Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get to Know Your Prop 8 Appeal Judges

Yesterday the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals announced the three judges who will be presiding over the Prop 8 appeal, which is set to begin next week. They are:

Judge Stephen Reinhardt: one of the 9th Circuit's most senior members, is a 1980 appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, and has been dubbed the "lion of the left" for a career of liberal rulings on issues ranging from civil rights to the death penalty. The 79-year-old judge is based in Pasadena.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins: 65, is a former Arizona U.S. attorney and 1994 appointee of former President Bill Clinton. A self-described moderate, he has tended to side with the 9th Circuit's liberal wing on some close cases in recent years, including writing a ruling last year that would have allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a San Jose subsidiary of Boeing over the CIA's so-called torture flights. Hawkins' ruling was overturned earlier this year by a sharply divided 11-judge panel.

N. Randy Smith: 61, was a longtime Idaho state court judge before Bush tapped him for the federal bench. He is a former chairman of Idaho's Republican Party. With about two years on the court, Smith has yet to establish much of a track record, but has been a conservative vote in several close cases. That includes joining the majority opinion in a 6-5 ruling last year that sided with police powers in a case out of San Jose that found police could not be sued for civil rights violations for arresting a suspect after a lengthy armed standoff at a local apartment complex.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, legal experts say Reinhardt and Hawkins may be receptive to the argument that the state's gay marriage ban violates the federal equal protection rights of same-sex couples. But they also caution against being overly reliant on ideology to forecast the case because the 9th Circuit may not even deal with that central question.

There is lingering doubt that Proposition 8 backers have the legal authority to defend the law without the state involved, a concept known as legal standing. The 9th Circuit is devoting half of the argument session to that topic.

As a result, it is less clear to 9th Circuit experts how a judge such as Reinhardt or Hawkins might address that issue. In fact, the leading U.S. Supreme Court precedent on the subject involved Reinhardt, who wrote an opinion in the mid-1990s that struck down Arizona's "English-only" law. The Supreme Court later wiped that ruling off the books by finding that the backers of the law did not have legal standing to defend it in court; the law was later declared unconstitutional, but the skirmish is considered important to the standing issue in the Proposition 8 appeal.

"I don't know that he'd think it would be best for the Supreme Court to hear the case on the merits" right now, said Vikram Amar, a UC Davis law professor. "On the merits, there is not much question how he would come out."

For more information on this story, click here or here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Staggering DADT Comments From a Former District Attorney

As the push for repeal heats up, and as the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy occupies more and more space in the airwaves and in print, there is plenty of commentary to sift through, some productive, some not. Then there's this story, which defies all logic.

According to rawstory.com, the conservative news site The Daily Caller has removed part of an article that suggested lesbians be allowed into the US military so that their male colleagues can "convert" them.

Critics say the article went as far as to suggest corrective rape for lesbians.

"Lesbians should be allowed to serve, gay men should not," declared Joe Rehyansky in an article published Monday. Rehyansky, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is a part-time magistrate in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and a former assistant district attorney.

In the original article, Rehyansky concluded that his lesbians-only policy "would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream."

That alarmed some LGBT activists, who note that much of the article before that comment argued that men are rapists by nature. Rehyansky's argument that gay men should continue to be banned from the military was based on this notion:

"[S]houldn’t the overwhelmingly straight warriors who answer their county’s call be spared the indignity of showering with other men who achieve lascivious enjoyment from the sight of those lithe naked bodies, and who may be tempted to seek more than the view? They are, after all, guys.
In the early evolutionary years of the human species, Rehyansky argued, "It fell to men to swing through the trees and scour the caves in search of as many women as possible to subdue and impregnate — a tough job but someone had to do it."

Writing at TBD.com, Amanda Hess reads between the lines of Rehyansky's article: "Once all the lesbians are easily accessible in one place, an army of straight dudes will turn them all straight, presumably through that time-tested tactic of subduing and impregnating women against their will."
Hess reports that The Daily Caller briefly dropped the article when it began to gain attention, only to put it back online but without the "converting lesbians" comment. The comment has since been republished at other Web sites.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Rehyansky's specialties are "sending criminals to prison" and "astute political analysis."

