growing acceptance that genetics, rather than parenting, peers or God’s will, was responsible for sexual orientation. However, most do not consider unmarried cohabiting couples, either heterosexual or same-sex, to be a family unless they have children. The researchers also believed that while many Americans were willing to accept same-sex marriage today, there was a significantly lower amount who were willing to embrace the idea.

While the slight shift in attitude is a positive sign that Americans are becoming more accepting, the reluctance to label LGBT couples as a family is slightly disheartening. The resistance reflects the failure of our federal government to extend equal rights to LGBT individuals and their families regarding this issue, despite the progress evidenced in some places across the country, as well as the capability displayed by LGBT parents and families in those areas. Approximately 1 million LGBT parents are already raising about 2 million children in the U.S. according to data taken from the 2000 Census. An estimated 27 percent of same-sex couples have at least one child under 18 living in their home. Some states already apply non-discrimination principles in their foster care and adoption practices to great success. There are even states like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey and New York that affirmatively allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly.

Sadly, the majority of states lack non-discrimination policies and remain silent on how prospective LGBT foster and adoptive parents are to be considered. Moreover, many states like Florida, Utah, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah have policies and practices that adversely impact LGBT and unmarried parents. These restrictions for LGBT families come in light of 30 years of scientific research that overwhelmingly confirms that children raised in LGBT-headed households have the same advantages and expectations for health, social and psychological adjustment, and development as children whose parents are heterosexual.

PFLAG, in coalition with other national organizations, is taking the lead in advocating for the Every Child Deserves a Family (ECDF) Act, a bill which would prohibit any child welfare service provider receiving federal assistance and involved in adoption or foster care placements from discriminating against prospective adoptive or foster parents solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, or on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved. The bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide support for service providers to ensure understanding of the legal, practice, and culture changes required by this Act in making foster care and adoption placement decisions. PFLAG is committed to such legislation because every child deserves to grow up in a safe and supportive environment, and passage of ECDF would open the doors to the homes of more than 2 million LGBT people who would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents but face barriers because of existing laws or policies.

PFLAG encourages you to urge your members of Congress to support passage of ECDF. Please be sure to click here to take action today!

For more information on PFLAG’s commitment to ECDF or to learn more about the legislation and what you can do to help, please click here.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

LGBT Couples Deserve Immigration Equality

On Wednesday, March 3 2010, an unusually elongated line of people formed at the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court, many of whom were members of the LGBT community appearing on the first day legally possible for same-sex couples to apply to be married. Tears of joy streamed down the faces of community members and allies alike, ecstatic that their relationships were finally being recognized as equal in the eyes of their local government.

A couple from Woodley Park, John Beddingfield and Erwin de Leon, were among those who obtained a marriage license soon after the law passed. The duo quietly exchanged vows before a justice of the peace after being together for twelve years. But even as they were accomplishing something that took so long to come to fruition for them and numerous others within the LGBT community, they could not experience the same amount of unfettered joy that most couples were experiencing. Erwin de Leon, a doctoral student from the Philippines, is currently in the United States with a student visa that is set to expire next year. While this wouldn’t be a problem for heterosexual married couples, who can apply for a visa using the family immigration system, the federal government does not recognize same-sex couples, and thus disallows them to apply for a visa on these grounds.

The family immigration system accounts for a majority of the green cards and immigrant visas granted annually by the United States. About 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the United States include at least one foreign partner, according to an analysis of census data by researcher Gary Gates at UCLA's Williams Institute. Though five states and D.C. issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a large number of the 24,000 so-called bi-national couples in long-term relationships live in states that do not allow or recognize same-sex marriage.

Immigration reform has already provided impassioned debate amongst Americans and is sure to become even more contentious when placed on center stage in Congress. Groups forming coalitions working to create a bill that they hope will forge swift movement through Congress worry that the inclusion of equal treatment for same-sex partners of U.S. citizens within the reform will create strong opposition and doom any hopes for dramatic and necessary change. However, those arguing that this is a civil rights issue and blaming xenophobia and racism for anti-immigrant sentiment while simultaneously arguing against equal rights for same-sex couples have it wrong; in order to preserve the idea that America is based upon equality, freedom, and opportunity, all minority groups, including the LGBT community, need to be represented within federal immigration reform.

