Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Policy Matters - 1/11/11

Front Page Headlines
Congress Gets Fourth Openly LGBT Representative. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) was sworn in Wednesday, becoming the fourth openly LGBT member of the 112th Congress and only the seventh out LGBT person to serve in the House. He joins Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO), who were reelected in November. “I am thrilled to be the next congressman from Rhode Island’s First District and so grateful to the members of the LGBT community who supported my campaign,” Cicilline said. The former Providence mayor succeeds Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who retired. Cicilline earned the endorsement of many national LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Expert Panel Publishes Recommendations to Prevent LGBT Suicide. A panel of 26 leading researchers, clinicians, educators and policy experts released a comprehensive report on the prevalence and underlying causes of suicidal behavior in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents and adults. The report will be published as the lead article in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Homosexuality. The article is currently available online and will appear in print on Jan. 19. Titled “Suicide and Suicide Risk in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations: Review and Recommendations,” the report makes sweeping recommendations for closing knowledge gaps about suicidal behavior in LGBT people, and calls for making LGBT suicide prevention a national priority. Despite four decades of research pointing to elevated rates of suicide attempts among LGBT people, national suicide prevention initiatives, including the 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, have given little attention to suicide risk in LGBT individuals.

Media Matters launches a communications war room for LGBT equality. Last week, a liberal media watchdog group said it planned to announce on Monday that it was setting up a communications war room for LGBT equality in an effort to win one of the movement’s next and biggest battles: marriage equality. The new group, Equality Matters, grew out of Media Matters, an organization backed by wealthy liberal donors — including prominent LGBT philanthropists — that has staked its claim in Washington punditry with aggressive attacks on Fox News and conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Public Policy Watch
President Obama Signs DADT Repeal. On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed the landmark repeal of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” law, handing a major victory to LGBT advocates and fulfilling a campaign promise to do away with a practice that he has called discriminatory. Casting the repeal in terms of past civil rights struggles, Obama said he was proud to sign a law that “will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.” The signing does not immediately implement the repeal but instead begins the process of ending the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members serving openly in the military. The law will not actually change until the Pentagon certifies to Congress that the military has met several conditions, including education and training programs for the troops.

LGBT Youth Targeted for National Suicide Prevention Efforts. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NSSP) today added three new task forces to address suicide prevention efforts within high-risk populations, one of which included youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT). In the coming months, the task force will identify and develop systems and strategies to improve data collection and surveillance of suicidal behaviors, prioritizing research on suicide prevention, and updating the NSSP. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will provide support and technical expertise for the task forces and the Action Alliance, in cooperation with the private sector and other federal support.

New Jersey Governor Enacts Strongest Anti-Bullying Law. Governor Chris Christie has signed a bill that gives New Jersey the toughest anti-bullying law in the country. The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” is intended to eliminate loopholes in the state’s first anti-bullying law, enacted in 2002, that encouraged school districts to set up programs to combat bullying but did not mandate it. The new law will require training for most public school teachers, administrators and other employees on how to spot bullying and mandate that all districts form a “school safety team” to review complaints. School districts would be graded by the state on their efforts to combat the problem. Administrators who do not investigate reported incidents of bullying would be disciplined, while students who bully could be suspended or expelled. School employees would also be required to report all incidents they learn of, whether they took place in or outside of school.

NC Trans Hospital Protections Effective. Equality North Carolina is praising new changes in North Carolina’s Hospital Patient’s Bill of Rights. The change, which took effect Jan. 1, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The group had previously won changes to secure anti-discrimination measures on the basis of sexual orientation and visitation for same-sex couples. “The updated non-discrimination rule in the Patient’s Bill of Rights will help ensure that transgender patients know their rights and health care providers know they must provide the same level of care to all patients regardless of their gender identity,” said Ian Palmquist, Equality North Carolina’s executive director. The policy changes received unanimous approval from the Medical Care Commission and the Rules Review Commission.

Virginia Delegates Push Anti-Bullying Legislation. Two Northern Virginia Democrats are sponsoring legislation to attempt to curb teen bullying.Openly gay Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) is proposing a bill that would make egregious bullying a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Ebbin cited the case of York County high school student Christian Taylor, who died by suicide in May. Ebbin called it “outrageous” that bullying so severe as to contribute to a student’s suicide would not be criminal conduct. Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) is sponsoring separate legislation that would require that teachers be trained in dealing with bullying, that they report bullying incidents to school authorities and mandate that they intervene when a student is being harassed. Englin’s bill defines bullying more broadly than Ebbin’s, calling it “verbal, physical or written conduct that creates a hostile environment that interferes with another student's education, physical or psychological well-being.”

Rhode Island Marriage Equality Bill Introduced. Last week, the drive to legalize marriage equality in Rhode Island began anew, with the re-introduction in the House of a bill to allow for same-sex nuptials. Lead sponsor, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) said he hoped the bill’s early introduction would spark an early-session hearing and vote on the measure. Besides Handy, the other lead sponsors include Representatives Frank Ferri (D-Warwick), Edith Ajello (D-Providence), Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) and the openly gay House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, (D-Providence), who had said in the days leading up to the start of the 2011 General Assembly session that he hoped for a House vote on marriage equality early in the session, before the lawmakers get wrapped up in the budget and other issues.

New Mexico “Will Likely” Recognizes Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages. Marriage equality advocates received some good news on last Tuesday as New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion stating that same-sex marriages from out of state would likely be legal here. King came to this conclusion after “a comprehensive legal analysis” by his office which said that New Mexico can recognize same-sex marriages from states where it’s legal. “While we cannot predict how a New Mexico court would rule on this issue, after review of the law in this area, it is our opinion that a same-sex marriage that is valid under the laws of the country or state where it was consummated would likewise be found valid in New Mexico,” King said. While 40 states explicitly bar marriage equality, King says that New Mexico’s law does “not explicitly address the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions,” according to the release announcing the opinion.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,

Over the past few years our chapter has tried to slowly incorporate advocacy work into our chapter, but we are at a bit of an impasse over what we can and can’t do. There is concern over how we can talk about legislation and whether or not we can invite candidates to events. We are unsure, given PFLAG’s 501(c)3 status, what we are allowed to do and what might get us in trouble with the IRS. Can you offer us any assistance?

Sincerely,
Athena

Dear Athena,

Thank you for contacting Policy Matters. We are glad to hear that your chapter is taking some beginning steps to incorporate advocacy into your work. The general rule for advocacy is to focus on issues, not candidates. In other words, your chapter may advocate for or against a bill, law, or on a particular issue, but cannot endorse or oppose any candidate or political party. If you keep this rule of thumb in mind, you should be ok.

Also, please consider reviewing our new PFLAG Chapter Manual that was released this summer. The chapter manual has a section on education and advocacy (page 28) that includes suggestions of ways chapters can get involved and a list of do’s and don’ts for chapters when it comes to our 501(c)3 status. There are also some suggested chapter meeting activities that chapters can use as programs. Please contact your Field & Policy Coordinator to get an electronic copy of the PFLAG Chapter Manual.

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

Please note that Policy Matters will return on February 4th, 2011. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than January 28, 2011.

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