The Daily Caller was launched earlier this year by Tucker Carlson, formerly of CNN and MSNBC and now a Fox News contributor, and Neil Patel, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

OPM Director John Berry Joins 'It Gets Better'

John Berry is the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and also the highest ranking openly gay person in history.

He recently joined the It Gets Better campaign. You can watch his video below:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No DADT Discharges in the Last Month

The Washington Post is reporting that a Pentagon spokesperson said on Monday that no U.S. service members have been discharged for being openly gay in the month since the Defense Department adopted new rules surrounding the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Under new rules adopted Oct. 21, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put authority for signing off on dismissals in the hands of the three service secretaries.

Before then, any commanding officer at a rank equivalent to a one-star general could discharge gay enlisted personnel under the 1993 law that prohibits gays from serving openly in uniform.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that no discharges have been approved since Oct. 21.

Smith did not know if the absence of recent discharges was related to the new separation procedures. The Pentagon has not compiled monthly discharge figures for any other months this year, she said.

Based on historical trends, however, it appears the change, as well as moves by Gates and President Barack Obama to get Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," has caused discharge rates to fall dramatically, said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a pro-repeal think tank based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Statistically, it would be extremely unlikely if we had a month in which there were no gay discharges," Belkin said, noting that 428 gay and lesbian service members were honorably discharged under the ban in 2009. "When you require a service secretary to sign off on a discharge, you are basically saying, 'We don't want any people in this category discharged unless there is an exceptional situation.'"

A month without "don't ask, don't tell" discharges was welcome news, said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Still, the organization continues to hear daily from military personnel who are under investigation for being gay and face the possibility of being fired.

"We have clients who are still under investigation, who are still having to respond, and in fact we have a client under investigation right now under suicide watch," Sarvis said. "So 'don't ask, don't tell' has not gone away."

Gates announced the change requiring the top civilian officials with the armed forces to personally approve "don't ask, don't tell" discharges after a federal judge in California ordered the military to immediately stop enforcing its ban on openly gay troops, declaring the 17-year-old policy unconstitutional.

An appeals court subsequently froze the judge's order until it could consider the broader constitutional issues in the case.

Putting responsibility for firing gay personnel in the hands of the three service secretaries was not designed to slow the rate of discharges, Gates said at the time. Rather, concentrating that authority was meant to ensure uniformity and care in enforcement at a time of legal uncertainty, he said in a memo outlining the new rules.

Gates since has urged the Senate to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" before a new Congress takes office in January. He said this week he plans to release a monthslong study on how lifting the gay service ban would affect the armed forces and could be carried out on Nov. 30.

Monday, November 22, 2010

PFLAG Featured in 'Ladies Home Journal'

PFLAG is featured in the newest edition of Ladies Home Journal, which has an audience of 4.1 million. The article focuses on LGBT bullying and the importance of family acceptance and parent advocacy. In light of the recent LGBT youth that we've lost to suicide, we are thrilled to be getting this message out to such a large number of people.

The tagline to the article really says it all: It's (LGBT suicide) a shocking trend. Isn't it time for all of us to encourage compassion and respect, no matter how we feel about homosexuality?

We hope that this article will bring the issue of bullying to a new audience and will help facilitate conversations between parents and kids about the importance of treating others with respect. Once you have a chance to read the article, leave a comment below - we'd love to know what you think of it.

You can access the article by clicking here.

Pentagon to Speed Release of DADT Study

According to The Washington Post the Defense Department said Sunday that it will release a long-awaited report on the matter earlier than planned because senators are eager to vote on whether to repeal the policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered the report to be released Nov. 30, one day earlier than planned, "to support Congress's wish to consider repeal before they adjourn," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Sunday.

The Senate is slated to vote again on a defense policy bill that includes language that would repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy after the Thanksgiving recess. The measure did not advance in September. Several senators asked Gates last week to release the report early so the Senate Armed Services Committee could hold hearings on it before the full Senate votes. Several moderate senators have said they will not decide how to vote until they read the report.