PFLAG is committed to LGBT couples enjoying the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. A step in the right direction is The Uniting American Families Act, a bill Introduced in the House by Representative Jerold Nadler, (D-NY), and in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on February 12, 2009. The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for immigration benefits under the same rules and regulations that married couples currently enjoy. The Act provides measures to prevent fraud and guarantee that real families are utilizing the benefits. PFLAG encourages you to stand up for LGBT rights by urging your members of Congress to support a truly inclusive immigration reform package that include UAFA. Please be sure to click here and take action today!


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Effective December, Trans People Can Openly Serve in Australian Military

Australian Defence Force Chief Agnus Houston


As we struggle in this country to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban that bars gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving openly in the military, Australia has announced that trans people will now be allowed to serve openly in its military.

According to The Advocate, A member of the Australian military's desire to transition has led to the repeal of the nation's ban on transgender service members.

The announcement from Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston (pictured) came Monday, 18 years after the force repealed the ban on gay and lesbian troops, according to Crikey.com.

The policy is scheduled to become effective in December. Houston said commanders must “manage ADF transgender personnel with fairness, respect, and dignity ... and existing medical review provisions; and ensure all personnel are not subjects to unacceptable behavior.”

To read more about this story, click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Representative Tammy Baldwin Introduces Legislation to Identify LGBT Health Disparities

Yesterday, Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Health Data Collection Improvement Act (H.R. 6109), a bill that would improve the health care system for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans by allowing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect voluntary data on sexual orientation and gender identity in programs and surveys supported by the Department.

“Currently, the federal government does not collect any information about the health and well-being of LGBT Americans. Consequently, our knowledge of the health of the LGBT community is drastically insufficient and our current health care system fails LGBT individuals on many levels,” said Representative Baldwin. “Although we have ample anecdotal evidence of LGBT health disparities, only valid research data will allow us to take critical steps toward improving the health of LGBT Americans and their families,” Baldwin said.

As was the case for other minority communities in the U.S., federal health surveys can illuminate disparities and differences, and help to determine program priorities for federal, state, and local government. Baldwin’s legislation parallels the data collection requirements in current law for data on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, and disability status.

Baldwin’s legislation requires the Secretary of HHS to incorporate standards for the development of questions and the appropriate and confidential collection of information on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also directs that this information be analyzed to assess disparities in health status and access to healthcare. Ultimately, H.R. 6109 will allow health researchers, LGBT community organizations, and government agencies to better assess the health and wellness issues affecting the LGBT community and individuals. In addition, it will allow both private and public funds to better target evidence-driven LGBT health programs.

We applaud Congressman Baldwin for her continued leadership on this matter, and we believe the legislation is a good first step to better understanding ways to improve the overall health and well-being of LGBT Americans and their families. Moving forward, this legislation will be considered today at 4 pm by the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee – the Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on pending public health legislation, which included the Health Data Collection Improvement Act. You can view the hearing at 4 pm here. The bill will then be marked up by the Health Subcommittee tomorrow, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as it continues to advance in the House.

To learn more about PFLAG’s work on improving federal data collection, please be sure to visit our website.

Discharged Air Force Major May Provide Another Judicial Blow to DADT

Coming on the heels of the opinion made by Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court in California stating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional, another important case made its way to court on Monday, September 13. The focus of the case is Major Margaret Witt, 46, who served in the Air Force for 17 years before being discharged because of the military’s enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. The Air Force launched an investigation upon receiving notification of a same-sex relationship Witt was involved in from a third party in 2004, and she was in turn discharged in 2007.

After a federal judge dismissed her initial lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated the case, ruling in 2008 that the government had to meet a higher standard of scrutiny before intruding on her private life. Major Witt’s trial will provide an unparalleled opportunity for her representation in court to attack the central premise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: that allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve openly divides units and undermines military readiness. Witt comes armed with numerous members of the Air Force she served with, who are all prepared to testify that it was Witt’s discharge that contributed to eroded troop morale and cohesion. Also testifying on her behalf is Nathaniel Frank, who penned the book “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.” Another important aspect of Frank’s testimony: he most recently was an expert witness in the Log Cabin Republican’s case before Judge Phillips.

Witt is an operating room nurse and a decorated flight nurse. In 2003 she was awarded the Air Medal for her support to combat operations evacuating wounded troops. She was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for saving a Department of Defense civilian. By virtually every standard, Major Witt seemed to be the ideal servicewoman; she didn’t even “ask” or “tell”, guarding her private life vigilantly over the course of her long career. Instead, she was outed, as a multitude of committed service members are, because of a law that PFLAG and so many others fervently oppose.

Denying a talented and patriotic American such as Major Witt is a prime example of how continuing the policy deprives the military of effective leaders. If Major Witt prevails in the district court, she will become the first woman allowed to serve openly as a lesbian since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted in 1993. The law, however, would continue to apply to other service members. Here at PFLAG, we hope with great optimism that Senator Harry Reid, who is expected to schedule a vote for repeal next week, will do so expediently and that the Senate will finally decide to strike this discriminatory law from the books.

To learn more on how you can help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” once and for all, please click here and take action today!


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Senator Reid to Schedule DADT Vote

On the heels of Friday's news that a California federal judge ruled Don't Ask, Don't Tell unconstitutional, Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada is set to schedule a vote on the defense authorization bill, which includes "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, next week, a senior Democratic aide told The Advocate. The news was first reported in the Washington Blade.

The aide said it was expected that Republicans would filibuster the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding for the Defense Department, and 60 votes would be needed to end debate on the bill and bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. GOP senator John McCain of Arizona renewed his filibuster threat last week.

Repeal advocates expressed optimism that they would find the necessary votes to send the legislation to the floor.

"We feel fairly confident that we will have the 60 votes to break a filibuster of the National Defense Authorization Act," said Alex Nicholson of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United. "This bill contains important provisions for all troops and important funding provisions for the entire military. It would be hard — and shameless — for lawmakers to hold up this critical bill because of opposition to one or two of its myriad smaller provisions."

Although some Democratic senators, such as Jim Webb of Virginia, might break with their party and support the filibuster, some Republican senators could help compensate for the deficit.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has already indicated he would not support a filibuster; Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voted for the repeal measure in the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a good candidate to also break with her party. Other GOP senators who might vote to break the filibuster include Olympia Snowe of Maine and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Nicholson noted that no Democratic senator has given a strong indication to date that he or she would join a Republican filibuster.

What's less clear is what might happen if the bill reaches the Senate floor, where amendments might be offered to strike the repeal language or to expand the terms of the certification process beyond the president, Defense secretary, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs to also include the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Either measure would require 51 votes to pass.

But Nicholson said there's still an element of the unknown in any calculation at this point.

"A lot of the vote estimations really come from pre-recess intelligence," he said, noting that senators just returned to Washington Monday. "I don’t think any organization has gotten a feel for how the August recess has impacted members positions on this issue."

Nicholson added that the decision in the Log Cabin Republican case, which found "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional, could also play a role in the mood on Capitol Hill.

"That was another huge nail in the coffin," he said. "It really drove home for people that the writing is on the wall."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lesbian Couples' Home Burned; Local PFLAG Chapter Offers Support

Vonore, TN - Carol Ann Stutte and her partner, Laura Stutte, are afraid to return alone to what is left of their Vonore home in Monroe County.

After being victims of an arson and having the word “queers” spray painted on their garage, the lesbian couple is fearful for their safety.

“We would love to stay (in the area),” Carol Stutte said Friday. “But we will never, never rebuild (on that property) again. I take someone with me constantly — one or two people to make sure I'm OK while I'm up there.”