Gates "has instructed his staff, without cutting any corners, to have everything ready a day sooner because he wants to ensure members of the Armed Services Committee are able to read and consider the complex, lengthy report before holding hearings with its authors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Morrell said in a statement.

Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the report's co-chairmen, Army Gen. Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, could testify before the committee, aides said.

The report is expected to conclude that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts, according to sources who shared details of the report with The Washington Post.

The report will cite a survey of active-duty and reserve troops that found that more than 70 percent of respondents said the effect of lifting the ban would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, sources said.

About 40 percent of the Marine Corps is concerned about lifting the ban, one of the sources said. Mullen said Sunday that he is confident that Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, will be able to carry out orders to end the ban if Congress votes to do so, despite his public comments of concern.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tomorrow, November 20th marks the 12th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance where communities across the globe remember our friends and family members who have been murdered because of their real or perceived gender identity or expression. This year as your chapters attend vigils, read names, advocate for laws and educate about gender identity and expression all in honor of this important day remember that the victims of gender identity and expression hate crimes are not just those who are murdered, but their friends and families as well. The parents, grandparent, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles, cousins and friends who loved that person and will always miss them are victims too. They have been robbed of a lifetime with their loved one by someone else's ignorance and hate. So as PFLAG, the family organization, let's use the 12th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to remind people that we love our transgender family and friends unconditionally and we will always remember.

To get resources that will help you learn more and support your trans friends and family, visit PFLAG's Transgender Network at www.pflag.org/tnet. And if you're looking for information on trans and gender-variant/nonconforming youth, visit www.pflag.org/degrassi.

Vice President Biden Joins the "It Gets Better" Project

In the wake of the recent suicides by LGBT youth we have heard from so many of you who have been moved by Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign. Hundreds of people have joined in, from celebrities to our own PFLAG National president. Vice President Biden is the latest to lend support to LGBT kids who are being bullied. Below is his message:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Graeme Taylor, Jay McDowell and Free Speech

“Spirit Day” occurred on October 20th and involved young people wearing commemorative colors or clothing to celebrate the lives of a number of teens who recently committed suicide, a subversive incident took place at Howell High School. A teacher, Jay McDowell, ejected two students from his economics class after an argument about another student wearing a belt buckle featuring the Confederate flag. The argument caused the two students to make anti-gay remarks. McDowell was subsequently suspended from teaching for a day without pay, and further action is pending. The punishment prompted the following response at a recent school board meeting made by student Graeme Taylor, a sincere and poignant statement that speaks volumes as to why these sorts of conflicts and the reactions to them have a meaningful impact on a larger community than just those immediately involved.

McDowell has also been instructed to follow seven directives, which include ceasing from engaging in the promotion of his personal social issues and ceasing from engaging in the baiting of students over controversial issues. He has filed a grievance with the school district to have the discipline overturned, stating the reprimand is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods.

This particular case induces serious, thought-provoking analysis on what exactly is expected of a teacher in any instance similar to what occurred. Teachers are constantly forced to tread on the fine line between acting on behalf of students who are disparaged and offended by hateful remarks with the restrictions facing someone in authority against enforcing censorship. In case a moral conscience isn’t enough, a series of court cases make clear what someone responsible for making the decision ought to do, starting with a landmark case that occurred over 40 years ago. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a case in which a student protesting the Vietnam War chose to wear a black armband to school after the school’s administration enforced a policy banning the armbands. The court, of course, ruled famously for the students, stating that school officials do not have absolute authority over their students. However, an important caveat was also included in the ruling; conduct that "materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech." In the ensuing Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the majority opinion stated that schools have a responsibility to instill students with “habits and manners of civility as values.” When undermining this responsibility, students’ free speech rights are justly limited.

If an LGBT student had been looking on while this situation took place, and if the comments were left untouched, the student would have received a prodigious chink in a presumably-fragile armor. Not only is hateful rhetoric put forth, but nothing is done to prevent or stop it by peers or figures in authority, effectively fostering feelings of isolation and abandonment for the youthful onlooker. It’s important to allow teachers to use their tried and capable judgment in determining when it is necessary to step in and say “enough,” and if we discipline them for enacting this right, we’re taking away the hero that every Graeme Taylor venerates, and in effect risking the possibility of losing some of our most valued members of society who judge not on the color of our skin or who we love, but on the content of our character.

To see Graeme's moving speech to the Howell school board, 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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Urge Your Senators to Repeal DADT Once-and-for-All!

This week marks the beginning of the Senate's lame-duck session. During this period, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the defense spending bill --- with language to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" --- back to the Senate for a vote. The opposition has already stated that they wish to strip this language from the bill. Time is of the essence, and we must continue to work hard in one final push to repeal DADT, which will enable lesbians, gays and bisexuals to serve openly in our military. Repeal is only possible if we can achieve a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

We can only succeed with your help! Please be sure to take action today!

Timing is critical, so let us work hard to make sure that the Veterans Day we celebrated last week is the last one where Don't Ask, Don't tell is in effect.

• Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard today and ask to be patched through to your Senators' offices. If you don't know who your senators are, please click here to access our action alert center http://capwiz.com/pflag/home/.

• When you get your Senators on the line, please be sure to state that it's time to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" once and for all, and urge them to pass the defense spending bill -- with language repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- and stand up for all servicemembers to serve openly and authentically. It's just that easy! Please call the switchboard today at 202-224-3121!

Thank you for taking the time to move equality forward!

PFLAG Presidents Join the “It Gets Better” Campaign

From the desk of PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby:

We’ve all been overwhelmed by the volume of people who have become part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project. The personal stories and narratives of survival – often in the face of discrimination and rejection – have sent a booming message to LGBT people everywhere that there is support out there and that help is never far away.

I’m excited to let you know that PFLAG’s new National President, Rabbi David M. Horowitz as well as our immediate past President, John Cepek (and his wife, Char) have posted their own “It Gets Better” messages to PFLAG’s YouTube Channel. Take a few minutes to watch these great videos today…and don’t forget to become a subscriber to PFLAG’s YouTube channel so you can access our ever-expanding video content easily!

Watch Rabbi David M. Horowitz.
Watch John & Char Cepek.
Subscribe to PFLAG National’s YouTube channel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NY PFLAG Chapter Does PSA to Address Bullying and Recent LGBT Suicides

Following the recent media coverage of youth suicides, a local Clear Channel station reached out to PFLAG Kingston (NY) asking them to do a PSA on LGBT youth. PFLAG Kingston was excited for the opportunity, and reached out to PFLAG National for help with the PSA content. We were able to provide the script that PFLAG Kingston used to record the message, which you can hear below:

A Letter from PFLAG’s New National President

Last week at PFLAG’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., we found out who PFLAG’s new National President will be. Please join us in welcoming Rabbi David M. Horowitz from Ohio. Rabbi Horowitz is a long-time PFLAG member, a PFLAG dad, and a retired rabbi living in Akron, OH.

David penned a welcome letter for PFLAG members and supporters. Check it out online now!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cindy McCain: DADT Enables Bullies

From The Advocate:

While Sen. John McCain insists that he will filibuster any attempt to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, his wife Cindy denounces the ban in a new ad for the NOH8 campaign, where she connects antigay laws to the culture of bullying that drives vulnerable LGBT youths to suicide.

Cindy and Meghan have expressed their strong support for gay rights in the past, putting them at odds with their husband and father. However, Cindy’s appearance in the new ad marks the widest rift yet in her public stance versus the senator, who has vowed to stop any effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the lameduck session.

“Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future,” says McCain in the celebrity-studded ad. “They can’t serve our country openly.”

She even links the toxic messages sent by lawmakers to bullies who then mistreat LGBT youths.

“Our government treats the LGBT community like second-class citizens,” she says. Why shouldn’t they?”

Watch the ad for the NOH8 campaign below:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Evan Wolfson's Message from Iowa

The National Organization for Marriage's insidious attack on the independent judiciary should give us all pause, writes Freedom to Marry executive director Evan Wolfson.
By Evan Wolfson

The freedom to marry remains intact in Iowa. In fact, the freedom to marry in Iowa was not on the ballot this election cycle — and every poll leading up to the vote showed that Iowa voters have accepted the constitutional command of equality unanimously upheld by their state supreme court in 2009 and ranked overturning it at the bottom of a range of concerns on their minds.