Detective Travis Jones, with the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, said authorities aren't releasing many details about the fire — which happened Sept. 4 at about 10 p.m.

“It is an arson and we are continuing the investigation,” he said Friday. “There are people of interest in the case,” and authorities, including the state Bomb and Arson Squad, are still conducting interviews.

The Stuttes' home was a complete loss. “There is nothing left,” Carol Stutte said. “They are calling it a black hole,”

The couple, who have been together for more than 16 years, were in Nashville celebrating the five-year anniversary of moving into their Vonore home, the night it was burned to the ground.

Carol Stutte's daughter from a previous marriage would have been at the home at the time, but decided to go with the couple to Nashville.

“She would've been trapped,” Carol Stutte said.

Carol Stutte said she and Laura have been being harassed and threatened, specifically by one neighbor, on and off for about five years.

“The last in-depth threats were several weeks ago,” Carol Stutte said.

The couple tried to ignore the threats, but eventually decided to file a report with the Sheriff's Office.

“We tried to turn the other cheek and overlook it,” Carol Stutte said. “When (the latest threats) finally happened we thought we better go file a police report. (The threats) have really been scaring us for some time.”

Carol Stutte said that, despite the arson, she has been blessed with support from people in the area, who want to help.

Becky Lucas, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Maryville, said she is outraged by the Vonore arson.

“We are hopeful that the authorities will investigate it fully and that this couple will get justice,” she said Friday. “I think this happens every day to people in this community and many times they don't speak up because they are afraid. Everybody deserves basic human rights.”

She also said she wants the Stuttes to know they have support in the area.

“We want to send a message to this couple and other couples like them — you do have many allies in this area,” Lucas said. “Many people in the community are just as outraged as I am.”

To read this entire article, click here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Federal Judge Rules Don't Ask, Don't Tell Unconstitutional

A federal judge in California said Thursday that the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service members violates the Constitution, the most recent in a string of court rulings overturning restrictions on the rights of the country's gay men and lesbians.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the government's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy is a violation of due process and First Amendment rights. Instead of being necessary for military readiness, she said, the policy has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services.

Citing testimony at a two-week trial in July by experts and former service members, Phillips wrote: "All of these examples demonstrate that the act's restrictions on speech not only are broader than reasonably necessary to protect the government's substantial interests, but also actually serve to impede military readiness and unit cohesion rather than further these goals."

She granted a request for an injunction to stop the military from discharging openly gay service members, but allowed the government time to appeal the ruling.

Phillips's decision is likely to put more pressure on Congress to act on pending legislation that would repeal the policy, which forbids the military to ask about a service member's sexual orientation but retains a ban on gays serving openly. The House voted in May to repeal the act, but the legislation is stalled in the Senate.

Meanwhile, even though President Obama supports the repeal, his Justice Department defended the law before Phillips. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he believes Congress should not implement a repeal until the military first completes a study on how to integrate gay men and lesbians into the ranks.

The ruling comes just over a month after U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco said a California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

And earlier this summer, a judge in Boston said the federal Defense of Marriage Act violated the Constitution. The act denies federal benefits to same-sex couples even in states where their marriages are legal.

All the decisions will begin working their way through the federal appeals court system.

It is expected that the Supreme Court at some point will be called upon to decide the same-sex marriage issues. But "don't ask, don't tell" might be disposed of through the political process.

"It could well be the catalyst that is needed to drop some of the opposition we've seen in the Senate" to holding a vote, said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that has been lobbying Congress to end "don't ask, don't tell."

"This should not linger in the courts. It should be resolved by Congress, this year," Sarvis said.

The California case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a 19,000-member group that includes current and former military members.

"As an American, a veteran and an Army Reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane Don't Ask Don't Tell statute violates the Constitution," said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper.

Dan Woods, lead attorney for the case, added, "This is a major victory in the fight for equality and means that military service will be available to all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation."

There was no immediate reaction from the Justice Department. During the trial, attorney Paul G. Freeborne had challenged the standing of the Log Cabin Republicans to contest the act. He also argued that the policy is a political decision to be made by Congress and not judges.