Still, Election Day in Iowa saw a vicious attack from some of the nation’s most notorious antigay organizations and leaders. Politicizing for the first time ever a low-attention, normally routine down-ballot vote regarding whether to “retain” three of the justices, these groups flooded the state with an unprecedented amount of money — more than $700,000 — targeting judges who, out of respect for the judicial selection system, did not campaign for retention or run ads defending themselves. Sadly, the three went down.

At the same time as they were warping the retention vote, NOM (the so-called National Organization for Marriage) and its fellow antigay groups (Focus on the Family and American Family Association) also went after Iowa attorney general Tom Miller, who was attacked by his opponent for not challenging the ruling that led to the freedom to marry. Miller won reelection because, along with his record over seven four-year terms of service as attorney general, he could defend himself against baseless attacks in a political campaign, unlike the three justices. And, by a two-thirds majority, Iowans also rejected the “Call the Convention” campaign that would have initiated a constitutional convention at which the antigays could pursue a change in Iowa’s constitution that would end the freedom to marry in the state.

In this intense and angry election, Iowa’s voters were not voting on marriage or on gays. Still, as Carolyn Jenison, executive director of the state LGBT group One Iowa, sees it, “three courageous justices who recognized the freedom to marry in Iowa fell victim to a perfect storm of electoral discontent and out-of-state special interest money.”

Like many state legislatures this election, Iowa’s house has now flipped to Republican control, and the Democratic margin in the senate has decreased substantially — not because of the electorate's feelings about gay people or marriage, but in a way that requires vigilance. It will fall to senate majority leader Mike Gronstal, a true champion, to hold the line against efforts to railroad through a constitutional amendment stripping the freedom to marry from gay couples. And One Iowa will need support from all of us committed to defending liberty and justice in Iowa against the out-of-state attacks that will again swamp the state in an effort to advance an attack amendment aimed at undoing the freedom to marry.

To continue reading Evan's message, click here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New PFLAG President Sends His “It Gets Better” Message

New PFLAG President Sends His “It Gets Better” Message
Many of us have been following the incredible momentum of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign that started last month following several reports of bullying-related gay teen suicides across the country. Dan’s simple message has led to the creation of thousands of similar videos from both celebrities and public figures (including voices as diverse as both President Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush) as well as GLBT people, allies and parents.

PFLAG originally submitted its own message
for the effort with a focus on making things better through the use of tools like our Claim Your Rights campaign. But today we’re proud to add another voice to the project, this time from our newly-elected Board President, Rabbi David Horowitz. You can check out David’s important PFLAG dad message now on PFLAG’s YouTube channel.

Sec. of Defense Gates Urges DADT Repeal

From The Associated Press:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Congress should act quickly, before new members take their seats, to repeal the military's ban on gays serving openly in the military.

He, however, did not sound optimistic that the current Congress would use a brief postelection session to get rid of the law known as "don't ask, don't tell."

"I would like to see the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" but I'm not sure what the prospects for that are," Gates said Saturday, as he traveled to defense and diplomatic meetings in Australia.

Unless the lame-duck Congress acts, the repeal effort is considered dead for now.

The current, Democratic-controlled Congress has not acted to lift the ban, which President Barack Obama promised to eliminate. In his postelection news conference Wednesday, Obama said there would be time to repeal the ban in December or early January, after the military completes a study of the effects of repeal on the front lines and at home.

With Republicans taking control of the House in January, and with larger margins in the Senate, supporters of lifting the ban predict it will be much more difficult.

Gates also urged the Senate to ratify a stalled arms control treaty with Russia before the end of the current legislative session in January.

The defense chief said the huge midterm gains for Republicans will not set back Obama's strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Obama wants to begin pulling U.S. forces home next summer, so long as security conditions allow it.

Many Republicans oppose the withdrawal plan, saying it is driven by politics and encourages the Taliban to wait out U.S. forces.

"Partly I think things will depend on our assessment next spring and early summer of how we're doing," Gates said. "I think that will have the biggest impact on the president's decision in terms of the pacing."

The House Armed Services Committee plans hearings about the war this spring, incoming committee chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon said last week. Republicans generally support Obama's war plan, which combines a troop buildup with counterinsurgency and couunterterror tactics. Their only real complaint has been the announcement that withdrawal would begin in July 2011.

McKeon plans to summon commanding Gen. David Petraeus, who has finessed his early unease with the withdrawal plan. Petraeus has said he will give Obama his straight advice about whether a withdrawal is advisable, and military officials say they expect him to recommend modest pullbacks from areas considered relatively safe.

Such hearings would raise the pressure on Obama if he is planning a large withdrawal or if the spring brings erosion of the small military gains U.S. and NATO forces have made in recent months.

"We've talked all along about the withdrawals in July being conditions-based, in terms of the numbers," that would leave, Gates said. "I think that continues to be the position. It'll be based more on that than on domestic politics."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Results: The Good, The Bad, and the Inspiring

As election results continue to roll in, PFLAG’s policy team have already begun looking ahead at what the next two years will mean for our country and the progression of our legislative priorities. With Republican gains larger than many predicted leaving moderate candidates left by the wayside in the tense political climate our country finds itself in, our federal government looks to have become more polarized than ever before. Despite what will present itself as a challenge in the coming years, PFLAG is thrilled to see so many LGBT friends and allies emerge victorious as the dust settles on a rough and tumble campaign season. We’re inspired to work with these individuals along with our PFLAG community to educate the country as a whole on why the issues we support are not only important, but necessary in promoting civil rights for all Americans.

Here’s the good news:
• David Cicilline will become the fourth openly gay member of the House of Representatives, joining Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, and Jared Polis in the 112th congressional session. The 49-year-old mayor of Providence survived an anti-gay leafleting attack in the final hour before the polls opened on Tuesday.

• Jim Gray, a 57 year old millionaire construction magnate and vice Mayor in Lexington, Kentucky ousted incumbent Jim Newberry for mayoral control in the city.. Gray is the first gay mayor elected in Lexington, which holds close to 300,000 people.

Congressman Barney Frank (MA-04) was easily re-elected despite recent concerns and polls showing a narrowing gap between him and the 35-year-old opposing him, Sean Bielat. Frank has held the seat for 19 years and remains one of the most powerful members of Congress, sponsoring critical legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Laurie Jinkins became Washington’s first openly lesbian state legislator on Tuesday with her election to the Washington State House. She will be a strong influence and excellent advocate for movement towards marriage equality for the state, with a bill that could possibly arrive in the next legislative session.

• Victoria Kolakowski is the first openly transgender judge elected in America. Kolakowski is a lawyer and administrative law judge with over 20 years of legal experience ran for Superior Court Judge in Alameda County, California. She competed yesterday in a run-off election against John Creighton, the Deputy District Attorney for the county.

• Both California and Maryland gained a number of openly gay and lesbian lawmakers within their State legislatures. In Maryland, the caucus is poised to help pass marriage equality legislation, which the reelected Governor Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign.

And now for the bad news:
• Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election after a slight resurgence in polls late in the game against Republican opponent Ron Johnson. Feingold has been a champion advocate for LGBT rights since entering the Senate from Wisconsin in 1992, casting one of the only votes against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) upon its inception.

• Patrick Murphy lost an important House seat in Pennsylvania to the former holder of the seat before him, Mike Fitzpatrick. Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq war who served overseas for seven months following September 11th, was a key advocate supporting repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

• An average of 54 percent of the electorate decided not to retain Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and associate justices Michael J. Streit and David L. Baker, all of whom recently judged in favor of marriage equality for the state in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, acted as spokesman for the campaign to rid the state of the judges. However, the replacements are determined by the Governor of the state, and depending on the timing, that decision could be left up to lameduck Democratic Governor Chet Culver.