Phillips criticized the government's defense in her ruling, writing, "It again must be noted that Defendants called no witnesses, put on no affirmative case, and only entered into evidence the legislative history of the Act."

On the other side, she said, the military was hurt by discharging servicemembers who had performed well in combat and other situations, and it had forced gays in the ranks to hide their true identities, denied their ability to have personal relationships and kept them from expressing themselves even in private communications.

"In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Act was necessary to significantly further the government's important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion," Phillips wrote. "Defendants failed to meet that burden.

For more on this story, click here or here.

Little Progress for ENDA Despite Persistence

A few tremors have awakened a continuously neglected issue as certain organizations worked to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) back to the forefront of the mind of both the public as well as our elected officials. ENDA is a federal bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. First, on Wednesday evening in California, members of GetEQUAL, One Struggle One Fight, and Pride at Work disrupted a debate between Representative George Miller and his Republican opponent Rick Tubbs to demand action on the bill. Miller is chair of the U.S. House Education and Labor committee, where the bill is currently tied up.

GetEQUAL in particular has been amplifying pressure on officials through direct actions aimed at advancing the legislation before the new Congress takes office in January. Thursday evening, the group planned to close Market Street in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, an area within the congressional district represented by Nancy Pelosi, displaying a sign that reads, "Pelosi: When Jobs are Lost, the Market Stops.”

The frustration stems from Miller’s remarks in mid-March of this year, telling the Washington Blade that he would move ENDA from committee “right after healthcare.” Two months after healthcare passed, PFLAG National’s Executive Director, Jody Huckaby, joined other LGBT rights leaders and community members at the National Press Club, demanding immediate action in both the House and Senate on the bill. And yet, four months after this press conference and countless protests, LGBT Americans are still waiting to receive protections from the very real and pervasive employment discrimination they continue to experience daily.

This reinvigoration of the campaign to draw attention to the bill is the latest in a series of hearings, press conferences and direct actions that have spanned the last year. Despite the repeated efforts by PFLAG and other LGBT and ally organizations, there is fear that the bill has been bumped from the current legislative calendar. Despite the perceived loss of momentum, many PFLAG chapters continue to educate their Congress members about the importance of extending workplace protections to the many LGBT people living in 38 states lacking fully inclusive protections.

We must continue to take action today by calling our elected officials and urging them to support the bill, reminding them that every day we live without the passage of ENDA is another day Congress turns a blind eye to the pervasive discrimination LGBT people experience in workplaces daily.

To learn more about 5 simple things you can do to help pass ENDA today, please click here.

This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DADT Repeal Vote on the Line

We would like to remind you that time is running out for you to tell your senators to vote for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).

When Congress returns to Washington, D.C., next week, the full Senate will have its first opportunity in 17 years to do away with DADT when it votes on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains provisions that would allow for repeal of this law.

Their legislative calendar looks crowded, and the window of opportunity to pass repeal will be narrow. That's why you must keep up the pressure on both your senators until the Senate votes to end DADT.

Call and urge your senators to make passage of repeal legislation a top priority the week of September 20th. And ask them to urge their Joint Leadership (Senators Reid and McConnell) to schedule this vote.

(202) 224-3121

A full Senate floor vote is one of the last major legislative hurdles that stands in the way of repeal. Unfortunately, Senator John McCain has been a vocal opponent of repeal from the start. He has indicated that he, along with other repeal foes, will pull out all the stops in coming weeks - from attempting to strike repeal language from the NDAA to offering weakening amendments or threatening to filibuster the entire defense budget.

We cannot let that happen.

If the defense budget bill doesn't move to the Senate floor by the end of this month, DADT repeal may not happen for several more years.

Call these key senators now. We need a repeal vote the week of September 20th.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
(202) 224-3542

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
(202) 224-2541

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
(202) 224-2235

Please help spread this action alert on Twitter and Facebook today!

The Latest on Prop 8: Court Won't Force Appeal

The California supreme court Wednesday rejected a last-ditch attempt by Proposition 8 backers to force an appeal by state officials in the high-profile federal case.

Justices did not explain their order in the matter, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling comes one week after a conservative legal group petitioned a California appeals court to require Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appeal the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger. But the court subsequently denied the petition filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of Joshua Beckley, a senior pastor at Ecclesia Christian Fellowship in San Bernardino.

Pacific Justice had asked in its petition that Schwarzenegger and state attorney general Jerry Brown, the original named defendants in the Prop. 8 suit, formally file an appeal notice of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision before a September 11 deadline.

In August, Walker ruled the ballot measure unconstitutional, writing that it "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."

With the California supreme court's refusal to order an appeal by the state, Prop. 8 supporters who intervened in the case after Schwarzenegger and Brown declined to do so will be tasked with defending Prop. 8 on appeal before the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit in December.

Their standing to do so remains in question: A three-judge panel last month ordered that Prop. 8 proponents include in their briefs to the court "a discussion of why this appeal should not be dismissed for lack of [standing]."

Earlier on Wednesday, Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV reported that Schwarzenegger and Brown were ordered to offer briefs to the high court explaining why they have not filed an appeal in the case. "The attorney general's decision not to appeal in Perry v. Schwarzenegger from a judgment he agrees with is an ordinary and sound exercise of the discretion secured by law to his office," Brown's staff wrote.

Kevin Snider, chief counsel for Pacific Justice Institute, said that Brown and Schwarzenegger's stance denies voters the right “to a fair and meaningful review of Prop. 8 in the appellate courts."

But in explaining his position, Brown told The Advocate last week that the state supreme court's pre-Prop.8 opinion granting marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2008 weighed heavily on his decision not to defend the ballot measure in court.

"Once our own constitutional body determined that that was a fundamental right, even though the people passed Proposition 8, I felt that the Fourteenth Amendment is the protector of fundamental rights," Brown said. "And our courts had already defined that, that it was a reasonable thing to do — to look to the Fourteenth Amendment to uphold what our own court had found before Prop. 8."

Read the full LGBT POV article here. Read the full Advocate article here.

PFLAG Rocky Mount (NC) Advocates for Marriage Equality

Who should be allowed to get married? Better yet, who shouldn’t be allowed to marry?

Viewed by many as a civil rights issue similar to the restrictions imposed on interracial marriage years ago, same-sex marriage and all that it implies effects people further than Iowa and Massachusetts, where it has been legalized.

The Rocky Mount chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – PFLAG – is a local advocacy group doing what it can to ensure that gay people are afforded the same rights as every other citizen in America.

Said PFLAG President Lela Chesson, “We’re concerned about not just support but also about educating our community and advocating for the civil rights of people who are gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender.”

Rose Walston, PFLAG secretary, said that open dialogue about the issue of same-sex marriage is an important step in moving towards a brighter future for gay couples in Eastern North Carolina. “I don’t understand why anyone would be opposed to the union of two people."

To continue reading this story in the Daily Southerner, click here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PFLAG Los Angeles Event - Buy Your Tickets Now!

Have you bought your tickets for the PFLAG LA Event on Oct. 1? Go to www.pflag.org now to learn more and buy tickets. Come see Emmy-winning Glee producer Ryan Murphy, Glee’s Jane Lynch, Modern Family’s Jesse Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black, and more!

PFLAG Lauds New Hospital Visitation Ruling

Last week, PFLAG National, along with over 50 coalition partners, submitted public comments on President Obama’s new hospital visitation rule, known as “Changes to the Hospital and Critical Access Hospital Conditions of Participation to Ensure Equal Visitation Rights for All Patients.” The new rule will allow LGBT individuals and their families to visit their loved ones who are hospitalized throughout the day or night. Once this rule is finalized, we believe it will go a very long way in overcoming the long-standing injustices LGBT people and their families have faced in hospital visitation. To learn more about this rule, and our recommendations to make it even stronger, please be sure to read our comments here.