• The New York State Senate is headed for a 31-31 tie, with Republicans decreasing the Democrats’ narrow majority in the State Chamber by 1. This proves significant for a prospective marriage equality vote, which many are expecting to occur in the next session. If proposed legislation were to come to a tie in the State Senate, the responsibility to cast the tie-breaking vote would fall with newly elected Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, who recently publicly stated that he would cast a vote for marriage equality. However, getting an even partisan vote will prove difficult, as last year’s vote yielded a 38-22 decision opposed to reform. An important “yes” vote was lost in Brian Foley, a Long Island Democrat who strongly favored marriage equality.

In short, the midterm elections were a toss-up. While we lost many fair-minded Representatives in the House, we did see some hugely historic gains at the local level. We must recognize -- despite the gains and losses we’ve witnessed in the midterm elections – that our work is far from over. We must continue to do what we as PFLAGers have always held true – supporting our communities when it’s necessary, educating those who may be misinformed about LGBT issues, and advocating for rules, policies and laws that help advance equality forward. Everyone here in DC will continue to knock on the doors of Congress to talk about the legislation most important to our families, but we cannot do this work without your help! Please be sure to schedule an in-district meeting with your new or old elected officials today to make sure that they know about the issues most important to you and your families. If you need some ideas as to how to set-up a meeting, or what you should talk about, please be sure to check out our resource, Bringing the Message Home, and feel free to contact us if you have specific questions. Only together can we ensure that our elected officials are informed and ready to make the right decisions that will advance equality for everyone across the country.

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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NCAA's First Trans Athlete Opening Doors and Starting Conversations

Not many people noticed a slight change on the George Washington University website earlier this year. It concerned a player on the school’s women’s basketball team named Kay-Kay Allums. Just a couple letters were taken away, a Y was moved and an E was added to form the player’s new name: Kye Allums. To most people it was meaningless, but to Allums the change was the most significant of his lifetime.

“A name is just a bunch of letters, but the letters make up a word and the words that make up my name have so many more emotions behind them,” Allums said. "My old name, that’s just not me. When I hear Kye, everything feels okay, everything is right.”

For the last 20 years, Kay-Kay Allums had appeared to the world as female. She was born with the anatomy that other women have. Her mom tried to dress her in only the most feminine clothes. But inside was a man waiting to burst out of the female body he was born in.

On Nov. 13, Kye Allums will introduce himself to the NCAA basketball world at the Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis in a game against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. When he steps foot on the court, Allums will be the first publicly transgender person to play NCAA Div. 1 college basketball.

“I’ve always felt most comfortable dressing like a boy, but my mom would take all of my clothes from me and she’d force me to wear girl clothes,” Allums said. “I’d bring sweats and basketball shorts and put them in my backpack. I’d just change every day when I got to school, and I had to change back before I went home. It was annoying, but it was the only way I could go to school.”

In high school, Allums met other people who acted and dressed like him: They were lesbians. For the next few years Allums identified as lesbian, finally fitting into a group that he could define. As he progressed deep into his teens, despite their similar dress and manner, he realized he just didn’t fit with the lesbians at his school either.

It was a text message from his mother during his freshman year at George Washington that flipped the switch. They were in a fierce texting battle when his mother wrote, “Who do you think you are, young lady?” The answer was suddenly crystal clear to him: He wasn’t a young lady at all.

Allums began to correct everyone who referred to him with female pronouns; everyone, that is, except his head coach. The person Allums feared telling the most was Bozeman. Comments from the coach about religion had made Allums feel a little uneasy. He didn’t think his head coach would ever be able to wrap his head around the idea that he was coaching a man on a women’s team. Eventually, the internal pressure to be himself became too great for even Allums’ stubborn strength to repress.

“I was gonna have to hide a piece of me that was really important,” Allums said. “All my teammates knew. I don’t like keeping things from coach; I’m a very open person. It got to the point where I decided I wasn’t going to go through a whole season with my coach not really knowing me, even though I knew it would probably make him feel uncomfortable.”

The moment of truth came one day in June when Bozeman tracked down Allums in his dorm room to talk about another issue. When Allums eventually turned the topic to his transition, it became a difficult conversation. Allums explained, as best he could, that he was a man and had always been a man. When Bozeman asked Allums if God made a mistake, he didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t going well. But at some point in the conversation, the tone changed.

“Why would you think I wouldn’t have your back?” Allums remembered Bozeman asking. “I’ve had your back through everything. Our relationship has grown from nothing to this, and now you think I’d just turn my back on you because you told me this? No. I love you and I’ll always be here for you.”

To continue reading this story click here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DADT Update: Military Can Enforce it Pending Government Appeal

From The Advocate:

The military may continue to enforce “don’t ask, don’t tell” while the government appeals a recent federal court decision striking down the policy as unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit ruled that the "the lack of an orderly transition in policy" could produce "immediate harm" and "precipitous injury" — echoing arguments made by the Obama administration’s Justice Department for allowing the policy to remain in place.

"We also conclude that the public interest in ensuring orderly change of this magnitude in the military — if that is what is to happen — strongly militates in favor of a stay," ninth circuit judges Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain and Stephen S. Trott wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher wrote that he would have favored a stay of the district court's order in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America if the Defense Department were barred from any further discharges of gay service members under DADT.

Dan Woods, lead attorney for the Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the suit in 2004, told The Advocate Monday afternoon that he was reviewing the court's ruling and that he will discuss with his client whether or not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "I imagine it will be a long shot," Woods said.

However, Woods said he may file a separate motion seeking expedited arguments in the case. The ninth circuit allowed an expedited schedule in California's Proposition 8 case, with oral arguments scheduled for December 6.

Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper said in a statement that as a result of the ruling, DADT "will continue to burden our armed forces, undermine national security, and limit the freedom of our men and women in uniform.”

Uncertainty over the enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell" has now played out for several weeks since U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips issued an injunction against the policy October 12. Phillips, who ruled in September that DADT failed to further military readiness or unit cohesion while violating the constitutional rights of gay service members, denied a Justice Department request for a short stay of her order, but the ninth circuit had allowed for DADT to remain in place at least temporarily while it reviewed attorneys' arguments.

Attorneys for the Log Cabin Republicans had vigorously argued against a continuance of "don't ask, don't tell" pending the government's appeal. “It remains sad and disappointing that the government seeks to continue to enforce 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' by its motion for a stay pending appeal, even as the President has repeatedly said that the policy 'weakens' our national security and recently said in a 'tweet' that he basically agrees with Judge Phillips's decision," Woods said in a statement last week.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for congressional repeal of the 1993 law but has sidestepped questions on whether he personally believes DADT is unconstitutional. During an interview with progressive bloggers last week that included AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay, the president declined to opine on the law's constitutionality.

"It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court," Obama said. "And I’ve got to be careful, as president of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Uganda Continues Anti-Gay Discrimination

Over the past few months we have blogged about the anti-gay legislation in Uganda that could still pass before the end of the year. Now, The Advocate is reporting that The Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone has once again published the names and personal information of gay men and lesbians in the country, as a bill that could punish homosexuality with death makes it way through parliament.

Reports from Agence France-Presse and CNN International conflict about the exact nature of the latest publication, but they make clear that life-threatening conditions persist for gay men and lesbians in the deeply conservative Christian country where American evangelicals hold significant sway.

According to AFP, “The lead article in Rolling Stone newspaper, which has no relation to the U.S. magazine, entitled ‘Men of shame part II,’ pictured 14 men identified as the ‘generals’ of the gay movement in Uganda.”

Editor Giles Muhame said the men’s photos appeared on a gay networking site, along with their names and hometowns, which he also published. He claims that the men are “brainwashing” children.

Last month, Rolling Stone published photos and personal information for 15 men, with a religious leader calling for them to be hanged, reports AFP. At least four gay Ugandans were attacked as a result.

However, in a discrepancy common to reporting on the situation in Uganda, CNN International reports that the latest article includes a list of 10 people, not 14, and that lesbians also are outed. CNN International also reports that last time, Rolling Stone outed 100 gay men and lesbians, not 15 gay men, as AFP reported.

The publication arrives as Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati says that his bill including the death sentence for homosexuality will become law soon.

Watch the CNN International interview with Stosh Mugisha, who was attacked with her partner after Rolling Stone published her personal interview. They now live in hiding.